In his autobiography Memoirs, Count Josef Boruwlaski writes:
I was born in the environs of Chaliez, the capital of Pukucia in Polish Russia in November 1739. My parents were of middle size; they had six children, five sons and one daughter. Three of these children great to above the middle stature, whilst the two others, like myself, reached only that of children in general at the age of four or five.
Toward the end of the seventeenth century it became incredibly fashionable for aristocrats and royalty to own a dwarf or midget for the purpose of entertainment. It was such a fad, in fact, that Catherine de’ Medici – the queen of France – attempted to breed a pair of her court dwarves. Many more attempts were made, most notable of which was done by Peter the Great in 1701 when he staged a grand wedding between two dwarves – an event not only attended by his courtiers, but by foreign ambassadors as well.
Therefore, one would expect the lives of those little people to be abject misery. However, the memoirs and life story of Count Josef Boruwlaski contradicts that assumption.
Boruwlaski was born a midget and into a very poor family. The financial situation only worsened when Josef lost his father at the age of nine. However through good fortune his mother happened to be of limited noble blood and had a patron in wealthy noblewoman, the Staorina de Caorliz. She took a shine to the tiny lad and convinced mother Boruwlaski to send the young man to live with her and be educated. Mother agreed and young Josef thrived in his new home. As a result, although he only stood two feet tall in his early teens, he possessed etiquette that would have shamed most artristrocrats and was a brilliant composer of music.
When the Staorina got married, Josef became the protégé of another even wealthier noblewoman, the Comtesse de Humiecka, and it is from there that Josef’s life became even more interesting.
The Comtesse had a great lust for travel and brought Josef along. He was able to grace the courts of the highest crust of noble society. Marie-Theresa – Her Imperial Majesty, Empress of all Austria and Hungary – was so delighted to meet him that she gave him one of her own diamond rings. Prince Kaunitz, of Munich, gave Josef a pension for life. He also met and entertained the exiled king of Poland, King Stanislaus, and the Duc d’Orleans in Paris. When Stanislaus II acceded to the throne of Poland, he took Boruwlaski under his protection.
Josef eventually left the wing of the Comtesse and married a noble woman after being granted another pension and title by the Polish King. He fathered a daughter, wrote his autobiography, and began to settle in England where he toured and performed compositions for the public. He retired to Durham, England where he passed away on September 5, 1837 at the age of 98.
Perhaps his most interesting meeting occurred in a visit to London.
‘Soon after my arrival in London, there appeared a stupendous giant; he was eight feet four inches high, well proportioned and had a pleasing countenance, and what is not common in men of his size, his strength was adequate to his bulk; many persons wished to see us in company, particularly the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. I went and I believe we were equally astonished. The giant remained sometime mute. Them stooping very low he offered me his hand, which I am sure would have enclosed a dozen like mine. He paid me genteel compliment and drew me near to him, that the difference in our size might strike the spectators the better; the top of my head not reaching his knee.’
The giant is unknown although a writing of the times states that the man was named O’Brien and called himself the ‘Irish Giant’. Believe it or not, there were at least four ‘Irish Giants’ parading about the United Kingdom at that time. Two of them were named O’Brien.
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