Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Footman

Thursday, February 9, 2012
Loretta reports:

I suspect the reality of the footman’s life lies somewhere between this satirical and rather cruel portrait and the job description in The Complete Servant—with the latter approaching nearer the truth.
... notwithstanding the stately gait with which he moves—staff in hand after his lady— notwithstanding his gold laced hat his gold or silver epaulets, his plush inexpressibles, his silk stockings, and well polished shoes . . . the cruel world regards him . . . with risible contempt . . .

 My lord duke of “below stairs” seems to be aware of this . . . When behind the coach, he rolls from side to side with consequential dignity, and keeps dancing upon his toes, to shew, as it were, the elasticity of his muscles.  In pedestrian attendance upon those whose bread he eats, he throws back his body even something beyond the perpendicular, and measures his steps with exactness and deliberation.  Every muscle of his face is composed, his eye never wanders, until his lady enters the confectioner's and haberdasher's shops; then “John” relaxes the rigidity of his attitude, leans forward upon his staff of office, and if happy enough to encounter his shadow in fine clothes, luxuriates with mincing accents, in anecdotes of the kitchen.  Perhaps some public house door stands invitingly open; if so he looks cautiously about him, and seeing the lady busy cheapening shawls, slips in for a moment, and returns with a complexion improved by the internal application of “blue ruin.”  The footman, however, is a person of some consequence; he does the honours of the hall, converses with noblemen, drinks with stable-keepers and dog-fanciers, and, if Swift was not much astray, prevents the physical decay of noble families.  There is always a smile upon his lip when in the presence of his superiors; and never refuses the doing of a kindness—when paid for it.

This, however, is only the description of the class; there are many individual exceptions; and there are few families who cannot boast of faithful servants.  In general, however, they furnish nothing but food for the writers of comedy, and subjects for the painter; Mr George Cruiksbank has left the lovers of pictoral accuracy nothing more to desire in this respect.
—George & Robert Cruikshank, The Gentleman's Pocket Magazine, 1827
More on footmen here & here.


Pat said...

"…there are few families who cannot boast of faithful servants."

Ah, yes.

Do you suppose there were also few servants who could not boast of generous and considerate employers? I would love to read a servant's account from 1827, though I doubt there were many servants who were literate enough to do so even if they had the time.

Grace Burrowes said...

First thing that caught my eye: "My lord duke..." NOT His Grace. I'd read somewhere that Regency forms of address were nowhere near as strict then as we make them now, but that all the punctilio and minutiae we engage in arose at the time of Elizabeth's coronation, when the Brits decided to get Miss Manners about proper address for titled parties. Thanks for the data point (and yet another fun post).

LorettaChase said...

I wondered about the "My lord duke"--but it could have been a simple error, either a slip of the pen or ignorance of proper form of address. Or, maybe the correct form wasn't used because he wasn't, actually, a duke. But I'd never generalize from this. I've not come upon any examples indicating that those of the Regency era were less observant of correct forms of address than later generations. The Victorians & Edwardians got fussier about which fork and spoon to use, and etiquette became increasingly convoluted and complicated after the Regency era (along with Society getting a lot more prudish), but that's not the same as being casual about forms of address, which, really, are forms of respect.

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