THE LADY’S DRESSING ROOM

25 March 2003

I came across Johnathan Swift, no doubt like many others, by virtue of “Gulliver’s Travels”.  I had to study “Gulliver” as set work during a course, and I found it fascinating and very rewarding (and not merely a kid’s story).  I was surprised to see him named elsewhere as the Reverend Johnathan Swift, and then I came across “The Lady’s Dressing Room”!

A Religious man wrote this! How marvellous! This is an amazing piece if work for that, but also for being written such a long time ago! It’s an amazing piece for a whole barrow-load of reasons.  Enjoy!

Five hours, (and who can do it less in?)
By haughty Celia spent in dressing;
The goddess from her chamber issues,
Arrayed in lace, brocade and tissues:
Strephon, who found the room was void,
And Betty otherwise employed,
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 appeared,
Beneath the arm-pits well besmeared;
Strephon, the rogue, displayed it wide,
And turned it round on every side.
In such a case few words are best,
And Strephon bids us guess the rest;
But swears how damnably the men lie,
In calling Celia sweet and cleanly.

Now listen while he next produces,
The various combs for various uses,
Filled up with dirt so closely fixed,
No brush could force a way betwixt;
A paste of composition rare,
Sweat, dandruff, 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,
Exhaled from sour unsavoury streams;
There night-gloves made of Tripsy’s hide,
Bequeathed by Tripsy when she died:
With puppy water, beauty’s help,
Distilled from Tripsy’s darling whelp.
Here gallipots and vials placed,
Some filled with washes, some with paste;
Some with pomatum, paints and slops,
And ointments good for scabby chops.
Hard by a filthy basin stands,
Fouled with the scouring of her hands;
The basin takes whatever comes,
The scraping of her teeth and gums,
A nasty compound of all hues,
For here she spits, and here she spews.

But Oh! it turned poor Strephon’s bowels,
When he beheld and smelt the towels;
Begummed, be mattered, and beslimed;
With dirt, and sweat, and ear-wax grimed.
No object Strephon’s eye escapes,
Here petticoats in frowzy heaps;
Nor be the handkerchiefs forgot,
All varnished o’er with snuff and snot.
The stockings who should I expose,
Stained with the moisture of her toes;
Or greasy coifs and pinners reeking,
Which Celia 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 Celia’s magnifying glass;
When frighted Strephon cast his eye on’t,
It showed the visage of a giant:
A glass that can to sight disclose
The smallest worm in Celia’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 showed 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,
Resolving to go through thick and thin;
He lifts the lid: there need no more,
He smelt it all the time before.

As from within Pandora’s box,
When Epimethus oped the locks,
A sudden universal crew
Of human evils upward flew;
He still was comforted to find
That hope at least 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 Celia’s chamber seen!
O! may she better learn to keep
‘Those secrets of the hoary deep.’

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 a 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 expressed,
When plumped into the reeking chest,
Send up an excremental smell
To taint the parts from which they fell:
The petticoats and gown perfume,
And waft a stink round every room.

Thus finished his grand survey,
The swain disgusted slunk away,
Repeating in his amorous fits,
‘Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia shits!’

But vengeance, goddess never sleeping,
Soon punished 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 womankind;
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 Celia in 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 she makes so foul a rout;
He soon would learn to think like me,
And bless his ravished eyes to see
Such order from confusion sprung,
Such gaudy tulips raised from dung.

‘The Lady’s Dressing Room’ Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) wr. 1730 pub. 1732

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