The Poetical Works of Thomas Hood, by Thomas Hood

A Black Job.

“No doubt the pleasure is as great,

Of being cheated as to cheat.”— HUDIBRAS.

The history of human-kind to trace,

Since Eve — the first of dupes — our doom unriddled,

A certain portion of the human race

Has certainly a taste for being diddled.

Witness the famous Mississippi dreams!

A rage that time seems only to redouble —

The Banks, Joint-Stocks, and all the flimsy schemes,

For rolling in Pactolian streams,

That cost our modern rogues so little trouble.

No matter what — to pasture cows on stubble,

To twist sea-sand into a solid rope,

To make French bricks and fancy bread of rubble,

Or light with gas the whole celestial cope —

Only propose to blow a bubble,

And Lord! what hundreds will subscribe for soap!

Soap! — it reminds me of a little tale,

Tho’ not a pig’s, the hawbuck’s glory,

When rustic games and merriment prevail —

But here’s my story:

Once on a time — no matter when —

A knot of very charitable men

Set up a Philanthropical Society,

Professing on a certain plan,

To benefit the race of man,

And in particular that dark variety,

Which some suppose inferior — as in vermin

The sable is to ermine,

As smut to flour, as coal to alabaster,

As crows to swans, as soot to driven snow,

As blacking, or as ink, to “milk below,”

Or yet a better simile to show,

As ragman’s dolls to images in plaster!

However, as is usual in our city,

They had a sort of managing Committee,

A board of grave responsible Directors —

A Secretary, good at pen and ink —

A Treasurer, of course, to keep the chink,

And quite an army of Collectors!

Not merely male, but female duns,

Young, old, and middle-aged — of all degrees —

With many of those persevering ones,

Who mite by mite would beg a cheese!

And what might be their aim?

To rescue Afric’s sable sons from fetters —

To save their bodies from the burning shame

Of branding with hot letters —

Their shoulders from the cowhide’s bloody strokes,

Their necks from iron yokes?

To end or mitigate the ills of slavery,

The Planter’s avarice, the Driver’s knavery?

To school the heathen Negroes and enlighten ’em,

To polish up and brighten ’em,

And make them worthy of eternal bliss?

Why, no — the simple end and aim was this —

Reading a well-known proverb much amiss —

To wash and whiten ’em!

They look’d so ugly in their sable hides:

So dark, so dingy, like a grubby lot

Of sooty sweeps, or colliers, and besides,

However the poor elves

Might wash themselves,

Nobody knew if they were clean or not —

On Nature’s fairness they were quite a blot!

Not to forget more serious complaints

That even while they join’d in pious hymn,

So black they were and grim,

In face and limb,

They look’d like Devils, tho’ they sang like Saints!

The thing was undeniable!

They wanted washing! not that slight ablution

To which the skin of the White Man is liable,

Merely removing transient pollution —

But good, hard, honest, energetic rubbing

And scrubbing,

Sousing each sooty frame from heels to head

With stiff, strong, saponaceous lather,

And pails of water — hottish rather,

But not so boiling as to turn ’em red!

So spoke the philanthropic man

Who laid, and hatch’d, and nursed the plan —

And oh! to view its glorious consummation!

The brooms and mops,

The tubs and slops,

The baths and brushes in full operation!

To see each Crow, or Jim or John,

Go in a raven and come out a swan!

While fair as Cavendishes, Vanes, and Russels,

Black Venus rises from the soapy surge,

And all the little Niggerlings emerge

As lily-white as mussels.

Sweet was the vision — but alas!

However in prospectus bright and sunny,

To bring such visionary scenes to pass

One thing was requisite, and that was — money!

Money, that pays the laundress and her bills,

For socks and collars, shirts and frills,

Cravats and kerchiefs — money, without which

The negroes must remain as dark as pitch;

A thing to make all Christians sad and shivery,

To think of millions of immortal souls

Dwelling in bodies black as coals,

And living — so to speak — in Satan’s livery!

Money — the root of evil — dross, and stuff!

But oh! how happy ought the rich to feel,

Whose means enable them to give enough

To blanch an African from head to heel!

How blessed — yea, thrice blessed — to subscribe

Enough to scour a tribe!

While he whose fortune was at best a brittle one,

Although he gave but pence, how sweet to know

He helped to bleach a Hottentot’s great toe,

Or little one!

Moved by this logic, or appall’d,

To persons of a certain turn so proper,

The money came when call’d,

In silver, gold, and copper,

Presents from “Friends to blacks,” or foes to whites,

“Trifles,” and “offerings,” and “widows’ mites,”

Plump legacies, and yearly benefactions,

With other gifts

And charitable lifts,

Printed in lists and quarterly transactions.

As thus — Elisha Brettel,

An iron kettle.

The Dowager Lady Scannel,

A piece of flannel.

Rebecca Pope,

A bar of soap.

The Misses Howels,

Half-a-dozen towels.

The Master Rush’s,

Two scrubbing-brushes.

Mr. T. Groom,

A stable broom,

And Mrs. Grubb,

A tub.

Great were the sums collected!

And great results in consequence expected.

But somehow, in the teeth of all endeavor,

According to reports

At yearly courts,

The blacks, confound them! were as black as ever!

Yes! spite of all the water sous’d aloft,

Soap, plain and mottled, hard and soft,

Soda and pearlash, huckaback and sand,

Brooms, brushes, palm of hand,

And scourers in the office strong and clever,

In spite of all the tubbing, rubbing, scrubbing,

The routing and the grubbing,

The blacks, confound them! were as black as ever!

In fact in his perennial speech,

The Chairman own’d the niggers did not bleach,

As he had hoped.

From being washed and soaped,

A circumstance he named with grief and pity;

But still he had the happiness to say,

For self and the Committee,

By persevering in the present way

And scrubbing at the Blacks from day to day,

Although he could not promise perfect white,

From certain symptoms that had come to light,

He hoped in time to get them gray!

Lull’d by this vague assurance,

The friends and patrons of the sable tribe

Continued to subscribe,

And waited, waited on with much endurance —

Many a frugal sister, thrifty daughter —

Many a stinted widow, pinching mother —

With income by the tax made somewhat shorter,

Still paid implicitly her crown per quarter,

Only to hear as ev’ry year came round,

That Mr. Treasurer had spent her pound;

And as she loved her sable brother,

That Mr. Treasurer must have another!

But, spite of pounds or guineas,

Instead of giving any hint

Of turning to a neutral tint,

The plaguy Negroes and their piccaninnies

Were still the color of the bird that caws —

Only some very aged souls

Showing a little gray upon their polls,

Like daws!

However, nothing clashed

By such repeated failures, or abashed,

The Court still met; — the Chairman and Directors,

The Secretary, good at pen and ink,

The worthy Treasurer, who kept the chink,

And all the cash Collectors;

With hundreds of that class, so kindly credulous,

Without whose help, no charlatan alive,

Or Bubble Company could hope to thrive,

Or busy Chevalier, however sedulous —

Those good and easy innocents in fact,

Who willingly receiving chaff for corn,

As pointed out by Butler’s tact,

Still find a secret pleasure in the act

Of being pluck’d and shorn!

However, in long hundreds there they were,

Thronging the hot, and close, and dusty court,

To hear once more addresses from the Chair,

And regular Report.

Alas! concluding in the usual strain,

That what with everlasting wear and tear,

The scrubbing-brushes hadn’t got a hair —

The brooms — mere stumps — would never serve again —

The soap was gone, the flannels all in shreds,

The towels worn to threads,

The tubs and pails too shattered to be mended —

And what was added with a deal of pain,

But as accounts correctly would explain,

Tho’ thirty thousand pounds had been expended —

The Blackamoors had still been wash’d in vain!

“In fact, the Negroes were as black as ink,

Yet, still as the Committee dared to think,

And hoped the proposition was not rash,

A rather free expenditure of cash —”

But ere the prospect could be made more sunny —

Up jump’d a little, lemon-colored man,

And with an eager stammer, thus began,

In angry earnest, though it sounded funny:

“What! More subscriptions! No — no — no — not I!”

“You have had time — time — time enough to try!

They WON’T come white! then why — why — why — why,

More money?”

“Why!” said the Chairman, with an accent bland,

And gentle waving of his dexter hand,

“Why must we have more dross, and dirt, and dust,

More filthy lucre, in a word, more gold —

The why, sir, very easily is told,

Because Humanity declares we must!

We’ve scrubb’d the negroes till we’ve nearly killed ’em,

And finding that we cannot wash them white,

But still their nigritude offends the sight,

We mean to gild ’em!

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hood/thomas/poetical-works/poem166.html

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 20:51