Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 133.djvu/705

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ITALIAN SERVANTS VERSUS ENGLISH.

699

From The Examiner.

ITALIAN SERVANTS VERSUS ENGLISH.

The servant difficulty, now under so much discussion, is supposed by English people to be confined to their own country, but, if the grumblers could but know what people in a remote part of Italy suffer from these necessary evils, they would cease to murmur, and would congratulate themselves on their superior good fortune. It is true that in the great towns of Italy servants may be found superior in some respects to the greatest "treasure" that may fall to our lot in England. They demand but little pay, eat next to nothing, are temperate, intelligent, pleasing in manner, not particular about what is or is not their place, and can work well when absolutely obliged. On the other hand, they never do anything at all if they can possibly help it. They are afflicted with hydrophobia to an extraordinary extent. They never tell the truth, on principle, even when it would be to their own advantage to do so. They have no morality amongst them. Such a thing as a "character" is never even asked for with an Italian servant. They are vindictive to the last degree, and if you dismiss one summarily you not unfrequently risk your life. They will bear a good deal, however, that English servants would by no means endure. Their masters may swear at them, half starve them, pay them nothing, if only they leave them free to parade the streets in the evenings on Sundays and feast-days, and have their fun. The one necessity of their life is amusement.

It may be said that if there are drawbacks there are also counterbalancing advantages in this state of things, and that Italian servants in great towns are no worse, on the whole, than their English fellows. That may be so; but let Englishwomen who live at home at ease read the following narrative of the experience of a family in the country. "When we first decided," the narrative runs, "on leaving the beaten track and setting up a campagna in a remote place, any difficulties about servants were the last that occurred to us. There would be servants of course in the towns and villages around us, who, for a trifling addition to their wages (usually, we heard, about five francs a month), would be delighted to come to us. Then there were plenty of peasants to do the rough work, who, in time, would learn to be good servants. What could be simpler? So we reasoned in the innocence of our hearts. We began with a cameriera, who announced herself a first-rate hairdresser, dressmaker, cook, housemaid, etc., and a bright, good-looking peasant girl of seventeen, whom we set to work to 'educate.' The cameriera not only displayed absolute ignorance on all the subjects in which she declared herself a proficient, but turned out to be one of the most disreputable characters in the town from which we took her. The lady who had recommended her, when remonstrated with, merely said, 'What would you have? They are all bad characters.' Having dismissed Maria, we concentrated our attention on the young peasant. She was intelligent, and could learn everything except civilization, but she was a barbarian whom nothing could tame. In vain we gave her shoes and stockings. She never would keep them on for five minutes together. In vain did we attempt to teach her to modify her language, or to treat us with any sort of respect. One day she flatly refused to do any more work, so had to be dismissed. She departed barefoot and rejoicing to the wretched home whence we took her, and where she and her sixteen brothers and sisters had never by any chance had enough to eat.

"Next we tried protégée of the nuns. The best pupil in a convent instituted for the benefit of foundlings was confided to our care. Concetta had never been outside convent walls. All she had learnt of a practical nature was the art of embroidery, in which certainly she excelled; but then we did not want embroidery, and we did want the beds made, and the rooms swept and dusted. It was again a case of raw material to be worked upon. We hoped to be more successful this time. The girl was remarkably clever and not intractable. She soon learnt to be useful, and after sundry gentle hints discovered besides that it was not the correct thing to come into the sitting-room of an evening and join in the conversation, squatting on the floor, and that, however amiable might be the inclination to take me round the waist and embrace me, it should be restrained. My husband thought it his duty to let her know that the pope does not sleep on straw, and is not in a state of actual starvation. Dunque come Vittorio! was her astonished exclamation, when the beauty and luxuries of the Vatican and the state which still surrounds Pio Nono were described to her. 'And they persuaded me to send him all the money I earned by my embroidery! It was too bad.' These lessons were only too well learnt. Con-