Eric, Count Stenbock is one of the oddest characters to have a footnote in Mr. Punchs story. He had a strong opinion on where Punch came from and his one short article on the topic also lets us share tantalising glimpses of puppet shows he saw himself. The information below is from the Make Multimedia History group website (www.mmhistory.org.uk.) to whom all credit and acknowledgements are given. It is the most informative of the websites detailing information on this obscure and bizarre writer who, even more bizarrely, chose to write about Punch.
THE casual student of the Eighteen Nineties might easily come to believe that Count Eric Stenbock is an urban legend. Contemporary references are slight, published letter collections of his friends contain no references to him, two of his poetry books were never deposited at the British Library and unlike Oscar Wilde there is no popular movement devoted to his memory. The only biography, by John Adlard, is a limited edition that went out of print in the 1960's. But, amongst a few devotees of weird fiction, he is an underground cult figure. His books are re-published by small esoteric presses, Jeremy Reed includes a chapter about him in his classic study of artistic outsiders Angels, Divas and Blacklisted Heroes and his grave in Brighton is kept free of weeds by a local queer literary group.
Count Eric Stenbock (1860-1896) was a symbol of his age, poet, decadent, short story writer, a true member of the aristocracy who mixed with the Socialists and radicals of the late Nineteenth Century. In his time he was known as a 'drunkard, poet, pervert, most charming of men,' a description which serves to confuse more than illuminate. Stenbock's life in Brighton, London and Estonia gives us a window on to the complicated worlds of literature, art and fashion which characterised the late Nineteenth Century.
His parents were Lucy Frerichs, daughter of a Manchester cotton industrialist, and Erik Stenbock, Count de Bogesund, Baron de Torpa. The Stenbocks were an aristocratic Swedish family with royal connections. The Count owned a small castle, Rottenstein, in Meran and was heir to vast estates in Estonia.
The young Erik was an Oxford dropout of considerable eccentricity. As befitting his status he had a personal servant and lived in his own suite of rooms. One huge room was wallpapered poppy red and he kept a menagerie of animals including snakes and a monkey. His huge bedroom was painted peacock blue and covered in the trappings of esoteric and occult beliefs. There was a pentagram over the bed and an altar over the fireplace dedicated to Eros. He also evolved his own religion comprising a mix of Buddhism, Catholicism and Idolatry.
He was a regular at Aubrey Beardsleys studio teas where he conversed with many of the movers and shakers of society including Alymer Vallance art critic and friend of William Morris, Mrs Patrick Campbell, the publisher John Lane, and artists Ricketts and Shannon. Eric often played the piano at these soirees and sang traditional Estonian folk songs.
Drink and drugs brought about his premature death and he was buried on 1 May 1896 in Brighton's Extra Mural cemetery. Before burial his heart was placed in a jar and sent to the family church in Estonia.
The Myth of Punch
By Eric, Count Stenbock
This extract from The Myth of Punch is reprinted with acknowledgements to the journal Strange Attractor (Journal One, 2004) which has helped rescue the work from obscurity. Most of the short essay is taken up with Stenbocks musings on the possible origin and of the show his gloomy interpretation of what meaning it might contain. The Journal (which contains many articles of a quirky nature) may be obtained from Strange attractor, PO Box 961, Devizes, Wiltshire, UK SN10 2TS.
THERE are four great subjects in the world: Faust, Tannhauser, Don Juan and Punch. Heinrich Heine tells us that the drama of Faust was first acted in a Punch theatre. Indeed, all the four above-mentioned subjects have one ele-ment in common--the triumph of the diabolical. It is in England, curiously enough, where the drama is or was performed in its integrity. So it is with the English Punch we will chiefly deal. The Italian Punch is comparatively amiable and innocent. He spends most of his time conversing with the musi-cian, and does not kill his wife at all. The Russian Punch is also given to con-versing with the musician, and is extremely amiable to all the people who come to see him, embracing them one and all, although he kills them all afterwards. And when the Devil comes to fetch him, he comes under the guise of a lamb, so that the amiable Petrushka begins to stroke him, and then suddenly starts up and shows himself in his true form. The Oriental Punch is chiefly obscene; the German, or rather Bavarian Punch, has a particularly trying time of it with the Devil, and asks the children standing by how he shall deal with him. They suggest various things, such as putting him under the saucepan, or hitting him on the head with a frying-pan, and such like. At last a brilliant idea occurs to poor Kaspar. He will hoist the Devil with his own petard. He takes a three-pronged pitchfork, and darts it at the Devil. For the moment it seems he has conquered; the Devil vanishes. But no! the Devil soon reappears, triplified - three Devils instead of one. Is it profane to say that this is suggestive of a certain parable in the Scriptures? Was there any serious underlying meaning in this? I think so.
Now Punch is comparatively seldom seen, and when seen, is very much deteriorated. All manner of stupid and superfluous incidents are intro-duced, such as the alligator with the sausages; and Toby who is wholly extra-neous to the drama, and only comes in properly in one scene, where Punch has a quarrel with one of the many persons he kills, about the possession of a dog (which incident is quite unnecessary), is now made to take the chief part, to show off a performing dog. Often the drama does not finish at all. Let us rather describe the Punch of old days.
I remember - one of the first things that I can remember - an old tattered Punch, which began with a strange scene: Punch's father, who had something of the Punch type, making some compact with the Devil, deliv-ering a thoroughly developed Punch-child into his hands. I remember that this then, though I was a very small child, filled me with intense horror. This possibly may be the key to the origin of the Punch drama, which, like Don Juan, may have arisen in the sombre imagination of some monk. But this is only one instance, and I may be exaggerating my reminiscence.