THE SERVANT PROBLEM.
Punch, June 3, 1903
“No, Sir,” said Pettifer firmly, “when they bring in a law converting every town in the kingdom with more than one house in it into a garrison town, the problem of how to get and how to keep domestic servants will be solved. But not till then. No, Sir.”
Tudway, who, I had noticed, was looking uncommonly depressed, groaned heavily.
“I too have suffered,” he said bitterly. “Yet there was time when I flattered myself that I had solved the problem. It was a book that gave me the idea. To this day I have grave doubts as to whether I ought to have read that book. You see, the Daily Express called it an undoubted work of genius, but then the Daily Mail said that it was a meretricious tissue of nonsense, which had no value either as literature or as a human document. I took what I own was rather a bold step. I read the book with a view to forming an opinion on my own account.”
“Tudway!” said Pettifer in a scandalized voice.
“Yes, yes, I know,” went on Tudway hurriedly. “But, of course, I shouldn’t often do that sort of thing. But I did on this occasion; and, as I was reading, a paragraph caught my eye which seemed to me to offer a complete solution of the servant difficulty. The writer (a lady) observed: ‘I have gained much of my strength and gracefulness of body from scrubbing the kitchen floor, to say nothing of some fine points of philosophy. It brings a certain energy to one’s body and one’s brain.’ Now, I don’t know if you grasp the profound import of those words, but to me it was obvious. Once promulgate the idea, thought I, that the work of a domestic servant makes for beauty, and the world will become one vast Registry Office. Our servants will not ask for wages. All that they will stipulate for will be a good kitchen floor. They will not want a day out. They will beg as a privilege to be allowed to stay in and scrub. In a few years we shall be selling vacancies in our domestic staff to the highest bidders. I tell you, the thought inspired me. I gave the thing a trial. For a whole month I stuck to it in spite of acute housemaid’s knee, which even now causes me no small agony. How I worked! It was a theme for a poet. And, talking of poets—er—curiously enough, I myself——. A mere impromptu fragment, you understand. Thrown off on the spur of the moment. I call it ‘Culture.’ It’s rather good,” he added modestly. And before we could stop him he had begun to read:—
“Oh, I wanted to be an Apollo,
A model of beauty and grace.
I sighed for a supple figure,
I longed for a handsome face.
I wished to be tall as a Horseguard Blue,
And broad as a large-sized door.
So I called for a duster, bought a pail,
And I scrubbed at the kitchen floor.
“I wanted to rival Plato.
I sighed for a mighty brain.
I yearned to be wiser than Bacon
(Say half as wise again).
To be rich in beautiful, wonderful thoughts,
(At present I’m rather poor);
So I tucked my sleeves up, doffed my coat,
And scrubbed at the kitchen floor.”
“Well, then,” I said, as he coughed preparatory to beginning the third verse, “but surely what you ought to do is to publish your photograph with the advertisement. ‘Result of a month under our Treatment. The Apollo of Grace and the Plato of Wisdom. Look at Me. I tried it.’ That sort of thing, you know. What some people want is some ocular proof of the merits of your system. Why don’t you publish a photograph, Tudway?”
“The photograph you describe,” replied Tudway, with pronounced gloom, “has already appeared in the daily papers.”
“Ah! And the result?” Pettifer’s tones were not sanguine.
“I have advertised in this way daily during the last five weeks for three servants,” replied Tudway, “and I am still short of that number by a matter of one cook and two housemaids.”
Unsigned story and verse as printed; credited to P. G. Wodehouse in the Index to Vol. 124 of Punch.