Certainly she had humility; but he gives her other Christian virtues—
So true she felt it that to hope,
To trust is happier than to know.
But we may doubt if Tom knew what Bessy knew and excused. Sensibility will not dig very deep.
They tell me that a respectable and ancient profession, and one always honoured by literature, is dying out; and if that is true, then two more clauses of the tenth Commandment will lose their meaning. For a long time to come we shall go on grudging our neighbour his house—there’s no doubt about that; but even as his ox and ass have ceased to enter into practical ethics because our average neighbour doesn’t possess either, so we hear it is to be with his servant and his maid.
They have had their day. There are no domestic servants at the registries; the cap and apron, than which no uniform ever more enhanced a fair maid or extenuated a plain one, will be found only in the war museum, as relics of ante-bellum practice; we shall sluice our own doorsteps in the early morning hours, receive our own letters from the postman, have our own conversations with the butcher’s young man at the area gate; and in time, perhaps, learn how it may be possible to eat a dinner which we have ourselves cooked and served up. Better for us, all that, it may well be; but will it be better for our girls? I am sure it will not.
Domestic service, I have said, is an employment which literature has always approved. From Gay to Hazlitt, from Swift to Dickens, there have been few writers of light touch upon life who have not had a kind eye for the housemaid. There’s a passage somewhere in Stevenson for which I have spent an hour’s vain hunting, which exactly hits the centre. The confidential relationship, the trim appearance, not without its suggestion of comic opera and the soubrette of the Comedie Francaise, the combined air of cheerfulness and respect which is demanded, mind you, on either side the bargain—all this is acutely and vivaciously observed in half a page by a writer who never missed a romantic opening in his days. The profession, indeed, has never lacked romance in real life. Strangeness has persistently followed beauty in and out of the kitchen. The number of old gentlemen who have married their cooks is really considerable. Younger gentlemen, whose god has been otherwhere, have married their housemaids. A Lord Viscount Townshend, who died in 1763 or thereabouts, did so in the nick of time, and left her fifty thousand pounds. Tom Coutts the banker, founder of the great house in the Strand, married his brother’s nursemaid, and loved her faithfully for fifty years. She gave him three daughters who all married titles; but she was their ladyships’ “dear Mamma” throughout; and Coutts himself saw to it that where he dined she dined also. There’s nothing in caste in our country, given the essential solvent.