1666, Dr. Johann Friedrich Schweitzer, physician to the Prince of Orange, author of several medical and botanical books, a close friend of the philosopher Baruch Spinoza and careful, objective observer trained in scientific methods, wrote that he was visited by a stranger who was “of medium stature, a somewhat long face, with a few small pockmarks and mostly black hair, not curly at all, a beardless chin, about forty-four years of age and born in North Holland.”
After small talk, the stranger suddenly asked Dr. Schweitzer if he would recognize the “philosopher’s stone” if he saw it. Thereupon he took a small ivory box out of his pocket, in which there were “three ponderous pieces or small lumps … each about the size of a small walnut, transparent, of a pale sulfur-skin color“.
The stranger explained to Dr. Schweitzer that this was the substance the alchemists were looking for, and let Dr. Schweitzer hold a piece in his hand to examine it and determine its authenticity. Still, when he asked the stranger to keep a small part of it, the stranger refused, took the piece, and put it back in his ivory box, which eventually ended up deep in his pocket, far away from Dr. Schweitzer’s reach, who fortunately managed to scrape off a tiny piece of the precious substance with his fingernail.
As soon as the unexpected visitor had left and promised to come back in three weeks to show him some “strange fire skills”, Dr. Schweitzer ran to his laboratory where he melted some lead in a crucible and added the tiny piece of stone. He wanted to see if the metal would turn into gold and prove the stranger’s words.
Strangely, this did not happen, but something else, even stranger and unexpected happened: “Almost the whole mass of the lead flew away, and the rest turned into a mere glassy earth”.
The Secret of Alchemy
As promised, the mysterious stranger returned three weeks later. Dr. Schweitzer was determined to get a larger piece of this substance he had never seen before, but the stranger only talked about the weather and would not show his little ivory box of stones.
Finally, Dr. Schweizer managed to persuade the stranger and was allowed to take a piece of the precious stone: “He gave me a crumb as big as a rape or turnip seed and said, take this little packet with the greatest treasure in the world, which truly few kings or princes have ever seen or known“.
When Dr. Schweitzer protested vehemently that this was not enough to turn four grains of lead into gold, the stranger cut the piece in half, threw one part into the fire, and said it was still enough for Dr. Schweitzer, who then confessed his theft and described the experiment, whereupon the stranger laughed and explained the appropriate method. He should wrap the piece in yellow wax to protect it from the rising vapors of the lead, and then it would turn into gold.
After saying this, the stranger left with the promise to show the next day how the transmutation worked, but that day never came, and one evening Dr. Schweitzer, after being pleaded with by his wife, went back to his laboratory and followed the procedure explained by the stranger. In less than a quarter of an hour, the entire mass of lead was transformed into the finest gold.
The next day Baruch Spinoza, who lived nearby, examined the gold and found it to be genuine, as did the provincial assayer, Mr. Porelius, and Mr. Buectel, the silversmith. Their testimonies have been preserved to this day.
The mysterious, dark stranger paid similar visits to others over the centuries
The legend of the appearance of a mysterious master alchemist demonstrating the alchemical process has appeared often enough in far-flung places and at various times to make the alchemical community believe that it was not a fraud. Sir Isaac Newton studied alchemy until his death and was convinced of the possibility of transmutation, as were Descartes and Leibnitz, to name but a few.
And so the story goes on. Could the stranger mentioned above be Comte Saint Germain, as some researchers claim?
The year is 1745, the British have just pushed back the French, but they are paranoid, believing that the Jacobites are still collaborating with their French sympathizers, and arrest every Frenchman in London. In November of the same year, an arrested Frenchman accused of Jacobite conspiracy calmly claims he was framed and is soon acquitted of all charges.
Horace Walpole, an English writer and Member of Parliament, wrote a letter about this incident to Sir Horace Mann on 9 December 1745, in which he noted: “The other day a strange man named Count Saint-Germain was arrested. He has been here two years and will not say who he is or whence he comes, but declares that he is not of his real name. He sings and plays the violin beautifully, is crazy, and is not very sensible.”
Another acquaintance of Count Saint-Germain, Count Warnstedt, called Saint-Germain “the most consummate charlatan, fool, babbler and swindler”. His last patron, on the other hand, said that Saint-Germain was “perhaps one of the greatest sages who ever lived“.
Saint-Germain first appears in Vienna in 1740, dressed all in black and never seen eating or drinking
He wore only glittering diamonds on his fingers, on his shoe buckles, and on his snuff box, and he had a habit of using diamonds instead of cash. Casanova wrote: “Instead of eating, he talked from the beginning to the end of the meal, and I followed his example in one respect: I did not eat but listened to him with the greatest attention. It is safe to say that he was incomparable as a conversationalist.” Colin Wilson, the author of The Occult, was of the opinion that Saint-Germain must have been a vegetarian.
Counts Zabor and Lobkowitz introduced Saint Germain to the French Marshal de Belle Isle, who was ill at the time and claimed that Saint Germain had miraculously cured him. The marshal was so enthusiastic about this strange man that he brought Saint-Germain to Paris and set up flats and a laboratory for him there. And here the rumors begin.
A Countess de B. wrote in her memoirs, Chroniques de l’oeil de boeuf, that she had met the Count at a soiree given by the old Countess of Georgy, whose late husband had been ambassador to Venice in the 1670s, and that the old Countess remembered Saint-Germain from that time. So she asked the Count if his father had been there then. He replied, no, but he had been there.
But the man the Countess of Georgy had known had been at least 45 then, at least 50 years before, and the man now standing before her could not be older than 45. The Count smiled and said that he was very old. Then he told some details that convinced the old lady that it was really him she had met in Venice.
Soon the Count had Louis XV and his mistress, Madame de Pompadour, on his side, and it may well be that he was a French spy in England when he was arrested there, for he later handled some delicate business for the bona fide King of France. In 1760 Louis sent Saint-Germain as his personal representative to the Hague to arrange a loan with Austria to finance the Seven Years’ War against England.
Cassanova strongly opposes Saint Germaine who becomes Count Orlov’s adviser
During his stay in Holland, a dispute arose between the Count and his friend Casanova, who was also a diplomat in The Hague. Casanova tried to discredit Saint-Germain in public, but without success.
He wrote: ‘This extraordinary man, intended by nature to be the king of impostors and quacks, said in a simple and sure way that he was three hundred years old, that he knew the secret of universal medicine, that he controlled nature, that he could melt diamonds and that he was able to form the finest water from ten or twelve small diamonds … All this, he said, was but a trifle to him. Despite his boastfulness, his blatant lies, and his manifold eccentricities, I cannot say that I found him offensive. Although I knew what he was, and despite my own feelings, I thought he was an amazing man …“
Another enemy of Saint-Germain was the Duc de Choiseul, King Louis’ foreign minister, who found out that Saint-Germain was exploring the possibilities of a peace treaty between England and France and convinced the king that this was a bad betrayal, so the Count had to flee to England and then back to Holland.
In Holland, the Count lived under the name Count Surmont and worked to raise money to set up laboratories where he made dyes and conducted his alchemical experiments. To all appearances, he was successful, for he disappeared from Holland with 100,000 guilders!
Later he appears under the name of Marquis de Montferrat in Belgium, where he also collects funds for the establishment of a laboratory, and after some time mysteriously disappears again. When Turkey declared war on Russia in 1768, his knowledge of French politics made him a valuable diplomat at the court of Catherine the Great.
He became an advisor to Count Alexei Orlov, the commander-in-chief of Russia’s imperial forces, who made him a high-ranking officer in the Russian army, and Saint-Germain adopted an English alias: “General Welldone.”
Saint Germaine poses as a Freemason but is discovered
In 1774, he is seen in Nuremberg asking money from the Margrave of Brandenburg, Charles Alexander, and posing as Prince Rakoczy of Transylvania. As chance would have it, Count Orlov was in Nuremberg on a state visit and met the prince cordially, which impressed the Margrave greatly, but did not stop him from making further inquiries about this strange man.
And he soon found out that the real Prince Rakoczy was dead and that this false prince was in fact only Count Saint-Germain, who denied nothing but disappeared again the next day. Saint-Germain went to Leipzig and introduced himself to Prince Frederick Augustus of Brunswick as a fourth-degree Freemason! But Frederick Augustus happened to be the Grand Master of the Prussian Masonic Lodges, so he challenged Saint-Germain with the secret signals and then sent him away as an impostor.
In 1779 Saint-Germain is 60 years old but continues to claim to be much older. He stays with Prince Karl of Hesse-Kassel at Eckenforde in Schleswig and allegedly dies there on 27 February 1784. He is buried on the spot and the Prince has a stone erected with the inscription: He, who called himself Comte de Saint-Germain and Welldone, about whom there is no further information, was buried in this church.
And then the Prince burned all the Count’s papers “so that they would not be misinterpreted”. But there is evidence that the Count did not die. In 1785, a year after his alleged death, Saint-Germain is said to have appeared in Wilhelmsbad, accompanied by the magician Cagliostro, the hypnotist Anton Mesmer and the “unknown philosopher” Louis Claude de St. Martin.
Next, he is said to have traveled to Sweden in 1789 to warn King Gustavus III of foreign danger. He then visited his girlfriend, the diarist Mademoiselle d’Adhemar, who said he still looked as if he was only 46 years old. Apparently, he told her that she would see him five more times, and she claimed that this was indeed the case. Allegedly, the last visit took place the night before the Duc de Berri was murdered in 1820.
Who was Saint-Germain, a man of many extraordinary talents
The mystery of Saint-Germain is heightened by the uncertainty about his origins. One source says that he was born in San Germano in 1710, the son of a tax collector. Eliphas Levi, the 19th-century occultist, said that Saint-Germain was born in Lentmeritz in Bohemia and was the illegitimate son of a nobleman who was a Rosicrucian
The fact is that Saint-Germain had a real gift for languages and spoke fluent French, German, English, Dutch, and Russian. He also claimed to be fluent in Chinese, Hindu, and Persian, but there was no one to test him in these languages. And Horace Walpole said he was a wonderful violinist, singer, and painter, although nothing of his alleged art has survived.
Supposedly he was able to paint jewels that glittered in a very lifelike way. There is also much evidence that Saint-Germain was an expert jeweler – he claimed to have learned the art from the Shah of Persia. In any case, he is said to have repaired a faulty diamond for Louis XV, who was very pleased with the result
Saint-Germain also had extensive knowledge of chemistry in all its branches at the time, and the numerous laboratories he set up with borrowed money were all for the production of brighter and better pigments and dyes, as well as alchemical studies.
Napoleon III ordered a commission to investigate Saint-Germain’s life and activities, but the results were destroyed in a fire at the Hotel de Ville in Paris in 1871 – which many believe was a coincidence.
In the 1920s, Berthold Volz found out that the Duc de Choiseul, who was very jealous of the Count, hired an impostor who pretended to be the Count and exaggerated to put the Count in a bad light. And that’s all we know about the mysterious life of Saint-Germaine.
Writer and director who thinks different and does everything differently. Art enthusiast. Wandering and wondering. Until the end of meaning.