Shoshi Parks opens this intriguing essay by examining an advert written by an 18th-century British aristocrat looking for a live-in hermit, specifying that he “must be silent, never speaking to the servants who brought him his daily meals. He must wear a goat’s hair robe and never cut his hair, nails or beard.” Such an introduction makes it impossible not to be gripped, and Parks’ gleeful unpicking of this epitome of eccentricity is worth enjoying to the very end.
Neither Stukeley’s hermitage nor Queen Caroline’s boasted a hermit-in-residence. But it wasn’t long before the idea of elevating a hermitage’s authenticity by adding a living, breathing hermit caught on. “Nothing, it was felt, could give such delight to the eye as the spectacle of an aged person, with a long gray beard and a goatish rough robe, doddering about amongst the discomforts and pleasures of nature,” wrote British poet Edith Sitwell in the 1933 book English Eccentrics.