Strange habits of famous people

There is much anecdotal evidence to indicate that creative people are more often eccentric or more often have odd personality features than the non-creative population. Hans Christian Anderson, the Danish author of children’s stories carried a coil of rope for fear of being caught in a hotel room fire. When the wife of the poet and painter Rossetti died, as a token of his love, he placed his unpublished manuscripts beside her in her coffin. Seven years later he dug up the coffin, dusted off his papers and published them. Sir Walter Scott had a salt cellar which was made from the fourth cervical vertebra of Charles I. James Joyce kept a tiny pair of doll’s knickers in his pocket. Marcel Proust wrote most of his novels lying in bed. Rossini was completely bald and wore a wig. In exceptionally cold weather, however, he wore two or three wigs simultaneously. Beethoven had no interest in personal cleanliness and his friends had to take his dirty clothes away and wash them while he slept. There is also anecdotal evidence that many great scientists have been eccentric. Sir Francis Galton, one of the most prolific scientists of all time regularly carried a brick wrapped in brown paper and tied with a piece of rope, so that he could stand on it to see over people’s heads when he was in a crowd. Alexander Graham Bell kept his windows permanently covered to keep out the harmful rays of the moon. Sir Joseph Banks was described by his biographer as “a wild and eccentric character”. Nicola Tesla, who gave his name to the unit of magnetism was celibate and said, “I don’t think that you can name many great inventions that have been made by married men”. Henry Cavendish, a great chemist and physicist, was exceptionally shy and would only ever eat mutton. He communicated with his servants by letter, if he met one by accident, they were dismissed. He had a second staircase built in his house so that he could avoid them more easily. J B S Haldane was one of the best known scientists of the twentieth century, at one time he did not remove his boots for three weeks. General Haig said of him that he was “the bravest and dirtiest soldier in the army”. Dr Paul Erdos was one of the most gifted mathematicians of all time, writing 1500 scientific papers. He lived as a homeless derelict, shunning material possessions because, “property is nuisance”.

 

Pridmore, Madness of Psychiatry

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