This article has been transcribed from a copy of the Cardiff Timess in the online collection of scanned Welsh newspapers 1804-1919 in the National Library of Wales, with grateful recognition of the free access accorded to all readers. Where necessary paragraph breaks have been introduced for easier reading. — David Skilton

“Domestic calamities” provide Samuel with comic material for a number of articles. He follows masters like Tobias Smollett, William Makepeace Thackeray and Charles Dickens in listing a catalogue of ever worsening mishaps, until the whole cast of characters rushes on scene with “and a very pretty hullabaloo there is”. See in particular no. 23, 3 September 1887; no.41, 10 March 1888; no. 51, 21 July 1888; and no. 70, 5 January 1889.

EVERYBODY, sir, knows what the advice of Mr Punch was to those about to marry [Don’t!], and wonderfully terse and pertinent was the said advice. Few, sir, few indeed of the young men who, in all the hopefulness of life's young dream —- a dream that is pretty soon dispelled —– conjure up fancy pictures of unbroken, unclouded, domestic bliss reflect upon the many minor miseries with which their cup of domestic happiness (if any) will be dashed. Young men, sir, do not reflect upon these things –– I didn't myself at one time, or I somehow think that I should have been a bachelor now –– though I shall, after that declaration, take care to keep the present number of the paper out of Mrs Samuel's hands.

On entering upon the Benedict stage of my existence, had I known the acute pain likely to accrue to me from the bursting of a water pipe in the frosty weather, I should have hesitated about being a householder. It does not so much matter when you are a mere lodger, sir, for it is someone else's carpets and ceilings which are being ruined, and it must readily be conceded that we can gaze with infinitely more divine philosophy upon the destruction of other people’s property than upon the wreck of one's own. But about that bursting pipe. It will generally be noticed that the said pipe bursts at the most inconvenient time that is to say, on a Sunday, when every one is at church or it happens in the middle of the night, and if the principal flood can take place immediately over the room of some person seriously ill, depend upon it it will. Have you ever sat comfortably smoking the pipe of peace, when you have heard a mysterious gargling sound? And have you, after a lapse of some time, whilst you were indulging in sweet meditation, suddenly felt a cold drop of water, or something similar on the bald spot on the top of your cranium? I believe that you, though, have no bald spot at the place indicated. Have you gazed upward, and discovered that the ceiling is apparently in a profuse perspiration? I have experienced this, and I have assisted in that wretched process of spreading pails, pans, pots, tubs, and all manner of vessels to catch the running stream and I have seen chairs that apparently had ambitions to be boats and to float about, and I have contemplated the oozing wall paper (only put on a month or two before), and I have rushed off to the plumber's establishment and found that the tradesman in question was at the Cock and Crowbar in the next street, and the plumber has at once assured me that it would be “all ri' in 'bout two twos," and has accompanied me home and, with one eye shut, and with great deliberation, informed me of what I knew before, namely, that the pipe has burst.

And then the intelligent artificer, after just one glass of "'lowance" to keep the cold out, has gone home to fetch his tools. Meanwhile all the female members of the household have, so to speak, been bailing the house out, and mopping up the rapidly increasing pools. Some time elapses before the plumber returns; he has forgotten the number, or, in congenial company at a house of call on the road, the whole matter has escaped his recollection, and when he does arrive he has unfortunately omitted to bring his soldering iron with him. Oh, no[;] such calamities as that of the burst water-pipe may not seem important of themselves, but when many of them are aggregated together they vastly alter the complexion of domestic life.

Why, sir, no gay young bachelor could ever gauge the confusion and strife which frequently arise from the kettle full of hot water falling from the hob, where it has been insecurely placed. Naturally at the time when it falls one of the children is lying full length on the hearth, basking in the glow of the fire, and the domestic cat is also sitting blinking just inside the fender, whilst the servant girl is toasting –– not toasting herself, you know, but bread –– before the fire. Suddenly the kettle falls, there is a hideous yell, the servant starts backwards right over the child, which sets tip a grievous howl, and the cat, which has received a very warm bath, indeed, springs wildly and madly into the cupboard near where all the crockery is, and there is a fearful crash, and the house-dog, which has been lying on the door mat, begins to bark furiously, and the water from the kettle splutters on the cinders, whilst the servant girl shrieks “fire" at the very top of her voice. Of course everybody rushes downstairs, and a very pretty hullabaloo there is.

Ah, sir, who dares to say that domesticity does not include many calamities? Now fancy a fall of soot from the kitchen chimney just when you have a nice little dinner party on, and when the viands and the plates and dishes are all spread out in front of the fire! Can you fancy that? Can you not picture to yourself the helpless cook, the flushed and mortified hostess, just about on the point of bursting into tears; the irate yet wholly impotent host, uttering unholy expletives beneath his breath, and grinding his teeth; and the embarrassed and hungry guests! Who shall say that an occurrence of this sort is not a veritable calamity? And then there is the common and usual wringing-machine accident. Your hopeful boy, aged five years, cherishes an ardent desire to go into the washerwoman line of business, and he, whilst his elder brother “twines” the handle of the wringing machine, puts various clothes through the rollers, and with the clothes includes a couple of his fingers. Naturally the elder brother, the motive power, so to speak, turns the handle right merrily, till there is an agonising scream, and it is discovered that a writhing form is firmly attached by the hand to the rollers. Then your wife blames the servant, and the injured boy says between his sobs, “It's him that did it," pointing at his elder brother, and a doctor is sent for, and there is tremendous discomfort. And it is highly probable that a domestic row, the usual dramatic storm in a tea-pot, may arise as one of the consequences of the accident, the loving husband generally reproaching the irate wife with having indirectly brought about the event, and vice versa.

Oh, sir, little, indeed, do these young men know who would, with a female partner, start housekeeping. Have any of them seen the woman they think they love, I should like to know, immediately after the "winter-hedge," [indoor drying rack] plent[e]ously hung with articles of wearing apparel, the property of the said lady has fallen into the kitchen fire, before, which it has been placed? Have they seen the expression on the said lady's face when the favourite cat is thrown on the fire from the coal-scuttle in which it has been gently reposing? Have they seen her when the clothes line outside in the enclosure has given way, and let all the clean linen drag upon the muddy ground, or when a nasty mischievous boy has amused himself by throwing wet sods at the spotless sheets hanging up? What do the guileless young men I have adverted to know of such veritable catastrophes as the kitchen boiler bursting, or the drawing-room chandelier coming down with a run? What do they know of gas escapes either? Why, they belong to the class which goes to look for such escapes with a lighted candle, and, which finds itself blown into about the middle of next week, or, at any rate, into the middle of the next street in consequence. What do they know of such accidents as the latest servant-girl falling down a flight of stone steps with all the best china, which has just been carefully washed by the “misses," on a tray in her hands?

A cat-ostrophe

What do they know of the mad, rampaging hunt which ensues as a consequence of one of the children having wandered off and mislaid itself? Have they ever had their chimneys on fire, and been advised by a nervous next door neighbour to send for the fire-brjgade and the engines? No, they have not — then let them tremble at what is in store for them unless they keep out of the matrimonial noose, let them shiver and shake at the mention of the mishaps I have named, and at such items in the catalogue of woe as the putting of gunpowder in the oven to make it “draw," and the imminent drawing of the house down in consequence. And there is the sudden falling down of the dining-room ceiling, and the wreck of chimney pots, which latter go straight through the glass of the cucumber frame; and, and — oh, ever so many unpleasant things, indeed things indeed: things that I scarcely have the patience to mention, for I have experienced them, bitterly, miserably experienced them.

Last modified 24 October 2021