Death is nothing but unbelief (Leonard Jones, 18th century American politician)
Who hasn’t imagined what it would be like to live forever? Many have dedicated their entire lives searching for an elixir, a place, or someone who could make this true. Stories of vampires are all linked to this desire. Those of us who trust science, find no basis in such a belief; but even the most steadfast skeptic can indulge in fantasy and a good story.
Such is the case of Count St. Germain who claimed, and had other claim, that he is immortal. He was born around 1690 and “officially” died in 1784. But this was just a bad day for St. Germain, because soon after his death he was spotted all over Europe, usually mingling with famous people. Years and centuries went by and St. Germain appeared again and again, always looking around 45 years old. There appears to be no doubt that he did live, because his existence was documented by various notables in the 18th century—including Madame de Pompadour, Voltaire, King Louis XV, Catherine the Great, Anton Mesmer, and even George Washington. The events after his death are the stuff of fun conjecture and weave a great yarn!
The count’s origins were murky, when he showed up in high social circles in Europe in the 1740s charming people with his music, his wit, and his intelligence.
It was said that he spoke 12 languages, was an alchemist who made potions for removing wrinkles, was an accomplished violinist and composer, and knew history thoroughly. He appeared to be independently wealthy, with clothing and shoes studded with jewels, but he had no bank accounts. He dined often, but was rarely seen eating, saying he subsisted on oatmeal.
At parties everyone gathered about him to listen to his tales, and claims that an elixir made him immortal. Voltaire said he was “A man who knows everything and who never dies.” But Voltaire was known for his sarcasm and it is quite probable that he said this in jest.
As expected, the count had a reputation as a ladies’ man. Giacomo Casanova, reputed as the greatest lover, seethed with envy whenever he heard the count’s name, and said his claims were “bare-faced lies.” Writer and politician Horace Walpole wrote that Count Saint Germain was charged with espionage in 1743 while in London, then released. He then showed up at the court of Louis XV of France where the monarch employed him as a diplomat, and tasked him with clandestine jobs which may have included spying on England. Never one to stay in a single place for long, he traveled to Russia, allegedly embroiled in a plot to overthrow Tsar Peter III and replace him with Catherine the Great.
On his return to the royal court of France, a countess
who had known him in 1710, expressed shock that he had not aged one bit. She even thought it must have been his father; but the count confirmed that this was not so, that they had indeed met fifty years before. He told her a magic elixir kept him young. "Madame, I am very old," he said with a wink.
Saint-Germain traveled extensively throughout Europe over the next 40 years, and never seemed to age. He moved to Germany and developed a friendship with Prince Karl of Hesse-Kassel, who considered him “one of the greatest philosophers who ever lived.” The prince offered him a house where he could study herbal remedies and alchemy. Just before his death in 1784, St Germain told the prince that he was of royal blood himself, the son of a deposed Transylvanian prince.
This is where the story becomes interesting, because a year after his death he was spotted hanging out with hypnotist Anton Mesmer in Germany, and in 1789 he was back in Paris advising the royals that the revolutionaries were after their heads. The same countess who had been surprised by his youthful appearance said she saw the count on many occasions after 1784. In 1821 she wrote: “I have seen Saint Germain again, each time to my amazement.” She claimed he was there when Marie Antoinette was killed by the guillotine in 1793, and on the eve of the murder of the Duke de Berry in 1820, and he never aged. And so it continued over the next two centuries, with many claims of sightings of the count, always looking youthful. A New Orleans legend claims a man calling himself Jacques St. Germain appeared in the city in 1904, and looked uncannily like the old count.
The last claim came in the 1970s when French actor, Richard Chanfray began to insist that he was the famous count, and demonstrated turning lead into gold in front of an audience on television.
There is undeniably, a smidgen of resemblance to the count, but that smidgen was sufficient for his acolytes, and Chanfrey became the legendary count for them. When Chanfray committed suicide in 1983, his legend grew, with followers claiming no body was ever found.
So there you have it, the strange, unbelievable story of an 18th century count that shows up again and again. Will Elvis be able to claim the same?