Archive for the ‘personal hygiene’ Category

Copyright (c) Jane Austen’s World. In A Triple Tragedy: How Princess Charlotte’s Death in 1817 Changed Obstetrics, I discussed the two approaches to obstetrics in the early 19th century – the conservative approach, which meant no intervention, and the more radical intervention approach. I included no image of a physician examining a woman.

Morbid Anatomy, one of my new favorite sites, features three images of a physician examining a woman (circa 1800). These images came without attribution, but are interesting nevertheless. Click here to see them all.

Internal examination of a woman, circa 1800

In the early 1800’s there was also a growing number of formally trained doctors who took great pains to distinguish themselves from the host of lay practitioners. The most important real distinction was that the formally trained, or “regular” doctors as they called themselves, were male, usually middle class, and almost always more expensive than the lay competition. The “regulars'” practices were largely confined to middle and upper class people who could afford the prestige of being treated by a “gentleman” of their own class. By 1800, fashion even dictated that upper and middle class women employ male “regular” doctors for obstetrical care—a custom which plainer people regarded as grossly indecent.” – Witches, Midwives, and Nurses A History of Women Healers by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English

More on the topic:

Read Full Post »

In 1798, the famous caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson drew The Comforts of Bath, a series of satiric drawings. The cartoons were used to illustrate the 1858 edition of the New Bath Guide, written by Christopher Anstey and first published in 1766.* Rowlandson depicted both the social and medical scene in Bath just before the period described by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, and by Georgette Heyer in her Regency romances.

The Portrait, Comforts of Bath, 1798, Thomas Rowlandson

In this post I combined Rowlandson’s images with excerpts from an 1811 guidebook, A new guide through Bath and its environs By Richard Warner. The scenes depict the use of mineral water therapy for the invalids who flocked to Bath, a city whose fashionable post-Nash reputation was already well past its prime and whose medical men were generally regarded as quacks or, worse, “potential murderers”. The rotund gentleman in front and center of all these scenes (who undoubtedly suffered from gout, a painful rich man’s disease), was conjectured to be based after Tobias Smollet’s Mr. Bramble. In the pictorial’s subtext, notice how “Mr. Bramble’s” young wife (companion or daughter) flirts with the young officer who boldly woos her (Image above). Even while satirizing them, Rowlandson gets the social details just right. Underneath each image sits a quote from the guidebook.

King Bladud's Bath, Comforts of Bath, Rowlandson

It is fit for the patient when he goeth into the bath to defend those parts which are apt to be offended by the bath, as to have his head well covered from the air and wind and from the vapours arising from the bath, also his kidneys if they be subject to the stone, anointed with some cooling unguents as rosatum comitiffs infrigidans Galeni Santo linum &c. Also, to begin gently with the bath till his body be inured to it, and to be quiet from swimming or much motion which may offend the head by sending up vapours thither at his coming forth, to have his body well dryed and to rest in his bed an hour and sweat, etc.” – A New Guide Through Bath, 1811

The Pump Room, The Comforts of Bath, 1798, Rowlandson

The new Pump Room supplied water from a covered pump. Before the room was built, the populace drank the waters in the open air. But the new rooms allowed them to

…  take the exercise prescribed to them sheltered from the inclemency of the weather. The work was accordingly begun in 1704, finished two years afterwards, and opened for the reception of the company under the auspices of Mr Nash, who had just then become the Arbiter Elegantiarum of Bath…A New Guide Through Bath, 1811

Black and White detail of above print

In the year 1751 [The Pump] Room was enlarged. Accommodated with a beautiful Portico stretching from it in a northern direction in 1786, and adorned with superb Western Frontispiece in 1791, The Corporation further beautified the city in 1796 by taking down the old Pump Room entirely and building on its site the much larger and more magnificent edifice known at present by that name…A New Guide Through Bath, 1811

Public Breakfast, The Comforts of Bath, 1798, Rowlandson

Pertaining to the construction of  the Harrison rooms and the Assembly Rooms:

Temporary booths had hitherto been the only places in which the company could drink their tea and divert themselves with cards, but Mr Harrison, a man of spirit and speculation, perceiving that a building of this nature was much wanted and would probably make him a very suitable return, undertook at the suggestion of Mr Nash to erect a large and commodious room for the purpose of receiving the company.  The succes of this attempt induced a similar one in the year 1728, when another large room was built by Mr Thayer.  A regular system of pleasurable amusements commenced from this period, and the gay routine of public breakfasts, morning concerts, noon card parties, evening promenades, and nocturnal balls rolled on in an endless and diversified succession. – A New Guide Through Bath, 1811

Company at Play, The Comforts of Bath, Rowlandson

Rules card games:

That no persons be permitted to play with cards left by another party;  That no hazard or unlawful game of any sort be allowed in these Rooms on any account whatever nor any cards on Sundays...A New Guide Through Bath, 1811

The Concert, Bath Chambers, Rowlandson

For music sweet music has charms to controul; And tune up each passion that ruffles the soul; What things have I read and what stories been told; Of feats that were done by musicians of old – The New Bath Guide, 1779

Dinner, Comforts of Bath, 1798

Bath has little trade and no manufactures; the higher clafles of people and their dependents conftitute the chief part of the population, and the number of the lower clafles being but fmall…A New Guide Through Bath, 1811

Bath Races, Rowlandson

More on the topic:

Read Full Post »

In Sense and Sensibility, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood receive their first unflattering glimpse of a finnicky Robert Ferrars in Gray’s Jewelers  as he takes his time choosing a toothpick case:

He was giving orders for a toothpick-case for himself, and till its size, shape, and ornaments were determined, all of which, after examining and debating for a quarter of an hour over every toothpick-case in the shop, were finally arranged by his own inventive fancy, he had no leisure to bestow any other attention on the two ladies, than what was comprised in three or four very broad stares. – Jane Austen

Good dental hygiene is not a modern concept. Toothpicks have been found alongside their owners in ancient Egyptian tombs, and the Chinese freshened their breath as early as 1600 B. C. by chewing on aromatic tree twigs.  The world’s first known recipe for toothpaste, a mixture of rock salt, mint, dried iris flower, and pepper, came from Egypt. The development of toothpastes in more modern times started in the 18th century. A bicarbonate of soda or baking soda, the main raising agent in baking powder, was traditionally used for cleaning teeth and included in tooth-powder . A 19th century London Times advertisement promised an assortment of wonderful results for those who used tooth powder:

For the TEETH. Patronized and used by his Royal Highness the Duke of Kent. TROTTER’s ORIENTAL DENTIFRICE, or ASIATIC TOOTH POWDER, had been for 20 years acknowledged by the most respectable Medical authorities, used by many, and recommended. The Powder cleanses and beautifies the teeth, sweetens the breath, posses no acid that can erode the enamel, and puts a beautiful polish on the teeth. From its astringency, it strengthens the gums, eradicates the scurvy (which often proves the destruction of a whole set of teeth), preserves sound teeth from decay, secures decayed teeth from becoming worse, fastens those which are loose, and proves the happy means of preventing their being drawn. – Next Year, Last Century

A dentist named Peabody was the first to add soap to toothpowder in 1824. Betel nut, though to reduce cavities, was also mixed into certain recipes.  By the 1850s chalk was included and in the 1860s a home-made toothpaste recipe incorporated ground charcoal. Recipes for tooth powder varied and were zealously guarded by their creators:

Toothpowders were based on three or four components: abrasives such as chalk, orris root, heavy magnesium carbonate or cuttlefish bone; antiseptics and detergents, represented by powdered hard soap and borax; and astringents which could be the tannins found in cinchona bark, bayberry leaves, essence of sassafras, and, very commonly, tincture of myrrh. Aromatic substances were often added as breath sweeteners, common ones being cardamon, cloves, peppermint, oil of lemon and aniseed. – Dental practice in Europe at the end of the 18th century By Christine Hillam, p. 214

The first toothbrush was made around 1780 by William Addis of Clerkenald. Addis also manufactured tooth brushes made of cattle bone.  Boar bristles were placed into bored holes and kept in place by a thin wire.  Interestingly, boar bristles remained in use until 1938, when nylon bristles began to replace the natural fiber.

Toothbrush holder made of bone, early 1800

Toothbrush holder made of bone, early 1800

Toothbrush bristles were the stiff, coarse hairs taken from the necks and shoulders of swine who lived (preferably) in the colder climates of  Siberia and China. Tooth powder was packed in a variety of boxes, like the one in the image below.

19th c. toothpowder box

19th c. toothpowder box

By the early 1800s, a variety of toothbrush and toothpowder manufacturers were competing with each other for a rapidly growing number of clientele in a thriving toothpowder trade. Tooth powder recipes proliferated, and toothbrushes began to be sold in great quantities. Sometimes both the tooth powder and toothbrush were sold together  ( ‘Bott’s Tooth Powder and Brushes’, Newspapers (1798).

M. Trotter, a widow, manufactured tooth powder and tooth brushes in her warehouse on No. 36, Surrey-street  in the Strand. Her tooth powder cost 2s 9d a box and her India Tooth Burshes cost 1s each. She was so successful that in a few years she moved into larger premises.  Dental Practice in Europe, p. 212

18th c. silver flask-shaped comfit box

18th c. silver flask-shaped comfit box

Anise comfits

Anise comfits

Breath fresheners took the form of comfits made of anise, caraway, and fennel seeds. These sugary seeded confections were laborious to make,  requiring dozens of thin sugar coatings. The seeds needed to be continually stirred in order to spread the coat evenly, and each sugared coat had to harden before the next coat was poured on. The process was repeated until the comfits had reached the proper size.  When a comfit is chewed, the fennel or anise seeds are crushed open, freshening the breath for 15 minutes up to half an hour.  People are still served this type of candied seed in Indian restaurants today.

More information on this topic:

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts

%d bloggers like this: