Domestic Servants in Hamburgh

It may not perhaps be uninteresting for those of your readers who have so often to complain of “wretched servants,” to learn how they are managed elsewhere.

During the spring of the present year, I was spending a short time in Hamburgh; and one afternoon, being engaged to dine with a female relative resident there, I was surprised, upon my arrival, to find her in a state of intense excitement, caused by the misconduct of one of her domestics; and by way of entree to our repast the following narrative was served up for my gratification.

It appeared that Doris, a comely looking girl, had come from Lubeck to Hamburgh in search of a place, and had been engaged as housemaid by my worthy aunt. Though able to work well, she was not only thoughtless but passionate; and would often lose control over her temper to such a degree, as to completely terrify the members of the household.

Having, however, rendered herself of great service upon several occasions of sickness in the family, her many sins of omission and commission had been overlooked until that very day, when, being required to do some additional work, she had completely forgotten herself — had made dire onslaught upon crockery and kitchen utensils, given full indulgence to her tongue, and otherwise so grossly misbehaved herself, that my aunt had been compelled to request the assistance of the police authorities to restore order. I was then informed that in Hamburgh it is the custom to engage servants for six months, and that they cannot be sent away before the expiration of that period unless paid for the whole time, or in event of their being placed under the surveillance of the police.

At this moment an officer from the Bureau arrived. To a casual observer he might have seemed merely a respectable tradesman, but I recognised him as a member of the profession with which, in former days of extreme conviviality, I had more than once come in unpleasantly close contact. To him did my aunt relate her sorrows; and upon his requesting that the delinquent might be summoned, a scene ensued which was irresistibly comical.

With her back to the door, her apron to her eyes, stood the hapless Dienstmadchen, confronted by the officer, whilst on one side my relative detailed the misdemeanours of her domestic, dwelling upon her own forbearance and goodness, with a force and eloquence that would have brought tears of sympathy into the eyes of any one who had dined.

At length she ceased. The man in authority commented severely upon the misconduct of the Madchen (who had made but few though desperate attempts to prove her innocence), told her that she should be at once placed under arrest, undergo perhaps two days’ imprisonment, then be taken to the gate of the city and ignominiously sent about her business. Heedless of her agonising entreaties for mercy, she was then dismissed from the room; and I forgot my hunger in a strong desire to assist her inquisitor to a still more speedy exit through the window.

By this time the anger of my relative had given way to compassion; she begged that the girl might not be imprisoned, and even offered to retain her if she could be bound over to keep the peace. To this the polizei assented; the servant was again sent for; and the former, addressing her in impressive low German, said that at the request of Madame he should give her one more trial, send in two days to make inquiries as to her conduct; and should the result not be satisfactory, that he should enforce the sentence already passed. All that the officer received for this trouble and trial of patience was thanks, as there was nothing to pay, he said, although had the girl been arrested a Prussian dollar would have been due to the Bureau. A polite bow, and he was gone; and I lost no time attacking the repast which this specimen of Hamburgh justice had compelled me to forego so long.

I have since heard that Doris seems to have profited by her lesson; and though such a plan could scarcely be adopted in England, where policeman, servant, and kitchen are so closely connected, still I believe, that were the servants in this country placed under external control, and made amenable to the authorities for any breach of domestic peace, or improper conduct of any kind, the same good results might ensue as on the day I so much enjoyed the eloquence and hospitality of my esteemed relative.

George A. Jackson.


About libros19blog

Central Florida
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