Count Stanislaus Eric Stenbock (1860-1895) was until recently a comparatively forgotten literary figure. Montague Summers briefly mentioned enjoying one of his stories, but other than that his life and career was left largely uncommented-on for much of the mid-20th Century. John Adlard wrote a brief biography of him – Stenbock, Yeats and the Nineties – in 1969.
Timothy d’Arch Smith, who had aided Adlard with a bibliography of Stenbock’s work, would later mention him in Love In Earnest, a study of the English “Uranian” poets of the late nineteenth century – chaps like Lord Alfred Douglas who used poetry to explore themes of homosexuality, though in a way which in retrospect was rather problematic in the way it bluntly refused to separate out homosexuality from pedophilia in the way we would today. (Much inspiration was taken from Ancient Greek sexual mores, in particular.) Such was the Victorian period, when heterosexual men were hardly more discerning about the age of consent.
As a gay man with a tendency towards mysticism, religion, and art, it is no surprise that Stenbock should have shown up on the periphery of this circle, but that is hardly the only thing which stands out about him biographically, A member of the Swedish aristocracy whose ancestral lands were in Estonia, he was nonetheless born and raised in England, and after a brief stint in the old estate after inheriting his title in 1885 would largely make England his home base, though he would tour Europe extensively. Addicted to alcohol and opium, he scandalised not just with his sexual inclinations but his religious views, which seem to have involved a strange syncretic brew of Catholicism, homebrewed paganism, and Buddhism. A possibly-apocryphal story claims that in later life he was accompanied everywhere by a doll or puppet he referred to as his son, and that he’d paid a lot of money to a Jesuit priest to educate this puppet-son.
Though Adlard and d’Arch Smith kept Stenbock’s name in circulation, we largely have David Tibet – the mastermind behind the Current 93 musical collective that was one of the subjects of England’s Hidden Reverse – to thank for recent efforts to put his work back into circulation. D’Arch Smith’s account of Stenbock in Love In Earnest inspired Tibet to look deeper into Stenbock, perhaps in part due to the parallels between Tibet’s and Stenbock’s religious interests.
Though the Count only published three thin volumes of poetry and a single brief short story collection, Studies of Death, during his lifetime, the amount of Stenbock material available has increased appreciably thanks to Tibet’s efforts. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Tibet had turned his hand to publishing through his own imprint, Durtro Press, and through this avenue he reprinted Stenbock’s collected poetry, reissued Studies of Death (expanding it with an additional story, plus two Stenbock translations of short stories by Balzac), as well as putting out volumes such as The Child of the Soul presenting previously-unpublished works of the Count’s. The Current 93 album, Faust – a return to the project’s dark ambient roots – included a booklet containing the Stenbock story of the same name, which was in fact the first time it had seen publication in any form.
More recently, Strange Attractor Press have released Of Kings and Things, a Tibet-edited one-volume collection of pretty much all the Stenbock you need, constituting so far as I can tell all the short stories of his yet published, plus most of his published poetry, plus a biographical sketch by David Tibet of Stenbock’s life and an afterword by d’Arch Smith detailing how he came to feature Stenbock in Love In Earnest – and how a reader from the publisher queried whether many of the writers featured in the book had even existed, which is a measure of the level of obscurity they had fallen into.
Continue reading “The Essence of Stenbock”