René Descartes (31 March 1596 – 11 February 1650) was a French-born philosopher, mathematician, and scientist.
Descartes was a late riser. The French philosopher liked to sleep until mid-morning, then linger in bed, thinking and writing, until 11:00 or so. “Here I sleep ten hours every night without being disturbed by any care,” Descartes wrote from the Netherlands, where he lived from 1629 until the last few months of his life. “And after my mind has wandered in sleep through woods, gardens, and enchanted palaces where I experience every pleasure imaginable, I awake to mingle the reveries of the night with those of the day.” These late-morning hours of meditation constituted his only concentrated intellectual effort for the day; Descartes believed that idleness was essential to good mental work, and he made sure not to overexert himself. After an early lunch, he would take a walk or meet friends for conversation; after supper, he dealt with his correspondence.
This comfortable bachelor’s life ended abruptly in late 1649, when Descartes accepted a position in the court of Queen Christina of Sweden, who, at twenty-two, was one of the most powerful monarchs in Europe. It’s not entirely clear why he agreed to the appointment. He may have been motivated by a desire for greater recognition and prestige, or by a real interest in shaping the thinking of a young ruler. In any case, it proved a disastrous decision. Arriving in Sweden, in time for one of the coldest winters in memory, Descartes was notified that his lessons to Queen Christina would take place in the mornings–beginning at 5:00 A.M. He had no choice but to obey. But the early hours and bitter cold were too much for him. After only a month on the new schedule, Descartes fell ill, apparently of pneumonia; ten days later he was dead.
Descartes had a motto, which he took from Ovid: “Who lives well hidden, lives well.” When he moved to the Netherlands, he regularly changed apartments and deliberately kept his address a secret. Some say it’s because he simply desired privacy for his philosophical work, or that he was avoiding his disapproving family. In his book titled Descartes, philosopher A. C. Grayling makes another suggestion: “Descartes was a spy.