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Echoes of the Week

The Illustrated London News, vol. 47, no. 1335, p. 286.

September 23, 1865


..."More Last Words" from Mr. John Ruskin have appeared on the vexed question of domestic servitude; but all the brilliant rhetoric, subtle argument, and overflowing illustrations, from classical authors and others, of an accomplished scholar and earnest thinker will not, I am afraid, enable Materfamilias to cut the "gordian knot." A lady, writing to a contemporary, and taking a purely Church-catechism view of the question, places it, I must confess, in a very practical light; and her reasoning, fifty years since, would have been held irrefragable. The poor, she points out (quoting Scripture), are never to cease out of the land; the poor must not expect the luxuries which riches only obtain; servants belong to the poor--ergo, they should know their stations, refrain from pining after "luxuries," and think a holiday once a month quite sufficient. In a word, they should be content to do their duty "in that state of life into which it has pleased God to call them." But what is the state of life into which anybody is called? Who, by the help of industry, education, and good conduct, does not hope to rise above his origin? Is the ambition to rise a sin? The grandfather of the first Sir Robert Peel was a day-labourer. Should his descendants be contented to remain in the "state of life" into which their grandsire was "called"? An American girl will very rarely condescend to be a servant at all; but when she does enter a household as a "help" it is merely with the desire to save up enough money to purchase a wedding trousseau. One Transatlantic "help" I knew went away and married a shoddy millionaire; and I saw her afterwards, all ablaze with diamonds, at the New York Academy of Music. The Catechism view was very tersely formulated by Mr. Dickens in "The Chimes:"--

Oh! let us love our occupations,
Live upon our daily rations,
Bless the Squire and his relations,
And always know our proper stations.
The good lady on whose letter I have enlarged states that she has had twenty years' experience in teaching and training girls for servants, providing them with situations, keeping up a correspondence with them, and inviting them annually to a tea-party; but it does not appear to hare struck her that, as the facilities for education increase and as servants become better educated, exactly in a proportionate ratio do they become ambitious to do something better than wait at table, clean the knives, and make the beds, with "a day out" once a month, and "no followers allowed."...

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