Saint-Germain, comte de
(count of) born c. 1710
died Feb. 27, 1784?, Eckernfvrde, Schleswig?
18th-century adventurer, known as der Wundermann
Of his real name or parentage and place of birth, nothing is definitely known; the common version is that he was a Portuguese Jew. He knew nearly all the European languages. He was a musical composer and a capable violinist. His knowledge of history was comprehensive, and his accomplishments as a chemist, on which he based his reputation, were in many ways considerable. He pretended to have a secret for removing flaws from diamonds and for transmuting metals.
Saint-Germain is mentioned in a letter of Horace Walpole's as being in London about 1743 and as being arrested as a Jacobite spy and released. At the French court, where he appeared about 1748, he exercised for a time extraordinary influence and was employed on secret missions by Louis XV; but, having interfered in the dispute between Austria and France, he was compelled in June 1760, owing to the hostility of the Duke de Choiseul, to remove to England. He appears to have resided in London for one or two years, but he was at St. Petersburg in Russia in 1762 and is asserted to have played an important part in the conspiracy against Tsar Peter III in July of that year, a plot that placed Catherine II the Great on the Russian throne. He then went to Germany, where, according to the Mimoires authentiques of the adventurer the Count di Cagliostro, he was the founder of freemasonry and initiated Cagliostro into that rite. He was again in Paris from 1770 to 1774, and, after frequenting several of the German courts, he took up his residence in Schleswig-Holstein, where he and the landgrave Charles of Hesse pursued together the study of the "secret" sciences. He died, probably in Schleswig, in 1784, although he is said to have been seen in Paris in 1789.
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