It is said [10] that whilst distilling nitric and sulfuric acids in his kitchen, Christian Friedrich Schönbein spilt his reaction mixture and mopped it up with a cotton apron... Clearly, a tidy soul, and doubtless not wanting to vex Frau Schönbein, he washed the apron, and hung it up to dry above the stove.

What does the author mean by tidy soul?

  • Is this a common usage? Feb 24, 2015 at 20:51
  • Where does your difficulty lie?
    – user98990
    Feb 24, 2015 at 21:10
  • It is relatively common to refer to a person as a "soul". Of course, "tidy" just means "neat" or "clean" so it simply means that Herr Schönbein was a tidy person. Feb 24, 2015 at 21:14
  • 2
    Jason: the author is using 'soul' metaphorically. It's just meant as person, the guy is a tidy person, cleaning up after himself. That's all.
    – Mitch
    Feb 24, 2015 at 22:07
  • 1
    Yes, the phrase is fairly literal, it's just that the term "soul" was used instead of "person".
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 24, 2015 at 22:35

1 Answer 1


The literal meaning is a neat, orderly person, but I am inclined to think that the meaning is more in the sense suggested in a famous quote by Mark Twain which says:

  • Be careless in your dress if you will, but keep a tidy soul
  • Twain is telling us that it doesn’t matter what we look like on the outside. We can dress however we want, we don’t need to be concerned with our image, as long as our souls are ‘tidy.’ To keep a tidy soul is to live as a good person; to refrain from doing things which you know are wrong or evil. If you keep a tidy soul, then people will not judge you by the way you dress, but by the way you live your life.

Mr. Christian Friedrich Schönbein is described as a nice and correct person.

  • 1
    I'm thinking that the OP's example is a literal meaning of "tidy soul", like saying he was a "kind soul" or a "gentle soul", not Mark Twain's more esoteric meaning. (IMO, of course.) Feb 24, 2015 at 21:17
  • 1
    @Kristina Lopez, also my thought. But I was prompting OP to be more forthcoming in order to avoid a hold.
    – user98990
    Feb 24, 2015 at 21:20
  • That's what I thought at first..but a bit of research made me change my mind. I think that the meaning suggested is close to the one explained above.
    – user66974
    Feb 24, 2015 at 21:20
  • Since we're interpreting who-knows-what, you could be "righter", @Josh61. :-) Feb 24, 2015 at 21:22
  • 1
    @Josh61 I do not think it is used in Mark Twain's sense, much as I enjoyed the extract you provided. Kristina's gentle/loving/kind/tidy/thoughtful soul seems to fit entirely the context.
    – WS2
    Feb 24, 2015 at 22:14

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