Servants stick very closely to what they consider their own duty, but I have never found servants object to anything if told of it beforehand. They do not like unexpected duties sprung upon them, and this is merely a safe rule for their own protection. But the mistress of a house must reserve to herself the right to ask a servant to do anything, and if the refusal is at all impertinent there is nothing for it but to part. There is reason, too, for this irritating attitude of servants declaring they will not do work they have not been engaged to do. The common-sense of the matter protects them from each other, as one masterful, selfish servant would get all her work done for her by another (as boys get their lessons done at school), if public opinion amongst themselves were not strongly against such a shuffling of duties.
Servants almost always behave admirably when their common humanity is affected. At times of sorrow or joy, births and deaths, or any sudden change and loss of fortune, they are shaken out of their attitude of habitual selfishness. But as time goes on they resent the position being different from what they undertook when engaged, and think it better to make a change.
One of the things that seems a remnant of other days, and strikes servants themselves as being particularly tyrannical, is being expected to attend family prayers, whether they like it or not, and that, too, in the midst of their morning work. But the attitude of mind and the ways and customs of servants are as incomprehensible to us as are those of the gipsies; and to worry and hurry people who have not our views, whose laws are not ours, whose morality is not ours, whose customs are not ours, is a most useless tyranny, be it directed against gipsies or against servants. These manners and customs have grown up and are repeated by servants over and over again, in a way that they themselves often do not understand. One of their invariable rules, which is often commented on, is that servants - almost without exception - refuse to eat game. It is generally supposed that this is because game does not cost their masters and mistresses actual money. This is so foolish a reason I cannot believe it to have been the origin of the objection. I feel it is far more likely that in the days before railways, when game travelled slowly, it was the fashion for everybody to eat high game; but when it got past sending to table - unbought luxury though it was - the thrifty housekeeper suggested to the cook that the servants might have it. They had far better opportunity than the master upstairs of judging what state it was in, and I confess I am not surprised that as a body they declined to make their dinner off it. And so that mysterious thing - a custom - grew up for servants not to eat game.
Servants, even the best and most devoted, will not 'tell of each other.' It is useless to expect it; just as useless as a master expecting boys to tell tales at a public school. And on the whole this is a good rule even for ourselves. If a system of tale-bearing could be established, it would make life unbearable for all of us.
An eternal complaint against servants is about early rising. I believe a number of people have no doubt that fifty or sixty years ago (which is, I fancy, the time when rather young people think old-fashioned servants lived) they all got up early. We are certainly not the worst among the nations, but I do think that late rising amounts almost to a national fault. These things are greatly the result of climate; but to insist on maids getting up in the dark, when there is very little to do, and to give the order that the kitchen fire is to be lit at 6.30, when the family do not breakfast till nine or half-past, seems to me almost tyrannical, though we have a perfect right to expect that the water should be hot and the breakfast ready at whatever time we choose to order it. For two months in the winter I always postpone the breakfast hour from eight to half-past, and I always use - for health reasons - cold water all the year round; but I never have the slightest difficulty in getting breakfast punctually at eight, though I feel quite sure of one thing, that if I did not get up early no one else would. It seems a relief to some people's consciences to insist on the early rising of others when they lie in bed late themselves. Servants are the first to remember that they can go to bed early when very often their masters and mistresses cannot. I think all of us shorten our living hours by taking more sleep than is at all necessary. As an example of the strength of some men, Mr. Max Müller mentions that ihe great Baron Humboldt complained that as he got old he wanted more sleep - 'four hours at least. When I was young,' he continued, 'two hours of sleep was enough for me.' Mr. Max Müller ventured to express his doubts, apologising for differing from him on any physiological fact. 'It is quite a mistake,' said Humboldt, 'though it is a very widely spread one, to think that we want seven or eight hours' sleep. When I was your age I simply lay down on the sofa, turned down my lamp, and after two hours' sleep was as fresh as ever.'
Of all servants that I have known in my life, the ones I have admired and respected most are the children's nurses. The love and devotion they give to children not their own is extraordinary. The highest life which George Eliot could imagine for 'Romola,' after the disappointment and failure of her own life, was to attend and minister to the children of others. Nurses will often refuse to leave children, even when it is for their interest to do so, knowing all the same, quite well, the time will come when the children will leave them, as an animal leaves its mother when it no longer wants her. I asked a nurse of this type once, when she was getting old, why she had never married. 'Oh, m'um,' she said, 'can't you guess? I had passed my life in the nursery amongst ladies and gentlemen; my own class who wished to marry me were distasteful to me, and I was too proud for anything else.' This last half-sentence, with its faint allusion to having once loved someone above her, touched me supremely. Servants must so often pass through a temptation of the kind - pride in those they love being such a great stimulus to the affection and constancy of women. I think it is very desirable that children should early come downstairs for their meals, and the nurse go to hers with the other servants. She does not very often like this; but it is for her good, and much more for her own happiness, that she should not lose touch with her class and isolate herself on a slightly raised position, which, from the very nature of the circumstances, can only lead to unhappiness.