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Jan Potocki was born in Poland in 1761 into a very great aristocratic family, which owned vast estates. He was educated in Geneva and Lausanne, served twice in the army, and spent some time as a novice Knight of Malta. During his lifetime he was an indefatigable traveller and travel-writer, an Egyptologist and pioneering ethnologist, an occultist and an historian of the pre-Slavic peoples. He was a political activist and probably a freemason, although he seems to have espoused a bafflingly wide range of political causes, some of them patriotic. Among his other exploits were an ascent in a balloon over Warsaw with the aeronaut Blanchard and the provision of the first free press in that city.
Potocki was proficient in many different languages, and his extensive travels led him through the Mediterranean, the Balkans, the Caucasus, and China. He married twice (the first marriage ending in a divorce) and had five children: scandalous rumors surrounded both of his marriages. In 1812 he retired to his estates in Poland, suffering from chronic ill health, melancholia, and disillusionment. He committed suicide in 1815.
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