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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

William Cobbett (1763–1835)

The Complicated Ceremony of Shaving

From “Advice to a Youth”

A LOOKING-GLASS is a piece of furniture a great deal worse than useless. Looking at the face will not alter its shape or its colour; and perhaps, of all wasted time, none is so foolishly wasted as that which is employed in surveying one’s own face.

Nothing can be of little importance if one be compelled to attend to it every day of our lives. If we shaved but once a year, or once a month, the execution of the thing would be hardly worth naming; but this is a piece of work that must be done once every day; and as it may cost only about five minutes of time, and may be, and frequently is, made to cost thirty, or even fifty minutes; and as only fifteen minutes make about a fifty-eighth part of the hours of our average daylight, this being the case, this is a matter of real importance. I once heard Sir John Sinclair ask Mr. Cochrane Johnstone whether he meant to have a son of his (then a little boy) taught Latin. “No,” said Mr. Johnstone, “but I mean to do something a great deal better for him.” “What is that?” said Sir John. “Why,” said the other, “teach him to shave with cold water and without a glass.” Which, I dare say, he did; and for which benefit I am sure that son has good reason to be grateful.

Only think of the inconvenience attending the common practice! There must be hot water. To have this, there must be a fire, and, in some cases, a fire for that purpose alone. To have these, there must be a servant, or you must light a fire yourself. For the want of these the job is put off until a later hour. This causes a stripping and another dressing bout. Or you go in a slovenly state all that day, and the next day the thing must be done, or cleanliness must be abandoned altogether. If you be on a journey, you must wait the pleasure of the servants at the inn before you can dress and set out in the morning. The pleasant time for travelling is gone before you can move from the spot. Instead of being at the end of your day’s journey in good time, you are benighted, and have to endure all the great inconveniences attendant on tardy movements. And all this from the apparently insignificant affair of shaving!