I think Loretta pretty well established yesterday that historical cleanliness was often more a matter of class, convenience, and personal preference than any wide-spread cultural mandate.
While very few people had the fantastical luxury of this 18th c. French lady, left, with her large tub and half-dozen attendants, most people of every rank made some effort to wash at least their hands and face on a regular basis. By 1790, theologian John Wesley (1703-1791) was sternly preaching that "Slovenliness is no part of religion. Cleanliness is indeed next to Godliness", and most Englishmen would have agreed.
It's the total-immersion part of bathing that wasn't universal. Even among the wealthy who could afford to have servants heat and carry water to fill a tub, it was often considered a suspect practice, even unhealthy. Early science maintained that the pores "opened" when the body was relaxed (such as when lolling in a warm tub), admitting all kinds of dangerous poisons. Far safer to wash piecemeal with a damp cloth. And despite all those recipes for lovely scented soaps, it seems that soap, being made from lye and animal fat, often irritated the skin more than it helped clean it, and most people went for water alone. (This from one of the NHG's absolute fav books, Emily Cockayne's Hubbub: Filth, Noise, & Stench in England.)
There was another dreaded danger, too, as described by diarist James Boswell (1740-1795) in 1763: "A warm bath is, I confess, a most agreeable kind of luxury, but luxury is very dangerous....Above all things a young man should guard against [its] effeminacy. I would advise him to avoid warm baths and accustom himself rather to the cold bath, which will give him vigour and liveliness." Cautiously Boswell restricted his own warm-water bathing to his feet, which he admitted gave him "a kind of tranquility."
But there was no doubt that outward cleanliness was perceived as a sign of gentility. In his oft-quote letters to his son, Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield (1694-1773) stressed the importance of clean hands for gentlemen, for "nothing looks more ordinary, vulgar, and illiberal than dirty hands, and ugly, uneven, and ragged nails." Or, as one popular proverb went: "Wash your hands often, your feet seldom, and your head never."
More to come. . . .
Above left: The Bath, by Jean-Baptiste Pater, 1730