Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/308

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294
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

my house, as you mean to place it at the disposition of your correspondent."

But these modes of addressing a real or fictitious superior, indirectly asserting subjection to him in body and effects, are secondary in importance to the direct assertions of slavery and servitude; which, beginning in barbarous days, have persisted during civilization down to the present time.

 

Biblical narratives have familiarized us with the word "servant," as habitually applied to himself by a subject or inferior, when speaking to a ruler or superior. In our days of freedom, the associations established by daily habit have obscured the fact that "servant," as used in translations of old records, means "slave"—implies the condition fallen into by a captive taken in war. Consequently, when, as frequently in the Bible, the phrases "thy servant" or "thy servants" are uttered before a king, they must be taken to signify that same state of subjugation which is more circuitously signified by the phrases quoted in the last section. Clearly this self-abasing word was employed, not by attendants only, but by conquered peoples, and by subjects at large; as we see when the unknown David, addressing Saul, describes both himself and his father as Saul's servants. And kindred uses of the word to rulers have continued down to modern times.

Very early, however, professions of servitude, originally made only to one of supreme authority, came to be made to those of subordinate authority. Brought before Joseph in Egypt, and fearing him, his brethren call themselves his servants or slaves; and not only so, but speak of their father as standing in a like relation to him. Moreover, there is evidence that this form of address extended to the intercourse between equals, where a favor was to be gained; as witness Judges xix. 19. How among European peoples a like diffusion has taken place, need not be shown further than by exemplifying some of the stages. Among French courtiers in the sixteenth century it was common to say, "I am your servant and the perpetual slave of your house;" and among ourselves in past times there were used such indirect expressions of servitude as—"Yours to command," "Ever at your worship's disposing," "In all serviceable humbleness," etc. While in our days, rarely made orally save in irony, such forms have left only their written representatives—"Your obedient servant," "Your humble servant:" mostly reserved for occasions when distance is to be maintained, and for this reason often having inverted meanings.

That for religious purposes the same propitiatory words are used, is a familiar truth. In Hebrew history men are described as servants of God, just as they are described as servants of the king. Neighboring peoples are said to serve their respective deities just as slaves are said to serve their masters. And there are sundry cases in which these relations to the visible ruler and to the invisible ruler are expressed in par-