Morning

Robert Dodsley, "The Footman. An Epistle to my Friend Mr. Wright"

In his poem, "The Footman," Robert Dodsley writes of what he knows. Dodsley (1703–1764) grew up in rural England, and ran from an unhappy apprenticeship in stocking weaving to London, where he quickly found work as a footman. He describes a footman's usual tasks in this poem, and, like its narrator, Dodsley watched and learned from his employers. In Dodsley's case, one of his employer's dinner guests helped him to begin a new career. Alexander Pope, impressed by this poem and by Dodsley's play, The Toy-Shop (1735), gave Dodsley a hundred pounds to set himself up in the publishing business.

Dodsley's progress from that point on was meteoric. From his early job as a "fart-catcher" >> note 1 (eighteenth-century slang for a footman, who would customarily walk behind his master or mistress), Dodsley grew to be one of the most prolific and influential publishers in the history of British literature. His list of authors included not only Alexander Pope, but Samuel Johnson, Daniel Defoe, David Garrick, Thomas Gray, Laurence Sterne, Samuel Richardson, Edward Young, Oliver Goldsmith, and Edmund Burke. His anthology, A Collection of Poems. By Several Hands (1748–1758), popularly known as "Dodsley's Collection," effectively created the canon of eighteenth-century English poetry.

A Servant's Day in London


Dear FRIEND,
Since I am now at leisure,
And in the Country taking Pleasure,
If it be worth your while to hear
A silly Footman's Business there,
I'll try to tell, in easy Rhyme,
How I in London spend my Time.

And first,
As soon as Laziness will let me,
To cleaning Glasses, Knives, and Plate,
And such-like dirty Work as that,
Which (by the bye) is what I hate.
This done; with expeditious Care,
To dress myself I strait prepare;
I clean my Buckles, black my Shoes;
Powder my Wig, and brush my Cloaths;
Take off my Beard, and wash my Face,
And then I'm ready for the Chace.

Down comes my Lady's Woman strait:
Where's Robin? Here. Pray take your Hat,
And go—and go—and go—and go—;
And this—and that desire to know.
The Charge receiv'd, away run I, And here, and there, and yonder fly,
With Services, and How-d'ye'does,
Then Home return full fraught with News.

Here some short Time does interpose,
'Till warm Efflucia's greet my Nose,
Which from the Spits and Kettles fly,
Declaring Dinner-time is nigh.
To lay the Cloth I now prepare,
With Uniformity and Care;
In Order Knives and Forks are laid,
With folded Napkins, Salt, and Bread:
The Side-boards glittering too appear,
With Plate, and Glass, and China-ware.
Then Ale, and Beer, and Wine decanted,
And all Things ready which are wanted,
The smoaking Dishes enter in
To Stomachs sharp a grateful Scene;
Which on the Table being plac'd,
And some few Ceremonies past,
They all sit down, and fall to eating,
Whilst I behind stand silent waiting.

This is the only pleasant Hour
Which I have in the Twenty-four;
For whilst I unregarded stand,
With ready Salver in my Hand,
And seem to understand no more
Than just what's call'd for, out to pour;
I hear, and mark the courtly Phrases,
And all the elegance that passes;
Disputes maintain'd without Digression,
With ready Wit, and fine Expression;
The Laws of true Politeness stated,
And what Good-breeding is, debated:
Where all unanimously exclude
The vain Coquet, the formal Prude,
The Ceremonious, and the Rude.
The flattering, fawning, praising Train;
The fluttering, empty, noisy, vain;
Detraction, Smut, and what's prophane.

This happy Hour elaps'd and gone,
The Time of drinking Tea comes on.
The Kettle fill'd, the Water boil'd,
The Cream provided, Biscuits pil'd,
And Lamp prepar'd; I strait engage
The Lilliputian Equipage
Of Dishes, Saucers, Spoons, and Tongs,
And all th' Et cetera which thereto belongs.
Which rang'd in order and Decorum,
I carry in, and set before 'em;
Then pour or Green, or Bohea out,
And, as commanded, hand about.

This Business over, presently
The Hour of visiting draws nigh;
The Chairman strait prepare the Chair,
A lighted Flambeau I prepare;
And Orders given where to go,
We march along, and bustle thro'
The parting Crouds, who all stand off
To give us Room. O how you'd laugh!
To see me strut before a Chair,
And with a stirdy Voice, and Air,
Crying—By your Leave, Sir! have a Care!
From Place to Place with speed we fly,
And Rat-tatat the Knockers cry:
Pray is your Lady, Sir, within?
If no, go on; if yes, we enter in.

Then to the Hall I guide my Steps,
Amongst a Croud of Brother Skips,
Drinking Small-beer, and talking Smut,
And this Fool's Nonsence puting that Fool's out.
Whilst Oaths and Peals of Laughter meet,
And he who'd loudest, is the greatest Wit.
But here amongst us the chief Trade is
To rail against our Lords and Ladies;
To aggravate their smallest Failings,
T'expose their Faults with saucy Railings.
For my Part, as I hate the Practice,
And see in them how base and black 'tis,
To some bye Place I therefore creep,
And sit me down, and feign to sleep;
And could I with old Morpheus bargain,
'Twou'd save my Ears much Noise and Jargon.
But down my Lady comes again,
And I'm released from my Pain.
To some new Place our Steps we bend,
The tedious Evening out to spend;
Sometimes, perhaps, to see the Play,
Assembly, or the Opera;
Then home and sup, and thus we end the Day.

© 2010 W.W. Norton and Company :  Site Feedback  :  Help  :  Credits  :  Home  :  Top of page    
Home