Yep, that’s a dude riding a bear. Yep, it really happened. And no, its probably not the craziest thing John “Mad Jack” Mytton did.
Born in 1796, John Mytton was a rake of the Regency, a noted eccentric, and part of a long line of Shropshire squires.
Expelled from Westminster School for fighting, followed by expulsion from Harrow demonstrated Mytton’s commitment to education was less than exemplary. It is said he once put a horse in his private tutor’s bedrooms, and that when he got to Cambridge (which its still a mystery how he matriculated), he shipped 2,000 bottles of port to help him with his studies. He never did get a degree (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/only-in-britain/heres-john-mad-jack-mytton/). Mytton was such a fan of port, he was said to drink several bottles every morning to “forestall the bad effect of the night air” and when nothing else was on hand, known to drink eau de cologne (http://numberonelondon.net/2011/01/the-true-story-of-regnecy-eccentric-mad-jack-mytton/).
At 16, Mad Jack commissioned as Captain in the Yeomanry. At 19, he joined the 7th Hussars (English Eccentrics and Eccentricities, 1866). He did not, however, get to engage in heroic efforts during the Napoleanic Wars..having just missed them, he instead gambled, drank, and raked his way around occupied France until he resigned his post (https://stephenliddell.co.uk/2016/11/18/john-mad-jack-mytton/).
In 1818, his first marriage ended with his wife’s death after two years and one daughter. His second wife, married in 1821, lasted 10 years before she ran away. With Caroline, he had another daughter and four sons.
He bought his way into Parliament by paying voters 10 GBP (yep, that was a lot of money!) as a Tory, and spending more than 750,000 to be seated (that’s in todays currency). In June 1819, he is said to have lasted just 30 minutes in the House of Commons before becoming too bored. It is said he was deaf (Memoirs of the Life of the Late John Mytton, Esq, 1837), and therefore his attention was often limited to action and jokes (especially practical jokes).
In 1826, and for a wager he rode a horse into Leamington Spa’s Bedford Hotel, and up its grand staircase onto the balcony, where he jumped the horse over the diners into the restaurant below and out the window onto the Parade (http://www.shoutingatco.ws/2011/12/08/the-greatest-men-who-have-ever-lived-mad-jack-mytton/).
Nimrod also describes (and illustrates) the scene where Mytton held up the local clergyman and doctor just to scare their pants off after they had dined at his house. Another time, he pranked noted Shropshire horse-dealer George Underhill, who was a houseguest, by getting him drunk and then putting him to bed with two bulldogs and a bear (Memoirs of the Life of the Late John Mytton, Esq, 1837).
He was known to hunt ducks naked in the middle of the night and on a frozen lake (see picture below), hunt in the nude, and crash carriages just to see if they “would tip over”. In addition to his wild wagers, he was a terrible gambler and spendthrift. Known to have 150 hunting breeches (although why he needed them when he hunted naked), 700 pairs of hunting boots, 1000 hats, 3,000 shirts, over 2,000 dogs and nearly as many cats, he also went through carriage and gigs like it was going out of style (http://www.shoutingatco.ws/2011/12/08/the-greatest-men-who-have-ever-lived-mad-jack-mytton). He also owned a menagerie of other critters, including a bear and monkey.
Its not hard to imagine with all his raking, gambling, and drinking that Mytton spent through his inheritance and went into enormous debt and fled to exile in Calais. He returned to England in 1833 and ended up in the King’s Bench where he died a year later.
The nuttiest thing he ever did was set fire to his dressing gown to scare the hiccups out of himself. Maybe.
About that bear?
There are more anecdotes and plates in Nimrod’s biographer, available online. I encourage a read!