Count Jan Potocki
Jan Potocki was born in 1761 into an old aristocratic family which owned vast estates in Poland. He was educated in Geneva and Lausanne, served twice in the Polish Army as a captain of engineers and spent some time on a galley as a novice Knight of Malta. He was probably a Freemason and had a strong interest in the occult. His colourful life took him across Europe, Asia and North Africa, where he embroiled himself in political intrigues, flirted with secret societies and contributed to the birth of ethnology. In 1790 he became the first person in Poland to fly in a hot air balloon when he made an ascent over Warsaw with the aeronaut Jean Blanchard, an exploit that earned him great public acclaim.
He also established in 1788 in Warsaw a publishing house named Drukarnia Wolna (Free Press) as well as the city's first free reading room.
Potocki's wealth enabled him to travel very extensively around Europe, the Mediterranean and Asia, visiting Italy, Sicily, Malta, The Netherlands, Germany, France, England, Russia, Turkey, Spain, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt and even Mongolia. He was also one of the first travel writers of the modern era, penning lively accounts of many of his journeys, during which he also undertook extensive historical, linguistic and ethnographic studies. As well as his many scholarly and travel writings, In 1792 he wrote Recueil des Parades (Polish translation - Parady - 1958) for the court stage in Lancut. He published accounts of his journeys: Voyage en Turquie et en Egipte - 1788; Voyage dans l'Empire de Maroc -1792; Voyage dans les steppes d'Astrakhan et du Caucase - 1829. He was a member of The Society of the Friends of the Sciences and an honorary member of the St Petersburg Academy of Science.
Potocki married twice and had five children, but his first marriage ended in divorce and both marriages were the subject of scandalous rumours. In 1812, disillusioned and in poor health, he retired to his estate at Uladowka near Winnica in Podolia, suffering from "melancholia" (which today would probably be diagnosed as depression) and during the last few years of his life he completed his great novel "The manuscript found in Saragossa"
Potocki committed suicide in 1815 at the age of 54 on the 2 November, 20 November, 2 December or 11 December, although the exact date is uncertain. There exist several different versions of the circumstances of his death, but the best known is that he shot himself in the head with a silver bullet fashioned from the strawberry-shaped knob of a sugar bowl given to him by his mother which he had systematically filed every day over many years and first had blessed by his castle priest.