The Servant's Behaviour Book

Or, Hints on Manners and Dress for Maid Servants in Small Households

By Mrs. Motherly. Bell and Daldy, 186, Fleet Street, London. B. Clay, Printer, Bread Street Hill, London. 1859.

To My Readers,

My dear girls,

Every rule in this book is necessary to a girl entering a gentleman's family. Some of the things I shall tell you will be known to many of you, and some will seem new and strange; but all are equally important, if you wish to be well-behaved and agreeable servants. If you neglect to observe the rules I shall teach you, you will always be awkward, and fit only for common places and low wages; but if you learn and practise them, you will be able to rise higher as your domestic knowledge and abilities improve. Many a thoroughly good servant is kept all her life in inferior places, solely by the want of good manners; and many a servant of small abilities is advanced to a better position merely on account of her good breeding.

Do not think because some of these directions seem strange to you, that you will be noticed and looked at for observing them. All good servants do the things which I advise you to do, and all ladies are accustomed to see them done. You are much more likely to be watched and wondered at for neglecting these rules, than for obeying them.

I dare say some of them will seem so simple, that you will laugh, and say, “The lady need not to have told us that.” Now, believe me, when you have been in place a few years, they will all seem so. They all seem so now to me; so do not suffer yourselves to fancy I am telling you to do anything uncommon, or likely to call attention to you. I have taught a great many young girls to be good servants, and they have often said to me, “Oh, ma'am, I shall be ashamed to do this; every one will look at me!” After a little while the thing has become quite natural, and they have laughed at themselves for ever thinking it strange. One girl thought it seemed ill-tempered not to talk every time she came into the drawing-room with a coal-scuttle or a letter, and could scarcely be taught to come in quietly. Another thought it looked foolish to bring in money or letters on a tray, because conveying them in the hand was so much more simple. Another thought it sounded foolish to say “Sir” or “Ma'am” every time she spoke to a gentleman or lady. Now, I cannot tell which of my rules may be new to you; but I can only say that none are so to experienced servants, or to ladies. I know that none, however, are too simple to be useful to some of you, as I have learned which will be useful by finding out which I have had to teach to young girls in my own service.

Study them all well, then. When you find one that you already know, be thankful to your parents or other guardians who have taught you what others have had to learn from a mistress. When you find a direction that is new to you, be careful to put it into practice directly, before your employers shall have discovered your ignorance of it; and remember that every fresh rule you learn and observe, makes you a better servant.

Believe me, my dear girls, to be,

Your sincere friend,

Mary Motherly.

Chapter 1: Of the Voice and Speaking


This piece of advice cannot be too well remembered. It is needed by almost all young girls on their first entering service, and great is the annoyance thus caused to their employers. Every girl who wishes to live in a gentleman's family must learn, sooner or later, to keep guard over her tongue, and it is best to begin at once, before her neglect has called upon her the reproofs of the family.

In order that you, my readers, may the better understand how to follow out this rule, I will give you a few more particular directions about your voice and speaking, which will help you in those cases where you will, without caution, be most likely to forget yourself. In reading these directions you must remember that they should guide your conduct towards any grown-up lady or gentleman who may be in the house, although for the sake of shortness, I shall generally name only your mistress.


Many young girls who are fond of talking will make a common message an excuse for a long conversation. I had a nursemaid once who did this, and if I tell you how she did it, you will perhaps see how tiresome it must have been, and take care not to fall into the same error.

As I was leaving the nursery one day, Mary made the following speech:-

“If you please, ma'am, as we were turning the corner to-day, round by the Red Lion, Master Willy said to me, “Look, Mary, Fanny has a hole in her boot.” I thought it very odd, but when I looked, ma'am, Miss Fanny was running, and she threw up her feet behind, so I saw a little hole quite plain, ma'am, and it had let a little stone in, and don't you think, ma'am, I might take it over to Mr. Green's to be mended when we go out to-morrow morning?”

Perhaps you see no harm in this; but you will understand how wearisome it was to me to stand listening to this long story, when I remind you that Mary might have said all that was necessary in these few words: “Miss Fanny's boots want mending, ma'am; shall I take them to Mr. Green's to-morrow?”

I will give you one more example, then I am sure you will understand how to avoid this fault of Mary's and of so many young girls. I once asked Mary how her sick father was; she answered,

“I got a letter from mother to-day, ma'am, and she says, it is hard to write while she has so much waiting to do; but father slept a little, and she took the pen just to tell me his eyes looked a little brighter, and he had taken a little of his favourite dish - that's stewed beef, ma'am, - and so she thought at the time that he must be better; and before she sealed the letter, Mr. Turner, - that's the doctor, ma'am, that comes from the club that father pays weekly - he came in, and said father was much better, thank you, ma'am.”

It was very natural for Mary to like to talk of her sick father; yet when she had been with me a few months longer she would not have occupied me so long, because I asked her a simple question. She would have remembered, that however interesting it was to her to know that her father liked stewed beef, or that Mr. Turner was the club doctor, and to dwell on all other particulars that concerned her parents whom she loved, yet, I was not the person to whom she had a right to relate all these things unasked, and would have answered simply, “Thank you, ma'am, I have heard from my mother to-day, and father is much better.”

Never preface any thing you have to say, but say it simply. By prefacing, I mean using some unnecessary beginning, as “I was going to say, ma'am,” “I wanted to ask you, ma'am,” “I have been intending several times to tell you, ma'am,” and so on. Such beginnings are quite useless, and not only consume time, but sound familiar and awkward. It is better to ask, say, or tell, at once, as “Shall I go, ma'am?” “If you please, ma'am, I want some new dusters,” &c. &c. This habit of prefacing grows so much on those who fall into it, that it becomes difficult to them to say anything simply; it should therefore be guarded against at the beginning.

Sometimes a kind mistress will ask questions, and encourage a servant to speak of her family, and her own affairs. There can then be no harm in doing so. But if this should happen to you, remember two things: first, be sure you are careful to talk only as much as you see is agreeable to your mistress, and take the first hint to stop - such as your mistress' changing the subject, or sending you to do, or fetch something, and secondly, never think, because your mistress has chosen to have a little friendly talk with you on one occasion - perhaps while she warmed her hands at your fire, or while you helped her to undress - that she means to throw aside all reserve, and will like you to chat on in the same way another time, without encouragement.

Suppose this conversation takes place down stairs, and your mistress goes away, and soon after rings for tea, do not, when you go up, begin the conversation again; but go in just as quietly as if she had not been talking to you a few moments before. By doing this, you will show her that she may talk kindly and freely to you when she has time and inclination, without fear of making your manner the less respectful to her at other times.

If you are an only servant, this is the more important, as it is very dull for you to have no companion, and a kind mistress, feeling this, will like often to talk to you when she has time to do so; but should she find her kindness makes you familiar, she will soon leave off conversing with you.

I know many ladies who have repented having spoken familiarly to their servants, finding that the girls have misunderstood their kindness, and sometimes have gone so far as to begin talking about their own affairs in the drawing-room. One lady who was thus annoyed, told me that she always took up a book and appeared to read, before she rang the bell, hoping thus to keep the girl from stopping to talk when she came up. I am sure it would have been kind to tell this young creature how improper her conduct was; but the lady did not like to do so, and as even the book did not restrain her, she was sent away. I know she left two good places after this, within a few months, and then went into a small shopkeepers family, where she was remaining when last I heard of her. It is, perhaps, scarcely fair to expect that a lady should take upon herself the trouble of teaching good manners to every servant who may come into her service; but had this girl chanced to meet with a mistress who was willing to take the trouble of speaking to her several times of this, and other similar faults, resulting from the same want of respect to those placed over her, she would not have had to go back from gentleman's families to a common place.

I need scarcely tell you never to speak when you go in to take up coals, lay a cloth, sweep up crumbs, or dust, or to do anything else in a room where a lady or gentleman may be sitting, either alone or with others.

There is, however, one little distinction to be made between your mistress and any other lady. There may be many things you need to ask or to tell your mistress, and when there is something necessary to say, there can be no harm in speaking; but it should be done in a respectful way; not while you are kneeling to sweep, or laying a cloth, but when you have done your work in the room, standing by the door, as I shall tell you by and by. It is also better to speak on any domestic matter when your mistress may chance to be in the kitchen - or even in her bedroom, if you can manage it - rather than when she is in the drawing-room. In the kitchen or bedroom she is more likely to have her thoughts disengaged, and at liberty to attend to domestic concerns; but many occasions will arise when you will need to see your mistress without waiting for such an opportunity, and you will then be obliged to go in to her, and it will not signify much, provided you remember to stay as short a time as possible. You should, in such a case, go in and shut the door, standing by it, and it will be well to begin by saying, “I beg your pardon, ma'am, but will you be so kind as to tell me-” Do not fancy that any lady will think this strange, or stare at you for saying it. It is only common civility. The girls I have with me now, always beg my pardon, or use some such words of apology, if they come in and speak to me unasked. I did not tell them to do so, but they are well behaved, respectful servants, and they feel that it is proper to show me this consideration. If you feel shy at using these words of apology, you may still enter and speak in a gentle and respectful manner which shows you are sensible of intruding, a manner which implies an apology. If your mistress should be with company, it is still less desirable to interrupt her; yet there are cases where even this must be done - but they are very seldom. In such a case you should merely say at the door, “Can I speak to you, ma'am?” and your mistress will come out. No questions must be asked before strangers.

Now I think you will understand what I mean by saying, Never begin to talk to your mistress, unless it be to deliver a message, or ask a necessary question.

Before I pass on to the third rule about speaking, I should like to show you how reasonable this second rule is. It may at first appear to you that there is no reason why you should keep at such a distance from your mistress, or why you should not be allowed to speak as freely to her as to one of your fellow-servants, - that it would be happier for both were you to do so, and that only pride and unkindness can be the cause of such a distinction as I have been drawing. This is not at all the case, as I will show you. Do you know that all the rules I have been teaching to you are taught to many ladies and gentlemen as rich and clever as your own master and mistress? Your master, at your age, probably had some teacher, or some superior in an office or counting-house, towards whom he had to be just as respectful as you ought now to be to him. In all government offices and places where gentlemen are employed, there are heads and governors, who must not be spoken to by those lower in office, except in just such cases as you may speak to those placed over you. Every one in the land has some such superior in station, till you rise to dukes and princes, who are compelled to observe with a king or queen, exactly such strict rules as I have been laying down for you. It would be easy to show you, in every case, why these rules are necessary, but as only your own case concerns you, I will keep to that.

If I were to tell you not to use your mistress' bonnet or shawl, or even her umbrella or scissors, without her permission, you would understand at once the propriety and reasonableness of the direction. I think I can show you that it is just as proper and reasonable to refrain from using her time, without permission. Ladies have been educated in a very different manner to you. They have read many books, have travelled and seen many sights, talked with educated people, and know a great number of things about which you know nothing. It is not likely that you can have anything to say that will amuse or interest a lady. When she talks to you, it is in kindness, and all the pleasure of the talk is on your side. She talks down to your understanding and knowledge, as you do to the understanding and knowledge of a young child, who does not know a hundredth part of what you know. Were you to listen to the conversation of your mistress with her friends, it would often be very dull to you, because the talk would be of books, people, and events of which you have never heard, and would consist of many words you would not understand. Just as their conversation would be dull to you from its cleverness, so is yours dull to your mistress from its simplicity. Many things that appear to you witty and full of fun, would in no way amuse your mistress, but would seem as dull to her as a child's wit to you. When a child throws down a doll, and says, “How funny!” you see no fun, but laugh to please the child; and so the joke that is too clever for the child amuses you, but has no fun in it to the lady whose understanding is much beyond yours. I had a servant once who took every opportunity of repeating to me the jokes of the tradesmen and her friends. Some of them seemed to me only coarse, and others stupid; and I never felt the least amused by any one of them, but only annoyed by the liberty she took in occupying my time with such nonsense. Yet perhaps she thought to entertain me.

There is sometimes a mistress rich but ill-educated. Such a mistress is almost sure to make companions of her servants, because her knowledge and ideas are nearer on a level with theirs. But a sensible girl will with just cause respect most, and like best to serve, the lady whose superior knowledge puts a natural barrier between them. In any case, a servant must rank below her mistress. How much more pleasant it is to give place to one who is really, and at all times, your superior, than to a natural equal, raised by the accident of possessing more money! It then follows, that the lady who always feels and observes a difference between herself and her servants, puts more dignity on them than the mistress who will allow full familiarity, except in the presence of strangers.

But we will suppose for a moment that a servant's conversation could be amusing, and in all respects equal to that of her mistress. In such a case, were she at liberty to speak freely, her mistress would have no rest. Visitors, however pleasant, are very fatiguing for many days together; and few ladies will invite persons to stay in the house continually, and none at times when business, or trouble, or any other cause may exist for making quiet desirable. But were the barrier of which we have been speaking between mistress and servant once removed, no lady could ever secure quiet and solitude. She might refrain from inviting friends, and send her children out, or to the nursery; but servants must be in the house, and at liberty to go from room to room as their work calls them; and if they were to stand chatting at the door whenever the bell was rung, or to enter when they pleased for a gossip, the poor lady would be as ill off as if she were compelled to have three or four perpetual visitors; - how much worse, too, when we add, that these never-failing visitors would be persons whose talk was entirely uninteresting to her, and quite below her understanding!

We will now pass on to the third rule about speaking.


When I say “a low voice,” I do not mean a whisper, which would be worse than the loudest voice, but an undertone.

Nothing can be more ill-bred, than for two servants to laugh and talk in their mistress' presence. I should have thought that no girl of sense would need to be warned of this error, had I not seen very good, and in many respects well-behaved girls, fall into it. Rose was with me for some time, but I could never completely cure her of this failing, and two or three others similar to it. The consequence is, that she has never risen to a high place. Though as regards her work she is a first-rate servant, yet she could never stay long in gentlemen's families, from the uncouthness of her manners; while Mary, the chatterbox, who cured her faults of manner before she left me, though an indifferent servant as regards work, being delicate and rather slow, is now earning very high wages as parlour-maid, in a family where two carriages are kept.

I do not mean that Rose, after being chidden once or twice, talked and laughed loud in my presence; but merely that she still continued to speak unnecessarily and freely to her fellow-servants while I was in the room. I will show you what I mean. I was once ill, and lay on the sofa for a few moments while my bed was being made by Rose and Mary. I asked Mary, “Has Baby had her new food today?”

Mary. - “Yes, ma'am.”

I. - “Did she like it without sugar?”

Mary. - “Yes, ma'am; pretty well.”

Rose. - “What! did she eat it without sugar?”

Mary feeling the impropriety of talking with Rose in my room, and yet not liking to make her no answer, nodded her head quietly, and I said again, “I should like to kiss her before she goes to bed.”

Rose to Mary. - “She is gone, isn't she?”

Mary, not answering Rose, turned to me and said, “She is in bed, ma'am.”

This little conversation will show you, by Rose's example, what to avoid, and, by Mary's example, how to behave, if a young girl who does not know better speaks to you when a lady is present.

The same rule applies to children, and to any person of your own station, as a laundress or a charwoman, who may chance to speak to you freely when ladies are present.

I must, however, point out to you that, in some cases it is necessary to ask or answer a question. Suppose, in making the bed, Rose misses a pillow, she will properly say, “Mary, have you moved the pillow?” and Mary will, with propriety, answer, “No; but I saw nurse with it in her hand. I think it must be on the sofa,” or whatever else may lead to the finding of the pillow; but this will be in a quiet voice, and in as few words as possible.

Children are often very troublesome in talking to servants when they are laying a cloth, sweeping up crumbs, &c. Sometimes, if a child says, “Look at this!” or, “Oh, Mary, mamma has given me this!” you may nod and smile; but if questions are asked you by children, or a long story told, the best way is to appear not to hear. The child will probably receive a check from some one in the room, and will, in any case, soon learn that it is of no use to speak to you at such times. You may also yourself, when alone with the child, ask him not to talk to you when ladies and gentlemen are in the room, saying that you do not like to disturb them by talking yourself.

Suppose a child asks a question to which a nod or a smile will be no answer, and persists in asking it again and again, and is not checked by anyone in the room, it is best to go up to it and say in a low voice, “I will tell you another time,” or anything else that will answer the purpose.

A nursemaid, when in the nursery, may be much more free in speaking to children with the lady present, as it is understood then that her business is to attend to them; but her own good sense will show her that she should still say but little, and defer all stories, songs, and noises to the baby, till her mistress is gone; and that though she may answer questions, or speak to the children, she should do so in a quiet voice, and keep as much as she can in the background, leaving her mistress to enjoy the company of the children undisturbed.


If two servants meet, or are at work together, on a staircase or landing, or any place from which their voices may be heard in adjoining rooms - as under windows, in anterooms, &c., they should never converse. It is excessively annoying to those who are in the house to hear a hum of voices, and still worse, should the talking be nearer, to hear the conversation. When it is necessary to speak in such places, it should be in a low voice and few words. No rule is more often neglected than this by common servants, and no rule more strictly observed by servants accustomed to good places.

In a small house, where the kitchen is within hearing of the sitting rooms, be careful to shut the door before you begin to talk; and even then, avoid loud talking and laughing, as the murmur of it goes through the walls, and is very annoying to the family.

In a small house, remember also not to talk to friends or tradesmen at the street-doors. On opening to a friend who is coming in, say only, “How do you do?” or some few words, and save all talk till you are in the kitchen, and the door is shut. Never go along the hall and stairs talking.

I am sure you will see the propriety of this rule. Were servants to laugh and talk about the house, they would subject the family to the very annoyance for which children are often punished. In houses that contained children, all noises would be doubled; and in houses without them, the family would thus get the noise without the pleasure of them.


It is sometimes very tiresome to be obliged to run up two or three flights of stairs to speak to or call down a fellow-servant or child; but there is no help for it; there must absolutely be no calling: the nuisance of it would be intolerable. If talking on the stairs is bad, calling is a hundred times worse.


When you are told to do anything, never omit to say, “Yes, ma'am,” or “sir,” in a voice that may be heard. If you do not answer, it may be supposed that you have not heard the order; or what is worse, it may be thought you are unwilling to obey. It is a common thing for ill-behaved and ill-tempered girls to give no answer to an order that they dislike; and it is natural, therefore, for a lady to attribute silence, in answer to a troublesome order, to ill-temper.

It is even more important to make answer to a reproof, as here you may the more easily be suspected of ill-temper. A civil answer generally puts an end to the anger of the person reproving. A girl who replies in an amiable way, “I am very sorry, ma'am, and will be more careful next time,” or whatever else may be suitable (provided that the words are sincere), does her best to mend her fault. Supposing that your temper is too irritable for you to command yourself enough to say so much, you can still say a word or two; as, “Yes, ma'am;” “I 'am very sorry, ma'am,” - to show that you have heard and understood. Silence at such a time is rude, ill-tempered, and likely to provoke more reproof.

There are, of course, many cases in which you must speak in the sitting-rooms: let this always be in a gentle voice; but when necessary to let more than one person hear you, or when speaking across the room, do not be afraid to make yourself heard. In announcing the name of a visitor, which should be heard by all in the room, speak loudly and distinctly; but in addressing a lady or gentleman at table, “Will you take water, sir?” or in saying “Thank you, sir,” to a person giving you anything, your voice should be low, as only the person by whom you stand need hear you. Indeed, your own sense will now guide you, and teach you how to carry out the injunction with which I began this chapter, namely,


Chapter 2: Titles of Respect


I have had several servants who had not been in place before, and in every instance have had much trouble in making them observe this rule. Every young person will say “Sir” or “Ma'am” occasionally; but few do it always, till taught to do so in a regular place. Some, on my telling them several times of this omission, have said, as an excuse, that it seemed awkward to say “Ma'am” so often; but this is quite a mistake. It sounds very awkward to leave it out; and, what is worse, it sounds, and will always be thought, very ill-bred and disrespectful.

There is no need to say “Sir” or “Ma'am” more than once at each time of speaking, though sometimes, in a very long sentence, it may be repeated. Some servants overdo it; but this is a much less serious fault than once leaving it out. I will give you a little conversation to show you how the “Ma'am” may come in at each time of speaking, without the least awkwardness:-

Mistress. - “Mary, do you always shake the beds, and make them as I told you?”

Mary. - “Yes, ma'am, I think so; but I am not quite sure that I remember all you said”

Mistress. - “What did I say about uncovering the bed?”

Mary. - “You told me to pull the things down, and open the windows as soon as I could, ma'am, and leave the bed to air at least half an hour; but an hour or two in general.”

Mistress. - “Yes; never less than an hour or two, unless there is some great reason for haste. What about turning and shaking?”

Mary. - “To turn the under-mattress and palliasse once a-week, ma'am; and every morning to shake all the feathers from each corner of the bed, and then turn it half over, and knead and pinch about the feathers with both hands; then turn it quite over, and shake it at each corner again before I pushed the feathers into shape. And you said, ma'am, that I should take care to have rather more feathers at the top end than at the bottom.”

Mistress. - “Very well; and do you remember about the blankets?”

Mary. - “Yes, ma'am; you said that if there was more than one blanket, the top one should be put on crosswise, that it may tuck up well; and that one should be put low enough to tuck well in at the foot.”

Mistress. - “Very well remembered. And do you attend to all this?”

Mary. - “Yes, ma'am, I think so.”

There is nothing awkward or in any way remarkable in this. Mary's answers are only what those of any girl would be who had been for some time in service.

I had once a girl with me whose name was Lucy. She constantly omitted to say “Ma'am,” in addressing me; as, “What do you say?” - “Oh, no” - “Thank you” - and so on. I told her frequently of the omission, but it seemed impossible to impress her; and it became so disagreeable to me to speak at all with her while her questions and answers were so uncourteous, that I began to fear, much as I liked her in all other respects, that I must send her from the house. It at last occurred to me, that as young girls are often apt to fancy a particular direction given to them is unnecessary, and prompted only by a whim of their employer, perhaps Lucy thought I was asking her to do something ridiculously servile, and that would not be required of her in another place; so, on telling her once more of her fault, I finished by saying, “I am quite sure that the next servant from a gentleman's house, or the next decent person of lowly station, who may chance to come here, will not speak to me once without saying “Ma'am.” If any one of the kind should be coming, I will stay and talk a little in your presence, that you may see.” That very evening Lucy's elder sister came in: as I chanced to hear her knock, I went down at once, and stayed speaking to her of her former places, her sick child, and her absent husband. The good woman, of course, never omitted to say “Ma'am,” each time she spoke. Lucy and I never mentioned the subject again, and Lucy never forgot the lesson. I saw then that my suspicion of Lucy's unwillingness was true: when once her judgment was convinced, her memory was good enough. Now, if you feel doubtful, like Lucy, of the necessity of saying “Ma'am” and “Sir” so often, listen to the first good servant, or the first tradesman, you hear talking with a lady or gentleman, and you will see I am right.

In some houses, the lady will like you to say “Sir” or “Miss” to the children; but in others this is not done. Most ladies allow the servants to call the children “Dear,” or by their names, in speaking to them. I think, if you are not directed what to do in this respect, you will be safe in saying “Sir” or “Miss” to those who are old or well-behaved enough to treat you civilly, as the grown-up ladies and gentlemen do, and “Dear” to those who romp and play with you like children.

Whatever you may call the children, in speaking to them, always speak of them as “Master John,” “Miss Julia,” and so on; except to the other children, to whom you may say “John,” “Julia,” &c. Even should the lady or gentleman say to you, “Tell John to come in,” you should still answer, “Master John is in, sir.” Of course, a mere infant will be called “Baby;” but, however young this “Baby” may be when another comes to take the name, the elder baby must be called “Miss” or “Master,” when spoken about.

In some houses, the servants call the lady and gentleman of the house “My master” and “My mistress;” in others, “Mr. Smith” and “Mrs. Smith,” or by whatever may be the surname. I would advise you in this matter to follow the custom of the house you are in. You are most likely to be in families where the first mode of speaking is adopted; but whichever title you may give your master and mistress, in speaking of them, be sure you never address them by a surname; as, “Thank you, Mr. Smith.” This would sound very rude. The simple “Sir” and “Ma'am” - of which we have before spoken - is always the right word to use in speaking to a lady or gentleman.

Lucy thought she might speak of all the family in the same way as of her master and mistress, and would say, “My master's brother” - “My master's mother” - “Your sister, ma'am;” but this was a great mistake. Any one else should always be spoken of by name; as, “Mr. Frederick,” “Mrs. Grant,” “Miss Grant,” &c.

If you wish to call your mistress, as it may sometimes chance, in a hurry, - or on going into a dark room, to ask if she is there, - do not call her by name, as, “Mrs. Smith!” but speak in some way that does not need the use of a name; as, “Are you there, ma'am?” - “Can I speak to you, ma'am?” Once Lucy (who is still with me, and now so well-mannered a girl, that strangers often remark her with praise) wished to stop me in haste, as I passed, to prevent my brushing some wet paint: she had only time for a word, and called out, “Mistress!” I thought this sounded more respectful than if she had called me by name; but she might have said, “Stop, ma'am!”

I need scarcely tell you that you should never speak of any lady or gentleman, whether friends of your mistress or not, without saying “Mr.” or “Mrs.” before the name. It is sometimes a habit with tradesmen and others, for quickness, to say, “Up at Green's,” “Over at Turner's,” &c., in speaking of gentleman's houses; but this sounds very unbecoming in a servant. If, in speaking of your master's next-door neighbour to him, you say, “The blinds are down at Anderson's,” he will naturally suppose that were you speaking of his house to Mr. Anderson, you would say, “They are not down at Taylor's” - or whatever his name may be; so you are guilty of rudeness, in a certain way, to both your master and his neighbour. I should not have thought any girl in service would need to be warned against this mistake, had it not been committed by Rose, who always spoke of my neighbours as “the Browns,” “the Millers,” &c. There is no harm in speaking thus of tradesmen; as, “Over at Thompson's,” “Past Eley's dairy,” &c.; but private houses should never be so styled.

The servant who remembers to address thus civilly and respectfully those put above her, will be almost sure to gain courtesy and respect in return. In good houses, where such rules are scrupulously observed by the servants, the ladies and gentlemen seldom command, but almost always ask a servant to do a thing, and thank her for anything done. A civil “Shall I do it, ma'am?” will gain for answer, “If you please, Mary;” while in common houses, where servants are allowed to neglect the courtesies of their station, they are roughly ordered, and seldom addressed by name: the rude “Shall I get it?” is answered by “To be sure,” and the service done received without a word of recognition.

The higher your place is, the more courtesy you will meet with from your employers; but, as is only fair, the more courtesy will be required also from you. I am, therefore, advising you only to do that which will bring its own return to you - to give that which will be exactly paid back to you.

Chapter 3: Standing and Moving


You must never run up and down stairs, unless, perhaps, you can trip down very lightly; but no one can run up lightly enough. However lightly you may go down, it should never be fast enough to make it difficult to stop, or to make it possible for you to knock against anyone at a corner. Your step should never be heard, either on the stairs or elsewhere. Never rush in haste to the letter-box, or go anywhere, or for any purpose at more than a gentle pace. I do not mean that you may not move quickly, but it should always be as gently as a lady would move, if she were observed. I say “if she were observed,” because a lady has a right in her own house, to run up-stairs, or to a letter-box, sing across the hall, call to her husband up-stairs, and do many other things that she would not do in the house of another lady, or with strangers round her. You should remember that, as long as you are in service, you are always in the house of another, and have strangers round you, and should not think, therefore, that because your mistress chooses to let her voice or step be heard, you are at liberty to do the same: always move as gently, then, as the ladies do in the drawing-room. Avoid all kind of roughness and noisiness; remembering, as I said when speaking against loud talking, that by being careless in this matter, you make yourself as troublesome as a noisy child


This is always a great trouble with a young girl on entering service. When speaking, or being spoken to, she does not know what to do with her hands, how to stand, or how to look. I shall make you laugh if I tell you some of the awkward things my girls have done with their hands, till I taught them better. I am sure, however, that if they were here, they would say you were welcome to laugh, and would join merrily with you, so I will tell you a few. Mary used always to put her arms akimbo, as she stood still to talk or listen: when I told her not to do this, she grew more awkward, thinking she was observed, and, directly I began to speak to her, would pin her cap on. I, out of consideration for her distress, did not notice this for some time, hoping she would soon leave it off; but finding that the habit rather increased than diminished, pity for her caps made me speak once more, and I told her to keep her hands quietly before her. This only made her tie and untie her apron strings, till, after being told once or twice more, she at last learned to stand still.

Lucy used to fold her hands behind her, or stick one in her side and rub her nose with the other; but she is a sensible girl, and on being once told to keep her hands quietly in front of her, learned to do so.

Anna, a very awkward girl, used to scratch her head; and it proved how completely these things came from mere awkwardness and habit, that in every case these girls could stand quietly enough when talking to a child or friend: it was only in speaking to some one of superior station that these signs of uneasiness showed themselves, and then they were sure to appear.

I felt very much for these poor girls, because when I had once told them not to do these things with their hands, they were all the more awkward. Had they begun by standing still, I should never have thought of observing them; but having once called my attention to their positions, they knew they were looked at, and therefore felt miserable, till they at last learned to stand quietly, and so became sensible that they no longer attracted attention.

Now you, by profiting from their experience, may avoid all their trouble and awkwardness. If you begin by standing quietly, and holding your hands before you, or at your side, or one before you and one at your side, or, when answering the bell, one on the door-handle, there will be nothing to call attention to your position, and you will escape being scrutinized.

It is common to tell servants to meet the eye of their mistress, and look in her face while speaking to, or being spoken to by, her; but it is better not to stare the whole time in a lady's face, but to look down occasionally, and look up on answering, or from time to time; indeed, to do what seems natural, which a continual stare does not.

On answering the bell, you should generally shut the door, and stand close to it while receiving your order. If no one notices you, stand till your mistress looks round. If she is alone, or not talking, you may say, “Did you ring, ma'am?” but if she is talking, you must wait, be it ever so long, till she has done. It is not likely, however, that you will ever have to wait more than a minute or two, as some one in the room will be sure to see you, if the mistress does not, and to call her attention to you.

There are some cases where it is better to walk up to your mistress' side, as when she is making tea in a room full of company, or at any other time when you feel that she would not like to speak across the room, or when you have something to say which it is better to say in a low voice. Your own sense must guide you in this.

Sometimes you may be doing something by your mistress' side, giving her a light, for example, to seal a letter, and she may say to you, “Wait a few moments, and you shall take this.” In such a case you should walk to the door and stand there: but this need not be done unless you will have to wait some moments, as in giving a baby to say “Good night” to its parents, or waiting for a letter to be directed and sealed. In giving a teapot for tea to be put in, or anything else that will only occupy the time that you would take in walking to the door and back again, it is better to stand by the side of the person on whom you are waiting. This is another matter in which you must exercise your own judgment. Even the size of the room makes some difference in the cases where it is proper to go to the door.

If, while you are walking to or from the door, anyone should speak to you, stand still, wherever you may be, turn your face round to the speaker, and remain in the same place till the speaking is over. I mention this, because I have seen Lucy walk backwards to the door by degrees, if I chanced to address her as she was on her way there. This is not only unnecessary, but it has an awkward effect.

If you join with the family in prayer, always sit close by the side of the door, or if the furniture is so placed as not to allow of this, go as near as you can to the door. Where there are more servants than one, it is usual for the youngest to sit nearest to the door, the next eldest, or next in position after her, and so on, the upper servant sitting furthest from the door: sometimes two servants sit one on each side of the door.

If a kind master or mistress should say, on a cold night, “Come further up, Mary; do not sit just in the draught of the door;” still be careful not to seem to join the family, but go only a little higher. Never draw your chair away from the wall.

The same may be said of any occasion upon which you may enter a lady's room; as taking a child to see a friend of the family, visiting an old mistress, &c. Excepting in the case of family prayer, you would, however, of course stand up on the entrance of the lady, and sit only at her bidding: and even at prayers, you should not sit at once, unless the ladies and gentlemen are seated when you enter, but stand before your chair till all are seated, and then sit unbidden.


This rule has, however, some exceptions. If you are at work, and your mistress comes in merely to fetch something, without noticing you, it is scarcely necessary to rise, though were she to have strangers with her it would be well to do so, and to remain standing till they went out, or bid you be seated.

If your mistress comes in, alone or not, and speaks to you, always get up, and stand till she has done speaking: you may then sit down, but not, remember, till she has done speaking to you. I am supposing that, having done speaking, she stays in the room to speak to somebody else, or to do something after having done speaking to you. Should she speak to you again, it is civil to rise again on answering; but there is no need to do this if she speaks again without turning her head to look at you. Should your mistress seldom visit your rooms, I would advise you to rise each time, on her speaking to you, or to stand all the while she is in the room; but if you are one of only two servants, or an only servant, so that your mistress is often in your rooms, she will not expect you to do more than rise on her entering, and stand till she has done speaking the first time, and then sit, without rising again.

If you are kneeling down to clean a stove, or sweep, and your mistress comes to speak to you, it will generally be enough to leave off working and rise half up, on your knees. A mistress who is thrown with you often will not expect more, as getting up, and leaving off your work, would be too great a hindrance: you should, however, do this to a visitor in the house, or to your mistress entering with strangers.

A nurserymaid, whose mistress is much in the nursery with her, will of course rise, and give up her chair to her mistress, or place one for her; but she may then sit down again unbidden, at a respectful distance, not on the opposite side of the fire, or at the same table. If her mistress enters the nursery, and begins at once to play, standing, with the children, or goes to a cupboard or the window, so not needing a chair, the nurse may sit still: but should she be occupying the chief seat in the room, which she may always do in her mistress' absence, she must be sure to give it up at the slightest sign of the lady's intending to remain and sit down.

It is difficult to give precise rules about this matter of rising and standing, as every lady may differ slightly in her ideas of what is right. These are the rules I like to have observed in my house, and I think any servant practising them will give satisfaction; as most ladies care only to see in their servants the desire to show respect, without troubling themselves to notice every little particular.

I suppose few girls need to be warned against sitting unbidden, in the presence of a lady or gentleman, in any room in which they are not accustomed to sit. Yet I know some girls do need it, for I remember two instances of servants who have sat down in my presence unbidden.

Rose came in once, tired from a walk. I was sitting under a veranda, and she sank down on a chair beside me, as she gave her message. Had this happened in her own kitchen it would have been improper, but it was even more so in a place more distinctly belonging to me.

Again: I was once in the nursery bedroom when Anna came in, panting, with a can of water. As I spoke to her, she sank down on a chair, saying, “Excuse me, ma'am, I am so tired.” But I could not excuse either her or Rose. Both acted very rudely. It would have been but a small effort to stand for a few moments, however tired they might be; and girls who are not capable of such an effort are not fit for service. Supposing a case of real exhaustion were to occur, or faintness, that allowed time for doing so, a girl should ask permission before sitting, and not beg pardon after. Sudden illness would, of course, excuse sitting suddenly; but I am not now talking of that, and without that there is not likely to be a case where a girl need ask leave to sit down in the presence of her mistress.

Should you ever be required to walk with a lady or gentleman, to carry a baby or a parcel, always keep a few paces behind.

When you open the street-door, do not stand behind it, so that the person at the door has to come quite in before seeing you.

In meeting a lady or gentleman on the stairs, if you are but a step or two up, go back and stand on the landing to give room. If you are too far up for this, stand on one side. Always remember, in meeting, to retire and make way, or to stand aside.

In entering a room to deliver a message, or speak to your mistress, observe the same rule as in answering the bell. In most cases it will be right to shut the door and stand beside it; but when other people are present, and the message is intended only for the lady, go up to her side and speak. Here you must judge for yourself.

There are many, other directions that I might give you under this head of “Standing and Moving;” but I think, if you study and practise all that I have given, you will find the others come naturally, and you will shortly become a pleasing and graceful girl, such as ladies will like to see and to have about them in their houses.

Chapter 4: Waiting at Table

In giving directions for waiting at table, I shall describe the kind of dinner at which you are likely to assist. It will be of no use to tell you how to wait at a stately dinner, where all the dishes are cut up at a side-table, and wine is handed round, for at such dinners only men wait; nor will I speak of dinners a little less formal, but still large and costly, at which two or three thorough house and parlour-maids wait; for before you are admitted to such service, you will be expected to have gone through some practice in waiting, and it is for a small dinner at which you would acquire such practice that I will give my rules, - such a dinner as we may suppose to be served in the house of a gentleman keeping only two or three servants.

In dressing yourself to wait at table, see that your hands and nails are scrupulously clean. Use a nail-brush, warm water, and plenty of soap. If your mistress likes it, and you can manage it, wear clean white under-sleeves; for your hand and arm will be often put close to the guests and their food, and should, therefore, look clean and pleasant.

It may be useful to some of you to have a few hints about laying the cloth. It is a thing I have always had to teach my young servants to do, and many of you who can do it for an every-day dinner, of two or three persons, may still be puzzled by having to place a few extra things on the table.

First, see that the cloth is laid even on the table, the middle crease being straight down the centre; then put to each person a table-napkin folded, with a thick piece of bread in it: for this purpose a thick round of bread should be cut into six pieces. I cannot describe to you how to fold the napkin for this; but should you not be able to get your mistress or any one else to show you, let the napkin lie in a neat small square, and place the bread at the left side of each person; next, put as many knives and forks as will be wanted to each person; and if there is to be soup, a table or dessert-spoon, as your mistress may provide. If there is to be fish, meat, and poultry, each person will want two knives and three forks, for no knife is used for fish; they must be laid side by side, the knives on the right hand of the napkin, and the forks on the left; the people sitting at the top and bottom of the table must also have a carving-knife and fork. Now put a dessert-spoon and fork, across, at the top of each napkin, laying the prongs of the fork close to the handle of the spoon, and the bowl of the spoon by the handle of the fork; they are to lie side by side, but the crossway of the table. The salt-cellars, previously well filled and stamped, should be put at each corner of the table, with two table-spoons crossed, and laid so that each salt-cellar stands between the two bowls of the spoons. Put the cruets in the middle of the table, with mats on each of the four sides, ready for the meat and vegetables. Unless the table is very small, there will be room for the lamp between the cruets and meat-mat. There should be knife-rests top and bottom, on which you should rest the tips of the carving-knives and forks. Horseradish, jam, or anything else in a small glass dish, can be placed at the corners, or along the sides, according to the size of the table, and shapes of the dishes. A tumbler, and one or two wine-glasses, as your mistress may direct, should be put at the right hand of each person, and water-bottles, with tumblers over them, at each corner of the table.

When the dinner is ready to be served up, you will put fish at the top of the table and soup at the bottom, a pile of soup-plates, with a napkin on the top, before the soup, and meat-plates, with a napkin on the top, before the fish. The fish-slice should be put in front of the dish; and if wine is to be on the table, let it be at the corners.

Before we proceed to the announcement of the dinner, let us talk a little of the arrangement of the sideboard.

When you are arranging the dinner-table, put a cloth also on the sideboard, and think of all you will want for the different courses. Every thing that can be kept in the room should be placed there in readiness, to prevent the necessity of going in and out while you are waiting.

You should have pudding-plates in a pile, two to each person, as some may take more than one kind of pudding or tart, and these are put on the table cold; the meat-plates must be kept down-stairs at the fire, as they should be hot. Sometimes, where a fire-screen hides the fireplace, I have seen meat-plates kept hot in the fender of the dining-room; but, as they are not put on the table one by one, as the pudding-plates are, it is but little trouble to fetch the pile up from the kitchen when it is needed. You should also have on your sideboard a knife-tray, with knives, forks, and spoons of all sizes, as you can never tell exactly what number may be called for. It is safe to have half-a-dozen more of each than you see use for; if they are not needed, they are clean to put away, and no time has been lost by having them at hand; if they are needed, and are not ready, much time and credit are lost in running to look them up in the middle of dinner. You will probably want pounded white sugar for the tarts, and there will be beer in a jug or bottles, and a jug of cold water in case the water-bottles should be emptied.

You should have also a loaf of bread, or a bread-basket with some small thick pieces ready cut, a corkscrew, cheese-plates in a pile; the cheese on a dish covered by a crochet or other cheese-mat; perhaps celery in a dish, or mixed salad in a salad-bowl; butter and butter-knife; all of which should be put close together, because belonging to one course. I have not mentioned small knives for the cheese, because we may suppose they are in the knife-tray, though it will save time and noise to have the right number by the cheese-plates.

Now comes the dessert course. All the dishes nicely arranged, the fruit perhaps decked with leaves, and the table-spoons laid on such dishes as require spoons for helping; the dessert-plates in a pile; two wine-glasses for each person; doyleys in a pile; and wine in the decanters. Remember, if there are nuts of any kind, to keep up one or two of the salt-cellars, and to have nut-crackers laid on the dish.

I think you will now have all that can be properly put on a sideboard, and you will find the convenience very great of having so many things within reach, as it is indispensable that you stay in the room as much as possible while waiting. I may add that any cold tart or pudding, jelly, blanc-mange, custards, and the like, can also be on the sideboard.

All being ready on the sideboard and table, see to the fire and candles (should there be any), and then walk across to the drawing-room, where the company are, and go in; shut and hold the door in your hand, and say in a clear voice, “Dinner is on the table, ma'am.” Go out again; shut the door, and walk to the further side of the dining-room door, which you should throw open, and stand there till the ladies and gentlemen are all gone in, when you should follow, shut the door, and walk to your master's side and stand there while grace is said; immediately after which remove the covers, first from the soup and fish, and then from the potatoes. The covers should be put on the dinner-tray, which should be on its own stand, as near as convenient to the door. After this, take the plates from the carvers and hand them round as quickly and quietly as you can. You will probably be told for whom each plate is intended, or you will have heard who was first asked to take soup or fish; but should this not be the case, you must take the first plate to the first lady, and ask, “Will you take soup, ma'am?” If she says “No,” go to the next, and so on, taking fish to those who refused soup. You cannot do very wrong if you begin with the lady whom your master led in to dinner; and, after going to all the ladies, begin with the gentleman who led your mistress in - leaving your mistress to the last of the ladies, and your master of the gentlemen. Potato is eaten with fish, and if you can get time, between taking each plate from the carver, to give the potatoes to the person to whom you give the plate, it will be best to do so; but this will not do if you are not ready to take the next plate. It is very likely that some one at the table will offer to help the vegetables, seeing you busy with handing the plates; if so, as soon as you have set all the plates round, relieve this person by taking the potatoes round to those who may not yet be served; you may then see that each person has melted butter, or sauce, and anchovy. In handing potatoes, take the vegetable dish to the left side of the person, and say, if you are not noticed, “Will you take potato, sir?” but always in a low voice. In handing anchovy you may take the cruets, or the anchovy-bottle only, on a small tray, saying, in the same way, “Anchovy, sir,” or whatever else it may be, as the people will like to know what sauce it is before taking it.

Watch the plates, and as soon as any one lays down his fork or spoon, take the plate away, saying in a low voice, “Will you take more fish, sir?” If no more is taken, put the plate and fork which have been used in the dinner-tray or basket provided for the purpose, and do the same till all the plates are removed. You will then take away the soup and fish, and carry all on the tray out of the room. I am supposing now that there is another servant below. She will by this time have the meat and fowls ready dished-up. You will empty the tray as quickly as possible, and bring up the fresh course. Put the poultry to your mistress at the top of the table, and the meat to your master at the bottom; the vegetables on the middle at each side of the crusts; plates before both dishes, and then remove all covers, hand plates as before, and then see that every one has vegetables, always putting the vegetable dish back to its place on the table, also mustard, and any sauce, jam, &c., that may be eaten with each dish. Having seen to all this, it will be time to take round the beer, should it not have been asked for before. Take the jug or bottle in one hand, and a small tray in the other, and go all round the table, saying to each person who does not see you and at once give the tumbler, “Do you take beer, sir?” holding the tray at the person's left side for the tumbler. Those who take it will put the tumbler on your tray, where you will fill it, and hold it to be taken off again. Should any one chance to say “Yes,” and yet go on talking without giving you his tumbler, you must of course take it up and put it down again yourself; but this is not likely to happen often, as the tray in your hand reminds the visitor that he is to put his glass there. In pouring out bottled beer, be careful of two things: first, having once turned the bottle over to fill one glass, to carry it leaning down in the same position to the next person, as by turning it upright again you spoil the beer; secondly, not to make “a head” with bottled beer, but pour it very gently close to the side of the glass, or it will froth over and fill your tray.

Having taken beer all round, stand again near the sideboard, but in such a way that you may watch the plates, and supply vegetables, sauce, and mustard, &c., to any one who may be without, and take away the plates of those who lay down their knives and forks. In taking each plate, ask, as before, if more will be taken; if so, take the plate for more, first removing any bones or fat left on the side; but any one taking meat after fowl, or fowl after meat, must of course have a clean plate, for which purpose you must always have hot plates ready. If they can stand in the fender, they will be hotter than on the sideboard; but should it not be possible to put them in the fender, they should be made very hot before coming up. When any one has finished altogether, put a cold pudding-plate in place of the plate you remove, and leave it there ready for pudding, so that by the time all have done, there will be pudding-plates ready all round.

You will now remove the meat, poultry, and vegetables, and carry them down with the plates which have been used as before, bringing any hot pudding or sauce up with you. The pudding must now be put to your mistress, and tart to your master. You will then hand the plates again. Each person will give you an empty plate in exchange for the plate of pudding or tart you take, and you will carry this to be filled, and again exchange it till all are served; you will then take round sauce or sugar. Though, in handing things that people take from you, you should go on the left side, that the visitor may use his right hand, yet in putting down a plate, or anything that is not taken from you it is more convenient for you to go on the right side. This you will soon find out by practice.

As the pudding-plates are done with, take each one away and put down a cheese-plate, with a small knife, in its place. If there should be game you will put no plate, as a pile of hot plates will come up with the game. I need give no directions concerning game, because they are served in the same way as meat or poultry, with hot plates, potatoes, bread-sauce, gravy, &c., all of which you will know how to manage, having gone through the meat course. So we will suppose there is no game, but cheese after the pudding.

When all have finished with the pudding and tart, and you have removed the plates and put down cheese-plates, you will place the cheese on the table to your master, and celery or salad to your mistress, putting the butter near the cruets in the centre.

Your master will now cut several pieces of cheese and put them into his own plate, which he will give to you. You must hand this plate all round; each person, who wishes it, will take a small piece with his knife, (here you should go on the left side), and having gone all round, you should take the plate back and put it down before your master. It will now be right to take beer round again; also bread, to those who may have none. Bottled beer should have the corks drawn in the room, at the sideboard.

In removing the cheese-plates, you must not put down dessert-plates, as the whole table will now have to be cleared. As soon as all have finished cheese, take away cheese-dish and celery-dish, cruets, salt-cellars, and everything. This should be done by taking round a small tray and filling it, and then emptying it into the large tray, till the whole table is cleared; and should be done as quickly and quietly as possible. Some ladies like the table-cloth removed for the dessert, but it is usually left on; sometimes two clean table-cloths are put on, one over the other, so that the top one may be removed, and yet a white cloth remain. In any case, the crumbs are usually brushed off into a tray, with a brush made for the purpose, and the cloth made perfectly clean; but in some houses the crumbs are left and folded in the cloth, which is shaken afterwards down stairs. All pieces of bread left should be taken up with a fork, not with the hand, and put on the small tray into which the crumbs are swept, unless removed by a fork, with the glasses, &c. If wine or beer is left in a glass, do not hurry it away too quickly, but should it not be emptied when you are going to sweep the cloth, you must remove it with your last tray full.

When the cloth is removed, or ready swept for dessert, put the fruit-dishes on the table. It will be well to have asked your mistress how she will like them placed; but there is not much difficulty about it. If only two, they must be put top and bottom; if four, the principal ones top and bottom, and the others on each side; if six, there will be two at each side. A large round raised dish, if there be any, should stand in the centre. The wine decanters must all be placed in the front of your master.

Having placed the dishes, give to each person a plate with a doyley in it, and a finger-glass, should there be any, or two wine-glasses standing on the doyley. Should there be fruit-knives and forks, they must also be put round with the plates. The table being arranged for dessert, you should make up the fire and leave the room, your work of waiting is ended. While dinner is going on, you should manage to run in once to the drawing-room fire, or else ask the other servant to do so, for should you forget it till dessert is on the table, the probability is that it will then be out, and you will not only have the trouble of lighting it, but will be thought neglectful by the ladies, who generally leave the dessert-table very soon, and go to the drawing-room.

When there is only one servant kept, and no extra help procured for dinner, the servant cannot, of course, be in the room the whole time of dinner; she may, however, lay the cloth and arrange the sideboard as directed - her mistress probably helping her - and she may, just before she dishes up the dinner, put on a white apron, wash her hands, and smooth her hair; then having put the dinner on the table, announce it, walk to the dining-room door, follow the company in, remove the covers, hand the plates, pour out beer, and go down to prepare the next course. In such a case, people help each other to vegetables, and when one course is over, the master will ring the bell; but if the servant can manage to run up (having put the next course ready for the tray), and take away the plates, &c. before her master rings, it will be much better, and will save his rising from the table, which is always awkward. Every girl should study the foregoing directions for waiting, and, according to her quickness and method, she will be able to carry them out more or less, when she has the cooking also on her hands. When the puddings are once up, there is no occasion to leave the room again, as all that is wanted for cheese and dessert will be ready on the sideboard. In all probability, the dinner will be very simple when one servant manages all. There will be no game, and perhaps no fish or soup; so that the difficulty will be much less than in the dinner we have described above. A single servant, still more than one who has a cook down-stairs to help, will find the advantage of having plenty of hot plates, knives, forks, spoons, &c., ready for use, as there is no hindrance so great as having to search for, or clean up these things in the middle of waiting.

Let every girl remember that a simple dinner, with good waiting, will always appear more hospitable, and be more comfortable, than a costly one, with bad waiting: every mistress is sensible of this, yet few who do not keep a regular housemaid, expect to get good waiting. The girl, then, who chooses to study and practise these directions, will be valued accordingly. It will generally be a surprise to the mistress of a young and inexperienced servant, to find her able to do what is looked upon as the work of a higher servant, and yet any girl of common sense will find it perfectly practicable to do all that I have directed, though it may require the practice of three or four dinners to make every thing come quite easily.

Before leaving this subject, I must not forget to warn you against smiling at droll stories told at table, or seeming in any way to notice or enter into the conversation Should it even happen that all at table are wishing to know something which you could tell them in a word or two - as, whether it was the baker or the butcher who was run over; whether the clergyman had found his stray cow or not; - you must still be silent, unless you are appealed to, and then answer modestly, in as few words as possible. If the question you are able to answer should chance to be of consequence, - as whether the coach a gentleman wished to return in had passed or not, you might go up to your mistress, and say, in a low voice, “The coach is not gone, ma'am; it does not pass now till nine o'clock,” - supposing you were certain of being well informed; but even then, speak in a voice that only your mistress may hear; for you may have misunderstood the conversation, and it is possible that the question may be best left unanswered.

I advise you to read this chapter through several times, as it contains many directions; and you will find that even after having studied them carefully, the bustle of a dinner-table will be very likely to drive many of them from your head, till practice has made them familiar to you. When you know all these rules, the difficulty of waiting at table consists in the necessity of being quick, and, at the same time, expert and noiseless. It is better to be slow, than to spill gravy, overturn glasses, catch your foot in chair legs, let things fall, or make noises with knocking china and glass; and yet a slow waiter is very tiresome. Every time you wait, you will do better than the last, and it should be your constant aim to become less noisy, and more quick.

Chatper 5: Miscellaneous Directions

Opening the Door to Visitors

In opening the door to a double knock, or ring of the visitors' bell, be very careful that you are neat. If an only servant, you should ask your mistress to let you have a little looking-glass in the kitchen, that you may glance at your face and hair before going to open the door. It takes but a minute to smooth down a few stray hairs, or wipe off an accidental smut, and it makes a great difference in the notion given to a stranger, of the house, to see a servant without these disfigurements. It is well to have a white apron always at hand, which you may tie on as you are going up stairs, so that very little time need be occupied in these preparations; but should they make such delay as to oblige the visitor to knock twice, even that will be better than going up untidy. With good habits, a servant will always, if not dressed, be clean, after the time at which visitors are likely to come; but should it happen, through any irregularity, that your hands are dirty with black lead, whitening, or any conspicuous dirt, you must even stay to wash them, before opening to a visitor; it must of course be done as quickly as possible, and if gloves are worn, as they should be for all dry dirty work, this necessity is the less likely to arise.

Remember that the door should be opened as quickly as possible, and nothing but the necessity of making yourself neat should cause you to delay.

When you open the door you should not speak, for the visitor will do so. Should the person be ever so well dressed, and yet ask only for “your mistress,” or “the lady of the house,” do not ask such a one into a room where there is anything valuable. The hall, if there is no common room at hand, is the best place for those who do not ask for your master or mistress by name. Well-dressed impostors are constantly calling at houses, with the design of pilfering while left alone in the drawing-room; and any friend of your mistress is sure to ask for her by name - “Is Mrs. So-and-so at home?” To any one asking thus, you will say, “Yes, ma'am,” or “Sir, will you walk in?” The visitor may perhaps say, “No,” and only leave a card or message, and go away. In this case, keep the door open a little while; it is rude to shut it immediately.

If the visitor comes in, you should then ask, “What name shall I say, sir?” or “ma'am?” and having carefully listened to the name, walk before to the room into which you have been directed to show visitors; should the room be empty, throw open the door, and let the visitor pass you into the room; then shut the door, and go up to tell your mistress who is come. If there are persons in the room to which you take the visitor, you should open the door wide, go just inside, and say the visitor's name, then stand on one side, let the visitor pass in, and shut the door as before.

Here I must particularly warn you against a common fault of inexperienced servants. All young girls who announce visitors for the first time, are apt to say more than the name. Mary, the first time she opened the door to two gentlemen, came smiling into the room, as if she had a great treat in store for me, and said, in an excited voice, “If you please, ma'am, there are two friends come to see you!” Other servants have said, “If you please, ma'am, Mrs. Thornton wants to speak to you.” “If you please, ma'am, here is Mr. and Miss Smith come.” Nothing of the sort is needed. There is one way of announcing visitors in every house; it is by simply opening the door, standing on one side and saying the name or names - no “if you please,” and even no “ma'am,” or “sir,” is to be used on this occasion - say only “Mrs. Thornton,” - “Mr. and Miss Smith,” and then stand back. If the visitor is just behind you, stand on one side, inside the drawing-room door; but if there is plenty of time, without pushing the visitor, when you have said the name, go outside the door and stand aside while waiting to shut it.

You will then go again to your work, taking care, however, not to soil your hands till the visitor is gone. The bell may ring for you to take up wine and cake, or for some other purpose; but it is sure to ring at last, for you to open the door. If, on going up, you find the visitor leaving, you will know it was for that you were called, and will walk at once to the door, hold it open till the visitor passes out, and then shut it, as I said before, slowly.

Announcing Evening Visitors

When visitors are expected to dinner or tea, it will be a little different. On opening the door, nothing will be said; for as they were invited, the visitors will, of course, know that your mistress is at home. Should it be a gentleman, you will help him to take off and hang up his coat and hat, and then ask his name: “What name, sir?” As new names are sometimes very difficult to catch, it is a good plan to repeat the name, that you may be sure you have heard it. I make a practice of telling the servant beforehand what names she will have to announce; and perhaps your mistress will not object to doing this, if you ask her; at any rate, to telling any names that may be difficult and quite new to you.

When you know the name - we will suppose it is “Mr. Elliott” - walk before the gentleman to the drawing-room, throw open the door, and stand against it, just inside the room, allowing the gentleman to pass in, while you say, in a clear and rather loud voice, “Mr. Elliott.” You need not now say “sir” or “ma'am,” because you are not speaking to your master or mistress, but merely calling the name out for all the room to hear.

We will now suppose the visitor to be a lady. You will then, on opening the door, ask, “Will you walk up stairs, ma'am?” If the lady says “No,” you will assist her with her shawl or cloak, and announce her exactly as you did the gentleman. Should she say, “Yes,” you will carry a candle before her to the bedroom, and go in with her to offer assistance in any toilet arrangements she may have to make. Should she decline your help, it is best to leave the room, and wait outside, or at the foot of the stairs, that you may be ready to take her candle, show her into the drawing-room, and announce her name, as with the others.

If you are an only servant, and a bell rings while you are with or waiting for the lady, you must, of course, go down; but you should still be on the watch, and take care to be up in time to show the lady into the drawing-room.

When a gentleman and lady come together, and the lady wishes to arrange her dress, you will show the gentleman at once to the drawing-room, and then take the lady up stairs. Sometimes the gentleman will choose to wait in the hall till the lady comes down; you have only then to remember not to leave him in the dark. Both, in this case, will be announced together. There will be no difficulty about which name to say first, as you will say them in whatever order they are told you; as, “Mr. and Mrs. Layton,” or “Mrs. Layton and Mr. John Layton.”

Meeting in the Street

If you meet any of your master's family in the street, you need do nothing, unless you meet their eye; you should then make a slight bow or curtsey, and incline your head. Never smile and nod, except to a child. Should you meet any friend of the family, do nothing, unless you are noticed first; then curtsey, &c., as before.

Should you meet any of the family in a church, or public place of any kind, always stand back, and make way for them to pass before you.


Nursemaids are often encouraged to sing in the nursery; but they should leave off immediately on the entrance of a lady or gentleman, and never sing in bedrooms or kitchens, or where their voices can be heard by the family. Nor should any servant sing at her work, unless in some place quite out of the hearing, either of the family or neighbours.

The Use of the Tray

Never take a small thing into the room in your hand. Letters, money, small parcels, a glass, spoon, knife, reel of cotton, folded pocket-handkerchief, or any small thing, should be handed on a little tray, silver or not, kept for the purpose. A large parcel, a book so large as to look awkward on the letter-tray, a plate, and all larger things, may be given in the hand. Things handed on a tray should be left for the lady or gentleman to take up, and never lifted from the tray by the servant and given in the hand. Sometimes, when the lady or gentleman does not offer to take it, the servant may take it up and put it down on the table beside the person; but never give it with the hand, or the tray might as well not have been used. Sometimes, in fetching a bunch of keys from another part of the room, or picking up a small thing dropped, a tray may not be at hand, on which to give it; in such a case, do not offer to give it into the lady or gentleman's hands, but lay it down at the side of the person to whom you are giving it.

The Use of Tray-cloths

Some young servants are puzzled, when taking up food on a tray, to know when a tray-cloth should be used. I think I can give you a simple and sufficient rule. Put a tray-cloth on the tray whenever a cloth would be put on the table to a larger meal of the same food.

You are to take up a mutton-chop with a cloth, because any meal of meat would be laid on a tablecloth. For a cup of tea or coffee, with or without bread and butter, if before dinner, put a cloth, because it may be regarded as a kind of breakfast, and a cloth is spread at breakfast; for the same after dinner, put no cloth, because it may be regarded as tea, and no cloth is spread at tea. Broth, gruel, and the like, should have a cloth; wine; spirits, beer, &c., unless bread and butter not cut are with them, should have no cloth. When you are in doubt, put a cloth; for it is far better to put one unnecessarily, than to take a tray without one when it ought to be there.

Tapping at the Door

If you think for a few minutes why we ever tap at a door before entering, you will be able to judge, almost without my telling you, when it is proper to do so. We tap to avoid entering suddenly upon a person who may be engaged in some way that may make our sudden entrance awkward.

It seems hardly credible that a young woman should be so thoughtless as to enter a bedroom in which any one is without tapping; but I have frequently known this to be done. Be sure you never make this mistake; the result may be as awkward to you as to the person inside. Even if the bell is rung, and you are thus expected to go up, yet you are not expected to enter. In answer to a bedroom-bell, you should always tap, and wait outside for the order. If you are told to take up water or anything else, tap again, and say, “The water, sir,” or “ma'am.” You will then be told, “Put it down,” or “Bring it in,” or perhaps the person inside may come and take it from you;

As a sitting-room may be regarded as public, there is no need to knock. Most young servants begin by knocking at every door; this is very tiresome, and quite without use.

Some ladies like the servants to tap at every door, if they go in without being called or rung for; and where this is the custom of the house, you will, of course, do so; but even then it is superfluous to knock in answering a bell or call, as your entrance is expected.

When you tap, do it with your knuckles; for the tap should be loud enough to be heard, without sounding rough and boisterous.

There are some cases, as in a long illness, where a bedroom becomes almost as public as a sitting-room. Here you should use your judgment about tapping. When three or four people are inside, you may be sure you may enter at once; if the invalid is alone, or with one nurse or friend, it is safer to tap. You had better tap twenty times too often than once too seldom.

The Garden

I have seen servants make the mistake of going to walk or sit in the garden, as if it were a part of the house belonging to them, as the kitchen and servants' bedrooms. I suppose the mistake has arisen from the nurse's being often sent out to play with or watch the children in the garden. All servants, nurses or not, should look upon the garden as belonging to the ladies and gentlemen, as much as the upper rooms; and should no more think of sitting or walking unbidden in the one than in the other. When a nurse is sent to be with the children in the garden, the cook or housemaid should no more think of joining them there, than she would if they were in the nursery. Nor should any servant run, laugh, call out, or make a noise in the garden at any time; though when all the family are out, few people would object to a servant's taking a quiet walk up and down, as the garden may be regarded in the same light as the hall and staircase, which are thoroughfares, and less private than rooms.

Chapter 6: Dress

Few young servants understand the importance of dressing well. When I say “well,” I do not mean expensively or gaudily, but properly and suitably.

Nothing makes so favourable an impression on a stranger as a neat, clean appearance; and justly so, because we judge that the girl who keeps her own hands and clothes clean, will keep our food and utensils so also: we judge, too, that the girl who has method and neatness to get through her work without disordering her dress - for it is, of course, a little difficult to do so - must have generally good habits, and be able to manage in all other respects as well as she does in this. Besides, a stranger has no opportunity of discovering the good qualities of heart and mind which a girl may possess, and must therefore be influenced by what can be seen in a short time; and only dress and manners discover themselves on a first acquaintance. In going for a place, therefore, these two things are of great importance - dress, perhaps, even more than manners. I know, for my own part, that were I obliged to choose between an ill-mannered but neat and clean girl, and a slovenly, dirty girl of graceful manners, I would let the graceful sloven go, and choose the neat bungler; not only because awkward manners would vex me less than dirt and untidiness, but because I should feel they were sooner mended than habits of disorder and dirt. Ill-manners may exist in a nice girl, from mere ignorance, and be gladly cast aside on her receiving a little teaching; but the habits of a slattern can never exist without faults throughout the character, which are very difficult, if not impossible, to shake off, after womanhood. Let every young girl, then, begin early to prize neatness of person, which may be attained by even the poorest, The oldest dress, neatly patched, and even soiled, if the dirt be the unavoidable collection of long wear, and not careless grease spots and mud stains, may be consistent with a neat appearance. Clean skin and smooth hair, a collar nicely pinned, and the fastening of the dress perfect, will display the neatness of mind, which is all that we really care for. The girl who can keep so good an appearance with such poor means, will be sure to look nice in service, when her wages will enable her to get a new dress oftener. The poorer you may be, the more difficult you will find it to keep neat This, instead of being a drawback, is really a help, inasmuch as it gives you better practice. Let every young girl begin at once; for the earlier she tries to form good habits, the easier she will find it. But I am now going to speak more particularly to those who have passed through their poorer days at home, and have now no longer poverty, but only work, to contend with.

It is not so difficult for a single servant to keep neat as many suppose. Let her do all her dirty work early. Clean shoes, grates, knives, candlesticks, &c., before or directly after breakfast; and, while she is about this, let her wear a large coarse apron, and, when sleeves are worn tight, holland cuffs, or, when loose, let her turn them a little way up. Let her also wear housemaid's gloves for all work that allows of them. These can be easily drawn off, and the apron untied, should the street or up-stairs bell ring. If the hands get blacked, or otherwise soiled, by any accident, wash them at once. Nothing makes so much dirt on the clothes, and about the house, as dirty hands. Every time you touch your dress or face they leave a mark. The doors, walls, shutters, &c., are continually soiled by a servant who is not careful of her hands; but the girl who is not afraid to spend a little money in working-gloves, or to take the trouble to wash her hands often, soon saves the money in caps, ribbons, and dress, and the trouble in washing and scrubbing both clothes and paint, besides getting credit and comfort from her cleanliness. The dirty work being done, it will only require a little care to keep clean and tidy during the rest of the day.

It is best to have cotton dresses for morning wear, as they will always look clean and fresh with washing. A girl, on first going to service, will be wise to get two dark cottons for the morning, as it is likely that she will not manage her dirty work quite so cleanly at first, as she will after a little practice. As she improves in this respect, she may wear lighter dresses. I have had servants who could wear light lilac cottons for all their morning work, and yet keep them well for a fortnight. It is a great advantage when a girl can manage so well as this, as the family enjoy food and waiting better from a servant whose cleanliness they can see. A dark dress hides cleanness as well as dirt. But, should you not be able to manage the light morning-dress at once, take care always to have a clean cap and collar on. Do not let the difference between morning and evening dress be a greater and less degree of dirt; let it be merely a difference of kind. The morning cap clean, but of a simple kind, that will wash well; the collar plain, the dress of cotton: while the afternoon-dress may be of a handsomer sort; perhaps a cap that will not wash, or is more carefully made up; the dress better; the collar newer, or of different material. You must, of course, often wear things a little less clean in the morning than in the afternoon; but you should not allow this to be perceptible. Do not let any one say, “I know Mary has not dressed yet, for she is dirty,” but only, “I know Mary has not dressed yet, for she has on her common cap - her dark gown - or her thick collar,” as the case may be. Many servants will wear a cotton dress the first week for afternoon, and the second for morning. There is no objection to this, provided that the dress is still in good condition at the end of the first week; for it is, of course, most important to look well when you are dressed, and you thus secure a nice smooth clean dress for afternoons once a-week. Though a light cotton dress looks well for morning, it is not wise to choose a dress that will not wash, of a light colour, for morning work. Should you have one of such a description, a little too old for afternoon wear, it will be better to make it into a petticoat, or give it to a younger sister, rather than spoil it, and your own appearance, by doing dirty work in it.

Do not ever choose gay patterns or colours. Not only are such dresses unfit for morning work, after they are a little worn, but they never can look becoming for servants. If you wish to be particularly well dressed, choose neat plain dresses of good material, and let your love of good dressing display itself more particularly in the smoothness of your hair, the cleanness of your hands and nails, the whiteness of your caps, collars, and under-sleeves, and the freshness of your cap and neck-ribbons.

A gaudily-dressed servant looks, at best, like a coarse and vulgar lady; for with all the fine ribbons and gay colours that London can produce, a girl cannot whiten or soften the skin of her hands, or make her movements as graceful as those of a finished lady. Her fine and unsuitable dress only causes people to notice these deficiencies, because it is unusual to see fine dress, and coarse hands; flounces and bows, with an awkward walk. But a neatly dressed girl, with clear-starched sleeves and glossy hair, though a hundred times more attractive than the gaudy one, does not draw attention to the natural distinctions between a hard-working woman and a lady, because there is nothing in her appearance to make us forget her station, and expect the qualities that do not belong to it. A servant girl need never be ashamed of her good useful hands, made red by honest labour, unless she has so clothed her arms, that they seem to deny her position, and contradict the notion of her having hard work to do.

Many girls wear a crimped frill round the throat, instead of a collar: this is very pretty and neat. French merino, though dear at first, wears well, will bear washing, and looks good to the end. All cheap dresses are dear in the end; even cheap cottons, which wash out, and soon look shabby. In shoes, this is more particularly the case. A pair of boots at ten or twelve shillings will last more than double as long as a pair of half the price, besides looking better and feeling more comfortable all the time. A good woollen shawl at fifteen shillings will outlast half-a-dozen cotton and wool mixed, at five or six shillings. A good straw bonnet at three or four shillings will wear double the time of one at eighteen-pence or two shillings; and after that will turn, and be as good as new again.

A neat dresser will always have good underclothes. Here remember that by giving twopence more a yard for calico, you get a cloth that will last much longer, and so save making each article twice. Unbleached cotton stockings at about a shilling or fourteen pence a pair are the most economical.

A girl on first entering service will not be able to give the prices I have been mentioning; but, as soon as she can afford it, she will find it the best economy.

On going for a holiday, to visit your friends, you are at liberty to dress with less strictness than for your mistress' house. You need wear no cap; and should you choose to put on unsuitable and gaudy ornaments, it will be no offence to your mistress, as when you are out of her house, and among your own friends, you are free to do as you please; but you will make a great mistake if you think to gain admiration, even among your own class, by unbecoming dress. Even here, a really good dress, with spotless collar and sleeves, shining hair, and clean hands, will be your best adornment. A wise young man, in choosing a wife, will like better to see her adopt a style of dress which she is likely to keep up after marriage, than one which, were she to wish to retain it, would be as ridiculous for her position as unsuitable to his means. Gaudy dressers, before marriage, on being obliged to change their style of dress, invariably turn into slovens; and the young man, who admired and married the smart girl, grows careless and indifferent when he finds a slattern in her place; while the neat dresser finds no reason for throwing off the habits which gained her lover, and so continues after marriage to please him with the same bright and comely appearance that first won his regard.

It is difficult to take leave of you, my dear girls, without saying a word on those subjects, so much more important than either manners or dress, Honesty, Truthfulness, Industry, Steadiness, &c. But my object was not to speak of these; and I should only do dishonour to such subjects, were I to crowd in a few remarks on them, at the end of six chapters given to matter so far less important. I will therefore leave them altogether, only reminding you, that all the polish of manner and neatness of dress that my book, or any other teaching, can give you, are as nothing, compared to the more stirling qualities I have just named. A dishonest or idle servant can scarcely be said even to be bettered by good manners and appearance. No addition to absolute evil can make it good, or even better; but rather worse, because it deceives. Yet, should you possess these excellent qualities, Honesty, Truthfulness, Steadiness, Industry, which are of a thousand times the value of those I have been trying to teach you, the addition of the graces of manner and appearance will almost double your value as servants.