Why is the horse-keeper at an inn, called an ostler?
Because ostler is derived from the word hostel, which was formerly obtained from the French, and was in common use here to signify an inn; and the innkeeper was from thence called the hosteller. This was at a period when the innkeeper or hosteller would be required by his guests to take and tend their horses, which, before the use of carriages, and when most goods were conveyed over the country on the backs of horses, would be a chief part of his employment; and hence, the hosteller actually became the hostler, or ostler, that is, the horse-keeper. (Hone)
"Knowledge for the People" by John Timbs, 1832
A juvenile commercial, out on his first journey, arrived at the inn to which he had been recommended by his predecessor, and to come it double-strong, disdained to use the language of other men, telling the ostler to provender his quadruped while he discussed his chop.
Mr. Rub'emdown, not knowing the precise interpretation of this oracular order, mentioned it to an old traveller in the Manchester line, who wickedly interpreted it to mean, crop his mane and ears close, and cut his tail down to a short dock, which was accordingly done, much to the ostler's satisfaction, under the full anticipation of a double fee for despatch.
When the gentleman ordered his gig, and having paid his score was about to mount, he swore in a most indecent manner, that that 'orse was not his'n, but another man's; nor would he be convinced to the contrary until Rub'emdown fetched the stray attributes and replaced them as well as he could, making his identity undeniable. I need not say he never showed at the same house again.
Cyclopædia of Wit and Humor, vol. 2, by Wayne E. Burton, 1868
From the story of "Gilbert Gurney"
An ostler of the Popish persuasion annually paid two shillings and threepence halfpenny to his priest to confess and whitewash him at Easter. Down on his knees did he lay open his heart to the Padré, and tell everything he had done amiss during the preceding year.
"Father," says Paddy, "I water the whisky, I take half a quartern out of every peck of oats, and I charge fourpence for horsekeeping and give my master but threepence."
- "Tell me," says the Padré, "do you never grease the horses' teeth to prevent their eating the beans?"
- "Never, your reverence, never!" cries Paddy, with tears in his eyes.
- "Good boy, get wid ye then," says the Padré "tip us the thirteeners, and you are clean as a whistle for the next twelve months."
Those twelve months over, back come the priest. The same mummery goes on; the same kneeling down and confessing, to the absolving Padré ... and then we have the ostler at it again; the same questions are repeated, the same admissions made - till at last Dominie reiterates his inquiry,
"Have you not greased the horses' teeth to prevent their eating the beans?"
Different from that of the preceding year was the answer to this
- "Yes, your reverence, I have."
- "How!" exclaims Doctor O'Doddipole; "what! an accession of crime as you draw nearer the grave! How comes this? Last year, you told me you had never done such a thing; how happens it that this year your have?"
- "Please your reverence," says the ostler, "I'd never have had such a thought in my head if your reverence hadn't been kind enough to put it there."
"The New Monthly Magazine and Universal Register", 1834
"The English Mail-Coach"
[Students returning home] "... Come to bribery, we observed, and there is an end to all morality ... And as our bribes to those of the public being demonstrated out of Euclid to be as five shillings to sixpence ... the contest was ruinous to the principles of the stable establishment about the mails. The whole corporation was constantly bribed, rebribed, and often sur-rebribed; so that a horse-keeper, ostler, or helper, was held by the philosophical at that time to be the most corrupt character in the nation.
"Miscellaneous Essays" by Thomas de Quincey, 1860
The Cost of Time
A gentleman at an inn, coming down into the yard, having left his watch up stairs, asked the ostler what o'clock it was? for which piece of information the fellow modestly asked half a crown!
"Memoirs of Edward Cape Everard, Comedian", written by himself, 1818
"Brushing Horses by Machinery"
Mr. Haworth, a clever Lancashire manufacturer, has applied the "Hair-brushing Machine"to the grooming of horses, with remarkable success.
At first, the horses "start" a little; but soon relish the whirling brush, which dries and cleanses the coat as no currycomb can possibly do.
"Stories about Horses", compiled by the editor of the "British workman", re-edited by Thomas Bywater Smithies, 1876
I was dining with a friend in Grosvenor Street, when the subject of spectra, ghosts, and secondsight, came on the tapis. I told one story which I had been told by my friend Mr. J. C . It was this:-
He was returning with a university chum to his college at Oxford, at the end of the Christmas vacation, on the outside of the latest coach from London. The snow, at the time, lay so deep on the surface of the ground, that the wheels of coaches and carts moved through it as noiselessly as if they had been muffled. The moon rode high in the heavens, and shone so brightly, that all the objects around were as distinctly visible as if it had been midday. Mr. C. considered himself fortunate in having secured the box-seat for himself; and yet, although he shared the benefit of the coachman's leathern apron, and had on a greatcoat and cloak, a worsted comforter round his neck, and a flask of brandy in his side-pocket, he was half-starved with cold before he reached his journey's end. As my friend sat, with his chin drooping over his chest, his hat pulled tightly over his rime-covered brows, his eyes blinking like an owl's, from the combined effect of east wind, which was blowing penknives and razors, and half-frozen snowflakes, he was roused up from an almost irresistible inclination to fall asleep by a disagreeable consciousness of the coachman's paying more attention to the guard behind, than to the horses in front. Suddenly, at a critical spot, where four roads met, he begged the coachman to mind what he was about, or else expect to be reported. The fear of risk to life and limb caused him to open his eyes and keep watch over the driver. Just as he was again about to remonstrate with him, on seeing him about to relapse and crack jokes with the guard, a warning note on the bugle was given by the guard to a man walking in the middle of the road, who evidently did not hear the approach of the coach, and who was dressed in a white smockfrock, ill suited to such inclement weather, and carrying a stick over his right shoulder, with a small pack hanging from it.
Mr. C had hardly caught sight of the man ere he saw one of the splinter bars, on the near side, strike his hip with such force as to knock him down. There had been a premonitory shout from one or two of the 'outsides'; but the roaring of the wind, which they were facing, deadened the sound, and it came too late. In a second, every one on the top of the coach, as well as those inside, distinctly felt the coach lurch and heave over some object in the middle of the highway. The 'insides,' who had not seen the man, concluded that they had been driven over a heap of roadside mud scrapings, which had been hardened by the action of the frost; but those who had witnessed the lamentable catastrophe from the top of the coach, were confident that it was the body of a human being - and that human being the pedlar - over which they had been driven. The coachman pulled up instantaneously: all the outside passengers jumped down from their seats to render help. The first among them was the guard, who took one of the lamps out of the socket - moonlight though it was - the better to discern the extent of the mischief done. The next to alight was my friend Mr. C , who, when he told me the story, confessed he felt a revulsion at the thought of the crushed, mangled, blood-besprinkled body he should behold; but he had hardly set his foot to the snow-clad earth, when he heard the guard almost yell out,' Good heavens! there's no one hurt! there's no one to be seen!' And sure enough, after the closest search, there was neither trace of human body, nor the slightest sign of any material object of any kind, which could account for the heaving of the coach. On the travellers resuming their seats and proceeding on their journey, an indefinable shudder crept over them; for they could neither resist the evidence of their senses, nor yet explain the supernatural phenomenon. The 'insides,' at first, tried hard to laugh away the impression on the minds of the 'outsides'; but gradually the disposition to ridicule gave way to silence, silence to reflection, and reflection to a reverential sense of awe.
In this mood they arrived at Wheatley, the last stage, in the old coaching days, for changing horses before entering Oxford. Tliere they found four fresh animals waiting for them, with staring coats, in spite of rugs on their loins; and ostlers at their heads stamping with their feet, and beating their crossed arms against their ribs, and execrating the coachman for keeping them out in the cold. 'What on earth has been the matter, Old Snail? We knows the roads run heavy; but we knows that they don't run no heavier for you than for others. There is not one of the down coaches that have been so behind time as you have.'
The injured coachman did not deign reply; but the guard, who, not having been censured, condescended to be communicative, told them the cause of the delay. When they had heard what he had to tell, the ostler and the helper were seen to exchange looks of deep meaning with each other, and to display a strong disposition to tell something in their turn; but the air was too biting, and the passengers too importunate in their demands on Jehu to ' make haste,' to admit of such an unseasonable interruption. However, it transpired, the next day, that while the horsekeepers had been waiting for the coach, and calculating the probabilities of an accident having happened, they had held together the following colloquy:- Head ostler (loq). 'I say, Bill, whatever can be the matter? Tis a owdacious sight beyond the time, to be sure; though I've known the roads run a deal heavier than this, without such unkimmon delay. Can't make it out.' Under ostler. 'More can't I. 'Tis not as though 'twere market-day, or Christmas Eve. Then, what wi' turkeys and geese, and sausingers, and schoolboys, one could ha' understood it. I say, what's the day of the month? It ain't nothing partickler, be it?' Head ostler. 'Oh, for the matter o' that, 'tis the 16th of Janivary. By the bye, Bill, your axing me the day of the month has put summut into my noddle. Though it ain't market-day, nor a holiday, yet it was this blessed day twelvemonth, and (looking at his watch) about half an hour earlier than it is now, that that there pedlar chap, wi' his wallet at his back, was murdered where the four cross-roads meet.'
There are two gentlemen now alive who were present and on the coach when this almost incredible adventure took place. One of those gentlemen is my authority for the story.
"A Memoir of Charles Mayne Young, Tragedian" by Julian Charles Young
An Ostler in France
The next morning we ... were joined by a very gentlemanly French emigrant, who spoke English well, and a young Yorkshire squire, of tall stature, robust make, rosy cheeks, blue eyes, fair skin, and red hair. He appeared to be one of those good-natured sort of unlicked cubs that abound in the country parts of England, had a thorough knowledge of horses, dogs, field sports, &c. ... his purse seemed to be very well furnished ... “I should like to have a-set to with a Frenchman,” said Squire Gawky, adding, as he turned to the emigrant, “I’ll tell you what, mounseer, I would’nt mind giving an English guinea to any one of this country, gentle or simple, as would show fight. What d'ye say to it? can you find a fellow as ain't afraid to stand up like a man any where in France?” ... I will see what can be done; there is an ostler at the inn where we shall stop, who is a very strapping fellow, and, I dare say, for the sake of the guinea, would not mind a good beating, so that, if it will give you pleasure, I will propose the subject to him.” ... “I should like it of all things,” said young Hawbuck ... In a short time we arrived ... and the emigrant took the ostler of the post-house where we alighted on one side to propose to him the combat, and very soon returned with him tucking up his shirt sleeves preparatory to action. I observed to the young esquire, “There's your man; how do you, like the looks of him?” “He's a wapper, however, but I’ll soon serve him out,” said the young spark .... The ostler ... was about six feet high, and, although a thin man, was very broad across the shoulders; his sinews seemed like cords, and, in fact, he appeared all bone and muscle, with a fist as big as a leg o' mutton. The young squire drew forth his guinea right willingly, and the ostler pocketed it with an air of equal satisfaction, preserving an expression of as much indifference as if he were merely going about his ordinary work. ... The Englishman put himself in a scientific attitude; the Frenchman, on the contrary, merely held up his left arm for defence, whilst he kept his right down and rather backward for the purpose of offence. The squire bid me notice his method of squaring ... and begged I would pay particular attention to his style of hitting, as he made a blow at the ostler with his right, but which his opponent parried with his left, and at the same time planted such a heavy knock on the squire's head, just upon the temple, that down he went like a shot.
The blow and the fall together appeared quite to have stunned the young pugilist, as he never offered to get up until we raised him, when it was evident that he was not in a state to continue the combat. Meantime the Frenchman was standing very quietly waiting to continue the fight, but finding his antagonist not preparing to resume either the offensive or defensive, he very coolly demanded, “Est-ce que monsieur a eu assez pour son argent?” (has the gentleman had enough for his money?) and on being informed in the affirmative, he coolly remarked, that it was the easiest money he had ever earned in his life, and went leisurely off to his business, delighted with his windfall. The young squire appeared, in fact, to be what is called regularly groggified!
"The Career of an Artist" by Charley Chalk, illustration by Jacob Parallel, published by G. Berger, 1839