The Complete English Tradesman (1839 ed.)
by Daniel Defoe
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Let no young tradesman object, that, in the conversation I speak of, there are so many gross things said, and so many ridiculous things argued upon, there being always a great many weak empty heads among the shopkeeping trading world: this may be granted without any impeachment of what I have advanced—for where shall a man converse, and find no fools in the society?—and where shall he hear the weightiest things debated, and not a great many empty weak things offered, out of which nothing can be learned, and from which nothing can be deduced?—for 'out of nothing, nothing can come.'

But, notwithstanding, let me still insist upon it to the tradesman to keep company with tradesmen; let the fool run on in his own way; let the talkative green-apron rattle in his own way; let the manufacturer and his factor squabble and brangle; the grave self-conceited puppy, who was born a boy, and will die before he is a man, chatter and say a great deal of nothing, and talk his neighbours to death—out of every one you will learn something—they are all tradesmen, and there is always something for a young tradesman to learn from them. If, understanding but a little French, you were to converse every day a little among some Frenchmen in your neighbourhood, and suppose those Frenchmen, you thus kept company with, were every one of them fools, mere ignorant, empty, foolish fellows, there might be nothing learnt from their sense, but you would still learn French from them, if it was no more than the tone and accent, and the ordinary words usual in conversation.

Thus, among your silly empty tradesmen, let them be as foolish and empty other ways as you can suggest, though you can learn no philosophy from them, you may learn many things in trade from them, and something from every one; for though it is not absolutely necessary that every tradesman should be a philosopher, yet every tradesman, in his way, knows something that even a philosopher may learn from.

I knew a philosopher that was excellently skilled in the noble science or study of astronomy, who told me he had some years studied for some simile, or proper allusion, to explain to his scholars the phenomena of the sun's motion round its own axis, and could never happen upon one to his mind, till by accident he saw his maid Betty trundling her mop: surprised with the exactness of the motion to describe the thing he wanted, he goes into his study, calls his pupils about him, and tells them that Betty, who herself knew nothing of the matter, could show them the sun revolving about itself in a more lively manner than ever he could. Accordingly, Betty was called, and bidden bring out her mop, when, placing his scholars in a due-position, opposite not to the face of the maid, but to her left side, so that they could see the end of the mop, when it whirled round upon her arm. They took it immediately—there was the broad-headed nail in the centre, which was as the body of the sun, and the thrums whisking round, flinging the water about every way by innumerable little streams, describing exactly the rays of the sun, darting light from the centre to the whole system.

If ignorant Betty, by the natural consequences of her operation, instructed the astronomer, why may not the meanest shoemaker or pedlar, by the ordinary sagacity of his trading wit, though it may be indeed very ordinary, coarse, and unlooked for, communicate something, give some useful hint, dart some sudden thought into the mind of the observing tradesman, which he shall make his use of, and apply to his own advantage in trade, when, at the same time, he that gives such hint shall himself, like Betty and her mop, know nothing of the matter?

Every tradesman is supposed to manage his business his own way, and, generally speaking, most tradesmen have some ways peculiar and particular to themselves, which they either derived from the masters who taught them, or from the experience of things, or from something in the course of their business, which had not happened to them before.

And those little nostrums are oftentime very properly and with advantage communicated from one to another; one tradesman finds out a nearer way of buying than another, another finds a vent for what is bought beyond what his neighbour knows of, and these, in time, come to be learned of them by their ordinary conversation.

I am not for confining the tradesman from keeping better company, as occasion and leisure requires; I allow the tradesman to act the gentleman sometimes, and that even for conversation, at least if his understanding and capacity make him suitable company to them, but still his business is among those of his own rank. The conversation of gentlemen, and what they call keeping good company, may be used as a diversion, or as an excursion, but his stated society must be with his neighbours, and people in trade; men of business are companions for men of business; with gentlemen he may converse pleasantly, but here he converses profitably; tradesmen are always profitable to one another; as they always gain by trading together, so they never lose by conversing together; if they do not get money, they gain knowledge in business, improve their experience, and see farther and farther into the world.

A man of but an ordinary penetration will improve himself by conversing in matters of trade with men of trade; by the experience of the old tradesmen they learn caution and prudence, and by the rashness and the miscarriages of the young, they learn what are the mischiefs that themselves may be exposed to.

Again, in conversing with men of trade, they get trade; men first talk together, then deal together—many a good bargain is made, and many a pound gained, where nothing was expected, by mere casual coming to talk together, without knowing any thing of the matter before they met. The tradesmen's meetings are like the merchants' exchange, where they manage, negociate, and, indeed, beget business with one another.

Let no tradesman mistake me in this part; I am not encouraging them to leave their shops and warehouses, to go to taverns and ale-houses, and spend their time there in unnecessary prattle, which, indeed, is nothing but sotting and drinking; this is not meeting to do business, but to neglect business. Of which I shall speak fully afterwards.

But the tradesmen conversing with one another, which I mean, is the taking suitable occasions to discourse with their fellow tradesmen, meeting them in the way of their business, and improving their spare hours together. To leave their shops, and quit their counters, in the proper seasons for their attendance there, would be a preposterous negligence, would be going out of business to gain business, and would be cheating themselves, instead of improving themselves. The proper hours of business are sacred to the shop and the warehouse. He that goes out of the order of trade, let the pretence of business be what it will, loses his business, not increases it; and will, if continued, lose the credit of his conduct in business also.


[10] [The story of the political upholsterer forms the subject of several amusing papers by Addison in the Tatler.]

[11] [To stand in the presence of a prince is the highest mark of honour in the east, as to sit is with us.]



Solomon was certainly a friend to men of business, as it appears by his frequent good advice to them. In Prov. xviii. 9, he says, 'He that is slothful in business, is brother to him that is a great waster:' and in another place, 'The sluggard shall be clothed in rags,' (Prov. xxiii. 1), or to that purpose. On the contrary, the same wise man, by way of encouragement, tells them, 'The diligent hand maketh rich,' (Prov. x. 4), and, 'The diligent shall bear rule, but the slothful shall be under tribute.'

Nothing can give a greater prospect of thriving to a young tradesman, than his own diligence; it fills himself with hope, and gives him credit with all who know him; without application, nothing in this world goes forward as it should do: let the man have the most perfect knowledge of his trade, and the best situation for his shop, yet without application nothing will go on. What is the shop without the master? what the books without the book-keeper? what the credit without the man? Hark how the people talk of such conduct as the slothful negligent trader discovers in his way.

'Such a shop,' says the customer, 'stands well, and there is a good stock of goods in it, but there is nobody to serve but a 'prentice-boy or two, and an idle journeyman: one finds them always at play together, rather than looking out for customers; and when you come to buy, they look as if they did not care whether they showed you any thing or no. One never sees a master in the shop, if we go twenty times, nor anything that bears the face of authority. Then, it is a shop always exposed, it is perfectly haunted with thieves and shop-lifters; they see nobody but raw boys in it, that mind nothing, and the diligent devils never fail to haunt them, so that there are more outcries of 'Stop thief!' at their door, and more constables fetched to that shop, than to all the shops in the row. There was a brave trade at that shop in Mr—'s time: he was a true shopkeeper; like the quack doctor, you never missed him from seven in the morning till twelve, and from two till nine at night, and he throve accordingly—he left a good estate behind him. But I don't know what these people are; they say there are two partners of them, but there had as good be none, for they are never at home, nor in their shop: one wears a long wig and a sword, I hear, and you see him often in the Mall and at court, but very seldom in his shop, or waiting on his customers; and the other, they say, lies a-bed till eleven o'clock every day, just comes into the shop and shows himself, then stalks about to the tavern to take a whet, then to Child's coffee-house to hear the news, comes home to dinner at one, takes a long sleep in his chair after it, and about four o'clock comes into the shop for half an hour, or thereabouts, then to the tavern, where he stays till two in the morning, gets drunk, and is led home by the watch, and so lies till eleven again; and thus he walks round like the hand of a dial. And what will it all come to?—they'll certainly break, that you may be sure of; they can't hold it long.'

'This is the town's way of talking, where they see an example of it in the manner as is described; nor are the inferences unjust, any more than the description is unlike, for such certainly is the end of such management, and no shop thus neglected ever made a tradesman rich.

On the contrary, customers love to see the master's face in the shop, and to go to a shop where they are sure to find him at home. When he does not sell, or cannot take the price offered, yet the customers are not disobliged, and if they do not deal now, they may another time: if they do deal, the master generally gets a better price for his goods than a servant can, besides that he gives better content; and yet the customers always think they buy cheaper of the master too.

I seem to be talking now of the mercer or draper, as if my discourse were wholly bent and directed to them; but it is quite contrary, for it concerns every tradesman—the advice is general, and every tradesman claims a share in it; the nature of trade requires it. It is an old Anglicism, 'Such a man drives a trade;' the allusion is to a carter, that with his voice, his hands, his whip, and his constant attendance, keeps the team always going, helps himself, lifts at the wheel in every slough, doubles his application upon every difficulty, and, in a word, to complete the simile, if he is not always with his horses, either the wagon is set in a hole, or the team stands still, or, which is worst of all, the load is spoiled by the waggon overthrowing.

It is therefore no improper speech to say, such a man drives his trade; for, in short, if trade is not driven, it will not go.

Trade is like a hand-mill, it must always be turned about by the diligent hand of the master; or, if you will, like the pump-house at Amsterdam, where they put offenders in for petty matters, especially beggars; if they will work and keep pumping, they sit well, and dry and safe, and if they work very hard one hour or two, they may rest, perhaps, a quarter of an hour afterwards; but if they oversleep themselves, or grow lazy, the water comes in upon them and wets them, and they have no dry place to stand in, much less to sit down in; and, in short, if they continue obstinately idle, they must sink; so that it is nothing but pump or drown, and they may choose which they like best.

He that engages in trade, and does not resolve to work at it, is felo de se; it is downright murdering himself; that is to say, in his trading capacity, he murders his credit, he murders his stock, and he starves, which is as bad as murdering, his family.

Trade must not be entered into as a thing of light concern; it is called business very properly, for it is a business for life, and ought to be followed as one of the great businesses of life—I do not say the chief, but one of the great businesses of life it certainly is—trade must, I say, be worked at, not played with; he that trades in jest, will certainly break in earnest; and this is one reason indeed why so many tradesmen come to so hasty a conclusion of their affairs.

There was another old English saying to this purpose, which shows how much our old fathers were sensible of the duty of a shopkeeper: speaking of the tradesman as just opening his shop, and beginning a dialogue with it; the result of which is, that the shop replies to the tradesman thus: 'Keep me, and I will keep thee.' It is the same with driving the trade; if the shopkeeper will not keep, that is, diligently attend to his shop, the shop will not keep, that is, maintain him: and in the other sense it is harsher to him, if he will not drive his trade, the trade will drive him; that is, drive him out of the shop, drive him away.

All these old sayings have this monitory substance in them; namely, they all concur to fill a young tradesman with true notions of what he is going about; and that the undertaking of a trade is not a sport or game, in which he is to meet with diversions only, and entertainment, and not to be in the least troubled or disturbed: trade is a daily employment, and must be followed as such, with the full attention of the mind, and full attendance of the person; nothing but what are to be called the necessary duties of life are to intervene; and even these are to be limited so as not to be prejudicial to business.

And now I am speaking of the necessary things which may intervene, and which may divide the time with our business or trade, I shall state the manner in a few words, that the tradesman may neither give too much, nor take away too much, to or from any respective part of what may be called his proper employment, but keep as due a balance of his time as he should of his books or cash.

The life of man is, or should be, a measure of allotted time; as his time is measured out to him, so the measure is limited, must end, and the end of it is appointed.

The purposes for which time is given, and life bestowed, are very momentous; no time is given uselessly, and for nothing; time is no more to be unemployed, than it is to be ill employed. Three things are chiefly before us in the appointment of our time: 1. Necessaries of nature. 2. Duties of religion, or things relating to a future life. 3. Duties of the present life, namely, business and calling.

I. Necessities of nature, such as eating and drinking; rest, or sleep; and in case of disease, a recess from business; all which have two limitations on them, and no more; namely, that they be

1. Referred to their proper seasons.

2. Used with moderation.

Both these might give me subject to write many letters upon; but I study brevity, and desire rather to hint than dwell upon things which are serious and grave, because I would not tire you.

II. Duties of religion: these may be called necessities too in their kind, and that of the sublimest nature; and they ought not to be thrust at all out of their place, and yet they ought to be kept in their place too.

III. Duties of life, that is to say, business, or employment, or calling, which are divided into three kinds:

1. Labour, or servitude.

2. Employment.

3. Trade.

By labour, I mean the poor manualist, whom we properly call the labouring man, who works for himself indeed in one respect, but sometimes serves and works for wages, as a servant, or workman.

By employment, I mean men in business, which yet is not properly called trade, such as lawyers, physicians, surgeons, scriveners, clerks, secretaries, and such like: and

By trade I mean merchants and inland-traders, such as are already described in the introduction to this work.

To speak of time, it is divided among these; even in them all there is a just equality of circumstances to be preserved, and as diligence is required in one, and necessity to be obeyed in another, so duty is to be observed in the third; and yet all these with such a due regard to one another, as that one duty may not jostle out another; and every thing going on with an equality and just regard to the nature of the thing, the tradesman may go on with a glad heart and a quiet conscience.

This article is very nice, as I intend to speak to it; and it is a dangerous thing indeed to speak to, lest young tradesmen, treading on the brink of duty on one side, and duty on the other side, should pretend to neglect their duty to heaven, on pretence that I say they must not neglect their shops. But let them do me justice, and they will do themselves no injury; nor do I fear that my arguing on this point should give them any just cause to go wrong; if they will go wrong, and plead my argument for their excuse, it must be by their abusing my directions, and taking them in pieces, misplacing the words, and disjointing the sense, and by the same method they may make blasphemy of the Scripture.

The duties of life, I say, must not interfere with one another, must not jostle one another out of the place, or so break in as to be prejudicial to one another. It is certainly the duty of every Christian to worship God, to pay his homage morning and evening to his Maker, and at all other proper seasons to behave as becomes a sincere worshipper of God; nor must any avocation, either of business or nature, however necessary, interfere with this duty, either in public or in private. This is plainly asserting the necessity of the duty, so no man can pretend to evade that.

But the duties of nature and religion also have such particular seasons, and those seasons so proper to themselves, and so stated, as not to break in or trench upon one another, that we are really without excuse, if we let any one be pleaded for the neglect of the other. Food, sleep, rest, and the necessities of nature, are either reserved for the night, which is appointed for man to rest, or take up so little room in the day, that they can never be pleaded in bar of either religion or employment.

He, indeed, who will sleep when he should work, and perhaps drink when he should sleep, turns nature bottom upwards, inverts the appointment of providence, and must account to himself, and afterwards to a higher judge, for the neglect.

The devil—if it be the devil that tempts, for I would not wrong Satan himself—plays our duties often one against another; and to bring us, if possible, into confusion in our conduct, subtly throws religion out of its place, to put it in our way, and to urge us to a breach of what we ought to do: besides this subtle tempter—for, as above, I won't charge it all upon the devil—we have a great hand in it ourselves; but let it be who it will, I say, this subtle tempter hurries the well-meaning tradesman to act in all manner of irregularity, that he may confound religion and business, and in the end may destroy both.

When the tradesman well inclined rises early in the morning, and is moved, as in duty to his Maker he ought, to pay his morning vows to him either in his closet, or at the church, where he hears the six o'clock bell ring to call his neighbours to the same duty—then the secret hint comes across his happy intention, that he must go to such or such a place, that he may be back time enough for such other business as has been appointed over-night, and both perhaps may be both lawful and necessary; so his diligence oppresses his religion, and away he runs to transact his business, and neglects his morning sacrifice to his Maker.

On the other hand, and at another time, being in his shop, or his counting-house, or warehouse, a vast throng of business upon his hands, and the world in his head, when it is highly his duty to attend it, and shall be to his prejudice to absent himself—then the same deceiver presses him earnestly to go to his closet, or to the church to prayers, during which time his customer goes to another place, the neighbours miss him in his shop, his business is lost, his reputation suffers; and by this turned into a practice, the man may say his prayers so long and so unseasonably till he is undone, and not a creditor he has (I may give it him from experience) will use him the better, or show him the more favour, when a commission of bankrupt comes out against him.

Thus, I knew once a zealous, pious, religious tradesman, who would almost shut up his shop every day about nine or ten o'clock to call all his family together to prayers; and yet he was no presbyterian, I assure you; I say, he would almost shut up his shop, for he would suffer none of his servants to be absent from his family worship.

This man had certainly been right, had he made all his family get up by six o'clock in the morning, and called them to prayers before he had opened his shop; but instead of that, he first suffered sleep to interfere with religion, and lying a-bed to postpone and jostle out his prayers—and then, to make God Almighty amends upon himself, wounds his family by making his prayers interfere with his trade, and shuts his customers out of his shop; the end of which was, the poor good man deceived himself, and lost his business.

Another tradesman, whom I knew personally well, was raised in the morning very early, by the outcries of his wife, to go and fetch a midwife. It was necessary, in his way, to go by a church, where there was always, on that day of the week, a morning sermon early, for the supplying the devotion of such early Christians as he; so the honest man, seeing the door open, steps in, and seeing the minister just gone up into the pulpit, sits down, joins in the prayers, hears the sermon, and goes very gravely home again; in short, his earnestness in the worship, and attention to what he had heard, quite put the errand he was sent about out of his head; and the poor woman in travail, after having waited long for the return of her husband with the midwife, was obliged (having run an extreme hazard by depending on his expedition) to dispatch other messengers, who fetched the midwife, and she was come, and the work over, long before the sermon was done, or that any body heard of the husband: at last, he was met coming gravely home from the church, when being upbraided with his negligence, in a dreadful surprise he struck his hands together, and cried out, 'How is my wife? I profess I forgot it!'

What shall we say now to this ill-timed devotion, and who must tempt the poor man to this neglect? Certainly, had he gone for the midwife, it had been much more his duty, than to go to hear a sermon at that time.

I knew also another tradesman, who was such a sermon-hunter, and, as there are lectures and sermons preached in London, either in the churches or meeting-houses, almost every day in the week, used so assiduously to hunt out these occasions, that whether it was in a church or meeting-house, or both, he was always abroad to hear a sermon, at least once every day, and sometimes more; and the consequence was, that the man lost his trade, his shop was entirely neglected, the time which was proper for him to apply to his business was misapplied, his trade fell off, and the man broke.

Now it is true, and I ought to take notice of it also, that, though these things happen, and may wrong a tradesman, yet it is oftener, ten times for once, that tradesmen neglect their shop and business to follow the track of their vices and extravagence—some by taverns, others to the gaming-houses, others to balls and masquerades, plays, harlequins, and operas, very few by too much religion.

But my inference is still sound, and the more effectually so as to that part; for if our business and trades are not to be neglected, no, not for the extraordinary excursions of religion, and religious duties, much less are they to be neglected for vices and extravagances.

This is an age of gallantry and gaiety, and never was the city transposed to the court as it is now; the play-houses and balls are now filled with citizens and young tradesmen, instead of gentlemen and families of distinction; the shopkeepers wear a differing garb now, and are seen with their long wigs and swords, rather than with aprons on, as was formerly the figure they made.

But what is the difference in the consequences? You did not see in those days acts of grace for the relief of insolvent debtors almost every session of parliament, and yet the jails filled with insolvents before the next year, though ten or twelve thousand have been released at a time by those acts.

Nor did you hear of so many commissions of bankrupt every week in the Gazette, as is now the case; in a word, whether you take the lower sort of tradesman, or the higher, where there were twenty that failed in those days, I believe I speak within compass if I say that five hundred turn insolvent now; it is, as I said above, an age of pleasure, and as the wise man said long ago, 'He that loves pleasure shall be a poor man'—so it is now; it is an age of drunkenness and extravagance, and thousands ruin themselves by that; it is an age of luxurious and expensive living, and thousands more undo themselves by that; but, among all our vices, nothing ruins a tradesman so effectually as the neglect of his business: it is true, all those things prompt men to neglect their business, but the more seasonable is the advice; either enter upon no trade, undertake no business, or, having undertaken it, pursue it diligently: drive your trade, that the world may not drive you out of trade, and ruin and undo you. Without diligence a man can never thoroughly understand his business and how should a man thrive, when he does not perfectly know what he is doing, or how to do it? Application to his trade teaches him how to carry it on, as much as his going apprentice taught him how to set it up. Certainly, that man shall never improve in his trading knowledge, that does not know his business, or how to carry it on: the diligent tradesman is always the knowing and complete tradesman.

Now, in order to have a man apply heartily, and pursue earnestly, the business he is engaged in, there is yet another thing necessary, namely, that he should delight in it: to follow a trade, and not to love and delight in it, is a slavery, a bondage, not a business: the shop is a bridewell, and the warehouse a house of correction to the tradesman, if he does not delight in his trade. While he is bound, as we say, to keep his shop, he is like the galley-slave chained down to the oar; he tugs and labours indeed, and exerts the utmost of his strength, for fear of the strapado, and because he is obliged to do it; but when he is on shore, and is out from the bank, he abhors the labour, and hates to come to it again.

To delight in business is making business pleasant and agreeable; and such a tradesman cannot but be diligent in it, which, according to Solomon, makes him certainly rich, and in time raises him above the world and able to instruct and encourage those who come after him.



It is an observation, indeed, of my own, but I believe it will hold true almost in all the chief trading towns in England, that there are more tradesmen undone by having too much trade, than for want of trade. Over-trading is among tradesmen as over-lifting is among strong men: such people, vain of the strengh, and their pride prompting them to put it to the utmost trial, at last lift at something too heavy for them, over-strain their sinews, break some of nature's bands, and are cripples ever after.

I take over-trading to be to a shopkeeper as ambition is to a prince. The late king of France, the great king Louis, ambition led him to invade the dominions of his neighbours; and while upon the empire here, or the states-general there, or the Spanish Netherlands on another quarter, he was an over-match for every one, and, in their single capacity, he gained from them all; but at last pride made him think himself a match for them all together, and he entered into a declared war against the emperor and the empire, the kings of Spain and Great Britain, and the states of Holland, all at once. And what was the consequence? They reduced him to the utmost distress, he lost all his conquests, was obliged, by a dishonourable peace, to quit what he had got by encroachment, to demolish his invincible towns, such as Pignerol, Dunkirk, &c., the two strongest fortresses in Europe; and, in a word, like a bankrupt monarch, he may, in many cases, be said to have died a beggar.

Thus the strong man in the fable, who by main strength used to rive a tree, undertook one at last which was too strong for him, and it closed upon his fingers, and held him till the wild beasts came and devoured him. Though the story is a fable, the moral is good to my present purpose, and is not at all above my subject; I mean that of a tradesman, who should be warned against over-trading, as earnestly, and with as much passion, as I would warn a dealer in gunpowder to be wary of fire, or a distiller or rectifier of spirits to moderate his furnace, lest the heads of his stills fly off, and he should be scalded to death.

For a young tradesman to over-trade himself, is like a young swimmer going out of his depth, when, if help does not come immediately, it is a thousand to one but he sinks, and is drowned. All rash adventures are condemned by the prudent part of mankind; but it is as hard to restrain youth in trade, as it is in any other thing, where the advantage stands in view, and the danger out of sight; the profits of trade are baits to the avaricious shopkeeper, and he is forward to reckon them up to himself, but does not perhaps cast up the difficulty which there may be to compass it, or the unhappy consequences of a miscarriage.

For want of this consideration, the tradesman oftentimes drowns, as I may call it, even within his depth—that is, he sinks when he has really the substance at bottom to keep him up—and this is all owing to an adventurous bold spirit in trade, joined with too great a gust of gain. Avarice is the ruin of many people besides tradesmen; and I might give the late South Sea calamity for an example in which the longest heads were most overreached, not so much by the wit or cunning of those they had to deal with as by the secret promptings of their own avarice; wherein they abundantly verified an old proverbial speech or saying, namely, 'All covet, all lose;' so it was there indeed, and the cunningest, wisest, sharpest, men lost the most money.

There are two things which may be properly called over-trading, in a young beginner; and by both which tradesmen are often overthrown.

1. Trading beyond their stock.

2. Giving too large credit.

A tradesman ought to consider and measure well the extent of his own strengh; his stock of money, and credit, is properly his beginning; for credit is a stock as well as money. He that takes too much credit is really in as much danger as he that gives too much credit; and the danger lies particularly in this, if the tradesman over-buys himself, that is, buys faster than he can sell, buying upon credit, the payments perhaps become due too soon for him; the goods not being sold, he must answer the bills upon the strength of his proper stock—that is, pay for them out of his own cash; if that should not hold out, he is obliged to put off his bills after they are due, or suffer the impertinence of being dunned by the creditor, and perhaps by servants and apprentices, and that with the usual indecencies of such kind of people.

This impairs his credit, and if he comes to deal with the same merchant, or clothier, or other tradesman again, he is treated like one that is but an indifferent paymaster; and though they may give him credit as before, yet depending that if he bargains for six months, he will take eight or nine in the payment, they consider it in the price, and use him accordingly; and this impairs his gain, so that loss of credit is indeed loss of money, and this weakens him both ways.

A tradesman, therefore, especially at his beginning, ought to be very wary of taking too much credit; he had much better slip the occasion of buying now and then a bargain to his advantage, for that is usually the temptation, than buying a greater quantity of goods than he can pay for, run into debt, and be insulted, and at last ruined. Merchants, and wholesale dealers, to put off their goods, are very apt to prompt young shopkeepers and young tradesmen to buy great quantities of goods, and take large credit at first; but it is a snare that many a young beginner has fallen into, and been ruined in the very bud; for if the young beginner does not find a vent for the quantity, he is undone; for at the time of payment the merchant expects his money, whether the goods are sold or not; and if he cannot pay, he is gone at once.

The tradesman that buys warily, always pays surely, and every young beginner ought to buy cautiously; if he has money to pay, he need never fear goods to be had; the merchants' warehouses are always open, and he may supply himself upon all occasions, as he wants, and as his customers call.

It may pass for a kind of an objection here, that there are some goods which a tradesman may deal in, which are to be bought at such and such markets only, and at such and such fairs only, that is to say, are chiefly bought there; as the cheesemongers buy their stocks of cheese and of butter, the cheese at several fairs in Warwickshire, as at Atherston fair in particular, or at fair in Gloucestershire, and at Sturbridge fair, near Cambridge; and their butter at Ipswich fair, in Suffolk; and so of many other things; but the answer is plain: those things which are generally bought thus, are ready money goods, and the tradesman has a sure rule for buying, namely, his cash. But as I am speaking of taking credit, so I must be necessarily supposed to speak of such goods as are bought upon credit, as the linen-draper buys of the Hamburgh and Dutch merchants, the woollen-draper of the Blackwell-hall men, the haberdasher of the thread merchants, the mercer of the weavers and Italian merchants, the silk-man of the Turkey merchants, and the like; here they are under no necessity of running deep into debt, but may buy sparingly, and recruit again as they sell off.

I know some tradesmen are very fond of seeing their shops well-stocked, and their warehouses full of goods, and this is a snare to them, and brings them to buy in more goods than they want; but this is a great error, either in their judgment or their vanity; for, except in retailers' shops, and that in some trades where they must have a great choice of goods, or else may want a trade, otherwise a well-experienced tradesman had rather see his warehouse too empty than too full: if it be too empty, he can fill it when he pleases, if his credit be good, or his cash strong; but a thronged warehouse is a sign of a want of customers, and of a bad market; whereas, an empty warehouse is a sign of a nimble demand.[12]

Let no young tradesman value himself upon having a very great throng of goods in hand, having just a necessary supply to produce a choice of new and fashionable goods—nay, though he be a mercer, for they are the most under the necessity of a large stock of goods; but I say, supposing even the mercer to have a tolerable show and choice of fashionable goods, that gives his shop a reputation, he derives no credit at all from a throng of old shopkeepers, as they call them, namely, out-of-fashion things: but in other trades it is much more a needful caution; a few goods, and a quick sale, is the beauty of a tradesman's warehouse, or shop either; and it is his wisdom to keep himself in that posture that his payments may come in on his front as fast as they go out in his rear; that he may be able to answer the demands of his merchants or dealers, and, if possible, let no man come twice for his money.

The reason of this is plain, and leads me back to where I began; credit is stock, and, if well supported, is as good as a stock, and will be as durable. A tradesman whose credit is good, untouched, unspotted, and who, as above, has maintained it with care, shall in many cases buy his goods as cheap at three or four months' time of payment, as another man shall with ready money—I say in some cases, and in goods which are ordinarily sold for time, as all our manufactures, the bay trade excepted, generally are.

He, then, that keeps his credit unshaken, has a double stock—I mean, it is an addition to his real stock, and often superior to it: nay, I have known several considerable tradesmen in this city who have traded with great success, and to a very considerable degree, and yet have not had at bottom one shilling real stock; but by the strength of their reputation, being sober and diligent, and having with care preserved the character of honest men, and the credit of their business, by cautious dealing and punctual payments, they have gone on till the gain of their trade has effectually established them, and they have raised estates out of nothing.

But to return to the dark side, namely, over-trading; the second danger is the giving too much credit. He that takes credit may give credit, but he must be exceedingly watchful; for it is the most dangerous state of life that a tradesman can live in, for he is in as much jeopardy as a seaman upon a lee-shore.

If the people he trusts fail, or fail but of a punctual compliance with him, he can never support his own credit, unless by the caution I am now giving; that is, to be very sure not to give so much credit as he takes.

By the word so much, I must be understood thus—either he must sell for shorter time than he takes, or in less quantity; the last is the safest, namely, that he should be sure not to trust out so much as he is trusted with. If he has a real stock, indeed, besides the credit he takes, that, indeed, makes the case differ; and a man that can pay his own debts, whether other people pay him or no, that man is out of the question—he is past danger, and cannot be hurt; but if he trusts beyond the extent of his stock and credit, even he may be overthrown too.

There were many sad examples of this in the time of the late war,[13] and in the days when the public credit was in a more precarious condition that it has been since—I say, sad examples, namely, when tradesmen in flourishing circumstances, and who had indeed good estates at bottom, and were in full credit themselves, trusted the public with too great sums; which, not coming in at the time expected, either by the deficiency of the funds given by parliament, and the parliament themselves not soon making good those deficiencies, or by other disasters of those times; I say, their money not coming in to answer their demands, they were ruined, at least their credit wounded, and some quite undone, who yet, had they been paid, could have paid all their own debts, and had good sums of money left.

Others, who had ability to afford it, were obliged to sell their tallies and orders at forty or fifty per cent. loss; from whence proceeded that black trade of buying and selling navy and victualling bills and transport debts, by which the brokers and usurers got estates, and many thousands of tradesmen were brought to nothing; even those that stood it, lost great sums of money by selling their tallies: but credit cannot be bought too dear; and the throwing away one half to save the other, was much better than sinking under the burden; like sailors in a storm, who, to lighten the ship wallowing in the trough of the sea, will throw the choicest goods overboard, even to half the cargo, in order to keep the ship above water, and save their lives.

These were terrible examples of over-trading indeed; the men were tempted by the high price which the government gave for their goods, and which they were obliged to give, because of the badness of the public credit at that time; but this was not sufficient to make good the loss sustained in the sale of the tallies, so that even they that sold and were able to stand without ruin, were yet great sufferers, and had enough to do to keep up their credit.

This was the effect of giving over-much credit; for though it was the government itself which they trusted, yet neither could the government itself keep up the sinking credit of those whom it was indebted to; and, indeed, how should it, when it was not able to support its own credit? But that by the way. I return to the young tradesman, whom we are now speaking about.

It is his greatest prudence, therefore, after he has considered his own fund, and the stock he has to rest upon—I say, his next business is to take care of his credit, and, next to limiting his buying-liberty, let him be sure to limit his selling. Could the tradesman buy all upon credit, and sell all for ready money, he might turn usurer, and put his own stock out to interest, or buy land with it, for he would have no occasion for one shilling of it; but since that is not expected, nor can be done, it is his business to act with prudence in both parts—I mean of taking and giving credit—and the best rule to be given him for it is, never to give so much credit as he takes, by at least one-third part.

By giving credit, I do not mean, that even all the goods which he buys upon credit, may not be sold upon credit; perhaps they are goods which are usually sold so, and no otherwise; but the alternative is before him thus—either he must not give so much credit in quantity of goods, or not so long credit in relation to time—for example:

Suppose the young tradesman buys ten thousand pounds' value of goods on credit, and this ten thousand pounds are sold for eleven thousand pounds likewise on credit; if the time given be the same, the man is in a state of apparent destruction, and it is a hundred to one but he is blown up: perhaps he owes the ten thousand pounds to twenty men, perhaps the eleven thousand pounds is owing to him by two hundred men—it is scarce possible that these two hundred petty customers of his, should all so punctually comply with their payments as to enable him to comply with his; and if two or three thousand pounds fall short, the poor tradesman, unless he has a fund to support the deficiency, must be undone.

But if the man had bought ten thousand pounds at six or eight months' credit, and had sold them all again as above to his two hundred customers, at three months' and four months' credit, then it might be supposed all, or the greatest part of them, would have paid time enough to make his payments good; if not, all would be lost still.

But, on the other hand, suppose he had sold but three thousand pounds' worth of the ten for ready money, and had sold the rest for six months' credit, it might be supposed that the three thousand pounds in cash, and what else the two hundred debtors might pay in time, might stop the months of the tradesman's creditors till the difference might be made good.

So easy a thing is it for a tradesman to lose his credit in trade, and so hard is it, once upon such a blow, to retrieve it again. What need, then, is there for the tradesman to guard himself against running too far into debt, or letting other people run too far into debt to him; for if they do not pay him, he cannot pay others, and the next thing is a commission of bankrupt, and so the tradesman may be undone, though he has eleven thousand pounds to pay ten with?

It is true, it is not possible in a country where there is such an infinite extent of trade as we see managed in this kingdom, that either on one hand or another it can be carried on, without a reciprocal credit both taken and given; but it is so nice an article, that I am of opinion as many tradesmen break with giving too much credit, as break with taking it. The danger, indeed, is mutual, and very great. Whatever, then, the young tradesman omits, let him guard against both his giving and taking too much credit.

But there are divers ways of over-trading, besides this of taking and giving too much credit; and one of these is the running out into projects and heavy undertakings, either out of the common road which the tradesman is already engaged in, or grasping at too many undertakings at once, and having, as it is vulgarly expressed, too many irons in the fire at a time; in both which cases the tradesman is often wounded, and that deeply, sometimes too deep to recover.

The consequences of those adventures are generally such as these: first, that they stock-starve the tradesman, and impoverish him in his ordinary business, which is the main support of his family; they lessen his strength, and while his trade is not lessened, yet his stock is lessened; and as they very rarely add to his credit, so, if they lessen the man's stock, they weaken him in the main, and he must at last faint under it.

Secondly, as they lessen his stock, so they draw from it in the most sensible part—they wound him in the tenderest and most nervous part, for they always draw away his ready money; and what follows? The money, which was before the sinews of his business, the life of his trade, maintained his shop, and kept up his credit in the full extent of it, being drawn off, like the blood let out of the veins, his trade languishes, his credit, by degrees, flags and goes off, and the tradesman falls under the weight.

Thus I have seen many a flourishing tradesman sensibly decay; his credit has first a little suffered, then for want of that credit trade has declined—that is to say, he has been obliged to trade for less and less, till at last he is wasted and reduced: if he has been wise enough and wary enough to draw out betimes, and avoid breaking, he has yet come out of trade, like an old invalid soldier out of the wars, maimed, bruised, sick, reduced, and fitter for an hospital than a shop—such miserable havoc has launching out into projects and remote undertakings made among tradesmen.

But the safe tradesman is he, that avoiding all such remote excursions, keeps close within the verge of his own affairs, minds his shop or warehouse, and confining himself to what belongs to him there, goes on in the road of his business without launching into unknown oceans; and content with the gain of his own trade, is neither led by ambition or avarice, and neither covets to be greater nor richer by such uncertain and hazardous attempts.


[12] [The keeping of a half empty shop will not suit the necessities of trade in modern times. Instead of following the advice of Defoe, therefore, the young tradesman is recommended to keep a sufficient stock of every kind of goods in which he professes to deal. A shopkeeper can hardly commit a greater blunder than allow himself to be out of any article of his trade. One of his chief duties ought to consist in keeping up a fresh stock of every article which there is a chance of being sought for, and, while avoiding the imprudence of keeping too large a stock of goods—which comes nearest to Defoe's meaning—it is certain that, by having on hand an abundant choice, the shop gains a name, and has the best chance of securing a concourse of customers.]

[13] [The war of the Spanish succession, concluded by the treaty of Utrecht, 1713.]



In former times it was a dismal and calamitous thing for a tradesman to break. Where it befell a family, it put all into confusion and distraction; the man, in the utmost terror, fright, and distress, ran away with what goods he could get off, as if the house were on fire, to get into the Friars[14] or the Mint; the family fled, one one way, and one another, like people in desperation; the wife to her father and mother, if she had any, and the children, some to one relation, some to another. A statute (so they vulgarly call a commission of bankrupt) came and swept away all, and oftentimes consumed it too, and left little or nothing, either to pay the creditors or relieve the bankrupt. This made the bankrupt desperate, and made him fly to those places of shelter with his goods, where, hardened by the cruelty of the creditors, he chose to spend all the effects which should have paid the creditors, and at last perished in misery.

But now the case is altered; men make so little of breaking, that many times the family scarce removes for it. A commission of bankrupt is so familiar a thing, that the debtor oftentimes causes it to be taken out in his favour, that he may sooner be effectually delivered from all his creditors at once, the law obliging him only to give a full account of himself upon oath to the commissioners, who, when they see his integrity, may effectually deliver him from all further molestation, give him a part even of the creditors' estate; and so he may push into the world again, and try whether he cannot retrieve his fortunes by a better management, or with better success for the future.

Some have said, this law is too favourable to the bankrupt; that it makes tradesmen careless; that they value not breaking at all, but run on at all hazards, venturing without forecast and without consideration, knowing they may come off again so cheap and so easy, if they miscarry. But though I cannot enter here into a long debate upon that subject, yet I may have room to say, that I differ from those people very much; for, though the terror of the commission is in some measure abated, as indeed it ought to be, because it was before exorbitant and unreasonable, yet the terror of ruining a man's family, sinking his fortunes, blasting his credit, and throwing him out of business, and into the worst of disgrace that a tradesman can fall into, this is not taken away, or abated at all; and this, to an honest trading man, is as bad as all the rest ever was or could be.

Nor can a man be supposed, in the rupture of his affairs, to receive any comfort, or to see through his disasters into the little relief which he may, and at the same time cannot be sure he shall, receive, at the end of his troubles, from the mercy of the commission.

These are poor things, and very trifling for a tradesman to entertain thoughts of a breach from, especially with any prospect of satisfaction; nor can any tradesman with the least shadow of principle entertain any thought of breaking, but with the utmost aversion, and even abhorrence; for the circumstances of it are attended with so many mortifications, and so many shocking things, contrary to all the views and expectations that a tradesman can begin the world with, that he cannot think of it, but as we do of the grave, with a chillness upon the blood, and a tremor in the spirits. Breaking is the death of a tradesman; he is mortally stabbed, or, as we may say, shot through the head, in his trading capacity; his shop is shut up, as it is when a man is buried; his credit, the life and blood of his trade, is stagnated; and his attendance, which was the pulse of his business, is stopped, and beats no more; in a word, his fame, and even name, as to trade is buried, and the commissioners, that act upon him, and all their proceedings, are but like the executors of the defunct, dividing the ruins of his fortune, and at last, his certificate is a kind of performing the obsequies for the dead, and praying him out of purgatory.

Did ever tradesman set up on purpose to break? Did ever a man build himself a house on purpose to have it burnt down? I can by no means grant that any tradesman, at least in his senses, can entertain the least satisfaction in his trading, or abate any thing of his diligence in trade, from the easiness of breaking, or the abated severities of the bankrupt act.

I could argue it from the nature of the act itself, which, indeed, was made, and is effectual, chiefly for the relief of creditors, not debtors; to secure the bankrupt's effects for the use of those to whom it of right belongs, and to prevent the extravagant expenses of the commission, which before were such as often devoured all, ruining both the bankrupt and his creditors too. This the present law has providently put a stop to; and the creditors now are secure in this point, that what is to be had, what the poor tradesman has left, they are sure to have preserved for, and divided among them, which, indeed, before they were not. The case is so well known, and so recent in every tradesman's memory, that I need not take up any more of your time about it.

As to the encouragements in the act for the bankrupt, they are only these—namely, that, upon his honest and faithful surrender of his affairs, he shall be set at liberty; and if they see cause, they, the creditors, may give him back a small gratification for his discovering his effects, and assisting to the recovery of them; and all this, which amounts to very little, is upon his being, as I have said, entirely honest, and having run through all possible examinations and purgations, and that it is at the peril of his life if he prevaricates.

Are these encouragements to tradesmen to be negligent and careless of the event of things? Will any man in his wits fail in his trade, break his credit, and shut up his shop, for these prospects? Or will he comfort himself in case he is forced to fail—I say, will he comfort himself with these little benefits, and make the matter easy to himself on that account? He must have a very mean spirit that can do this, and must act upon very mean principles in life, who can fall with satisfaction, on purpose to rise no higher than this; it is like a man going to bed on purpose to rise naked, pleasing himself with the thoughts that, though he shall have no clothes to put on, yet he shall have the liberty to get out of bed and shift for himself.

On these accounts, and some others, too long to mention here, I think it is out of doubt, that the easiness of the proceedings on commissions of bankrupt can be no encouragement to any tradesman to break, or so much as to entertain the thoughts of it, with less horror and aversion than he would have done before this law was made.

But I must come now to speak of the tradesman in his real state of mortification, and under the inevitable necessity of a blow upon his affairs. He has had losses in his business, such as are too heavy for his stock to support; he has, perhaps, launched out in trade beyond his reach: either he has so many bad debts, that he cannot find by his books he has enough left to pay his creditors, or his debts lie out of his reach, and he cannot get them in, which in one respect is as bad; he has more bills running against him than he knows how to pay, and creditors dunning him, whom it is hard for him to comply with; and this, by degrees, sinks his credit.

Now, could the poor unhappy tradesman take good advice, now would be his time to prevent his utter ruin, and let his case be better or worse, his way is clear.

If it be only that he has overshot himself in trade, taken too much credit, and is loaded with goods; or given too much credit, and cannot get his debts in; but that, upon casting up his books, he finds his circumstances good at bottom, though his credit has suffered by his effects being out of his hands; let him endeavour to retrench, let him check his career in trade—immediately take some extraordinary measures to get in his debts, or some extraordinary measures, if he can, to raise money in the meantime, till those debts come in, that he may stop the crowd of present demands. If this will not do, let him treat with some of his principal creditors, showing them a true and faithful state of his affairs, and giving them the best assurances he can of payment, that they may be easy with him till he can get in his debts; and then, with the utmost care, draw in his trade within the due compass of his stock, and be sure never to run out again farther than he is able to answer, let the prospect of advantage be what it will; and by this method he may perhaps recover his credit again, at least he may prevent his ruin. But this is always supposing the man has a firm bottom, that he is sound in the main, and that his stock is at least sufficient to pay all his debts.

But the difficulty which I am proposing to speak of, is when the poor tradesman, distressed as above in point of credit, looking into his affairs, finds that his stock is diminished, or perhaps entirely sunk—that, in short, he has such losses and such disappointments in his business, that he is not sound at bottom; that he has run too far, and that his own stock being wasted or sunk, he has not really sufficient to pay his debts; what is this man's business?—and what course shall he take?

I know the ordinary course with such tradesmen is this:—'It is true,' says the poor man, 'I am running down, and I have lost so much in such a place, and so much by such a chapman that broke, and, in short, so much, that I am worse than nothing; but come, I have such a thing before me, or I have undertaken such a project, or I have such an adventure abroad, if it suceeds, I may recover again; I'll try my utmost; I'll never drown while I can swim; I'll never fall while I can stand; who knows but I may get over it?' In a word, the poor man is loth to come to the fatal day; loth to have his name in the Gazette, and see his wife and family turned out of doors, and the like; who can blame him? or who is not, in the like case, apt to take the like measures?—for it is natural to us all to put the evil day far from us, at least to put it as far off as we can. Though the criminal believes he shall be executed at last, yet he accepts of every reprieve, as it puts him within the possibility of an escape, and that as long as there is life there is hope; but at last the dead warrant comes down, then he sees death unavoidable, and gives himself up to despair.

Indeed, the malefactor was in the right to accept, as I say, of every reprieve, but it is quite otherwise in the tradesman's case; and if I may give him a rule, safe, and in its end comfortable, in proportion to his circumstances, but, to be sure, out of question, just, honest, and prudent, it is this:—

When he perceives his case as above, and knows that if his new adventures or projects should fail, he cannot by any means stand or support himself, I not only give it as my advice to all tradesmen, as their interest, but insist upon it, as they are honest men, they should break, that is, stop in time: fear not to do that which necessity obliges you to do; but, above all, fear not to do that early, which, if omitted, necessity will oblige you to do late.

First, let me argue upon the honesty of it, and next upon the prudence of it. Certainly, honesty obliges every man, when he sees that his stock is gone, that he is below the level, and eating into the estate of other men, to put a stop to it, and to do it in time, while something is left. It has been a fault, without doubt, to break in upon other men's estates at all; but perhaps a plea may be made that it was ignorantly done, and they did not think they were run so far as to be worse than nothing; or some sudden disaster may have occasioned it, which they did not expect, and, it may be, could not foresee; both which may indeed happen to a tradesman, though the former can hardly happen without his fault, because he ought to be always acquainting himself with his books, stating his expenses and his profits, and casting things up frequently, at least in his head, so as always to know whether he goes backward or forward. The latter, namely, sudden disaster, may happen so to any tradesman as that he may be undone, and it may not be his fault; for ruin sometimes falls as suddenly as unavoidably upon a tradesman, though there are but very few incidents of that kind which may not be accounted for in such a manner as to charge it upon his prudence.

Some cases may indeed happen, some disasters may befall a tradesman, which it was not possible he should foresee, as fire, floods of water, thieves, and many such—and in those cases the disaster is visible, the plea is open, every body allows it, the man can have no blame. A prodigious tide from the sea, joined with a great fresh or flood in the river Dee, destroyed the new wharf below the Roodee at West Chester, and tore down the merchants' warehouses there, and drove away not only all the goods, but even the buildings and altogether, into the sea. Now, if a poor shopkeeper in Chester had a large parcel of goods lying there, perhaps newly landed in order to be brought up to the city, but were all swept away, if, I say, the poor tradesman were ruined by the loss of those goods on that occasion, the creditors would see reason in it that they should every one take a share in the loss; the tradesman was not to blame.

Likewise in the distress of the late fire which began in Thames Street, near Bear Quay, a grocer might have had a quantity of goods in a warehouse thereabouts, or his shop might be there, and the goods perhaps might be sugars, or currants, or tobacco, or any other goods in his way, which could not be easily removed; this fire was a surprise, it was a blast of powder, it was at noonday, when no person coud foresee it. The man may have been undone and be in no fault himself, one way or other; no man can reasonably say to him, why did you keep so many goods upon your hands, or in such a place? for it was his proper business both to have a stock of goods, and to have them in such a place; every thing was in the right position, and in the order which the nature of his trade required.

On the other hand, if it was the breaking of a particular chapman, or an adventure by sea, the creditors would perhaps reflect on his prudence; why should any man trust a single chapman so much, or adventure so much in one single bottom, and uninsured, as that the loss of it would be his undoing?

But there are other cases, however, which may happen to a tradesman, and by which he may be at once reduced below his proper stock, and have nothing left to trade on but his credit, that is to say, the estates of his creditors. In such a case, I question whether it can be honest for any man to continue trading; for, first, it is making his creditors run an unjust hazard, without their consent; indeed, if he discovers his condition to one or two of them, who are men of capital stocks, and will support him, they giving him leave to pay others off, and go on at their risks, that alters the case; or if he has a ready money trade, that will apparently raise him again, and he runs no more hazards, but is sure he shall at least run out no farther; in these two cases, and I do not know another, he may with honesty continue.

On the contrary, when he sees himself evidently running out, and declining, and has only a shift here and a shift there, to lay hold on, as sinking men generally do; and knows, that unless something extraordinary happen, which, perhaps, also is not probable, he must fall, for such a man to go on, and trade in the ordinary way, notwithstanding losses, and hazards—in such a case, I affirm, he cannot act the honest man, he cannot go on with justice to his creditors, or his family; he ought to call his creditors together, lay his circumstances honestly before them, and pay as far as it will go. If his creditors will do any thing generously for him, to enable him to go on again, well and good, but he cannot honestly oblige them to run the risk of his unfortunate progress, and to venture their estates on his bottom, after his bottom is really nothing at all but their money.

But I pass from the honesty to the prudence of it—from what regards his creditors, to what regards himself—and I affirm, nothing can be more imprudent and impolite, as it regards himself and his family, than to go on after he sees his circumstances irrecoverable. If he has any consideration for himself, or his future happiness, he will stop in time, and not be afraid of meeting the mischief which he sees follows too fast for him to escape; be not so afraid of breaking, as not to break till necessity forces you, and that you have nothing left. In a word, I speak it to every declining tradesman, if you love yourself, your family, or your reputation, and would ever hope to look the world in the face again, break in time.

By breaking in time you will first obtain the character of an honest, though unfortunate man; it is owing to the contrary course, which is indeed the ordinary practice of tradesmen, namely, not to break till they run the bottom quite out, and have little or nothing left to pay; I say, it is owing to this, that some people think all men that break are knaves. The censure, it is true, is unjust, but the cause is owing to the indiscretion, to call it no worse, of the poor tradesmen, who putting the mischief as far from them as they can, trade on to the last gasp, till a throng of creditors coming on them together, or being arrested, and not able to get bail, or by some such public blow to their credit, they are brought to a stop or breach of course, like a man fighting to the last gasp who is knocked down, and laid on the ground, and then his resistance is at an end; for indeed a tradesman pushing on under irresistable misfortunes is but fighting with the world to the last drop, and with such unequal odds, that like the soldier surrounded with enemies, he must be killed; so the debtor must sink, it cannot be prevented.

It is true, also, the man that thus struggles to the last, brings upon him an universal reproach, and a censure, that is not only unavoidable, but just, which is worse; but when a man breaks in time, he may hold up his face to his creditors, and tell them, that he could have gone on a considerable while longer, but that he should have had less left to pay them with, and that he has chosen to stop while he may be able to give them so considerable a sum as may convince them of his integrity.

We have a great clamour among us of the cruelty of creditors, and it is a popular clamour, that goes a great way with some people; but let them tell us when ever creditors were cruel, when the debtor came thus to them with fifteen shillings in the pound in his offer. Perhaps when the debtor has run to the utmost, and there appears to be little or nothing left, he has been used roughly; and it is enough to provoke a creditor, indeed, to be offered a shilling or half-a-crown in the pound for a large debt, when, had the debtor been honest, and broke in time, he might have received perhaps two-thirds of his debt, and the debtor been in better condition too.

Break then in time, young tradesman, if you see you are going down, and that the hazard of going on is doubtful; you will certainly be received by your creditors with compassion, and with a generous treatment; and, whatever happens, you will be able to begin the world again with the title of an honest man—even the same creditors will embark with you again, and be more forward to give you credit than before.

It is true, most tradesmen that break merit the name of knave or dishonest man, but it is not so with all; the reason of the difference lies chiefly in the manner of their breaking—namely, whether sooner or later. It is possible, he may be an honest man who cannot, but he can never be honest that can, and will not pay his debts. Now he, that, being able to pay fifteen shillings in the pound, will struggle on till he sees he shall not be able to pay half-a-crown in the pound, this man was able to pay, but would not, and, therefore, as above, cannot be an honest man.

In the next place, what shall we say to the peace and satisfaction of mind in breaking, which the tradesman will always have when he acts the honest part, and breaks betimes, compared to that guilt and chagrin of the mind, occasioned by a running on, as I said, to the last gasp, when they have little to pay? Then, indeed, the tradesman can expect no quarter from his creditors, and will have no quiet in himself.

I might instance here the miserable, anxious, perplexed life, which the poor tradesman lives under; the distresses and extremities of his declining state; how harassed and tormented for money; what shifts he is driven to for supporting himself; how many little, mean, and even wicked things, will even the religious tradesman stoop to in his distress, to deliver himself—even such things as his very soul would abhor at another time, and for which he goes perhaps with a wounded conscience all his life after!

By giving up early, all this, which is the most dreadful part of all the rest, would be prevented. I have heard many an honest unfortunate man confess this, and repent, even with tears, that they had not learned to despair in trade some years sooner than they did, by which they had avoided falling into many foul and foolish actions, which they afterwards had been driven to by the extremity of their affairs.


[14] [Whitefriars, in the neighbourhood of the Temple, London. This and the Mint were sanctuaries for debtors.]



Since I have given advice to tradesmen, when they fell into difficulties, and find they are run behind-hand, to break in time, before they run on too far, and thereby prevent the consequences of a fatal running on to extremity, it is but just I should give them some needful directions, to avoid, if possible, breaking at all.

In order to this, I will briefly inquire what are the ordinary originals of a tradesman's ruin in business. To say it is negligence, when I have already pressed to a close application and diligence; that it is launching into, and grasping at, more business than their stock, or, perhaps, their understandings, are able to manage, when I have already spoken of the fatal consequences of over-trading; to say it is trusting carelessly people unable to pay, and running too rashly into debt, when I have already spoken of taking and giving too much credit—this would all be but saying the same thing over again—and I am too full of particulars, in this important case, to have any need of tautologies and repetitions; but there are a great many ways by which tradesmen precipitate themselves into ruin besides those, and some that need explaining and enlarging upon.

1. Some, especially retailers, ruin themselves by fixing their shops in such places as are improper for their business. In most towns, but particularly in the city of London, there are places as it were appropriated to particular trades, and where the trades which are placed there succeed very well, but would do very ill any where else, or any other trades in the same places; as the orange-merchants and wet-salters about Billingsgate, and in Thames Street; the coster-mongers at the Three Cranes; the wholesale cheesemongers in Thames Street; the mercers and drapers in the high streets, such as Cheapside, Ludgate Street, Cornhill, Round Court, and Grace-church Street, &c.

Pray what would a bookseller make of his business at Billingsgate, or a mercer in Tower Street, or near the Custom-house, or a draper in Thames Street, or about Queen-hithe? Many trades have their peculiar streets, and proper places for the sale of their goods, where people expect to find such shops, and consequently, when they want such goods, they go thither for them; as the booksellers in St Paul's churchyard, about the Exchange, Temple, and the Strand, &c., the mercers on both sides Ludgate, in Round Court, and Grace-church and Lombard Streets; the shoemakers in St Martins le Grand, and Shoemaker Row; the coach-makers in Long-acre, Queen Street, and Bishopsgate; butchers in Eastcheap; and such like.

For a tradesman to open his shop in a place unresorted to, or in a place where his trade is not agreeable, and where it is not expected, it is no wonder if he has no trade. What retail trade would a milliner have among the fishmongers' shops on Fishstreet-hill, or a toyman about Queen-hithe? When a shop is ill chosen, the tradesman starves; he is out of the way, and business will not follow him that runs away from it: suppose a ship-chandler should set up in Holborn, or a block-maker in Whitecross Street, an anchor-smith at Moorgate, or a coachmaker in Redriff, and the like!

It is true, we have seen a kind of fate attend the very streets and rows where such trades have been gathered together; and a street, famous some years ago, shall, in a few years after, be quite forsaken; as Paternoster Row for mercers, St Paul's Churchyard for woollen-drapers; both the Eastcheaps for butchers; and now you see hardly any of those trades left in those places.

I mention it for this reason, and this makes it to my purpose in an extraordinary manner, that whenever the principal shopkeepers remove from such a street, or settled place, where the principal trade used to be, the rest soon follow—knowing, that if the fame of the trade is not there, the customers will not resort thither: and that a tradesman's business is to follow wherever the trade leads. For a mercer to set up now in Paternoster Row, or a woollen-draper in St Paul's Churchyard, the one among the sempstresses, and the other among the chair-makers, would be the same thing as for a country shopkeeper not to set up in or near the market-place.[15]

The place, therefore, is to be prudently chosen by the retailer, when he first begins his business, that he may put himself in the way of business; and then, with God's blessing, and his own care, he may expect his share of trade with his neighbours.

2. He must take an especial care to have his shop not so much crowded with a large bulk of goods, as with a well-sorted and well-chosen quantity proper for his business, and to give credit to his beginning. In order to this, his buying part requires not only a good judgment in the wares he is to deal in, but a perfect government of his judgment by his understanding to suit and sort his quantities and proportions, as well to his shop as to the particular place where his shop is situated; for example, a particular trade is not only proper for such or such a part of the town, but a particular assortment of goods, even in the same way, suits one part of the town, or one town and not another; as he that sets up in the Strand, or near the Exchange, is likely to sell more rich silks, more fine Hollands, more fine broad-cloths, more fine toys and trinkets, than one of the same trade setting up in the skirts of the town, or at Ratcliff, or Wapping, or Redriff; and he that sets up in the capital city of a county, than he that is placed in a private market-town, in the same county; and he that is placed in a market-town, than he that is placed in a country village. A tradesman in a seaport town sorts himself different from one of the same trade in an inland town, though larger and more populous; and this the tradesman must weigh very maturely before he lays out his stock.

Sometimes it happens a tradesman serves his apprenticeship in one town, and sets up in another; and sometimes circumstances altering, he removes from one town to another; the change is very important to him, for the goods, which he is to sell in the town he removes to, are sometimes so different from the sorts of goods which he sold in the place he removed from, though in the same way of trade, that he is at a great loss both in changing his hand, and in the judgment of buying. This made me insist, in a former chapter, that a tradesman should take all occasions to extend his knowledge in every kind of goods, that which way soever he may turn his hand, he may have judgment in every thing.

In thus changing his circumstances of trade, he must learn, as well as he can, how to furnish his shop suitable to the place he is to trade in, and to sort his goods to the demand which he is like to have there; otherwise he will not only lose the customers for want of proper goods, but will very much lose by the goods which he lays in for sale, there being no demand for them where he is going.

When merchants send adventures to our British colonies, it is usual with them to make up to each factor what they call a sortable cargo; that is to say, they want something of every thing that may furnish the tradesmen there with parcels fit to fill their shops, and invite their customers; and if they fail, and do not thus sort their cargoes, the factors there not only complain, as being ill sorted, but the cargo lies by unsold, because there is not a sufficient quantity of sorts to answer the demand, and make them all marketable together.

It is the same thing here: if the tradesman's shop is not well sorted, it is not suitably furnished, or fitted to supply his customers; and nothing dishonours him more than to have people come to buy things usual to be had in such shops, and go away without them. The next thing they say to one another is, 'I went to that shop, but I could not be furnished; they are not stocked there for a trade; one seldom finds any thing there that is new or fashionable:' and so they go away to another shop; and not only go away themselves, but carry others away with them—for it is observable, that the buyers or retail customers, especially the ladies, follow one another as sheep follow the flock; and if one buys a beautiful silk, or a cheap piece of Holland, or a new-fashioned thing of any kind, the next inquiry is, where it was bought; and the shop is presently recommended for a shop well sorted, and for a place where things are to be had not only cheap and good, but of the newest fashion, and where they have always great choice to please the curious, and to supply whatever is called for. And thus the trade runs away insensibly to the shops which are best sorted.

3. The retail tradesman in especial, but even every tradesman in his station, must furnish himself with a competent stock of patience; I mean, that patience which is needful to bear with all sorts of impertinence, and the most provoking curiosity, that it is possible to imagine the buyers, even the worst of them, are or can be guilty of. A tradesman behind his counter must have no flesh and blood about him, no passions, no resentment. He must never be angry; no, not so much as seem to be so. If a customer tumbles him five hundred pounds' worth of goods, and scarce bids money for any thing—nay, though they really come to his shop with no intent to buy, as many do, only to see what is to be sold, and if they cannot be better pleased than they are at some other shop where they intend to buy, it is all one, the tradesman must take it, and place it to the account of his calling, that it is his business to be ill used, and resent nothing; and so must answer as obligingly to those that give him an hour or two's trouble and buy nothing, as he does to those who in half the time lay out ten or twenty pounds. The case is plain: it is his business to get money, to sell and please; and if some do give him trouble and do not buy, others make him amends, and do buy; and as for the trouble, it is the business of his shop.

I have heard that some ladies, and those, too, persons of good note, have taken their coaches and spent a whole afternoon in Ludgate Street or Covent Garden, only to divert themselves in going from one mercer's shop to another, to look upon their fine silks, and to rattle and banter the journeymen and shopkeepers, and have not so much as the least occasion, much less intention, to buy any thing; nay, not so much as carrying any money out with them to buy anything if they fancied it: yet this the mercers who understand themselves know their business too well to resent; nor if they really knew it, would they take the least notice of it, but perhaps tell the ladies they were welcome to look upon their goods; that it was their business to show them; and that if they did not come to buy now, they might perhaps see they were furnished to please them when they might have occasion.

On the other hand, I have been told that sometimes those sorts of ladies have been caught in their own snare; that is to say, have been so engaged by the good usage of the shopkeeper, and so unexpectedly surprised with some fine thing or other that has been shown them, that they have been drawn in by their fancy against their design, to lay out money, whether they had it or no; that is to say, to buy, and send home for money to pay for it.

But let it be how and which way it will, whether mercer or draper, or what trade you please, the man that stands behind the counter must be all courtesy, civility, and good manners; he must not be affronted, or any way moved, by any manner of usage, whether owing to casualty or design; if he sees himself ill used, he must wink, and not see it—he must at least not appear to see it, nor any way show dislike or distaste; if he does, he reproaches not only himself but his shop, and puts an ill name upon the general usuage of customers in it; and it is not to be imagined how, in this gossiping, tea-drinking age, the scandal will run, even among people who have had no knowledge of the person first complaining. 'Such a shop!' says a certain lady to a citizen's wife in conversation, as they were going to buy clothes; 'I am resolved I won't go to it; the fellow that keeps it is saucy and rude: if I lay out my money, I expect to be well used; if I don't lay it out, I expect to be well treated.'

'Why, Madam,' says the citizen, 'did the man of the shop use your ladyship ill?'

Lady.—No, I can't say he used me ill, for I never was in his shop.

Cit.—How does your ladyship know he does so then?

Lady.—Why, I know he used another lady saucily, because she gave him a great deal of trouble, as he called it, and did not buy.

Cit.—Was it the lady that told you so herself, Madam?

Lady.—I don't know, really, I have forgot who it was; but I have such a notion in my head, and I don't care to try, for I hate the sauciness of shopkeepers when they don't understand themselves.

Cit.—Well; but, Madam, perhaps it may be a mistake—and the lady that told you was not the person neither?

Lady.—Oh, Madam, I remember now who told me; it was my Lady Tattle, when I was at Mrs Whymsy's on a visiting day; it was the talk of the whole circle, and all the ladies took notice of it, and said they would take care to shun that shop.

Cit.—Sure, Madam, the lady was strangely used; did she tell any of the particulars?

Lady.—No; I did not understand that she told the particulars, for it seems it was not to her, but to some other lady, a friend of hers; but it was all one; the company took as much notice of it as if it had been to her, and resented it as much, I assure you.

Cit.—Yet, and without examining the truth of the fact.

Lady.—We did not doubt the story.

Cit.—But had no other proof of it, Madam, than her relation?

Lady.—Why, that's true; nobody asked for a proof; it was enough to tell the story.

Cit.—What! though perhaps the lady did not know the person, or whether it was true or no, and perhaps had it from a third or fourth hand—your ladyship knows any body's credit may be blasted at that rate.

Lady.—We don't inquire so nicely, you know, into the truth of stories at a tea-table.

Cit.—No, Madam, that's true; but when reputation is at stake, we should be a little careful too.

Lady.—Why, that's true too. But why are you so concerned about it, Madam? do you know the man that keeps the shop?

Cit.—No otherwise, Madam, than that I have often bought there, and I always found them the most civil, obliging people in the world.

Lady.—It may be they know you, Madam.

Cit.—I am persuaded they don't, for I seldom went but I saw new faces, for they have a great many servants and journeymen in the shop.

Lady.—It may be you are easy to be pleased; you are good-humoured yourself, and cannot put their patience to any trial.

Cit.—Indeed, Madam, just the contrary; I believe I made them tumble two or three hundred pounds' worth of goods one day, and bought nothing; and yet it was all one; they used me as well as if I had laid out twenty pounds.

Lady.—Why, so they ought.

Cit.—Yes, Madam, but then it is a token they do as they ought, and understand themselves.

Lady.—Well, I don't know much of it indeed, but thus I was told.

Cit.—Well, but if your ladyship would know the truth of it, you would do a piece of justice to go and try them.

Lady.—Not I; besides, I have a mercer of my acquaintance.

Cit.—Well, Madam, I'll wait on your ladyship to your own mercer, and if you can't find any thing to your liking, will you go and try the other shop?

Lady.—Oh! I am sure I shall deal if I go to my mercer.

Cit.—Well, but if you should, let us go for a frolic, and give the other as much trouble as we can for nothing, and see how he'll behave, for I want to be satisfied; if I find them as your ladyship has been told, I'll never go there any more.

Lady.—Upon that condition I agree—I will go with you; but I will go and lay out my money at my own mercer's first, because I wont be tempted.

Cit.—Well, Madam, I'll wait on your ladyship till you have laid out your money.

After this discourse they drove away to the mercer's shop where the lady used to buy; and when they came there, the lady was surprised—the shop was shut up, and nobody to be seen. The next door was a laceman's, and the journeyman being at the door, the lady sent her servant to desire him to speak a word or two to her; and when he came, says the lady to him,

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse