The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 8/The Ladies Dressing Room


FIVE hours (and who can do it less in?)
By haughty Cælia spent in dressing;
The goddess from her chamber issues,
Array'd in lace, brocades, and tissues.
Strephon, who found the room was void,
And Betty otherwise employ'd,
Stole in, and took a strict survey
Of all the litter as it lay:
Whereof, to make the matter clear,
An inventory follows here.
And, first, a dirty smock appear'd,
Beneath the armpits well besmear'd;
Strephon, the rogue, display'd it wide,
And turn'd it round on every side:
On such a point, few words are best,
And Strephon bids us guess the rest;
But swears, how damnably the men lie
In calling Cælia sweet and cleanly.
Now listen, while he next produces
The various combs for various uses;
Fill'd up with dirt so closely fixt,
No brush could force a way betwixt;
A paste of composition rare,
Sweat, dandriff, powder, lead, and hair:
A forehead-cloth with oil upon 't,
To smooth the wrinkles on her front:
Here alum-flower, to stop the steams
Exhal'd from sour unsavoury streams;
There night-gloves made of Tripsey's hide,
Bequeath'd by Tripsey when she died;
With puppy-water, beauty's help,
Distill'd from Tripsey's darling whelp.
Here gallipots and vials plac'd,
Some fill'd with washes, some with paste;
Some with pomatums, paints, and slops,
And ointments good for scabby chops.
Hard by a filthy basin stands,
Foul'd with the scouring of her hands;
The basin takes whatever comes,
The scrapings from her teeth and gums,
A nasty compound of all hues,
For here she spits, and here she spews.
But, oh! it turn'd poor Strephon's bowels,
When he beheld and smelt the towels,
Begumm'd, bematter'd, and beslim'd,
With dirt, and sweat, and earwax grim'd;
No object Strephon's eye escapes;
Her petticoats in frowzy heaps;
Nor be the handkerchiefs forgot,
All varnish'd o'er with snuff and snot.
The stockings why should I expose,
Stain'd with the moisture of her toes[2],
Or greasy coifs, or pinners reeking,
Which Cælia slept at least a week in?
A pair of tweezers next he found,
To pluck her brows in arches round;
Or hairs that sink the forehead low,
Or on her chin like bristles grow.
The virtues we must not let pass
Of Cælia's magnifying-glass;
When frighted Strephon cast his eye on't,
It show'd the visage of a giant:
A glass that can to sight disclose
The smallest worm in Cælia's nose,
And faithfully direct her nail
To squeeze it out from head to tail;
For, catch it nicely by the head,
It must come out, alive or dead.
Why, Strephon, will you tell the rest?
And must you needs describe the chest?
That careless wench! no creature warn her
To move it out from yonder corner!
But leave it standing full in sight,
For you to exercise your spite?
In vain the workman show'd his wit,
With rings and hinges counterfeit,
To make it seem in this disguise
A cabinet to vulgar eyes:
Which Strephon ventured to look in,
Resolv'd to go through thick and thin.
He lifts the lid: there needs no more,
He smelt it all the time before.
As, from within Pandora's box,
When Epimetheus oped the locks,
A sudden universal crew
Of human evils upward flew,
He still was comforted to find
That hope at last remained behind:
So Strephon, lifting up the lid,
To view what in the chest was hid,
The vapours flew from out the vent;
But Strephon, cautious, never meant
The bottom of the pan to grope,
And foul his hands in search of hope.
O! ne'er may such a vile machine
Be once in Cælia's chamber seen!
O! may she better learn to keep
Those "secrets of the hoary deep[3]!"
As mutton-cutlets, prime of meat,
Which, though with art, you salt and beat,
As laws of cookery require,
And roast them at the clearest fire;
If from adown the hopeful chops
The fat upon the cinder drops,
To stinking smoke it turns the flame,
Poisoning the flesh from whence it came,
And up exhales a greasy stench,
For which you curse the careless wench:
So things which must not be exprest,
When plump'd into the reeking chest,
Send up an excremental smell
To taint the parts from whence they fell;
The petticoats and gown perfume,
And waft a stink round every room.
Thus finishing his grand survey,
Disgusted Strephon stole away;
Repeating in his amorous fits,
"Oh! Cælia, Cælia, Cælia sh—!"
But Vengeance, goddess never sleeping,
Soon punish'd Strephon for his peeping:
His foul imagination links
Each dame he sees with all her stinks;
And, if unsavoury odours fly,
Conceives a lady standing by.
All women his description fits,
And both ideas jump like wits;
By vicious fancy coupled fast,
And still appearing in contrast.
I pity wretched Strephon, blind
To all the charms of woman kind.
Should I the Queen of Love refuse,
Because she rose from stinking ooze?
To him that looks behind the scene,
Statira's but some pocky quean.
When Cælia all her glory shows,
If Strephon would but stop his nose,
(Who now so impiously blasphemes
Her ointments, daubs, and paints, and creams,
Her washes, slops, and every clout,
With which he makes so foul a rout;)
He soon would learn to think like me,
And bless his ravish'd eyes to see
Such order from confusion sprung,
Such gaudy tulips rais'd from dung.

  1. A defence of "The Lady's Dressing Room," by some facetious friend of our author, is printed in Faulkner's edition; which, after a humorous travesty of ten lines only of "Horace's Art of Poetry," decides clearly that there are ten times more slovenly expressions in those ten lines of Horace, than in the whole poem of Dr. Swift.
  2. Var. "marks of stinking toes."
  3. Milton.