As a group, milk-maids have perhaps the best image among historical street vendors. They're almost always shown as young, robust, and ripely beautiful. With their swinging buckets of fresh milk, they're tidily dressed, and represent the healthy bounty of the country. Even today, the dairy aisle of modern grocery stores features idealized images of fresh-faced milk-maids as nostalgic testament to Goodness and Freshness.
But as charming as this image might be, not everyone bought it. One of the TNHG favorite 18th c. authors, Tobias Smollet, presented this stomach-churning impression of a Covent Garden milk-maid in his 1771 novel, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker:
"The milk itself should not pass unanalysed, the produce of faded cabbage leaves and sour draff, lowered with hot water, frothed with bruised snails, carried through the streets in open pails, exposed to foul rinsings discharged from doors and windows, spittle, snot, and tobacco-quids from foot-passengers, overflowings from mud-carts, spatterings from coach-wheels, dirt and trash chucked into it by roguish boys for the joke's sake, the spewing of infants who have slabbered in the tin measure, which is thrown back in that condition among the milk, for the benefit of the next customer; and, finally, the vermin that drops from the rags of the nasty drab that vends this precious mixture, under the respectable denomination of milk-maid."
Above: Milk Below! by Francis Wheatley, as part of his "Cries of London" series, 1792-1795.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.