Lower Classes

In the silver fork novels, people often defined themselves by what they were not. There was a great deal of judgment about ‘lower’ orders of people, including servants, the middle classes, the working classes, foreigners, and other races–all of which is deeply insensitive and not politically correct today.

'Nooks and Corners of Character. - The Charwoman'. Punch (London, England), Saturday, February 09, 1850; pg. 51. New Readerships.

‘Nooks and Corners of Character. – The Charwoman’.
Punch (London, England), Saturday, February 09, 1850; pg. 51. New Readerships.

Novelties

  • “the nameless nothings that are always lounging about the country mansions of the great, such as artists, tourists, authors, and other live stock, soon disappear” (Vivian Grey 2:30).
  • A lower-class person of novelty “rarely lasts above a London season. We allow the low-born author to be the lion this year; but we dub him a bore the next” (Godolphin 1:228).

The Middle Classes

  • “Like most underbred persons who have risen in life, she had a considerable mania for fine people; a mania which was often too broadly displayed” (Granby 1:50).
  • “I abhor people who enter a room rubbing their hands, and drawing in their breath. It is the favourite entrée en scène of dentists, attorneys, and other excruciators of the public mind and body” (Cecil 22).
  • “these individuals were dressed in the bang-up style, . . . their dialect being the newly-discovered European tongue, called slang. – I saw at a glance that I, Cecil Danby, should irremediably soil my fingers by contact with such gentry” (Cecil 62-63).
  • “The classes that border upon the highest . . . struggle to emulate the ton of their superiors . . . It frets, it irritates, but it keeps them alive” (Godolphin 2:128).
  • “’we can’t well associate with the attorney’s family, as I leave you to suppose . . . . One may ask one’s medical man to one’s table certainly: but his family . . .’” (The Book of Snobs 119).
  • “’My mother . . . had too high a sense of what was due to her own rank in society, to admit the familiar acquaintance of professors; who, however entitled, by their genius, to admiration, were not formed by situation or education to be her intimates’” (Harold the Exile 1:181).
  • “Vulgar people know nothing of the necessaries required in good society, and the credit they give is as short as their pedigree” (Pelham 1:1-2).
  • “How common people always buy their opinions with their goods, and regulate the height of the former by the mere price or fashion of the latter” (Pelham 1:62-63).
  • “I have often wondered what common people think of us [aristocrats], since, in their novels, they always affect to pourtray [sic] us so different from themselves. I am very much afraid, we are in all things exactly like them, except in being the more simple and unaffected. The higher the rank, indeed, the less pretence, because there is less to pretend to. This is the chief reason why our manners are better than low persons; our are more natural, because we imitate no one else . . . whatever is evidently borrowed becomes vulgar” (Pelham 1:232-233).
  • “’I hate country girls! they always profess to know every thing, or nothing; and I do not know which is worse, to hear them murder music and talk of their country beaux and vulgar flirtations, as if they were civilized beings; or to be teased to death with their questions about Almacks and the Opera; their stupid wonder at every thing not wonderful’” (Agnes Serle 1:32-33).
  • “’Rachel! – Just the name of people of their caste! – I might have guessed it. I see her exactly. Rather tall, – bony, – square; – thin lips –sallow complexion, – long, thin, black hair, plainly braided; – is not that a likeness?’” (The Three Eras of Woman’s Life 1:152).

Working Classes

  • “To say the truth, the whole place reeked with vulgarity. The men drank beer by the gallon, and eat cheese by the hundred weight – wore jockey-cut coats, and talked slang – rode for wagers, and swore when they lost – smoked in your face, and expectorated on the floor. Their proudest glory was to drive the mail – their mightiest exploit to box with the coachman – their most delicate amour to leer at the barmaid” (Pelham 1:13).
  • “’these Rosemores are in truth horribly vulgar people?’ ‘Abominably under-bred . . . the mother is, – I hardly know how to describe her – she is in fact that sort of person who would drink porter, eat peas with her knife, and burn tallow-candles in her drawing-room . . . the girl . . . does kitchen dances, goes to plays, sings English songs, works with a needle, and won’t waltz’” (Sayings and Doings, Second Series, Vol. II 165-166).
  • “Alfred’s aversion and contempt for this industrious class of individuals was invincible; they were useful, it is true, and necessary to his existence, and he detested them the more from this circumstance; and consequently treated them with the most sovereign insult and disdain” (Almack’s Revisited 1:189).
  • “’this will be a lesson to the overweening vanity and pride of the labouring classes, who think of nothing but giving that outward show and polish to their children which is unfitted to their stations, and which ends too frequently in their undoing’” (The Separation 1:86).

Servants and Employees

  • “Mrs. Million arrived, and kept her promise; only three carriages-and-four! Out of the first descended the mighty lady herself, with some noble friends, who formed the most distinguished part of her suite: out of the second came her physician, Dr. Sly; her toad-eater, Miss Gusset; her secretary, and her page. The third carriage bore her groom of the chambers, and three female attendants. There were only two men servants to each equipage; nothing could be more moderate, or, as Miss Gusset said, ‘in better taste’” (Vivian Grey 1:182).
  • “The Abberlys had, besides their coachman, but one male servant, who waited at dinner in a livery, sometimes assisted by the said coachman fresh from the stables, smelling like Astley’s Amphitheatre of Arts. And they kept a blue coach, with red wheels and yellow ciphers painted on the panels, drawn by a pair of job horses” (Sayings and Doings, Second Series, Vol. I 229).
  • “Wilson himself selected for Miss (as he called Louisa) a pair of superfine ladies’ footmen, with long legs and broad shoulders” (Sayings and Doings, Second Series Vol. I 241).
  • “’Miss Leech . . . assents to my dicta, scolds my maid when the weather is too hot to allow me to do it myself, read the Morning Post and makes tea, curls the poodles, plays propriety when I have men parties, and rides backward in the barouche’” (Sayings and Doings, Second Series, Vol. II 82).
  • “If you frequent houses . . . where are many good fellows and amiable ladies who cannot afford to have their doors opened or their tables attended by men, pray be particularly courteous . . . to the women-servants. Thank them when they serve you. Give them a half-crown now and then – nay, as often as your means will permit” (Sketches and Travels in London 224).
  • “The fact is, Mrs. Busby was a remarkably sly person, as most well-fed domestics are” (Confessions of an Old Bachelor 45).
  • “it was the first housemaid whom Lumley had ever seen in that house, so invisible were the wheels of the domestic machine carried on” (Ernest Maltravers 1:251).
  • “Mrs. Elphinstone could recall no precedent for asking a governess to be seated in her presence” (The Governess 10).
  • “’Augusta made it one of the conditions on hiring her governess, that she should be ugly’” (The Governess 125).
  • “the Mordaunt family . . . . would have been shocked at the idea of engaging a laundry maid who frequented the neighbouring meeting house” (Women As They Are 1:279).
  • “’my cook is, I think, cheap, she gets only a hundred a-year, tea, and washing; my butler, who lived with four successive Lord Meyors, has eighty; my under butler, who is remarkable, as you see, for cleaning plate, forty; and my footmen twenty-eight guineas each’” (Almack’s Revisited 2:217-218).
  • “’I must declare that I had rather give a hundred or two [pounds] more to my cook, than to any other servant in my house; for one’s whole domestic comfort depends upon one’s cook’” (The Exclusives 2:155-156).

General Views

  • “nature never intended the whole human race to be gentlemen” (Romance and Reality 2:257).
  • “’how vaustly [sic] impertinent it was of such people [non-aristocrats] to have mahogany doors and window frames’” (Cheveley 335).
  • “It is a great mistake to judge of Snobs lightly, and think they exist among the lower classes merely. An immense per-centage of Snobs, I believe, is to be found in every rank of this mortal life. You must not judge hastily or vulgarly of Snobs: to do so shows that you are yourself a Snob” (The Book of Snobs 3).
  • “’I must only beg, that my daughters may be early taught the immense importance of distinguishing between those of their own, and of a different rank; and, I must request, they may never be allowed to speak to an inferior, either in or out of the house’” (The Governess 11).
  • “’poor people are always stupid, and cannot expect to be liked’” (Agnes Serle 1:27).

Other Races

  • “Of all human beings, I think a huge black woman is the most detestable to contemplate” (Confessions of an Old Bachelor 52).
  • “he must be a strange eccentric man; but they supposed India made people rather odd” (Tales of Perplexity 197).

Germans

  • “didst thou ever abide in the soft bosom of a recht herzliche German family, – drink of their beer, – smoke of their tobacco, – and chaw metaphysics with them; – the extraordinary exaltation of their minds justifying itself to yours by anxiety to lose sight of the degradation of body, so preposterously gross and nasty’” (Cecil 277).
  • “’Those German women never make good English wives’” (Vivian Grey 1:247).

Italians

  • “There is nothing an Italian will not promise, nothing he will not sell” (Godolphin 2:82)
  • “The conversation naturally fell upon music: it is almost the only thing which Italians in general can be said to know” (Ernest Maltravers 1:73).
  • “she had that great charm which Italian women so rarely – so very rarely possess – ‘a most sweet voice’” (Cheveley 28).

The French

  • “’Certainly, the French have more sentiment and less feeling than any people in the world’” (Cheveley 21).
  • “’Surely there are plenty of good French cooks in London?’ . . . . ‘No genuine Frenchman can stand the fogs of this climate’” (The Fair of Mayfair 2:83).
  • “he had no prejudices, though he hated the French (and he certainly believed all foreigners to be French” (The School of Fashion 1:4).
  • “A Frenchwoman is not content with being a good wife and mother . . . but she must dramatize the part” (The Two Friends 2:93).

The Irish

  • “’Every Irish girl wants many requisites to form a person of fashion . . . They all want confidence without vanity; they are too timid without being too modest; and their good-humour arises less from good-temper than from want of dignity’” (The Davenels 1:50-51).

General Views of Foreigners

  • “Marriages with foreigners are seldom fortunate experiements!” (Ernest Maltravers 1:144).
  • “There is no point in which foreigners differ more from Englishmen than in their readiness to please, and be pleased” (Country Houses 1:26).
  • “’I hate foreigners and all their d-d ways’” (The Exclusives 1:169).
  • “he much feared that no true modesty – no real good wives or mothers – were to be found any where but in England” (The School of Fashion 1:4).
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  1. Pingback: Silver Fork Etiquette: A Hunterian Associate Project on 19th century self-help fiction | University of Glasgow Library

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