Item of the Day: Swift’s Rules for Servants (1753)

Full Title:  Miscellanies.  By Dr. Swift.  The Eleventh Volume.  London:  Printed for C. Hitch, C. Davis, C. Bathurst, R. Dodsley, and W. Bowyer.  MDCCLIII.

RULES that concern All Servants in general.

 When your Master or Lady calls a Servant by Name, if that Servant be not in the Way, none of you are to answer, for then there will be no end of your Drudgery:  And Masters themselves allow, that, if a Servant comes when he is called, it is sufficient.

When you have done a Fault, be always pert and insolent, and behave yourself as if you were the injured Person; this will immediately put your Master or Lady off their Mettle.

If you see your Master wronged by any of your Fellow-Servants, be sure to conceal it, for fear of being called a Tell-tale:  However there is one Exception, in case of a favourite Servant, who is justly hated by the whole Family; who therefore are bound in Prudence to lay all the Faults you can upon the Favourite.

The Cook, the Butler, the Groom, the Market-man, and every other Servant who is concerned in the Expences of the Family, should act as if his Master’s whole Estate ought to be applied to that Servant’s particular Business.  For instance, if the Cook computes his Master’s Estate to be a Thousand Pounds a Year will afford Meat enough, and therefore he need not be sparing; the Butler makes the same Judgment, so may the Groom and the Coachman, and thus every Branch of Expence will be filled to your Master’s Honour.

When you are chid before Company (which with Submission to our Masters and Ladies is an unmannerly Practice) it often happens that some Stranger will have the Good-nature to drop a Word in your Excuse; in such a Case, you will have a good Title to Justify yourself, and may rightly conclude, that, whenever he chides you afterwards on other occasions, he may be in the wrong; in which opinion you will be the better confirmed by stating the Case to your Fellow-servants in your own Way, who will certainly decide in your Favour:  therefore, as I have said before, whenever you are chidden, complain as if you were injured.

It often happens, that Servants sent on Messages are apt to stay out somewhat longer than the Message requires, perhaps, two, four, six, or eight Hours, or some such Trifle, for the Temptation to be sure was great, and Flesh and Blood cannot always resist:  When you return, the Master storms, the Lady scolds; stripping, cudgelling, and turning off, is the Word.  But here you ought to be provided with a Set of Excuses, enough to serve on all occasions:  For instance, your Uncle came Fourscore Miles to Town this Morning, on purpose to see you, and goes back by Break of Day To-morrow:  A Brother-servant, that borrowed Money of you when he was out of Place, was running away to Ireland:  You were taking Leave of an old Fellow-Servant, who was shipping for Barbados:  Your Father sent a Cow to you to sell, and you could not get a Chapman till Nine at Night:  You were taking leave of a dear Cousin, who is to be hanged next Saturday:  You wrencht your Foot against a Stone, and were forced to stay three Hours in a Shop, before you could Stir a Step:  Some Nastiness was thrown on you out of a Garret-Window, and you were ashamed to come Home before you were cleaned, and the Smell went off:  You were pressed for the Sea-service, and carried before a Justice of Peace, who kept you three Hours before he examined you, and you got off with much a-do:  A Bailiff by mistake seized you for a Debtor, and kept you the whole Evening in a Spunging-house:  You were told your Master had gone to a Tavern, and came to some Mischance, and your Grief was so great that you enquired for his Honour in a hundred Taverns between Pall-mall and Temple-bar.

Take all Tradesmen Parts against your Master, and when you are sent to buy any Thing, never offer to cheapen it, but generously pay the full Demand.  This is highly to your Master’s Honour ; and may be some Shillings in your Pocket; and you are to consider, if your Master hath paid too much, he can better afford the Loss than a poor Tradesman.

Never submit to stir a Finger in any Business but that for which you were particularly hired.  For Example, if the Groom be drunk, or absent, and the Butler be ordered to shut the Stable Door, the Answer is ready, An please your Honour, I don’t understand Horses:  If a Corner of the Hanging wants a single Nail to flatten it, and the Footman be directed to tack it up, he may say, he doth not understand that sort of Work, but his Honour may send for the Upholsterer.

Masters and Ladies are usually quarrelling with the Servants for not shutting the Doors after them:  But neither Masters nor Ladies consider, that those Doors mus be open before they can be shut, and that the Labour is double to open and shut the Doors; therefore the best, and shortest, and easiest Way is to do neither.  But if you are so often teized to shut the Door, that you cannot easily forget it, then give the Door such a Clap as you go out, as will shake the whole Room, and make every Thing rattle in it, to put your Master and Lady in Mind that you observe their Directions.

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Filed under 1750's, Culture, Jonathan Swift, Manners, Posted by Rebecca Dresser, Satire

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