Baths and Spa Waters in the Culture and Literature of Early Modern England
Université Clermont Auvergne (UCA), France
11-13 October, 2019
Organizers: Pr. Sophie Chiari and Dr. Samuel Cuisinier-Delorme
Under the aegis of the French Shakespeare Society
- Dr. Richard Kerridge (Bath Spa University)
- Dr. Amanda Herbert (Folger Institute and Amherst College)
- Pr. Tiffany Stern (Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham)
- Dr. Tiffany J. Werth (UC Davis, University of California)
Water has been used for recreational or therapeutic purposes, shaping landscapes, cleansing bodies and spirits alike throughout the centuries. Cities such as Bath in England, Spa in Belgium, and Vichy in France, have prospered because of their spa activities. While balneology has frequently been studied in connection with classical Antiquity or with more recent times (in particular the nineteenth century, often seen as the Golden Age of spa activities), much work remains to be done regarding its significance in the early modern period. This conference will highlight the various uses of water in sixteenth-, seventeenth-, and eighteenth-century England, while exploring the tensions between those people who praised the curative virtues of waters and those who rejected them for their supposedly harmful effects.
During the Middle Ages, steam baths, whose purpose was more recreational than regenerative, flourished in many Christian cities. Yet the bad reputation of stews (dry or moist heated baths) was early established: over time they were increasingly regarded as places that facilitated prostitution and promiscuity. No wonder that, in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, Vincentio describes how corruption will ‘boil and bubble / Till it o’er-run the stew’. After his ascension to the throne, Henry VIII came to regard public baths as places of debauchery in which infections and contaminations easily spread. When he developed syphilis, he ordered that the baths be closed down. As a result, in the Tudor era, they became synonymous with forbidden practices. Turkish baths, famed for their exoticism, were seen as privileged places for female eroticism, as is suggested in Thomas Washington’s translation of The Navigations, Peregrinations, and Travels Made in Turkey (1585). In the seventeenth century, many people feared that hot water could infuse their bodies with dangerous humours; they turned, domestically, to waterless grooming achieved by rubbing or wiping the skin. The habit of bathing became general relatively late, when public baths reopened in London at the end of the century, and only in the mid-1750s did bathing come back into fashion as a medical resource. Cold water was favoured since it was thought to be invigorating and to regulate blood circulation.
The early modern period marked a parallel shift in spa activities. What healing waters were thought to be differed according to faith: Catholics understood them ritualistically and superstitiously, Protestants pragmatically. The medical treatises of the period, meanwhile, no longer systematically described water as a sacred or sacramental element, examining instead its curative properties. Dr William Turner, a pioneer of spa medicine in England, drafted the first English-language treatise on hot springs called A Book of the Natures and Properties of the Baths in England and other baths in Germany and Italy. Published in 1562, the volume recorded the healing properties of spa waters for nearly a hundred diseases, compared Bath with spa towns on the continent, and pleaded for improvements to be undertaken in the English city. A few decades later, in 1626, Elizabeth Farrow discovered a spring in Scarborough. The publication in 1660 of Scarborough Spaw or A description of the Nature and Virtues of the Spaw at Scarbrough in Yorkshire by Dr Robert Wittie made Scarborough one of the most important spa resorts of the time. Wittie’s observations were extended in the second edition of the book (1667) in which he provides a description of the benefits of water on nerves and lungs as well as on mental health. According to him, water could even cure ‘hypochondriack melancholly and windiness’. While Bath, Bristol, and Harrogate were recognized as established spa towns, Scarborough’s reputation soared when spa treatments developed there and when sea water baths were introduced in addition to spring water ones.
Beyond their medical dimension, the social and cultural life of spa towns, frequently described in the literary productions of the early modern period, need examination. For example, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, Bath became a fashionable holiday destination for the English aristocracy and the upper middle classes. Queen Anne’s visit in 1702 and the arrival there of Richard ‘Beau’ Nash in 1704 turned Bath into the most elegant resort in Georgian England. Not only did people go to Bath for spa treatments, but also for entertainment: concerts, dances, card games and gambling thrived in this ‘curative’ city. The international ‘Baths and Spa Waters’ conference will be held in Vichy which, along with Bath and nine other European spa towns, has submitted a joint nomination for inclusion in a UNESCO World Heritage List of ‘Great Spas of Europe’. The symposium will take stock of current research on the connections between literature, culture, baths, and hydrotherapy in early modern England. We welcome a diversity of approaches and a wide variety of sources, such as pamphlets, poems and plays extolling, condemning or deriding baths, travel narratives that depict baths, and scientific treatises that either praise or criticize the curative use of water. Contributors are also invited to examine sources of information such as travel guides and conduct manuals that became popular in the eighteenth century, as well as newspapers and gazettes describing the activities and daily life in spa towns.
Please send your 500-word abstract along with a short biographical note to Sophie Chiari (email@example.com) and Samuel Cuisinier-Delorme (firstname.lastname@example.org) by September 15th, 2018.
Participants will be notified in November 2018.