Friday, September 25, 2009

"Laws Respecting Servants"

"Laws Respecting Servants"

from The Servants' Guide and Family Manual, 2nd edition, 1831

I have just turned up, quite by chance, some very interesting laws--"abstracts of Acts of Parliament respecting servants"--in the above-mentioned item found on Google Books. It is interested to note that the abstracts lean heavily towards charges and punishments for offenses committed by servants, and barely mention crimes against servants.

Here are some extracts:

"A servant setting fire carelessly to a house, is liable to pay, on the oath of one witness, 100₤ to the sufferer, or be committed to prison and hard labour for 18 months.

If a servant refuse to serve his term, he may be committed till he give security to service the time; or he may be sent to the House of Correction, and punished there as a disorderly person.

Should a woman with child hire herself for a term, and the master she hires with know not of her being with child, he may discharge her, but before a magistrate.

If a servant, after warning is given, is insolent, or refuses to do his duty, a magistrate, on complaint, will commit him to prison for the time he has to serve; but the master will be order to pay him his wages whilst there.

No agreement a servant shall make with his master to his disadvantage whilst he is under the age of 21, shall operate against him.

If any servant shall purloin, or make away with his master's goods to the amount of 40s. it is felony.

A servant may stand up in his master or mistress's defence, and assault any one that assaults them, without being liable to any punishment by law.

Whatever trespasses a servant commits, by order of his master, the master is answerable for it, not the servant.

Masters are justifiable in insisting on their servants going to church.

Servants gaming at a public-house with cards, dice,…etc. are liable to be apprehended, and forfeit from 5s. to 20s., one-fourth to the informer, or be committed to hard labour for a month, or till the penalty is paid.

If any servant shall curse or swear, and be convicted on the oath of one witness, before one justice, within eight days of the offence, he shall forfeit 1s. for the first offence, 2s if convicted a second time, and 3s. the third time; or be committed to hard labour for ten days.

Every person convicted of having been drunk, within six months of the complaint made, before one justice, on the oath of one witness, shall forfeit 5s. for the first offence, or be set in the stocks for six hours.

Servants pawning their master's goods without orders, shall forfeit 20s. and the value of the goods so pawned, or be sent to the House of Correction for three months, and publicly whipped."

Punishments are harsh--one would expect fines and gaol terms, but hard labour, stocks and even public whipping seem extreme to a modern sensibility. But these were times when you could be hanged for public theft. Perhaps the punishments visited on wayward servants were considered lenient. What do you think?

'Til next time,


Friday, September 18, 2009

The Regency Dance

Before society was overtaken by electronic amusements--television, films, computer games, and the ubiquitous handheld gadgets, people were adept at making their own amusements. Card games, charades, word games, and puzzles abounded. For the musically inclined, playing instruments and singing were a popular way of passing the time. For those with more energy and high spirits, there was dancing.

From the formalities of the minuet and the quadrille through the occasional intricacies of the contre or country dance to the romping jigs and reels, people danced. At the height of the Revolution in France, dancing clubs were popular.
At dancing parties, and dancing schools, with dancing masters and dancing manuals, Regency society danced. And they talked about dancing:

"As dancing is the accomplishment most calculated to display a fine form, elegant taste, and graceful carriage to advantage; so towards it, our regards must be particularly turned; and we shall find that when Beauty, in all her power, is to be set forth, she cannot chuse a more effective exhibition.

"The characteristic of an English country-dance is that of gay simplicity. The steps should be few and easy; and the corresponding motion of the arms and body unaffected, modest, and graceful.

"But with regard to the lately-introduced German waltz, I cannot speak so favourably….There is something in the close approximation of persons, in the attitudes, and n the motion, which ill aggress with the delicacy of woman,…"

So says "Regency Etiquette: The Mirror of Graces (1811) a reprint from R. L. Shep Publications ISBN 0-914046-24-1
Edward Austen-Leigh, Jane Austen's nephew, commented on dancing: "The stately minuet reigned supreme; and every regular ball commenced with it….Gloves immaculately clean wee considered requisite for its due performance, while gloves a little soiled were thought good enough for a country dance; and accordingly some prudent ladies provided themselves with two pairs for their several purposes."

Even poetry inclined to the dance in the book (available for download from Google Books), "The Ball, or A Glance at Almack's in 1829" by G. Yates:

"'Tis Dancing only heightens every charm,
And gives each feature double power to warm;
Like goddesses, it shows us how to move,
And adds a Juno to the Queen of Love."

Mr. Yates further offered:
"To dance as if a person had passed all his life in the study of it, a man of sense should be ashamed of: yet to be totally ignorant of it, and the grace and comportment which, by learning it, is acquired, shows a man of learning either an ill-natured stoic, or ill-bred pedant."

And Jane Austen, as always, may have the final word:

"...To be fond of dancing is a certain step towards falling in Love... "- Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Do you enjoy dancing? Do you square dance? It is a direct relative of the 'contre-danse'. Have you tried Regency dancing? Some cities have Regency dance clubs--I wish mine did!

'Til next time,


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Regency Domestics - A Good Life?

During the Regency, all domestic—household—work was labour-intensive. Household servants were commonplace; every home with any claim to gentility had at least one servant. According to Samuel and Sarah Adams (see below) with an income of one hundred pounds per year, ”a widow or other unmarried lady, may keep a Young Maid Servant, at a low salary; say from five to ten guineas a year.” With an income of one thousand pounds per year, expectations increased. Such a household would employ “A Cook, two House-Maids, a Nursery-Maid, or other Female Servant; a Coachman, Footman, and a Man to assist in the Stable and Garden.” Every extra hand lightened the work load, and incidentally increased the prestige of the household—to everyone’s satisfaction.

Guidebooks for domestic servants were available. Elizabeth Hammond’s Modern Domestic Cookery of 1819 contained a section headed “Directions to Servants”. In its introduction, Mrs. Hammond advises “The principal qualification in all servants (but especially in females) is a good disposition, which naturally urges them to anxiously endeavour to give universal satisfaction;...”

For a further three pages, she admonishes and counsels upon the following suggestions:

“Be particularly careful what acquaintance you form;...”

"Invariably speak the truth...”

“Be humble and modest...”

“Never speak lightly of your master and mistress...”

“Carefully avoid quarrels with your companions...”

“Endeavour to acquire the habit...of being contented with their homes.”

Good advice no doubt, but also fostering and reinforcing a certain sort of subservience.

In 1825 after a lifetime of service Samuel Adams, a butler, in cooperation with his wife Sarah, a housekeeper, produced “The Complete Servant”. It was their opinion that such a handbook had never before existed-- “The want of such a manual of duty and practice having often been noticed in servants’ halls,...”. As both Sarah and Samuel had started in service at a young age and ‘risen through the ranks’ as it were, they knew whereof they spoke, and offered all their experience to newcomers.

The Adamses’ in their Dedication “Respectfully Addressed to the Heads of Families in the United Kingdom” go so far as to make suggestions to the master of the house regarding costs and economies of the household, and to the mistress of the house regarding handling of servants.

Nevertheless they too, in their “Advice to Servants in General” lapse into a sort of moral admonishment that sounds patronizing to modern ears. It is sometimes difficult to remember that the Regency was a different time, with a unique world view and ideas now foreign to us. That an employer or a contemporary could advise another with such arrogance is a strange idea to us. Yet the education level and the naivety—the innocence and the ignorance--of many of the servant class must have made these instructions seem necessary and right to their ‘superiors’. As with Elizabeth Hammond, the Adamses' heap advice upon counsel:

“Your wages are the yearly pay for your honesty, and your time;...”

“Dress as becomes your station, if you desire to please your employers,...”

“Be very careful of your reputation for virtue and discretion in regard of the other sex;...”

“Intemperance or excess is a pleasurable evil,--it...enchants and destroys.”

“The virtue of silence is highly commendable,...”

The role of the domestic servant in the English home had a long, long history. During the Regency, no one could have foreseen that in one hundred years the institution of ‘service’ would be threatened, and that in one hundred and fifty years it would all but have disappeared.

Another time we will discuss the individual duties of the various servants. The amount of work they were assigned was as staggering as the moral precepts heaped upon them. The Adamses’ lists of servants’ duties and their instructions on careful and proper fulfilment of the tasks are thorough and complete. In the end analysis, with so much advice, how could a servant ever go wrong?

Til next time,


Friday, September 4, 2009

Regency Faery Bower

I came across a book on my bookshelves the other day that I had not looked at for a while. It is a charming thing titled "A Regency Lady’s Faery Bower" subtitled ‘A Private View of Fairyland: Amelia Jane Murray 1800-1896'. The book was published in 1985 by Holt Rinehart in hardcover, ISBN 0-03-006109-1. It is copyrighted by April Agnew-Somerville who is apparently the current owner of the faery drawings.

Amelia Jane Murray was known as Emily by her family, and a very prestigious family it was. She was the niece of the Duke of Atholl who was at the time the Governor of the Isle of Man. As her father died when she was five, Emily grew up on Man in a privileged position at Mount Murray and later Castle Mona.

Emily was instructed in drawing, sketching and watercolours as was every proper Regency lady, and her work has echoes of Canova, Bewick and Flaxman. She drew these fairies in her twenties in the 1820s before the Victorian vogue for fairies began. There was an interest in fairies during the Regency fostered by Scott’s ‘Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border’ and the 1815 Brothers Grimm stories, but certainly Emily was in the vanguard of the fashion for fairies.

Emily Murray’s fairies are certainly perfect little Regency ladies. They have that 'Look' of the Regency which I discussed in my blog of March 26, 2009. Their gowns display classical simplicity, and their diaphanous scarves appeared in fashion plates of the day. She had no text with her paintings; in this book appropriate poems and excerpts have been added to the drawings to add to the reader’s enjoyment. The watercolours were executed on fine pasteboards surrounded by embossed borders, a delicate enhancement produced by a new process of gauffrage.
When she married in 1829 Emily quit fairy painting, and produced little artwork for the rest of her long life. Her album of fairy paintings was a family memento for several generations until its publication. Her drawings are now recognized as important additions to the genre of British fairy painting.
If you love the Regency and delight in fairies, you must seek out this out of print book. It seems to be fairly easily available through on-line out of print book dealers. You won’t regret it, I promise you.

Do you believe in fairies? I do...

Till next time,