|18th Century References-another view.
Written by JulieW
(10/29/2003 8:19 a.m.)
in consequence of the missive, GR: Yes, thanks for posting it, Julie!, penned by Line
In The Domestic Servant Class in Eighteenth Century England by J. Jean Hecht very interesting points about references are made that seem to contradict the stacne taken by Amanda Vickery..I thought you might like to share.
In the Chapter "The Relationship of Master and Servant "he makes the following points.
References were important.If a servant did not obtain a favourable one from his emloyers his propects of being re-empolyed were diminished.
However,employers did not help matters by often providing good refernces ,even when the servant did not deserve it.John Fielding in "Penal Laws"(he was the brother of Henry the author)attributed
" Most of the Inconveniences arising in families from the Misconduct of Servants...to the partial and unjust Charactrs given of them by their Masters and Mistresses"
Hecht makes the point that most servants knew a good refernce would be forthcoming from previous emplyers- eventually..It was a comom habit NOT to give a bad one.And so this leniency on the part of employers caused any threats to withhold a referernce or give a bad one to lose their force,as a servant knew that ,in time, a good one would be forthcoming.
Indeed, I think we can find that Elizabeth Shakelton herself gave a refernces for Nanny Nutter. She certainly received a letter from Nanny's father in May 1778 requesting the same..Poor Nanny did not seem to me to have been particularly exemplary servant,and ended up running away,after being rude.Yet her father wrote for a refernce which must have been forthcoming,IMHO, as the girl was taken on as a chamber maid at Carr Hall.
That there was a trade in obtaining forged refernces indicates, to me at least, that a refernce was a thing of value.
Henry Fielding in "An Enquiry into the cause of the Late Increase of Robbers etc"( 1751 ) made reference to this very profitable business.
Sometimes the forged references were written,but sometimes they were verbal, with the pretended ex- master /mistress actually meeting the employer to be.There is evidence of this in evidence of one case, which given to a comittee of the House of Commons in 1791. There a Mr James Free told how on engaging a coachman he ahad interviewed the man who was supposed to be his former master. Later on ,however, the coachman confessed that the fellow who had impersonated his master,
"Was a Man notoriously in the Habit of giving false Characters to Servants out of place( unemployed-JW), and that for what he had said of him he ahd paid him One Quinea....."
This "Master" had passed himself off as a country squire from Gloucestershire!
Interesting isn't it?
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