Mistresses and servants -Difficulty of getting servants - Girls instead of boys - Registry Offices - The employments that do not take up characters - Early rising - Baron Humboldt - Coverings for larders - Blackbeetles - Children's nurses - Ignorance of young married women - Some natural history books - Forcing blossoming branches - Horticultural Show - Letter from San Moritz - Receipts.

Last year in February I wrote a little article on mistresses and servants in the 'Cornhill Magazine.' It was called forth by the report of a case in the Divisional Court which seemed interesting at the time. The point at issue was whether a servant was entitled to give notice at any time within the first fortnight of her service, so as to enable her to leave at the end of the first month. The judgment did not settle the law of the case. My friends complained that I more or less put forth the difficulties of the present day with regard to mistresses and servants - especially the difficulty of the insufficient supply of servants - but that I suggested nothing new by way of a solution. As the question is one of very general interest, I think I will quote some part of the article, adding a few practical suggestions which have occurred to me since.

Servants may, and often do, get into situations which turn out to be entirely different from what they have been led to expect. It may be even that they find themselves in a 'bad' house; or with a drunken mistress; or, what is still more common with a young girl, under a drunken cook, whom the mistress still believes in; or under a foreign man-cook whose manners are disagreeable to her, but who gets very angry at her insisting on leaving when he wants to keep her. He then abuses her to the mistress, who is angry and put out at her wishing to go, and refuses to give her a character or pass on the one she received with her. All these and many similar cases are very hard on servants, who as a rule cannot afford to bring the case before the County Court Judge, and who would probably have little to adduce as proof, even if they could ask for help and protection. We all suffer from the well-known faults of servants, but we are apt often to forget how much there is to be said on the other side. With us it is a case more or less of expense and inconvenience; with them it is their actual livelihood.

I shall, I believe, be accused of seeing the question too much from the servants' point of view. But have we not all from our youth up heard of the selfishness, the ingratitude, the wastefulness, the idleness of servants? And each generation pronounces them to be worse than they ever were before. I can remember the time when servants were first expected to be clean, but baths were not provided; and to use the bath-room, which was done on the sly, was thought as great an impertinence as if they had asked for dessert every day after dinner.

Customs change, but the big fact always remains the same - that the relation between master and servant is, and must always be, one of self-interest. Within limits, each tries to get the best of the bargain. One pays to command; the other receives to obey. The most self-denying Christian principles are of no avail. Carried to a logical conclusion, these principles would lead to the Christian mistress doing the work and the idle maid going to bed; or the humble Christian servant declaring that her work was a pleasure, and that she could not possibly take her wages. No, we are - on both sides - just as selfish as we dare be. And this self-interested bargain between masters and servants can only be settled on each individual case. The merits on each side must, according to one of the oldest of symbols, be placed in the scales; and the noble, majestic, upright figure of Justice must hold out her arm and adjust the balance.

We never get beyond this, and it is the only escape from the greatest of tyrannies - the power, either by gold or by force, of one human being over another. This power it will ever be the business of civilisation to rule and to diminish. This in our day is the business, first of the master of a house; or, when he has the chance, of the County Court Judge.

The temptation to give false or partially false characters is a very great one to young and kind-hearted people. As in so many other cases, the public themselves are responsible for this - so many people like being deceived, and look upon truth as naked and barbaric. If a mistress gives an honest character, not all praise, in nine cases out of ten the servant fails to get the place. This state of things is unreasonable and ridiculous; and if those about to engage a servant would ask for the chief failing of the person they are going to admit into their families, they would be better able to judge if the servant were likely to suit them or not. I remember many years ago being asked if I knew of a young nurse who was to have every good quality under the sun. She was to be strong, she was to ask for no holidays, she was never to leave the children to associate with the other servants, her temper was to be perfect, and so on. I wrote back that such a combination of good qualities as was expected for twenty pounds a year I had never yet met with in any young mother. A corresponding story is of a lady who wrote to a French friend for a holiday tutor. He also was to be a lump of perfection. The Frenchwoman wrote back: 'Je ferai tout mon possible, mais si je trouve ton homme je l'Úpouse.'

A wit of fifty years ago used to say: 'I marry my wife for her money, I engage my footmen for their looks, as those are the only two things that can possibly be known beforehand.' As is common enough with a cynical remark, there is a good deal of truth in this.

Now we come to what I consider to be one of the greatest changes that has occurred of late years, viz. the extreme facility for women getting employment without any character at all; that is to say, without any prying into the private conduct or personal characteristics of any individual. For example, all shops and Stores, laundries and many other houses of business, engage their employes from their general appearance and the account they give of themselves. If they do not do their work, if they are insubordinate or unpunctual, they are dismissed on Saturday night - sometimes even without the usual week's notice and without any reason being assigned. This often appears a great hardship, but my point is that one of the chief objections to domestic service is that from the very start some sort of recommendation is required from someone who is supposed to be in a responsible position. I do not say this is not necessary, but I do think the custom might be considerably relaxed, with advantage to everybody. The usual characters given are often clever skating on very thin ice, and convey little real knowledge of the servant's faults or merits. Servants, like other people, have undoubtedly the defects of their virtues, and the wise way is to make up our minds what we are prepared to give up. If we go in for youth and good looks, we can scarcely hope for the qualities we may expect to find in age and ugliness. In considering the merits of a situation, the more educated mind should not fail to look at it from the point of view of the servant.