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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Jonathan Swift (1667–1745)

Directions to Servants

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 else 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.

The cook, the butler, the groom, the marketman, and every other servant who is concerned in the expenses 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 £1,000 a year, he reasonably concludes that £1,000 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 expense will be filled to your master’s honour.

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 must 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 teased 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 everything rattle in it, to put your master and lady in mind that you observe their directions.

Write your own name and your sweetheart’s, with the smoke of a candle, on the roof of the kitchen or the servants’ hall, to show your learning.

If you are a young, sightly fellow, whenever you whisper to your mistress at the table, run your nose full in her cheek; or if your breath be good, breathe full in her face. This I have known to have had very good consequences in some families.

When you have broken all your earthen drinking-vessels below stairs (which is usually done in a week), the copper pot will do as well; it can boil milk, heat porridge, hold small beer, or, in case of necessity, serve for a slop-jar; therefore apply it indifferently to all these uses; but never wash or scour it, for fear of taking off the tin.

Although you are allowed knives for the servants’ hall at meals, yet you ought to spare them, and make use of your master’s.

Let it be a constant rule, that no chair, stool, or table, in the servants’ hall or the kitchen, shall have above three legs; which has been the ancient and constant practice in all the families I ever knew, and it is said to be founded upon two reasons: first, to show that servants are ever in a tottering condition; secondly, it was thought a point of humility, that the servants’ chairs and tables should have at least one leg fewer than those of their masters. I grant there has been an exception to this rule with regard to the cook, who, by old custom, was allowed an easy chair to sleep in after dinner; and yet I have seldom seen them with above three legs. Now this epidemical lameness of servants’ chairs is, by philosophers, imputed to two causes, which are observed to make the greatest revolutions in states and empires: I mean love and war. A stool, a chair, or a table is the first weapon taken up in a general romping or skirmish; and after a peace, the chairs, if they be not very strong, are apt to suffer in the conduct of an amour, the cook being usually fat and heavy, and the butler a little in drink.

If it be possible, never tell a lie to your master or lady, unless you have some hopes that they cannot find it out in less than half an hour. When a servant is turned off, all his faults must be told, although most of them were never known by his master or lady; and all mischiefs done by others charged to him. And when they ask any of you why you never acquainted them before, the answer is, “Sir, or madam, really I was afraid it would make you angry; and, besides, perhaps you might think it was malice in me.” Where there are little masters and misses in a house, they are usually great impediments to the diversions of the servants; the only remedy is to bribe them with goody-goodies, that they may not tell tales to papa and mamma.

If you are sent with ready money to buy anything at a shop, and happen at that time to be out of pocket, sink the money and take up the goods on your master’s account. This is for the honour of your master and yourself; for he becomes a man of credit at your recommendation.

When your lady sends for you up to her chamber, to give you any orders, be sure to stand at the door, and keep it open, fiddling with the lock all the while she is talking to you, and keep the button in your hand, for fear you should forget to shut the door after you.

When you want proper instruments for any work you are about, use all expedients you can invent rather than leave your work undone. For instance, if the poker be out of the way, or broken, stir the fire with the tongs; if the tongs be not at hand, use the muzzle of the bellows, the wrong end of the fire-shovel, the handle of the fire-brush, the end of a mop, or your master’s cane. If you want paper to singe a fowl, tear the first book you see about the house. Wipe your shoes, for want of a clout, with the bottom of a curtain, or a damask napkin. Strip your livery lace for garters.

There are several ways of putting out candles, and you ought to be instructed in them all. You may run the candle end against the wainscot, which puts the snuff out immediately; you may lay it on the ground, and tread the snuff out with your foot; you may hold it upside down, until it is choked with its own grease, or cram it into the socket of the candlestick; you may whirl it round in your hand till it goes out; you may spit on your finger and thumb, and pinch the snuff till it goes out. The cook may run the candle’s nose into the meal-tub, or the groom into a vessel of oats, or a lock of hay, or a heap of litter; the housemaid may put out her candle by running against the looking-glass, which nothing cleans so well as candle-snuff; but the quickest and best of all methods is to blow it out with your breath, which leaves the candle clear, and readier to be lighted.