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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 10
This webpage reproduces part of
A Late Stuart Pretender

by George Sherburn

published by
The University of Chicago Press

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 12

p118 Chapter Eleven

A note on Finances

One can hardly follow the pleasantly roving life of Roehenstart without asking, How did he do it? What did he live on? Or, in the good American idiom, What did he do for a living? The frank answer is that we do not much know the source of his income: he seems seldom to have bothered about the problem of earning. At first one is inclined to suspect that he lived in a good period in which to live by one's wits — the period extending from the time when Richard Brinsley Sheridan so cleverly manipulated his creditors to the time of Vanity Fair. Roehenstart certainly had the charm necessary for living by his wits or off his friends. But he lived modestly and quietly: he was no frequenter of Vanity Fair. We find him often seeking small loans, but he always repaid them — though at times with exasperating tardiness. His life never appears as physically uncomfortable. He lived in good parts of the cities visited, and he traveled much. In London at one time he is found paying two guineas a week for lodgings, with les vivres supplied at additional expense. In Berne, Switzerland, he knew and possibly lived in a pension at six guineas a week — though he was proud of finding good cheap dinners elsewhere.

At the risk of tedious repetition it may be well to assemble the relatively few statements about his finances that are preserved to us: some of them are clearly untrustworthy and others hypothetical. There is of course the bare possibility of his being well connected through one or more married sisters. At the end of 1833 he wrote to his wife saying of a friend, "Count Alexander Potocki lost 25 millions landed property," and he adds, "the sister's daughter [Potocki's niece] nearly 40 married to one of my people Mr. Bower — about £2,000 a year." Such remarks probably indicate nothing as to Roehenstart's own income.

After he was beyond strong compulsion to fabricate (though the p119habit persisted) he said in 1839, "By the death of my father I came early into possession of a good estate besides a very large sum of ready money, the produce of my mother's diamonds." Since he certainly never got his mother's diamonds, one may be inclined to doubt also the statement about an estate from his father. It is probably his fictitious Swedish father of whom he intended one to think, whereas most likely he did get something from his actual Rohan father. Prince Ferdinand and Roehenstart evidently did on occasion use the same London bankers, Turnbull, Forbes and Company, and thus one may assume that Roehenstart got something from his real father.

In building up in his Memorial (1816) a picture of extreme indigence, Roehenstart exaggerated his poverty, for after the failure of the Memorial, he is doleful over the fact that from a "large sum of money owed to him in Russia" and Fr. 60,000 due him in Paris (from the estate of his deceased father?) he could not at the moment raise "one shilling." This concealed background of his indigence may again be the product of imagination; but clearly throughout his career there was a small fortune or at least a small steady income always to be counted on.

While he was in Russia, he had money invested with one Sofniew, who late in 1811 proved completely bankrupt. That failure gave color to the story used to explain Roehenstart's hasty departure from Russia. He still left money behind him there, and at various times called upon Russian agents for money. He repeatedly asked the Duchess of Württemberg to forward sums due him — sometimes without result.

At the end of 1811 when he reached London, as he tells it in the Memorial, "I received news that a merchant, Mr. Forbes, in whose hands was placed the greatest part of my fortune had become bankrupt, and gone to the United States of America." Since this bankruptcy had taken place in 1802‑3, Roehenstart probably knew of it before his arrival in London. Possibly the failure of Sofniew led Roehenstart to pursue to America the absent partner of the bankrupt firm of Turnbull, Forbes and Company. This firm, it will be remembered, had acted as agents for the Rohans in managing their estate in San Domingo. As a conclusion to the Forbes story Roehenstart added, "After my arrival in Philadelphia I had the satisfaction to recover a part of my money." If months later he had anything like $18,000 to invest in his brig "Alexander," he probably secured the money either from Forbes or from the San Domingo estate. In spite of his failure to settle his small American debts before leaving, he probably left America with some p120money recovered from his cargo. He sailed from Salem with suspicious promptness after reaching a settlement.

He returned from America owing money to various friends, and he thought he paid them by sending to Mrs. Chapus a draft on Henry Cruger of Baltimore, drawn by Rev. John Audain, Rector of Charmouth, who to cover the sum had received £225 from Roehenstart. In the Memorial Roehenstart blows up this sum to £600 and complains bitterly of having been cheated, though in this document he does not name Audain. It was the worthlessness of Audain's draft that involved Roehenstart with Count Sampigny, to whom the greater part of the money should have gone.

After the failure of the Memorial, it will be remembered that Roehenstart considered studying medicine: he wanted to earn a living. If his preserved papers show anything, they show that he had a passion for organizing and imparting information. He knew that his familiarity with various languages equipped him to be a teacher of languages. He did teach some young friends, but it is not clear that, after leaving his pupils in Russia, he was ever paid as a teacher of languages. He did, however, in 1818‑19 escort two young gentlemen about Greece, Asia Minor, and the Greek islands, and evidently thought he should, for his services, receive something like Fr. 2,800. There was some trouble over the payment, with unknown results. In 1831‑35 he was attached somehow to the staff of Admiral Sir Henry Hotham or some other officer, and was enabled to see the world of the eastern Mediterranean through the courtesy of the British Navy. Unless he had rank as an officer (which seems doubtful), the summer voyages on the "St. Vincent" and other ships would not be lucrative, but they probably involved no considerable expenditures on his part. Possibly he was paid as an interpreter or something of the sort. His naval career seems not to have lasted long. In 1839 he asked a friend to address him at "Baden, Zum Zähringer Hof, par Strasbourg," where, as he says, "I usually pass the summer": one must thus assume that his summer cruises with the navy were past. But whether he usually spent many summers in any one place may be doubted. He had few usual actions.

When really needed, money seems to have been available. Upon the failure of the Memorial, Roehenstart set off for France and Italy, with no talk of inability to raise "one shilling." In 1819 he told the French police (who certified his modest manner of life) that he lived only on advances made him by the banker Coutts and two other unnamed friends. The statement has to be accepted with some, but not complete, p121respect. Again, when his first wife died and was buried (1821) in London, he set off to Italy presumably to bear the unhappy news to her family in Turin or Milan. He left London on July 28, 1921, and was back again on August 15. The expenses of the hurried trip, as he set them down in detail, amounted to £206 6s. 10d. — a sum that belies indigence.

On one page that concerns money he notes that on June 1, 1823, he is to receive Fr. 6,211 40c. from the Duc de Castries. This is a particularly suggestive detail since in the Archives Nationales in Paris there exists a letter from Radesse (an agent) to Prince Ferdinand de Rohan, dated August 23, 1790, which reminds the Prince that "la terre d'Ollanville" is at the time in possession of the Duc de Castries, and cannot be used to raise funds. The duke of 1823 might still have the lands held by the duke of 1790 from the Rohans — a possibility that encourages one in the opinion that Roehenstart somehow did get property from his real father.

In an undated letter written on black-edged paper, presumably after the death of his second wife, Roehenstart sends money owed to his friend Colonel Julien with apologetic explanations as to the unhappy delays involved:

Having a few days ago come into possession of a small inheritance, I feel a great pleasure in enclosing here £100 in two Fifty Pounds [sic] Notes, which, I trust, will arrive safely. — I deeply deplored my total incapacity, in spite of strong appearances, to repay my debt, when you did apply for it. Since that very long time I have tried earnestly to save money enough to refund a few Hundred Pounds; but after the bankruptcy of Hoffman & Co [1829] I gave up my plan as totally hopeless, for I was reduced to live upon an income which in the best years, did not exceed £140, and was sometimes under £100. I did then apply in vain to various persons who owed me, for money lent, more than ten times the amount of all my debts, and I took the resolution to ensure my life, and thus secure to my creditors at my death a sufficient sum to compensate them for having waited so long for their money. Still in the mean time I actually contrived to live in a respectable manner, although obliged by my rank and position to receive company and give now and then suiting entertainments. The thing was not easy; but I have accomplished it, paying regularly all my tradespeople, and never, ah never borrowing money, for I had suffered too much on this account.

One can hardly believe the whole of this statement. At least one may believe that Roehenstart lived modestly and respectably, and that he allowed debts to remain outstanding for a very long time. An p122examination of his papers leads one to doubt that he lived for long on less than £140 a year.

About the year 1825 Roehenstart had become interested in iron works at Terre Noire (near Lyons?)a and invested in a forge there. The investment was unprofitable, but the mere fact of an investment indicates something in the way of initial income. A traveler must naturally in different places make use of different bankers. Roehenstart's bankers in various cities were frequently his surest addresses for letters. In 1823 Sampigny, unaware just where Roehenstart was, directed a letter to him in care of Messrs. Meulemeester & fils, bankers in Ghent, to be forwarded. In London Roehenstart used Coutts and Company and the new, powerful firm of N. M. Rothschild, whose representative in Naples (C. M. Rothschild) he also used. Before 1829 he had been presenting letters of credit from Herries Farquhar & Co. of London to Fridrich Christian Hoffman of Düsseldorf; but in 1829 Hoffman died, and his clients were then referred to M. Arnould Hasset of Düsseldorf. In 1823 Roehenstart had correspondence with an agent in Frankfurt-am‑Main about the purchase of a lottery ticket, and in 1835 he received through M. S. Bing of Frankfurt an account of the sale of the "grand & magnifique palais, No. 70 a Vienne," from which Roehenstart was to profit. His connection with this sale is not known. He possessed more than one Russian bond, one of which he sold in 1831 for £300 2s. 4d.

It would not be strange if both of his marriages brought him modest sums. The expensive trip to Turin after the death of his first wife seems to indicate something of the sort, and evidently Mrs. Bouchier Smith, mother of the second wife, suspected a mercenary interest in her daughter on Roehenstart's part. Mrs. Stuart, as Constance was called after her marriage with Roehenstart, evidently did aid her husband financially. In one of his summaries of a letter to her (January 4, 1834)b he says: "My way of thinking about money matters is different of [sic] most people &c. the money is yours alone, and if that which you seem to imply was the case, I should not ask for any to be forwarded to me: therefore I feel unkind the offer of £30 quarterly." She did, however, on occasion after the date of this letter send him money.

Probably he is quite right when he says that his way of looking at money differed from that of many people. He could keep very detailed accounts beautifully when necessary, but at other times he was annoyingly casual about money. At times he was capable of generosity. He preserved one or two begging letters and at least one very grateful letter thanking him for charity.

p123 Six months before his death he was in Spain buying pictures — a proceeding that normally does not connote poverty. All that can be said is that somehow he managed to live the life of a not too impecunious gentleman, who still was normally at the moment short of cash. An accidentally incisive phrase in Roehenstart's obituary in the Perthshire Courier, November 9, 1854, sums up the matter as well as it can be stated: "He seemed to be an isolated individual, although in easy circumstances."

Thayer's Notes:

a Terrenoire, now part of the town of St‑Etienne, was near a railroad line built in 1830 from that town to Lyon about 60 km to the northeast; and, with local coal resources, that immediately opened up the development of the first blast furnaces in France.

b The summary is given in Appendix II.

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Page updated: 10 Apr 17