EVERYBODY'S BUSINESS IS NOBODY'S BUSINESS
or, PRIVATE ABUSES, PUBLIC GRIEVANCES:
In the Pride, Insolence, and exorbitant Wages of our Women,
Servants, Footmen, &c.
A Proposal for Amendment of the same; as also for clearing the
Streets of those Vermin called Shoe-Cleaners, and substituting in
their stead many Thousands of industrious Poor, now ready to
starve. With divers other Hints of great Use to the Public.
Humbly submitted the Consideration of our Legislature, and the
careful Perusal of all Masters and Mistresses of Families.
BY ANDREW MORETON, Esq.
The Fifth Edition, with the Addition of a Preface.
Since this little book appeared in print, it has had no less than
three answers, and fresh attacks are daily expected from the powers
of Grub-street; but should threescore antagonists more arise,
unless they say more to the purpose than the forementioned, they
shall not tempt me to reply.
Nor shall I engage in a paper war, but leave my book to answer for
itself, having advanced nothing therein but evident truths, and
incontestible matters of fact.
The general objection is against my style; I do not set up for an
author, but write only to be understood, no matter how plain.
As my intentions are good, so have they had the good fortune to
meet with approbation from the sober and substantial part of
mankind; as for the vicious and vagabond, their ill-will is my
It is with uncommon satisfaction I see the magistracy begin to put
the laws against vagabonds in force with the utmost vigour, a great
many of those vermin, the japanners, having lately been taken up
and sent to the several work-houses in and about this city; and
indeed high time, for they grow every day more and more pernicious.
My project for putting watchmen under commissioners, will, I hope,
be put in practice; for it is scarce safe to go by water unless you
know your man.
As for the maid-servants, if I undervalue myself to take notice of
them, as they are pleased to say, it is because they overvalue
themselves so much they ought to be taken notice of.
This makes the guilty take my subject by the wrong end, but any
impartial reader may find, I write not against servants, but bad
servants; not against wages, but exorbitant wages, and am entirely
of the poet's opinion,
The good should meet with favour and applause,
The wicked be restrain'd by wholesome laws.
The reason why I did not publish this book till the end of the last
sessions of parliament was, because I did not care to interfere
with more momentous affairs; but leave it to the consideration of
that august body during this recess, against the next sessions,
when I shall exhibit another complaint against a growing abuse, for
which I doubt not but to receive their approbation and the thanks
of all honest men.
EVERYBODY'S BUSINESS IS NOBODY'S BUSINESS
by Daniel Defoe
This is a proverb so common in everybody's mouth, that I wonder
nobody has yet thought it worth while to draw proper inferences
from it, and expose those little abuses, which, though they seem
trifling, and as it were scarce worth consideration, yet, by
insensible degrees, they may become of injurious consequence to the
public; like some diseases, whose first symptoms are only trifling
disorders, but by continuance and progression, their last periods
terminate in the destruction of the whole human fabric.
In contradiction therefore to this general rule, and out of sincere
love and well meaning to the public, give me leave to enumerate the
abuses insensibly crept in among us, and the inconveniences daily
arising from the insolence and intrigues of our servant-wenches,
who, by their caballing together, have made their party so
considerable, that everybody cries out against them; and yet, to
verify the proverb, nobody has thought of, or at least proposed a
remedy, although such an undertaking, mean as it seems to be, I
hope will one day be thought worthy the consideration of our king,
lords, and commons.
Women servants are now so scarce, that from thirty and forty
shillings a year, their wages are increased of late to six, seven,
nay, eight pounds per annum, and upwards; insomuch that an ordinary
tradesman cannot well keep one; but his wife, who might be useful
in his shop or business, must do the drudgery of household affairs;
and all this because our servant-wenches are so puffed up with
pride nowadays, that they never think they go fine enough: it is a
hard matter to know the mistress from the maid by their dress; nay,
very often the maid shall be much the finer of the two. Our
woollen manufacture suffers much by this, for nothing but silks and
satins will go down with our kitchen-wenches; to support which
intolerable pride, they have insensibly raised their wages to such
a height as was never known in any age or nation but this.
Let us trace this from the beginning, and suppose a person has a
servant-maid sent him out of the country, at fifty shillings, or
three pounds a year. The girl has scarce been a week, nay, a day
in her service, but a committee of servant-wenches are appointed to
examine her, who advise her to raise her wages, or give warning; to
encourage her to which, the herb-woman, or chandler-woman, or some
other old intelligencer, provides her a place of four or five
pounds a year; this sets madam cock-a-hoop, and she thinks of
nothing now but vails and high wages, and so gives warning from
place to place, till she has got her wages up to the tip-top.
Her neat's leathern shoes are now transformed into laced ones with
high heels; her yarn stockings are turned into fine woollen ones,
with silk clocks; and her high wooden pattens are kicked away for
leathern clogs; she must have a hoop too, as well as her mistress;
and her poor scanty linsey-woolsey petticoat is changed into a good
silk one, for four or five yards wide at the least. Not to carry
the description farther, in short, plain country Joan is now turned
into a fine London madam, can drink tea, take snuff, and carry
herself as high as the best.
If she be tolerably handsome, and has any share of cunning, the
apprentice or her master's son is enticed away and ruined by her.
Thus many good families are impoverished and disgraced by these
pert sluts, who, taking the advantage of a young man's simplicity
and unruly desires, draw many heedless youths, nay, some of good
estates, into their snares; and of this we have but too many
Some more artful shall conceal their condition, and palm themselves
off on young fellows for gentlewomen and great fortunes. How many
families have been ruined by these ladies? when the father or
master of the family, preferring the flirting airs of a young
prinked up strumpet, to the artless sincerity of a plain, grave,
and good wife, has given his desires aloose, and destroyed soul,
body, family, and estate. But they are very favourable if they
wheedle nobody into matrimony, but only make a present of a small
live creature, no bigger than a bastard, to some of the family, no
matter who gets it; when a child is born it must be kept.
Our sessions' papers of late are crowded with instances of servant-
maids robbing their places, this can be only attributed to their
devilish pride; for their whole inquiry nowadays is, how little
they shall do, how much they shall have.
But all this while they make so little reserve, that if they fall
sick the parish must keep them, if they are out of place, they must
prostitute their bodies, or starve; so that from clopping and
changing, they generally proceed to whoring and thieving, and this
is the reason why our streets swarm with strumpets.
Thus many of them rove from place to place, from bawdy-house to
service, and from service to bawdy-house again, ever unsettled and
never easy, nothing being more common than to find these creatures
one week in a good family, and the next in a brothel. This
amphibious life makes them fit for neither, for if the bawd uses
them ill, away they trip to service, and if the mistress gives them
a wry word, whip they are at a bawdy-house again, so that in effect
they neither make good whores nor good servants.
Those who are not thus slippery in the tail, are light of finger;
and of these the most pernicious are those who beggar you inchmeal.
If a maid is a downright thief she strips you, it once, and you
know your loss; but these retail pilferers waste you insensibly,
and though you hardly miss it, yet your substance shall decay to
such a degree, that you must have a very good bottom indeed not to
feel the ill effects of such moths in your family.
Tea, sugar, wine, &c., or any such trifling commodities, are
reckoned no thefts, if they do not directly take your pewter from
your shelf, or your linen from your drawers, they are very honest:
What harm is there, say they, in cribbing a little matter for a
junket, a merry bout or so? Nay, there are those that when they
are sent to market for one joint of meat, shall take up two on
their master's account, and leave one by the way, for some of these
maids are mighty charitable, and can make a shift to maintain a
small family with what they can purloin from their masters and
If you send them with ready money, they turn factors, and take
threepence or fourpence in the shilling brokerage. And here let me
take notice of one very heinous abuse, not to say petty felony,
which is practised in most of the great families about town, which
is, when the tradesman gives the house-keeper or other commanding
servant a penny or twopence in the shilling, or so much in the
pound, for everything they send in, and which, from thence, is
This, in my opinion, is the greatest of villanies, and ought to
incur some punishment, yet nothing is more common, and our topping
tradesmen, who seem otherwise to stand mightily on their credit,
make this but a matter of course and custom. If I do not, says
one, another will (for the servant is sure to pick a hole in the
person's coat who shall not pay contribution). Thus this wicked
practice is carried on and winked at, while receiving of stolen
goods, and confederating with felons, which is not a jot worse, is
so openly cried out against, and severely punished, witness
And yet if a master or mistress inquire after anything missing,
they must be sure to place their words in due form, or madam huffs
and flings about at a strange rate, What, would you make a thief of
her? Who would live with such mistrustful folks? Thus you are
obliged to hold your tongue, and sit down quietly by your loss, for
fear of offending your maid, forsooth!
Again, if your maid shall maintain one, two, or more persons from
your table, whether they are her poor relations, countryfolk,
servants out of place, shoe-cleaners, charwomen, porters, or any
other of her menial servants, who do her ladyship's drudgery and go
of her errands, you must not complain at your expense, or ask what
has become of such a thing, or such a thing; although it might
never so reasonably be supposed that it was altogether impossible
to have so much expended in your family; but hold your tongue for
peace sake, or madam will say, You grudge her victuals; and expose
you to the last degree all over the neighbourhood.
Thus have they a salve for every sore, cheat you to your face, and
insult you into the bargain; nor can you help yourself without
exposing yourself, or putting yourself into a passion.
Another great abuse crept in among us, is the giving of veils to
servants; this was intended originally as an encouragement to such
as were willing and handy, but by custom and corruption it is now
grown to be a thorn in our sides, and, like other good things,
abused, does more harm than good; for now they make it a
perquisite, a material part of their wages, nor must their master
give a supper, but the maid expects the guests should pay for it,
nay, sometimes through the nose. Thus have they spirited people up
to this unnecessary and burthensome piece of generosity unknown to
our forefathers, who only gave gifts to servants at Christmas-tide,
which custom is yet kept into the bargain; insomuch that a maid
shall have eight pounds per annum in a gentleman's or merchant's
family. And if her master is a man of free spirit, who receives
much company, she very often doubles her wages by her veils; thus
having meat, drink, washing, and lodging for her labour, she throws
her whole income upon her back, and by this means looks more like
the mistress of the family than the servant-wench.
And now we have mentioned washing, I would ask some good
housewifely gentlewoman, if servant-maids wearing printed linens,
cottons, and other things of that nature, which require frequent
washing, do not, by enhancing the article of soap, add more to
housekeeping than the generality of people would imagine? And yet
these wretches cry out against great washes, when their own
unnecessary dabs are very often the occasion.
But the greatest abuse of all is, that these creatures are become
their own lawgivers; nay, I think they are ours too, though nobody
would imagine that such a set of slatterns should bamboozle a whole
nation; but it is neither better nor worse, they hire themselves to
you by their own rule.
That is, a month's wages, or a month's warning; if they don't like
you they will go away the next day, help yourself how you can; if
you don't like them, you must give them a month's wages to get rid
This custom of warning, as practised by our maid-servants, is now
become a great inconvenience to masters and mistresses. You must
carry your dish very upright, or miss, forsooth, gives you warning,
and you are either left destitute, or to seek for a servant; so
that, generally speaking, you are seldom or never fixed, but always
at the mercy of every new comer to divulge your family affairs, to
inspect your private life, and treasure up the sayings of yourself
and friends. A very great confinement, and much complained of in
Thus have these wenches, by their continual plotting and cabals,
united themselves into a formidable body, and got the whip hand of
their betters; they make their own terms with us; and two servants
now, will scarce undertake the work which one might perform with
ease; notwithstanding which, they have raised their wages to a most
exorbitant pitch; and, I doubt not, if there be not a stop put to
their career, but they will bring wages up to 201. per annum in
time, for they are much about half way already.
It is by these means they run away with a great part of our money,
which might be better employed in trade, and what is worse, by
their insolent behaviour, their pride in dress, and their
exorbitant wages, they give birth to the following inconveniences.
First, They set an ill example to our children, our apprentices,
our covenant servants, and other dependants, by their saucy and
insolent behaviour, their pert, and sometimes abusive answers,
their daring defiance of correction, and many other insolences
which youth are but too apt to imitate.
Secondly, By their extravagance in dress, they put our wives and
daughters upon yet greater excesses, because they will, as indeed
they ought, go finer than the maid; thus the maid striving to outdo
the mistress, the tradesman's wife to outdo the gentleman's wife,
the gentleman's wife emulating the lady, and the ladies one
another; it seems as if the whole business of the female sex were
nothing but an excess of pride, and extravagance in dress.
Thirdly, The great height to which women-servants have brought
their wages, makes a mutiny among the men-servants, and puts them
upon raising their wages too; so that in a little time our servants
will become our partners; nay, probably, run away with the better
part of our profits, and make servants of us vice versa. But yet
with all these inconveniences, we cannot possibly do without these
creatures; let us therefore cease to talk of the abuses arising
from them, and begin to think of redressing them. I do not set up
for a lawgiver, and therefore shall lay down no certain rules,
humbly submitting in all things to the wisdom of our legislature.
What I offer shall be under correction; and upon conjecture, my
utmost ambition being but to give some hints to remedy this growing
evil, and leave the prosecution to abler hands.
And first it would be necessary to settle and limit their wages,
from forty and fifty shillings to four and five pounds per annum,
that is to say, according to their merits and capacities; for
example, a young unexperienced servant should have forty shillings
per annum, till she qualifies herself for a larger sum; a servant
who can do all household work, or, as the good women term it, can
take her work and leave her work, should have four pounds per
annum; and those who have lived seven years in one service, should
ever after demand five pounds per annum, for I would very fain have
some particular encouragements and privileges given to such
servants who should continue long in a place; it would incite a
desire to please, and cause an emulation very beneficial to the
I have heard of an ancient charity in the parish of St. Clement's
Danes, where a sum of money, or estate, is left, out of the
interest or income of which such maid-servants, who have lived in
that parish seven years in one service, receive a reward of ten
pounds apiece, if they please to demand it.
This is a noble benefaction, and shows the public spirit of the
donor; but everybody's business is nobody's; nor have I heard that
such reward has been paid to any servant of late years. A thousand
pities a gift of that nature should sink into oblivion, and not be
kept up as an example to incite all parishes to do the like.
The Romans had a law called Jus Trium Liberorum, by which every man
who had been a father of three children, had particular honours and
privileges. This incited the youth to quit a dissolute single life
and become fathers of families, to the support and glory of the
In imitation of this most excellent law, I would have such
servants, who should continue many years in one service, meet with
singular esteem and reward.
The apparel of our women-servants should be next regulated, that we
may know the mistress from the maid. I remember I was once put
very much to the blush, being at a friend's house, and by him
required to salute the ladies, I kissed the chamber-jade into the
bargain, for she was as well dressed as the best. But I was soon
undeceived by a general titter, which gave me the utmost confusion;
nor can I believe myself the only person who has made such a
Things of this nature would be easily avoided, if servant-maids
were to wear liveries, as our footmen do; or obliged to go in a
dress suitable to their station. What should ail them, but a
jacket and petticoat of good yard-wide stuff, or calimanco, might
keep them decent and warm.
Our charity children are distinguished by their dress, why then may
not our women-servants? why may they not be made frugal per force,
and not suffered to put all on their backs, but obliged to save
something against a rainy day? I am, therefore, entirely against
servants wearing of silks, laces, and other superfluous finery; it
sets them above themselves, and makes their mistresses contemptible
in their eyes. I am handsomer than my mistress, says a young
prinked up baggage, what pity it is I should be her servant, I go
as well dressed, or better than she. This makes the girl take the
first offer to be made a whore, and there is a good servant
spoiled; whereas, were her dress suitable to her condition, it
would teach her humility, and put her in mind of her duty.
Besides the fear of spoiling their clothes makes them afraid of
household-work; so that in a little time we shall have none but
chambermaids and nurserymaids; and of this let me give one
instance; my family is composed of myself and sister, a man and a
maid; and, being without the last, a young wench came to hire
herself. The man was gone out, and my sister above stairs, so I
opened the door myself; and this person presented herself to my
view, dressed completely, more like a visitor than a servant-maid;
she, not knowing me, asked for my sister; pray, madam, said I, be
pleased to walk into the parlour, she shall wait on you presently.
Accordingly I handed madam in, who took it very cordially. After
some apology, I left her alone for a minute or two; while I, stupid
wretch! ran up to my sister, and told her there was a gentlewoman
below come to visit her. Dear brother, said she, don't leave her
alone, go down and entertain her while I dress myself.
Accordingly, down I went, and talked of indifferent affairs;
meanwhile my sister dressed herself all over again, not being
willing to be seen in an undress. At last she came down dressed as
clean as her visitor; but how great was my surprise when I found my
fine lady a common servant-wench.
My sister understanding what she was, began to inquire what wages
she expected? She modestly asked but eight pounds a year. The
next question was, what work she could do to deserve such wages? to
which she answered, she could clean a house, or dress a common
family dinner. But cannot you wash, replied my sister, or get up
linen? she answered in the negative, and said, she would undertake
neither, nor would she go into a family that did not put out their
linen to wash, and hire a charwoman to scour. She desired to see
the house, and having carefully surveyed it, said, the work was too
hard for her, nor could she undertake it. This put my sister
beyond all patience, and me into the greatest admiration. Young
woman, said she, you have made a mistake, I want a housemaid, and
you are a chambermaid. No, madam, replied she, I am not
needlewoman enough for that. And yet you ask eight pounds a year,
replied my sister. Yes, madam, said she, nor shall I bate a
farthing. Then get you gone for a lazy impudent baggage, said I,
you want to be a boarder not a servant; have you a fortune or
estate that you dress at that rate? No, sir, said she, but I hope
I may wear what I work for without offence. What you work,
interrupted my sister, why you do not seem willing to undertake any
work; you will not wash nor scour; you cannot dress a dinner for
company; you are no needlewoman; and our little house of two rooms
on a floor, is too much for you. For God's sake what can you do?
Madam, replied she pertly; I know my business; and do not fear a
service; there are more places than parish churches; if you wash at
home, you should have a laundrymaid; if you give entertainments,
you must have a cookmaid; if you have any needlework, you should
have a chambermaid; and such a house as this is enough for a
housemaid in all conscience.
I was pleased at the wit, and astonished at the impudence of the
girl, so dismissed her with thanks for her instructions, assuring
her that when I kept four maids she should be housemaid if she
Were a servant to do my business with cheerfulness, I should not
grudge at five or six pounds per annum; nor would I be so
unchristian to put more upon any one than they can bear; but to
pray and pay too is the devil. It is very hard, that I must keep
four servants or none.
In great families, indeed, where many servants are required, those
distinctions of chambermaid, housemaid, cookmaid, laundrymaid,
nurserymaid, &c., are requisite, to the end that each may take her
particular business, and many hands may make the work light; but
for a private gentleman, of a small fortune, to be obliged to keep
so many idle jades, when one might do the business, is intolerable,
and matter of great grievance.
I cannot close this discourse without a gentle admonition and
reproof to some of my own sex, I mean those gentlemen who give
themselves unnecessary airs, and cannot go to see a friend, but
they must kiss and slop the maid; and all this is done with an air
of gallantry, and must not be resented. Nay, some gentlemen are so
silly, that they shall carry on an underhand affair with their
friend's servant-maid, to their own disgrace, and the ruin of many
a young creature. Nothing is more base and ungenerous, yet nothing
more common, and withal so little taken notice of. D-n me, Jack,
says one friend to another, this maid of yours is a pretty girl,
you do so and so to her, by G-d. This makes the creature pert,
vain, and impudent, and spoils many a good servant.
What gentleman will descend to this low way of intrigue, when he
shall consider that he has a footboy or an apprentice for his
rival, and that he is seldom or never admitted, but when they have
been his tasters; and the fool of fortune, though he comes at the
latter end of the feast, yet pays the whole reckoning; and so
indeed would I have all such silly cullies served.
If I must have an intrigue, let it be with a woman that shall not
shame me. I would never go into the kitchen, when the parlour door
was open. We are forbidden at Highgate, to kiss the maid when we
may kiss the mistress; why then will gentlemen descend so low, by
too much familiarity with these creatures, to bring themselves into
I have been at places where the maid has been so dizzied with these
idle compliments that she has mistook one thing for another, and
not regarded her mistress in the least; but put on all the flirting
airs imaginable. This behaviour is nowhere so much complained of
as in taverns, coffeehouses, and places of public resort, where
there are handsome bar-keepers, &c. These creatures being puffed
up with the fulsome flattery of a set of flesh-flies, which are
continually buzzing about them, carry themselves with the utmost
insolence imaginable; insomuch, that you must speak to them with a
great deal of deference, or you are sure to be affronted. Being at
a coffeehouse the other day, where one of these ladies kept the
bar, I had bespoke a dish of rice tea; but madam was so taken up
with her sparks, she had quite forgot it. I spake for it again,
and with some temper, but was answered after a most taunting
manner, not without a toss of the head, a contraction of the
nostrils, and other impertinences, too many to enumerate. Seeing
myself thus publicly insulted by such an animal, I could not choose
but show my resentment. Woman, said I, sternly, I want a dish of
rice tea, and not what your vanity and impudence may imagine;
therefore treat me as a gentleman and a customer, and serve me with
what I call for: keep your impertinent repartees and impudent
behaviour for the coxcombs that swarm round your bar, and make you
so vain of your blown carcase. And indeed I believe the insolence
of this creature will ruin her master at last, by driving away men
of sobriety and business, and making the place a den of vagabonds
Gentlemen, therefore, ought to be very circumspect in their
behaviour, and not undervalue themselves to servant-wenches, who
are but too apt to treat a gentleman ill whenever he puts himself
into their power.
Let me now beg pardon for this digression, and return to my subject
by proposing some practicable methods for regulating of servants,
which, whether they are followed or not, yet, if they afford matter
of improvement and speculation, will answer the height of my
expectation, and I will be the first who shall approve of whatever
improvements are made from this small beginning.
The first abuse I would have reformed is, that servants should be
restrained from throwing themselves out of place on every idle
vagary. This might be remedied were all contracts between master
and servant made before a justice of peace, or other proper
officer, and a memorandum thereof taken in writing. Nor should
such servant leave his or her place (for men and maids might come
under the same regulation) till the time agreed on be expired,
unless such servant be misused or denied necessaries, or show some
other reasonable cause for their discharge. In that case, the
master or mistress should be reprimanded or fined. But if servants
misbehave themselves, or leave their places, not being regularly
discharged, they ought to be amerced or punished. But all those
idle, ridiculous customs, and laws of their own making, as a
month's wages, or a month's warning, and suchlike, should be
entirely set aside and abolished.
When a servant has served the limited time duly and faithfully,
they should be entitled to a certificate, as is practised at
present in the wool-combing trade; nor should any person hire a
servant without a certificate or other proper security. A servant
without a certificate should be deemed a vagrant; and a master or
mistress ought to assign very good reasons indeed when they object
against giving a servant his or her certificate.
And though, to avoid prolixity, I have not mentioned footmen
particularly in the foregoing discourse, yet the complaints alleged
against the maids are as well masculine as feminine, and very
applicable to our gentlemen's gentlemen; I would, therefore, have
them under the very same regulations, and, as they are fellow-
servants, would not make fish of one and flesh of the other, since
daily experience teaches us, that "never a barrel the better
The next great abuse among us is, that under the notion of cleaning
our shoes, above ten thousand wicked, idle, pilfering vagrants are
permitted to patrol about our city and suburbs. These are called
the black-guard, who black your honour's shoes, and incorporate
themselves under the title of the Worshipful Company of Japanners.
Were this all, there were no hurt in it, and the whole might
terminate in a jest; but the mischief ends not here, they corrupt
our youth, especially our men-servants; oaths and impudence are
their only flowers of rhetoric; gaming and thieving are the
principal parts of their profession; japanning but the pretence.
For example, a gentleman keeps a servant, who among other things is
to clean his master's shoes; but our gentlemen's gentlemen are
above it nowadays, and your man's man performs the office, for
which piece of service you pay double and treble, especially if you
keep a table, nay, you are well off if the japanner has no more
than his own diet from it.
I have often observed these rascals sneaking from gentlemen's doors
with wallets or hats' full of good victuals, which they either
carry to their trulls, or sell for a trifle. By this means, our
butcher's, our baker's, our poulterer's, and cheesemonger's bills
are monstrously exaggerated; not to mention candles just lighted,
which sell for fivepence a pound, and many other perquisites best
known to themselves and the pilfering villains their confederates.
Add to this, that their continual gaming sets servants upon their
wits to supply this extravagance, though at the same time the
master's pocket pays for it, and the time which should be spent in
a gentleman's service is loitered away among these rakehells,
insomuch that half our messages are ineffectual, the time intended
being often expired before the message is delivered.
How many frequent robberies are committed by these japanners? And
to how many more are they confederates? Silver spoons, spurs, and
other small pieces of plate, are every day missing, and very often
found upon these sort of gentlemen; yet are they permitted, to the
shame of all our good laws, and the scandal of our most excellent
government, to lurk about our streets, to debauch our servants and
apprentices, and support an infinite number of scandalous,
shameless trulls, yet more wicked than themselves, for not a Jack
among them but must have his Gill.
By whom such indecencies are daily acted, even in our open streets,
as are very offensive to the eyes and ears of all sober persons,
and even abominable in a Christian country.
In any riot, or other disturbance, these sparks are always the
foremost; for most among them can turn their hands to picking of
pockets, to run away with goods from a fire, or other public
confusion, to snatch anything from a woman or child, to strip a
house when the door is open, or any other branch of a thief's
In short, it is a nursery for thieves and villains; modest women
are every day insulted by them and their strumpets; and such
children who run about the streets, or those servants who go on
errands, do but too frequently bring home some scraps of their
beastly profane wit; insomuch, that the conversation of our lower
rank of people runs only upon bawdy and blasphemy, notwithstanding
our societies for reformation, and our laws in force against
profaneness; for this lazy life gets them many proselytes, their
numbers daily increasing from runaway apprentices and footboys,
insomuch that it is a very hard matter for a gentleman to get him a
servant, or for a tradesman to find an apprentice.
Innumerable other mischiefs accrue, and others will spring up from
this race of caterpillars, who must be swept from out our streets,
or we shall be overrun with all manner of wickedness.
But the subject is so low, it becomes disagreeable even to myself;
give me leave, therefore, to propose a way to clear the streets of
these vermin, and to substitute as many honest industrious persons
in their stead, who are now starving for want of bread, while these
execrable villains live, though in rags and nastiness, yet in
plenty and luxury.
I, therefore, humbly propose that these vagabonds be put
immediately under the command of such taskmasters as the government
shall appoint, and that they be employed, punished, or rewarded,
according to their capacities and demerits; that is to say, the
industrious and docible to woolcombing, and other parts of the
woollen manufacture, where hands are wanted, as also to husbandry
and other parts of agriculture.
For it is evident that there are scarce hands enow in the country
to carry on either of these affairs. Now, these vagabonds might
not only by this means be kept out of harm's way, but be rendered
serviceable to the nation. Nor is there any need of transporting
them beyond seas, for if any are refractory they should be sent to
our stannaries and other mines, to our coal works and other places
where hard labour is required. And here I must offer one thing
never yet thought of, or proposed by any, and that is, the keeping
in due repair the navigation of the river Thames, so useful to our
trade in general; and yet of late years such vast hills of sand are
gathered together in several parts of the river, as are very
prejudicial to its navigation, one which is near London Bridge,
another near Whitehall, a third near Battersea, and a fourth near
Fulham. These are of very great hindrance to the navigation; and
indeed the removal of them ought to be a national concern, which I
humbly propose may be thus effected.
The rebellious part of these vagabonds, as also other thieves and
offenders, should be formed into bodies under the command of proper
officers, and under the guard and awe of our soldiery. These
should every day at low water carry away these sandhills, and
remove every other obstruction to the navigation of this most
excellent and useful river.
It may be objected that the ballast men might do this; that as fast
as the hills are taken away they would gather together again, or
that the watermen might do it. To the first, I answer, that
ballast men, instead of taking away from these hills, make holes in
other places of the river, which is the reason so many young
persons are drowned when swimming or bathing in the river.
Besides, it is a work for many hands, and of long continuance; so
that ballast men do more harm than good. The second objection is
as silly; as if I should never wash myself, because I shall be
dirty again, and I think needs no other answer. And as to the
third objection, the watermen are not so public-spirited, they live
only from hand to mouth, though not one of them but finds the
inconvenience of these hills, every day being obliged to go a great
way round about for fear of running aground; insomuch that in a few
years the navigation of that part of the river will be entirely
obstructed. Nevertheless, every one of these gentlemen-watermen
hopes it will last his time, and so they all cry, The devil take
the hindmost. But yet I judge it highly necessary that this be
made a national concern, like Dagenham breach, and that these hills
be removed by some means or other.
And now I have mentioned watermen, give me leave to complain of the
insolences and exactions they daily commit on the river Thames, and
in particular this one instance, which cries aloud for justice.
A young lady of distinction, in company with her brother, a little
youth, took a pair of oars at or near the Temple, on April day
last, and ordered the men to carry them to Pepper Alley Stairs.
One of the fellows, according to their usual impertinence, asked
the lady where she was going? She answered, near St. Olave's
church. Upon which he said, she had better go through the bridge.
The lady replied she had never gone through the bridge in her life,
nor would she venture for a hundred guineas; so commanded him once
more to land her at Pepper Alley Stairs. Notwithstanding which, in
spite of her fears, threats, and commands; nay, in spite of the
persuasion of his fellow, he forced her through London Bridge,
which frightened her beyond expression. And to mend the matter, he
obliged her to pay double fare, and mobbed her into the bargain.
To resent which abuse, application was made to the hall, the fellow
summoned, and the lady ordered to attend, which she did, waiting
there all the morning, and was appointed to call again in the
afternoon. She came accordingly, they told her the fellow had been
there, but was gone, and that she must attend another Friday. She
attended again and again, but to the same purpose. Nor have they
yet produced the man, but tired out the lady, who has spent above
ten shillings in coach-hire, been abused and baffled into the
It is pity, therefore, there are not commissioners for watermen, as
there are for hackney coachmen; or that justices of the peace might
not inflict bodily penalties on watermen thus offending. But while
watermen are watermen's judges, I shall laugh at those who carry
their complaints to the hall.
The usual plea in behalf of abusive watermen is, that they are
drunk, ignorant, or poor; but will that satisfy the party
aggrieved, or deter the offender from reoffending? Whereas were
the offenders sent to the house of correction, and there punished,
or sentenced to work at the sandhills aforementioned, for a time
suitable to the nature of their crimes, terror of such punishments
would make them fearful of offending, to the great quiet of the
Now, it maybe asked, How shall we have our shoes cleaned, or how
are these industrious poor to be maintained? To this I answer that
the places of these vagabonds may be very well supplied by great
numbers of ancient persons, poor widows, and others, who have not
enough from their respective parishes to maintain them. These poor
people I would have authorised and stationed by the justices of the
peace or other magistrates. Each of these should have a particular
walk or stand, and no other shoe-cleaner should come into that
walk, unless the person misbehave and be removed. Nor should any
person clean shoes in the streets, but these authorised shoe-
cleaners, who should have some mark of distinction, and be under
the immediate government of the justices of the peace.
Thus would many thousands of poor people be provided for, without
burthening their parishes. Some of these may earn a shilling or
two in the day, and none less than sixpence, or thereabouts. And
lest the old japanners should appear again, in the shape of
linkboys, and knock down gentlemen in drink, or lead others out of
the way into dark remote places, where they either put out their
lights, and rob them themselves, or run away and leave them to be
pillaged by others, as is daily practised, I would have no person
carry a link for hire but some of these industrious poor, and even
such, not without some ticket or badge, to let people know whom
they trust. Thus would the streets be cleared night and day of
these vermin; nor would oaths, skirmishes, blasphemy, obscene talk,
or other wicked examples, be so public and frequent. All gaming at
orange and gingerbread barrows should be abolished, as also all
penny and halfpenny lotteries, thimbles and balls, &c., so frequent
in Moorfields, Lincoln's-inn-fields, &c., where idle fellows
resort, to play with children and apprentices, and tempt them to
steal their parents' or master's money.
There is one admirable custom in the city of London, which I could
wish were imitated in the city and liberties of Westminster, and
bills of mortality, which is, no porter can carry a burthen or
letter in the city, unless he be a ticket porter; whereas, out of
the freedom part of London, any person may take a knot and turn
porter, till he be entrusted with something of value, and then you
never hear of him more.
This is very common, and ought to be amended. I would, therefore,
have all porters under some such regulation as coachmen, chairmen,
carmen, &c.; a man may then know whom he entrusts, and not run the
risk of losing his goods, &c. Nay, I would not have a person carry
a basket in the markets, who is not subject to some such
regulation; for very many persons oftentimes lose their dinners in
sending their meat home by persons they know nothing of.
Thus would all our poor be stationed, and a man or woman able to
perform any of these offices, must either comply or be termed an
idle vagrant, and sent to a place where they shall be forced to
work. By this means industry will be encouraged, idleness
punished, and we shall be famed, as well as happy for our
tranquillity and decorum.
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