Puritan Grooming

Each Reformed body was the temple of the soul, kept pure by the familiar practices of asceticism: diet, dress, voice, gait, demeanour, and religious duties. Ascetic doctrines effectively threw a cordon between the true Saints and the rest of the population, so that even the houses of the ungodly were like 'so many filthy cages of unclean Birds, so many styes of all manner of abominations'.42 Protestant housewifery reached its culmination in Geneva, and particularly in the Netherlands, where even the streets were swept and washed, and domestic manuals were proudly decorated with symbolic brooms and mops;Dutch artists also painted tender scenes of domestic nitpicking, unequalled before or since. The English Protestant housewifery genre, by comparison, was discreetly vague and ladylike, composed mainly of recipes, and largely untouched by Calvinist household cleansing propaganda.43

The ascetic discipline was underlined by an austere dress code and a perfectly clean and neat appearance, described by Bacon as 'a civil cleanliness ever esteemed to proceed from a due reverence to God, to society, and to ourselves'. Erasmus had put his faith in early training in his influential humanist educational handbook On Civility in Children (1532);and the Czech Protestant Comenius' School of Infancy (1633) likewise instructed parents to teach temperance, cleanliness, and decorum from the very beginning of life:

Immediately, in the first year, the foundations of cleanliness may be laid, by nursing the infant in as cleanly and neat a way as possible, which the bearers ought to know how to do, if they are not destitute of sense. In the second, third, and following years it is proper to teach children to take their food decorously, not to soil their fingers with fat, and not, by scattering their food, to stain themselves... Similar cleanliness and neatness may be exacted in their dress; not to sweep the ground with their clothes, and not designedly to stain and soil them; which is usual in children by reason of their want of providence; and yet parents, through a remarkable supineness, connive at such things.44

The low-cut medieval gown disappeared very early in some European Protestant areas;in some northern German towns it was ordered that no female citizen could go around with a neckline any lower than the width of one finger below the collarbone. Plainer and purer Protestant sectarians had real moral objections to colour and pattern: 'Washing our garments to keep them sweet is cleanly, but it is the opposite to real cleanliness to hide dirt in them... Real cleanliness becometh a holy people; but hiding that which is not clean by colouring our garments seems contrary to the sweetness of sincerity.' Black and white became the dress code of Reformed asceticism; but where buttoning up was required, fine linen compensated. Sober black cloth had long been favoured by the clerically minded Catholic Spanish court;and the wealthy Dutch Protestant bourgeoisie who favoured the clerical style have since become famous through their portraiture—all rustling black silk, dark velvet, and covered-up modesty, strikingly set off by magnificent lace and linen cuffs, collars, and caps.45

There were no regular lustral baths to perform in Protestantism, but the act of washing was self-consciously symbolic, metaphysical, and erudite. Baptism was a key theme. Edward Topsell admonished the faithful to 'the outward cleansing and washing away of the filth of our bodies, being the saviour of sinne raign-ing in us'.46 The zealous puritan Philip Stubbes urged washing because 'as the filthinesse and pollution of my bodie is washed and made clean by the element of water; so is my bodie and soule purified and washed from the spots and blemishes of sin, by the precious blood of Jesus Christ... This washing putteth me in rememberance of my baptism.' The metaphysical Protestant poet George Herbert wrote that on Sunday especially:

Affect in all things about thee cleanliness, Let thy minde's sweetness have his operation Upon thy body, clothes and habitation...

That all may gladly boarde thee, as a flowre...47

At a somewhat less exalted social level, the surgeon William Bullein seems to have found it necessary to defend and promote washing (but only with cold water) and put an unusually full and earnest section on cleanly grooming into the morning regimen of his small handbook The Government of Health (1558), aimed at the student or the busy man of affairs about town:

Plaine people in the countrie, as carters, threshers, ditchers, colliers, and plowmen, use seldom times to wash their hands, as appeareth by their filthynes, and verie few times combe their heads, as is seen by floxes, nittes, grease, feathers, straw, and such like, which hang-eth in their haires. Whether is washing or combing things to decorate or garnish the body, or else to bring health to the same?

Thou seest that the deere, horse, or cow, will use friction or rubbing themselves against trees both for their ease and health. Birdes and hawkes, after their bathing will prune and rowse themselves upon their branches and perches, and all for health. What should man do, which is reasonable but to keep himself cleane, and often to wash the handes, which is a thyng most comfortable . . . If it be done often, the hands be also the instruments to the mouth and the eies, with many other thinges commonly to serve the bodie . . . Kembing of the head is good in the mornings, and doth comfort memories, it is evil at night and openeth the pores. The cutting of toes, haire, and the paring of nailes, cleane keeping of eares, and teeth, be not only things comely and honest, but also holesome rules of Physicke for the superfluous things of the excrements.48

The English Puritans were no ragged dusty ascetic hermits, nor were they sleek priests. They often kept their beards, in imitation of the Jewish prophets; but they despised ornamental (long) hairstyles and were ostentatiously short-haired (or round-headed): 'Off with those deformed locks, those badges of pride and vanity which you have been so warned of...hate not to be reformed [and] become your Barber, as he has been to some amongst us...'.49 In Comenius' catechism, baths were approved to 'wash off sluttishnesse and filth ...[and] cleanse and scour away all dustinesse, sweat and foulness', but any other artificial cosmetics— curled hair, wigs, or perfume—were entirely banished. In the Calvinist world, sexual uncleanness was far more important than mere bodily cleanliness, and English anti-cosmetic tirades were worthy of the Church Fathers themselves, and were highly biblical. 'Plain Man' Arthur Dent was no doubt one of many puritan masters of their households who tended to quote Isaiah:

And what say you of our artificial women, which will be better than God made them? They like not his handiwork, they will rend it, and have other complexions, other faces, other hair, other bones, other breasts, and other bellies than God made them... But they will humbled by the Lord... instead of sweet savours there shall be a stink, and instead of a girdle, a rent, and instead of dyeing the hair, baldness...50

Other English puritans were even more foul-mouthed about cosmetic waters and unctions 'wherewith they besmear their faces', musk perfume 'stinkyng before the face of God', linen starch for ruffs—'the Devil's liquor'—and earrings 'for which they are not ashamed to make holes in their ears'.51

It might seem as if Puritans had abandoned the sensuous body altogether by treating it largely as an asexual object in which all lusts and vanities could be controlled; but this was not entirely so. Many had a surprisingly primitive passion for the God of nature, and his natural works.52 The European

Protestant sects who did not accept the spiritual and theological authority of Lutheran Calvinism (notably the Anabaptists, Baptists, Diggers, Seekers, Ranters, Quakers, Pietists, Adamites, the Family of Love, and many others) were idealists who refused to accept the doctrine that the Christian soul was predestined to be sinful at birth: they valued individual experience, questioned the Scriptures as they saw fit, disagreed with infant baptism, and tended to be more millenarian or utopian, believing in the 'simple plainheartedness or innocency' of the human soul before the Fall of Adam and Eve, and in the redemptive virtues of Love and communal brotherhood. The radical democrat leader of the English Diggers' sect, Winstanley, insisted that the supposedly heavenly Age of the Spirit existed, now, in all people:

We may see Adam every day before our eyes walking up and down the street... This innocency or plain-heartedness in man was not an estate 6,000 years ago only, but every branch of mankind passes through it____Oh ye hearsay preachers, deceive not the people any longer by telling them that this glory shall not be known and seen till the body is laid in the dust. I tell you, this great mystery has begun to appear, and it must be seen by the material eyes of this flesh...53

It was a fight over the soul and the body with some unexpected consequences for the later history of hygiene—the development of Christian naturism (if we can call it that). If he or she wanted, a pure-spirited Adam or Eve could even go naked, testifying their innocence, 'and live above sin and shame'. According to the historian Christopher Hill, there were many recorded occasions 'on which very respectable Quakers ''went naked for a sign'', with only a loin-cloth about their middles for decency In 1652 a lady stripped naked during a church service [in the chapel at Whitehall], crying ''Welcome the resurrection!'' ... such occurrences were less rare at Ranter and Quaker weddings.'54

As Hill discovered, many English sectarians systematically proclaimed the right of natural man to live naturally, and to worship the God of nature;and nothing shows this more than the passionate debates over the hygiene and morality of pure food, cool air, and cold water. Confirming a general moral-thermal shift that seems to have begun in the later sixteenth century, English sectarians joined in the general Protestant attack on medieval (Catholic) Galenism, and loudly repudiated the old so-called 'Hot Regimen' in favour of a new and ascetic 'Cold Regimen'.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment