University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 2JD, UK
11 Sloane Terrace, Belgravia, London SW3, UK
21 Gloucester Walk, Kensington, London W8 4HZ, UK
Withdean Hall, The Approach, Brighton BN1 6WN, UK
Extra-Mural Cemetery, Lewes Rd, Brighton BN2, UK
Count Eric Stanislaus (or Stanislaus Eric) Stenbock (12 March [O.S. 29 February] 1860 – 26 April [O.S. 14 April] 1895) was a Baltic Swedish poet and writer of macabre fantastic fiction. Many are Dreams... (1893) and Narcissus (1894) are cited as examples in Sexual Heretics: Male Homosexuality in English Literature from 1850-1900, by Brian Reade.
Stenbock was the count of Bogesund and the heir to an estate near Kolga in Estonia. He was the son of Lucy Sophia Frerichs, a Manchester cotton heiress, and Count Erich Stenbock, of a distinguished Swedish noble family of the Baltic German House of nobility in Reval. The family rose to prominence in the service of King Gustav Vasa: Catherine Stenbock was the third and last consort of Gustav Vasa and Queen consort of Sweden between 1552 and 1560. Stenbock's great-grandfather was Baron Friedrich von Stuart (1761–1842) from Courland. Immanuel Kant was a great-great-granduncle of Stenbock.
Stenbock's father died suddenly while he was one year old; his properties were held in trust for him by his grandfather Magnus. Eric's maternal grandfather died while Eric was quite young, also, in 1866, leaving him another trust fund.
Stenbock attended Balliol College in Oxford but never completed his studies. While at Oxford, Eric was deeply influenced by the homosexual Pre-Raphaelite artist and illustrator Simeon Solomon. He is also said to have had a relationship with the composer and conductor Norman O'Neill and with other "young men".
In Oxford, Stenbock also converted to Roman Catholicism taking for himself the name Stanislaus. Some years later Eric also admitted to having tried a different religion every week in Oxford. At the end of his life, he seemed to have developed a syncretist religion containing elements of Catholicism, Buddhism and idolatry.
The Baltic-German aristocrat, Count Eric Stanislaus Stenbock, a close associate of Ernest Dowson, Lionel Johnson and Oscar Wilde, was also fascinated fascinated by Solomon and his homoerotic art and would become one of Solomon’s most fervent supporters during the 1880s. Despite his wealthy aristocratic background, like the Rhymers, Stenbock was attracted to Solomon’s unfettered Bohemianism and was undeterred by the artist’s life of poverty in St Giles and reputation as a convicted sodomite. On the contrary, the flamboyant, eccentric, Aesthetic and decadent Count became infatuated with the artist. Stenbock was a poet and short-story writer who had lived on his family’s vast estates in Estonia before going up to Oxford and arriving in London in the mid-1880s. Here he established friendships with Decadent writers and artists Aubrey Beardsley, Wilde’s friend More Adey, Arthur Symons, publisher Herbert Horne, Yeats, Johnson and others. Yeats portrayed Stenbock as a ‘scholar, connoisseur, drunkard, poet, pervert’ and the ‘most charming of men’, while Symons described him as ‘bizarre, fantastic, feverish, eccentric, extravagant, morbid and perverse’. Stenbock’s passion for Solomon is also revealed in the poet’s first privately published book of poetry, Myrtle, Rue and Cypress, in which he dedicates ‘the myrtle thereof’ to Solomon. In addition, Stenbock’s fascination with Solomon is also evident in the similarity between the poet’s staff-and-serpent monogram and Solomon’s own monogram, which appears on the dedication page of Myrtle, Rue and Cypress. Solomon acknowledged this likeness himself in a letter of 1885 when he suggested that he had designed a new monogram for Stenbock after the poet had adopted his old one. Stenbock had written to Solomon (probably care of the photographer Frederick Hollyer, who had been producing and selling platinotype copies of Solomon’s artworks), asking for Solomon to go to him ‘as soon as possible’. Solomon described in a letter to Hollyer how he had had a ‘delightful day’ with Stenbock, whose kindness was ‘most singular’. Solomon also describes in his letters various trips with the Count to the Grosvenor Gallery, the then unofficial home of the Aesthetic movement, which was cleverly satirized in Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera Patience as ‘the greenery-yallery, Grosvenor Gallery’. It is unclear from the extant correspondence where Stenbock was lodging in London during this time, although by 1891 he is recorded as living at 11 Sloane Terrace in Knightsbridge. Simon Reynolds remarked in his 1985 monograph on Solomon that by 1888 the artist was entertaining hopes of being commissioned to decorate Stenbock’s home, but that their initial flurry of friendship was waning with the Count tiring of Solomon’s continued importunities. There may be some legitimacy to Reynolds’s suggestion, given that Stenbock had recorded in a letter to his family in Estonia that the artist was in the worst condition and ‘the bane’ of his life.
In 1885, Count Magnus died, upon which Stenbock, as the oldest living male relative, acceded to the status of Count and to the possession of the family's estates in Estonia. Eric traveled to and lived in Kolga for a year and a half; he returned to England in the summer of 1887, during which time he sank deeper into alcoholism and drug addiction.
Stenbock behaved eccentrically. He kept snakes, lizards, salamanders and toads in his room, and had a "zoo" in his garden containing a reindeer, a fox, and a bear. When he traveled, he invariably brought with him a dog, a monkey, and a life-sized doll. This doll he referred to as "le Petit Comte" ("the little Count") and told everyone that it was his son; he insisted it be brought to him daily, and—when it was absent—he asked about its health. (Stenbock's family believed an unscrupulous Jesuit had been given large amounts of money by the Count for the "education" of this doll.)
Stenbock lived in England most of his life, and wrote his works in the English language. He published a number of books of verse during his lifetime, including Love, Sleep, and Dreams, 1881, and Rue, Myrtle, and Cypress (1883). In 1894, Stenbock published The Shadow of Death, his last volume of verse, and Studies of Death, a collection of short stories.
On 26 April 1895 Stenbock died from cirrhosis of the liver at his mother's home, Withdeane Hall, near Brighton; his death went unnoticed in the press, aside from a brief mention in The Times (30 April 1895). Stenbock had named More Adey as his literary executor. On 1 May the burial service was held in the Brighton Catholic cemetery.
The band Current 93 made an album of the same name of incidental music inspired by Stenbock's Faust story. Stenbock's legacy is supported by the invitation-only Stenbock Society, notable like Stenbock himself for its infrequent activity.
Marc Almond and Michael Cashmore released the two-track CD Gabriel & The Lunatic Lover in 2008 with two songs based on Stenbock's poems by the same name. This was followed in 2011 by the album Feasting with Panthers which included two more adaptations, "Sonnet XI" and "The Song of the Unwept Tear". All four poems were adapted and translated by Jeremy Reed.
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