Idler 015 [No. 15: Treacle’s complaint of his wife] by Samuel Johnson

Story type: Essay

Idler No. 15. Saturday, July 22, 1758.

TO THE IDLER.

Sir,

I have the misfortune to be a man of business; that, you will say, is a most grievous one; but what makes it the more so to me, is, that my wife has nothing to do: at least she had too good an education, and the prospect of too good a fortune in reversion when I married her, to think of employing herself either in my shop-affairs, or the management of my family.

Her time, you know, as well as my own, must be filled up some way or other. For my part, I have enough to mind in weighing my goods out, and waiting on my customers: but my wife, though she could be of as much use as a shopman to me, if she would put her hand to it, is now only in my way. She walks all the morning sauntering about the shop with her arms through her pocket-holes or stands gaping at the door-sill, and looking at every person that passes by. She is continually asking me a thousand frivolous questions about every customer that comes in and goes out; and all the while that I am entering any thing in my day-book, she is lolling over the counter, and staring at it, as if I was only scribbling or drawing figures for her amusement. Sometimes, indeed, she will take a needle; but as she always works at the door, or in the middle of the shop, she has so many interruptions, that she is longer hemming a towel, or darning a stocking, than I am in breaking forty loaves of sugar, and making it up into pounds.

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In the afternoons I am sure likewise to have her company, except she is called upon by some of her acquaintance: and then, as we let out all the upper part of our house, and have only a little room backwards for ourselves, they either keep such a chattering, or else are calling out every moment to me, that I cannot mind my business for them.

My wife, I am sure, might do all the little matters our family requires; and I could wish that she would employ herself in them; but, instead of that, we have a girl to do the work, and look after a little boy about two years old, which, I may fairly say, is the mother’s own child. The brat must be humoured in every thing: he is therefore suffered constantly to play in the shop, pull all the goods about, and clamber up the shelves to get at the plums and sugar. I dare not correct him; because, if I did, I should have wife and maid both upon me at once. As to the latter, she is as lazy and sluttish as her mistress; and because she complains she has too much work, we can scarcely get her to do any thing at all: nay, what is worse than that, I am afraid she is hardly honest; and as she is intrusted to buy-in all our provisions, the jade, I am sure, makes a market-penny out of every article.

But to return to my deary.–The evenings are the only time, when it is fine weather, that I am left to myself; for then she generally takes the child out to give it milk in the Park. When she comes home again, she is so fatigued with walking, that she cannot stir from her chair: and it is an hour, after shop is shut, before I can get a bit of supper, while the maid is taken up in undressing and putting the child to bed.

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But you will pity me much more, when I tell you the manner in which we generally pass our Sundays. In the morning she is commonly too ill to dress herself to go to church; she therefore never gets up till noon; and, what is still more vexatious, keeps me in bed with her, when I ought to be busily engaged in better employment. It is well if she can get her things on by dinner-time; and, when that is over, I am sure to be dragged out by her either to Georgia, or Hornsey Wood, or the White Conduit House. Yet even these near excursions are so very fatiguing to her, that, besides what it costs me in tea and hot rolls, and sillabubs, and cakes for the boy, I am frequently forced to take a hackney-coach, or drive them out in a one-horse chair. At other times, as my wife is rather of the fattest, and a very poor walker, besides bearing her whole weight upon my arm, I am obliged to carry the child myself.

Thus, Sir, does she constantly drawl out her time, without either profit or satisfaction; and, while I see my neighbours’ wives helping in the shop, and almost earning as much as their husbands, I have the mortification to find that mine is nothing but a dead weight upon me. In short, I do not know any greater misfortune can happen to a plain hard-working tradesman, as I am, than to be joined to such a woman, who is rather a clog than a helpmate to him.

I am, Sir,
Your humble servant,

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ZACHARY TREACLE.[1]

[1]An unknown correspondent.

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