Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861)

The Housewife, Home Virtues, Hospitality, Good Temper, Dress and Fashion, Engaging, Domestics, Wages of Servants, Visiting, Visiting Cards, Parties, Etc., Etc.

         The functions of the mistress of a house resemble those of the general of an army or the man­ager of a great business concern. Her spirit will be seen in the whole establishment, and if she performs her duties well and intelligently, her domestics will usually follow in her path. Among the gifts that nature has bestowed on woman, few rank higher than the capacity for domestic management, for the exercise of this faculty con­stantly affects the happiness, comfort and prosperity of the whole family. In this opinion we are borne out by the author of The Vicar of Wakefield, who says: "The modest virgin, the prudent wife, and the careful matron are much more service-able in life than petticoated philosophers, blustering heroines, or virago queans. She who makes her husband and her children happy is a much greater character than ladies described in romances, whose whole occupation is to murder mankind with shafts from the quiver of their eyes."

         The housewife -- Although this word may he used to describe any mistress of a household, it seems more fittingly applied to those who personally conduct their domestic affairs than to others who govern with the assistance of a large staff of well-trained servants. Times have changed since 1766, when Goldsmith wrote extolling home virtues; and in few things is this change more marked than in woman's sphere; but a woman should not be less careful in her management or blameless in her life because the spirit of the age gives her greater scope for her activities. Busy housewives should be encouraged to find time in the midst of domes­tic cares for the recreation and social inter­course which are necessary to the well-being of all. A woman's home should be first and fore­most in her life, but if she allow household cares entirely to occupy her thoughts, she is apt to become narrow in her interests and sympathies, a condition not conducive to domestic happi­ness. To some overworked women but little rest or recreation may seem possible, but, generally speaking, the leisure to be enjoyed depends upon proper methods of work, punctuality, and early rising. The object of the present work is to give assistance to those who desire practical advice in the government of their home.

         Early rising contributes largely to good Household Management; she who practises this virtue reaps an ample reward both in health and prosperity. When a mistress is an early riser; it is almost certain that her house will be orderly and well managed. On the contrary, if she remains in bed till a late hour; then the servants, who, as we have observed, invariably acquire some of their mistress's characteristics, are likely to become sluggards. To self-indulgence all are more or less disposed, and it is not to be expected that ser­"'ants are freer from this fault than the heads of houses. Cleanliness is quite indispensable to Health, and must be studied both in regard to the person and the house, and all that it con­tains. Cold or tepid baths should be employed every morning.

         Frugality and economy are virtues without which no household can prosper. The necessity of economy should be evident to every one, whether in possession of an income barely suffi­cient for a family's requirements, or of a large for-tune which seems to put financial adversity out of the question. We must always remember that to manage well on a small income is highly cred­itable. Economy and frugality must never; howev­er; be allowed to degenerate into meanness.

         Hospitality should be practised; but care must be taken that the love of company, for its own sake, does not become a prevailing passion; such a habit is no longer hospitality, but dissipa­tion. A lady, when she first undertakes the responsibility of a household, should not attempt to retain all the mere acquaintances of her youth. Her true and tried friends are trea­sures never to be lightly lost, but they, and the friends she will make by entering her husband's circle, and very likely by moving to a new locali­ty, should provide her with ample society.

         In conversation one should never dwell unduly on the petty annoyances and trivial dis­appointments of the day. Many people get into the bad habit of talking incessantly of the wor­ries of their servants and children, not realizing that to many of their hearers these are uninter­esting if not wearisome subjects. From one's own point of view, also, it is well not to start upon a topic without having sufficient knowledge to dis­cuss it with intelligence. Important events, whether of joy or sorrow, should be told to friends whose sympathy or congratulation may be welcome. A wife should never allow a word about any faults of her husband to pass her lips.

         Cheerfulness--We cannot too strongly insist on the vital importance of always preserving an equable good temper amidst all the little cares and worries of domestic life. Many women may be heard to declare that men cannot realize the petty anxieties of a household. But a woman must cultivate that tact and forbearance without which no man can hope to succeed in his career. The true woman combines with mere tact that subtie sympathy which makes her the loved com­panion and friend alike of husband, children and all around her.

         On the important subject of dress and fash­ion we cannot do better than quote: "Let people write, talk, lecture, satirize, as they may, it cannot be denied that, whatever is the prevailing mode in attire, let it intrinsically be ever so absurd, it will never look as ridiculous as another; which, however convenient, comfortable, or even becoming is totally opposite in style to that gen­erally worn." A lady's dress should be always suit­ed to her circumstances, and varied for different occasions. The morning dress should be neat and simple, and suitable for the domestic duties that usually occupy the early part of the day. This dress should be changed before calling hours; but it is not in good taste to wear much jewelry except with evening dress. A lady should always aim at being well and attractively dressed whilst never allowing questions of costume to establish inordinate claims on either time or purse. In purchasing her own garments, after taking account of the important detail of the length of her purse, she should aim at adapting the style of the day in such a manner as best suits the requirements of her face, figure and com­plexion, and never allow slavish adherence to temporary fads of fashion to overrule her own sense of what is becoming and befitting. She should also bear in mind that her different cos­tumes have to furnish her with apparel for home wear; outdoor exercise and social functions, and try to allot due relative importance to the claims of each.

Question: What is the thesis or main point of this book?