Victorian London - Professions and Trades - Service Industry - Servants - Ladies'-Maids

PUNCH'S GUIDE TO SERVANTS

 THE LADY'S-MAID.

    LADIES'-MAIDS are the rarest articles of female domestic service, and being in the nature of luxuries, are the best paid. They are to cooks and  housemaids what the pine-apple is to the pomme de terre, and for this pine-like superiority of station many are doomed to pine in vain. The statistics of female service give us a million maids as the grand total, and deducting three-eighths for servants-of-all-work, two-eighths for cooks, three-sixteenths for housemaids, and one-eighth for nurses, we have a surplus of one-sixteenth for ladies-maids, which will be about a fair average.
    Servants belonging to this superior class should be able to read and write. It is good practice in the former accomplishment to read all the noes sent to your mistress, and the little motto wafers, now in use, seem invented to facilitate this arrangement for they never adhere to the envelope.
    You will probably have the charge of your mistress's apartments. Never suffer anything to lie about, and, therefore, you should pocket any trifle that is left carelessly out of its place. I do not mean to say you should become a thief, for, if found out, you would lose your place and your character, but you may take care of a thing till it is missed, and when it is wanted, it will of course be asked for. It is then time enough for you to find it in some hole or corner, into which it has of course got by accident. Your lady's dressing-box will be under your care. See that the scent-bottles are always well supplied, which you can only ascertain by taking a little out of them for your own use very frequently.
    You should endeavour at all times to save your mistress trouble by acting for her as much as you can; and in order to do this effectually, you should dress as much like her as possible. Order about other servants just as she would herself, and talk to tradespeople exactly as if they were being spoken to by your mistress, of whom you are the representative. Of course the closer the representation you give of her, the more exact are you in the performance of your duty.
    Some ladies'-maids are expected to mend their ladies' clothes; but no lady, that is a lady, ought to wear any clothes that have been mended. You shonld try and persuade her to be of the same opinion, by which you will not only save yourself the trouble of mending, but you will come in for many things much sooner than you could otherwise hope to do. The author of the proverb, that "a stitch in time saves nine," no doubt thought himself very clever; but if avoiding trouble is the object, it stands to reason that though "a stitch in time saves nine," it must be a greater saving still never to put a stitch in anything.
   
If your mistress will make you work at your needle, put a novel on your lap, so that you may read and work at the same time. If you are asked to cut out a body, make a bungling job of it, that you may not be asked to do the same thing again. If you cut out anybody it should be the lady's-maid next door, with which your ambition ought to be satisfied.
    Taking out marks from linen is an essential part of the duties of a lady's-maid. Some practise themselves in this art by taking out the initials of their mistress and substituting their own ; but this is a dangerous experiment.
    It is said in a good little work,* ("Knight's Guide to Service", The Lady's Maid, page 27) that "when for the first time you stand behind your mistress's chair to brush her hair, you may feel that you are placed in a situation of high trust. This, however, depends upon circumstances; for if your mistress dyes her hair, it is a great mark of her confidence to ask you to brush it. If she wears false braids, she is, to a certain extent, in your power; for, as the poet says- 
        "Should she upbraid,"
you might betray her; But if she is almost bald, and wears a wig, from the moment of your being entrusted to stand behind her chair and brush her hair, you may do what you please with her.
   
If, in the story of Faustus, Margaret had worn a wig, and Mephistophiles had seen her but once without it, the power of the fiend over her would have been irresistible.
    In your position of lady's-maid, many family secrets will perhaps come to your knowledge. Do not talk of them to your fellow-servants, which would, in fact, be destroying your own valuable monopoly. A servant who knows a great deal of the family affairs cannot be cheaply parted with. You will be secure in your place, and will therefore be in a position to make the most of all its advantages.
    The little work we have already alluded to says, that it the lady's-maid is depressed in spirits, "she should open her mind to the friend, whoever it may be, that got her the place." This friend is usually the keeper of a servant's office, who would have enough to do if she were made to bear the infliction of all the unbosomings of all the discontented servants she may have found situations for. This mode of easing your heart would involve the necessity of constantly running out, besides the expense of an occasional omnibus.
    Manners form an essential part of the qualities of a lady's-maid, and making one's self agreeable is the best mannered thing one can possibly accomplish. This is to be done by praise, for nothing is more agreeable to a lady than flattery. However sensible your mistress may be, she is sure to have a share of female vanity; and even if she knows herself to be ugly altogether, she will fancy she has some redeeming feature. If she squints, praise her complexion; if that is bad, tell her she has beautiful eyes: if she has a dumpty figure, praise her face; and if her countenance is as ugly as sin, tell her that her shape is exquisite. Some people will tell you that sensible women don't like flattery; but this you must not believe; for, however sensible they are, they are pleased by it, particularly when it is administered with so much art as to seem not intended for mere compliment. Very palpable praise is insulting to the generality of ladies; but flattery can scarcely be too gross for some few of them. You should study the character of your mistress, that you may not run the risk of offending her by too much praise, or hurting her by giving too little. Your mistress will sometimes take a journey, and you will then have to pack her things for her. The following directions for packing a lady's portmanteau may, therefore, be of use to you:- Put the lighter dresses at the bottom, for these will not be wanted while travelling; and artificial flowers, wreaths, &c., may go along with them. Insert next a layer of dress caps, and ram well down with heavy dresses, to keep the others in their places. Throw in a sprinkling of shoes, and then add the rest of the wardrobe ; cramming in the marking-ink and the desk at the top, where they are easily got at if they are wanted. Thrust in scissors and hair-brushes anywhere that you can find room for them. Get the footman to cord the box, for it will be a good romp for you, well as a great assistance.
    By following these instructions, you will find that you have a tolerably snug place of it.

Punch, Jul.-Dec. 1845


VENUS IN WANT OF A LADY'S MAID.

ANYBODY who would like to see a magnificent woman, should inquire at the shop of a fruiterer and greengrocer in Curzon Street, Mayfair, whose name and address will be found in an advertisement which appeared in the Morning Post of Thursday, the 20th instant. Here, minus those particulars only, is that advertisement:

WANTED, a Complete MAID, either English or foreign, to Wait upon One Lady. She roust be a person of general talent, accustomed to dress a lady, and to take care of her wardrobe, and a first-rate packer. She must be a perfect dressmaker and milliner, and work quickly; an excellent hairdresser is also required. She must understand getting up fine linen and lace thoroughly. A superficial knowledge of these qualifications will not be sufficient. Applications must be made to MR.--- , Fruiterer and Greengrocer, ---, Curzon Street, Mayfair.

The services which this lady requires are evidently those which she has been accustomed to receive. What a highly cultivated lady, what a splendidly got up creature she must be! General talent experience in the art of attiring ladies and attending to their wardrobe, first rate skill in packing apparel, perfection in dressmaking and millinery, celerity in performing a vast amount of labour in those branches of decorative industry, excellence in the dressing and adornment of hair, thorough understanding of the superfinement of fine linen and lace: no mere superficial knowledge of these things, but consummate proficiency in all of them; all this talent, experience, skill, celerity, industry, understanding, knowledge and ability in the arts of personal adornment: all these numerous and intense cosmetic qualities, the endowments of a Complete Maid, an entire and perfect chrysolite, a gem of an Abigail, concentrated to embellish the person of one lady!
    Fancy the result - or no - perhaps it had better not be imagined. The idea of exquisite female beauty enhanced by the extremest efforts of decorative science and dexterity to an excessive altitude, is too dazzling. The head swims. Whom does this beautiful being bless? He must find her rather expensive, though. Or whom, indifferent to her charms, is she desirous to bless if she can but fascinate him? Alas! Perhaps after all, this is the difficulty! The result of a pilgrimage to Curzon Street might prove to be a "sell." The pilgrim who expected to see a beauty might behold a griffin; and all the above demand for tittivation-power maybe a mere aspiration to be made, as it were, a silk purse of, on the part, so to speak, of a sow's ear!

Punch, January 29, 1859