“Archer. How many are there, Scrub?”
“Scrub. Five-and-forty, Sir.” Beaux’ Stratagem.
“For shame — let the linen alone!” M. W. of Windsor.
Mr. Scrub — Mr. Slop — or whoever you be!
The Cock of Steam Laundries — the head Patentee
Of Associate Cleansers — Chief founder and prime
Of the firm for the wholesale distilling of grime —
Co-partners and dealers, in linen’s propriety —
That make washing public — and wash in society —
O lend me your ear! if that ear can forego,
For a moment, the music that bubbles below —
From your new Surrey Geisers all foaming and hot —
That soft ”simmer’s sang” so endear’d to the Scot —
If your hands may stand still, or your steam without danger —
If your suds will not cool, and a mere simple stranger,
Both to you and to washing, may put in a rub —
O wipe out your Amazon arms from the tub —
And lend me your ear — Let me modestly plead
For a race that your labors may soon supersede —
For a race that, now washing no living affords —
Like Grimaldi must leave their aquatic old boards,
Not with pence in their pockets to keep them at ease,
Not with bread in the funds — or investments of cheese —
But to droop like sad willows that liv’d by a stream,
Which the sun has suck’d up into vapor and steam.
Ah, look at the laundress, before you begrudge —
Her hard daily bread to that laudable drudge —
When chanticleer singeth his earliest matins,
She slips her amphibious feet in her pattens,
And beginneth her toil while the morn is still gray,
As if she was washing the night into day —
Not with sleeker or rosier fingers Aurora
Beginneth to scatter the dewdrops before her;
Not Venus that rose from the billow so early,
Look’d down on the foam with a forehead more pearly—
Her head is involv’d in an aërial mist,
And a bright-beaded bracelet encircles her wrist;
Her visage glows warm with the ardor of duty;
She’s Industry’s moral — she’s all moral beauty!
Growing brighter and brighter at every rub —
Would any man ruin her? — No, Mr. Scrub!
No man that is manly would work her mishap —
No man that is manly would covet her cap —
Nor her apron — her hose — nor her gown made of stuff —
Nor her gin — nor her tea — nor her wet pinch of snuff!
Alas! so she thought — but that slippery hope
Has betrayed her — as tho’ she had trod on her soap!
And she — whose support — like the fishes that fly,
Was to have her fins wet, must now drop from her sky —
She whose living it was, and a part of her fare,
To be damp’d once a day, like the great white sea bear,
With her hands like a sponge, and her head like a mop —
Quite a living absorbent that revell’d in slop —
She that paddled in water, must walk upon sand,
And sigh for her deeps like a turtle on land!
Lo, then, the poor laundress, all wretched she stands,
Instead of a counterpane wringing her hands!
All haggard and pinch’d, going down in life’s vale,
With no fagot for burning, like Allan-a-dale!
No smoke from her flue — and no steam from her pane,
There once she watch’d heaven, fearing God and the rain —
Or gaz’d o’er her bleach-field so fairly engross’d,
Till the lines wander’d idle from pillar to post!
Ah, where are the playful young pinners — ah, where
The harlequin quilts that cut capers in air —
The brisk waltzing stockings — the white and the black,
That danced on the tight-rope, or swung on the slack —
The light sylph-like garments, so tenderly pinn’d,
That blew into shape, and embodied the wind!
There was white on the grass — there was white on the spray —
Her garden — it looked like a garden of May!
But now all is dark — not a shirt’s on a shrub —
You’ve ruin’d her prospects in life, Mr. Scrub!
You’ve ruin’d her custom — now families drop her —
From her silver reduc’d — nay, reduc’d from her copper!
The last of her washing is done at her eye,
One poor little kerchief that never gets dry!
From mere lack of linen she can’t lay a cloth,
And boils neither barley nor alkaline broth —
But her children come round her as victuals grow scant,
And recall, with foul faces, the source of their want —
When she thinks of their poor little mouths to be fed,
And then thinks of her trade that is utterly dead,
And even its pearlashes laid in the grave —
Whilst her tub is a dry rotting, stave after stave,
And the greatest of Coopers, ev’n he that they dub
Sir Astley, can’t bind up her heart or her tub —
Need you wonder she curses your bones, Mr. Scrub!
Need you wonder, when steam has depriv’d her of bread,
If she prays that the evil may visit your head —
Nay, scald all the heads of your Washing Committee —
If she wishes you all the soot blacks of the city —
In short, not to mention all plagues without number,
If she wishes you all in the Wash at the Humber!
Ah, perhaps, in some moment of drowth and despair,
When her linen got scarce, and her washing grew rare —
When the sum of her suds might be summ’d in a bowl,
And the rusty cold iron quite enter’d her soul —
When, perhaps, the last glance of her wandering eye
Had caught “the Cock Laundresses’ Coach” going by,
Or her lines that hung idle, to waste the fine weather,
And she thought of her wrongs and her rights both together,
In a lather of passion that froth’d as it rose,
Too angry for grammar, too lofty for prose,
On her sheet — if a sheet were still left her — to write,
Some remonstrance like this then, perchance, saw the light —
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55