FORMERLY the maitre d'hotel ranked high insomuch that it was considered he must possess in the most advantageous manner familiarity with the combinations, virtues, and qualities of the alimentary art; being at the same time conversant with those principles which guide the taste of the arrangements of the kitchen; indeed, not solely confining himself to the knowledge of the cook, the pastry-cook, and the confectioner, but being also one whose palate was ever ready in the fine choice of wines.
The steward then was the keeper of the accounts, and the provider of all things required for the kitchen; so that his tact was at all times called into requisition, not only to produce before the cook and the rest of his confreres those provisions necessary for their respective arts to be carried out in their highest style, but be ever vigilant in the service of economy to the advantage of his master.
Though the greatest part of the qualifications just named are in this day, according to opinion, required, yet it is suggested that, although the cook has in his condition much of the ability necessary to give effect to his numerous displays of ingenuity, it cannot be overlooked how essential it is that a person placed at the head of the household in the condition of steward should be one perfectly conversant with all the duties thereof and the modes of performing them, such as can be acquired only by long and careful experience.
In the "Liber Niger," or household book of our own King Edward IV. of England, may be seen what was required of the steward— how much regarding the knowledge of the kitchen and the qualities of the food to be presented at the monarch's table — where it says, "The doctor of physic standeth much in the king's presence at his meals, counselling or answering to the king's grace which diet is best according; and to tell the nature and operation of all meats. And much he should talk with the steward, chamberlain, asservir, and the master cook, to devise by counsel what meats and drinks are best according with the king."
One of the first of gourmands, when speaking of the steward and the cook, in comparison of their respective qualities, and their influence on each other's department, says, — "Some persons claim that the cooks are, relatively to the stewards, what the apothecaries are to the physicians; but this comparison appears to us wanting in justice, for though it may be true that the apothecaries are in effect the physicians' cooks, yet it is not precisely thus that the cooks are in everything the apothecaries of the maitres d'hotel."
A man, qualified in the foregoing manner for the position of steward, is not to be drawn suddenly from any portion of the household; but must be one who, by much experience, possesses a patient, penetrating, and commanding forethought, ready to provide in all particulars against any exigency that may arise in the household requirements.
How often is it the case, from favouritism or some other capricious cause, that a young and inexperienced man is placed at the head of an establishment, without its having been duly weighed or tested whether he possessed abilities to fit him for that responsible position! Therefore it is not surprising that such cases prove fatal to the good management and proper authority which should control a household, and throw into questionable lighl the good sense of the selector.
General observation indicates that to learn the duty of the steward it is with it, as with the usual acquirement of other knowledge, that there can be but one way, however irksome that may be, and that is by experience alone.
The biographers of Demosthenes relate that he was once questioned on what he considered the most essential point of oratory, when he immediately replied, "Action." Laconic as it was, he by it at once stamped his value of steady, persevering application. And so, were the question put, which is the best mode to attain a perfect knowledge of the duty of tbe steward? The response would be, Experience; and it is solely by experience that the perfect steward can be formed; one who is found conducing to each point necessary in his vocation; who, whilst carrying command for the comfort of the household, is studious to the utmost for the interest of his employer.
The steward's-room boy is usually a youth placed out by his parents to learn his duty as a servant; and should he be fortunate enough to have a good steward or butler as his instructor, it is considered that he has made the first step towards becoming a good indoor servant.
He should be always watchful, attentive, willing, and obliging, and if he be so, he has open to him many an opportunity for promotion.
He will have to clean boots and shoes, and brush the steward's clothes; and though the steward may not want anything beyond this, still, for the advantage of the boy, he may require that he attend him, as an initiation to the knowledge of valeting.
He must clean knives, forks, plate, furniture, and attend to the lamps and candles for his room, wait at table in the steward's-room, be a diligent messenger, and in the unavoidable absence of a footman, he may occasionally be required to do duty in his stead.
In a word, whilst filling this capacity, he will be subject to endure much toil and labour; yet, when aided by the counsel and the instruction of those servants forming a well-conducted estabhshment, he will find hereafter that his labour in youth becomes well rewarded.
The youth who through his friends has been fortunate in receiving some education, must continue to retain it, and that, too, without depriving his employers of any portion of his time, remembering conscientiously daily to improve his mind, so that when his time of promotion arrives, he may be found in every way qualified for advancement. On the other hand, should he apply for promotion, and when tried, fail solely through want of education, how bitter will be his misery and shame in the presence of his fellow-servants, on seeing another raised to that place which he might have had, had he been qualified.
To the youth who is commencing this career under the privations incident to the children of too many of very poor but industrious and honest parents, it may be said — You should daily, when your time is not required for your master's employ, endeavour to become a good reader, a plain writer, and able to keep common accounts. Each of those branches of knowledge might be acquired by rendering yourself obliging and attentive to some of your fellow-servants, who might assist your objects in a time when not engaged in your master's business. Persevere, and keep before you the examples of men who once were poor, humble youths, and such servants as yourself, but afterwards, by industry and good conduct, raised themselves to a condition of competency and comfot in society.
Many would quote the words of Shakspeare, that "there is a tide in the affairs of men," and we do not dispute it; but without educating the mind and preparing it for positions in which the accidents of life may place us, however good they may be, we should not be able to take advantage of them did we not have that us which would enable us to fill them with credit and advantage to ourselves.