I recently picked up a copy of George Soloveytchik's biography of the eighteenth-century Russian statesman Grigory Potemkin
at my local used bookstore (Maxwell's House of Books
in La Mesa). Potemkin was fantastically rich, one-eyed, and the lover of Catherine the Great. (Wikipedia link
). But he was also more eccentric than I ever realized. For instance, he sometimes received official visitors wearing an old dressing gown and no pants. This anecdote also caught my eye:
He could be vulgar and cynical beyond belief. One day he was passing through his dressing room with two important courtiers who stopped to admire his famous silver bath. "If you can excrete enough to fill it," said Potemkin to one of them, "I will give it to you." The courtier turned to his companion, who was notorious for his voracity, and said: "How about attempting this business on a fifty-fifty basis?"