Recent news that the British supermarket chain, Waitrose, is now stocking cashmere lavatory paper has got the world in a twitter.
It should be pointed out, however, that no cashmere fibres are included in the paper, but that the paper is covered in an oil that is extracted from the hairs of the cashmere goat.
People have been quick to describe the long and painful history of lavatory paper, expressing surprise that it has taken man so long to invent a comfortable solution. But in their research, they have neglected to study scatological literature – the finest reference source available to us.
For luxury arse-wiping is nothing new. In the 16th century, Francois Rabelais described how the giant Gargantua carried out “long and curious experiments” by which he “invented a method of wiping.. [an] arse which is the most lordly, the most excellent, and the most convenient that ever was seen.”
(Gargantua by Gustave Doré 1873)Gargantua tries various items of clothing such as a lady’s neckerchief, a slipper and various hats (but “note that some hats are smooth, some shaggy, some velvety, some of taffeta, and some of satin. The best of all are the shaggy ones, for they make a very good abstersion of the faecal matter.”)
He experiments with many different plants – such as sage, fennel, cabbage, and beets – before, perhaps unwisely, moving onto nettles and comfrey (“But that gave me the bloody-flux of Lombardy, from which I was cured by wiping myself with my codpiece.”)
He uses more conventional materials such as hay and straw – and, of course, paper, of which he is surprisingly dismissive:
Who his foul bum with paper wipes
Will on his ballocks leave some chips…’
Finally, Gargantua turns to animals and birds, wiping himself “with a hen, a cock, and a chicken, with a calf’s skin, a hare, a pigeon, and a cormorant… [and] an otter.” He then reveals his secret:
“But to conclude, I say and maintain that there is no arse-wiper like a well-downed goose, if you hold her neck between your legs. You must take my word for it, you really must. You get a miraculous sensation in your arse-hole, both from the softness of the down and from the temperate heat of the goose herself; and this is easily communicated to the bum-gut and the rest of the intestines, from which it reaches the heart and the brain. Do not imagine that the felicity of the heroes and demigods in the Elysian Fields arises from their asphodel, their ambrosia, or their nectar, as those ancients say. It comes, in my opinion, from their wiping their arses with the neck of a goose…"
(Francois Rabelais - Gargantua & Pantagruel, Book 1, Chp. 32. c.1532)