Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"Few virtues are of more importance to society": Cleanliness & Dr. Buchan, 1769

Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Susan reporting:

Seeing Queen Caroline's bath yesterday reminded me of Dr. William Buchan (1729-1805), left, last mentioned on this blog here discussing the importance of healthy perspiration. This Scottish physician became a household name in 18th c. Great Britain by writing one of the earliest bestsellers of medical advice, a straightforward volume that became the standard reference in thousands of homes. Domestic Medicine: or, A Treatise on the Prevention & Cure of Diseases by Regimen and Simple Medicines was first published in 1769, and went on to be reprinted over and over throughout the 18th and 19th c., selling an estimated 80,000 copies. Dr. Buchan was a firm believer in cleanliness and washing as promoting good health, as this excerpt demonstrates:

"Frequent washing not only removes the filth and sordes which adhere to the skin, but likewise  promotes the perspiration, braces the body, and enlivens the spirits. How refreshed, how cheerful, and agreeable does one feel on being shaved, washed, and shifted, especially when these offices have been neglected longer than usual!.... Cleanliness is certainly agreeable to our nature. We cannot help approving it in others, even though we should not practice it ourselves. It sooner attracts our regard than even finery itself, and often gains esteem where that fails. It is an ornament to the highest as well as the lowest station, and cannot be dispensed with in either. Few virtues are of more importance to society than general cleanliness. It ought to be carefully cultivated everywhere; but in populous cities, it should be almost revered."

Did all of Dr. Buchan's readers follow his excellent advice regarding cleanliness? Probably not. But then, how many modern readers of doctor-written bestsellers are following similar excellent advice regarding diet, exercise, and plenty of sleep?

Above: William Buchan, M.D., frontispiece from 1805 edition of Domestic Medicine.


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