Some Private Views
by James Payn
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This class of literature was of considerable dimensions even in the days when Mr. Wilkie Collins first called attention to it; but the luxuriance of its growth has since become tropical. His observations are drawn from some half a dozen specimens of it only, whereas I now hold in my hand—or rather in both hands—nearly half a hundred of them. The population of readers must be dense indeed in more than one sense that can support such a crop.

Doubtless the individual circulation of none of these serials is equal to that of the most successful of them at the date of their first discovery; but those who read them must, from various causes, of which the most obvious is the least important, have trebled in number. Population, that is to say, has increased in very small proportion as compared with the increase of those who very literally run and read—the peripatetic students, who study on their way to work or even as they work, including, I am sorry to say, the telegraph boy on his errand.

Nevertheless, notwithstanding its gigantic dimensions, the Unknown Public remains practically as unknown as ever. The literary wares that find such favour with it do not meet the eye of the ordinary observer. They are to be found neither at the bookseller's nor on the railway stall. But in back streets, in small dark shops, in the company of cheap tobacco, hardbake (and, at the proper season, valentines), their leaves lie thick as those in Vallombrosa. Early in the week is their springtime, when they are put forth from Heaven knows what printing-houses in courts and alleys, to lie for a few days only on the counter in huge piles. On Saturdays, albeit that is their nominal publishing day, they have for the most part disappeared. For this sort of literature has one decidedly advanced feature, and possesses one virtue of endurance—it comes out ever so long before the date it bears upon its title-page, and 'when the world shall have passed away' will, by a few days at least, if faith is to be placed in figures, survive it.

Why it should have any date at all no man can tell. There is nothing in the contents that is peculiar to one year—or, to say truth, of one era—rather than another. As a rule, indeed, time and space are alike annihilated in them, in order to make two lovers happy. The general terms in which they are written is one of their peculiar features. One would think that, instead of being as unlike real life as stories professing to deal with it can be, they were photographs of it, and that the writers, as in the following instance, had always the fear of the law of libel before their eyes:

We must now request our readers to accompany us into an obscure cul de sac opening into a narrow street branching off Holborn. For many reasons we do not choose to be more precise as to locality.

Of course in this cul de sac is a Private Inquiry Office, with a detective in it. But in defining even him the novelist gives himself no trouble to arouse excitement in his readers: they have paid their penny for the history of this interesting person, and, that being done, they may read about him or not, as they please. One would really think that the author of the story was also the proprietor of the periodical.

Those who desire (he says) to make the acquaintance of this somewhat remarkable person have only to step with us into the little dusky room where he is seated, and we shall have much pleasure in introducing him to their notice.

—A sentence which has certainly the air of saying, 'You may be introduced to him, or you may let it alone.'

The coolness with which everything is said and done in penny fiction is indeed most remarkable, and should greatly recommend it to that respectable class who have a horror of 'sensation.' In a story, for example, that purports to describe University life (and is as much like it as the camel produced from the German professor's self-consciousness must have been to a real camel) there is an underplot of an amazing kind. The wicked undergraduate, notwithstanding that he has the advantage of being a baronet, is foiled in his attempt to win the affections of a young woman in humble life, and the virtuous hero of the story recommends her to the consideration of his negro servant:

'Talk to her, Monday,' whispered Jack, 'and see if she loves you.'

For a short time Monday and Ada were in close conversation.

Then Monday uttered a cry like a war-whoop.

'It am come all right, sare. Missy Ada says she not really care for Sir Sydney, and she will be my little wife,' he said.

'I congratulate you, Monday,' answered Jack.

In half an hour more they arrived at the house of John Radford, plumber and glazier, who was Ada's father.

Mr. and Mrs. Radford and their two sons received their daughter and her companions with that unstudied civility which contrasts so favourably with the stuck-up ceremony of many in a higher position. They were not prejudiced against Monday on account of his dark skin.

It was enough for them that he was the man of Ada's choice.

Mrs. Radford even went so far as to say, 'Well, for a coloured gentleman, he is very handsome and quite nice mannered, though I think Ada's been a little sly in telling us nothing about her engagement to the last.'

They did not know all.

Nor was it advisable that they should.

Still they knew something—for example, that their new son-in-law was a black man, which one would have thought might have struck them as phenomenal. They take it, however, quite quietly and as a matter of course. Now, surely, even among plumbers and glaziers, it must be thought as strange for one's daughter to marry a black man as a lord. Yet, out of this dramatic situation the author makes nothing at all, but treats it as coolly as his dramatis personae do themselves. Now my notion would have been to make the bridegroom a black lord, and then to portray, with admirable skill, the conflicting emotions of his mother-in-law, disgusted on the one hand by his colour, attracted on the other by his rank. But 'sensation' is evidently out of the line of the penny novelist: he gives his facts, which are certainly remarkable, then leaves both his characters and his readers to draw their own conclusions.

The total absence of local scenery from these half hundred romances is also curious, and becomes so very marked when the novelists are so imprudent as to take their dramatis personae out of England, that one can't help wondering whether these gentlemen have ever been in foreign parts themselves, or even read about them. Here is the conclusion of a romance which leaves nothing to be desired in the way of brevity, but is unquestionably a little abrupt and vague:

A year has passed away, and we are far from England and the English climate.

Whither 'we' have gone the author does not say, nor even indicate the hemisphere. It will be imagined, perhaps, that we shall find out where we are by the indication of the flora and fauna.

A lady and gentleman before the dawn of day have been climbing up an arid road in the direction of a dark ridge.

Observe, again, the ingenious vagueness of the description: an 'arid road' which may mean Siberia, and a 'dark ridge' which may mean the Himalayas.

The dawn suddenly comes upon them in all its glory. Birds twittered in their willow gorges, and it was a very glorious day. Arthur and Emily had passed the night at the ranche, and he had now taken her up to look at the mine which at all events had introduced them. He had previously taken her to see his mother's grave, the mother whom he had so loved. The mine after some delay proved more prosperous than ever. It was not sold, but is the 'appanage' of the younger sons of the house of Dacres.

With the exception of the 'ranche,' it will be remarked that there is not one word in the foregoing description to fix locality. The mine and the ranche together seem indeed to suggest South America. But—I ask for information—do birds twitter there in willow gorges? Younger sons of noble families proverbially come off second best in this country, but if one of them found his only 'appanage' was a mine, he would surely with some justice make a remonstrance.

The readers of this class of fiction will not have Dumas at any price—or, at all events, not at a penny. Mr. Collins tells us how 'Monte Christo' was once spread before them, and how they turned from that gorgeous feast with indifference, and fell back upon their tripe and onions—their nameless authors. But some of those who write for them have adopted one peculiarity of Dumas. The short jerky sentences which disfigure the 'Three Musketeers,' and indeed all that great novelist's works, are very frequent with them, which induces me to believe that they are paid by the line.

On the other hand, some affect fashionable description and conversation which are drawn out in 'passages that lead to nothing' of an amazing length.

'Where have I been,' replied Clyde with a carelessness which was half forced 'Oh, I have been over to Higham to see the dame.'

'Ah, yes,' said Sir Edward, 'and how is the poor old creature?'

'Quite well,' said Clyde, as he sat down and took up the menu of the elaborate dinner. 'Quite well, she sent her best respects,' he added, but he said nothing of the lodger, pretty Miss Mary Westlake.

And when, a moment afterwards, the door opened and Grace came flowing in with her lithe noiseless step, dressed in one of Worth's masterpieces, a wonder of amber, satin, and antique lace, he raised his eyes and looked at her with an earnest scrutiny—so earnest that she paused with her hand on his chair, and met his eyes with a questioning glance.

'Do you like my new dress?' she said with a calm smile.

'Your dress?' he said. 'Yes, yes, it is very pretty, very.' But to himself he added, 'Yes, they are alike, strangely alike.'

Which last remark may be applied with justice to the conversations of all our novelists. There appears no necessity for their commencement, no reason for their continuance, no object in their conclusion; the reader finds himself in a forest of verbiage from which he is extricated only at the end of the chapter, which is always, however, 'to be continued.'

It is true that these story-tellers for the million generally keep 'a gallop for the avenue' (an incident of a more or less exciting kind to finish up with), but it is so brief and unsatisfactory that it hardly rises to a canter; the author never seems to get into his stride. The following is a fair example:

But before we let the curtain fall, we must glance for a moment at another picture—a sad and painful one. In one of those retreats, worse than a living tomb, where reside those whose reason is dead, though their bodies still live, is a small spare cell. The sole occupant is a woman, young and very beautiful. Sometimes she is quiet and gentle as a child; sometimes her fits of frenzy are frightful to witness; but the only word she utters is 'Revenge,' and on her hand she always wears a plain gold band with a cross of black pearls.

This conclusion, which I chanced upon before I read the tale which preceded it, naturally interested me immensely. Here, thought I, is at last an exciting story; I shall now find one of those literary prizes in hopes, perhaps, of hitting upon which the penny public endures so many blanks. I was quite prepared to have my blood curdled; my lips were ready for a full draught of gore; yet, I give you my word, there was nothing in the whole story worse than a bankruptcy.

This is what makes the success of penny fiction so remarkable; there is nothing whatever in the way of dramatic interest to account for it; nor of impropriety either. Like the lady friend of Dr. Johnson, who congratulated him that there were no improper words in his dictionary, and received from that unconciliatory sage the reply, 'You have been looking for them, have you?' I have carefully searched my fifty samples of penny fiction for something wrong, and have not found it. It is as pure as milk, or, at all events, as milk-and-water. Unlike the Minerva Press, too, it does not deal with eminent persons: wicked peers are rare; fraud is usually confined within what may be called its natural limits—the lawyer's office; the attention paid to the heroines not only by their heroes, but by their unsuccessful and objectionable rivals, is generally of the most honourable kind; and platitude and dulness hold undisputed sway.

In one or two of these periodicals there is indeed an example of the mediaeval melodrama; but 'Ralpho the Mysterious' is by no means thrilling. Indeed, when I remember that 'Ivanhoe' was once published in a penny journal and proved a total failure, and then contemplate the popularity of 'Ralpho,' I am more at sea as to what it is that attracts the million than ever.

'Noble youth,' cried the King as he embraced Ralpho, 'to you we must entrust the training of our cavalry. I hold here the list which has been made out of the troops which will come at the signal. To certain of our nobles we have entrusted certain of our corps d'armee, but unto you, Ralpho, we must entrust our horse, for in that service you can display that wonderful dexterity with the sword which has made your name so famous.'

'Sire,' cried our hero, as he dropped on one knee and took the King's hand, pressing it to his lips, 'thou hast indeed honoured me by such a reward, but I cannot accept it.'

'How!' cried the King; 'hast thou so soon tired of my service?'

'Not so, sire. To serve you I would shed the last drop of my blood. But if I were to accept this command, I should cease to do the service for the cause which now it has pleased you to say I have done. No, sire, let me remain the guardian of my King—his secret agent. I, with my sword alone, will defend my country and my King.'

'Be not rash, Ralpho; already hast thou done more than any man ever did before. Run no more danger.'

'Sire, if I have served you, grant my request. Let it be as I have said.'

'It shall be so, mysterious youth. Thou shalt be my secret agent. Take this ring, and wear it for my sake; and, hark ye, gentlemen, when Ralpho shows that ring, obey him as if he were ourselves.'

'We will,' cried the nobles.

Then the King took the Star of St. Stanislaus, and fixed it on our hero's breast.

Now, to my mind, though his preferring to be 'a secret agent' to becoming a generalissimo of the Polish cavalry is as modest as it is original, Ralpho is too 'goody-goody' to be called 'the Mysterious.' He reminds me, too, in his way of mixing chivalry with self-interest, of those enterprising officers in fighting regiments who send in applications for their own V.C.s while their comrades remain in modest expectation of them.

I am inclined to think, however, from the following advertisement, that some author has been recently piling up the virtues of his hero too strongly for the very delicate stomachs of the penny public, who, it is evident, resent superlatives of all kinds, and are commonplace and conventional to the marrow of their bones: 'T.B. TIMMINS is informed that he cannot be promised another story like "Mandragora," since, in deciding the contents of our journal, the tastes of readers have to be considered whose interest cannot be aroused by the impossible deeds of impossible creatures.' Alas! I wish from my heart I knew what 'deeds' or 'creatures' do arouse the interest of this (to me) inexplicable public; for though I have before me the stories they obviously take delight in, why they do so I cannot tell.

At the 'Answers to Correspondents,' indeed, which form a leading feature in most of these penny journals, one may exclaim, with the colonel in 'Woodstock,' when, after many ghosts, he grapples with Wildrake: 'Thou at least art palpable.' Here we have the real readers, asking questions upon matters that concern them, and from these we shall surely get at the back of their minds. But it is unfortunately not so certain that these 'Answers to Correspondents' are not themselves fictions, like all the rest—only invented by the editor instead of the author, and coming in handy to fill up a vacant page. It is, to my mind, incredible that a public so every way different from that of the Mechanic's Institute, and to whom mere information is likely to be anything but attractive, should be genuinely solicitous to learn that 'Needles were first made in England in Cheapside, in the reign of Queen Mary, by a negro from Spain;' or that 'The family name of the Duke of Norfolk is Howard, although the younger members of it call themselves Talbot.'

Even the remonstrance of 'Our Correspondence Editor' with a gentleman who wishes to learn 'How to manufacture dynamite' seems to me artificial; as though the idea of saying a few words in season against explosive compounds had occurred to him, without any particular opportunity having really offered itself for the expression of his views.

There are, however, one or two advertisements decidedly genuine, and which prove that the readers of penny fiction are not so immersed in romance but that they have their eyes open to the main chance and their material responsibilities. 'ANXIOUS TO KNOW,' for example, is informed that 'The widow, unless otherwise decreed, keeps possession of furniture on her marriage, and the daughter cannot claim it;' while SKIBBS is assured that 'After such a lapse of time there will be no danger of a warrant being issued for leaving his wife and family chargeable to the parish.'

As when Mr. Wilkie Collins made his first voyage of discovery into these unknown latitudes, the penny journals are largely used for forming matrimonial engagements, and for adjudicating upon all questions of propriety in connection with the affections. 'It is just bordering on folly,' 'NANCY BLAKE' is informed, 'to marry a man six years your junior.' In answer to an inquiry from 'LOVING OLIVIA' whether 'an engaged gentleman is at liberty to go to a theatre without taking his young lady with him,' she is told 'Yes; but we imagine he would not often do so.'

Some tender questions are mixed up with others of a more practical sort. 'LADY HILDA' is informed that 'it is very seldom children are born healthy whose father has married before he is three-and-twenty; that long engagements are not only unnecessary but injurious; and that washing the head will remove the scurf.' 'LEONE' is assured that 'it is not necessary to be married in two churches, one being quite sufficient;' that 'there is no truth in the saying that it is unlucky to marry a person of the same complexion;' and that 'a gentle aperient will remove nettle-rash.'

'VIRGINIE' (who, by the way, should surely be VIRGINIUS) is thus tenderly sympathised with:

'It does seem rather hard that you should be deprived of all opportunity of having a tete-a-tete with your betrothed, owing to her being obliged to entertain other company, although there are others of the family who can do so; still, as her mother insists upon it, and will not let you enjoy the society of her daughter uninterrupted, you might resort to a little harmless strategy, and whenever your stated evenings for calling are broken in on that way, ask the young lady to take a walk with you, or go to a place of amusement. She can then excuse herself to her friends without a breach of etiquette, and you can enjoy your tete-a-tete undisturbed.'

The photographs of lady correspondents which are received by the editors of most of these journals are apparently very numerous, and, if we may believe their description of them, all ravishingly beautiful. It is no wonder they receive many applications of the following nature:

'CLYDE, a rising young doctor, twenty-two, fair, with a nice house and servants; being tired of bachelor life, wishes to receive the carte-de-visite of a dark, fascinating young lady, of from seventeen to twenty years of age; no money essential, but good birth indispensable. She must be fond of music and children, and very loving and affectionate.'

Another doctor:

'Twenty-nine, of a loving and amiable disposition, and who has at present an income of L120 a year, is desirous to make an immediate engagement with a lady about his own age, who must be possessed of a little money, so that by their united efforts he may soon become a member of a lucrative and honourable profession.'

How the 'united efforts' of two young people, however enthusiastic, can make a man an M.D. or an M.R.C.S. (except that love conquers all things) is more than one can understand. The last advertisement I shall quote affects me nearly, for it is from an eminent member of my own profession:

'ALEXIS, a popular author in the prime of life, of an affectionate disposition, and fond of home, and the extent and pressing nature of whose work have prevented him from mixing much in society, would be glad to correspond with a young lady not above thirty. She must be of a pleasing appearance, amiable, intelligent, and domestic.'

If it is with the readers of penny fiction that Alexis has established his popularity, I would like to know how he did it, and who he is. To discover this last is, however, an impossibility. These novelists all write anonymously, nor do their works ever appear before the public in another guise. There is sometimes a melancholy pretence to the contrary put forth in the 'Answers to Correspondents.' 'PHOENIX,' for example, is informed that 'The story about which he inquires will not be published in book form at the time he mentions.' But the fact is it will never be so published at all. It has been written, like all its congeners, for the unknown millions and for no one else.

Some years ago, in a certain great literary organ, it was stated of one of these penny journals (which has not forgotten to advertise the eulogy) that 'its novels, are equal to the best works of fiction to be got at the circulating libraries.' The critic who so expressed himself must have done so in a moment of hilarity which I trust was not produced by liquor; for 'the best works of fiction to be got at the circulating libraries' obviously include those of George Eliot, Trollope, Reade, Black, and Blackmore, while the novels I am discussing are inferior to the worst. They are as crude and ineffective in their pictures of domestic life as they are deficient in dramatic incident; they are vapid, they are dull. Indeed, the total absence of humour, and even of the least attempt at it, is most remarkable. There is now and then a description of the playing of some practical joke, such as tying two Chinamen's tails together, the effect of the relation of which is melancholy in the extreme, but there is no approach to fun in the whole penny library. And yet it attracts, it is calculated, four millions of readers—a fact which makes my mouth water like that of Tantalus.

When Mr. Wilkie Collins wrote of the Unknown Public it is clear he was still hopeful of them. He thought it 'a question of time' only. 'The largest audience,' he says, 'for periodical literature in this age of periodicals must obey the universal law of progress, and sooner or later learn to discriminate. When that period comes the readers who rank by millions will be the readers who give the widest reputations, who return the richest rewards, and who will therefore command the services of the best writers of their time.' This prophecy has, curiously enough, been fulfilled in a different direction from that anticipated by him who uttered it. The penny papers—that is, the provincial penny newspapers—do now, under the syndicate system, command the services of our most eminent novel writers; but Penny Fiction proper—that is to say, the fiction published in the penny literary journals—is just where it was a quarter of a century ago.

With the opportunity of comparison afforded to its readers one would say this would be impossible, but as a matter of fact, the opportunity is not offered. The readers of Penny Fiction do not read newspapers; political events do not interest them, nor even social events, unless they are of the class described in the Police News, which, I remark—and the fact is not without significance—does not need to add fiction to its varied attractions.

But who, it will be asked, are the public who don't read newspapers, and whose mental calibre is such that they require to be told by a correspondence editor that 'any number over the two thousand will certainly be in the three thousand'?

I believe, though the vendors of the commodity in question profess to be unable to give any information on the matter, that the majority are female domestic servants.

As to what attracts them in their favourite literature, that is a much more knotty question. My own theory is that, just as Mr. Tupper achieved his immense popularity by never going over the heads of his readers, and showing that poetry was, after all, not such a difficult thing to be understood, so the writers of Penny Fiction, in clothing very conventional thoughts in rather high-faluting English, have found the secret of success. Each reader says to himself (or herself), 'That is my thought, which I would have myself expressed in those identical words, if I had only known how.


The desire for cheap holidays—as concerns going a long distance for little money—is no doubt very general, but it is not universal. It demands, like the bicycle, both youth and vigour. In mature years, not only because we are more fastidious, but because we are less robust, the element of cheapness, though always agreeable, is subsidiary to that of comfort. For my own part, if the chance were offered me to travel night and day for forty-eight hours anywhere—though it was to the Elysian Fields—and that in a Pullman car, and for nothing, I would rather go to Southend at my own expense from Saturday to Monday. Suppose the former journey to be commenced by a Channel passage and continued in a third-class carriage, I would rather stop at home. Or if, in addition to the other discomforts, I am to be a unit among 100 excursionists, with a coupon that insures my being lodged on the sixth floor everywhere, I had rather take a month's quiet holiday in London at the House of Detention.

These things are matters of taste; but it is certain that a very large number of people, who, like myself, are neither rich nor in a position which justifies them in giving themselves airs, consider quiet, comfort, and the absence of petty cares the most essential conditions of a holiday. These views necessitate some expense and generally limit the excursions of those who entertain them to their native land; but, on the other hand, they have their advantages. They give one, for example, a great experience in the matter of hotels.

As I idly flutter the yellow leaves of the advertisements of inns in 'Bradshaw,' they call up pictures in my mind quite undreamt of by the proprietors. I have been a sojourner in almost all of these which are described as 'situated in picturesque localities.' They are all—it is in print and must be true—'first-class' hotels; they have most of them 'unrivalled accommodation;' not a few of them have been 'patronised by Royalty,' and one of them even by 'the Rothschilds.' These last, of course, are great caravanserais, with 'magnificent ladies' drawing-rooms' and 'replete' (a word that seems to have taken service with the licensed victuallers) 'with every luxury.' They make up (a term unfortunately suggestive of transformation) hundreds of beds; they have equipages and 'night chamberlains;' 'On y parle francais;' 'Man spricht Deutsch.' Of some of these there is quite a little biography, beginning with the year of their establishment and narrating their happy union with other agreeable premises, like a brick and mortar novel. I remember them well: their 'romantic surroundings' or 'their exclusive privilege of meeting trains upon the platform;' their accurate resemblance to 'a gentleman's own house' (with 'a reception-room 80 feet by 90 feet'); their 'douche and spray baths;' their 'unexceptionable tariff;' and even their having undergone those 'extensive alterations,' through which I also underwent something, which they did not allow for in the bill.

These hotels are all more or less satisfactory as to appearance; furnished, not, indeed, with such taste, nor so lavishly, as their rivals on the Continent, but handsomely enough; they are much cleaner than foreign inns; and if their reference to 'every sanitary improvement which science can suggest' is a little tall, even for an advertisement, one never has cause to shudder as happens in some places in France proper and in Brittany everywhere. Though it must be admitted that tables d'hote abroad are not the banquets which the travelling Briton believes them to be, our own hotel public dinners are inferior to their originals, and, what is very hard, those who pay for an entertainment in private suffer from them. The guest who happens to dine later than the table d'hote in his own apartment can hardly escape getting things 'warmed up;' and if he dines at the same time he has nobody to wait on him. There is one thing that presses with great severity on paterfamilias—the charge which is made at many of the large hotels of 1s. 6d. a day for attendance on each person. Half a guinea a week for service is a high price even for a bachelor; but when this has to be paid for every member of the family, it is ruinous. Young ladies who dine at the same table and do not give half the trouble of 'single gentlemen' ought not to be taxed in this way. It is urged by many that since attendance is charged in the bill,' there should be no other fees. But the lover of comfort will always cheerfully pay for a little extra civility; nor do I think that this practice—any more than that of feeing our railway porters—is a public disadvantage. The waiter does not know till the guest goes whether he is a person of inflexible principles or not, and, therefore, hope ameliorates his manners and shapes his actions to all. As to getting 'attendance' out of the bill, now it has once got into it, that I believe to be impossible. There it is, like the moth in one's drawing-room sofa. And yet I am old enough to remember how poor Albert Smith plumed himself on the benefit he bestowed upon the public, as he had imagined, by introducing a fixed charge for all services and doing away with 'Please, sir, boots.' In this country, and, to say truth, in most others, 'Please, sir, boots,' is indigenous and not to be done away with. We did very much better under the voluntary system, although a few people who did not deserve it, but simply could not afford to be lavish, were called in consequence 'screws.'

To pay the wages of another man's servants is absurd, and reminds one of the 'plate, glass, and linen' that used to be charged for at the posting-house on the Dover road with every threepenny-worth of brandy-and-water, I have been asked 6d. for an orange (when oranges were cheap) at a London hotel, upon the ground that they never charged less than 6d. for anything; and I have read of 'an old established and family hotel' near Piccadilly, where the charge for putting the Times upon a guest's breakfast-table was 6d. up to this present year of grace. 'Gentlemen and families had always been supplied with it at that price,' said the landlord, when remonstrated with, 'and it was his principle, and his customers approved it, to keep things as they were.' It must be admitted, however, that matters have changed for the better in this respect elsewhere; and, at all events, the printed tariff that may now be consulted in every modern hotel enables you to know what you are spending.

Things are improved, too, in the way of light and air; both the public and private rooms of our hotels are far more cheerful and better appointed than they used to be, and instead of the four-posters there are French beds. The one great advantage that our new system possesses over the old is, indeed, the sleeping accommodation. The 'skimpy' mattress, the sheet that used to come untucked through shortness, leaving the feet tickled by the blanket, and the thin, limp thing that called itself a feather bed, are only to be found in ancient hostelries.

On the other hand, it must be confessed that the food has deteriorated; the bill of fare, indeed, is more pretentious, but the materials are inferior, and so is the cooking. The well-browned fowl, with its rich gravy and the bread-sauce that used to be its homely but agreeable attendant, has disappeared. The bird appears now under a French title, and is in other respects unrecognisable; as an Irish gentleman once explained it to me, it is not only that the thing appears under an alias, but the alias comes up instead of the thing. There is one essential which the old hotel often omitted to serve with your chicken, and which the new hotel supplies—the salad. This, however, few hotel cooks in England—and far less hotel waiters—can be trusted to prepare. Their simple plan is to deluge the tender lettuce with some hateful ingredient called 'salad mixture,' poured out of a peculiarly shaped bottle, such as the law now compels poisons to be sold in; and the jewel is deserving of its casket—it is almost poison. Nor, alas! is security always to be attained by making one's salad for one's self. For supposing even that the lettuce is fresh and white, and not manifestly a cabbage that is pretending to be a lettuce, how about the oil? Charles Dickens used to say that he could always tell the character of an inn from its cruets; if they were dirty and neglected, all was bad. The cruets are now clean enough in all hotels of pretension; but alas for that bottle which should contain (and perhaps did at some remote period contain) the oil of Lucca! On the fingers of one hand I could count all the hotels in England which have not given me bad oil. Whether it was never good, or whether it has gone bad, I leave to those philosophers who investigate the origin of evil. I only know that it tastes as hair-oil smells. As to the soups, they are no worse than they used to be, and no better; there is soup and there is hotel soup.

'Gravy soup, fried sole, entree, leg of mutton, and apple tart' used to be the unambitious menu of the old-fashioned inn. The entree was terrible, but the fish, meat, and sweet were excellent. I will say nothing of the entrees now; I am not in a position to say anything, for not being of a sanguine temperament, and having but a few years to live, I do not venture upon them. But it is undeniable that our bill of fare is greatly more varied than it used to be, and that the way in which the table is arranged is much more attractive. At the great hotels in the neighbourhood of London where rich, or at all events prodigal people, go to dine in the summer months, this is especially the case. All these establishments affect fine dinners, yet how seldom it is they give you good ones! Their wines, though monstrously dear, are very fair; indeed, of the champagnes at least you may make certain by looking at the corks; but the food! How many of their fancifully named dishes might be included under the common title, Fiasco!

It was once suggested to a decayed man of fashion that an excellent profession for him to take up would be the proprietorship of an hotel of this class. 'You know what is really worth eating,' said an influential friend of his, 'and these caterers for your own class evidently don't; if you will undertake the management of the Mammoth (naming an inn of very high repute), I will furnish the funds.' But the man of fashion, who had spent his all with very little to show for it, had at least acquired some knowledge of his fellow-creatures. 'I am deeply obliged to you,' he said, 'but were I to accept your offer I should only lose your money. There are but a very few people in the world who know a good dinner when it is set before them; and a very large class (including all the ladies, who are only solicitous about its looking good) do not care whether it is good or bad. In private life if a dinner consists of many courses, is given at a fine house, and is presumably expensive, nineteen-twentieths of those who sit down to it are satisfied. The twentieth alone says to himself, 'How much better I should have dined at home!' I have been at scores and scores of great dinner-parties where the very plates were cold and nobody but myself has observed it.'

I have no doubt the gentleman of fashion was right; delicate cooking would be entirely thrown away upon the general palate. The fair sex, the young, the hungry, the easy-going, the ignorant—how large a majority of the 'frequenters' of hotels do these classes embrace! And it must also be remarked that to cook food (except whitebait) delicately in large quantities is a very difficult operation indeed.

Upon the whole, I think, our large hotels, 'arranged on the Continental system,' are well adapted for those who frequent them, and they show a readiness to adopt improvements. An immense number of well-to-do people go to Brighton, to Scarborough, and scores of other places to get a change and fresh air, but also to find the same amusements to which they have been accustomed in London; and, on the whole, they get what they want without paying very much too much for it. But what drives many quiet folks abroad is their disinclination to meet with all this gaiety and public life; they do not mind it so much when it is mixed with the foreign element, and they are also under the impression that picturesque scenery is a peculiarity of the Continent. I believe that more English people have visited Switzerland than have seen the Lake District and the Channel Islands, and very many more than have travelled in North Devon and Cornwall. The chief reason of their abstinence in this respect is, however, their dread of the want of 'accommodation.' To the last two counties, with the exception of some towns, such as Ilfracombe, approachable by sea, or a direct railway route, folks never go in crowds, and never will go. It is true there are no mammoth hotels to be found there; but for picturesque situation and a certain homely comfort, that takes one not only into another world, but another generation, there is nothing equal to certain little inns in these out-of-the-way places. In Wales also, and even in the Isle of Wight, there are perfect bowers of bliss of this description, still undesecrated by the excursionist. Not ten years ago, in a part of North Devon which shall be nameless, I came, with my wife and daughter, upon an inn of this description. We were all enraptured with the exquisite beauty of its situation, and were so imprudent as to express, in the presence of the landlady, our wish to live and die there. 'Well, indeed, sir,' she said, 'I am delighted to see you, but I hope you are not going to stay very long.' 'My dear madam,' I remonstrated, aghast at this remark, 'are we, then, such very objectionable-looking persons?' 'Bless your heart, no, sir, it isn't that; but the fact is, we have only room for three, and if parties come and come, and always find us full (through your being here, you know), they will think it is no use coming, and we shall lose our custom.' We did stay on, however, a pretty long time—it was a place of ineffable beauty, such as one parts from almost with tears—and when on our departure I asked for my bill, the landlady said, 'Dear me, sir, would you kindly tell me what day you come upon, for I ha' lost my account of it?' The life we led at that inn was purely pastoral; the clotted cream was of that consistency that it was meat and drink in one; but although the fare was homely, it was good of its kind, and admirably cooked. There was fresh fish every day—for we were too far from railways for that Gargantuan ogre, 'the London market,' to deprive us of it—and tender fowls, and jams of all kinds such as no money could buy.

The landlady had a genius for making what she called 'conserves,' and every cupboard in the queer little house was filled with them. In the sitting-room was a quantity of old china and knick-knacks, brought by the sailors of the place from foreign lands; the linen was white as snow, and smelt of lavender. Outside the inn was a sea that stretched to Newfoundland, and cliffs that caught the sunset—such scenery as is not surpassed by that of the Tyrol (though, of course, in a very different line), and be sure I was afraid of no comparison between our 'Travellers' Rest' and any Tyrolean inn. It is noteworthy that this hostelry of ours was so peculiarly and picturesquely placed that it could only be approached on foot, which reminds me of another place of entertainment for man, but not for beast.

In appearance, 'The Strangers' Welcome' (as I will take leave to term it) is more ambitious than 'The Rest,' but it is of the same simple type. In some respects it is even more primitive; no sign hangs over its door, nor is any other symbol of its vocation visible, 'Liberty,' not 'License,' as one may say without much metaphor, being its motto. It is on an island, so insignificant in extent that horse exercise is impossible on it. What it lacks in superficial area is more than made up, however, in its stupendous height. From the 'Welcome,' though it lies in a dell, one looks down perhaps a hundred sheer feet upon the ocean. Its solemn murmur, even in calm, always reaches the place, and when in storm, its spray. As one watches it from the lawn among the fuchsias, one scarcely knows which mood becomes it best. The fuchsias grow against our walls and tap at our window-panes in the morning as though they were roses; they even make their homes in the rocks, like the conies. The island is a very garden of fuchsias, tall as trees; and there are no other trees. The 'Welcome' itself is a sort of farmhouse without the farm; there is a goat or two and a donkey to be seen about it, which would account for the milk having an alien flavour, if it had one. But the 'Welcome' has excellent milk, so that there must be some cows somewhere. From the cliff-top you may see Alderney, for our inn is among the Channel Islands. When a storm comes you must stop where you are; for until the last waves of it have ceased there is no approach to us from the world without. To the stranger it seems probable at such seasons that the little place will burst up from below, for beneath it are caverns innumerable, filled with furious waves like sea monsters roaring for our lives. The sea, in short, has honeycombed it, and renews her vows to be its ruin with every gale. Yet the 'Welcome' lasts our time, and will last that of many generations, who will continue, however, doubtless to believe that the sublimities of Nature are unattainable short of Switzerland.

My memory now transports me to a mountain district in the north, but on this side of the border; and here, again, the inn is signless, and has no appearance of an inn at all. It is situated on the last of a great chain of hills, with lakes among them. It has lawns and shrubberies, but few flowers; Nature frowns on every hand, even in sunshine, when the waterfalls flow like silver, and the crags are decked with diamonds. There are no 'trencher-scraping, napkin-carrying,' waiters in the house, but country damsels attend upon you, and a motherly dame, their mistress, expresses her hope every morning that you have slept well. If you have not, it is the fault of your conscience: you have had a poet's recipe for it, for you have been 'within the hearing of a hundred streams' all night. Will you go up the Fells, or will you row on the Lake? These are your simple alternatives; there is no brass band, no promenade, no pier, no anything that the vulgar like. Yet once a week at least a great spectacle can be promised you without crossing the inn threshold (indeed, when the promise is kept it is better to be on the right side of it)—a thunder-storm among the hills. The arrangements for lighting the place, of which you may have complained, not without reason, are then in perfection, and the silence is broken with a vengeance. It is difficult to imagine the grandeurs of a sham-fight—a battle without corpses—but here you have them. First the musketry, then the guns, with the explosion of the powder-magazine—repeated about forty times by the mountain echoes—at the end of it. When all is over you sit down to such a supper as Lucullus would have given a year of life for, and which, in all probability—for he had no prudence—would have shortened it for him. At the 'Retreat,' as it is called, among other native delicacies, they give you fresh char cooked to a turn. I like to think that this was the fish that Monte Christo had sent him in a tank to Paris on the occasion of a certain banquet; but all the wealth of the Indies could not have accomplished that; the char (in spite of its name) does not travel.

One more reminiscence of country inns; and, though I have more of them in the picture-gallery of my memory, I have done. I conjure up an ivy-covered dwelling, long roofed but low, and sheltered by a lofty hill. Its situation is quite solitary, and, save for the cry of the seagull, there reigns about it an unbroken silence. It is on the very highway of the world, but the road is noiseless, for it is the sea. From the windows, all day long, we can watch the ships pass by that carry the pilgrims of the earth, for their freight is chiefly human. It is here 'the first ray glitters on the sail that brings our friends up from the under world, and the last falls on that which sinks with all we love below the verge.' Even at night there is no cessation to this coming and going; only, a red light or a white, and the distant strokes of a paddle-wheel in the hush of the moonless void are then the sole signs of all this motion. What hopes and fears contend in unseen hearts under those moving stars! Is it nothing to have the opportunity to watch them from the ivied porch of the 'Outlook,' and to welcome the thoughts they arouse within us? On land, too, there are stars, not made in heaven, but their shining is intermittent. As I lie in my bed I can see the great revolving light on the farthest point of rock that juts to sea. That is the 'Outlook's' watchman, not of much use to it, indeed, in a practical way, but imparting a marvellous sense of guardianship and security.

The chief means of amusement at inns of this kind is supplied by science in the telescope. You note through it all that comes and goes, and after a day or two can tell-for yourself whither each stately ship is bound, or whence it comes. At the 'Outlook' the food is plain, but good; the prawns in particular (which the young people, by-the-bye, can catch for themselves) are of an exquisite flavour, and in size approach the lobster. Twice a week for four hours this earthly Paradise is as a town taken by assault and given over to pillage. An excursion steamer stops at the little pier and discharges a cargo of excursionists. But those to whom the happiness of their fellow-creatures is intolerable can withdraw themselves at these seasons to the neighbouring Downs and Bays, and on their return they will find peace with folded wing sitting as before on the 'Outlook's' flagstaff.

Such are the inns which I have known, and there are hundreds in beautiful England like them. On its rivers in particular there are many charming little inns, but, to say truth, although the gentlemen-fishermen are as quiet as mice (from their habits of caution in their calling), the disciples of the oar are noisy; they get up too early and go to bed too late, and are too much addicted to melody. Moreover, these houses of entertainment often carry the principle of home production to excess: their native fare is excellent; but, spring mattresses not growing in the neighbourhood, the stuffing of the beds is supplied, to judge by results, from the turnip-field. For the purpose for which they are intended, however, these little hostels are well fitted and have a river charm that is indescribable.

I could speak, too, of excellent hotels set in the grounds of ruined castles or abbeys; but the attractions of the latter interfere with the repose of the visitor. Moreover, it has been my chief object, while admitting the merits of the Crown (and) Imperial, to paint the lily—to point out the violet half hid from the eye. It seems to me a pity that so many persons should leave their native land and spend their money among foreigners through ignorance of the quiet resting-places that await them at home. I have in no way exaggerated their merits, but it must be confessed that they have one serious drawback, which, however, only affects bachelors; if Paterfamilias is troubled by it he ought to be ashamed of himself. I allude to the happy couples on their honeymoon whom one is wont to meet with in these retired bowers. It is aggravating, no doubt, to see how Angelina and Edwin devote themselves to one another without the slightest regard for the feelings of the solitary stranger. The poor creature has no wish, of course, to thrust his company upon them, still he would like to have his existence acknowledged; and they ignore it. They have not a word to throw to him, nor even a glance. Then there are certain endearments, delightful, no doubt, to those who exchange them, but which to the spectator are distraction. What I would recommend to the bachelor as a remedy is a wife of his own. The good Mussulman's idea of future happiness is a perpetual honeymoon; and these little Paradises are the very places to spend it in. The customs of our own country forbid the agreeable variety which has such charms for the Faithful; but, even as it is, I have seen in these pleasant inns a great deal of human happiness, such as to the sober lover of his species only adds to their attraction.


It is a common thing to hear the remark expressed by much-tried mistresses that servants are not 'reasonable beings.' The observation may either have been provoked by the misbehaviour of some particular domestic, or by the injudicious defence of the class by one of the male sex. For the gentlemen have more to urge in favour of our domestics than the ladies have, and, as the latter maintain, for a very obvious reason—'they have much less to do with them.' The statement is cynical, but correct. So long as a man finds his clothes brushed and his meals well and punctually cooked, he 'does not see much to complain of,' nor does he give much thought to the pains and trouble which even that moderate amount of service entails upon his wife. Unless in great households, where everything is delegated to a paid housekeeper, it is, indeed, certain that ladies who are resolved to keep a house as it should be have, now, from various causes, a very hard time of it. The old feeling of feudal service, though a few examples—both mistresses and servants—may still exist of it, is dead; and in its place we have the employer and the hireling. There are faults, of course, on both sides; mistresses are accustomed to look upon their servants too much as machines, and in the working thereof do not, perhaps, estimate sufficiently the advantages of the use of sweet oil; while servants are more prone to 'eye-service' than were ever the housemaids of Ephesus. Which of the two began it I cannot tell, but a certain antagonism has grown up between these two classes which shakes the pillars of domestic peace. At the root of it all, as at the root of most evils, lies ignorance, and in the servants' case ignorance of a stupendous nature.

I have had in my household an under-nurse, who, upon the family's leaving town for a short holiday, was enjoined to see that the birds in the nursery (canaries) were well supplied with sand. When we came back we found them all starved to death. She had given them sand, but, alas! no seed. This was a girl from the country, who, one would think, would have known what birds fed upon; otherwise one does not expect much intelligence from Arcadia. When our last importation (an under-housemaid) 'turned on the gas' in the upper apartments as she was directed to do, but omitted to light it, I thought it very excusable; she had not been accustomed to gas. On the other hand, when her mistress told her to 'look to the fire' of a certain room, I contend we had a right to expect that that fire should be kept in. It was not so, however, and when the lady inquired, 'Why did you not look to it, as I told you?' the girl replied, 'Well, I did, mum; the door was open and I looked at the fire every time I passed.' She appeared to attach some sort of igneous power to the human eye.

Each of these young ladies came to us very highly recommended by the wife of the clergyman of her native place. Surely, in the curriculum of the village school, something else beside the catechism ought to have been included; yet, of the things they were certain to be set to do—the merest first principles of domestic service—they had been taught nothing; and in learning them at our expense they cost us ten times their wages.

It may be said, indeed, that when you employ a young girl who has never been out to service before, you secure honesty, chastity, and sobriety, and must not look for the artificial virtues; but, unhappily, things are not very much better when you engage an experienced hand. The lady of the house should not, of course, expect too much (in these days she must be of a very sanguine temperament if she falls into that error); she will think it necessary to warn the new arrival—although she 'knows her place' and is 'a thorough housemaid'—that a velvet pile carpet, for example, should not be brushed backwards. But on more obvious matters she will probably leave the 'thorough housemaid' to her own devices, the result of which is that the boards beside the stair-carpets are washed with soda the first morning, which takes the dirt off effectually—and the paint also. An hour or two before she was caught at this, she has, perhaps, utterly spoilt a polished grate or two by rubbing them with scouring paper instead of emery powder.

Paterfamilias feels these things when he has to pay the bill, but his wife feels them in the meantime, and it is more than is to be expected of human nature that she can welcome cordially such an addition to her household. A prejudice against the girl springs up in her mind, which is very promptly responded to, and the mutual respect that ought to grow up between them is nipped in the bud. I am sorry to say that good housewives are almost always opposed to having servants well educated; they think that 'knowledge puffs up,' blows them above their places, and encourages a taste for light literature which is opposed to the arts of brushing and cleaning. What the 'higher education' of domestic servants is to be under the School Boards I know not; but I hope they will not imagine, as the Universities do, that their duty is only to teach their pupils how to educate themselves. I confess I agree with the housewives, that, for young persons intended for service, reading, writing, and arithmetic, with the use of the scrubbing and hearth brushes, are far preferable acquirements to those of the same three great principles with the use of the globes. Whether there are any handbooks in existence, other than cookery books, to teach the duties of servants I know not; but, even if there are, servants will never read them of their own free will. Not one in a hundred has a sufficiently strong desire to improve herself for that. They must be taught like children, and when they are children, if any good is to come of it.

It is to me astounding, and certainly makes me very suspicious of the advocates of women's rights, that they have done little or nothing in this direction. Why should not some of that immense energy which is now expended on platforms be directed into this less ambitious but more natural channel? There are tens of thousands of persons of their own sex, not indeed out of employment, but who are obtaining employment on false pretences, who would do so honestly enough if they had had but a little early training. Unfortunately, the ladies of the platform do not in general stoop to such small things as domestic matters; they do not care about mere comfort, they even perhaps resent it because it is so dear to tyrannous man. If they would only turn their attention to the education of their humbler sisters, they would win over all their enemies and put to shame the cynic who has associated Man's Lefts with Women's Rights.

The only School for Servants I am acquainted with sent us the worst we ever had, and if it had not been for the very handsome fee it charged both us and her for our mutual introduction, I should not have recognised it as an educational establishment at all.

It will naturally be said by men (not by their wives, for they know better), 'But surely self-interest will cause a servant to qualify herself for a place, since, having done so, she will command better wages.' This is the mistake of the political economists, who, right enough in the importance they attach to self-interest, gravely err in supposing it to be always of a material kind. They start with the idea that everybody wants to make as much money as possible. So they do; but with a large majority this desire is subordinate to the wish for leisure and enjoyment. Trades unionism, with all its faults, is founded on this important fact in human nature—that many of us prefer narrow means, with comparative leisure, to affluence with toil. That this notion, if universal, would destroy good work of all kinds and make perfection impossible, is beside the question, or certainly never enters into the minds of those chiefly concerned in the matter. 'A good day's work for a good day's wage' is a fine sentiment; but 'half a day's work for half a day's wage' suits some people even better; while 'half a day's work for a good day's wage' suits them better still. In old times the sense of 'service being no inheritance' begat habits of good conduct as well as thrift, for in most well-conducted households, servants' wages were made proportionate to their length of service. But nowadays a lady's promise of raising a servant's wages every year is quite superfluous, since it is ten to one against her keeping her for the first twelve months. It is no wonder, then, that while the conviction of service being of a temporary character is, at least, as strong as ever, the course of conduct it now suggests is to make as much as possible out of it while it lasts, in the way of perquisites, etc. With our cooks, especially, it is not too much to say that wages are often a secondary object as compared with the opportunity of making a purse for themselves; and the recognised privilege of selling the dripping affords cover for a multitude of petty delinquencies which if not positive thefts have a strong family resemblance to them.

Before leaving the subject of short terms of service, it should be noted that the modern servant openly avows her love of change. An excellent mistress, and a very kind one, has told me that housemaids and kitchenmaids have given her warning again and again for no other cause than this. They have avowed themselves quite happy and contented in their place, but they want 'fresh woods and pastures new.' When Jack Mytton was reminded by his lawyer that a certain estate he was about to sell had been in his family for 500 years, he replied, 'Then it's high time it should go out of it;' and the same reflection occurs to our Janes and Bessies. They have been in their present situation a year perhaps, or two at most—indeed, two years is considered in the world below stairs the extreme point for any person of spirit to remain under one roof—and it is high time they should leave it. One would naturally think that, in the case of young women at all events, they would be slow to exchange even a moderately comfortable place for a home among strangers; that they would bear the ills they know of, even if ills exist, rather than venture on those of which they know nothing; but this is far from being the case. Nor do they even quit their place in order 'to better themselves.' They have absolutely no reason except the love of change. Behaviour of this sort naturally gives some colour to the remark already quoted that servants are not 'reasonable beings.' I was almost a convert to that opinion myself when, on one occasion, having asked a female domestic to be good enough to put my boots on the tree, she literally obeyed my order. She hung all my boots on the tree in the garden, and it was very wet weather. But to young persons who come from the country everything is pardonable—except 'temper.'

The growth of this parasite in both town and country is, however, quite alarming. Little as mistresses dare to say to the disadvantage of servants when leaving their employment, no matter for what reason, they do sometimes remark of them that their temper is 'uncertain.' When this happens and the fact is communicated to Jane or Betsy by the lady to whom they have proposed themselves, they have one invariable method of self-defence: 'Temper, mum? Well, I 'ave my faults, I daresay, but not that; all as knows me knows my temper is 'eavenly. But the fact is, mum, Mrs. Jones [her late mistress] was a bit flighty.' And she touches her forehead, and even sometimes winks, to indicate aberration of the intellect. A really good-tempered servant is now rare; and there are very few who will bear 'speaking to' when their work is neglected or ill-done.

What, however, always puts them in the highest good humour is an expensive breakage. When Susan comes to say, 'Oh, please, mum, I've 'ad a haccident with the pier glass,' her face is wreathed in smiles. To a mistress who cannot relieve her feelings by strong language, as a man would do, this behaviour is very aggravating. If servants do not actually delight in these misfortunes, I am afraid not one in twenty shows the least consideration for her employer's purse. It is charitable to say, when Thomas or Jane leaves the gas burning all night, or the sun-blinds out in the pouring rain, that they have 'no head;' but it is my experience that they are very careful, and, indeed, take quite extraordinary precautions, with respect to their own property. I am afraid that the true reason of the waste and extravagance among servants is that they have no attachment to their employers, and of course it is less troublesome to be lavish than to be economical. All the education in the world cannot make selfish persons unselfish; but it can surely implant in them some sense of duty. At present, so long as a servant is not absolutely dishonest, her conscience rarely troubles her. This is especially the case with our cooks, who also—that 'dripping' question making their path so slippery—draw the line between honesty and its contrary very fine indeed.

Moreover, they know less of what they pretend to know than any other class of servant. The proof of this is in the fact that not one in a hundred of them will cook you a dinner on trial. I have often said to a cook, 'Your character is satisfactory enough in other respects; but, before engaging you, will you show what you can do by sending up one good dinner, for which I will pay you at the ordinary rate—namely, half-a-guinea?' She won't do it; she says she can cook for a prince, and affects to be hurt at the proposition. The consequence is that for a month, at least, we are slowly poisoned. Once only I hired a cook who accepted these terms. I am bound to say she sent us up a most excellent dinner, but when I sent for her to pay the half-guinea she was dead drunk on the kitchen floor. She had taken a bottle of port wine and one of stout while serving up that entertainment, and afterwards confessed that during her arduous duties she required 'constant support.' Again, it is by no means unusual for cooks to succeed to admiration for a week and then to begin to spoil everything, the proverb respecting a 'new broom' applying, curiously enough, even more to them than to the 'housemaids.'

These observations are no doubt severe, but they are not unjust; nor do I for a moment imply that servants are always to blame, and never mistresses. There are faults on both sides. Ladies often show themselves as 'unreasonable' as their female domestics. For example, although very solicitous for the settlement of their own daughters in life, they often do not give sufficient opportunities for their maid-servants to find husbands. A girl in service is quite as anxious to get a husband as her young mistresses, and, indeed, it is of much more consequence for her to do so. She sees her youth slipping away from her in a place where no 'followers' are allowed, and it is no wonder that she 'wants a change.' She has a right to have her holidays and her 'Sundays out,' and it is the mistress's duty not only to grant them, but to make some inquiry as to how she spends them. Many ladies who go to church with much regularity never take the smallest interest in the moral conduct of those to whom they stand, morally if not legally, in loco parentis, and who may, perhaps, have no other adviser.

Mistresses of all ranks, too, show a lamentable want of principle in the matter of character-giving. It wants, no doubt, a certain strength of mind to write the truth. 'The girl is going, thank Heaven,' they say to themselves, and they are glad to get rid of her, without a row, at the easy price of a small falsehood. They lay the flattering unction to their souls that they are concealing certain facts in order 'not to stand in the way of the poor girl's future.' What they are really doing is an act of selfishness, cruel as regards the lady who is trusting to their word, and baneful as regards the public good. It is the good characters which make the bad servants. In a certain primitive district of England, where ministers are 'called' from parish to parish, one of the churchwardens of X complained to the churchwardens of Y that his late importation from the Y pulpit was not very satisfactory. 'And yet,' he said, 'you all cracked him up enormously.' 'Yes,' replied the churchwarden of Y, 'and you will have to crack him up too before you get rid of him.'

Now, it is only ignorance which causes ladies to believe that there is any necessity to 'crack up' the character of a servant. They are not obliged (though, of course, if the servant has behaved well it would be infamous to withhold it) to give her any character at all, and they may state the most unpleasant truth (if they are quite certain of the fact and can prove it) without the least fear of an action for libel. The law does not punish them for telling the truth about their servants, and in another matter also it is more just than it is supposed to be. There is a superstition among servants that when leaving their situations before their time is out they have a right to claim board wages, and that even when dismissed for gross misconduct they have a right to their ordinary wages for the remainder of the month; but these are mere popular errors. The only case with which I am acquainted where neither of these dues was demanded was rather a curious one. A widow lady advertised for a cook and a housemaid, and procured them by the first cast of her net. They came together with an open avowal of their previous acquaintanceship; they were attached to one another, they said, and did not wish to be in separate service, and wages were not so much an object to them as opportunities of friendship. The lady, who had an element of romance in her, was touched with this expression of sentiment; it was also a great convenience to her to be so quickly suited; and, their characters being good, she engaged them. They had come from a house of much greater pretensions than her own, and had taken higher wages, which might have attracted her suspicions; but she had very little work for them to do, and she concluded that 'an easy place' had had its attractions for them. Her servants were well treated and well fed, and were allowed to see their friends; but she objected to evening visits, and required the back door to be locked and the key placed in her possession at nine o'clock every evening. If the front door was opened she could hear it from every part of her modest residence (and, being very nervous, she used often to fancy that it opened when it did not), while a wire for the use of the policeman connected the ground-floor with an alarm bell in her own room in case of fire or other contingency. The two servants had been six days with her when this alarm bell was pealed one night with great violence. She looked out of window, and beheld a cab laden with luggage standing at her door. She expected nobody; but whoever had come was more welcome than 'thieves' or 'fire,' and she went up to the maid's room to bid them answer the door. She found to her great astonishment—for it was two in the morning—the apartment empty, and while she was there the alarm-bell sounded again with increased fury. Looking over the balusters, she perceived a light in the hall and inquired who was there. 'Well, it's us two,' returned the cook, 'we're just agoin, so good-bye. It ain't at all the sort o' place for us, and you ain't the sort o' missis.' Then there was a shout of laughter, the front door was opened and slammed to, and the cab drove off with its tenants, leaving their mistress to her lonely meditations. The two friends had come on trial, it seemed, and had had enough of it.

That they made no claim for wages of any kind seems quite curious when one considers what sort of servants, and in what sort of circumstances, do demand them. And, as a rule, masters and mistresses give in to the extortion. Yet the law is on their side, nor have they any reason to complain of it in other respects. The improvement that is needed is in themselves, and in their relations to those in their employment. Our young ladies are so engaged in their accomplishments and their amusements that they have no time to acquire a knowledge of domestic affairs, so that when they marry they know no more of a housewife's duties than their husbands. No wonder men of moderate means shrink from marriage when wives have become a source of discomfort and expense, instead of their contraries, and have lost the name of helpmate. How can they be in a position to teach their servants when they themselves are grossly ignorant of what they would have them learn? There are certain village schools, indeed, which profess to train their pupils for domestic service, but they only teach them to be maids-of-all-work, the least remunerated and the hardest-worked of all the daughters of toil. They offer no premium to diligence and perfection.

This state of things is very hard both upon mistresses and servants, but it is not irremediable, and the remedy must come from the upper of the two classes. Schools are as necessary for servants as they are for other people; they must be taught their calling before they can practise it; and schools for servants must therefore be instituted. With schools will come certificates of merit, and servants will then be paid for what they can really do, and not, as now, in proportion to their powers of audacity of assertion.


The subject of men-servants is by no means of such universal interest as that of maid-servants, and those who suffer from them are not only less numerous, but less deserving of pity; as a lady of limited means once put it in my hearing, 'They can better afford to be robbed and murdered' On the other hand, whatever truth may be in the dogma that where a woman is bad she is worse than a bad man, it is certain that when a man-servant is bad he can do more mischief than a bad maid-servant. In many cases he is a necessity, not because folks are rich, but because they have large families, and the service is consequently too heavy to be undertaken solely by women. I have known many householders who, weary of the trouble and annoyance given by men-servants, have resolved to engage only those of the other sex, and who have had to resort to men-servants again for what may be called physical reasons.

When this happens, however, both master and mistress should agree to the arrangement, or at all events be both informed that it has been made. Only last autumn a lady friend of mine adopted it in the absence of her husband abroad, and forgot to apprise him of it by letter. He arrived home late at night, and, letting himself in with a latch-key, took the strange man for a burglar, and was almost the death of him by strangulation before he could explain that he was the new butler.

No woman can bring up a luncheon or dinner tray for a dozen people twice a day without sooner or later coming to grief with it. And here it is appropriate to say that in places where there is much heavy work it is only reasonable that wages should be higher than where the work is light. Whereas, upon such irrational grounds is our whole system of domestic service built, that this is hardly ever taken into consideration. Since the servant is told beforehand what he or she will have to do, it is taken for granted that the conditions are acceptable to them; whereas, the fact is that the capability of performing their duties is the very last thing to enter their minds. They cannot afford to remain 'out of a situation,' and therefore take the first that offers itself as a stopgap, with no more intention of permanently remaining there than a European who accepts an appointment in Turkey, and with the same object—namely, to make as much as possible out of the Turks in the meantime.

In the case of a man-servant, especially in London, no written character should ever be held sufficient. A personal interview with his late master or mistress is indispensable. This gives a little trouble, no doubt, on both sides; but those who grudge it, for such a purpose, must indeed be grossly selfish, and when they engage a ticket-of-leave man for their butler get no worse than they deserve. One of the best butlers, however, I ever knew was a ticket-of-leave man—engaged on the faith of a written character, which was, of course, a forged one, and who remained with his employer no less than eighteen months. If his speculations on the turf had been successful, he might have parted with him the best of friends, and perhaps have purchased a residence in the same square; but something went wrong with the brother to Bucephalus, whom he had backed for the Derby, and the poor man had to dispose of the whole of his master's family plate to pay his own debts of honour and defray his travelling expenses—probably to some considerable distance, as the police could never hear of him. The risk in taking a butler without a personal guarantee of at least his honesty and sobriety can indeed hardly be exaggerated. If a clever fellow, his influence over his fellow-servants of the other sex is very great, and it is a recognised maxim of the class never 'to tell upon one another' so long as they remain good friends. I have heard an experienced housewife say there is nothing she dreads so much as an unbroken harmony below stairs; like silence in the nursery, it is ominous of all sorts of mischief.

Of course, the ticket-of-leave man was an extreme case; but it is certain that some butlers who are not thieves are always treading on the very confines of roguery. They are like trustees who, though they will not touch the principal entrusted to them, not only omit to put it out to the best advantage, but will sometimes even pocket a portion of the interest 'for their trouble.' I remember reading a curious case of this sort. A gentleman who had been with his family in Switzerland for nine months was met by a London acquaintance on his return, who expressed his regret at his having been in trouble at home. 'Nay, I have been in no trouble,' he replied, 'and, indeed, none of us have been at home.' 'But a month ago when I was passing down your street I surely saw a funeral standing at your door?' Nor had his eyes deceived him. The butler in charge had let the house for a couple of months, and but for his singular ill-luck in one of his tenants happening to die during their temporary occupation of it, he would have pocketed the rent (minus the money requisite to keep the maids' mouths shut) and his master would have been none the wiser. It is said that it is only when we have lost a friend that we come to value him at his true worth; and it is certain that it is only when one's butler has left us and the tongues of his fellow-servants are loosened that we come to learn his demerits—the difference between his real character and his written one. If he is a rogue, his evil influence remains behind him, and, next to the maidservants, it is the page who suffers most from it. He becomes—poor little fellow!—almost by necessity an accessory to his delinquencies, plays pilot-fish to the other's shark, and himself grows up to swell the host of bad servants and that army of martyrs their masters and mistresses.

A common cause of a butler's ruin, and for which he is much to be pitied, is his having married unfortunately. I had once a good servant whom I was very loth to lose, but whose departure became necessary from his constantly being visited by a wife in advanced stages of intoxication. Housewives generally prefer a married man for their servant, for reasons that are not inscrutable. I do not wish to differ from such good authorities. But though I have no objection to my butler being married, I do object to maintain his wife, which, if he be on good terms with the cook, there is a strong probability of my having to do. As to his own eating, Heaven forbid that I should grudge it to him; but it is curious and utterly subversive of all medical dogma that both men-servants and maidservants, who take, of course, comparatively little exercise, should, nevertheless, contrive to eat more apiece for dinner than two average Alpine climbers. Four meals a day, and three of them meat meals, is their usual rate of sustenance, and the food must not only be frequent and plentiful, but very good. It is a gratifying proof of the rapid influence of civilisation that the daughter of a farm-labourer, accustomed at home to consider bacon a treat and beef a windfall, will, after a month's experience of her London place, decline to eat cold meat of any kind, reject salt butter as 'not fit for a Christian,' and become quite a connoisseur as to the strength of bitter ale. Indeed, two of our present female domestics are 'recommended' to drink claret because beer makes them bilious. I do not mind giving them claret, but I think it hard that under such circumstances I should have had a butler give me warning because the female domestics are 'not select enough.' My own impression is, though I scarcely like to mention it, because he was a married man, that he considered them too plain.

The reasons, or at all events the professed reasons, which servants give for leaving their situations are sometimes very curious. One man left a family of my acquaintance because he said he was interfered with by the young ladies. 'Good gracious, what do you mean?' inquired his mistress. Her daughters, it appears, were accustomed to arrange the flowers for the dinner-table, whereas, as he imagined, he had a peculiar gift for that kind of decoration himself.

On the other hand, it is sometimes difficult for a sensitive master or mistress to give the true reason for their parting with a servant. A friend of mine had a footman who, through trick, or some defect in his respiratory organs, used to blow like a grampus, and indeed more like a whale, while waiting at table. It was not a vice, of course, but it was very objectionable, and guests who were bald especially objected to it. My friend consulted with his butler, who admitted that 'John did blow like a pauper' (meaning, as I suppose, a porpoise), and undertook to break the subject to him. It is quite common to find candidates for service very deaf, and if they contrive to pass their 'entrance examination' (for which no doubt they sharpen their faculties), they stay with you for a month at least with an excellent excuse for making it a holiday, since, whatever you tell them to do they cannot hear and do not do it, or do something else which they like better. Mistresses who are silent about moral disqualifications are much more so, of course, about physical ones, and have no scruples in ridding themselves of a deaf man.

The worst class of men-servants, perhaps, are those who are said to 'require a master;' which means that when he happens to be not at home they neglect everything. A friend of mine who happened to take a week's holiday, alone, discovered on his return that his family might almost as well have had no servant at all as the man he left with them; he was generally out, and when at home had not even troubled himself to answer the drawing-room bell. Some men-servants are always running out; they have 'just stepped round the corner,' they say, 'to post a letter;' which in nine cases out of ten means to have a dram at the public-house. The servants who 'require a master' sometimes retain their situation with a very selfish one by devoting themselves to his service at the expense of the rest of the family. 'John suits me very well,' he says, 'and thoroughly understands his duties,' which in this case means the length of the master's foot.

On the other hand, there are some men-servants who, one would think, ought to belong to the other sex, so utterly ignorant they are of that branch of their duty which they call 'valeting.' A lady blessed with a scientific husband, who certainly did not take much notice whether he was 'valeted' or not, once complained to his man of his neglect in this particular. 'When your master comes in, William, you should look after him, and see to his hat and coat, and pay him little attentions.' So the next time the man of science came in he was not a little surprised by William (who, it is fair to say, came from the country) running up and taking his hat off his head, like some highly-trained retriever. Happy the master to whom a worse thing has never happened at the hands of his retainer!

The main thing to be dreaded in men-servants—next to downright dishonesty—is, of course, intoxication. If a man has been long in one's service and gets drunk for once and away, it may well be forgiven him; but when your new servant gets drunk, wait till he is sober enough to receive his wages, and then dismiss him—if you can. Not long ago I had occasion to discharge a butler for habitual intoxication; he was never quite drunk, but also never quite sober; he was a sot. I made him fetch a cab, and saw his luggage put upon it, and I tendered him his month's wages. But he refused to leave the house without board wages. Of course, I declined to pay him any such thing; and, as he persisted in leaning against the dining-room door murmuring at intervals, 'I wants my board wages,' I sent for a policeman. 'Be so good,' I said,' as to turn this drunken person out of my house.' 'I daren't do it, sir,' was the reply; 'that would be to exceed my duty.' 'Then, why are you here?' 'I am here, sir, to see that you turn the man out yourself without using unnecessary violence.' 'The man' was six feet high and as stout as a beer-barrel. I could no more have moved him than Skiddaw, and he knew it. 'I stays here,' he chanted in his maudlin way, 'till I gets my board wages.' Fortunately, two Oxford undergraduates happened to be in the house, to whom I mentioned my difficulty, and I shall not easily forget the delighted promptitude with which they seized upon the offender and 'ran him out' into the street. He fled down the area steps at once with a celerity that convinced me he was accustomed to being turned out of houses, and tried to obtain re-admission at the back-door. It was fortunately locked, but when I said to the policeman, 'Now, please to remove that man,' he answered, 'No, sir; that would be to exceed my duty; he is still upon your premises and a member of your household.' As it was raining heavily, the delinquent, though sympathised with by a great crowd round the area railings, presently got tired of his position and went away. But supposing my young Oxford friends had not been in the house and he had fallen upon me (a little man) in the act of expulsion; or supposing I had been a widow lady with no protector, would that too faithful retainer have remained in my establishment for ever?

I have purposely addressed myself to that large class of the community only who are said 'to keep a man-servant'—that is, one man, assisted, perhaps, by a page. Those who keep butler, footman, coachman, grooms, and valets are comparatively few in number, and know nothing of the inconveniences which their less wealthy fellow-countrymen endure. In large establishments, if William is drunk, John is sober, and the work is done for the rich man by somebody; especially, too, if William is drunk, there are John and Thomas to turn him out of the house and have done with him. But it is certain that the lower Ten Thousand are not in a satisfactory condition as respects their men-servants; hardly more so, in fact, than the Hundred Thousand are in regard to their maids. The men-servants, however, are not so ignorant of their duties as are the latter, and if only their masters would have the courage to tell the truth when giving them their 'characters,' there would be a great improvement in them. Against the masters themselves (unlike the mistresses) I have never heard much complaint. Most of them object to be 'bothered' and 'troubled,' and are willing enough to put everything into their man's hands, including the key of the Cellar, if only they could trust him; but at present, alas! this is a very large 'If.'


If cards are the Devil's books, Whist is the edition de luxe of them. Whist-playing is one of the few vices of the upper classes that has not in time descended to the lower, with whom the ingenious and attractive game of 'All Fours' has always held its own against it. I have known but two men not belonging to the upper ten thousand who played well at whist. One was a well-known jockey in the South of England, who was also, by the way, an admirable billiard-player. He called himself an amateur, but those who played with him used to complain that his proceedings were even ultra-professional. On the Turf men are almost as equal as they are under it, and this ornament of the pigskin would on certain occasions (race meetings) take his place at the card-table with some who were very literally his betters, while others who had more self-respect contented themselves with backing him. The other example I have in my mind was an ancient Cumberland yeoman, who, having lost the use of his limbs in middle life from having been tossed by a bull, pursued the science under considerable difficulties. A sort of card-rack (such as Psycho uses at the Egyptian Hall) was placed in front of him, and behind him stood his little granddaughter who played the cards for him by verbal direction. Both these men played a very good game of the old-fashioned kind, for though the jockey used subtleties, they were not of the Clay or Cavendish sort. The asking for trumps was a device unknown to him, though there were folks who whispered he would take them under certain circumstances without asking, and of the leading of the penultimate with five in the suit it could be said of him, for once, that he was as innocent as a babe.

Of course, many persons join the 'upper ten' who come from the lower twenty (or even thirty), and it need not be said that they are by no means inferior in sagacity to their new acquaintances; yet they rarely make first-rate players. Whist, like the classics, must be learnt young for any excellence to be attained in it. Of this Metternich was a striking example. If benevolent Nature ever intended a man for a whist-player one would have supposed that she had done so in his case, but had been baffled by some malign Destiny which had degraded him to that class by whom, in conjunction with Kings, it was fondly believed, previously to the recent general election, that 'the world was governed.' Until late in life he never took to whist, when he grew wildly fond of it, and played incessantly, till it is said a certain memorable event took place which caused him never to touch a card again. The story goes that, rapt in the enjoyment of the game, he suffered a special messenger to wait for hours, to whom if he had given his attention more promptly a massacre of many hundred persons would have been prevented. Humanity may drop a tear, but whist had nothing to regret in the circumstance; for in Metternich it did not lose a good player, and, what redeems his intelligence, he knew it. 'I learnt my whist too late,' he would say, with more pathos and solemnity, perhaps, than he would have used when speaking of more momentous matters of omission.

He must be a wise man indeed who, being an habitual whist-player, is aware that he is a bad one. In games of pure skill, such as chess, and, in a less degree, billiards, a man must be a fool who deceives himself upon such a point; but in whist there is a sufficient amount of chance to enable him to preserve his self-complacency for some time—let us say, his lifetime. If he loses, he ascribes it to his 'infernal luck,' which always fills his hands with twos and threes; and if he wins, though it is by a succession of four by honours as long as the string of four-in-hands when the Coaching Club meets in Hyde Park, he ascribes it to his skill. 'If I hadn't played trumps just when I did,' he modestly observes to his partner, 'all would have been over with us;' though the result would have been exactly the same had he played blindfold. To an observer of human nature, who is not himself a loser 'on the day,' there are few things more charming than the genial, gentle self-approval of two players of this class who have just defeated two experts, and proved, to their own satisfaction, that if fortune gives them 'a fair chance' or 'something like equal cards,' as they term the conditions of their late performance, they can play as well as other people.

Of course, the term 'good-play' is a relative one; the player who wins applause in the drawing-room is often thought but little of in places where the rigour of the game is observed; and the 'good, steady player' of the University Clubs is not a star of the first magnitude at the Portland. The best players used to be men of mature years; they are now the middle-aged, who, with sufficient practical experience, have derived their skill in early life from the best books. 'It is difficult to teach an old dog new tricks,' and for the most part the old dogs despise them. When I hear my partner boast that he is 'none of your book-players,' I smile courteously, and tremble. I know what will become of him and me if fortune does not give him his 'fair chance,' and I seek comfort from the calculation which tells me it is two to one against my cutting with him again. How marvellous it is, when one comes to consider the matter, that a man should decline to receive instruction on a technical subject from those who have eminently distinguished themselves in it, and have systematised for the benefit of others the results of the experience of a lifetime! With books or no books, it is quite true, however, that some men, otherwise of great intelligence, can never be taught whist; they may have had every opportunity of learning it—have been born, as it were, with the ace of spades in their mouth instead of a silver spoon—but the gift of understanding is denied them; and though it is ungallant to say so, I have never known a lady to play whist well.

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