There are some customs here not quite consistent with that scrupulous delicacy on which the English pique themselves. . . . Drinking much and long leads to unavoidable consequences. Will it be credited, that, in a corner of the very dining room, there is a certain convenient piece of furniture, to be used by any body who wants it. The operation is performed very deliberately and undisguisedly, as a matter of course, and occasions no interruption of the conversation. I once took the liberty to ask why this convenient article was not placed out of the room, in some adjoining closet; and was answered, that, in former times, when good fellowship was more strictly enforced than in these degenerate days, it had been found that men of weak heads or stomachs took advantage of the opportunity to make their escape shamefully, before they were quite drunk; and that it was to guard against such an enormity that this nice expedient had been invented. I have seen the article in question regularly provided in houses where there were no men, that is, no master of the house ; the mistress, therefore, must be understood to have given the necessary orders to her servants,—a supposition rather alarming for the delicacy of an English lady.—Louis Simond, Journal of a Tour and Residence in Great Britain, During the Years 1810 and 1811, Volume 1 (1817 edition).
Seventeen years later, Prince Pückler-Muskau writes to his beloved Lucie about “one strange custom . . . a relic of barbarism which is extremely repugnant to our notions of propriety.
“This struck me especially today when an old admiral who, clad in his dress uniform, probably on account of Lord Melville’s presence, made use of this facility for a good ten minutes, during which period we felt as if we were listening to the last drops from a roof gutter after a long past thunderstorm.”
Illustration: James Gillray, A Voluptuary under the horrors of digestion, 1792. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA