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   Chapter 4 SERVANTS

Practical Education, Volume I By Maria Edgeworth Characters: 24429

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

"Now, master,"[33] said a fond nurse to her favourite boy, after having given him sugared bread and butter for supper, "now, master, kiss me; wipe your mouth, dear, and go up to the drawing room to mamma; and when mistress asks you what you have had for supper, you'll say, bread and butter, for you have had bread and butter, you know, master." "And sugar," said the boy; "I must say bread and butter and sugar, you know."

How few children would have had the courage to have added, "and sugar!" How dangerous it is to expose them to such temptations! The boy must have immediately perceived the object of his nurse's casuistry. He must guess that she would be blamed for the addition of the sugar, else why should she wish to suppress the word? His gratitude is engaged to his nurse for running this risk to indulge him; his mother, by the force of contrast, appears a severe person, who, for no reason that he can comprehend, would deprive him of the innocent pleasure of eating sugar. As to its making him sick, he has eat it, and he is not sick; as to its spoiling his teeth, he does not care about his teeth, and he sees no immediate change in them: therefore he concludes that his mother's orders are capricious, and that his nurse loves him better because she gives him the most pleasure. His honour and affection towards his nurse, are immediately set in opposition to his duty to his mother. What a hopeful beginning in education! What a number of dangerous ideas may be given by a single word!

The taste for sugared bread and butter is soon over; but servants have it in their power to excite other tastes with premature and factitious enthusiasm. The waiting-maid, a taste for dress; the footman, a taste for gaming; the coachman and groom, for horses and equipage; and the butler, for wine. The simplicity of children is not a defence to them; and though they are totally ignorant of vice, they are exposed to adopt the principles of those with whom they live, even before they can apply them to their own conduct.

The young son of a lady of quality, a boy of six or seven years old, addressed, with great simplicity, the following speech to a lady who visited his mother.

Boy. Miss N--, I wish you could find somebody, when you go to London, who would keep you. It's a very good thing to be kept.

Lady. What do you mean, my dear?

Boy. Why it's when-you know, when a person's kept, they have every thing found for them; their friend saves them all trouble, you know. They have a carriage and diamonds, and every thing they want. I wish somebody would keep you.

Lady, laughing. But I'm afraid nobody would. Do you think any body would?

Boy, after a pause. Why yes, I think Sir --, naming a gentleman whose name had, at this time, been much talked of in a public trial, would be as likely as any body.

The same boy talked familiarly of ph?tons and gigs, and wished that he was grown up, that he might drive four horses in hand. It is obvious that these ideas were put into the boy's head by the servants with whom he associated.

Without supposing them to be profligate, servants, from their situation, from all that they see of the society of their superiors, and from the early prejudices of their own education, learn to admire that wealth and rank to which they are bound to pay homage. The luxuries and follies of fashionable life they mistake for happiness; they measure the respect they pay to strangers by their external appearance; they value their own masters and mistresses by the same standard; and in their attachment there is a necessary mixture of that sympathy which is sacred to prosperity. Setting aside all interested motives, servants love show and prodigality in their masters; they feel that they partake the triumph, and they wish it to be as magnificent as possible. These dispositions break out naturally in the conversation of servants with one another; if children are suffered to hear them, they will quickly catch the same tastes. But if these ideas break out in their unpremeditated gossiping with one another, how much more strongly will they be expressed when servants wish to ingratiate themselves into a child's affections by flattery! Their method of showing their attachment to a family, is usually to exaggerate in their expressions of admiration of its consequence and grandeur; they depreciate all whom they imagine to be competitors in any respect with their masters, and feed and foster the little jealousies which exist between neighbouring families. The children of these families are thus early set at variance; the children in the same family are often taught, by the imprudence or malice of servants, to dislike and envy each other. In houses where each child has an attendant, the attendants regularly quarrel, and, out of a show of zeal, make their young masters and mistresses parties in their animosity. Three or four maids sometimes produce their little dressed pupils for a few minutes to the company in the drawing room, for the express purpose of seeing which shall obtain the greatest share of admiration. This competition, which begins in their nurses' arms, is continued by daily artifices through the whole course of their nursery education. Thus the emulation of children is rendered a torment to them, their ambition is directed to absurd and vile purposes, the understanding is perverted, their temper is spoiled, their simplicity of mind, and their capability of enjoying happiness, materially injured.

The language and manners, the awkward and vulgar tricks which children learn in the society of servants, are immediately perceived, and disgust and shock well-bred parents. This is an evil which is striking and disgraceful; it is more likely to be remedied than those which are more secret and slow in their operation: the habits of cunning, falsehood, envy, which lurk in the temper, are not instantly visible to strangers; they do not appear the moment children are reviewed by parents; they may remain for years without notice or without cure.

All these things have been said a hundred times; and, what is more, they are universally acknowledged to be true. It has passed into a common maxim with all who reflect, and even with all who speak upon the subject of education, that "it is the worst thing in the world to leave children with servants." But, notwithstanding this, each person imagines that he has found some lucky exception to the general rule. There is some favourite maid or ph?nix of a footman in each family, who is supposed to be unlike all other servants, and, therefore, qualified for the education of children. But, if their qualifications were scrupulously examined, it is to be feared they would not be found competent to the trust that is reposed in them. They may, nevertheless, be excellent servants, much attached to their masters and mistresses, and sincerely desirous to obey their orders in the management of their pupils; but this is not sufficient. In education it is not enough to obey the laws; it is necessary to understand them, to understand the spirit, as well as the letter of the law. The blind application of general maxims will never succeed; and can that nice discrimination which is necessary to the just use of good principles, be expected from those who have never studied the human mind, who have little motive for the study, whose knowledge is technical, and who have never had any liberal education? Give, or attempt to give, the best waiting-maid in London the general maxim, "That pain should be associated with whatever we wish to make children avoid doing; and pleasure should be associated with whatever we wish that children should love to do;" will the waiting-maid understand this, even if you exchange the word associated for joined? How will she apply her new principle in practice? She will probably translate it into, "Whip the child when it is troublesome, and give it sweetmeats when it does as it is bid." With this compendious system of tuition she is well satisfied, especially as it contains nothing which is new to her understanding, or foreign to her habits. But if we should expect her to enter into the views of a Locke or a Barbauld, would it not be at once unreasonable and ridiculous?

What has been said of the understanding and dispositions of servants, relates only to servants as they are now educated. Their vices and their ignorance arise from the same causes, the want of education. They are not a separate cast in society, doomed to ignorance, or degraded by inherent vice; they are capable, they are desirous of instruction. Let them be well educated,[34] and the difference in their conduct and understanding will repay society for the trouble of the undertaking. This education must begin as early as possible; let us not imagine that it is practicable to change the habits of servants who are already educated, and to make them suddenly fit companions in a family. They should not, in any degree, be permitted to interfere with the management of children, until their own education has been radically reformed. Let servants be treated with the utmost kindness; let their situations be made as happy as possible; let the reward of their services and attachment be as liberal as possible; but reward with justice, do not sacrifice your children to pay your own debts. Familiarity between servants and children, cannot permanently increase the happiness of either party. Children, who have early lived with servants, as they grow up are notoriously apt to become capricious and tyrannical masters. A boy who has been used to treat a footman as his play-fellow, cannot suddenly command from him that species of deference, which is compounded of habitual respect for the person, and conventional submission to his station; the young master must, therefore, effect a change in his footman's manner of thinking and speaking by violent means; he must extort that tribute of respect which he has neglected so long, and to which, consequently, his right is disputed.[35] He is sensible, that his superiority is merely that of situation, and he, therefore, exerts his dormant prerogatives with jealous insolence. No master is so likely to become the tyrant of his valet-de-chambre, as he who is conscious that he never can appear to him a hero. No servant feels the yoke of servitude more galling, than he who has been partially emancipated, who has lost his habits of "proud subordination, and his taste for dignified submission."[36]

No mistaken motive of tenderness to domestics should operate upon the minds of parents; nor should they hesitate, for the general happiness of their families, to insist upon a total separation between those parts of it which will injure each other essentially by their union.

Every body readily disclaims the idea of letting children live with servants; but, besides the exceptions in favour of particular individuals, there is yet another cause of the difference between theory and practice upon this subject. Time is left out of the consideration; people forget that life is made up of days and hours; and they by no means think, that letting children pass several hours every day with servants, has any thing to do with the idea of living with them. We must contract this latitude of expression. If children pass one hour in a day with servants, it will be in vain to attempt their education.

Madame Roland, in one of her letters to De Bosc, says, that her little daughter Eudora had learned to swear; "and yet," continues she, "I leave her but one half hour a day with servants. Admirez la disposition!" Madame Roland could not have been much accustomed to attend to education.

Whilst children are very young, there appears a necessity for their spending at least half an hour a day with servants; until they are four or five years old, they cannot dress or undress themselves, or, if they attempt it, they may learn careless habits, which in girls are particularly to be avoided. If a mother, or a governess, would make it a rule to be present when they are dressing, a maid-servant would not talk to them, and could do them but little injury. It is of consequence, that th

e maid-servant should herself be perfectly neat both from habit and taste. Children observe exactly the manner in which every thing is done for them, and have the wish, even before they have the power, to imitate what they see; they love order, if they are accustomed to it, and if their first attempts at arrangement are not made irksome by injudicious management. What they see done every day in a particular manner, they learn to think part of the business of the day, and they are uneasy if any of the rites of cleanliness are forgotten; the transition from this uneasiness, to the desire of exerting themselves, is soon made, particularly if they are sometimes left to feel the inconveniences of being helpless. This should, and can, be done, without affectation. A maid cannot be always ready, the instant she is wanted, to attend upon them; they should not be waited upon as being masters and misses, they should be assisted as being helpless.[37] They will not feel their vanity flattered by this attendance; the maid will not be suffered to amuse them, they will be ambitious of independence, and they will soon be proud of doing every thing for themselves.

Another circumstance which keeps children long in subjection to servants, is their not being able to wield a knife, fork, or spoon, with decent dexterity. Such habits are taught to them by the careless maids who feed them, that they cannot for many years be produced even at the side-table without much inconvenience and constant anxiety. If this anxiety in a mother were to begin a little sooner, it need never be intense; patient care in feeding children neatly at first, will save many a bitter reprimand afterwards; their little mouths and hands need not be disgusting at their meals, and their nurses had better take care not to let them touch what is disagreeable, instead of rubbing their lips rudely with a rough napkin, by way of making them love to have their mouths clean. These minuti? must, in spite of didactic dignity, be noticed, because they lead to things of greater consequence; they are well worth the attention of a prudent mother or governess. If children are early taught to eat with care, they will not, from false shame, desire to dine[38] with the vulgar indulgent nursery-maid, rather than with the fastidious company at their mother's table. Children should first be taught to eat with a spoon what has been neatly cut for them; afterwards they should cut a little meat for themselves towards the end of dinner, when the rage of hunger is appeased; they will then have "leisure to be good." The several operations of learning to eat with a spoon, to cut and to eat with a knife and fork, will become easy and habitual, if sufficient time be allowed.

Several children in a family, who were early attended to in all these little particulars, were produced at table when they were four or five years old; they suffered no constraint, nor were they ever banished to the nursery lest company should detect their evil habits. Their eyes and ears were at liberty during the time of dinner; and instead of being absorbed in the contemplation of their plates, and at war with themselves and their neighbours, they could listen to conversation, and were amused even whilst they were eating. Without meaning to assert, with Rousseau, that all children are naturally gluttons or epicures, we must observe, that eating is their first great and natural pleasure; this pleasure should, therefore, be entirely at the disposal of those who have the care of their education; it should be associated with the idea of their tutors or governesses. A governess may, perhaps, disdain to use the same means to make herself beloved by a child, as those which are employed by a nursery-maid; nor is it meant that children should be governed by their love of eating. Eating need not be made a reward, nor should we restrain their appetite as a punishment; praise and blame, and a variety of other excitements, must be preferred when we want to act upon their understanding. Upon this subject we shall speak more fully hereafter. All that is here meant to be pointed out, is, that the mere physical pleasure of eating should not be associated in the minds of children with servants; it should not be at the disposal of servants, because they may, in some degree, balance by this pleasure the other motives which a tutor may wish to put in action. "Solid pudding," as well as "empty praise," should be in the gift of the preceptor.

Besides the pleasures of the table, there are many others which usually are associated early with servants. After children have been pent in a close formal drawing-room, motionless and mute, they are frequently dismissed to an apartment where there is no furniture too fine to be touched with impunity, where there is ample space, where they may jump and sing, and make as much noise as can be borne by the much-enduring eardrum of the nursery-maid. Children think this insensibility of ear a most valuable qualification in any person; they have no sympathy with more refined auditory nerves, and they prefer the company of those who are to them the best hearers. A medium between their taste and that of their parents should, in this instance, be struck; parents should not insist upon eternal silence, and children should not be suffered to make mere noise essential to their entertainment. Children should be encouraged to talk at proper times, and should have occupations provided for them when they are required to be still; by these means it will not be a restraint to them to stay in the same room with the rest of the family for some hours in the day. At other times they should have free leave to run about either in rooms where they cannot disturb others, or out of doors; in neither case should they be with servants. Children should never be sent out to walk with servants.

After they have been poring over their lessons, or stiffening under the eye of their preceptors, they are frequently consigned immediately to the ready footman; they cluster round him for their hats, their gloves, their little boots and whips, and all the well known signals of pleasure. The hall door bursts open, and they sally forth under the interregnum of this beloved protector, to enjoy life and liberty; all the natural, and all the factitious ideas of the love of liberty, are connected with this distinct part of the day; the fresh air-the green fields-the busy streets-the gay shops-the variety of objects which the children see and hear-the freedom of their tongues-the joys of bodily exercise, and of mental relaxation, all conspire to make them prefer this period of the day, which they spend with the footman, to any other in the four-and-twenty hours. The footman sees, and is flattered by this; he is therefore assiduous to please, and piques himself upon being more indulgent than the hated preceptor. Servants usually wish to make themselves beloved by children; can it be wondered at if they succeed, when we consider the power that is thrown into their hands?

In towns, children have no gardens, no place where they can take that degree of exercise which is necessary for their health; this tempts their parents to trust them to servants, when they cannot walk with them themselves: but is there no individual in the family, neither tutor, nor governess, nor friend, nor brother, nor sister, who can undertake this daily charge? Cannot parents sacrifice some of their amusements in town, or cannot they live in the country? If none of these things can be done, without hesitation they should prefer a public to a private education. In these circumstances, they cannot educate their children at home; they had much better not attempt it, but send them at once to school.

In the country, arrangements may easily be made, which will preclude all those little dangers which fill a prudent parent's mind with anxiety. Here children want the care of no servant to walk out with them; they can have gardens, and safe places for exercise allotted to them. In rainy weather they can have rooms apart from the rest of the family; they need not be cooped up in an ill-contrived house, where servants are perpetually in their way.

Attention to the arrangement of a house, is of material consequence. Children's rooms should not be passage rooms for servants; they should, on the contrary, be so situated, that servants cannot easily have access to them, and cannot, on any pretence of business, get the habit of frequenting them. Some fixed employment should be provided for children, which will keep them in a different part of the house at those hours when servants must necessarily be in their bed-chambers. There will be a great advantage in teaching children to arrange their own rooms, because this will prevent the necessity of servants being for any length of time in their apartments; their things will not be mislaid; their playthings will not be swept away or broken; no little temptations will arise to ask questions from servants; all necessity, and all opportunity of intercourse, will thus be cut off. Children should never be sent with messages to servants, either on their own business, or on other people's; if they are permitted any times to speak to them, they will not distinguish what times are proper, and what are improper.

Servants have so much the habit of talking to children, and think it such a proof of good nature to be interested about them, that it will be difficult to make them submit to this total silence and separation. The certainty that they shall lose their places, if they break through the regulations of the family, will, however, be a strong motive, provided that their places are agreeable and advantageous; and parents should be absolutely strict in this particular. What is the loss of the service of a good groom, or a good butler, compared with the danger of spoiling a child? It may be feared that some secret intercourse should be carried on between children and servants; but this will be lessened by the arrangements in the house, which we have mentioned; by care in a mother or governess, to know exactly where children are, and what they are doing every hour of the day; this need not be a daily anxiety, for when certain hours have once been fixed for certain occupations, habit is our friend, and we cannot have a safer. There is this great advantage in measures of precaution and prevention, that they diminish all temptation, at the same time that they strengthen the habits of obedience.

Other circumstances will deter servants from running any hazard themselves; they will not be so fond of children who do not live with them; they will consider them as beings moving in a different sphere. Children who are at ease with their parents, and happy in their company, will not seek inferior society; this will be attributed to pride by servants, who will not like them for this reserve. So much the better. Children who are encouraged to converse about every thing that interests them, will naturally tell their mothers if any one talks to them; a servant's speaking to them would be an extraordinary event to be recorded in the history of the day. The idea that it is dishonourable to tell tales, should never be put into their minds; they will never be the spies of servants, nor should they keep their secrets. Thus, as there is no faith expected from the children, the servants will not trust them; they will be certain of detection, and will not transgress the laws.

It may not be impertinent to conclude these minute precepts with assuring parents, that in a numerous family, where they have for above twenty years been steadily observed, success has been the uniform result.

[33] Verbatim from what has been really said to a boy.

[34] Perhaps an institution for the education of attendants upon children, would be of the highest utility.

Mr. -- had once an intention of educating forty children for this purpose; from amongst whom he proposed to select eight or ten as masters for future schools upon the same plan.

[35] V. The comedy of Wild Oats.

[36] Burke.

[37] Rousseau.

[38] V. Sancho Panza.

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