Servants are a necessary evil. He who shall contrive to obviate their necessity, or remove their inconveniences, will render to human comfort a greater benefit than has yet been conferred by all the useful-knowledge societies of the age. They are domestic spies, who continually embarrass the intercourse of the members of a family, or possess themselves of private information that renders their presence hateful, and their absence dangerous. It is a rare thing to see persons who are not controlled by their servants. Theirs, too, is not the only kitchen cabinet which begins by serving and ends by ruling.
If we judge from the frequency and inconvenience of an opposite course, we should say that the most important precept to be observed is, never to be afraid of your servants. We have known many ladies who, without any reason in the world, lived in a state of perfect subjugation to their servants, who were afraid to give a direction, and who submitted to disobedience and insult, where no danger could be apprehended from discharging them.
If a servant offends you by any trifling or occasional omission of duty, reprove the fault with mild severity; if the error be repeated often, and be of a gross description, never hesitate, but discharge the servant instantly, without any altercation of language. You cannot easily find another who will serve you worse.
As for those precautions which are ordinarily taken, to secure the procurence of good servants, they are, without exception, utterly useless. The author of the Rambler has remarked, that a written character of a servant is worth about as much as a discharge from the Old Bailey. I never, but once, took any trouble to inquire what reputation a servant had held in former situations. On that occasion, I heard that I had engaged the very Shakespeare of menials,--
Aristides was not more honest,--Zeno more truth-telling,--nor Abdiel more faithful. This fellow, after insulting me daily for a week, disappeared with my watch and three pair of boots.
Those offices which profess to recommend good domestics, are “bosh,--nothing.” In nine cases out of ten, the keepers are in league with the servants; and in the tenth, ignorance, dishonesty, or carelessness will prevent any benefit resulting from their “intelligence.” All that you can do is, to take the most decent creature who applies; trust in Providence, and lock every thing up.
Never speak harshly, or superciliously, or hastily to a servant. There are many little actions which distinguish, to the eye of the most careless observer, a gentleman from one not a gentleman; but there is none more striking than the manner of addressing a servant. Issue your commands with gravity and gentleness, and in a reserved manner. Let your voice be composed, but avoid a tone of familiarity or sympathy with them. It is better in addressing them to use a higher key of voice, and not to suffer it to fall at the end of a sentence. The best bred man whom we ever had the pleasure of meeting, always employed, in addressing servants, such forms of speech as these—“I’ll thank you for so and so,”—“ Such a thing, if you please,”—with a gentle tone, but very elevated key. The perfection of manner, in this particular, is, to indicate by your language, that the performance is a favor, and by your tone that it is a matter of course.
While, however, you practice the utmost mildness and forbearance in your language, avoid the dangerous and common error of exercising too great humanity in action. No servant, from the time of the first Gibeonite downwards, has ever had too much labor imposed upon him; while thousands have been ruined by the mistaken kindness of their masters.
Servants should always be allowed, and indeed directed, to go to church on Sunday afternoon. For this purpose, dinner is served earlier on that day than usual. If it can be accomplished, the servants should be induced to attend the same church as the family with whom they live; because there may be reason to fear that if they profess to go elsewhere, they may not go to church at all; and the habit of wandering about the streets with idlers, will speedily ruin the best servant that ever stood behind a chair.
Servants should be directed to announce visitors. This is always done abroad, and is a convenient custom.
Never allow a female servant to enter a parlor. If all the male domestics are gone out, it is better that there should be no attendance at all.
Some ladies are in the habit of amusing their friends with accounts of the difficulty of getting good servants, etc. This denotes decided ill breeding. Such subjects should never be made topics of conversation.
If a servant offends you by any grossness of conduct, never rebuke the offence upon the spot, nor indeed notice it at all at the time; for you cannot do it without anger, and without giving rise to a scene. Prince Puckler Muskaw was, very properly, turned out of the Travelers’ Club for throwing a fork at one of the waiters.
In the house of another, or when there is any company present in your own, never converse with the servants. This most vulgar, but not uncommon, habit, is judiciously censured in that best of novels,--the Zeluco of Dr. Moore.
This is taken from The Laws of Etiquette.
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