Filth: The joy of dirt | The Economist
I know I have posted on the history of cleanliness and bathing before (perhaps I have mentioned reviews of this book some time ago?) but The Economist review seems to note things I didn't know before. Such as the importance of linen if you didn't bathe:
Regular all-over bathing, elaborated in ancient Greece and Rome and celebrated in luxurious contemporary ensuite bathrooms, was distrusted for about 400 years in the second millennium. Water was thought to carry disease into the skin; pores nicely clogged with dirt were a means to block it out. In the 17th century the European aristocracy, who washed little, wore linen shirts in order to draw out dirt from the skin instead, and heavy perfumes and oils to mask bad smells.
Throughout the 17th century, writes Georges Vigarello, in “Le Propre et le Sale”, it was thought that linen had special properties that enabled it to absorb sweat from the body. For gentlemen, a wardrobe full of fine linen smocks or undershirts to enable a daily change was the height of hygienic sophistication. Racine and Molière owned 30 each.
As for the gradual end of the "water is dangerous" idea:
The myth of the danger of water was long-lived, and its demolition during the 18th and 19th centuries protracted. Louis XIV had sumptuous bathrooms built at Versailles but not, explains Mathieu da Vinha in “Le Versailles de Louis XIV”, in order to clean the body. Valets rather rubbed his hands and face with alcohol, and he took therapeutic baths only irregularly. Yet a century later Napoleon and Josephine both relished a hot bath, and owned several ornate bidets. In “Clean: An Unsanitised History of Washing”, Katherine Ashenburg notes that bathing was tied to diplomacy: the more tense the moment, the longer the soak. As the Peace of Amiens fell apart in 1803, Napoleon lay in the tub for six hours.
And let's hear it for the Japanese, who never went through the fear of water fad that the West did:
As Orwell goes on to ponder the question, “do the ‘lower classes’ smell?”, he points out that: “the habit of washing yourself all over every day is a very recent one in Europe, and the working classes are generally more conservative than the bourgeoisie. But the English are growing visibly cleaner, and we may hope that in a hundred years they will be almost as clean as the Japanese.”