So You Thought You Knew All Our Secrets? We Know What They're Famous for, but It's Not the Whole Story
Byline: JANE KELLY
CONVENTIONAL biographical dictionaries give all the essential details about significant lives. But a new lexicon of the famous and infamous offers titbits that other books leave out. It is probably not widely known that Sir Isaac Newton, for instance, invented the cat flap, or that George Washington had wooden teeth and Theodore Roosevelt owned a six-toed grey cat called Slippers.
In Private Lives, Curious Facts About The Famous And Infamous, author Mark Bryant selects more than 200 figures from history and gives insights into their characters through an array of intriguing facts and anecdotes. Here we offer a sample . . .
GEOFFREY CHAUCER, 1343-1400. English poet.
IN 1380 he was accused of rape and had to pay Cecile Champaigne, a baker's daughter, to withdraw her charge against him.
JOAN OF ARC, 1412-31. French patriot and martyr.
SHE was burned at the stake in Rouen, aged 19. When she was dead and her clothes had been burned away, the fire was raked back to expose her naked body to the public to prove that she was human rather than immortal. Just to reinforce the point, her corpse was burnt to ashes and the remains thrown into the Seine.
FRANCIS BACON, 1561-1626. English statesman.
BACON'S death came about because he invented frozen food. While travelling through North London on a snowy day, he got the idea that food might be preserved if it was stuffed with snow. He got out of his carriage and bought a dead chicken to test his theory. Unfortunately he caught a chill, which turned to bronchitis and died a few days later.
CHARLES l, 1600-49.
CHARLES not only had an arranged marriage, he did not meet his wife, Henrietta Maria, until a month after their wedding, which was performed by proxy.
CARDINAL RICHELIEU, 1585-1642. French priest and statesman.
HE HAD a brother who thought he was God and a sister who thought that her back was made of crystal. Richelieu however, believed he was more important than the King - and he was right.
RENE DESCARTES, 1596-16-50. French philosopher who based his philosophical system on his famous axiom: `Cogito ergo sum' (I think therefore I am). Also the inventor of roulette.
THROUGHOUT his life, Descartes often meditated in bed until midday. While lying in bed watching a fly, he worked out that the position of the insect could be described at any given moment by its distance from three intersecting lines. This became the basis of his Cartesian mathematical system. When the weather was cold, he would climb inside the stove and think there.
EDWARD GIBBON, 1737-94. English historian.
HE DIED of an infection after an operation to drain a 3ft swelling `the size of a child' from his left testicle.
ROBERT BURNS, 1759-96. Scottish poet.
AS WELL as a wife and numerous mistresses, Burns kept a pet ewe called Poor Mailie and wrote two poems in her honour.
ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING, 1806-61. English poet.
FOR 35 years she was kept a semi-invalid by her tyrannical father, until the poet Robert Browning encouraged her to rebel. When she first rose from her couch and went downstairs, her brother was so surprised when she entered the room that he thought she was a complete stranger. …