After watching those period movies and reading wonderful books that happen in the past, some of us end up having a brilliant image of the past in our heads. Others have even thought how great it would have been to live in these times. Since the dawn of time people have been fascinated about their past. However, not everything is as it seems. From numerous deaths and terrible pain to the lack of comfort and food diversity, the next seven illusions about the past will prove that even though previous centuries had their own charm, there was no escape from the grim reality.
Death rates in the past centuries were considerably higher than nowadays, and mostly because people starved to death. Famines were quite frequent. For instance, five million people died in India in 1899 alone, while Europe was hit by a famine every ten years. The British Empire also fell victim to the devastating phenomenon every six years during the 19th century. Even though the cause for this was usually the shortage of crops, wars were to blame as well, because they took away numerous people from farms and other food processing establishments.
2. Pollution Levels
The colorful images of cities such as London you have seen in movies are part of the illusions about the past. If you were shocked to see the pollution levels in China, imagine that London was just the same in Victorian times. The amounts of soot were skyrocketing, and the rich people who could afford soap had to wash their hands numerous times per day. It took only a couple of days for the color of the people’s clothes to change from white to black. Coal mining areas of Germany were even more polluted.
If you are afraid of that anesthesia you will receive when going to the dentist, imagine what it was like to perform such an operation without any anesthetics at all. Before the discovery of the numbing substances, all types of surgeries that were performed were extremely painful. As a result, these were quite rare: in twenty years the Massachusetts General Hospital had only one surgery each month. Those who had to go through it in order to survive needed to become extremely tough.
Those of you who have visited old buildings that were preserved in their original form have surely identified other illusions about the past. It has become a common belief that people in the past were shorter than nowadays, because of the short doorways featured in those houses. However, recent studies do point towards the fact that people were not smaller, but shorter doors were cheaper to install. The same went for windows.
5. Night Soil
Going back to the least pleasant aspects of our past, we should take a moment to think about plumbing, or rather of the times when such a luxury did not exist. People called night soil men were disposing of soil by constantly carrying it out of houses. The procedure is said to have usually happened in the mornings, when the family had breakfast. However, the service was of course quite expensive, and thus many people waited for such a long time that the stuff would spill out of their homes, which in turn led to tainting water supplies. This is how many health epidemics were born.
Furniture is another one of the illusions about the past. Yes, old pieces look truly gorgeous but we must keep in mind that only the richest of the rich could afford such complex sofas or beds. The rest of the population in the 1600s had to sit on wooden stools with no back support whatsoever, which led to many health problems. For instance, in the 1920s people who were nostalgic for eras such as the Jacobean or Edwardian ones were warned by the House & Garden magazine that furniture belonging to these periods was truly austere.
The last on our list of illusions about the past is food. We have presented you the destructive famines, and we should now tackle the matter of food diversity. Before the invention of canned food by Philippe De Girard in 1810 and of bottled food in 1809 by Nicolas Appert, people had to make do with regional products. This happened because almost all types of food would not resist the long trips by ships or carriages, even if they went through processes like soaking in brine or drying. By relying solely on regional crops, people would often become subject to the earlier mentioned famines, such as the Potato Famine in Ireland in 1845-1849. Furthermore, many sailors died during their trips because of the lack of diversity in their diet. The disease is called scurvy and it appears when a person lacks vitamin C.