How’s your Estonian?
Even if it’s as non-existent as mine, hopefully the visuals relayed here will still evoke some faint, lingering scent of the heady perfume which enveloped the man and the myth that was Count Eric Stenbock.
Born in Cheltenham on this day in 1860, it was at his ancestral estate in Kolga, Estonia (then part of the Russian Empire) that the Decadent poet’s magnificent, perverse otherness came to full flower. There, in the sumptuous neo-classical manor, he lived the quintessential 1890s existence, although that decade was still five years away when he arrived to take up his title and seigneurial obligations.
According to a contemporary account:
Count Stenbock has his own rooms furnished in the most aesthetic style, with a lamp burning before a Buddha & an Eros and his other gods disposed in various places. When he was at Oxford, he said, he & one of his friends (who is now insane) used to try a fresh religion every week. . . He has also a number of pet snakes & lizards & toads & salamanders in his room, and – worse still – a collection of Simeon Solomon’s morbid & pessimistic pictures of the Rossetti school. In the garden . . . he has a ‘zoo’ containing three reindeer, a bear and a fox. . .
Oh to eye the very enfilade through which that orchidaceous entity would make his stately progress, clad only in a Japanese robe and snake-skin (well a whole snake, actually, a living piece of jewelry coiled around his neck). What a beguiling, repellent aroma he must have trailed: opium, incense, booze, rare blooms and reptile excreta.
OK the odour you’ll have to imagine, but have a look here and you will see footage of the manor in a news report tweeted by the estimable David Tibet, who is preparing a collection of Stenbock’s works for (hopefully) imminent release. The house still hasn’t recovered from its long structural decline, but with the sale of the estate last year and restoration work clearly underway, Kolga may yet return to the glories of Stenbock’s day. The count died at just 35, felled by disease and dissipation, and although interred in Brighton, he left his heart in Estonia (for real – it’s stored in a nearby church).