Tuesday, May 15, 2012

"The Curious Maids" Play a Classic Prank, 1768

Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Isabella/Susan* reporting:

When I visited Winterthur Museum last week, I not only wandered through the peony gardens, but also saw the museum's newest special exhibition, Uncorked! Wine, Objects, & Tradition. (The exhibition runs until January 6, 2013.) There were a good many fascinating items to inspire a good many blog-posts in the weeks to come, and I'll start with the print, left.

While the three young people are all dressed in formal 18th c finery, most of us will recognize the trick these two girls are playing on the hapless gentleman who's enjoyed his wine a bit too freely. It's a trick that continues to be a riotous favorite at modern slumber parties and sleep-overs, and doubtless every generation is sure they're the inventors of it, too. The victim who has the misfortune to fall asleep first has his (0r her) hand placed in water; the resulting sensation inspires an automatic reaction. Acute shame and hilarity ensue.

The title of this print, The Curious Maids, tries to pretend that the girls are acting from pure intellectual curiosity. Still, from the caption printed below, I think they're pretty certain of what the outcome will be. I also like how the only thing that's been colored is the luridly blue water in the bowl - just so we don't miss the joke.

            The Curious Maids
           (Les Filles Curieuses)
   In prime of Youth what Funny Tricks
   Are often play'd by either Sex!
   The Tales they've heard their Nurses say
   They put in Practice Day by Day.
   Forbear dear Girls! For Pity's sake
   Have Mercy on a Sleeping Rake!
   As in the Bowl his Hand you've got,
   You'll make him soon do –– You know what.

Above: The Curious Maids, by John Greenwood, London, England, probably 1768. Ink on laid paper. Winterthur Museum; promised gift of J.Thomas Savage. 
*Yes, I'm a Gemini, but this is the real reason for the double name.


Sarah said...

horrid brats! nothing new under the sun....

Anonymous said...

I am ignorant of the trick and what the consequences might be, Never heard of it.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

According to my adolescent experts, placing a sleeping person's hand in warm water will make them urinate in his or her sleep. I can't vouch for this myself, but many generations of summer campers, slumber-party-ers, and these 18th c younger campers all believe it to be gospel truth. :)

Anonymous said...

hahaha! Naughty girls! Girls will be girls, huh?

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