The Count of Saint-Germain.

During a visit that the Baron de Gleichen makes to the Count of Saint-Germain, the Count reveals to him his treasure collections.

“There were, among other things, an opal of monstrous size, a white sapphire the size of an egg and a quantity of diamonds and stones of a colour and size that were even more surprising in that they weren’t at all in settings.”

In his famous Memoires, the Baron makes a big thing of this visit.  Because it is a totally exceptional favour accorded to him by Saint-Germain.  Rare are those who are able to enter the doors of his Marais hotel, filled, the Baron notes, with paintings by masters, among which he recognizes some Murillos and some Raphaels…

The extreme reticence with which he receives does not prevent the Count from being one of the most acclaimed men in Paris.  Precisely because of the mystery with which he surrounds himself, and of certain habits which appear frankly unheard-of to the marquises…

Everyone remembers the menus of the Grand Century.  However, while his guests stuff themselves with meats, fish, poultry, and attack after that pieces of venaison, whose strong odour fills the nostrils, the Count eats sparingly or, most often, doesn’t even unfold his serviette.  And what does he do while the others over-eat?  The Count of Saint-Germain talks, but there again, in a very different manner to that of the brilliant masters of calembours or the witty people of the epoch, reporting the day’s anecdote.  He goes back in time and describes the slightest circumstances of History, with so many details and such extraordinary clarity, that they believe that they are listening to a witness of that time.  When they press him to deliver his sources, he says that everything is in his prodigious memory, and when it is pointed out to him that it is not possible to make certain scenes so life-like, with such precision, without making it up – unless he has himself lived them – he agrees that he is perhaps older than he looks…

Added to his abstinence, the delicacy of his speech, which can be heard by the most chaste ears, creates an image of him which excites the beautiful marquises even more.  For, if they swallow laxative pills, if they even consent to become vegetarians for a short time, they would also love to keep him with them for a while, after supper.

But neither beauty, nor opulence, nor the rank of the mistress of the house succeed:  never does Saint-Germain pass a night outside his own residence, and very rare are those who have seen him up beyond midnight.  He is not known to have any lover or mistress, and this is perhaps what most troubles those who know him.  For, if he impresses by his lifestyle and his behaviour, he also seduces – infinitely – by his presentation…  Countess d’Adhemar writes in her souvenirs on Marie-Antoinette:

“His haughty, spiritual, sagacious  physionomy was the first thing to strike the eye.  He had a slim, graceful figure, delicate hands, lovely feet, elegant legs accentuated by tautly-pulled silk stockings.  His very tight breeches also displayed the rare perfection of his shape;  his smile showed the most beautiful teeth in the world, a pretty dimple decorated his chin, his hair was black, his eyes gentle and penetrating.  Oh!  What eyes!  I have never seen anywhere such eyes…”

For a man who came from nowhere and was always wanting to disappear, that is a portrait which gives him reality and presence!  Without in any way removing the mystery of his origins…  To the question which only a Highness dares to ask (Princess Amelie, sister to Frederic II of Prussia), he answers:

“I am, Madame, from a country which has never had a man of foreign origin for sovereign!”

The answer is sibylline to say the least…  When they insist, like the Baron de Gleichen, it is learnt that in his childhood he had been surrounded by a numerous suite, that he strolled on magnificent terraces, in a delicious climate, “as if he had been the Prince and Heir to a King of Grenada in the time of the Moors”

This symbolic figure, taken from an alchemical work, is supposed to represent, according to some authors, “the birth, by the union of cosmic forces”, of exceptional beings such as the Count of Saint-Germain.

Such a mysterious extraction permits, of course, to play around a bit with official identity.  In 1743, when he appears for the first time in Paris, with his air of grand young man in fashion and well-dressed, no-one at first bothers to enquire about his age.  The first to ask the question, to himself at first, will be Jean-Philippe Rameau, the genial composer, a serious mind if ever there was one.  All on his own, he personifies all of the music of the Grand Century, and he devoted himself so completely to his Art and to the responsibilities entrusted to him by kings, that strictly nothing is known about his private life.  Yet, one evening, when he is playing the clavecin in the rich home of the financier La Popeliere, he notices an elegant gentleman in the centre of a cluster of grand ladies dressed in green peking and canary tail.  He appears to be forty-five and is wearing a jacket of cinnamon cloth shot with green, the buttons of which are throwing out a thousand fires in the light of the candelabra.

The elderly master has himself served with a little sorbet, and then almost dies from shock.  The man comes, without any ceremony, to relay him at the clavecin and, in full light, there can be no more doubt:  he is certain of having seen this gentleman when he, himself, was just a simple organist for the Jesuits of the Rue Saint-Jacques.  The motive for his surprise is simple:  since this epoch, the man’s face has absolutely not changed.  Rameau, on the other hand, has become dry and wrinkled, already bent over with age.  A rapid calculation reveals to him that this meeting took place thirty-five years before and that, at the epoch, the person appeared to be forty!  He is told that it is a certain Count of Saint-Germain, and the incident marks the composer so strongly, that he talks about it all over Paris.  Some, who know him to be a bit wheezy, say that he is becoming senile as well, and joke about it at the dinner parties.  Others, knowing his good sense, begin to reflect.  Then to talk, when a certain Morin, Secretary of the Danish Legation, assures in turn that he had well known this gentleman too, that it was in Holland, many years ago, and that since all this time the Count, who was already a mature man then, had not taken on one wrinkle…

To be continued.

Advertisements