King Otto, ruler of Bavaria from 1886 to 1913, insisted on starting his day by shooting a peasant every morning. To satisfy their leader’s violent whim, two of Otto’s attendants played a secret game with him. One gave the king a rifle filled with blank bullets, and the other dressed as a peasant, strolled into view, and fell “dead” at the sound of the gunshot.
Jonathan Swift, hailed for his 1726 satirical masterpiece, Gulliver’s Travels, and respected as dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, suffered through his birthdays. An embittered bachelor, Swift only wore black attire on his birthdays and rejected all food. He died insane at the age of 78.
Czar Peter the Great, head of Russia from 1689 to 1725, had one troublesome phobia: he was afraid to cross bridges.
American poet Walt Whitman, who published Leaves of Grass in 1855, wrote much of his free verse in the first person, but he would not read anything written by anyone else in the first person.
Niccolo Paganini, the flamboyant and romantic Italian violinist and composer, reached the height of his success in Paris and London in 1831. In solo concert performances he often played with frayed violin strings, hoping that all but one would break so that he could show his skill by playing with the single remaining string.
King Edward VII, Victoria’s son who became ruler of England in 1901, would allow no one who came into his presence to carry loose change, because the slightest jingling of coins got on his nerves.
Opera singer Enrico Caruso, who died in 1921 at age 48 in Naples, had an Italian peasant’s belief in superstitions. He always consulted an astrologer before making an ocean crossing and he never started a journey on Tuesday or Friday.
Cardinal Richelieu, prime minister of France in 1624 under King Louis XIII and the real ruler of his country, got his daily exercise by jumping over furniture.
Nothing got the French author Voltaire down—not even a month of imprisonment in the Bastille in 1717. Nothing, that is, except the scent of roses. He would faint whenever he smelled roses.
Baruch Spinoza, the Portuguese-Jewish philosopher who lived in Holland, worked constantly tutoring, grinding lenses, and writing controversial books. His favorite form of relaxation was to catch two spiders and watch them fight each other.
Hans Christian Andersen, famous worldwide for such fairy tales as “The Princess and the Pea” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” was terrified of being prematurely declared dead and buried alive. He almost always carried a note in his pocket telling anyone who might find him unconscious that it must not be assumed he was dead unless he was examined again. He often left another note on his bedside table stating, “I only seem dead.”