I’m often asked if I’d love to live in the past. As much as it fascinates me, truth is, I don’t. Going back to the 18th or 19th centuries for a couple of days, yes. But live there? I don’t think I could ever live in a place with no toilet and private bathrooms. Just think of the dirt and stink! No thank you!
The habit of washing daily (or at least often), so loved by the Romans, had long been lost by then. But, thankfully, bathing still had its champions. The author of the The Toilette Of Health, Beauty, And Fashion: Embracing The Economy Of the Beard, published in 1834, was one of them. The chapter on cleanliness is the first in the book. Here’s what it says:
As a preservative of health the value of cleanliness must be obvious to every sensitive mind, whether indeed it be considered in a medical, a moral, or a cosmetical point.
Personal cleanliness, and every thing connected therewith, is a principal duty of man: an unclean and dirty person is never in health, and, at best, is always a loathsome and disgusting sight. It is better to wash twenty times a-day, than to allow a dirty spot to remain on any part of the skin.
On places where impurities are suffered to obstruct the pores of the skin, the insensible perspiration is not only suppressed, but the absorption by the skin also; and if the whole body be, as it were, covered with a crusted coat of perspirated matter, it is impossible under such disgusting circumstances to possess sound blood, or enjoy good health.
The body, and particularly the joints, ought to be frequently washed with pure water, especially in summer, when the perspirable matter, being of an unctuous, clammy nature, obstructs the excretion by the pores. The face, neck, and hands, being most exposed to the air, dust, and the like, ought to be daily washed, morning and evening.
Attention should also be paid to the ears, by occasionally cleaning them out, that the sense of hearing may not be impaired by the accumulation of indurated wax, which, from its acrid nature, may prove unpleasant as well as injurious.
The whole head ought to be frequently washed and cleaned, as it perspires much, and is, besides, exposed to the dust and other particles in the atmosphere. Washing opens the pores, while the comb, by its close application to the skin, removes the viscid humors and renders them fluid.
The use of baths, too much neglected, ought to be more generally introduced. It is not sufficient for the great purposes of cleanliness and health, that a few or more wealthy families repair every season to watering places, or that they even make use of other modes of bathing, either for health or amusement.
A very different method must be pursued, if we sincerely wish to restore the vigor of a degenerated race: we mean here to inculcate the indispensable necessity of domestic baths, so well known among the ancients, and so universally established all over Europe a few centuries ago.
Would you have followed this advice?