Desire can be described as a longing for something that you don’t possess; a person, a feeling, an object etc. While most of us desire things, we also understand that we cannot always have what we want. However, when driven by strong passions, some people’s desires can cause them to act in the most unlikely ways. Collectors will go to extraordinary lengths and pay vast sums to possess a particular item. Normally placid parents will fight over limited stocks of a toy that their child wants for Christmas. Some people will even kill to ‘possess’ another person, or to ensure that someone cannot be possessed by anyone other than themselves.
The philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) suggested that desire is the fundamental motivation for all human action, whether it be desire for conquest, success, riches, or a desire for answers. However, within Buddhism it is also seen as Mankind’s curse; desire is the cause of all suffering. By eliminating craving, a person can achieve happiness.
Strong desire and obsession often go hand in hand. The writer of Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov, was obsessed with butterflies. He collected butterfly genitalia and said: ‘The pleasures and rewards of literary inspiration are nothing beside the rapture of discovering a new organ.’ Charles Dickens' marriage broke down partly because of his obsession with hypnotism and Charles Darwin once lost a girlfriend, so the story goes, due to the fact that he would rather spend the summer categorising his beetles than with his in-laws. George Stephenson of ‘Rocket’ fame was obsessed with growing straight cucumbers (as many gardeners of the time were). He finally cracked the problem by having some glass cylinders made in his Newcastle engine factory, into which each cucumber was placed as it grew.
According to the Guinness Book of Records, Bill Curtis notched up the numbers of 85,000 locomotives, 11,200 electric units and 8,300 diesel units in 31 different countries over a 40-year trainspotting career. However he lived such a secret life - seemingly ending up homeless in Clacton - that many thought he was a mythical character. He visited 35 countries, breaking into engine sheds and railway yards to get the numbers he wanted - he was even arrested at gunpoint in Czechoslovakia. His exploits were meticulously recorded in notebooks, most of which have been shipped over to the US to an unknown trainspotter who is obsessed with breaking Curtis's record.
John Hinckley Jnr became obsessed with Jodie Foster after seeing her in Taxi Driver. He moved closer to her when she went to Yale University and slipped poems and messages under her door professing his love and begging her to be his. After that failed to win her over, he decided to assassinate the president to get her attention. He went for Jimmy Carter first but got arrested but, in 1981, he managed six shots at the newly elected Ronald Reagan, hitting him with one that ricocheted off the president’s limo.
There are two tragedies in life. One is to lose your heart's desire. The other is to gain it.
One of the most desired objects in history is the Holy Grail, the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper and which later caught Christ’s blood as he was hanging on the cross. And yet, the idea of a ‘holy grail’ is not mentioned in The Bible, and is not on any mediaeval list of relics.
The grail (not yet holy) first appears in an Arthurian romance written by French writer Chrétien de Troyes in 1180, where it is described as a graal, a salver or serving dish, not a chalice. The name is believed to come from the Latin gradalis or gradale, meaning ‘crater’. Oral tradition later led the grail to become entwined with the holy chalice or cup mentioned in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. The actual cup is not given any special significance in The Bible – it is the act of sharing the wine that is important and which, today, still forms the centrepiece of the Catholic Eucharist.
It is quite possible that the grail’s supposed miraculous powers of healing are borrowed from the old Welsh legend about the Cauldron of Annwn. This belonged to a giant called Bran the Blessed and, in various versions of the story, it is used to raise the dead, produce unending quantities of food, or to only produce food for heroes.
The term ‘Holy Grail’ has now passed into the English language as a metaphor for desire; a thing sought after but not yet found or achieved. Among the many ‘holy grails’ to be found within the history of science are perpetual motion, cold fusion and alchemy.
An early 13th century tale by Robert de Boron gave the grail its familiar Christian association and, around the same time, many young men from Europe were heading to Jerusalem on the fourth Crusades and reality and fiction soon began to merge. The legend quickly became attached to the Knights Templar as they had control of Temple Mount in Jerusalem and it was assumed that they were hoarding relics there. That's where the legend ended... until the 19th century when a resurgence of interest in chivalry and romantic mysticism resurrected the myth – and, all of a sudden, six or seven ‘holy chalices’ appeared around the world, each with a marvellous hidden history as to why they had been hidden for so many years.
The chalice that has the strongest claim to be the real cup used by Jesus is in Valencia Cathedral in Spain. It was venerated by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006 and it is claimed that parts of the object have been dated to the 2nd century BCE. The first written reference to the chalice refers to its arrival in the hands of the wonderfully named Martin the Human, King of Aragon, in 1399.
Another contender is the Antioch Chalice, a sixth century silver cup belonging to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Though it is 6th century, it contains an older, undated cup on the inside. However, even the chalice’s owners describe claims that it is the grail as ‘ambitious’.
Tom Hanks collects 1940s typewriters and now has over 200. He keeps one by the phone to jot off notes to friends.
At the time of his death in 1936, King George's stamp collection was so large that it had its own room in the palace. Now the property of his granddaughter, The Royal Philatelic Collection is estimated to be worth £400m and is the Queen's largest single private asset.
Asceticism means refusing to give in to physical or mental desires in the pursuit of spiritual improvement.
The Sanskrit word viraga is one of the eight principle human drives (or bhavas). It means 'desirelessness'.
A 'Grand Amateur' is a collector of beautiful objects on a large scale.
A nicknackitarian is someone who collects curiosities.
Henry VIII had an extensive bagpipe collection.