Is Bathroom Reading Nothing New?

Close stool (19th century)
from the bathroom of the Château d'Eu
Source: Wikimedia Commons 
I used to think the slightly bizarre habit of reading on the toilet was a recent phenomenon. Then, as I was searching for images of 18th century toilets, I ran across this one on Wikimedia Commons showing a 19th century upholstered toilet or close stool complete with footrest and candle holder.

These early toilets, 18th century ones included, were nothing more than chamber pots beneath fancy chairs. Although I have yet to find an image of one, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello reportedly had five toilets, housed in small rooms he referred to as “air closets”, in or adjoining the main house. You can find more on Jefferson’s bathrooms here.

Madame de Pompadour's close stool
source: Wikimedia Commons

 Mdm Pompadour died in 1764
so this is presumably from
the early 18th century
Although one of Jefferson’s bathrooms was located off his bedroom, where he must have done at least some of his writing of the Declaration of Independence (bedrooms often doubled as studies) no mention is made of his air closets being equipped with candle holders nor a place to set reading materials. Besides, these rooms were fairly small and probably not commodious to the task of declaring independence. (pun intended!)

The common man or woman in the 18th century would certainly not have an indoor bathroom and would have to make their way to an 18th century outhouse to relieve themselves. As with a lot of Jefferson’s thinking, his progressive attitude toward toilets might have been influenced by the French whose aristocracy seemed to put a lot of effort and expense into their commodes as is evidenced by the examples here, including the close stool from the Château d'Eu.


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