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I believe the first Christians inculcated and practised Cleanliness, Prudence, Industry; and I am sure that the individual and the nation will be respectable and respected in proportion as these Christian habits are practised and inculcated amongst us. We, however, can scarcely improve, unless we admit our failings, and confess our faults; then energy, diligence, and self-reliance, will overcome and push aside every obstacle and difficulty to our progress, and the heroical virtues, tried by adversity, will qualify us for prosperity.
Our subject naturally divides itself into two parts—the Personal and the National. Fixing attention upon ourselves, our dwellings, the city we inhabit, and the country we live in, we might ask in what manner a visitor or stranger would speak of us, judging from appearances.
I remember a conversation I had with an English lady some few years ago, who had visited Dublin for the first time, and I asked her, with considerable pride, what she thought of our beautiful city. She replied somewhat tartly_“I think the streets require to be swept, and the windows to be cleaned.” I felt somewhat humiliated, and thought the reply characteristic of the sex and the country of the fair critic. We judge by appearances, and our first impressions are not easily removed. I indulged in the very same habit myself, during my visit to the principal cities and countries of Europe. In Spain, in parts of Italy, in Constantinople, Naples, Lisbon, the condition of the lower classes is wretched, chiefly from inattention to cleanliness, and the waste of life is consequently enormous.
Now, turning to those countries which are the theme of general admiration-Scotland, for example--suppose we ask ourselves what was the condition of that country not very long ago—in the time of our delightful poet, Oliver Goldsmith. He was not fastidious : he was a poetical man; but I do not think it could have been said that he was scrupulous in his habits and attire. He had walked over Europe with his flute and stick, with a light knapsack, and an empty purse.
Let us hear Macaulay's description of Goldsmith's visit to the Highlands of Scotland :“Goldsmith,” he says,
was one of the very few Saxons who, more than a century ago, ventured to explore the Highlands. He was disgusted by the hideous wilderness, and declared that he greatly preferred the charming country round Leyden—the vast expanse of verdant meadow, and the villas with their statues and grottoes, trim flower beds, and rectilinear avenues. Yet,” continues Macaulay, “it is difficult to believe that the author of The Traveller and of The Deserted Village was naturally inferior in taste and sensibility to the thousands of clerks and milliners who are now thrown into raptures by the sight of Loch Katrine and Loch Lomond. His feelings may be easily explained. It was not till roads had been cut out of the rocks, till bridges had been flung over the courses of the rivulets, till inns had succeeded to dens of robbers, till there was as little danger of being slain or plundered in the wildest defile of Badenoch or Lochaber as in Cornhill, that strangers could be enchanted by the blue dimples of the lakes, and by the rainbows which overhung the waterfall, and could derive a solemn pleasure even from the clouds and tempests which lowered on the mountain-tops. Then,” he continues, " what would the traveller have learned in visiting at this period a country such as Scotland ? That a stab in the back, or a shot from behind a fragment of rock, were approved modes of taking satisfaction for insults. He would have found that robbery was held to be a calling not merely innocent, but honourable. He would have seen, wherever he turned, that dislike of steady industry, and that disposition to throw on the weaker sex the heaviest part of manual labour, which are characteristic of savages. He," (that is, the traveller,) “ found that the price which he would have had to pay for his knowledge of the country would have been heavy. He would have had to endure hardships as great as if he had sojourned amongst the Esquimaux. In many dwellings, the furniture, the food, the clothing, nay, the very hair and skin of the hosts, would have put his philosophy to the proof. His lodging would sometimes have been in a hut of which every nook would have swarmed with vermin. He would have inhaled an atmosphere thick with peat-smoke, and foul with an hundred noisome exhalations. At supper, grain, fit only for horses, would have been set before him, accompanied by a cake of blood drawn from living cows. Some of the company with whom he would have feasted, would have been covered with cutaneous diseases, and others would have been smeared with tar, like sheep. His couch would have been the bare earth, dry or wet, as the weather might be; and from that couch he would have risen, half poisoned with stench, half blind with the reek of turf, and half mad with the itch.” Why have I mentioned Scotland ? To show
what may be done in a short space of time by a people determined to improve ; for having had the pleasure of being in the Highlands last
I witnessed none of the things which appalled Goldsmith, and stirred the irony of Macaulay ; and so visitors increase, and people flock there every year
for recreation and health, both of which they are sure to find.”
Macaulay writes, " This change has been effected by the altered habits and new-born industry of the Scotch ;” which he ascribes to “ the sound religious national system of education which elevated that once barbarous kingdom.” We may mark that word “religious” in the context, and its use by an enlightened Whig.
In Ireland we ought to examine the condition of the provinces and their separate history. “The kingdom,” it is said by Berkeley, “is not remarkable, in certain parts of it, for cleanliness; the humbler classes are in poverty, addicted to mere pastoral pursuits; hence, ignorant and untidy.” Cleanliness is a national virtue, and our first judgment upon a people whom we visit will assuredly be given according to what we behold of their condition in this respect.
I remember walking out one morning at the Hague to observe the habits of the Dutch. I felt, as I passed a house, water on my coat, and, as the day was fine, I looked about to see whence it came, when I beheld a strong Dutch woman, square-built-as women in that country generally are-and found that she was washing the outside of a house. Not being accustomed to that kind of thing, I narrowly watched her operations. After a little while, she disappeared; I still remained. The woman soon re-appeared with something like a churn. I withdrew then to a convenient distance, while she directed the engine against the upper windows of the establishment, and speedily washed away everything to which she had an aversion, satisfying herself that her work was well done. This was a specimen of Dutch animosity to everything unclean. The Dutch housewife, even of the humbler class, cleans her state parlour until she has polished to perfection every article of furniture in it; then she locks it
lest rash intruder might enter and sully its purity. She rarely crosses the threshold until, in due season,
become necessary to wash and polish the parlour again.
At Amsterdam I saw more of the Dutch, and of their habits of cleanliness. A fellow-traveller suggested that we ought to make an excursion to a village called Brock, and amongst other things inspect a Dutch dairy. On our arrival at the establishment, I thought we were the victims of a practical
joke. When the door was opened, I said, “We are come to the dairy.” “This is the dairy, sir," was the reply. I felt very much surprised. The floor of the passage was composed of coloured tiles, and led towards what I thought a grotto. I was directed to walk into the grotto, and it is quite true that I saw rows of what I was told were cows; they were dressed in robes; the apartment was one in which the most delicate lady in the land, arrayed in muslins, might venture to sit down and take tea with comfort. I will not say whether she might ask those respectable cows to take tea with her--they were so neat and clean, and looked so dignified and serene, so glossy, soft, and smooth. They have a notion in Holland that an animal that is clean does not eat as much as an animal that is dirty. I do not think you will find this to be the general belief in Ireland. Still, nothing could exceed the sleek and plump appearance of these cows, showing how well they were groomed ; it was a surprise and pleasure to behold them. From the cool grotto we were conducted to another apartment—the dairy-a model of cleanliness; the butter looked very nice, as we saw it packed in tubs, ready to be sent to market. The manner in which the business of this large dairy was conducted showed that the Dutch were in reality a cleanly people. The village of Brock, near which the dairy was situated, is inhabited by serious-looking, elderly, grave people, who put their heads out of their doors, and retreated immediately upon the intrusion of strangers. We were admitted into one or two houses, and they were a curiosity; they belonged evidently to people possessing small fortunes, and were shining in cleanliness and brightness.
Now, when you discover their habits, without having read one word of their history, you might be disposed to say
that the Dutch were as free as they were industrious, and that the neatness of their person betokened their mental condition.