Continental and Colonial Servants in Eighteenth Century England

Continental and Colonial Servants in Eighteenth Century England

Continental and Colonial Servants in Eighteenth Century England

Continental and Colonial Servants in Eighteenth Century England

Excerpt

As one of the largest occupational groups in eighteenth-century England, the domestic servant class has frequently received the attention of social historians, at least in a cursory way. Little cognizance, however, has been taken of its many alien components. That it included within its ranks a considerable number of members from the continent of Europe has been generally appreciated, but as a group they have never been subjected to serious investigation. That it included members from some of Britain's overseas possessions has been equally well known, but their role as servitors has been obscured by the attention scholars have paid to other aspects of their position in the social structure.

To provide a fuller picture of these alien groups is the design of the present study. Such essential points as the sources from which they were drawn, the auspices under which they came to England, the preference shown them by employers, and their relations with native servants have been examined in detail. Certain questions that the study raises, however, necessarily remain unanswered because of the paucity of pertinent data. What, for instance, was the proportion of continental to native servants? Or again, how far was public opinion justified in charging French servants with political unreliability? Certain subsidiary problems, moreover, have been deliberately ignored, since their solution properly demands a series of separate papers. Typical of such problems is the relation of the Palatine migration of 1709 to the number of German domestics. Yet despite these lacunae, the picture is reasonably complete.

The materials on which the picture is based have been extracted from the most varied sources: diaries, memoirs, letters, pamphlets, magazines, newspapers, and the accounts of travellers. Literary works have been drawn upon, too, both to elucidate the recondite and to attest the familiar.

In treating the material the descriptive or impressionistic method, traditional tool of the social historian, has been used throughout the study. Here and there a more scientific approach might have been employed: bits of evidence might have been counted and conclusions drawn on the basis of quantitative appraisal. But it is extremely doubtful whether so limited an application of the statistical method would have added to the substantiality of the study; and, in the main, the material is unsuited to such treatment. This is not to say that the quantitative approach has been eschewed entirely. Wherever expedient, documentation has been multiplied: both major and minor contentions have been buttressed by adding example to example, testimony to testimony. And as a result, the study has gained in solidity.

From the methodological viewpoint solidity has, in fact, been the principal objective pursued. On the negative side this has meant, of course, an . . .

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