How few men, or even women, understand, either in great or in little things, what it is the being “in charge”—I mean, know how to carry out a “charge.” From the most colossal calamities, down to the most trifling accidents, results are often traced (or rather not traced) to such want of some one “in charge” or of his knowing how to be “in charge.” A short time ago the bursting of a funnel-casing on board the finest and strongest ship that ever was built, on her trial trip, destroyed several lives and put several hundreds in jeopardy—not from any undetected flaw in her new and untried works—but from a tap being closed which ought not to have been closed—from what every child knows would make its mother’s tea-kettle burst. And this simply because no one seemed to know what it is to be “in charge,” or who was in charge. Nay more, the jury at the inquest actually altogether ignored the same, and apparently considered the tap “in charge,” for they gave as a verdict “accidental death.”
This is the meaning of the word, on a large scale. On a much smaller scale, it happened, a short time ago, that an insane person burnt herself slowly and intentionally to death, while in her doctor’s charge and almost in her nurse’s presence. Yet neither was considered “at all to blame.” The very fact of the accident happening proves its own case. There is nothing more to be said. Either they did not know their business or they did not know how to perform it.
To be “in charge” is certainly not only to carry out the proper measures yourself but to see that every one else does so too; to see that no one either wilfully or ignorantly thwarts or prevents such measures. It is neither to do everything yourself nor to appoint a number of people to each duty, but to ensure that each does that duty to which he is appointed. This is the meaning which must be attached to the word by (above all) those “in charge” of sick, whether of numbers or of individuals, (and indeed I think it is with individual sick that it is least understood. One sick person is often waited on by four with less precision, and is really less cared for than ten who are waited on by one; or at least than 40 who are waited on by 4; and all for want of this one person “in charge.)”
It is often said that there are few good servants now: I say there are few good mistresses now. As the jury seems to have thought the tap was in charge of the ship’s safety, so mistresses now seem to think the house is in charge of itself. They neither know how to give orders, nor how to teach their servants to obey orders—i.e. to obey intelligently, which is the real meaning of all discipline.
Again, people who are in charge often seem to have a pride in feeling that they will be “missed,” that no one can understand or carry on their arrangements, their system, books, accounts, &c., but themselves. It seems to me that the pride is rather in carrying on a system, in keeping stores, closets, books, accounts, &c., so that any body can understand and carry them on—so that, in case of absence or illness, one can deliver every thing up to others and know that all will go on as usual, and that one shall never be missed.