The 18th Century Version of L. Ron Hubbard Convinced the World He Was Immortal

There are two ways to look at the Comte de Saint Germain. One is that he was a brilliant flim-flam artist who lived better by his wits than most people did by either their work or their inherited wealth. The other that he wasn't anything - that he is an immortal alchemist who has continued to show up into the present day.

If the Comte de Saint Germain is still around, he must be regretting making such a splash in the 1700s. Ever since then, people haven't stopped talking about him, though no one even knows his name. Some say that he was Rákóczi Lipót Lajos György József Antal, a minor prince of Transylvania. Some say he was the illegitimate son of the widow of Charles II of Spain. Some say, no kidding, that he was The Wandering Jew, a legendary figure who made fun of Jesus Christ on the way to the crucifixion and was cursed to walk the Earth forever.

The 18th Century Version of L. Ron Hubbard Convinced the World He Was Immortal

If he was the Wandering Jew, he certainly didn't seem to be taking his curse too seriously. He sang, danced, conducted romances, was covered in jewels at all times, and enjoyed a life of luxury. He lived as a rich man, without seeming to have a bank account or source of income. He was fluent in all the major European and Russian court languages, and was familiar with Chinese, Arabic, Greek and Sanskrit. He painted beautifully, played the violin flawlessly, and acted as a court counselor to whatever king he was staying with (although he was arrested for a time in England on suspicion of being a Jacobite spy). He said that he got by because he managed to find the mysterious way to turn other metals into gold. He said he could turn multiple small diamonds into one large one, and remove the flaws from any diamond. Mostly, though, he claimed to be immortal.

The immortality claims started in France when a countess in the early 1740s said that she had met his father around 1710. He replied that she had met him, not his father, and when she laughed and said that that couldn't be, because the man she had met looked about forty-five, and the man in front of her looked the same age, he replied that he was "very old." Over the next half-century, he claimed to be anywhere between three hundred and nearly two thousand years old - he started the Wandering Jew rumors himself. Casanova, who met him, believed his stories. Madame de Pompadour and Marie Antoinette, who both also met him, seemed to be taken in as well. Even Voltaire, who historians can usually count on to say something dismissive and cutting about anyone, claimed that the Comte was, "a man who never dies, and who knows everything."

But what actually did he do? And how did he get his money? Although he likely wasn't an alchemist, he was a damn good chemist, and had a lab set up for him everywhere he went. One of the few monetary transactions that we know he made was giving out potions for hair dye and anti-wrinkling. Although we still haven't gotten an anti-wrinkling formula down, hair dye that worked would have been in demand in the 1700s, especially at court. The start of the Comte's fortune was probably made because he had a chemist's ability to come up with beauty aids, and he managed in his claims to longevity, to be his own advertisement for his products. If it made a three-hundred-year-old man look good, surely a cream could take off a few years.

But beauty chemistry wasn't his only talent. The Comte also had a gift for royal intrigue. He was undoubtedly advising the king of France for years at a time - and there was good money to be made in that. He finally meddled too much in regards to a territorial dispute between Austria and France, and had to move on. From there he went to Russia, and was said to have been instrumental in getting Catherine II the Great on the throne. That probably got him a few year's worth of jewel money, too.

The 18th Century Version of L. Ron Hubbard Convinced the World He Was Immortal

In the end, though, he made money off his own legend. Most princes of Europe weren't hoping to meet their maker all that soon, and some joined a cult that the Comte started pretty much around himself. He stayed at their palaces as he traveled around until late 1784, preaching, telling tales, and still advertising his immortality products. In an unusual move for an immortal, he is recorded as having died. The costs of his burial were even set down in a local German church's records. But devotees of the Comte kept saying he was meeting with them secretly over the next few centuries. In 1897, a singer said she had given him a portrait of himself. Helena Blavatsky, the leader of a Theosophical Society and cult of her own, displayed a portrait of them together, taken in the mid-1800s. (He is on the far right.)

The last person to claim to be the Comte went on television in France in the 1970s and demonstrated turning lead into gold. That man later committed suicide, but the legend lives on. You can find the Comte's texts, and his followers, online to this day. Unfortunately, no one seems to have located the man. It's unlikely that anyone will. Germain seems to have gone underground since the 1700s. If one of our commenters turns out to be the Comte, do be a dear and tell me about that immortality potion, and also how to bring out the red in my hair. You can use a burner account if you like.

Via Britannica and About.com,