I ONCE stayed at a famous castle, the master of which was very religious, and the servants came into
chapel twice a day while he read family prayers. I recollect the long line of flunkeys in powder and
knee-breeches prostrate around the earl as he prayed fervently that we might all be content with that
state of life to which it had pleased God to call us. I had not been long in England then, and I thought
that the prayer would be easier to grant in the case of the master than in that of the man. Later in
my sojourn I should have known different. The lackeys are not democrats. They are of Pope's
philosophy and thoroughly convinced that "whatever is, is right."
Descended often from a long line of ancestral menials, reaching back sometimes like that of their betters to the time of the Conqueror, or sprung from the class of farmers or farm laborers, once villeins or serfs on the estates of the nobility, the spirit of servility is innate and ingrained. They firmly believe that the purpose of their creation was to provide proper attendance for the aristocracy. "What would the gentry do if there were no servants?" I have more than once heard them exclaim.
Their duty in life begins early. A fortunate boy in the country is taken up to the great house as soon as he is able to trot about on errands ; he carries the bag to the post, or helps in the stables, or, if especially favored, is made steward's-room boy at once, and waits on the upper servants until he is promoted to livery. He is trained in all the etiquette of the servants' hall, says "Sir" and "Ma'am," not only to those great dignitaries, the butler and housekeeper, but to the valets and ladies' maids as well; and learns to speak with bated breath in the presence of the aristocrats themselves. The girl's first function in life is to drop a courtesy when her betters pass her on the road, or to open the gate at the park lodge for the gentry to drive by.
After a while they rise, the one to the post of footman, the other to that of housemaid or kitchen maid, and so on through the degrees, till the lucky ones arrive, perhaps, at the climax of back-stairs grandeur, and are housekeepers and butlers themselves, always imbued with deference for their many and varied superiors, and always exacting the homage due themselves as they ascend.
In a great house thirty or forty indoor servants is a common number, and often there are as many more in the stables, and still as many others in the gardens, or the glass, as the conservatories are called. One nobleman that I knew was master of the hounds and kept seventy horses, and for every two horses a man. At an entertainment in the country a sort of pageant or play I heard some one say that a hundred of the servants came into the great hall and stood behind the guests ; the remainder were on duty elsewhere. Several times, in large establishments, I asked permission to visit the offices; and the kitchens and still-rooms and scul- leries, the larders and laundries, the gun-rooms and plate-rooms and brushing-rooms, the housekeeper's room, the pantries, and the servants' hall, made a labyrinth of labor difficult to explore. In making the rounds I was taken to the nurseries and the school-rooms, for tutors and governesses are only a higher sort of servant in England. They live and eat apart from the gentry, and often get less wages than valets and ladies 1 maids. I saw, too, the bedrooms and the linen-rooms and the rooms where the maids were making up clothes, all rising when their mistress entered. I visited the stables and the carpenter's shop, even the butchery and the brewery for many of the large proprietors kill their own meat and brew their own beer. Each servant is allowed beer money as well as wages, or else supplied with so many glasses, or sometimes literally horns, of beer.
Usually the servants of the aristocracy are allowed five meals a day. Their early breakfast is at seven, before the family has risen ; there is lunch for them at eleven, dinner at one o'clock, tea at five, and a supper at nine. At most of these meals meats are provided, and at two or three of them beer is served. The food is well cooked and savory; they sit down to soup and pastry, to fruits and vegetables in their season; and altogether a table is spread better than many of what is called the middle class can afford. Indeed, servants in England can hardly be said to belong to the lower class certainly not the retainers of the aristocracy. The attendance in the servants' hall is excellent, decorum is maintained, and the more punctilious perform among themselves many of the ceremonies they have watched from behind the chairs of the nobility.
They have their privileges, and stickle for them as strenuously as the lords. A butler often gets a hundred pounds a year in wages, but his vails amount to at least a hundred more. Servants have been known to stipulate, when they were hired, for plenty of entertaining, so that they could count on their perquisites. At some houses, however, the attempt has been made to break up this inhospitable tax upon guests. There are noblemen who increase the wages of their servants on condition that they accept nothing from visitors, though the same personages usually make handsome presents when they visit themselves. To people of limited means the consideration of servants' presents is a serious one, and makes visiting sometimes more expensive than staying at home. But the custom is rooted, and the perquisite will not readily be abandoned. The story is old of the gamekeeper who refused to receive a sovereign from his master's guest. He would take nothing less than paper, and the smallest bank-note in England is for five pounds.
The cooks in large establishments have for one of their perquisites what are called the drippings, the remains of uncooked meat and game. One man of large fortune told me that, wishing to distribute these fragments to his poorer tenants in the neighborhood, he offered his cook two hundred pounds a year for the privilege. But the successor of Yatel refused, and the aristocrat was helpless, unless he gave up a chef who had hardly an equal in England.
In the presence of their masters the English servants maintain a manner that may almost be said to be refined. It is quiet and subdued ; too obsequious perhaps to suit the democratic idea, but otherwise unobjectionable. This manner, however, is something like the livery, put on for their superiors, and laid aside, I suspect, as soon as they are alone.
In many old families there still lingers among the retainers an attachment for those they serve, a fidelity and devotion that recall the feudal feeling, and which are returned by a protection and interest that make the tie a not unlovely one. I knew instances of friendship on both sides as sincere and loyal, if not as familiar, as ever exists among equals.
I was staying once with a young nobleman who had a crowd of peers for guests. We had been dining some miles away, and drove back late at night in what is called an omnibus. The valet of one of the visitors, a lad of nineteen or twenty, stood on the steps without. By a jolt of the carriage this youth was thrown off into the road, while we were still some distance from the house, and the whole party alighted to look after him. He was unable to walk or to endure the motion of the carriage, and a couple of viscounts, an officer of the army, and a baronet carried the valet a quarter of a mile up a steep hill, then bore him into the room of the master of the house, and one tore open his shirt to look for his wound. There was no surgeon, so they bathed his breast and his forehead themselves, and the youth lay on the nobleman's bed till it was certain he was not seriously injured. Not till then did the gay young rollickers assemble below for their late carouse.
I knew of another nobleman whose eldest son was standing for Parliament. The contest was keen, and the excitement in the family extended to the servants. Finally, the heir was elected, and the news was brought to the Earl and the Countess as they stood on the steps of the house in a crowd of friends and followers. The butler, a very respectable man of fifty or more, who had been in the family all his life, was unable to contain his delight. He rushed up to his mistress, threw his arms around her and kissed her, and the salute was forgiven by the lady as well as the lord. I did not witness this demonstration of fidelity, but I was told of it by an Englishman who was present, and pronounced it unusual, but not inexcusable.
The Queen, it is well known, sets the pattern in this consideration for personal retainers. She not only visits her gillies in the Highlands, but the servants on all her estates ; she attends their balls and christenings and funerals; she invites them at times to entertainments at which she is present in person, an honor she never pays the nobility; and her affection for her devoted John Brown she has been anxious to make known to the world.
Twice I was present at country-houses, when the servants joined in a dance with the family. Once it was after a servant's wedding, which was, of course, an event. On the other occasion, at a well- known lodge in the Grampians, a Highland reel was proposed, but there were not ladies enough to go round, so the best-looking of the housemaids were brought in and placed in the line with marchionesses and the daughters of earls. One was by far the prettiest of her sex in the room, and the heir of the house didn't like it at all if any of his guests danced too often with this maid. But none of these young spinsters presumed on the favor that was shown them ; the distance in rank was too great to be bridged by any transient familiarity. It was the very consciousness of the gulf that made the condescension possible.
At the house of a nobleman who had a crowd of sons, and these always a crowd of boyish visitors, the whole frolicsome party was sent off nightly after the ladies had retired, to a distant tower of the castle, where they might make as much noise as they pleased. They drank, and they smoked, and they played cards, and had two or three of the footmen told off to them, who stayed up half the night with their young masters, to wait on them, and amuse them. The young men were all of the same age, and the gentlemen often invited the servants to a cigar or a glass, and not unseldom to a turn at the gloves, for most young Englishmen box. They played fair; the lords and the lackeys wrestled together on an equality. The servant might get his master down, if he could, and if the valet struck out from the shoulder, the gentleman took his punishment like a man. Only when the lords went to bed the lackeys had still an hour in the brushing-room, whitening the hunting-breeches of their masters for next day's field.
In this same family there was once an attempt at private theatricals. The play was "Box and Cox," and no one could be found for the landlady, till finally one lordling proposed his valet, a smoothfaced footman of nineteen. So William was dressed in woman's clothes and played Mrs. Bouncer with his master and another nobleman before all the quality. He was greatly applauded. But how it would have done to give him the part of a lord I don't know. I doubt if he could have divested himself sufficiently in that presence of his awe for his titled associates. Below stairs he might have assumed the role of an aristocrat and succeeded. I should like to have seen him attempt the grand air.
The servants of the great, like the aristocracy themselves, must be amused. The necessity is recognized. There are houses where they have a billiard-room and a card-room. They ride to hounds behind their masters. They boat with their betters. I have seen a valet for coxswain and earls in the crew, and one lord is well known to have borrowed from his man and never to have paid. There are often matches at cricket between the gentlemen and the servants, with the mistresses and maids looking on.
Indeed, it is said that some ladies amuse themselves with the low-born swains after a fashion not so innocent. I often heard the name of a duchess, not now living, connected with that of her groom of the chambers, and a countess who waited at Windsor was discovered caressing her footman in her own drawing-room.
It is true rich men's daughters in America have fallen in love with their coachmen. Passion laughs at the barriers of position on both sides of the sea; but here the lovers marry. In England, in most aristocratic eyes, marriage would inflict a still more indelible stain. It would afiront the sentiment of caste. [As Written]
RANK AND TITLE
THE PRINCE OF WALES
AMERICANS AT COURT
THE CROWN IN POLITICS
QUEENS' PERSONAL CHARACTER
SERVANTS' HALL PRECEDENCE
THE HOUSE OF LORDS
THE PRINCESS OF WALES
A NOBLEMAN INDEED
POMPS & VANITIES OF CHURCH
CHURCH & STATE
HOUSE OF COMMONS
LITERATURE & THE LORDS
THE LONDON SEASON