Everybody's Business is Nobody's Business
by Daniel Defoe
EVERYBODY'S BUSINESS IS NOBODY'S BUSINESS
PRIVATE ABUSES, PUBLIC GRIEVANCES:
In the Pride, Insolence, and exorbitant Wages of our Women,
by Daniel Defoe
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 ambition.
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
EVERYBODY'S BUSINESS IS NOBODY'S
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 instances.
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, 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 mistresses.
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 called poundage.
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 Jonathan Wild.
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 of
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 most
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 public.
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 mistake.
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
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 pleased.
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
In great families, indeed, where many servants are required, those
distinctions of chambermaid, housemaid, cookmaid, laundrymaid,
nurserymaid, 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 contempt?
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, 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 and
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
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 profession.
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
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
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
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
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 bargain.
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 subject.
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, so frequent in Moorfields, Lincoln's-inn-fields, 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
This is very common, and ought to be amended. I would, therefore,
have all porters under some such regulation as coachmen, chairmen,
carmen, a man may then know whom he entrusts, and not run the risk
of losing his goods, 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.