HE question of precedence agitates bosoms lower than those of the lords. The rivalries rage in the servants' hall on this account as fiercely as at court. In great houses the servants go in to dinner according to rank, and when the master is entertaining company for a week the butler has a difficult task to arrange the visiting menials in the order of their degrees. First of all is the grand distinction between upper and lower servants about equivalent to that between lords and commoners, if, indeed, the line is not still more strictly drawn, for lords do dine with commoners, while upper and lower servants may not eat together except during part of the dinner. The butler, the housekeeper, the groom of the chambers, the valets, and the ladies' maids these constitute the upper classes, and take their meals in the housekeeper's room; the others eat in the servants' hall. At dinner, however, they all sit together, the butler presiding, until the meats have been served; but before the sweets come on, the butler rises, proposes the health of "my lord and lady," all standing; and then the upper servants march solemnly off, according to degree, to the housekeeper's room. They never take their sweets in the servants' hall. Up to this point extreme decorum has been observed, but when the restraint of the imposing presence has been withdrawn greater hilarity prevails below the salt. The footmen begin to flirt with the housemaids, and the grooms and helpers betray that they come from the stables or the yard.
In a great house thirty or forty servants is no unusual number, and when there is a house party as many as a hundred are often assembled, for each guest brings his own servant, and the various valets and maids, the extra coachmen and grooms, make up a company that rivals the array in the drawing- room for pretension and pride. For all these especially the upper servants must be placed according to the rank of their masters. The servant of a duke, of course, precedes the servant of an earl, and the valet of an ambassador naturally goes before the gentleman of a mere envoy. They are usually called by the names of their masters, so as to settle at once this point of precedence.
I was once staying at a little inn near Tintern Abbey that I used to frequent, when a coach and four drove up with a party of people who stopped for beer. It was a stately establishment, with liveries and horses all very smart, and I could hear the occupants address each other as "Lady Kitty" and "Sir George," and even "Your Grace" and "Your Excellency." I was new in England then, and looked out of my window to survey the aristocrats. They struck me as rather gay in their dress and not so subdued in manner as those I had met in society, and when the coach drove off I asked the landlord who they were. "Oh," he replied, "they are the servants at the Duke of Beaufort's, who lives near here. He has lent them one of his coaches for a holiday."
I asked my own valet about this fashion of names, and he assured me it was common for servants to call each other in this way. Not long afterward I was visiting at a country-house, where one afternoon the gentlemen went for a walk. I wanted my hat or my cane, and asked the groom of the chambers to call my man. As he went off I stood waiting at the door and heard him calling my own name through the corridor to summon my man.
I learned a lesson about my own degree at Powderham Castle, the seat of the Earl of Devon. I was a Secretary of Legation at the time, and was visiting the house with Mr. Motley, then the American Minister, and my man came to me in great dudgeon one day to complain. Mr. Motley's valet, he said, had introduced him in the servants' hall as our Secretary's servant."
This man of mine took his own dress-coat when we went visiting, as regularly as he took mine. All the upper men-servants, he said, were expected to wear dress-coats to dinner, and in some houses the ladies' maids wore low-bodied gowns and gloves. I did not believe him, and asked a friend of mine, the daughter of a marquis, and herself the head of a great establishment. She told me she did not approve the custom, and would not countenance it with her own servants; but that there were ducal houses in which an allowance was made to the ladies' maids and the housekeepers for gloves to wear to dinner.
This recalls a story about the Queen. Her Majesty once observed that one of her maids of honor wore soiled gloves, and was told that the lady was poor and could not afford fresh gloves every time she went on duty at least on four hundred pounds a year. Thereupon the Queen added to the lady's stipend, with the express understanding that the gloves were to be renewed for every occasion of ceremony. Thus superiors regard the incomes of their attendants as well as their own state, all the way up and down the scale.
For the Queen doubtless looks upon her servants as a duchess does upon hers; unless, indeed, the distance between the Queen and a duchess is greater than that between the duchess and her maid. At the time of the engagement of the Princess Louise a story was current which shows what the high English believe to be the feeling of the Queen. In the royal establishment there is a separate table for the household, at which even the minister in attendance eats when he is not invited to the Queen's. According to gossip, Lord Lome went to lunch with his future wife, and was asked to the table of Her Majesty. His mother, the Duchess of Argyll, was mistress of the robes, and when he entered the Queen's dining-room, Lord Lome asked "Where is the Duchess?" "Oh! she is lunching with the household."
But to return to the servants' hall. When I went to Dunrobin with General Grant, it was convenient for me to take a footman, and General Grant had a courier. Now, a footman in livery is not an upper servant, but, unmindful of this important regulation, I had put my man into plain clothes. In consequence, he was supposed to be a valet, and was admitted to the august society of the housekeeper's room. All went well in the borrowed state till he quarrelled with the courier, who then revealed that James was a mere liveried servant, and the poor fellow was relegated to the hall. It was worse than being degraded from the diplomatic corps to the general circle at court.
I was staying once at a house where there had been a grand quarrel between the maids of Lady Torrington and Lady Molesworth. Lord Torrington was a viscount and Lady Molesworth only the widow of a baronet. But the Torringtons were poor and Lady Molesworth was very rich; it was said that Lord Torrington managed her estates for her. Upon this her Abigail presumed, vainly supposing with the pride of wealth that her mistress was superior in consequence to those who belonged to the peerage. She was absolutely about to take precedence as they went in to dinner. But Lady Torrington's maid haughtily thrust her back, and exclaimed: "You are only the servant of a baronet's widow, and my mistress is the wife of the Right Honorable Yiscount Torrington, Lord in Waiting to Her Majesty." Of course the superior claim was allowed, and Lady Molesworth's maid remained behind in merited confusion. The story reached the upper regions, where it created a deal of laughter, but no one seemed to suppose it reflected any ridicule on real rank. The distinctions in the drawing-room are important; only those in the servants' hall are trivial.
Lord Derby was a visitor at this same house, a castle in the Highlands, and when he was about to leave, his valet was toasted at dinner. The statesman is quiet and reserved in the last degree, dislikes parade, and avoids speeches whenever it is possible. So when the Earl of Derby's name was "mentioned" in the hall, his man arose, put both hands on the table after the fashion of the Earl, bowed first to the right and then to the left, and sat down without saying a word. The fellow had borrowed his master's manner as well as his name. How the report of this incident reached the host I cannot say, but he told it to me.
I once went to a wedding breakfast in the servants' hall. It was at a house in Wales. The bride had been the nursery maid of one of the children, and the bridegroom was a young farmer on the estate for in England domestic service is not considered degrading. The farmers and small tradesmen are on a level with the ordinary servants in a great house, and quite look up to the housekeeper and the butler. They all say "sir" and "ma'am" to these great personages just as the nobility do to the Princes and the Queen.
Even persons of consideration in the middle class associate with the servants of the higher aristocracy. Some years ago I was visiting at a house near one of the most important towns in middle England, and went into the town to consult a doctor. He was an accomplished man, and I had an extremely interesting conversation with him. When I left he said I needed further treatment, and asked me where he should call. I answered, "At Bretton Park." "What!" he exclaimed. "Are you stopping there? Why, I visit their butler." The awe with which he regarded a guest at Bretton was amusing. I had another acquaintance whom I highly esteemed, a very respectable Englishman, who belonged to the middle class. I was once telling him of a visit I had paid to a Yorkshire nobleman, and he said he knew the butler well; he often went to see him, and the butler always got out some very choice port, for my friend was a judge of wine. One day when he was praising the brand the butler exclaimed: "What would his lordship give for a bottle of this wine?" I always wanted to tell this story to my host, but I thought it would be a breach of confidence toward the butler.
But the wedding waits all this while. The family was Catholic, but they were Squires of the parish all the same, and had their pew in the parish church, though they never went to service. Mass was said for them in a private chapel in the house. This morning, however, the young ladies went to the marriage, and took me with them as a guest. The pew was in the chancel, within the altar rails, and we had a good view of the bride. The village girls strewed flowers in her way, and she was buxom and as blushing as if of higher degree. After the ceremony the young squire, a lad of seventeen, invited me to the breakfast. There was an Italian baron also on a visit at the house, and the occasion was as curious to him as to the American democrat; so he accompanied us.
The servants were about forty in number, and sat at a table shaped like an L, the upper servants, of course, at the upper end, and the others below the corner. When we entered they all rose and remained standing while the young squire toasted the bride. The baron and I drank her health in some very good sherry which the servants were allowed for the occasion. The youngster spoke of the regret he felt in losing a faithful servant of his house; at this the little boy, whose nurse she had been, and who sat next her at table, put his arm around the bride, and she whimpered, and so did the housemaids all down the line, and the bridegroom looked as if he thought this wasn't fair. But the heir, with great tact for one so young, and an Englishman, too, hastened to say that, since she was to leave them, it was pleasant to think she had become the wife of one of their own farmers, known to them for his honesty, and so forth, and so on. Then the bridegroom blushed, and everybody was satisfied. As we were leaving the room the procession of upper servants started off in state, but I saw my poor James, who had once been allowed to accompany them, remaining behind in his livery.
Afterward we had our luncheon, and then there was a dance on the lawn; and the ladies, the baron, and I were there to see. There was a blind harper, for it was Wales, and the dance was Sir Roger de Coverley, which, for those who may need the information, I will say is the same with the Virginia reel. The bridegroom led off with one of the daughters of the house, the young squire took out the bride, and the baron and I had our pick of the housemaids for partners; and mine was as rosy and pretty an English girl as ever I danced with at court.Source: Aristocracy In England by Adam Badeau - Franklin Square 1886, Copyright, 1885, 1886. [As Written] Original text, may contain OCR errors.
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
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