So, you’re self-isolating. Sequestered. Feeling rather…hermitic. It’s been weeks since your last haircut and you don’t feel like cutting your nails or shaving. What’s the point, right?
Scratching your stubbly neck, you realize that your significant other has disappeared into another part of the house; doing her part to social distance herself, you suppose.
Face it, you are becoming a hermit.
So, what is a ‘hermit’? A hermit is someone who lives in seclusion from society, usually for religious reasons.
As the wealthy tradesman, his wife and mistress discovered in “Ticking: A Tale of Two Time Travellers”, hermits were also employed by aristocrats to simply exist, as a part of the landscape surrounding the estate, to entertain visitors and to, somehow, improve the aristocrat’s cache. This phenomenon -- the ornamental or garden hermit -- occurred primarily in Georgian England, Ireland and Scotland, but hermits were also employed in continental Europe.
Prior to hiring a hermit, estate owners would have a hermitage constructed. If a grotto or cave were not available, this place of lodging might be a rustic shack.
The aristocrat might demand that his hermit dress in a costume, often as a druid. Although it is unclear as to what a druid looked like, the ‘druid costume’ unfortunately included a cap that looked much like a dunce cap.
The aristocrat in ‘Ticking’, Sir William Mansfield, made no such costume demand. He paid his hermit to simply live on the estate grounds, in a grotto. Estate staff would bring him meals and empty his chamber pot daily.
The hermit was forbidden to converse with anyone and was to “neither to wash himself…in any way…but is to let his hair and nails both on hands and feet, grow as long as nature will permit them.” (from an advertisement referenced in Sir William Gell’s ‘A Tour in the Lakes Made in 1797’).
Payment was made only after completion of a contract of, say, 5 to 7 years. At the end of that period, Sir William paid his man a pension equivalent to the annual income of a regular working man, for the remainder of the hermit’s life.
The first thing the hermit would do, I suppose, upon completion of the contract is to cut his fingernails, as he was forbidden to cut them during his tenure. Five years of growth would make them long (there’s a vast range for fingernail growth, between 0.5 and 4 inches per year). So, a hermit could have 20-inch nails at the end of his 5-year contract.
Cutting his nails would allow him the dexterity to perform other needed sanitary tasks, like finally bathing, washing his hair and shaving his beard. The bath would likely not be in a bath tub, as only the rich had tubs.
So, while you self-isolate, bear in mind the sad existence of the garden hermit. Then, order a non-contact pizza or something and consider yourself pretty well-off.
AUDIOBOOK -- Ticking: A Tale of Two Time Travellers, Chapters 37 to 48, the final chapter
Craig retired in 2015 and has been writing ever since. And boy, is his hand tired.