Individuality tetters on the edge of extinction. Think that’s overly dramatic? When was the last time you made a piece of furniture (and no, Ikea doesn’t count)? Or made your own clothes? Or decided to ride a donkey to work instead of a car? Or took up an ancient musical instrument, just because? Or kept 500 Guinea Pigs in your garden?
These days we are herded into a way of life that is comfortable, easy to control and predictable. Then occasionally, we come up against an original idea or a person so completely full of character, that it takes us out of the ‘sameness’ of our lives and reminds us that not everyone has to be ‘reasonable’ and ‘conformative’ and ‘one of us’.
Back in the day, eccentricity was seen as a badge of honour. Of course the term ‘eccentricity’ usually applies to crazy WEALTHY people. Nutters who are poor were just seen as…well….nutters.
Fabulous stories of preposterous, outlandish behaviour usually involved a millionaire/member of the titled gentry, so it was all ‘smashing good fun’.
Lunatics (the people who were poor and mad) were placed into asylums. Eccentrics (the ones who were rich and mad) went down in history as shining examples of what it means to be single minded and beacons of leadership in a dull and heartless world.
Did you know that Nicola tesla, the guy who worked with Edison and whom we can thank for radio/modern x-rays/AC currents and all things electrical was a bit of a nutter?
Tesla suffered from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. He was a severe germophobe and refused to touch anything bearing the slightest hint of dirt. Tesla also refused to touch anything round, which made his job a bit trickier. He ate at PRECISELY 8:10 pm, and whilst living in New York only ate from one restaurant (Delmonico’s) and refused to be served by anyone other than the head waiter. He squished his toes one hundred times for each foot every night, saying that it stimulated his brain cells. He hardly slept. He never married, and once fell in love with a pigeon (I am not making that up). He told a newspaper reporter that “I have been feeding pigeons, thousands of them for years. But there was one, a beautiful bird, pure white with light grey tips on its wings; that one was different. It was a female. I had only to wish and call her and she would come flying to me. I loved that pigeon as a man loves a woman, and she loved me. As long as I had her, there was a purpose to my life.” When that pigeon was injured he spent 2000 USD (in 1943) on mechanical devices that helped her wings to heal.
He died broke and in debt. He was so poor, in spite of his fame and genius, that he once paid an overdue hotel bill with a model of his “death beam”, warning hotel staff to never open it. After his death in 1943 the box was pried open and found to contain nothing but harmless old electrical components.
Of course, there are others in the world equally special. Lord Byron, the writer hailed as next to Shakespeare in importance, was a man for whom the word ‘outlandish’ is too weak. George Byron (later a Lord) was born with a club foot which made him bad at sports as a boy. He overcame this physical deformity by having as much sex as he could with as many people as he could. Byron had male lovers, and female lovers- including some of his cousins and a half-sister. He was a ‘romantic’, and very, very horny. But this was not what made him a larger than life character. Byron did not like conforming to ‘the rules’.
For example, when he arrived at Cambridge University to study, he was ordered to send his dog back home as keeping one was against schools policy. Desperate for a pet, Byron scoured the college policies for an animal not expressly forbidden. He found no reference to bears.
The bear stayed with Byron in his room. Being a responsible pet owner, Byron took it on regular leashed walks through the university, terrifying fellow students and lecturers. When asked by administration what purpose the bear served on campus, the poet tried in vain to get his beast a fellowship.
And where most people mellow out after they leave school, Byron decided to take his crazy to a whole new level. One of his friends wrote “Lord B’s establishment consists, besides servants, of ten horses, eight enormous dogs, three monkeys, five cats, an eagle, a crow, and a falcon; and all of these, except the horses, walk about the house, which every now and then resounds with their arbitrated quarrels. I have just met on the grand staircase five peacocks, two guinea hens, and an Egyptian Crane”. The man liked animals.
Even Michelangelo was mad as a cut snake (sorry, eccentric) and the genius artist ignored even the most basic tasks of self-maintenance. Not only did he bathe “very rarely” (by 15th century Italian standards, no less), he rarely even changed clothes, sleeping in full regalia–shoes included. His assistant once complained that, “He has sometimes gone so long without taking (his shoes) off that then the skin came away, like a snake’s, with the boots.” Hmmmm, yummy.
And last but not least, Francis Egerton, the 8th Earl of Bridgewater, inherited his title along with a very large fortune in 1823. He became famous for his unusual dinner parties which he threw for dogs. All of the invited dogs would be dressed in the finest fashions of the day – including shoes. Another eccentricity was his manner of measuring time; Egerton would wear a pair of shoes only once – when he was done with them, he would line them up in rows in order to count the passing days. He also kept pigeons and partridges which had their wings clipped so he could shoot them for sport even with failing eyesight.
When he died he left a large number of important documents on the subject of French and Italian literature to the British Museum, as well as a large financial donation to the Royal Society.
So you see, being ‘touched’ is not all bad. In fact, it’s good as long as it’s not turned against others (*cough, Mr Hitler and co,*).
Being one of a kind is cool, especially now when everything and everybody else seems to…..homogenised. Eccentrics of the World Unite!!! Let out your inner nutter. The World needs you now more than ever.