During a dinner, from which Saint-Germain is absent, the Duke de Choiseul, France’s Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, suddenly turns to his wife and asks her why she is not drinking. Madame de Choiseul replies:
“Because Monsieur de Saint-Germain’s diet without wine suits me admirably!”
The Duke erupts in violent anger and orders his wife to stop following “the follies of such an equivocal man”. The Bailie of Solar then asks:
“Is it true that the Government doesn’t know whence comes a man who lives in France in such distinguished fashion?”
Choiseul replies with a ferocious air:
“Without a doubt we do know!”
It is at this dinner that is formed the animosity which would now divide partisans and adversaries of the Count. As an intelligent, sly man, Choiseul is very careful not to use a process which could discredit Saint-Germain in the King’s eyes, by showing him for example that he is mistaken in trusting him. Since this is France, a much more redoubtable weapon must be used. And to wield this weapon, he hires Gauwe, an actor exceptionally gifted as an imitator, who is entrusted with making fun of Saint-Germain. Made-up and his hair powdered, wearing false diamonds and taking the same accent as the Count, he wanders through the Marais telling the most extravagant stories. He says for example:
“Jesus Christ. I knew him very intimately… He was the best man in the world, but he was romanesque and thoughtless. I often predicted to him that he would finish badly!”
Hearing such ridiculous things, his auditors could only believe that they were in the presence of a liar…
The Duke also made up a story about the Count’s elixir and his longevity and had it spread everywhere. In town and at Court, it was said that a Baroness, who was very old, bought a phial of this miraculous water, that she locked it inside a cupboard, telling her chambermaid not to touch it. To be sure that she wouldn’t, she told her that it was an extremely drastic remedy… against colic. The lady goes out and, in the middle of the night, the soubrette experiences violent intestinal pain. She rushes to the phial, and drinks more than half of it. As the liquid is very light-coloured, she replaces what she has drunk with water and goes to lie down on the lady’s sofa, in prey to an irresistable need to sleep. When, early in the morning, the mistress of the house returns home and calls her women to undress her, she comes across a little girl of three or four lying on the sofa sucking her thumb and kicking her legs…
As a man of superior intelligence, Saint-Germain laughs at these roasts and even enters into his enemies’ games.
One day when he is visiting Madame de Marchais, he throws his hat and sword on a piece of furniture upon entering, sits down at the piano and executes a piece of music which is very much applauded. He is asked the name of the composer. He says gravely:
“I don’t know. All that I know is that I heard this march during the entry of Alexander the Great into Babylon!”
Louis XV also seemed to be indifferent to the charlatanesque stories circulating about the Count. However, he forbids anyone to mock him in his presence and defies his protege’s detractors by locking himself up for long hours with him, while ministers and those seeking favours wait outside the door.
The declared hatred of the Kingdom’s most powerful man is therefore incapable of doing anything against Saint-Germain. For years, the King entrusts him, not only with his worries, but also with important secret missions. In England, he meets Walpole and, in Holland, he treats with Louis of Brunswick who is his close friend. In all the countries that he traverses, he accedes to the foot of the thrones, warns or advises the sovereigns, and the greatest personalities show him their esteem. But if he only returns to France to prophesy the future death of Marie-Antoinette on the scaffold, it is because the attacks of Choiseul, who secretly dreams of supplanting the King, finish by becoming too heavy for him to bear. If they do not succeed in tarnishing his image with Louis XV, they at least discredit him in the eyes of posterity, which believed for a long time in the legend of the imposter, a Saint-Germain who was a master of frauds and falsifications…
In the last years of a reign which ends in debacle, his adventurous path through Europe is studded with disappearances which sometimes last for years. In 1760, he is in England and the London Chronicle consecrates an article to him in which it praises his riches and talks lengthily about his talents… As for the secret of his birth, the austere British paper affirms that it will be revealed only after his death and this secret “will astonish the world even more than the prodigies of his life”…
For the moment, the mystery remains. And that is a good thing. For at the moment of prophesying in Paris Marie-Antoinette’s death on the scaffold and then disappearing, the Count de Saint-Germain says that he will only come back to France in a few generations. To warn it, before dying for good, of the terrible dangers which threaten it. So…
Louis XV was certainly not a king as abominable as the pampleteers tried to paint him, and perhaps Saint-Germain was slightly less angelic than some – including the King – believed…
Not only was Louis XV very intelligent, but he also sincerely wanted to better the lives of the poor whom his great-grandfather, the Sun King, Louis XIV, had seriously harmed… It is true that he became discouraged too quickly, but it is also true that he pulled himself together in the second half of his reign. Although it justifies nothing, Parliament’s permanent opposition, along with that of the Party of the Privileged, to all of his reforms, contributed a lot to explaining his failure. He also had a big heart, we must recall… He wanted the regicide Damiens to be pardoned. It was argued, as always, raison d’Etat. And it is also because he was a man with a big heart that he became so sincerely attached to Saint-Germain…
To be continued.