Hygiene and Hardiness

Travellers to eighteenth-century England constantly pointed out—with a certain wonderment—how excessively fond of strenuous physical exercise the English were. The romantic English parkscape that developed in the first half of the century had long informal paths that rambled around the estate towards newly built plunge pools, cricket pitches, stables, and carriage rides, fishing lakes, archery butts, boatsheds, and carefully placed picnic pavilions. The aristocracy spent their time royally feasting and sporting and then recovering from it: 'The Pretty Duchess of Devonshire... has hysteric fits in the morning and dances in the evening; she bathes, rides, and dances for ten

14 An unknown Ladies Cricket Club, 1785, showing the hygienic revival of women's sports in later eighteenth-century England. Note the short skirts and sensible shoes.

days, and lies in bed the next ten.'28 What foreigners were seeing, in part, were the older forms of pleasure reinforced and given cachet by Locke's hygienic regimen.

The events of the seventeenth century had left the British upper classes well primed in science. Isaac Newton and John Locke had enshrined the status of science in Britain—Newton had had a state funeral, which profoundly impressed Voltaire. Between 1700 and 1770 the medical advice book market expanded intermittently but steadily, especially for works that took apart one or other of the non-naturals in detail—a style first explored in Richard Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621-38).29 Readers were evidently sufficiently well versed in regimen to appreciate the growing debates on the Air, Diet, Exercise, Sleep, Evacuations, and Passions of the Mind, a trend picked up by the physician-author John Arbuthnot, who wrote two influential digests for general readers, An Essay concerning the Nature of Aliments (1731), and An Essay concerning the Effects of Air on Human Bodies (1733). An early best-seller was George Cheyne's Essay on Health and Long Life (1724), a semi-vegetarian Cornaroian text that explored diet, exercise, and weight loss using a quantity-controlled 'low' diet of milk, white meat, vegetables, and fruit. He told patients to monitor their weight using a Sanctorian chair, and to 'make exercise a part of their religion'.30

Francis Fuller's Medicina Gymnastica (1705;six editions by 1750) set the tone when he announced the arrival of modern Rational mechanical doctrines and denounced old humoral methods—'our too partial Consideration of the Body of Man, by attributing too much to the Fluids, and too little to the Solids'. The Cartesian-Newtonian Rational physiology emerging from the new northern Protestant universities recently opened in Leiden, Edinburgh, and elsewhere now saw the solid body in mechanical terms of pumps, ducts, and vessels, mass and flow, contraction and relaxation, entrances and exits. The pores of the skin, for example, were now likened to little valves, opening and closing on the surface;or smoky chimneys exhaling the hot vaporous excrements.31 Muscular vigour was essential: a vigorous circulation carried off the poisons quicker and 'braced' the solids to perform their proper actions. Although Galenic bleeding and dieting was still a prop which many physicians (and patients) were loath to abandon, anything 'bracing' was considered excellent for stimulating the evacuations of the insensible perspiration—given off in a healthy, sweaty 'glow'. Fuller was greatly in favour of cold bathing for this purpose, 'a severe Method of Cure taken up lately among us... yet we see now the tenderest of the Fair Sex dares commit herself to that terrible element'. According to the bibliographer Charles Mullet, British bathing book lists reflect the influence of John Floyer from the 1720s, followed by a mid-century burst of scientific activity, after which 'the tide of balneological literature flows ever higher'.32

In the most widely read and quoted health poem of the century, John Armstrong's The Art of Preserving Health (1744), Hygieia was a stern and chilly goddess, and hardiness was her second name:

'Tis not for those, whom gelid skys embrace ...to cultivate a skin Too soft; or to teach the recremental fume Too fast to croud through such precarious ways . . .

Study then your sky, form to its manners your obsequious frame, And learn to suffer what you cannot shun.

Hardiness in a cold climate appeared to make perfect sense. Eighteenth-century Britain was the golden age of commercial freelance medicine (university-trained or otherwise), unrestrained by legislation or strict codes of professional ethics; and faced with a bewildering array of medical operators many people preferred to put their trust in the new hardy preventive regimen.33 Personal regimen had now become a constant topic of conversation, like the weather, when there was little else to say;some eighteenth-century diaries and journals often recorded little else but their owner's non-natural health regime. It was often accompanied by the culture of invalidism, or the habit of constant 'complaining' about infirmities (probably the best-known regimen bore in literature is Jane Austen's valetudinarian Mr Woodhouse, with his very accommodating surgeon, Perry).34 Though the sources have yet to be thoroughly combed for devotees of the Lockean or Spartan lifestyle, it can emerge offhandedly in letters. Thus we find out that the indefatigable Horace Walpole was indeed indefatigable, and had trained himself to be so, since the 1730s. Writing in 1777 at the age of 60 to a friend who was obviously urging him to take things easy, he replied:

I know my own constitution exactly, and have formed my way of life accordingly. No weather, nothing gives me cold; because, for these nine and thirty years, I have hardened myself so, by braving all weathers and taking no precautions against cold, that the extremest and most sudden changes do not affect me in that respect. Yet damp, without giving me cold, affects my nerves; and, the moment I feel it, I go to town . . . I am preached to about taking no care against catching cold, and am told that I shall one day or other be caught—possibly: but I must die of something; why should not what has done to sixty, be right? My regimen and practice have been formed on experience and success . . . everything cold, inwardly and outwardly, suits me. Cold water and air are my specifics, and I shall die when I am not master of myself to employ them . . .

And to another friend, still at it at the age of 65:

A hat you know I never wear, my breast I never button, nor wear great-coats, &c. I have often the gout in my face (as last week) and eyes, and instantly dip my head into a pail of cold water, which always cures it, and does not send it anywhere else. All this I dare do, because I have so for these forty years, weak as I look...

And once, from the heart:

Christ! Can I ever stoop to the regimen of old age ? ...tosit in one's room, clothed warmly, expecting visits from folks I don't wish to


He died, alas, an incapacitated valetudinarian who had to be carried from room to room—but no doubt on his own terms.

Cold water was now being copiously applied as a universal cureall. In his famous work Primitive Physic (1747), which is known to have reached a very wide sectarian audience, especially among the rural puritan colonies of North America, John Wesley believed in drinking cold water for almost anything and prescribed the cold bath continuously, for example, 'Cancer. Use the Cold Bath. This has cured many. This cured Miss Bates of Leicestershire of a Cancer in her breasts, a Consumption, a Sciatica, and Rheumatism, which she had had near 20 years. She bathed daily for a month, and drank only Water.' The book praised Cheyne and 'the great and good Dr Sydenham' but also promoted radical Protestant health beliefs, railing against the doctors with their abstruse science ('abundance of Technical Terms, utterly unintelligible to Plain Men'), their evil compound medicines ('scarce possible for Common people to know'), and their wicked slander of wise 'Empiricks' and the simple folk remedies formerly used in an Arcadian state of grace and health.36 In Wesley cold water was being lauded as a folk remedy; and its contemporary revival may well have resurrected certain deep-seated water beliefs. By the mid-century in Britain the cold bathing of children and infants had apparently reached the fetish stage in the well-staffed nurseries of the rich at least, where, according to one critic, cold water had attained a semi-mystic value, and become almost a rite:

I have known some [nurses] who would not dry a child's skin after bathing it, lest it should destroy the effect of the water. Others will even put clothes dipt in the water upon the child, and either put it to bed, or suffer it to go about in that condition. Some believe, that the whole virtue of the water depends upon it being dedicated to a particular saint; while others place their confidence in a certain number of dips, as three, seven, nine, or the like; and the world could not persuade them, if these do not succeed, to try it a little longer... We ought not, however, entirely to set aside the cold bath, because the nurses make a wrong use of it. Every child, when in health, should at least have its extremities daily washed in cold water. This is a partial use of the cold bath, and is better than none. In winter this may suffice; but, in the warm season, if a child be relaxed, or seem to have the tendency of rickets or scrofula, its whole body ought to be frequently immersed in cold water.37

See that body glow. Being rubbed raw after a freezing morning bath, every day, year after year—possibly even for life—was the lot of many British infants and adults, from the eighteenth century onwards.

The other main barometer of eighteenth-century British cold-water balneology is the existence of the baths themselves. The equipment for cold-water therapy was either very simple— like Walpole's bucket—or very elaborate. Stone-built cold plunge baths were either put in small bathing pavilions near the house (as at Kenwood House in Hampstead), or built as small rectangular swimming pools in sylvan settings overlooking the countryside, with or without charming shell-encrusted grottoes and waterfalls.38 Commercial outdoor facilities were quickly provided for the carriage trade: the river baths run by an apothecary, John King from Bungay in Suffolk, were advertised to the 'Physicians and Gentry in our neighbourhood' with all the necessary conveniences: changing and eating pavilions, carriage access, bridges, gardens, plantations, boats, and bathing platforms. He had already added 'a warm Bath, together with a Bagnio or Hummumms . . . accommodation rarely to be met with unless in the Metropolis or very popular places'. Surely a day out with a difference in 1737. Over on the other side of the country, the Salop

Infirmary near Shrewsbury, in Shropshire, began opening its baths to the paying public from 1748; as had the mid-eighteenth-century Liverpool Infirmary, with its suite of cold baths on the ground floor, both paid for by public subscriptions. The Salop baths were opened at 1s. per person (later reduced to 6d. for adults and 3d. for children) with an extra 6d. for a hot bath: middle-class prices. The inclusion of hot baths must have seemed wonderfully practical, as well as delightfully exotic and novel, explaining the mid-century success of Bartolomeo Dominicetti's suites of urban commercial Turkish baths for the gentry in Chelsea and Knightsbridge, and 'particularly at York, Manchester, Newcastle upon Tyne, Bristol, and et cetera'.39

The fact that the various balneological routines were described so carefully suggests that full-body immersion did not necessarily come naturally, and was a technique that had to be learnt by the general public (or so the doctors certainly thought). The cold 'dip' was just as exhaustively described for the upper and middle classes in the eighteenth century, as shower-baths and the strip wash were in popular working-class advice books in the nineteenth century. Cold bathing, of course, was tremulously associated with the frightful 'shock of the cold'. In 1771 the Delaware resident Elizabeth Drinker screwed up her courage to take the cold plunge—and hated it: 'S. Merriot Snr., Molly Hall, Anna Humber, and Self went this Afternoon into the Bath, I found the shock much greater than I expected. . . . took a ride this morning to the Bath, had not courage to go in . . . went into the Bath; with fear and trembling, but felt cleaver after it.' She soon gave up her attempts at cold bathing, and did not try again for twenty-eight years. She was not alone: in 1796 young Henry Tucker in Williamsburg wrote, 'Mama has taken a bath and enjoyed it very much though at first she was quite frightened.'40 But more and more it was the lure of the sea, and the seaside, that gave cold bathing that extra zest. The main reason why fearful people forced themselves to be braced and battered by cold water was that it had become a social event, as firmly attached to communal pleasures and merrymaking as the hot stoves had ever been.

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