I was getting logged out of the library yesterday so didn't have the chance to reply fully- so I typed this up on a disc at home and here it is.
I had a look through the letters book and here are some refs he makes to cleanliness/washing: (typed on home PC last night and uploaded via a disc in the library today)
From letters to Tom during the Scottish tour June/July 1818:“All felt, on arising into the cold air, that same elevation which a cold bath gives one.”
I think he is making reference to the sea/river bathings he did. Rather him than me though- lucky us with running hot water! What a luxury Junkets would have found that! I bet he would have loved hot showers!“The barefooted Girls look very much in keeping. I mean with the scenery about them. Brown praises their cleanliness and appearance of comfort, the neatness of their cottages, etc. It may be.”
Of the Scots he says- “They never laugh, but they are always comparatively neat and clean.”
This one although I feel sorry for him, makes me chuckle- “Now we had eaten nothing but Eggs all day, about ten apiece and they had become sickening.”
Would you have wanted to share a room with those two that night?
Of an inn he says- “The table I am writing on surprises me as being a nice flapped mahogany one; at the same time the place has no water closet nor anything like it.”
In case you didn’t know a water closet would have been a small room with either a chamber pot or earth toilet. There would have been some kind of hole/pipe leading down into the ground for the wastes. In middle class and upper class houses they had some kind of room/cupboard (in another letter John amusingly refers to the Pot in the Cupboard being full at a party he is at * see below) - but the poor probably just used a pot and threw the wastes into a pit in the garden/yard/woods/street (depending upon where they lived).
The house I live in (made into rooms we call bedsits
here, where you get a bedroom and sitting room combined and a kitchenette and share a bathroom on each floor) is from around 1860/70. I think it might have had a bathroom and flushing toilet when it was built but interestingly one bedsit on my floor is such a small room in comparison to the others that I wonder if at first it had had just a water closet. I’d like to see where the ones in Keats House would have been.
He goes on to say-“The old Grandmother of the house seems intelligent, though not over clean.”
Though he doesn’t mean to disparage her, he is being descriptive in his honest way, and he goes on to say she makes him some snuff!
To G and G Keats in Sept 1819 he writes:“Whenever I find myself growing vapourish, I rouse myself, wash and put on a clean shirt, brush my hair and clothes, tie my shoelaces neatly and in fact adonize as I were going out. Then all clean and comfortable I sit down to write. This I find the greatest relief.”
I cannot find right now the ref he makes to not being well enough to bathe in the sea in one of the letters; though I think he made refs to sea bathing in a few of them (the Grant edition is large- I’ve read it all through once and I’ve been going through it again before I take it back to the library). It seems this was an activity he greatly enjoyed…but naughty me for wondering…what did he wear to do it in?? if anything at all….
So he notices people’s hygiene, which leads me to surmise that he must have had a certain standard regarding himself (when he was able to do so- during his travels that might have been more difficult of course). If he noticed this in others he would hardly be the type to be lax over himself.
He strikes me as being someone who tried to keep clean ( and he wrote he liked feeling clean)- being middle class he probably had a hip bath at his disposal which would have been filled with hot water, and he would have owned a bar of soap, owned a hair brush and probably a toothbrush and some tooth powder. Tooth powders were made of ground up minerals, bicarbonate of soda and perhaps flavoured with herbs and mint. He would have had a razor too of course, as we can see from his portraits that he was clean shaven.
One thing, I’ve noticed from my own experience (when I stopped using anti perspirants as they started giving me a very sore rash) and found the rock crystal deodorant (which deodorises the bacteria but doesn’t stop the wetness) - when it failed to work (which it oddly does more so in the winter than the summer) is that you notice that sweating isn’t often consistent- some days one sweats more than others despite doing the same things! And on a day that one hasn’t exerted oneself much at all and in cold weather there is hardly any sweating going on at all ( unless one is in a hot room in a big great coat! ). Personally, I don’t think anti perspirants are good for the body. Unpleasant though we find it, sweating is natural and lets out toxins. So, I love my herbal deodorant. It’s a roll on made with crystal salts, aloe vera, vitamin E, witch hazel, chamomile, glycerine, lavender and cedarwood. It is free of aluminium, parabens and alcohol. It smells very very nice! It was quite costly- just under £7.00, but it’s all organic and made by a lovely lady who lives local. Excuse my rodomontade.
Junkets wouldn’t have had that of course; he probably used talcum powder if he used anything at all. In those days, women used talcum powder; I’m not sure about men though- maybe the Dandys did. Maybe Junkets would have seen that as a bit Dandyish who knows?! Maybe he had special cologne for when he went walking on the Heath with Fanny! He must have been clean enough for those times for them to have spent so much time kissing and petting (by the evidence of his letters it seems they kissed a lot)! I doubt he had rotten teeth- probably not sparkling white- few people have naturally pure white teeth, but nice enough teeth to make him kissable and have a nice smile.
Personal hygiene from earlier centuries is a subject that often people discuss here, those who like history I mean…we wonder if people didn’t notice the smell etc. Well noses being noses, I think of course they did. As I posted earlier, I mostly use natural hygiene and cleaning products- I mean soaps, deodorants, perfumes (essential oils), laundry items etc. I have found since using them (which is about 4 years now) I cannot bear the smell of disinfectants, chemical cleaners, synthetic perfumes and anti perspirants, soap powder (how sick that makes me feel!)- I find going past them on shop aisles very unpleasant. My sense of smell is stronger since I stopped using them. Again, sorry for the rodomontade! So, having only natural items at their disposal the people from times past must I assume also have had a proper sense of smell. But it was probably something one had to live with. There are references left by people in the past to the horrible smells of the streets, the Thames etc so they obviously didn’t like it! Queen Elizabeth I was said to be very offended by body odour and demanded people who were in her court to bathe frequently. From my reading of history books I get the impression people were a bit cleaner in the nineteenth century (in general) than earlier times.
We had a very interesting documentary on TV made here a few years ago in which a family had to live in an Edwardian house exactly as those times, with only the clothes and things available to them. However, they used bicarbonate and salt to brush their teeth and not the tooth powders they had then and the lady of the house complained that soap didn’t clean her hair properly. It was true in that whichever soap they had didn’t work well, for her hair got very lank and greasy. (She eventually cheated and went out and bought shampoo!)
But soap making is variable and there are many different recipes for it- the shampoo soap bar I have (from the same lady who made my deodorant) is brilliant. In the Edwardian experiment the lady of the house said coal dust got everywhere and it was hard to get it out of her hair. The boiler they had to heat the bath water never got hot enough. I think it was the fault of the design and them not knowing how to use it; they had problems with the range for cooking and the fires too. She said people didn’t smell bad as such, they just smelled differently (when they couldn’t get the bath water hot they boiled the kettle and washed from a bowl). She said the clothes smelt rather then the people themselves, as they were hard to wash using soap and salts. I cannot remember exactly what they used to wash the clothes- it was some kind of soap, with some kind of salts- like soda crystals. I remember them having a bit metal urn type thing and pushing the laundry around in it with a big wooden stick.
Although part of me wouldn’t mind living in the Regency period, I do like my modern comforts such as washing machines, gas fires, electricity, computers and CD players! Having said that though, I was living in another place a few years ago and we had a local power cut! So for 4 hours there was no electricity. So I had no heating or light (even the central heating wouldn’t work despite being gas because it had an electric pilot light). So I ate sandwiches for dinner, couldn’t make coffee (the cooker was electric too), no music, no TV. I didn’t miss the TV at all- in fact I got rid of TV awhile later after that. I always have tea lites in (the little round candles that you can put on a plate) so I lit loads. One of the other tenants came to sit with me and we had a laugh over it all and posed theories as to what had happened to the electricity. In the end I went out to a phone box and rang my mum- she had heard about it on the radio and said it’d be back on later. She lives miles away and wasn’t affected. I do like candle light though. At night I only have one lamp on by my bed, a lava lamp on the floor and the rest are tea lights. It’s a softer relaxing light- and yes I can read by it! I’m reading John’s poems and letters by mostly candle light!
Gosh, I went on there…hope that was of interest to you Broken Lyre! I almost rivalled Junkets for letter length there….
*“On proceeding to the Pot in the Cupboard it soon became full, on which the Court door was opened. Frank Floodgate bawls out, Hoolloo! Here’s an opposition pot. Ay, says Rice, in one you have a Yard for your pot and in the other a pot for your Yard.”
(To George and Tom, 5 Jan 1818)Yard
is a slang term for a certain part of a gentleman’s anatomy it says in the Grant edition! I’m not sure I get Rice’s joke.