Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 80.djvu/514

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were confined to these places also. The source of the food supply was, therefore, foul. . . . Places of public resort were without means of ventilation. The air of the churches was death-dealing, and made tolerable only by the fumes of incense. (Gorton.) Personal cleanliness was unknown; great officers of state, even dignitaries as high as the Archbishop of Canterbury, swarmed with vermin; such it is related was the condition of Thomas a' Becket, the antagonist of an English king. To conceal personal impurity, perfumes were necessarily and profusely used. The citizen clothed himself in leather, a garment, which, with its ever-accumulating impurity, might last for many years. . . . After night-fall the chamber shutters were thrown open, and slops unceremoniously emptied down. (Draper.)[1]

From the fourteenth to the sixteenth century plagues were frequent and attended with great mortality. Among the plagues known by various names as the "sweating sickness," "black death," etc., we are able to distinguish bubonic plague, typhus and small-pox. Likewise syphilis had been on the increase since the fifteenth century, and pre-

  1. The original upon which these statements are based I have been unable to obtain. Gorton's statement is evidently at second hand. C. Creighton in his "History of Epidemics in Great Britain" doubts the accuracy of the sweeping charges "of neglect of public hygiene" and "of lack of rudimentary instincts of cleanliness" in Plantagenet and Tudor times, but as careful a writer as F. Harrison gives in "The Meaning of History" the following summary of personal and community hygiene in the Middle Ages: "The old Greek and Roman religion of external cleanness was turned into a sin. The outward and visible sign of sanctity now was to be unclean. No one was clean; but the devout Christian was unutterably foul. The tone of the Middle Ages in the matter of dirt was a form of mental disease. Cooped up in castles and walled cities, with narrow courts and sunless alleys, they would pass day and night in the same clothes, within the same airless, gloomy, windowless and pestiferous chambers; they would go to bed without night clothes, and sleep under uncleansed sheep-skins and frieze rugs; they would wear the same leather,^ fur and woolen garments for a lifetime, and even for successive generations; they ate their meals without forks, and covered up the orts with rushes; they flung their refuse out of the window into the street or piled it up in the back-yard; the streets were narrow, unpaved, crooked lanes through which, under the very palace turrets, men and beasts tramped knee-deep in noisome mire. This was at intervals varied with fetid rivulets and open cesspools; every church was crammed with rotting corpses and surrounded with graveyards, sodden with cadaveric liquids, and strewn with disinterred bones. Bound these charnel houses and pestiferous churches were piled old decaying wooden houses, their sole air being these deadly exhalations, and their sole water supply being these polluted streams or wells dug in this reeking soil. Even in the palaces and castles of the rich the same bestial habits prevailed. Prisoners rotted in noisome dungeons under the banqueting hall; corpses were buried under the floor of the private chapel; scores of soldiers and attendants slept in gangs for months together in the same hall or guard-room where they ate and drank, played and fought. It is one of those problems which still remain for historians to solve—how the race ever survived the insanitary conditions of the Middle Ages, and still more how it was ever continued—what was the normal death-rate and the normal birth-rate of cities? The towns were no doubt maintained by immigration, and the rural labourer had the best chance of life, if he could manage to escape death by violence or famine."