Victorians made many exaggerated claims for the Turkish bath, not a
few of which related to its ability to cure anything from a hangover
to syphilis. No-one, however, claimed it as an inspiration for poetry.
This did nothing to stop the production of verses in praise of the
one of the first was written on 28 September 1857 by Dr Edward
Haughton and published the following year in his book Facts and
fallacies of the Turkish bath question, or, What kind of bath should
An ode to the Turkish
Soon in each town will
stately piles appear,
To show the hand of progress has been there;
Soon shall the Briton purchase for a groat
A bath which sets all other baths at nought,
Where he can calm recline, walk, sit, or stand,
Waiting in turn the tellak's* soothing hand,
From whence he comes divested of all care,
Bold to defy the keenest wintry air,
Strong as a lion, active as the roe,
He feels the love of man, yet fears no foe;
His pulse with double vigour bounding thrills,
With pure delight his heaving bosom fills;
His heart expanding sees the world grow fair,
Nor can behold the pain and woe that's there.
The car of progress flies with rapid pace,
And each great city strives to lead the race.
The STEAMING "HAMMAM",
foremost in the van,
Gives Barter thanks, and says "Thou art the man!"
Who is so rude as would not Roman be?
Or who a craven, Spartan games to flee?
Learn of the ancients, cease your strife for wealth,
For nought can e'er avail you without health.
Turkey now gives you what your fathers knew;
Be ye as wise, unto yourselves be true;
Adopt the good, the evil cast aside,
And, above all, the heavy burden, pride.
Let the new era be envoked with joy,
And still let labour every hand employ;
The best good thing in this bad world receive,
Enter our gates and soon you will believe.
I am no prophet, yet I now declare,
A mighty change in England shall appear:
No more shall poisoned blood for poison call;
No more shall alcohol the mind enthrall;
Plenty shall reign, and fair Contentment smile,
And new enjoyments fascinate awhile;
And by degrees fierce passions shall abate,
Which now destroy a man, now curse a state.
When we discover where our evils lurk,
We in our turn shall thank the grateful Turk.
(Turk.) bath attendant
Some of the
verse was rather less serious than Haughton's effort. Charles
Bartholomew was a born publicist and he was most effectively to use
letter-writing skills (learned during his work as one of the
organisers of David Urquhart's Foreign Affairs Committees) to obtain
free newspaper publicity whenever he was about to open a new Turkish
bath. Other publicity stunts were more Barnum and Bailey.
Bartholomew's patients wrote a parody of The Spider and the fly
which seems to confirm that the owner of the Bristol Hydro rarely
missed a good opportunity for a publicity stunt .
Mr Bartholomew and
'Will you walk into my
Turkish Baths?', said sly Bartholomew;
'Tis such a pretty little Bath, and just the thing for you;
You've only got to pop your head just inside the door,
To be cured of every pain you have, or haven't, which is more.
'So will you, will you, will you, will you, walk in and be cured?
Will you, will you, will you, walk in and be cured?'
'My Baths are always open', said sly Bartholomew,
'I'm always glad to cure the bad, and set them up anew.'
'Yes, I've heard of you before, my boy, 'tis said that men are stew'd
In their own gravy at your Baths, so do not think me rude
'If I will not, if I will not, walk in and be cured,
If I will not, if I will not, walk in and be cured.'
But none could ever get the best of sly Bartholomew,
And so this Cripple,--'twas from gout,--inside he somehow drew;
I cannot tell the frightful sounds that people outside heard,
'Twas said that he was smoked and cured
like ham, but that's absurd;
But whether he was really cured, or whether he preferred
To keep his gout till he got out, will presently be heard.
But that Cripple ne'er was seen again to pass out of the door,
Though, in an hour, a spruce young man, in what the Cripple wore,
And very like him in the face, went forth upon his way--
I offer here no comment, so judge of it is you may,
But won't you, won't you, won't you, won't you walk in and be cured?
But won't you, won't you, won't you, won't you walk in and be cured?
Bartholomew's unknown patient used verse to poke gentle fun at an
allegedly fraudulent gout cure, proprietors and managers were
themselves not averse to verse when advertising the benefits of their
In 1887, Mr C Norfolk, the manager of the Dalston Junction Turkish
Baths in Ashwin Street, produced a fine broadsheet announcing his current prices and opening hours,
and generally singing the praises of his
well-designed establishment. He starts by suggesting that the poem is
read carefully, for 'Your own Ailment is referred to in one of the
Dalston Junction Turkish
I sing the Turkish Bath! a fit, a worthy theme,
Alike for sage's discourse or for poet's dream.
A dream it is; yet sageand realand true,
A dream of joy; but not (as most dreams do)
Eluding fitfully our eager clutch
E'er half conceived or realised; nor such
As, after brief enjoyment, leaves the pain
Of disappointment tingling every vein.
But one defying fancy's fickle freak
A dream to keep you happy for a week.
A week, say you, and thenwhy then, my friend
A bath a weekyour dream will never end!!!
Ye myriad hosts, whose countless ailments small
Imbue your lives with bitterness of gall.
Ye mines of small distempers! never well,
Yet wanting words in which your ills to tell!
Essay the Turkish Bath! gain peace, repose;
Temper your distempers; 'whoa' your woes,
And ye who let life's petty warps and strains
Play havoc with your weary, jaded brains!
A moment pause to ponder and reflect
How much 'tis due to bodily neglect,
That ye, grand temples of that grander shrine
The human intellect, should scarce divine
The difference 'twixt a mammoth and a mole;
Or (not to deal in needless hyperbole),
Deem high as pyramids or deep as wells,
Such mounds or pools as are but bagatelles.
Gross matter mars the immaterial mind
(As sea-drift, by the breakers left behind,
Checks and impedes their rhythmic ebb and flow,
Till comes some monster wave, recurring slow
With many a pygmy wavelet in between
To sweep obstruction from the turbid scene).
Thus grossness, prone to stagnate in the frame of man,
Obstructs the diverse channels of the mental plan,
Until that wave of health, the Turkish Bath,
Rolls, welcome, up, to clear the cumbered path;
And leave the soul unfettered free to soar
Above those mundane frets we oft deplore.
'Tis thus the strong whom trifling ills annoy
May cleanse the gold of health from all alloy,
While to the sick a vigour new twill give
And those who now exist henceforth may live.
Ye poetspainterspriestsright zealous workers all
Who foster art, and scatter wide the truth,
When poor 'Pegasus' halts as if to fall
Fly to the Bath, renew the verve of youth!
Come, busy denizens of business dens!
This acme of delight no longer miss,
Whose subtle charms pervading every sense,
Can win the soul to dreams of rural bliss.
Ye hardly-driven drivers of the quill,
Of sallow countenance, lack-lustre eye;
To whom vile gas-light shed on foolscap blue
But mocks the glorious azure of the sky!
Come, try the Bath, and feel your pulses stir
With gen'rous, joyous reawakening zest,
And then confess (You must, you can't demur)
The Turkish Bath of 'Pick me ups' the best!!!
Ye piteous victims of a too-much married state,
Bask in this freedom for one blessed hour;
Throw off the mean indignities of fate
To don the robes of majesty and power!
Here, here at least, ye shall in all command:
Your minions execute what ye dictate;
Or with your own august, despotic hand
The tasty new-laid egg decapitate;
Deep draughts of true enjoyment in your coffee quaff:
Find in chops, charms you never found before.
O'er Punch's wild vagaries loudly laugh,
Peruse your Daily, Cornhill, Longman, or
In misty circles from a fragrant mead
Weave wondrous visions of health, wealth and power.
In short, conceive yourself Grand Turk indeed,
Take pleasure at a plunge and blessings in a shower.
If the manager
of the Dalston establishment sang its praises to entice customers to
share his enjoyment of the bath, then Thomas Owen, editor of the
Oswestry commercial circular and a vice-president of the
Vegetarian Society, seemed, in his verses, to be revelling in his
ability to enjoy a Turkish bath late at night completely on his own.
But this would be to misjudge one whose working hours precluded the
use of a public bath during the daytime and who, according to the
writer of his obituary, was always ready with good advice for those
who sought good health.
'He erected a
well-equipped Turkish bath at his residence in Mount-road, and
attributed his good health to its habitual use; in fact, during the
long period of 45 years he never had a day's illness. As an instance
of his vitality, he learnt to cycle when 60 years of age, and
frequently covered from 75 to 80 miles a day.'
In 1912, Owen
published a short booklet describing how he set about building his bath. and
included these celebratory stanzas.
composed at midnight,
in 200° Fahrenheit, February, 1912.
I SING 'The Bath,'
the glorious Bath,
The Orient's mighty Thermae
Achilles' wrath, nor aught else would
From its delights deter me!
The bath sublime, of Pliny's time,
Though long since lost to view,
Still casts its rays, in modern days,
Upon a favoured few.
Night after night, at boiling point,
My radiant chamber glows.
No limb or nerve resents the heat,
Save finger-tips and toes.
While resting thus on wooden couch,
The skin begins to ooze,
Till streamlets join and rivers form,
As heated rays diffuse.
At intervals the surface hot
With water cool is laved.
And by degrees the skin is rid
Of cuticle depraved.
Then, finally, when quantum suff.
Of vital heat is stored,
A stream of water, icy cold,
From overhead is poured.
Reclining next on easy couch,
Enwrapped in mantle warm,
The cooling air through windows wide,
Refreshes like a charm.
To heroes, then, of Greece and Rome
We chant a grateful lay;
For to their wit, plus Turkish tact,
We owe the Bath to-day.
Such verse was
not confined to British responses to the Turkish bath. A bather
d S Waterloo wrote describing his feelings of repose after
finishing a Turkish bath in St Louis, Missouri, in the United
States—and it probably was a male author, advisedly using a
There comes a
dreamy languor o'er me stealing,
which is not lack of strength,
A pulsing rest,
a plenitude of feeling,
divinely through my sheeted length.
negation in the soft enjoyment;
It is not
enervation, but delight.
Body and mind
find sensuous employment
In idle shifting
and in fancies bright.
dlisturbs the self-possessed scnsation,
Each muscle is
reliant, and each nerve ;
There is an
equipoise, a co-relation,
balance which they all preserve.
I watch the
smoke-wreaths from my lips uprising,
I note the
fountain idling with its spray,
adjuncts to a fair devising,
And lazily the
moments pass away.
rest might follow a potation
spiced, or still decanted wine.
But so could
never come the clean equation
'Twixt brain and
body which I feel in mine.
There is no
thought of yet-to-come reaction.
No forfeit for
the passing pleasure's sum,
Here only is a
Of what is
present and is yet to come.
Beyond all pale
of pleasure apathetic
He passes who
pursues this pleasant path,
A finer zeal is
his, a thrill magnetic.
sequel to the perfect bath.
needed the delight enhancing.
The blood is
free in artery and in vein,
'Tis but to will
the act to set it dancing
In turbulent and
bubbling course again.
basking in the noon-day splendid.
relaxed, but still with nerves of steel,
I lie supine
'till the siesta's ended.
the tiger's vigor feel;
And then I shake
me, like the tiger waking.
And face the
struggles of the day once more.
To laugh at
troubles which had set me quaking—
Mere trifles now
which heavy were before.
Even worse, and
also from St Louis, is this anonymous verse advertising the
advantages of a Turkish bath to women bathers.
In the time of
"the Directory," in France,
fair and soft as silk
Were counted but
as charms of circumstance;
”She’s bathed in milk,"
When speaking of
some famous reigning belle,
Some court of
Of whom e’en
yet, the poets love to tell
yet is seen.
yet woman's beauty is the same,
And to assure
By proper means,
as sought the storied dame,
woman deign ;
But, wiser than
her sister of that day,
enhance her charms, a surer way —
She takes the
Both these last
two verses have been transcribed (via Google) from The Turkish
bath hand book, edited by George F Adams and published in St
Louis by Little & Becker in 1881.