The Comte de St. Germain, by Isabel Cooper-Oakley, , at sacred-texts.com
THE diplomatic correspondence which forms almost the whole of this paper is practically an appendix to the last chapter. The details given are interesting and important links in that chain of events which brought M. de St. Germain to England. Chance, good-fortune, or some beneficent power gave the clue to these hidden records.
The "Mitchell Papers," in which these interesting letters have been so long concealed, have never yet been entirely published. It appears that George III. requested that these documents should not be made public during his life, and they were accordingly consigned to the personal care of Mr. Planta, Keeper of the British Museum.
This correspondence was bought by the Trustees of the Museum from Sir William Forbes, the heir of Sir Andrew Mitchell, who had been Envoy at Berlin during the time that all these events took place. A certain portion of the record of his diplomatic career was published by Mr. Bisset in 1850; no mention, however, was made of M. de
[paragraph continues] St. Germain, and the letters which treated of him were unnoticed.
There appears, curiously enough, to have been a "conspiracy of silence" amongst the diplomatists and writers of this period and later, for it is a constantly recurring experience to find all reference to our philosopher carefully excluded, even in cases where the original sources contain much information about him.
A striking instance of such omission is found by searching the different editions of works in which M. de St. Germain is mentioned; the later editions usually exclude the information given in the earlier ones. Notably may this be seen in a work 1 already referred to, by Dr. Carl von Weber, Keeper of the Saxon Archives in Dresden. In the first edition of this work there is a long article on M. de St. Germain, which is not to be found in the later editions of these volumes. Instances might be easily multiplied of this steady omission wherever possible.
Now the Foreign Office records contain a voluminous correspondence, which is by permission at length being gathered together; this includes the letters of Prince Galitzin, who was at the period Russian Minister in England. All the
correspondence is marked "secret," and can only be seen when sanctioned.
The British Museum records have no such restrictions, hence the documents which make up this paper have been copied without delay. The first letter appears to show that Lord Holdernesse already knew of M. de St. Germain, but no facts have so far been found on this point. The language is quaint, and the style somewhat heavy, but the contents present a page of history well worth our study.
It must be remembered that the mission undertaken by the Comte de St. Germain was a secret one, and that he had to disguise how far he was in the confidence of Louis XV.; with this point in mind it will be easier to understand the difficulties in which he was involved. Turning now to the documents, we find that the first letter is from General Yorke.
MITCHELL PAPERS, VOL. XV.
LD. HOLDERNESSE'S DESPATCHES, etc. 1760; 6818, PLUT. P. L., CLXVIII. 1. (12).
Copy of General Yorke's letter to the Earl of Holdernesse; Hague, March 14th, 1760. In Lord Holdernesse's of the 21st, 1760. Secret.
"Hague, March 14th, 1760.
"My present situation is so very delicate,
that I am sensible I stand in need of the utmost indulgence, which I hope I shall continue to find from His Majesty's unbounded goodness, and that your Lordship is convinced that whatever I say, or do, has no other motive but the advantage of the King's service. As it has pleased His Majesty to convey to France His sentiments in general upon the situation of affairs in Europe, and to express by me His wishes for restoring the public tranquillity, I suppose the Court of Versailles imagines the same channel may be the proper one for addressing itself to that of England. This is, at least, the most natural way of accounting for the pains taken by France to employ anybody to talk to me.
"Your Lordship knows the history of that extraordinary man, known by the name of Count St. Germain, who resided some time in England where he did nothing; and has within these two or three years resided in France where he has been upon the most familiar footing with the French King, Madame Pompadour, M. de Belle-isle, etc.; which has procured him a grant of the Royal Castle of Chambord, 1 and has enabled him to make a certain figure in that country.
"He appeared, for some days, at Amsterdam where he was much caressed and talked of, and upon the marriage of Princess Caroline alighted
at the Hague. The same curiosity created the same attention to him here. His volubility of tongue furnished him with hearers; his freedom upon all subjects, all kinds of suppositions--among which his being sent about Peace not the least.
"M. d’Affry treats him with respect and attention but is very jealous of him and did not so much as renew my acquaintance with him. He called, however, at my door. I returned his visit; and yesterday he desired to speak with me in the afternoon, but did not come as he appointed, and therefore he renewed his application this morning and was admitted. He began immediately to run on about the bad state of France--their want of Peace--their desire to make it, and his own particular ambition to contribute to an event so desirable for humanity in general; he ran on about his predilection for England and Prussia which he pretended at present made him a good friend to France.
"As I knew so much of this man, and did not choose to enter into conversation without being better informed, I affected at first to be very grave and dry--told him that those affairs were too delicate to be treated between persons who had no vocation and therefore desired to know what he meant. I suppose this style was irksome to him, for immediately afterwards he produced
to me, by way of credentials, two letters from Marshal Belleisle, one dated the 4th, the other the 26th of February. In the first he sends him the French King's passport en blanc for him to fill up; in the second he expresses great impatience to hear from him, and in both runs out in praises of his zeal, his ability, and the hopes that are founded upon what he is gone about. I have no doubt of the authenticity of those letters.
"After perusing them, and some commonplace compliments, I asked him to explain himself, which he did as follows:--the King, the Dauphin, Madame Pompadour, and all the Court and Nation, except the Duke Choiseul and Mr. Berrier, desire peace with England. They can't do otherwise, for their interior requires it. They want to know the real sentiments of England, they wish to make up matters with some honour. M. d’Affry is not in the secret, and the Duke Choiseul is so Austrian that he does not tell all he receives; but that signifies nothing, for he will be turned out. Madame Pompadour is not Austrian, but is not firm, because she does not know what to trust to; if she is sure of Peace, she will become so. It is she, and the Marshal Belleisle, with the French King's knowledge, who send St. Germain as the forlorn hope. Spain is not relied upon; that is a turn given by the Duke Choiseul, and they don't pretend to expect
much good from that quarter. This, and much more, was advanced by this political Adventurer. I felt myself in a great doubt whether I should enter into conversation; but as I am convinced he is really sent, as he says, I thought I should not be disapproved if I talked in general terms. I therefore told him that the King's desire for Peace was sincere, and there could be no doubt of it, since we had made the proposal in the middle of our success which had much increased since; that with our Allies, the affair was easy, without them impossible; and that France knew our situation too well, to want such information from me; that as to particulars, we must be convinced of their desire, before they could be touched upon, and that, besides, I was not informed; I talked of the dependence of France upon the two Empresses, and the disagreeable prospect before them even if the King of Prussia was unfortunate, but declined going any farther than the most general, though the most positive, assurance of a desire for Peace on His Majesty's part.
"As the conversation grew more animated I asked him what France had felt the most for in her losses, whether it was Canada? No, he said, for they felt it had cost them thirty-six millions, and brought them no return. Guadaloupe? They would never stop the Peace for that, as they
would have sugar enough without it. The East Indies? That he said was the same place, as it was connected with all their money affairs. I asked him what they said of Dunkirk? He made no difficulty to demolish it, and that I might depend upon it. He then asked me what we thought about Minorca? I answered, that we had forgot it, at least, nobody ever mentioned it; that, says he, I have told them over and over again, and they are embarrassed with the expense.
"This is the material part of what passed in the course of three hours' conversation which I promised to relate; he begged the secret might be kept, and he should go to Amsterdam, and to Rotterdam, till he knew whether I had any answer; which I neither encouraged, nor discouraged him from expecting.
"I humbly hope His Majesty will not disapprove what I have done; it is not easy to conduct oneself under such circumstances, though I can as easily break off all intercourse as I have taken it up.
"The King seemed desirous to open the door for Peace, and France seems in great want of it; the opportunity looks favourable, and I shall wait for orders before I stir a step farther. A General Congress seems not to their taste, and they seem willing to go farther than they care
to say, but they would be glad of some offer; and H. M. C. M., and the Lady, are a little indolent in taking a resolution.
"I have, etc.
It is clear that the English Envoy found himself in a difficult position; the credentials of the Comte de St. Germain were sufficiently good to ensure a hearing, but he was not an accredited Minister. George II. seems to have understood the complication to some extent, as it would appear from the answer sent at his command, by Lord Holdernesse, which runs as follows:
Copy of letter from the Earl of Holdernesse to Major-General Yorke. Secret.
"Whitehall, March 21st, 1760.
"I have the pleasure to acquaint you that His Majesty entirely approves your conduct in the conversation you had with Count St. Germain, of which you give an account in your secret letter of the 14th.
"The King particularly applauds your caution of not entering into conversation with him, till he produced two letters from Marshal Belleisle, which you rightly observe were a sort of credential; as you talked to him only in general
terms, and in a way conformable to your former instructions, no detriment could arise to His Majesty's service were everything you said publicly known.
"His Majesty does not think it unlikely that Count St. Germain may really have been authorised (perhaps even with the knowledge of His Most Christian Majesty) by some Persons of weight in the Councils of France to talk as he has done, and no matter what the channel is if a desirable end can be obtained by it. But there is no venturing farther conversations between one of the King's accredited Ministers and such a person as this St. Germain is, according to his present appearance. What you say will be authentic; whereas, St. Germain will be disavowed with very little ceremony whenever the Court of France finds it convenient. And by his own account his commission is not only unknown to the French Ambassador at the Hague, but even to the Minister for Foreign Affairs at Versailles, who, though threatened with the same fate that befel the Cardinal Bernis, is still the apparent Minister.
"It is therefore His Majesty's pleasure that you should acquaint Count St. Germain that in answer to the letters you wrote me in consequence of your conversation with him, you are directed to say, that you cannot talk with him
upon such interesting subjects unless he produces some authentic proof of his being really employed with the knowledge and consent of His Most Christian Majesty. But at the same time you may add, that the King, ever ready to prove the sincerity and purity of his intentions to prevent the farther effusion of Christian blood, will be ready to open Himself on the conditions of a Peace, if the Court of France will employ a person duly authorised to negotiate on that subject; provided always, that it be previously explained and understood, that in case the two Crowns shall come to agree on the terms of their Peace, that the Court of France shall expressly and confidentially agree that His Majesty's Allies, and nommément the King of Prussia, are to be comprehended in the accomodement à faire.
"It is unnecessary to add that England will never so much as hear any Pourparlers of a Peace which is not to comprehend His Majesty as Elector.
"I am, etc.,
In a passage quoted from the Memoirs of Baron de Gleichen (THEOSOPHICAL REVIEW, xxii., 45), we have seen with how little ceremony M. de St. Germain was thrown over at the King's Council, and Lord Holdernesse spoke truly when writing:
[paragraph continues] "What you will say will be authentic; whereas St. Germain will be disavowed with very little ceremony whenever the Court of France finds it convenient."
The next letter from General Yorke shows that the Duc de Choiseul was working against this much desired peace.
Copy of letter from Major-General Yorke to the Earl of Holderness. Secret.
"Hague, April 4th, 1760.
"The credit of my political Adventurer, M. de St. Germain, does not seem to have gained ground since my last; and the Duc de Choiseul seems so much set upon discrediting him that he takes true pains to prevent his meddling in any affairs. I have not seen him since our second interview, and I thought it more prudent to let him alone till he produces something more authentic, comformable to the tenor of the orders I had received; he is, however, still here.
"The Duc de Choiseul has, however, acquainted M. d’Affry that he should again renew to him peremptorily to meddle in nothing which related to the political affairs of France, and accompanied this order with a menace of the consequence if he did. Madame de Pompadour is not pleased with him neither for insinuating things against
[paragraph continues] M. d’Affry, of which, either from inclination or apprehension, she has acquainted the Duc de Choiseul. So that he has acquired an enemy more than he had. Marshal Belleisle, too, had wrote to him under M. d’Affry's cover, but in civil terms, thanking him for his zeal and activity, but telling him, at the same time, that as the French King had an Ambassador at the Hague in whom he placed his confidence, he might safely communicate to him what he thought was for the service of France; the tone of Marshal Belleisle's letters shows that he had been more connected with St. Germain than the Duc de Choiseul, who is outrageous against him and seems to have the upper hand.
"In all this correspondence, however, there has appeared as yet nothing about St. Germain and me. The whole relates to the affairs of Holland, the insinuations St. Germain had made of the wrong measures they took here, and the bad hands they were in; I take it for granted, however, that as the Duc de Choiseul has got the better of him in one instance, he will be able to do it in all the others, especially as in that Minister's letter to M. d’Affry, he desires him to forewarn all the Foreign Ministers from listening to him, as the Court might lose all credit and confidence either about Peace or War, if such a man gained any credit.
"A person of consequence, to whom M. d’Affry showed all the letters, gave me this account, to whom he added, Who knows what he may have said to Mr. Yorke, as I know he has been to wait upon him. M. d’Affry told this person likewise, that he was fully authorised to receive any proposals from England, and that France having the worst of the quarrel could not make the first proposals; that he had opened himself to me, as far as could be expected at first, but that as I had taken no notice of him since, they imagined England went back.
"I won't pretend to draw any other conclusion from all this except that they seem still cramped with the unnatural connexion of Vienna which the Duc de Choiseul has still credit enough to support, and consequently, as long as that prevails, we cannot expect anything but chicanes and delays in the negotiations; they have been repeatedly told that His Majesty cannot and will not treat but in conjunction with his Ally; the King of Prussia is to be excluded, from whence it is reasonable to conclude that they will try their chance in war once more, tho’ Those who govern seem inclined to keep the door open for coming back again if necessary.
"I have the honour to be, etc.,
In some of this correspondence there are long passages in cipher (numerals), to which there is no key for the public. It is impossible, therefore, to know whether the written words contain the exact meaning or not. Space will not permit the whole correspondence to appear, so we must pass on to a letter from Lord Holdernesse to Mr. Mitchell, the English Envoy in Prussia.
The Earl of Holdernesse. R. 17th, May at Meissen (by a Prussian Messenger). 1
"Whitehall, May 6th, 1760.
"You will have learnt by several of my late letters, all that has passed between General Yorke and Count St. Germain at the Hague, and I am persuaded General Yorke will not have failed to inform you as well of the formal disavowal he has met with from M. de Choiseul as of his resolution to come into England in order to avoid the further resentment of the French Minister.
"Accordingly he arrived here some days ago.
[paragraph continues] But as it was evident that he was not authorised, even by that part of the French Ministry in whose name he pretended to talk, as his séjour here could be of no use, and might be attended by disagreeable consequences, it was thought proper to seize him upon his arrival here. His examination has produced nothing very material. His conduct and language are artful, with an odd mixture which it is difficult to define.
"Upon the whole it has been thought most advisable not to suffer him to remain in England, and he set out accordingly on Saturday morning last with an intention to take shelter in some part of his Prussian Majesty's Dominions, doubting whether he would be safe in Holland. At his earnest and repeated request he saw Baron Knyphausen during his confinement, but none of the King's Servants saw him.
"The King thought it right you should be informed of this transaction; it is the King's pleasure you should communicate the substance of this letter to his Prussian Majesty.
"I am, with great truth and regard, Sir,
"Your most obedient and humble Servant,
There is a mystery about this visit of M. de St. Germain to England which is not solved by
the letter of Lord Holdernesse. Even if he did leave at once, his return must have been almost immediate, since the newspapers and magazines of the period comment on his arrival in May and June, 1760.
In the London Chronicle, June 3rd, 1760, there is a long account of his arrival in England, speaking of him in favourable terms. There are hints to be found in various places that he did not really leave; but so far the actual facts of what occurred are not quite clear. There is more yet to be learned in this curious bye-way of European politics.
Peace appears more difficult to arrange than war, and the personal desires of the French Ministers blocked the way of this mission. Difficult indeed must have been the undertaking for the Comte de St. Germain, k thankless the work; at every turn he met opposition, and could not count on support. All this forms a deeply interesting study, but we must now pass on to the mystical and philosophical side of this little understood life.
112:1 WEBER (Dr. Carl von), Aus vier Jahrhunderten. Mittheilungen aus dem Haupt-Staats-Archive zu Dresden, Leipzig, 1857.
114:1 An Apartment in the Castle: v. Appendix I.
125:1 This letter from Lord Holdernesse is to Mr. Mitchell, who was the English Representative at the Prussian Court. From this it appears that M. de St. Germain was taken in custody on arriving in England; and Lord Holdernesse sends word to this effect to the Prussian King. This Baron Knyphausen has been already mentioned as a friend of M. de St. Germain by Mons. Dieudonné Thiébault (Mes Souvenirs de vingt ans de séjour à Berlin, vol. iv., p. 83, 3rd ed., Paris, 1813), who gives an account of their meeting in Berlin at a much later date.