The Coverley Household: Essay - Summary & Analysis

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The Relationship Between Servants and Masters

      The servants in the household of Sir Roger have a happy countenance. They consider themselves fortunate to have a master like Sir Roger. He is most benevolent towards them. In many households the servants are afraid to go near the place where their master is but it is different with Sir Roger’s servants His servants call upon their master even when he does not call them and in such a case it is treated as a friendly visit. This kind of behavior on the part of the master results in a good relationship between the servants, and master.

A Prince More Than a Master

      Sir Roger enjoys the position of a prince in household rather than that of a master. His servants seem to enjoy doing whatever he demands them to do. Sir Roger being a good manager of his affairs, was always able to have plenty of money for an emergency. As such he possessed an equable temper and did not rail at his servants and show his irritation to them. As a result, his servants felt it an honour to do what he commanded and felt amply rewarded by the opportunity of going near him. They loved and respected him. He made kind inquiries after their welfare and cared even for those who had now left his service.

Rewarding The Servants

      He does not like the idea of rewarding a servant with his cast off clothes. He feels that this leads to certain little minds, which judge merely by appearances, to form wrong notions of equality between master and servant. He believes in rewarding servants with more than mere trifles. He was in the habit of rewarding his good servants by giving them a tenement which had fallen vacant, or he would make the new tenant pay over the rent to the servant so that he could live more comfortably. Sir Roger liked to give his servants the opportunity to set up independent businesses of their own and make good. The expectation of this makes the servants work with a greater will and eagerness. Many of the people tenanting his estate are those who worked for him. It is rather rare for good servants to be treated well by their masters who are often too mean-minded. But Sir Roger’s treatment of his servants was ideal. He took an active interest in the welfare of their children and grand-children too. He had recently paid the fees to get a grandson of his coachman apprenticed.

The Portrait

      There was a picture in the gallery in Sir Roger’s house. This picture showed Sir Roger as a young man and a servant in uniform with him. It was made when the servant saved Sir Roger from drowning while taking a swim. Sir Roger also rewarded that servant with a settlement. The servant was painted in his livery at his own request.


      The essay, The Coverley Household is frankly didactic in its aim. It aims to show that faithfulness of servants and their good manners and behavior depends on the good behavior and generosity of the masters themselves. Steele presents an idealized picture of Sir Roger. His generosity and good nature are apparently drawn up to exaggeration. There is a touch of sentimentality in his portraiture of Sir Roger.

      The essay deals with the relationship between master and servant. This was a social problem of the day. He thus presents his concept of an ideal master-servant relationship. He advocates a change in the attitudes of the masters of the day if there was to be a change in the behavior of servants. Steele uses the art of exemplification to make the abstract statements vivid and forceful. He makes a statement and then illustrates it with further comment, and sometimes, an anecdote. He remarks that Sir Roger is generous to servants and then goes on to illustrate this with the comment that he had recently apprenticed the coachman’s grandson. There is the anecdote of the servant saving Sir Roger from drowning and a picture being made in its commemoration. Sir Roger’s generosity is illustrated by the fact that he rewarded the servant at once with a settlement of a pretty tenement.

      As far as other aspects of style is concerned, it is simple, clear and dignified. Some of the sentences have a compact wisdom in them. These statements are epigrammatic in nature. A few of the aphoristic sentences are given below:

“The general corruption of manners in servants is owing to the conduct of masters.”

“Frugality is the support of generosity.”

“The skill of the purse is the cardinal virtue of this life.”


      Line. 25-35. Thus respect and love......or the like: Sir Roger had a very pleasant relationship with his servants who were treated as if they were part of the family. Sir Roger, being an efficient manager of his estates, maintained an equable temper and did not rail at his servants. As a result Servants had affection as well as respect for him. They did their duty by him not merely as a duty but as if they loved to do it. This is a quality particular to the servants of this household. When the master called, the servants did not approach him with the fear that he would be calling merely to scold or abuse them for some small shortcoming. They go to him without the fear of threatened dismissal, or the fear of bad language being hurled at them, as some mean masters do in regard to their good servants. They know that Sir Roger has their welfare at heart. He would call and inquire how one of them had come back so much in time after the errand, to praise them, or, to ask if such and such tenant was in good health and so on. There is clearly an idealization of the character of Sir Roger. Steele draws a picture of a perfect master and the perfect relationship between him and his servants.

      Line. 35-40. A man who preserves......commanded by him: Steele draws this generalization regarding the relationship between master and servants. He praises the relationship which exists between Sir Roger and his servants. Actually, he has drawn an idealized picture. He says that if a master treats his servants kindly and generously, maintains his respectful position even while he gets the love of his employees. As a result of this kind of behavior, he lives like a prince rather than a mere master. A prince commands respect as well as the love of his subjects. Similarly, Sir Roger’s servants do what he orders as if they were being granted a favor. The very fact that they go near him is part of the reward for doing their work. To be called by Sir Roger is taken by his servants to be a special mark of distinction. Thus Sir Roger enjoys the position of a prince in his household.

      Line. 43-53. He has her maids: Sir Roger showed great good sense in another matter as management which was the matter of how to reward the servants. He did not believe in giving them his old clothes which he had got tired of or had outworn. This kind of reward caused certain little-minded people, who judged people merely by the appearance and dress, to form a silly idea that the master who had once worn the same dress and the servant who now wore it were equal in status. Sir Roger also used to be jocular on the subject. It seemed very amusing to him that a master should make a present of his coat to his servant and then abuse that very servant who was dressed in that very coat, which had lent a distinct quality to his own personality sometime before. Sir Roger narrated another incident which was very comic. This was that there was a lady of fashion who used to distribute her cast off clothes as reward and punishment. She gave the maids who had not pleased her, ugly and unsuitable dresses as punishment, and, to those who had done well, she gave nice looking and suitable dresses.

      Line. 82-86. One might......between them: In this essay Steele condemns those masters who are mean minded enough to accept all the services offered by their faithful servants but give them nothing in return. All through the ages, however, good masters have been very well aware of the merits of their employees and shown their gratitude to them. They have been aware of the true worth of their servants who in return have stood by their masters through thick and thin. The servants of the past had shown their masters that they were devoted to them even when their fortunes were at the lowest. They had shown their masters that fortune did not make any difference to them, and, that, they would serve their masters, always. The masters too showed that they were sensible of this faithfulness and devotion by rewarding them suitably. Steele wants this kind of happy relationship between masters and servants to be re-established.

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