You know how, when you are a British noble in the eighteenth century, and you are redoing your landscaping and you’ve got Capability Brown doing the design and are adding some nice fountains and follies, but somehow it’s still just missing something? What if…you just hired a living human to come and be a hermit on your property? That would be just the ticket, right?
It sounds a bit nuts, but ornamental hermits were a fad among the rich in both England and France for a while in the 1700 and 1800s!
It had to do with a romantic notion of sadness and meditation, and what better to remind you of that than having a person act it out in your presence? Hermit grottos would be built as part of the landscaping design and then men would be hired to come in and be the hermit- often for quite a lot of money. But they would have to agree to grow out their hair and beards and not trim their nails. Sometimes they would be asked to dispense wise words to visitors and sometimes they would be silent in more of a living diorama. Some hermits would stay as long as seven years or more.
I first came across the concept in one of those reality shows where people have to live for months like they are in a historical time period- this one was called Regency House Party and they had an actor playing the garden hermit. At the time I was just like, oh yeah, the hermit, that makes sense in this wacky world where they take baths according to rank, using the same water for each person. But now, I look back on it and I’m like, WHAT? It’s such a strange concept. It really makes garden gnomes and flamingos look very rational and charming!