I once had the pleasure of living in a house with 5 boys. It was an eye-opening, stomach-turning sort of experience.*
The bachelor pad – rarely lauded as a palace of hygiene and grace – has horrified genteel ladies (such as myself, *cough*) for centuries. The following verse was written in 1752 “in Answer to ‘The Lady’s Dressing Room’ by J. Swift”. Swift’s poem, published twenty years earlier, told the story of a young man, Strephon, exploring his sweetheart’s dressing room. Faced with the distinctly un-sweet realities of her cosmetic routine, he became thoroughly disenchanted with his beloved Celia.
This response imagines a female milliner visiting Strephon’s own lodgings in order to collect a payment. Finding him out of the house, she is presented with a fairly nauseating scene:
A Close-stool helpt to make the Fume,
Tobacco-spits about the Room;
With Flegm and Vomit on the Walls;
Here Powder, Dirt, Combs, and Wash-balls:
Oil-Bottles, Paper, Pens and Wax,
Dice, Pamphlets, and of Cards some Packs;
Pig-tale and Snuff, and dirty Gloves,
Some plain, some fring’d, which most he loves:
A curling-Iron stands upright,
False Locks and Oil lay down close by’t;
A drabbled Cloak hung on a Pin,
And Bason furr’d with Piss within:
Of Pipes a Heap, some whole, some broke,
Some Cut and Dry for him to smoke;
And Papers that his A–se has clean’d,
And Handkerchiefs with Snuff all stain’d:
The Sight and Smells did make her sick,
She did not come to herself for a Week.
– From ‘The Gentleman’s Study, a poem, by Miss W––’ (1752).
*When all the glasses had been smashed, they drank from one shared, not-really-scraped-clean jar of peanut butter rather than buy new ones. I lasted two weeks.
Image: Detail from ‘The Critic’, c.1795 (after Henry Wigstead)