• U.S.

A Private Matter

2 minute read

CLEANLINESS AND GODLINESS (326 pp.) — Reginald Reynolds — Doubleday ($2.75).

Wine, Women, Baths, by art or Nature warm,

Used or abused do men much good or harm. —Sir John Harington.

To keep on the safe side, King John bathed only three times a year (before the principal festivals) and Queen Elizabeth only once a month—”whether she required it or not.” Medieval community baths were highly respected (“there could be no better [place] for ladies desiring children,” remarked an old chronicler), but the Church was so lukewarm toward cleanliness that, says the author, St. Agnes was canonized for flatly refusing ever to bathe at all. Hot bathwater was still considered effeminate in the early 19th Century: when Queen Victoria ascended the throne, Buckingham Palace contained not one tub, and the master of a great English college pooh-poohed a proposal to provide baths for the student body, with the words: “These young men are with us only for eight weeks at a time.”

Homage to Cloacina. These, and a thousand other sordid details—all inspired by Cloacina, Goddess of the Sewers —appear in British Author Reginald Reynolds’ Cleanliness and Godliness—”A Discussion of the Problems of Sanitation from Earliest Times to the Present Day.” Unlike most plumbings of such channels, Cleanliness and Godliness is a first-rate literary essay, overflowing with sanity and bubbling with wit. Its heroes include Moses (whose laws, says Author Reynolds, were based less on divine sanction than on pamphlets issued by the Egyptian Ministry of Health); Elizabethan Sir John Harington, the inventor of the water-closet (“his name [is] writ in water”), and Victorian Sir Edwin Chadwick (he popularized glazed earthenware drains).

“O!” cries Author Reynolds, “for a magic carpet of infinite dimensions that could transport all the leaking drains and condemned closets from all the slums of the Empire and heap them in Downing Street [as an] object lesson. . . !” Viewed from his standpoint of the philosopher-sanitarian, the course of world history is essentially intestinal.

As a sanitary study, Author Reynolds’ book adds up simply to a strong argument in favor of putting every available ounce of waste matter back into the earth from which it came (“the fertility of this planet is running out through open sluices, as surely as a clock-spring unwinds itself till the clock stops”).

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