Come my little Robert near— 

Fie! what filthy hands are here! 

Who that e'er could understand 

The rare structure of a hand, 

With its branching fingers fine, 

Work itself of hands divine, 

Strong, yet delicately knit, 

For ten thousand uses fit, 

Overlaid with so clear skin 

You may see the blood within, 

And the curious palm, disposed 

In such lines, some have supposed 

You may read the fortunes there 

By the figures that appear— 

Who this hand would chuse to cover 

With a crust of dirt all over, 

Till it look'd in hue and shape 

Like the fore-foot of an Ape? 

Man or boy that works or plays 

In the fields or the highways 

May, without offence or hurt, 

From the soil contract a dirt, 

Which the next clear spring or river 

Washes out and out for ever— 

But to cherish stains impure, 

Soil deliberate to endure, 

On the skin to fix a stain 

Till it works into the grain, 

Argues a degenerate mind, 

Sordid, slothful, ill inclin'd, 

Wanting in that self-respect 

Which does virtue best protect. 


All-endearing Cleanliness, 

Virtue next to Godliness, 

Easiest, cheapest, needful'st duty, 

To the body health and beauty, 

Who that's human would refuse it, 

When a little water does it?

By Charles Lamb

Photography by Helen Maureen Cooper