SERVANTS IN TOWN

THE servants, like the aristocracy, are seen to far less advantage in town. The entire establishment of a nobleman is seldom brought up to London, and footmen and housemaids are often hired for the season. These vicarious servitors, of course, have none of the devotion of permanent retainers, and pretend to little attachment for their masters, who hardly know them when they see them, the retinues are so enormous. I used to visit a duchess who got very indignant when only six footmen waited as she went to her carriage. "Where are all those men?" she would ask, as she looked around. "But she is justly punished for her pride," said one of the family; "since the duke died she has only four."

The footmen are usually great strapping fellows, selected for their height and the size of their calves. A tall one fetches more than a short one, and many ladies are particular that they shall be good-looking. In great establishments there is one called "her ladyship's footman," for especial attendance on his mistress, and she naturally likes him to be presentable. The advertisements in the Times always mention if a man is more than six feet high, for every inch is worth at least a pound a year in his wages. They make a fine sight with their breeches and their buckles ; and powder refines the face, as ladies very well know. But they are an expensive luxury. There is a tax of a pound a year on every man-servant, and two pounds if he is in powder. Some of them are obliged to wear wigs, for the livery of certain noblemen requires it. I knew a family who always put their people into green wigs when they went to court ; it was the hereditary color for ceremony.

State liveries, of course, are grander than those for ordinary occasions ; the lackeys have their court dresses like the lords. An unaccustomed eye might easily mistake the master for the man in the crowd of gorgeous frippery and uncovered legs about the palace door. Formerly there was a certain way to tell a gentleman : he never carried a bouquet. But the test is not unfailing: flowers have nearly gone out of fashion for footmen, as well as canes. Favors, however, are still worn at weddings, so huge that if the mode were attempted here, the unfortunate wearers would be taken for lunatics. But all this paraphernalia is familiar in London. In fashionable quarters you often see footmen walking the streets in powder and without their hats, so as not to disarrange their hair; and nobody stares.

The lackeys themselves think livery no disgrace, but rather a distinction, a proof that they serve people of importance. The more conspicuous the garb, the brighter the yellow of the waistcoat or the scarlet of the cuffs, the larger the cockade or the longer the topcoat-tails, the finer a genuine flunkey feels. Besides which, they have two suits a year, and the sale of the cast-off clothes brings quite an addition to their revenues. They never condescend to take up with the garments of their predecessors, though one thrifty nobleman, who could not induce his footman to assist in his economies, is said to have had the lace ripped from the trousers and covered his own aristocratic shanks with the altered livery. But no servant who respected his class would submit to this humiliation.

Footmen are principally for ornament. Dressed finer than their masters, fed often as well for they drink up the heel-taps at dinner, and pilfer the pates and jellies, no doubt, as they take them down stairs they lead a lazy life, sitting on cushioned carriages, or lounging in front of shops and palaces, with benches placed for them on the pavements while they wait. They are always conspicuous figures on the drive or at dinner, at the opera or a ball. People in society see as much of the servants as of themselves, and the servants see all that their betters do, and mock and despise them while they bow and obey.

If a stranger to the customs and the language should suddenly be thrust into the entrance-room at a London ball, he might easily suppose that these lordly creatures, in their breeches of plush and hose of silk, with their silver buckles and powdered hair, their easy manners and constant bows, were the especial dignitaries of the occasion; while without, the throng of fifty or a hundred flunkeys bringing up carriages or waiting to be called, watching the company coming and going, handing out the ladies, and taking orders from the gentlemen, make a part of the scene as actually as the plainer dressed aristocrats whom they serve. But it is a noisy mob in the street. They lose all their elegance on the pavement crowding, chattering, pushing, insulting the gentlemen whom they do not know and criticising the ladies they do, incessantly shouting, "Lady Somebody's carriage," "Coming up," "Setting down," "Gone for the carriage," as often in mockery as in earnest, and altogether as insolent and dangerous a rabble as can be seen anywhere in the world. A parcel of scamps in a lockup suddenly left uncontrolled could hardly be vulgarer or ruder. They seem to revenge themselves for the restraints they submit to all the rest of their lives. Here the aristocrats are at their mercy. They must have their carriages and they can't get them themselves ; and the lackeys delight in annoying and disappointing and delaying them, with only half the show of serving. One can fancy what the class might be capable of in a revolution. A night scene in front of a London ball makes one think of the poissardes and petroleuses of Paris. The contrast with the sleek sycophancy within is terrible in its suggestiveness.

After setting down their company, the carriages usually hurry off to a beer-house, where the footman may enter, but the coachman is supposed to remain on the box, and his beer and his pipe are brought out to him. But I have often seen the boxes empty in my strolls about London after midnight. Early in the evening the fine people stay only a short while at each house ; there are usually four or five parties a night before the ball, and the servants have then little time for themselves. Still they often take their own friends for a drive in the ducal equipage, or hire it out for a fare, and keep their masters waiting half an hour in the hall of some great house, the footman at last excusing the delay with a lie only half believed. The carriages can be known by the arms and the liveries ; and the purlieus where they are seen, the crews with which they are crowded, tell their own tale. It is not the owners who are their sole occupants.

After the company is fairly deposited at a ball, all is safe for an hour or two, and the liberty of the lackeys begins. The coachman and footman often get drunk together; quarrels and scuffles are common; the police are called in ; horses are sometimes lamed and carriages smashed, but they usually contrive to be ready to take their company home, though sometimes at the risk of their lives.

These gentry, who go to four or five parties a night, are allowed to lie late in the morning. It is daylight often and often before they turn in, and half of them breakfast just in time to wait on my lady for her shopping, or her visits in the afternoon.

In town the question of perquisites comes up again ; not now, it is true, from vails or visitors; only a raw American tips a footman or a butler at a dinner or a ball. But the tradesmen's bills are settled in London, and the servants have established a system of discount which contributes materially to their incomes, if it lessens those of their masters. A shilling in a pound is the ordinary toll; I had a house in London and can speak by the card. In dividing this impost the rules are rigorously observed. The valet gets his discount on the tailor's and hatter's and bootmaker's bills ; the cook on the butcher's and fishmonger's and green grocer's; the butler on the wines; he, too, has the empty bottles, so that you may not economize by retaining or returning them. The coachman is entitled to the perquisite on forage, as well as on the hire of carriages and horses, and in London most people hire at least their horses, leaving their own in the country. I once bought a harness for a certain number of pounds, but my coachman went to the harness-maker and had the bill made out for guineas, so that he might secure ttie extra shilling in the pound. The servant who betrayed this to me was considered false to his class.

There is little use in struggling against the system. A duke with an enormous fortune attempted to stem the tide, but succumbed ignominiously. He hired a poor gentleman to supervise his bills, and paid them through him, but the servants were in league with the tradesmen, and received their perquisites all the same; while his Grace was so badly served that the peace of his life was destroyed, and he was glad to capitulate without the honors of war. As a tradesman once said to an American Minister in my hearing: "Your Excellency must expect to pay for being your Excellency."

Another perquisite is the cast-off clothes. The valets and the ladies' maids are entitled to these, and are outraged if you make any contrary disposition of them. I once gave a child about my house some old pocket-handkerchiefs, at which my valet protested; and I heard the little one retort: "You get the shirts." They often look smarter than those they serve, wearing their wardrobes sometimes on finer figures. I have heard of ladies who sold their satins to their maids, thougli never of a gentleman who bargained in old clothes with his man. When lovely woman really stoops to anything unworthy, she can descend to a point that leaves our sex far behind.

The servants have their clubs as well as their masters; there are two or three, I believe, for valets and butlers, besides others for those of lower degree, for the line must be drawn. The under butler, for instance, cleans the plate, and uses his thumb in the operation till it becomes unusually developed, and an under butler's thumb is often examined when he is hired ; like the calf of the footman, it is valuable according to size. Now, it can hardly be expected that a person thus marked should be admitted to the society of valets and grooms of the chamber, at least, until his thumb has been reduced to genteel proportions.

But, after all, good servants take good care of good masters. Granting them what they consider their due, giving them the consideration and civil treatment which they often deserve, not interfering with their prejudices and perquisites, one can extract a deal of satisfaction from the condition of life where such servants exist. They relieve one of many of the annoyances and petty cares that take up the time of householders elsewhere. If you find honest ones and there are many and if you can aiford a certain outlay, there is no place in the world where servants contribute so much to the comfort of existence as in England; and if you make them friends they are faithful indeed.

When I first lived in London I had a valet who watched over me with curious care. He had only served dukes and foreign ministers before me, and considered it a great feather in my cap to possess such a piece of paraphernalia as he. He supposed as an American I must be unused to the ways of the aristocracy, and he wanted to bring me on. At first he would remind me that we hadn't paid our visits since we dined at such a house, and he once ventured to remonstrate because I visited a person of the middle class. He said I had a very good connection, and it was a pity for me to visit below my station. His station in life depended upon mine, and it hurt his consequence to be the servant of a person who dined with any but the aristocracy. I once heard him say to a fellow servant that he had been in as good company as any duke or earl in England, only he stood behind the chairs. He was in his glory when I went to court, and I thought he would expire with satisfaction when I was invited to Windsor.

The servants, indeed, are all apt to magnify the consequence of their masters in order to keep up their own. I was once driving in a park where only privileged persons can pass after a certain hour. I stayed too late, and my brougham was stopped by the lodge keeper. "Who goes there?" But I heard my coachman boldly reply, "Royals," intimating that a royal personage was within, and we drove by in state before I could rebuke his officiousness.

However, I had my drawbacks as well. I once entered a gallery in the House of Commons reserved for diplomatists and peers, where, as Secretary of Legation, I had a right to a seat. But one of the attendants saw that I had not the foreign air; I looked homespun and British, I suppose; and he knew all the nobility; so he tapped me on the shoulder, and said: "Come out of there; you are not a peer." [As Written]

Aristocracy In England by Adam Badeau - New York Harper & Brothers, Franklin Square 1886, Copyright, 1885, 1886 div




AVictorian.Com © 1997-Present | Proudly Hosted by Network Solutions | CSS by Free CSS Templates