THE SOAP KING’S DAUGHTER.
Punch, November 7, 1906
Time: Some sixty years hence. Scene: the Park Lane drawing-room of the Earl of Sunlight, grandson of our own Mr. W. H. Lever. The old Earl is in earnest conversation with his charming daughter, Lady Lux Lever. It seems that since the first Earl cornered soap in 1906 the price has been rising so rapidly that now almost the entire wealth of the British Empire flows automatically into the family’s coffers. People, to preserve their self-respect, must be clean, at whatever cost. The consequence is that every penny that can be spared from the other necessaries of life is spent on soap, at incredible prices. Lady Lux, the richest heiress (in fact, the only heiress) in the kingdom, is eagerly sought after by the impecunious noblemen, notably Lord Jasper Scrubbs, the brother and heir of the old and decrepit Duke of Bath. So much being made clear by dialogue, the Earl of Sunlight has a song:—
When I was young I used to think,
Perhaps a little oddly,
That men might be as black as ink
So long as they were godly.
But wisdom comes, as years progress,
And Youth’s ideals shatters:
And now I see that cleanliness
Is the only thing that matters.
The youth who would succeed in life,
All opposition squashing,
Who’d make a name, and win a wife,
Must never scamp his washing.
A girl who’s sensible will feel
No diffidence in snubbing
A suitor who cannot conceal
His urgent need of tubbing.
Having touched thus on the brighter side of his position, Lord Sunlight comes to the single fly in his ointment. There is one man in London, Aubrey Jellicoe, who has the spirit to defy convention, to abstain wholly from soap, and to remain rich and frankly grubby. Nothing can move him, not even the glowing advertisements written for the Earl’s soap by Mr. Hooper, the descendant of the great Times littérateur. What is Lord Sunlight to do?
Lux goes out, and enter Lord Jasper, who propounds a devilish scheme. It should be mentioned that he loves Lady Lux (in his own vile way). He proposes that Lux shall lead Aubrey to fall in love with her, tell him that she cannot marry anyone who does not use soap regularly and in large quantities, and so induce Aubrey to spend his money. As a reward, he, Jasper, is to marry her. Lord Sunlight consents. None of Lux’s suitors have any money, and Jasper is as eligible as any in point of rank. The scheme is mentioned to Lux. The dutiful daughter reluctantly agrees to play the part.
Act II. Time: three months later. Scene: the terrace in front of Loofah Castle, the Earl of Sunlight’s place on the Wash. Enter Aubrey. He is wonderfully changed. Before, he suggested Mr. Tree as Caliban, or Mr. Cyril Maude as The Pertick’ler Pet. Now his face shines with repeated scrubbings. His linen is spotless. Music cue: “I’m so happy I don’t know what to do.” Song: Aubrey (Air, “Mr. Chamberlain,” appropriately from The Beauty of Bath).
Now who was the man whose face to scan would have taken you all your time,
Because it was so concealed, you know, behind a mask of grime?
Who was the chap who cared not a scrap for what the people said?
Who is the man who, if he can, should hide his shamefaced head?
It’s Aubrey Jellicoe, it’s Aubrey Jellicoe!
I said, “to wash is simply bosh!”
But now I know
That my views were most unsound;
So now I’ve changed my ground,
And I’m your clean, keen Aubrey Jellicoe.
I said that I hoped that, if ever I soaped, you’d write me down an ass:
I felt no shame when the moment came to see myself in the glass.
I never cared when people stared. It didn’t “amount to shucks,”
(As Americans say) until one day I fell in love with Lux;
And I’m Aubrey Jellicoe, the speckless Jellicoe!
No spot or stain can now remain
On me. Oh, no!
Though all my money’s spent,
Yet I am quite content
To be your clean, keen Aubrey Jellicoe.
Exit. Enter Lux. It appears that a hitch has occurred in the scheme. She has made Aubrey love her, and spend all his fortune on soap; but now she, in turn, loves him. Will her father give his consent? Never. She asks him.
Lord Sunlight. My child would wed a commoner without a penny!
Can I believe you?
Lady Lux. Is there no hope, then?
Lord Sunlight. Child, I won’t deceive you.
Big scene now. Enter Jasper. Jasper (sings):—
Jasper. With the guile of a snake I have sought her,
And now may I claim my reward?
I worship your beautiful daughter:
Consent to our union, my Lord.
Lord Sunlight. Yes, I think you may fittingly clasp her.
My boy, here’s my blessing. She’s yours.
And, ’pon honour, you’re lucky, young Jasper!
She’s jilted her suitors in scores.
But since such a thorough success is
The neat little scheme that you planned,
I hereby approve your addresses,
And formally give you her hand.
Enter Aubrey. He sees Jasper about to embrace Lady Lux, and, overhearing Lord Sunlight’s last words, breaks in:—
Aubrey. Hullo, what’s this little drama?
Hullo, what is this that I see?
You blot on this sweet panorama,
This lady’s engaged, Sir, to me.
The Earl explains. Dramatic pause. Then Lux plays the trump card which she has been holding back, which is that many years ago, quite by accident, she discovered an excellent substitute for soap. It is efficient and can be manufactured at an infinitesimal cost. Will her father give his consent to her marriage with Aubrey, or must she resort to the last, dread expedient of giving her secret to the world? Jasper slinks off r., Lord Sunlight takes the centre of the stage, and with a hand on each of their heads, says in a low voice, as they kneel before him, “My children, bless you!” (Curtain.)
Unsigned article and lyrics as printed; credited to P. G. Wodehouse in the Index to Vol. 131 of Punch.
Wodehouse riffs here on the name and brands of Lever Brothers, whose Sunlight soap, based on palm oil rather than animal fats, became a great success, allowing the company to buy up several other soap companies.
The Beauty of Bath was a 1906 musical to which Wodehouse and Jerome Kern contributed one topical interpolation, “Mr. Chamberlain,” the first song they wrote together.