Thursday, 14 May 2020

'Not as an eye Servant'

In these locked-down times, I find myself frequenting the churchyard even more than I did before. This morning I was treated to the grisly spectacle of a jay snatching a juvenile robin – its beak still wide, its breast not yet red – from the headstone where it was vulnerably perched. There was a great commotion from the robin parents, from a couple of watching magpies and a blackbird catching the mood of momentary terror. And then, as the jay flew off casually with its prey in its beak, it all died down as suddenly as it had begun, and the birds resumed whatever business of survival they were about, the hapless young victim already forgotten.

A happier discovery was a headstone I had noticed before but whose inscription I had never fully read. The stone commemorates one Edward Taylor, a 'servant out of livery' (a senior servant of high status) who was in the service of a 19th-century rector, the Rev. E.T. Beynon. Taylor, the inscription reads, 'discharged the duties of his Station not as an eye Servant but with attention regularity and Fidelity'. 'Not as an eye servant'? This striking phrase was new to me. What did it mean?
Thanks to the internet, I soon found out: an eye servant is a servant who attends to his duties only when watched, when under the eye of his master or mistress – the kind of servant Edward Taylor was not. The phrase derives from the Bible, appropriately enough – from Ephesians 6: 'Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as unto Christ; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.'
You live, and learn.