The Weird World Of - Eccentric People
"If you're poor and you do something stupid, you're nuts. If your rich and do something stupid, your eccentric." Bobby Heenan
We've all heard of them and read about them. But what is an eccentric person? Is it a form of insanity? Or are these people simply free spirits who have the courage to do their own thing? This first collection of eccentrics are taken from times past. But be assured, eccentricity is alive and well in the 21st century!
- Noun - a person that deviates markedly from an established norm, especially a person of odd or unconventional behaviour.
- Adjective - Departing from a recognized, conventional, or established norm or pattern.
The above definition gives a sense of what an eccentric person may be like. But it doesn't cover the range and versatility of behaviours and habits displayed by many eccentrics. Perhaps the best way to understand these unique people is to read about what their lives were like.
Jemmy - The Eccentric Business Man of York
James Hirst - known as 'Jemmy' was not only one of the most famous eccentrics of his time, but he was also one of the best businessmen of his age. Despite the idea that most eccentrics tended to lose their fortunes, Jemmy was the exception to the rule. He was born in Rawcliffe, Yorkshire in 1738. Very early on his bizarre behaviour would lead him into trouble. He was expelled from his first school due to many antics such as training his teacher's pig to jump hurdles. As a young man he became so well known for his weird experiments and behaviour that he came to the attention of the King - George III - who commanded him to attend his court. Here are some of the other escapades that Jemmy became famous for:
- It was very rare for Jemmy to ever ride a horse while travelling. Preferring instead his favourite bull called Jupiter.
- When hosting a party at his home, guests would be served drinks from Jemmy's favourite coffin that was set up in the parlour. Jemmy also had a 'second best' coffin that stood up on its end. The front of the coffin had folding doors to get in and also a window at the head end. Guests were invited to try it out. But when they closed the doors they found they could not be opened from the inside. Men would have to pay a penny to be released and women would have to give Jemmy one of their garters.
- When first summoned by King George III to attend his court, Jemmy apologised to his Majesty, that he could not come immediately on his request. He was busy teaching an otter to swim at the time.
- When Jemmy did arrive at court, he arrived in a multi-coloured wicker carriage designed and made by himself. He wore a lambskin hat thought to have been at least 9 feet in circumference. An otter-lined coat made of red flannel. A waistcoat made from drake's feathers. Patchwork breeches and socks that were striped and coloured red-white. On his feet he wore magnificent shoes with an enormous silver buckle adorning them. The King's reaction? Apparently King George was delighted with Jemmy and filled his wickerwork carriage with bottles of the finest wine from the royal cellars.
- Jemmy used his wicker carriage frequently. On one occasion at least he is known to have rigged the carriage with ship's sails and 'sailed' into Pontefract. However, a sudden gust of wind caught the sails and blew the whole contraption into a draper's shop window.
- One of his wishes when he died was that his coffin should be carried by 12 old maids. They were to be accompanied by both a fiddler and a bagpiper. On his death only two old maids were found that would swear to still being 'maidenly'. In addition, the horrified vicar banned the fiddler from the proceedings. He allowed the piper to stay but he was instructed to play only 'solemn and appropriate music.'
- Jemmy would also go around his neighbourhood blowing a hunting horn. This was not for the 'hunt' but to summon all the poor and elderly in the surrounding areas to visit him at his home for tea. They were of course served tea out of the previously mentioned 'favourite coffin'.
- Jemmy married his housekeeper dressed in a Roman toga and the cermony was reported to have been conducted in sign language.
Elagabulus - The Horrible
Elagabulus was Roman Emperor from AD 218 - 222. By all accounts this young man was either completely insane or extraordinarily eccentric. People were so fed up with his antics that his Grandmother ordered his assassination when he was 17 years of age. Since that time, although not one of the most famous of emperors, there was plenty written about him in the aftermath. Scholars are divided as to what is real about Elagabulus and what was fabricated for propaganda reasons after his death. What does remain clear is that most historians - ancient and modern - agree that this young emperor was weird! Here are just some of the things claimed to have been carried out by him:
- He may have been responsible for inventing the first 'whoopee' cushions. He would invite 7 of the fattest men in Rome to dine with him. The men would be asked to sit on cushions filled with air. When they were comfortable, slaves were instructed to pierce the cushions sending the obese men sprawling all over the floor - much to the delight of the Emperor who would go into fits of hysterical laughter.
- Guests would often be served bizarre meals. On occasion it was known for artificial food to be served. Fruit, meats and other edibles were made out of such things as glass, ivory and gem stones. The strict etiquette of the time made it impossible for guests to refuse to eat this most expensive of meals. If any guest developed any health issues related to these meals, it is not recorded.
- Other guests would be served real food. However, the Emperor's warped sense of humour usually meant that within the delicious looking concoctions there was sure to be some unsavoury additions such as - spiders, animal dung, cobwebs, etc.
- His love of animals went to extraordinary lengths. He was known to have his chariot pulled not only by the usual horses, but by his favourite dogs, lions and tigers. It may well be that he regarded women as one of his favourite animals, as naked women were reported to have also pulled his chariot.
- But his love of animals went even further. He would order his slaves to gather spiders, scorpions, snakes and frogs and they would be sent as presents to his courtiers.
- The state money chests were exhausted by his extravagances. For example, he would build a luxurious bath house - lined with ivory and gold - use it once then have it destroyed.
- But the worst act he committed was to marry a Vestal Virgin. These women were held sacred and the penalty for abusing them in any way was usually being put to death. Vestal Virgins themselves would be buried alive if they had broken their vows in any way. The Roman people were outraged when they heard about this sacriledge.
Finally the people of Rome had enough. He was murdered by his own Praetorian guard on the orders of his Grandmother.
Mad, Sad and Rich!
The last two of our wonderful eccentrics are again from the past - where it would seem most of the more exotic eccentrics seem to be found. I've summarised their main habbits, but be aware folks, there were many more!
Squire John Mytton - early 1800's. Shropshire, England.
John Mytton, also known as 'Mad Jack', was a squire of monetary standing when he first inherited from his father. He was an avid animal lover and collector of clothes. However, his lavish spending meant that his whole fortune was gone within 15 years.
- The squire would frequently make an entrance to his parties riding on a pet black bear, called Nell. The guests amazement turned to horror on one occasion when Mytton, trying to urge Nell on, was bitten savagely on the leg by the pet bear.
- His favourite horse called 'Baronet' was allowed to wander throughout his house and even into the parlour where the horse seemed to find the fireplace a very relaxing spot.
- It wasn't uncommon for the squire to be seen out hunting, naked - even in the winter months.
- He was known to throw bundles of money at his servants and friends. He would also throw money into hedges and left it for anyone who was lucky enough to find it.
- He rode a gig with horse at high speed into a rabbit warren to see if it would overturn - it did!
- The squire - in pursuit of knowledge - set out to prove that a horse and carriage would not be able to jump over a closed tollgate, by driving straight at it at high speed. Despite these acts of lunacy Mytton only ever sustained minor injuries.
Francis Henry Egerton 8th Earl of Bridgewater
Lord Bridgewater, although English, spent much of his time living in Paris. He was an avid animal lover but did take this to extremes, much to the amusement of the French. But despite his eccentric behaviour, Lord Bridgewater was a very intelligent man. He was a great scholar and a patron of the arts. He was a fellow of the Royal Society. At the end of his life he donated a very important collection of documents - the Egerton Manuscripts - to the British Museum.
- Lord Bridgewater liked nothing better than to show his love for his dogs by holding dinner parties for them. All the animals would be dressed in the latest French fashion and included minature shoes to fit over the dogs' paws.
- The dogs would be seated around the table like human guests and were given all manner of foods to eat. Each dog had a white napkin to keep it clean and were served by servants from the best silverware
- The Earl would only ever wear a pair of shoes once. He would place each pair of worn shoes in lines in order to measure the passing of time. Other shoes were hung around the walls as decorations.
There are many reasons why people become eccentric - and although the people chosen here have all been men, women can be just as bizarre in their habits. Many people believe that in order to be a true eccentric you need to be firstly, rich enough to satisfy your odd behaviours. Secondly, many suggest that you need to be arrogant enough not to care less what any one else thinks!
Human nature and behaviour is a weird and wonderful thing. There are as many mysteries within the human mind as there are in the universe. I can't help but feel that if the world were to loose eccentric people and their exotic behaviours, what a less colourful place it would be.
Further Information & Sources
- British History Online
Digital library containing some of the core printed primary and secondary sources for the medieval and modern history of the British Isles.
- BBC - History
Explore history with the BBC from the Egyptians to the World Wars. Browse through timelines and articles, read biographies, play games, and watch programmes.
- History: Shows, Schedules and Resources
- UK History
A searchable directory of over 25000 venues, organisations, and experts in the UK, as well news, features and a timeline of UK history from 10000 BC
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