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"The Short-Hairs" And "The Swallow-Tails"
by [?]

What strikes one, however, as most curious in the controversy between the Short-Hairs and the Swallow-Tails is the illustration it affords of the rigidity with which every class or grade in civilization treats its own social conventions, whatever they may be, as final, and as having some subtle but necessary connection with morals. When the Indian squats round the tribal pot in his breech-clout, and eats his dinner with his dirty paw, he is fully satisfied that he is as well equipped, both as regards dress and manners, not only as a man need be, but as a man ought to be. The toilet, the chamber, and the dinner-table of a plain New England farmer he treats as wasteful and ridiculous excess, and if good for anything, good only for plunder. The farmer, on the other hand, loathes the Indian and his ways, and thinks him a filthy beast, and that he (the farmer) has reached the limits of the proper as regards clothes and food and personal habits, and that the city man who puts greater elaboration into his life is a fribble, who is to be pitied, if not despised and distrusted. In short, we can hardly go one step into the controversy without coming on the old question, What are luxuries and what necessities? and, as usual, the majority decides it in the manner that best suits itself. It may be said without exaggeration that the progress of civilization has consisted largely in the raising of what is called “the standard of living,” or, in other words, the multiplication of the things deemed necessary for personal comfort, and, as this raising of the standard has always been begun by the few, the many have always fought against it as a sign of selfishness or affectation until they themselves were able to adopt it.

The history of the bath furnishes a curious though tolerably familiar illustration of this. The practice of bathing disappeared from Western Europe with the fall of the Roman Empire. The barbarians were themselves dirty fellows, like the Indians, and their descendants remained dirty in spite of the growth of civilization among them, putting their money, like the Short-Hair, mainly into jewels and other ornaments. As long as linen was scarce and dear, changes were, of course, seldom made, and the odor of even “the best society” was so insupportable that perfumes had to be lavishly used to overcome it. The increased cheapness of linen and more recently of cotton, and the increased facilities for bathing, have in our own day made personal cleanliness a common virtue; but an occasional bath is still as much as is thought, through the greater part of the world, compatible with moral earnestness and high aims. Of late, indeed within the memory of the present generation, persons mainly belonging to the wealthier class in England have boldly begun to bathe every day, and they have finally succeeded in establishing the rule that a gentleman is bound to bathe, or “tub,” as they call it, every day, and that the usage cannot be persistently neglected without loss of position. Indeed, there are few social casuists in England who would decide, without great hesitation and anxiety, that any English-speaking man was a gentleman who did not take a daily bath. That this view of the matter should be accepted by the great body of those who would rather not bathe every day is not to be expected, nor is it to be wondered at that they should consider it offensive, and that the practice of sponging one’s self in cold water every morning should in caucuses be looked on as a disqualification for political life. There is, of course, a necessary and provoking, though tacit, assumption of superiority in the display of greater cleanliness than other people show, just as there is in coming into a room and finding fault with the closeness of the air in which other people are sitting comfortably. It is tantamount to saying that what is good enough for them is not good enough for you, and they always either openly or secretly resent it.