Ornamental hermits

Later, a fad for hermits swept 18th-century England. It was believed that hermits radiated kindness and thoughtfulness, so advertisements were placed in newspapers for “ornamental hermits” who were lax in grooming and willing to sleep in caves on the country estates of the aristocracy. The job paid well and hundreds were hired, typically on seven-year contracts. Some of the hermits would even emerge at dinner parties and greet guests.

Where do I sign up for that? Live in a cave on a good salary, and attend dinner parties? Now that I could do. I’d have to dress down, though.

The quoted text above is from an article about a modern-day hermit: Into the woods: how one man survived alone in the wilderness for 27 years. I enjoyed the article for several of reasons – who can resist the tale of a fellow who escapes modern civilization? – but it’s the comment about ornamental hermits that has my imagination reeling.

And this ornamental hermit thing really did exist! A page at the University of Leicester site, Ornamental hermits: an 18th century ‘must-have’, notes this:

Hermits were often hired for seven years, required to refrain from cutting their hair or washing and had to live austerely. They could receive up to £600 in return, enough to never work again.

Enough to never work again. Enough to never work again. Enough to never work again. Not a bad deal, really, if the dinner parties are good.

Oh and there’s a book on the topic, too: The Hermit in the Garden: From Imperial Rome to Ornamental Gnome. It was written by Gordon Campbell of the University of Leicester, which is why the university has the hermity page I mentioned above.

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