There was, perhaps, as much truth as boasting in the statement of John Wilkes, the famous London Alderman and champion of British electors: “Ugly as I am, if I can have but a quarter of an hour’s start, I will get the better of any man, however good-looking, in the graces of any woman.”
Of Wilkes’ abnormal ugliness there was never any question, for is it not recorded that the “very children in the street ran away affrighted at the sight of him?” And yet his powers of fascination were so great that “ladies of beauty and fashion vied with each other for his notice, while men of handsome exterior and all courtly graces looked enviously on.”
There were, it is said, few beauties of the day whose hand Wilkes might not have confidently hoped to win; and when he led Mary Mead to the altar, he made a wife of one of the richest and most lovely women of her time. “‘Beauty and the Beast’ they call us,” Wilkes once said to his friend Potter, “and I cannot honestly find fault with the description.”
Jean Paul Marat, whose name will al ways be associated with the evil history of the French Revolution, was notoriously the ugliest man of his day in Paris. When this reputation reached his ears, Marat is said to have remarked: “But why limit my supremacy to Paris?” and indeed, the restriction was much too modest. And yet in his earlier days, when he was the most popular of court doctors, his very ugliness seemed to exercise such a fascination over aristocratic ladies that they crowded his consulting rooms in order to catch a glimpse of and to exchange words with him under the flimsiest pretexts of imaginary ailments.
The studied indifference with which he treated alike their charms and their flattery only made them the more insistent, until he declared to a friend that he would have to fly from Paris to escape the persecution of his fair admirers.