Instructions to Servants by Jonathan Swift

Instructions to Servants

“When your master or lady call a servant by name, if that servant be not in the way, none of you are to answer, for then there will be no end of your drudgery, and masters themselves allow that if a servant omes when he is called it is sufficient.

When you have done a fault, be always pert and insolent, and behave yourself as if you were the injured person; this will immediately put your master or lady off their mettle.”


It is with those words that Jonathan Swift opened his satirical handbook of manners, addressing first general points for all servants and then specifics for each member of household staff.

It is a slim volume, just 70 pages and some of them with just a few lines, and probably incomplete as Swift’s health was failing, but it is definitely a gem. And packed full of hints and tips.

Some examples:

To the cook:

“Never send up a leg of fowl at supper while there is a cat or a dog that can be accused of running off with it.”

To the footman:

“In order to learn the secrets of other families, tell your brethren those of your master’s; thus you will gow a favourite both at home and abroad, and regarded as a person of importance.”

To the coachman:

“Let your horses be so well trained that, when you attend your lady at a visit, they will wait until you slip into a neighbouring alehouse to take a pot with a friend.”

A wonderful mix of observation and wit, it has definitely left me curious to know more about Swift and his work.

And I do believe that some of the guidance may still be being followed in workplaces today …

4 responses

  1. I read Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” in high school but didn’t get that it was satire then. I haven’t read anything by him since, but I think I should. Thanks for mentioning this one; it sounds interesting.


  2. Pingback: Semicolon » Blog Archive » Saturday Review of Books: July 11, 2009

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