Domestic servants occupy in France a somewhat more elevated position in the social scale than is accorded them in other countries. As a class, too, they are more intelligent, better educated, and more skillful than servants elsewhere. There are several works in the French language designed expressly for their instruction, some of the best of which were written, or professed to have been written, by servants. On the counter of a French bookstore you will sometimes see such works as the following: „The Perfect Coachman,” „The Life of Jasmin, the Good Laquey,” „Rules for the Government of Shepherds and Shepherdesses, by the Good Shepherd,” „The Well-Regulated Household,” „Duties of Servants of both Sexes toward God and toward their Masters and Mistresses, by a Servant,” „How to Train a Good-Domestic.”
Some books of this kind are of considerable antiquity and have assisted in forming several generations of domestic servants. One of them, it is said, entitled, „The Perfect Coachman,” was written by a prince of the reigning house of France. In France, as in most old countries, few people expect to change their condition in life. Once a servant, always a servant. It is common for parents in humble life to apprentice their children to some branch of domestic service, satisfied if they become excellent in their vocation, and win at length the distinctions and promotions which belong to it.
Lady Morgan, who visited Paris several years ago, relates an anecdote or two showing how intelligent some French servants are. She was walking along the Quai Voltaire, followed by her French lackey, when he suddenly came to her side and, pointing to a house, said: –
„There, madam, is a house consecrated to genius. There died Voltaire – in that apartment with the shutters closed. There died the first of our great men; perhaps also the last.”
On another occasion the same man objected to a note which she had written in the French language.
„Is it not good French, then?” asked the lady.
„Oh, yes, madam,” replied he; „the French is very good, but the style is too cold. You begin by saying, You regret that you cannot have the pleasure. You should say, I am in despair.”
„Well, then,” said Lady Morgan, „write it yourself.”
„You may write it, if you please, my lady, at my dictation, for as to reading and writing, they are branches of my education which were totally neglected.”
The lady remarks, however, that Paris servants can usually read very well, and that hackmen, water-carriers, and porters may frequently be seen reading a classical author while waiting for a customer.
A very remarkable case in point is Marie-Antoine Carème, whom a French writer styles, „one of the princes of the culinary art.” I suppose that no country in the world but France could produce such a character. Of this, however, the reader can judge when I have briefly told his story.
He was born in a Paris garret, in 1784, one of a family of fifteen children, the offspring of a poor workman. As soon as he was old enough to render a little service, his father placed him as a garçon in a cheap and low restaurant, where he received nothing for his labor except his food.
This was an humble beginning for a „prince.” But he improved his disadvantages to such a degree that, at the age of twenty, he entered the kitchen of Talleyrand. Now Prince Talleyrand, besides being himself one of the daintiest men in Europe, had to entertain, as minister of foreign affairs, the diplomatic corps, and a large number of other persons accustomed from their youth up to artistic cookery. Carème proved equal to the situation. Talleyrand’s dinners were renowned throughout Europe and America. But this cook of genius, not satisfied with his attainments, took lessons in the art from Guipière, the renowned chef of the Emperor Napoleon – he who followed Murat into the wilds of Russia and perished with so many other cooks and heroes.
Carème appears to have succeeded Guipière in the Imperial kitchen, but he did not follow the Emperor to Elba. When the allied kings celebrated their triumph in Paris at a grand banquet, it was Carème who, as the French say, „executed the repast.” His brilliant success on this occasion was trumpeted over Europe, and after the final downfall of Napoleon he was invited to take charge of the kitchen of the English Prince Regent. At various times during his career he was cook to the Emperor Alexander of Russia, to the Emperor of Austria, to the Prince of Wurtemberg, and to the head of the house of Rothschild. In the service of these illustrious eaters he gained large sums of money, which, however, he was very far from hoarding.
In the maturity of his powers he devoted himself and his fortune to historical investigations concerning the art of cookery. For several years he was to be daily seen in the Imperial Library, studying the cookery, so renowned, of the ancient Greeks and Romans, desiring especially to know whether they possessed any secrets which had been lost. His conclusion was, that the dishes served upon the tables of Lucullus, Augustus Cæsar, and others, were „utterly bad and atrociously stupid.” But he commended the decoration of their tables, the cups and vases of gold, the beautiful pitchers, the chased silver, the candles of white Spanish wax, the fabrics of silk whiter than the snow, and the beautiful flowers with which their tables were covered. He published the results of his labors in a large octavo volume, illustrated by a hundred and twenty-eight engravings. He continued his studious labors, and published at various periods „Ancient and Modern Cookery Compared,” in two volumes, octavo, „The Paris Cook, or the Art of Cooking in the Nineteenth Century,” and others. Toward the close of his life, he wrote a magazine article upon Napoleon’s way of eating at St. Helena.
He dedicated one of his works to his great instructor and master in the art of cookery, Guipière. To give the reader an idea of his way of thinking and feeling I will translate a few sentences of this dedication: –
„Rise, illustrious Shade! Hear the voice of the man who was your admirer and your pupil! Your distinguished talents brought upon you hatred and persecution. By cabal you were obliged to leave your beautiful native land, and go into Italy to serve a prince (Murat) to whose enjoyment you had once ministered in Paris. You followed your king into Russia. But alas, by a deplorable fatality, you perished miserably, your feet and body frozen by the frightful climate of the north. Arrived at Vilna, your generous prince lavished gold to save you, but in vain. O great Guipière, receive the public homage of a faithful disciple. Regardless of those who envied you, I wish to associate your name with my labors. I bequeath to your memory my most beautiful work. It will convey to future ages a knowledge of the elegance and splendor of the culinary art in the nineteenth century; and if Vatel rendered himself illustrious by a point of honor, dear to every man of merit, your unhappy end, O Guipière, renders you worthy of the same homage! It was that point of honor which made you follow your prince into Russia, when your gray hairs seemed to assure you a happier destiny in Paris. You shared the sad fate of our old veterans, and the honor of our warriors perishing of hunger and cold.”
All this, the reader will admit, is very strange and very French. In the same work, Carème chronicles the names of all the celebrated cooks who perished in the retreat from Russia. This prince of the kitchen died in 1833, when he was scarcely fifty years of age. His works are still well known in France, and some of them have passed through more than one edition. It is an odd contradiction, that the name of this prince of the kitchen should be the French word for the time of fasting. Carême means Lent.