"Typically [scurvy] killed about half the crew on any long voyage. Various desperate expedients were tried. Vasco da Gama on a cruise to India and back encouraged his men to rinse their mouths with urine, which did nothing for their scurvy and can't have done much for their spirits either. Sometimes the toll was truly shocking. On a three-year voyage in the 1740s, a British naval expedition...lost 1,400 men out of 2,000 who sailed. Four were killed by enemy action; virtually all the rest died of scurvy."
"The people who cleaned cesspits were known as nightsoil men, and if there has ever been a less enviable way to make a living I believe it has yet to be described. They worked in teams of three or four. One man - the most junior, we may assume - was lowered into the pit itself to scoop waste into buckets. A second stood by the pit to raise and lower the buckets, and a third and fourth carried the buckets to a waiting cart. Nightsoil work was dangerous as well as disagreeable. Workers ran the risk of asphyxiation and even of explosions since they worked by the light of a lantern in powerfully gaseous environments."
"At Leeds in the 1830s, a survey of the poorer districts found that many streets were 'floating with sewage'; one street, housing 176 families, had not been cleaned for fifteen years. In Liverpool, as many as one-sixth of the populace lived in dark cellars, where wastes could all too easily seep in. And of course human waste was only a small part of the enormous heaps of filth that were generated in the crowded and rapidly industrialising cities. In London, the Thames absorbed anything that wasn't wanted: condemned meat, offal, dead cats and dogs, food waste, industrial waste, human faeces and much more. Animals were marched daily to Smithfield Market to be turned into beefsteaks and mutton chops; they deposited 40,000 tonnes of dung en route in a typical year. That was, of course, on top of all the waste of dogs, horses, geese, ducks, chickens and rutting pigs that were kept domestically."
"[T]he spread of plague made people consider more closely their attitude to hygiene...Unfortunately, people everywhere came to exactly the wrong conclusion. All the best minds agreed that bathing opened the epidermal pores and encouraged deathly vapours to invade the body. The best policy was to plug the pores with dirt. For the next six hundred years most people didn't wash, or even get wet, if they could help it - and in consequence they paid an uncomfortable price. Infections became part of everyday life. Boils grew commonplace. Rashes and blotches were routine. Nearly everybody itched all the time. Discomfort was a constant, serious illness accepted with resignation....
"Queen Elizabeth, in a much-cited quote, faithfully bathed once a month 'whether she needs it or no'. In 1653, John Evelyn, the diarist, noted a tentative decision to wash his hair annually. Robert Hooke, the scientist, washed his feet often (because he found it soothing) but appears not to have spent much time damp above the ankles. Samuel Pepys mentions his wife's bathing only once in the diary he kept for nine and a half years. In France, King Louis XIII went unbathed until almost his seventh birthday.... Most people grew so unused to being exposed to water in quantity that the very prospect of it left them genuinely fearful. When Henry Drinker, a prominent Philadelphian, installed a shower in his garden as late as 1798, his wife Elizabeth put off trying it out for over a year, 'not having been wett all over at once, for 28 years past', she explained."