This article has been transcribed from a copy of the Cardiff Times 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. Paragraph breaks have been introduced for easier reading.

(A Child's World) Bubbles

Samuel also writes about washing day on 5th March 1887 in ‘Samuel on Some Domestic Calamities’. His narrative is at its most fluent when, as here, he functionally addresses his editor. The compound ‘set-pan’ is not found in OED, but the sense is obvious from the context, as the tub in which clothes are was and/or boiled. The painting by Sir John Everett Millais is his very popular ‘A Child's World’ (1886), which became universally known under the title ‘Bubbles’ when it was used in advertisements for Pears soap.

David Skilton

ah – ah – ah– ah! I’ve trapped my thumb in the wringing machine.

]erhaps you are not acquainted with the damn horrors of washing day? Perhaps all your linen is sent out to wash, or rather, is sent out to be steeped in chemical and to be riven or washed into holes. Mine is not, sir; mine is home-washed, and, being one of those unfortunate beings whose work has to be done entirely at home, I cannot escape the washing day! And my tortures begin early. Mrs Samuel on that dread morning is astir early, and as I turn over on my couch I hear her muttering something about ‘lazy people’ who can lie in bed all day. It is astonishing how virtuous about sluggardliness people are who are forced to get up. I augur, and with the most considerable truth, that Mrs Samuel has something important afoot. I am not long in doubt as to the nature of the business which has aroused her. I hear a violent slamming to of drawers all over the bedrooms. I can plainly make out that a close inspection of my collar drawer is going on, but I try to heed not the signs. At length, however, a voice exclaims in words of fearful meaning, ‘Samuel! Samuel! this is washing day: you'll have to get up: I find that I didn't change those sheets yesterday, so be quick now; Mrs Sudds is waiting down below.’ Oh, sir, how my heart sinks at words like these. But I rise up. There is a peculiar haziness about the room, and, as I glance in the mirror, I find that it is obscured, and gives back a very blurred sort of representation of my own classic features. Then I know that the washing day steam fiend is in full play, and that for the whole of that day at least I shall be clammily compelled to sit and work and perspire in a species of vapour bath. Turn where I will in the bedroom everything that is washable seems to have been laid hands upon. None of my favourite collars are to be found; the shirt of yesterday has disappeared, and all the clean ones are buttonless and frayed at the cuffs. But I make some sort of a toilet and sally out upon the landing; bang! over I go; unholy language; clothes basket left on the landing, that's all – except a ‘burked’ shin. Ha! where's the breakfast? Call this breakfast? Breakfast indeed – wha-a-a-t, this bit of sodden toast, this perspiring looking butter, and this muddy coffee? Oh, I forgot, washing day, of course Mrs Sudds, the lady who presides in the back kitchen, has required the efforts of all the strength of the company to provide her morning meal.

Oh, master, master. sich a haccident in the kitching’

And from that time what I do suffer, sir! My own snuggery, being just over what I believe is classically called the ‘set-pan,’ is as hot as the engine house of a steamer in the tropics, and a nasty, damp, unwholesome vapour seems to hang over everything. I sit me down to work, possessed, though, of no enviable feelings. Let me see, I have those comic verses to do for the Penny Peepshow. Let me think out a subject – creak, creak, creak, creak, crash! Good gracious, what on earth is that, I ask me wife in alarm. Reply: ‘You seem very nervous this morning; I thought you'd had more than was good for you last night, tho’ you did try to disguise it; why, it's only the wringing machine.’ Return to work. Ha, those verses. Creak, creak, creak, creak, crash! Oh, that infernal machine again. ‘Creak, creak, creak (here fancy, sir, a tremendous howl – a how! worthy of one of Fennimore Cooper's red warriors on the war path; howl mingled with confused voices. I rush to the bead of the stairs.) ‘What in the name of the prophet is up now?’ Reply from the servant, ‘It's John James, sir, he's been a gettin’ of his fingers in the machine; it’s no fault of mine; he hit me with the toastin' fork when I tried to prevent him.’ I descend into the regions of steam, and witness a scene of frightful confusion. Dirty clothes, the remains of breakfast, clothes-horses, brushes, powder blue, certain mysterious packages, pans, all mingle together, and writhing on the hearth is John James, with whom the baby who is fondling a mysterious bottle, yells in frightful concert.

What happened to me one day when I slipped on a bit of soap.

John James has trapped himself, but not seriously. Mrs Sudds is having her 'lowance of cheese and bread and all quite contentedly the while he howls. She opines as she sees me that it is ‘a fine day to day,’ and then, regarding John James, she says, ‘childer will be in the way; I've often seen their fingers took hoff, which is a great misfortune.’ I return to my sanctum, and, whilst the monotonous creaking and banging goes on, I endeavour to hit upon a likely subject for the peepshow. I am singularly obtuse this morning; seem to have steam on the brain, in fact, let's see – hollo! Another frightful howl. What on earth is it this time? Dear, dear me, the baby has been drinking out of the washing liquor bottle, and the servant, rushing to seize the bottle, has upset a tub of hot water, which is meandering through the back kitchen door all over the lower regions of the house. Intolerable; intolerable – why am I subjected to these tortures? ‘Do I want my things to go unwashed?’ asks Mrs Samuel, or ‘will I pay through the nose to have ’em ruined at a washing establishment?’ Mustard and hot water by way of an emetic for the baby. Mrs Samuel, in a fearful temper, says I’ve no feeling for anyone but myself. Mrs Sudds still apparently engaged with the liquid part of her 'lowance. And, oh, what a day I had after that, sir. Dinner came in – steamed cold beef, potatoes that suggested washing soap to my mind, dank and sodden bread; cruet nowhere – not in the running at all, apparently; had to cut up the dinners of the children for them, vice Mrs Samuel, otherwise engaged; found it a cruelly hungry task; had no sooner begun my own dinner in a half-hearted sort of way than the children want more; wife comes up with alarmed expression on her face to say that she is sure there is something the matter with the boiler in the back kitchen, and that she really thinks it is about to burst – would I go down and look at it?

Off ‘like steam’– out of the way of the steam indoors.

I do, with trepidation; find it all right, luckily; come back again; dinner worse than before, and, oh, how I do steam all over me, and I seem to have soap-sudded and powder-blued myself all over; seek my snuggery and look for my favourite pipe; not to be found; call for it; interval here for bad language; children been using it to blow bubbles with; bubbling suggested by Sir John Millais’ picture; wish Sir John in Gehenna; fall into a fitful doze; have horrible dreams of children being carried through rollers and being crushed out in flat lengths in clothes baskets; fancy that I have turned blue, and that I sub[s]ist entirely on scouring liquor; see scouring liquor on all sides of me – as much as would enable a woman to ‘scour the neighbourhood’ with wake with a horrible start. All quiet in the house; no creaking – what can this mean? Does steam ever suffocate a whole household, I wonder? Downstairs. Oh, it's all right. Mrs Sudds drinking tea out of her saucer and telling tittle-tattling lies after the manner of all her kind, about the last place she worked at, to the servant and Mrs Samuel. Clothes horses with sheets &c., on them everywhere; the place looks for all the world like the painting-room of a theatre with the ‘clothes’ all ready ‘pinned’ for the artists – dismal picture; I'll go out, that's what I'll do; I’ll seek consolation elsewhere, anywhere, anywhere out of the – – way of the washing.

Last modified 8 February 2022