The Complete English Tradesman (1839 ed.)
by Daniel Defoe
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Pray, how long has Mr—'s shop been shut up?

Laceman.—About a month, madam.

Lady.—What! is Mr—dead?

Laceman.—No, madam, he is not dead.

Lady.—What then, pray?

Laceman.—Something worse, madam; he has had some misfortunes.

Lady.—I am very sorry to hear it, indeed. So her ladyship made her bow, and her coachman drove away.

The short of the story was, her mercer was broke; upon which the city lady prevailed upon her ladyship to go to the other shop, which she did, but declared beforehand she would buy nothing, but give the mercer all the trouble she could; and so said the other. And to make the thing more sure, she would have them go into the shop single, because she fancied the mercer knew the city lady, and therefore would behave more civilly to them both on that account, the other having laid out her money there several times. Well, they went in, and the lady asked for such and such rich things, and had them shown her, to a variety that she was surprised at; but not the best or richest things they could show her gave her any satisfaction—either she did not like the pattern, or the colours did not suit her fancy, or they were too dear; and so she prepares to leave the shop, her coach standing at a distance, which she ordered, that they might not guess at her quality.

But she was quite deceived in her expectation; for the mercer, far from treating her in the manner as she had heard, used her with the utmost civility and good manners. She treated him, on the contrary, as she said herself, even with a forced rudeness; she gave him all the impertinent trouble she was able, as above; and, pretending to like nothing he showed, turned away with an air of contempt, intimating that his shop was ill furnished, and that she should be easily served, she doubted not, at another.

He told her he was very unhappy in not having any thing that suited her fancy—that, if she knew what particular things would please her, he would have them in two hours' time for her, if all the French and Italian merchants' warehouses in London, or all the weavers' looms in Spitalfields, could furnish them. But when that would not do, she comes forward from his back shop, where she had plagued him about an hour and a half; and makes him the slight compliment of (in a kind of a scornful tone too), 'I am sorry I have given you so much trouble.'

'The trouble, madam, is nothing; it is my misfortune not to please you; but, as to trouble, my business is to oblige the ladies, my customers; if I show my goods, I may sell them; if I do not show them, I cannot; if it is not a trouble to you, I'll show you every piece of goods in my shop; if you do not buy now, you may perhaps buy another time.' And thus, in short, he pursued her with all the good words in the world, and waited on her towards the door.

As she comes forward, there she spied the city lady, who had just used the partner as the lady had used the chief master; and there, as if it had been by mere chance, she salutes her with, 'Your servant, cousin; pray, what brought you here?' The cousin answers, 'Madam, I am mighty glad to see your ladyship here; I have been haggling here a good while, but this gentleman and I cannot bargain, and I was just going away.'

'Why, then,' says the lady, 'you have been just such another customer as I, for I have troubled the gentleman mercer this two hours, and I cannot meet with any thing to my mind.' So away they go together to the door; and the lady gets the mercer to send one of his servants to bid her coachman drive to the door, showing him where the fellow stood.

While the boy was gone, she takes the city lady aside, and talking softly, the mercer and his partner, seeing them talk together, withdrew, but waited at a distance to be ready to hand them to the coach. So they began a new discourse, as follows:—

Lady.—Well, I am satisfied this man has been ill used in the world.

Cit.—Why, Madam, how does your ladyship find him?

Lady.—Only the most obliging, most gentleman-like man of a tradesman that ever I met with in my life.

Cit.—But did your ladyship try him as you said you would?

Lady.—Try him! I believe he has tumbled three thousand pounds' worth of goods for me.

Cit.—Did you oblige him to do so?

Lady.—I forced him to it, indeed, for I liked nothing.

Cit.—Is he well stocked with goods?

Lady.—I told him his shop was ill furnished.

Cit.—What did he say to that?

Lady.—Say! why he carried me into another inner shop, or warehouse, where he had goods to a surprising quantity and value, I confess.

Cit.—And what could you say, then?

Lady.—Say! in truth I was ashamed to say any more, but still was resolved not to be pleased, and so came away, as you see.

Cit.—And he has not disobliged you at all, has he?

Lady.—Just the contrary, indeed. (Here she repeated the words the mercer had said to her, and the modesty and civility he had treated her with.)

Cit.—Well, Madam, I assure you I have been faithful to my promise, for you cannot have used him so ill as I have used his partner—for I have perfectly abused him for having nothing to please me—I did as good as tell him I believed he was going to break, and that he had no choice.

Lady.—And how did he treat you?

Cit.-Just in the same manner as his partner did your ladyship, all mild and mannerly, smiling, and in perfect temper; for my part, if I was a young wench again, I should be in love with such a man.

Lady.—Well, but what shall we do now?

Cit.—Why, be gone. I think we have teazed them enough; it would be cruel to bear-bait them any more.

Lady.—No, I am not for teazing them any more; but shall we really go away, and buy nothing?

Cit.—Nay, that shall be just as your ladyship pleases—you know I promised you I would not buy; that is to say, unless you discharge me of that obligation.

Lady.—I cannot, for shame, go out of this shop, and lay out nothing.

Cit.—Did your ladyship see any thing that pleased you?

Lady.—I only saw some of the finest things in England—I don't think all the city of Paris can outdo him.

Cit.—Well, madam, if you resolve to buy, let us go and look again.

Lady.—'Come, then.' And upon that the lady, turning to the mercer—'Come, sir,' says she, 'I think I will look upon that piece of brocade again; I cannot find in my heart to give you all this trouble for nothing.'

'Madam,' says the mercer, 'I shall be very glad if I can be so happy as to please you; but, I beseech your ladyship, don't speak of the trouble, for that is the duty of our trade; we must never think our business a trouble.'

Upon this the ladies went back with him into his inner shop, and laid out between sixty and seventy pounds, for they both bought rich suits of clothes, and used his shop for many years after.

The short inference from this long discourse is this: That here you see, and I could give many examples very like this, how, and in what manner, a shopkeeper is to behave himself in the way of his business—what impertinences, what taunts, flouts, and ridiculous things, he must bear in his business, and must not show the least return, or the least signal of disgust—he must have no passions, no fire in his temper—he must be all soft and smooth: nay, if his real temper be naturally fiery and hot, he must show none of it in his shop—he must be a perfect complete hypocrite, if he will be a complete tradesman.[16]

It is true, natural tempers are not to be always counterfeited—the man cannot easily be a lamb in his shop, and a lion in himself; but let it be easy or hard, it must be done, and it is done. There are men who have, by custom and usage, brought themselves to it, that nothing could be meeker and milder than they, when behind the counter, and yet nothing be more furious and raging in every other part of life—nay, the provocations they have met with in their shops have so irritated their rage, that they would go upstairs from their shop, and fall into phrensies, and a kind of madness, and beat their heads against the wall, and mischief themselves, if not prevented, till the violence of it had gotten vent, and the passions abate and cool. Nay, I heard once of a shopkeeper that behaved himself thus to such an extreme, that, when he was provoked by the impertinence of the customers, beyond what his temper could bear, he would go upstairs and beat his wife, kick his children about like dogs, and be as furious for two or three minutes as a man chained down in Bedlam, and when the heat was over, would sit down and cry faster then the children he had abused; and after the fit was over he would go down into his shop again, and be as humble, as courteous, and as calm as any man whatever—so absolute a government of his passions had he in the shop, and so little out of it; in the shop a soul-less animal that can resent nothing, and in the family a madman; in the shop meek like the lamb, but in the family outrageous like a Lybian lion.

The sum of the matter is this: it is necessary for a tradesman to subject himself, by all the ways possible, to his business; his customers are to be his idols: so far as he may worship idols by allowance, he is to bow down to them and worship them;[17] at least, he is not any way to displease them, or show any disgust or distaste at any thing they say or do. The bottom of it all is, that he is intending to get money by them; and it is not for him that gets money by them to offer the least inconvenience to them by whom he gets it; but he is to consider, that, as Solomon says, 'The borrower is servant to the lender,' so the seller is servant to the buyer.

When a tradesman has thus conquered all his passions, and can stand before the storm of impertinence, he is said to be fitted up for the main article, namely, the inside of the counter.

On the other hand, we see that the contrary temper, nay, but the very suggestion of it, hurries people on to ruin their trade, to disoblige the customers, to quarrel with them, and drive them away. We see by the lady above, after having seen the ways she had taken to put this man out of temper—I say, we see it conquered her temper, and brought her to lay out her money cheerfully, and be his customer ever after.

A sour, morose, dogmatic temper would have sent these ladies both away with their money in their pockets; but the man's patience and temper drove the lady back to lay out her money, and engaged her entirely.


[15] Paternoster Row has long been the chief seat of the bookselling and publishing trade in London; and there are now some splendid shops of mercers or haberdashers in St Paul's Churchyard, also in Ludgate hill adjoining.

[16] [The necessity here insisted on seems a hard one, and scarcely consistent with a just morality. Yet, if the tradesman takes a right view of his situation, he will scarcely doubt the propriety of Defoe's advice. He must consider, that, in his shop, he is, as it were, acting a part. He performs a certain character in the drama of our social arrangements, one which requires all the civility and forbearance above insisted on. He is not called upon, in such circumstances, to feel, speak, and act, as he would find himself in honour required to do in his private or absolutely personal capacity—in his own house, for instance, or in any public place where he mingled on a footing of equality with his fellow-citizens. Accordingly, there is such a general sense of the justifiableness of his conducting himself in this submissive spirit, that no one would think of imputing it to him as a fault; but he would be more apt to be censured or ridiculed if he had so little sense as to take offence, in his capacity of tradesman, at any thing which it would only concern him to resent if it were offered to him in his capacity as a private citizen.

An incident, somewhat like that so dramatically related by Defoe, occurred a few years ago in the northern capital. A lady had, through whim, pestered a mercer in the manner related in the text, turning over all his goods, and only treating him with rudeness in return. When she finally turned to leave the shop, to inquire, as she said, for better and cheaper goods elsewhere, she found that a shower was falling, against which she had no protection. The tradesman, who had politely shown her to the door, observing her hesitate on the threshold at sight of the rain, requested her to wait a moment, and, stepping backwards for his umbrella, instantly returned, and, in the kindest accents, requested her to accept the loan of it. She took it, and went away, but in a few minutes returned it, in a totally different frame of spirit, and not only purchased extensively on this occasion, but became a constant customer for the future.

Another tradesman in the same city was so remarkable for his imperturbable civility, that it became the subject of a bet—an individual undertaking to irritate him, or, if he failed, to forfeit a certain sum. He went to the shop, and caused an immense quantity of the finest silks to be turned over, after which he coolly asked for a pennyworth of a certain splendid piece of satin. 'By all means,' said the discreet trader; 'allow me, Sir, to have your penny.' The coin was handed to him, and, taking up the piece of satin, and placing the penny on the end of it, he cut round with his scissors, thus detaching a little bit of exactly the size and shape of the piece of money which was to purchase it. This, with the most polite air imaginable, he handed to his customer, whose confusion may be imagined.]

[17] [It appears to the editor that the case is here somewhat over-stated. While imperterbable good temper and civility are indispensible in the shopkeeper, it is not impossible that he may also err in displaying a too great obsequiousness of manner. This, by disgusting the common sense and good taste of customers, may do as much harm as want of civility. A too pressing manner, likewise, does harm, by causing the customer to feel as if he were obliged to purchase. The medium of an easy, obliging, and good-humoured manner, is perhaps what suits best. But here, as in many other things, it is not easy to lay down any general rule. Much must be left to the goos sense and tact of the trader.]



A few directions seasonably given, and wisely received, will be sufficient to guide a tradesman in a right management of his business, so as that, if he observes them, he may secure his prosperity and success: but it requires a long and serious caveat to warn him of the dangers he meets with in his way. Trade is a straight and direct way, if they will but keep in it with a steady foot, and not wander, and launch out here and there, as a loose head and giddy fancy will prompt them to do.

The road, I say, is straight and direct; but there are many turnings and openings in it, both to the right hand and to the left, in which, if a tradesman but once ventures to step awry, it is ten thousand to one but he loses himself, and very rarely finds his way back again; at least if he does, it is like a man that has been lost in a wood; he comes out with a scratched face, and torn clothes, tired and spent, and does not recover himself in a long while after.

In a word, one steady motion carries him up, but many things assist to pull him down; there are many ways open to his ruin, but few to his rising: and though employment is said to be the best fence against temptations, and he that is busy heartily in his business, temptations to idleness and negligence will not be so busy about him, yet tradesmen are as often drawn from their business as other men; and when they are so, it is more fatal to them a great deal, than it is to gentlemen and persons whose employments do not call for their personal attendance so much as a shop does.

Among the many turnings and bye-lanes, which, as I say, are to be met with in the straight road of trade, there are two as dangerous and fatal to their prosperity as the worst, though they both carry an appearance of good, and promise contrary to what they perform; these are—

I. Pleasures and diversions, especially such as they will have us call innocent diversions.

II. Projects and adventures, and especially such as promise mountains of profit in nubibus [in the clouds], and are therefore the more likely to ensnare the poor eager avaricious tradesman.

1. I am now to speak of the first, namely, pleasures and diversions. I cannot allow any pleasures to be innocent, when they turn away either the body or the mind of a tradesman from the one needful thing which his calling makes necessary, and that necessity makes his duty—I mean, the application both of his hands and head to his business. Those pleasures and diversions may be innocent in themselves, which are not so to him: there are very few things in the world that are simply evil, but things are made circumstantially evil when they are not so in themselves: killing a man is not simply sinful; on the contrary, it is not lawful only, but a duty, when justice and the laws of God or man require it; but when done maliciously, from any corrupt principle, or to any corrupted end, is murder, and the worst of crimes.

Pleasures and diversions are thus made criminal, when a man is engaged in duty to a full attendance upon such business as those pleasures and diversions necessarily interfere with and interrupt; those pleasures, though innocent in themselves, become a fault in him, because his legal avocations demand his attendance in another place. Thus those pleasures may be lawful to another man, which are not so to him, because another man has not the same obligation to a calling, the same necessity to apply to it, the same cry of a family, whose bread may depend upon his diligence, as a tradesman has.

Solomon, the royal patron of industry, tells us, 'He that is a lover of pleasure, shall be a poor man.' I must not doubt but Solomon is to be understood of tradesmen and working men, such as I am writing of, whose time and application is due to their business, and who, in pursuit of their pleasures, are sure to neglect their shops, or employments, and I therefore render the words thus, to the present purpose—'The tradesman that is a lover of pleasure, shall be a poor man.' I hope I do not wrest the Scripture in my interpretation of it; I am sure it agrees with the whole tenor of the wise man's other discourses.

When I see young shopkeepers keep horses, ride a-hunting, learn dog-language, and keep the sportsmen's brogue upon their tongues, I will not say I read their destiny, for I am no fortuneteller, but I do say, I am always afraid for them; especially when I know that either their fortunes and beginnings are below it, or that their trades are such as in a particular manner to require their constant attendance. As to see a barber abroad on a Saturday, a corn-factor abroad on a Wednesday and Friday, or a Blackwell-hall man on a Thursday, you may as well say a country shopkeeper should go a-hunting on a market-day, or go a-feasting at the fair day of the town where he lives; and yet riding and hunting are otherwise lawful diversions, and in their kind very good for exercise and health.

I am not for making a galley-slave of a shopkeeper, and have him chained down to the oar; but if he be a wise, a prudent, and a diligent tradesman, he will allow himself as few excursions as possible.

Business neglected is business lost; it is true, there are some businesses which require less attendance than others, and give a man less occasion of application; but, in general, that tradesman who can satisfy himself to be absent from his business, must not expect success; if he is above the character of a diligent tradesman, he must then be above the business too, and should leave it to somebody, that, having more need of it, will think it worth his while to mind it better.

Nor, indeed, is it possible a tradesman should be master of any of the qualifications which I have set down to denominate him complete, if he neglects his shop and his time, following his pleasures and diversions.

I will allow that the man is not vicious and wicked, that he is not addicted to drunkenness, to women, to gaming, or any such things as those, for those are not woundings, but murder, downright killing. A man may wound and hurt himself sometimes, in the rage of an ungoverned passion, or in a phrensy or fever, and intend no more; but if he shoots himself through the head, or hangs himself, we are sure then he intended to kill and destroy himself, and he dies inevitably.

For a tradesman to follow his pleasures, which indeed is generally attended with a slighting of his business, leaving his shop to servants or others, it is evident to me that he is indifferent whether it thrives or no; and, above all, it is evident that his heart is not in his business; that he does not delight in it, or look on it with pleasure. To a complete tradesman there is no pleasure equal to that of being in his business, no delight equal to that of seeing himself thrive, to see trade flow in upon him, and to be satisfied that he goes on prosperously. He will never thrive, that cares not whether he thrives or no. As trade is the chief employment of his life, and is therefore called, by way of eminence, his business, so it should be made the chief delight of his life. The tradesman that does not love his business, will never give it due attendance.

Pleasure is a bait to the mind, and the mind will attract the body: where the heart is, the object shall always have the body's company. The great objection I meet with from young tradesmen against this argument is, they follow no unlawful pleasures; they do not spend their time in taverns, and drinking to excess; they do not spend their money in gaming, and so stock-starve their business, and rob the shop to supply the extravagant losses of play; or they do not spend their hours in ill company and debaucheries; all they do, is a little innocent diversion in riding abroad now and then for the air, and for their health, and to ease their thoughts of the throng of other affairs which are heavy upon them, &c.

These, I say, are the excuses of young tradesmen; and, indeed, they are young excuses, and, I may say truly, have nothing in them. It is perhaps true, or I may grant it so for the present purpose, that the pleasure the tradesman takes is, as he says, not unlawful, and that he follows only a little innocent diversion; but let me tell him, the words are ill put together, and the diversion is rather recommended from the word little, than from the word innocent: if it be, indeed, but little, it may be innocent; but the case is quite altered by the extent of the thing; and the innocence lies here, not in the nature of the thing, not in the diversion or pleasure that is taken, but in the time it takes; for if the man spends the time in it which should be spent in his shop or warehouse, and his business suffers by his absence, as it must do, if the absence is long at a time, or often practised—the diversion so taken becomes criminal to him, though the same diversion might be innocent in another.

Thus I have heard a young tradesman, who loved his bottle, excuse himself, and say, 'It is true, I have been at the tavern, but I was treated, it cost me nothing.' And this, he thinks, clears him of all blame; not considering that when he spends no money, yet he spends five times the value of the money in time. Another says, 'Why, indeed, I was at the tavern yesterday all the afternoon, but I could not help it, and I spent but sixpence.' But at the same time perhaps it might be said he spent five pounds' worth of time, his business being neglected, his shop unattended, his books not posted, his letters not written, and the like—for all those things are works necessary to a tradesman, as well as the attendance on his shop, and infinitely above the pleasure of being treated at the expense of his time. All manner of pleasures should buckle and be subservient to business: he that makes his pleasure be his business, will never make his business be a pleasure. Innocent pleasures become sinful, when they are used to excess, and so it is here; the most innocent diversion becomes criminal, when it breaks in upon that which is the due and just employment of the man's life. Pleasures rob the tradesman, and how, then, can he call them innocent diversions? They are downright thieves; they rob his shop of his attendance, and of the time which he ought to bestow there; they rob his family of their due support, by the man's neglecting that business by which they are to be supported and maintained; and they oftentimes rob the creditors of their just debts, the tradesman sinking by the inordinate use of those innocent diversions, as he calls them, as well by the expense attending them, as the loss of his time, and neglect of his business, by which he is at last reduced to the necessity of shutting up shop in earnest, which was indeed as good as shut before. A shop without a master is like the same shop on a middling holiday, half shut up, and he that keeps it long so, need not doubt but he may in a little time more shut it quite up.

In short, pleasure is a thief to business; how any man can call it innocent, let him answer that does so; it robs him every way, as I have said above: and if the tradesman be a Christian, and has any regard to religion and his duty, I must tell him, that when upon his disasters he shall reflect, and see that he has ruined himself and his family, by following too much those diversions and pleasures which he thought innocent, and which perhaps in themselves were really so, he will find great cause to repent of that which he insisted on as innocent; he will find himself lost, by doing lawful things, and that he made those innocent things sinful, and those lawful things unlawful to him. Thus, as they robbed his family and creditors before of their just debts—for maintenance is a tradesman's just debt to his family, and a wife and children are as much a tradesman's real creditors as those who trusted him with their goods—I say, as his innocent pleasures robbed his family and creditors before, they will rob him now of his peace, and of all that calm of soul which an honest, industrious, though unfortunate, tradesman meets with under his disasters.

I am asked here, perhaps, how much pleasure an honest-meaning tradesman may be allowed to take? for it cannot be supposed I should insist that all pleasure is forbidden him, that he must have no diversion, no spare hours, no intervals from hurry and fatigue; that would be to pin him down to the very floor of his shop, as John Sheppard was locked down to the floor of his prison.

The answer to this question every prudent tradesman may make for himself: if his pleasure is in his shop, and in his business, there is no danger of him; but if he has an itch after exotic diversions—I mean such as are foreign to his shop, and to his business, and which I therefore call exotic—let him honestly and fairly state the case between his shop and his diversions, and judge impartially for himself. So much pleasure, and no more, may be innocently taken, as does not interfere with, or do the least damage to his business, by taking him away from it.

Every moment that his trade wants him in his shop or warehouse, it is his duty to be there; it is not enough to say, I believe I shall not be wanted; or I believe I shall suffer no loss by my absence. He must come to a point and not deceive himself; if he does, the cheat is all his own. If he will not judge sincerely at first, he will reproach himself sincerely at last; for there is no fraud against his own reflections: a man is very rarely a hypocrite to himself.

The rule may be, in a few words, thus: those pleasures or diversions, and those only, can be innocent, which the man may or does use, or allow himself to use, without hindrance of, or injury to, his business and reputation.

Let the diversions or pleasures in question be what they will, and how innocent soever they are in themselves, they are not so to him, because they interrupt or interfere with his business, which is his immediate duty. I have mentioned the circumstance which touches this part too, namely, that there may be a time when even the needful duties of religion may become faults, and unseasonable, when another more needful attendance calls for us to apply to it; much more, then, those things which are only barely lawful. There is a visible difference between the things which we may do, and the things which we must do. Pleasures at certain seasons are allowed, and we may give ourselves some loose to them; but business, I mean to the man of business, is that needful thing, of which it is not to be said it may, but it must be done.

Again, those pleasures which may not only be lawful in themselves, but which may be lawful to other men, yet are criminal and unlawful to him. To gentlemen of fortunes and estates, who being born to large possessions, and have no avocations of this kind, it is certainly lawful to spend their spare hours on horseback, with their hounds or hawks, pursuing their game; or, on foot, with their gun and their net, and their dogs to kill the hares or birds, &c.—all which we call sport. These are the men that can, with a particular satisfaction, when they come home, say they have only taken an innocent diversion; and yet even in these, there are not wanting some excesses which take away the innocence of them, and consequently the satisfaction in their reflection, and therefore it was I said it was lawful to them to spend their spare hours—by which I am to be understood, those hours which are not due to more solemn and weighty occasions, such as the duties of religion in particular. But as this is not my present subject, I proceed; for I am not talking to gentlemen now, but to tradesmen.

The prudent tradesman will, in time, consider what he ought or ought not to do, in his own particular case, as to his pleasures—not what another man may or may not do. In short, nothing of pleasure or diversion can be innocent to him, whatever it may be to another, if it injures his business, if it takes either his time, or his mind, or his delight, or his attendance, from his business; nor can all the little excuses, of its being for his health, and for the needful unbending the bow of the mind, from the constant application of business, for all these must stoop to the great article of his shop and business; though I might add, that the bare taking the air for health, and for a recess to the mind, is not the thing I am talking of—it is the taking an immoderate liberty, and spending an immoderate length of time, and that at unseasonable and improper hours, so as to make his pleasures and diversions be prejudicial to his business—this is the evil I object to, and this is too much the ruin of the tradesmen of this age; and thus any man who calmly reads these papers will see I ought to be understood.

Nor do I confine this discourse to the innocent diversions of a horse, and riding abroad to take the air; things which, as above, are made hurtful and unlawful to him, only as they are hindrances to his business, and are more or less so, as they rob his shop or warehouse, or business, or his attendance and time, and cause him to draw his affections off from his calling.

But we see other and new pleasures daily crowding in upon the tradesman, and some which no age before this have been in danger of—I mean, not to such an excess as is now the case, and consequently there were fewer tradesmen drawn into the practice.

The present age is a time of gallantry and gaiety; nothing of the present pride and vanity was known, or but very little of it, in former times: the baits which are every where laid for the corruption of youth, and for the ruin of their fortunes, were never so many and so mischievous as they are now.

We scarce now see a tradesman's apprentice come to his fifth year, but he gets a long wig and a sword, and a set of companions suitable; and this wig and sword, being left at proper and convenient places, are put on at night after the shop is shut, or when they can slip out to go a-raking in, and when they never fail of company ready to lead them into all manner of wickedness and debauchery; and from this cause it is principally that so many apprentices are ruined, and run away from their masters before they come out of their times—more, I am persuaded, now, than ever were to be found before.

Nor, as I said before, will I charge the devil with having any hand in the ruin of these young fellows—indeed, he needs not trouble himself about them, they are his own by early choice—they anticipate temptation, and are as forward as the devil can desire them to be. These may be truly said to be drawn aside of their own lusts, and enticed—they need no tempter.

But of these I may also say, they seldom trouble the tradesmen's class; they get ruined early, and finish the tradesman before they begin, so my discourse is not at present directed much to them; indeed, they are past advice before they come in my way.

Indeed, I knew one of these sort of gentlemen-apprentices make an attempt to begin, and set up his trade—he was a dealer in what they call Crooked-lane wares: he got about L300 from his father, an honest plain countryman, to set him up, and his said honest father exerted himself to the utmost to send him up so much money.

When he had gotten the money, he took a shop near the place where he had served his time, and entering upon the shop, he had it painted, and fitted up, and some goods he bought in order to furnish it; but before that, he was obliged to pay about L70 of the money to little debts, which he had contracted in his apprenticeship, at two or three ale-houses, for drink and eatables, treats, and junketings; and at the barber's for long perukes, at the sempstress's for fine Holland-shirts, turn-overs, white gloves, &c, to make a beau of him, and at several other places.

When he came to dip into this, and found that it wanted still L30 or L40 to equip him for the company which he had learned to keep, he took care to do this first; and being delighted with his new dress, and how like a gentleman he looked, he was resolved, before he opened a shop, to take his swing a little in the town; so away he went, with two of his neighbour's apprentices, to the play-house, thence to the tavern, not far from his dwelling, and there they fell to cards, and sat up all night—and thus they spent about a fortnight; the rest just creeping into their masters' houses, by the connivance of their fellow-servants, and he getting a bed in the tavern, where what he spent, to be sure, made them willing enough to oblige him—that is to say, to encourage him to ruin himself.

They then changed their course, indeed, and went to the ball, and that necessarily kept them out the most part of the night, always having their supper dressed at the tavern at their return; and thus, in a few words, he went on till he made way through all the remaining money he had left, and was obliged to call his creditors together, and break before he so much as opened his shop—I say, his creditors, for great part of the goods which he had furnished his shop with were unpaid for; perhaps some few might be bought with ready money.

This man, indeed, is the only tradesman that ever I met with, that set up and broke before his shop was open; others I have indeed known make very quick work of it.

But this part rather belongs to another head. I am at present not talking of madmen, as I hope, indeed, I am not writing to madmen, but I am talking of tradesmen undone by lawful things, by what they call innocent and harmless things—such as riding abroad, or walking abroad to take the air, and to divert themselves, dogs, gun, country-sport, and city-recreation. These things are certainly lawful, and in themselves very innocent; nay, they may be needful for health, and to give some relaxation to the mind, hurried with too much business; but the needfulness of them is so much made an excuse, and the excess of them is so injurious to the tradesman's business and to his time, which should be set apart for his shop and his trade, that there are not a few tradesmen thus lawfully ruined, as I may call it—in a word, lawful or unlawful, their shop is neglected, their business goes behind-hand, and it is all one to the subject of breaking, and to the creditor, whether the man was undone by being a knave, or by being a fool; it is all one whether he lost his trade by scandalous immoral negligence, or by sober or religious negligence.

In a word, business languishes, while the tradesman is absent, and neglects it, be it for his health or for his pleasure, be it in good company or in bad, be it from a good or an ill design; and if the business languishes, the tradesman will not be long before he languishes too; for nothing can support the tradesman but his supporting his trade by a due attendance and application.[18]


[18] [In the above admirable series of plain-spoken advices, the author has omitted one weighty reason why young tradesmen should not spend their evenings in frivolous, or otherwise improper company. The actual loss of time and of money incurred by such courses of conduct, is generally of less consequence than the losses arising from habitual distraction of mind, and the acquisition of an acquaintanceship with a set of idle or silly companions. It is of the utmost importance that young tradesmen should spend their leisure hours in a way calculated to soothe the feelings, and enlarge the mind; and in the present day, from the prevalance of literature, and other rational means for amusement, they have ample opportunities of doing so.]



Hitherto I have written of tradesmen ruined by lawful and innocent diversions; and, indeed, these are some of the most dangerous pits for a tradesman to fall into, because men are so apt to be insensible of the danger: a ship may as well be lost in a calm smooth sea, and an easy fair gale of wind, as in a storm, if they have no pilot, or the pilot be ignorant or unwary; and disasters of that nature happen as frequently as any others, and are as fatal. When rocks are apparent, and the pilot, bold and wilful, runs directly upon them, without fear or wit, we know the fate of the ship—it must perish, and all that are in it will inevitably be lost; but in a smooth sea, a bold shore, an easy gale, the unseen rocks or shoals are the only dangers, and nothing can hazard them but the skilfulness of the pilot: and thus it is in trade. Open debaucheries and extravagances, and a profusion of expense, as well as a general contempt of business, these are open and current roads to a tradesman's destruction; but a silent going on, in pursuit of innocent pleasures, a smooth and calm, but sure neglect of his shop, and time, and business, will as effectually and as surely ruin the tradesman as the other; and though the means are not so scandalous, the effect is as certain. But I proceed to the other.

Next to immoderate pleasures, the tradesman ought to be warned against immoderate expense. This is a terrible article, and more particularly so to the tradesman, as custom has now, as it were on purpose for their undoing, introduced a general habit of, and as it were a general inclination among all sorts of people to, an expensive way of living; to which might be added a kind of necessity of it; for that even with the greatest prudence and frugality a man cannot now support a family with the ordinary expense, which the same family might have been maintained with some few years ago: there is now (1) a weight of taxes upon almost all the necessaries of life, bread and flesh excepted, as coals, salt, malt, candles, soap, leather, hops, wine, fruit, and all foreign consumptions; (2) a load of pride upon the temper of the nation, which, in spite of taxes and the unusual dearess of every thing, yet prompts people to a profusion in their expenses.

This is not so properly called a tax upon the tradesmen; I think rather, it may be called a plague upon them: for there is, first, the dearness of every necessary thing to make living expensive; and secondly, an unconquerable aversion to any restraint; so that the poor will be like the rich, and the rich like the great, and the great like the greatest—and thus the world runs on to a kind of distraction at this time: where it will end, time must discover.

Now, the tradesman I speak of, if he will thrive, he must resolve to begin as he can go on; and if he does so, in a word, he must resolve to live more under restraint than ever tradesmen of his class used to do; for every necessary thing being, as I have said, grown dearer than before, he must entirely omit all the enjoyment of the unnecessaries which he might have allowed himself before, or perhaps be obliged to an expense beyond the income of his trade: and in either of these cases he has a great hardship upon him.

When I talk of immoderate expenses, I must be understood not yet to mean the extravagances of wickedness and debaucheries; there are so many sober extravagances, and so many grave sedate ways for a tradesman's ruin, and they are so much more dangerous than those hair-brained desperate ways of gaming and debauchery, that I think it is the best service I can do the tradesmen to lay before them those sunk rocks (as the seamen call them), those secret dangers in the first place, that they may know how to avoid them; and as for the other common ways, common discretion will supply them with caution for those, and their senses will be their protection.

The dangers to the tradesmen whom I am directing myself to, are from lawful things, and such as before are called innocent; for I am speaking to the sober part of tradesmen, who yet are often ruined and overthrown in trade; and perhaps as many such miscarry, as of the mad and extravagant, particularly because their number far exceeds them. Expensive living is a kind of slow fever; it is not so open, so threatening and dangerous, as the ordinary distemper which goes by that name, but it preys upon the spirits, and, when its degrees are increased to a height, is as fatal and as sure to kill as the other: it is a secret enemy, that feeds upon the vitals; and when it has gone its full length, and the languishing tradesman is weakened in his solid part, I mean his stock, then it overwhelms him at once.

Expensive living feeds upon the life and blood of the tradesman, for it eats into the two most essential branches of his trade, namely, his credit and his cash; the first is its triumph, and the last is its food: nothing goes out to cherish the exorbitance, but the immediate money; expenses seldom go on trust, they are generally supplied and supported with ready money, whatever are not.

This expensive way of living consists in several things, which are all indeed in their degree ruinous to the tradesman; such as

1. Expensive house-keeping, or family extravagance.

2. Expensive dressing, or the extravagance of fine clothes.

3. Expensive company, or keeping company above himself.

4. Expensive equipages, making a show and ostentation of figure in the world.

I might take them all in bulk, and say, what has a young tradesman to do with these? and yet where is there a tradesman now to be found, who is not more or less guilty? It is, as I have said, the general vice of the times; the whole nation are more or less in the crime; what with necessity and inclination, where is the man or the family that lives as such families used to live?

In short, good husbandry and frugality is quite out of fashion, and he that goes about to set up for the practice of it, must mortify every thing about him that has the least tincture of frugality; it is the mode to live high, to spend more than we get, to neglect trade, contemn care and concern, and go on without forecast, or without consideration; and, in consequence, it is the mode to go on to extremity, to break, become bankrupt and beggars, and so going off the trading stage, leave it open for others to come after us, and do the same.[19]

To begin with house-keeping. I have already hinted, that every thing belonging to the family subsistence bears a higher price than usual, I may say, than ever; at the same time I can neither undertake to prove that there is more got by selling, or more ways to get it, I mean to a tradesman, than there was formerly; the consequence then must be, that the tradesmen do not grow rich faster than formerly; at least we may venture to say this of tradesmen and their families, comparing them with former times, namely, that there is not more got, and I am satisfied there is less laid up, than was then; or, if you will have it, that tradesmen get less and spend more than they ever did. How they should be richer than they were in those times, is very hard to say.

That all things are dearer than formerly to a house-keeper, needs little demonstration; the taxes necessarily infer it from the weight of them, and the many things charged; for, besides the things enumerated above, we find all articles of foreign importation are increased by the high duties laid on them; such as linen, especially fine linen; silk, especially foreign wrought silk: every thing eatable, drinkable, and wearable, are made heavy to us by high and exorbitant customs and excises, as brandies, tobacco, sugar; deals and timber for building; oil, wine, spice, raw silks, calico, chocolate, coffee, tea; on some of these the duties are more than doubled: and yet that which is most observable is, that such is the expensive humour of the times, that not a family, no, hardly of the meanest tradesman, but treat their friends with wine, or punch, or fine ale; and have their parlours set off with the tea-table and the chocolate-pot—treats and liquors all exotic, foreign and new among tradesmen, and terrible articles in their modern expenses; which have nothing to be said for them, either as to the expense of them, or the helps to health which they boast of: on the contrary, they procure us rheumatic bodies and consumptive purses, and can no way pass with me for necessaries; but being needless, they add to the expense, by sending us to the doctors and apothecaries to cure the breaches which they make in our health, and are themselves the very worst sort of superfluities.

But I come back to necessaries; and even in them, family-expenses are extremely risen, provisions are higher rated—no provisions that I know of, except only bread, mutton, and fish, but are made dearer than ever—house-rent, in almost all the cities and towns of note in England, is excessively and extremely dearer, and that in spite of such innumerable buildings as we see almost everywhere raised up, as well in the country as in London, and the parts adjacent.

Add to the rents of houses, the wages of servants. A tradesman, be he ever so much inclined to good husbandry, cannot always do his kitchen-work himself, suppose him a bachelor, or can his wife, suppose him married, and suppose her to have brought him any portion, be his bedfellow and his cook too. These maid-servants, then, are to be considered, and are an exceeding tax upon house-keepers; those who were formerly hired at three pounds to four pounds a-year wages, now demand five, six and eight pounds a-year; nor do they double anything upon us but their wages and their pride; for, instead of doing more work for their advance of wages, they do less: and the ordinary work of families cannot now be performed by the same number of maids, which, in short, is a tax upon the upper sort of tradesmen, and contributes very often to their disasters, by the extravagant keeping three or four maid-servants in a house, nay, sometimes five, where two formerly were thought sufficient. This very extravagance is such, that talking lately with a man very well experienced in this matter, he told me he had been making his calculations on that very particular, and he found by computation, that the number of servants kept by all sorts of people, tradesmen as well as others, was so much increased, that there are in London, and the towns within ten miles of it, take it every way, above a hundred thousand more maid-servants and footmen, at this time in place, than used to be in the same compass of ground thirty years ago;[20] and that their wages amounted to above forty shillings a-head per annum, more than the wages of the like number of servants did amount to at the same length of time past; the advance to the whole body amounting to no less than two hundred thousand pounds a-year.

Indeed, it is not easy to guess what the expense of wages to servants amounts to in a year, in this nation; and consequently we cannot easily determine what the increase of that expense amounts to in England, but certainly it must rise to many hundred thousand pounds a-year in the whole.

The tradesmen bear their share of this expense, and indeed too great a share, very ordinary tradesmen in London keeping at least two maids, and some more, and some a footman or two besides; for it is an ordinary thing to see the tradesmen and shopkeepers of London keep footmen, as well as the gentlemen: witness the infinite number of blue liveries, which are so common now that they are called the tradesmen's liveries; and few gentlemen care to give blue to their servants for that very reason.

In proportion to their servants, the tradesmen now keep their tables, which are also advanced in their proportion of expense to other things: indeed, the citizen's and tradesmen's tables are now the emblems, not of plenty, but of luxury, not of good house-keeping, but of profusion, and that of the highest kind of extravagance; insomuch, that it was the opinion of a gentleman who had been not a traveller only, but a nice observer of such things abroad, that there is at this time more waste of provisions in England than in any other nation in the world, of equal extent of ground; and that England consumes for their whole subsistence more flesh than half Europe besides; that the beggars of London, and within ten miles round it, eat more white bread than the whole kingdom of Scotland,[21] and the like.

But this is an observation only, though I believe it is very just; I am bringing it in here only as an example of the dreadful profusion of this age, and how an extravagant way of expensive living, perfectly negligent of all degrees of frugality or good husbandry, is the reigning vice of the people. I could enlarge upon it, and very much to the purpose here, but I shall have occasion to speak of it again.

The tradesman, whom I am speaking to by way of direction, will not, I hope, think this the way for him to thrive, or find it for his convenience to fall in with this common height of living presently, in his beginning; if he comes gradually into it after he has gotten something considerable to lay by, I say, if he does it then, it is early enough, and he may be said to be insensibly drawn into it by the necessity of the times; because, forsooth, it is a received notion, 'We must be like other folks:' I say, if he does fall into it then, when he will pretend he cannot help it, it is better than worse, and if he can afford it, well and good; but to begin thus, to set up at this rate, when he first looks into the world, I can only say this, he that begins in such a manner, it will not be difficult to guess where he will end; for a tradesman's pride certainly precedes his destruction, and an expensive living goes before his fall.

We are speaking now to a tradesman, who, it is supposed, must live by his business, a young man who sets up a shop, or warehouse, and expects to get money; one that would be a rich tradesman, rather than a poor, fine, gay man; a grave citizen, not a peacock's feather; for he that sets up for a Sir Fopling Flutter, instead of a complete tradesman, is not to be thought capable of relishing this discourse; neither does this discourse relish him; for such men seem to be among the incurables, and are rather fit for an hospital of fools (so the French call our Bedlam) than to undertake trade, and enter upon business.

Trade is not a ball, where people appear in masque, and act a part to make sport; where they strive to seem what they really are not, and to think themselves best dressed when they are least known: but it is a plain visible scene of honest life, shown best in its native appearance, without disguise; supported by prudence and frugality; and like strong, stiff, clay land, grows fruitful only by good husbandry, culture, and manuring.

A tradesman dressed up fine, with his long wig and sword, may go to the ball when he pleases, for he is already dressed up in the habit; like a piece of counterfeit money, he is brass washed over with silver, and no tradesman will take him for current; with money in his hand, indeed, he may go to the merchant's warehouse and buy any thing, but no body will deal with him without it: he may write upon his edged hat, as a certain tradesman, after having been once broke and set up again, 'I neither give nor take credit:' and as others set up in their shops, 'No trust by retail,' so he may say, 'No trust by wholesale.' In short, thus equipped, he is truly a tradesman in masquerade, and must pass for such wherever he is known. How long it may be before his dress and he may suit, it not hard to guess.

Some will have it that this expensive way of living began among the tradesmen first, that is to say, among the citizens of London; and that their eager resolved pursuit of that empty and meanest kind of pride, called imitation, namely, to look like the gentry, and appear above themselves, drew them into it. It has indeed been a fatal custom, but it has been too long a city vanity. If men of quality lived like themselves, men of no quality would strive to live not like themselves: if those had plenty, these would have profusion; if those had enough, these would have excess; if those had what was good, these would have what was rare and exotic; I mean as to season, and consequently dear. And this is one of the ways that have worn out so many tradesmen before their time.

This extravagance, wherever it began, had its first rise among those sorts of tradesmen, who, scorning the society of their shops and customers, applied themselves to rambling to courts and plays; kept company above themselves, and spent their hours in such company as lives always above them; this could not but bring great expense along with it, and that expense would not be confined to the bare keeping such company abroad, but soon showed itself in a living like them at home, whether the tradesmen could support it or no.

Keeping high company abroad certainly brings on visitings and high treatings at home; and these are attended with costly furniture, rich clothes, and dainty tables. How these things agree with a tradesman's income, it is easy to suggest; and that, in short, these measures have sent so many tradesmen to the Mint and to the Fleet, where I am witness to it that they have still carried on their expensive living till they have come at last to starving and misery; but have been so used to it, they could not abate it, or at least not quite leave it off, though they wanted the money to pay for it.

Nor is the expensive dressing a little tax upon tradesmen, as it is now come up to an excess not formerly known to tradesmen; and though it is true that this particularly respects the ladies (for the tradesmen's wives now claim that title, as they do by their dress claim the appearance), yet to do justice to them, and not to load the women with the reproach, as if it were wholly theirs, it must be acknowledged the men have their share in dress, as the times go now, though, it is true, not so antic and gay as in former days; but do we not see fine wigs, fine Holland shirts of six to seven shillings an ell, and perhaps laced also, all lately brought down to the level of the apron, and become the common wear of tradesmen—nay, I may say, of tradesmen's apprentices—and that in such a manner as was never known in England before?

If the tradesman is thriving, and can support this and his credit too, that makes the case differ, though even then it cannot be said to be suitable; but for a tradesman to begin thus, is very imprudent, because the expense of this, as I said before, drains the very life-blood of his trade, taking away his ready money only, and making no return, but the worst of return, poverty and reproach; and, in case of miscarriage, infinite scandal and offence.

I am loth to make any part of my writing a satire upon the women; nor, indeed, does the extravagance either of dress or house-keeping, lie all, or always, at the door of the tradesmen's wives—the husband is often the prompter of it; at least he does not let his wife into the detail of his circumstances, he does not make her mistress of her own condition, but either flatters her with notions of his wealth, his profits, and his flourishing circumstances, and so the innocent woman spends high and lives great, believing that she is in a condition to afford it, and that her husband approves of it; at least, he does not offer to retrench or restrain her, but lets her go on, and indeed goes on with her, to the ruin of both.

I cannot but mention one thing here (though I purpose to give you one discourse on that subject by itself), namely, the great and indispensable obligation there is upon a tradesman always to acquaint his wife with the truth of his circumstances, and not to let her run on in ignorance, till she falls with him down the precipice of an unavoidable ruin—a thing no prudent woman would do, and therefore will never take amiss a husband's plainness in that particular case. But I reserve this to another place, because I am rather directing my discourse at this time to the tradesman at his beginning, and, as it may be supposed, unmarried.

Next to the expensive dressing, I place the expensive keeping company, as one thing fatal to a tradesman, and which, if he would be a complete tradesman, he should avoid with the utmost diligence. It is an agreeable thing to be seen in good company; for a man to see himself courted and valued, and his company desired by men of fashion and distinction, is very pleasing to any young tradesman, and it is really a snare which a young tradesman, if he be a man of sense, can very hardly resist. There is in itself indeed nothing that can be objected against, or is not very agreeable to the nature of man, and that not to his vicious part merely, but even to his best faculties; for who would not value himself upon being, as above, rendered acceptable to men both in station and figure above themselves? and it is really a piece of excellent advice which a learned man gave to his son, always to keep company with men above himself, not with men below himself.

But take me now to be talking, as I really am, not to the man merely, but to his circumstances, if he were a man of fortune, and had the view of great things before him, it would hold good; but if he is a young tradesman, such as I am now speaking of, who is newly entered into business, and must depend upon his said business for his subsistence and support, and hopes to raise himself by it—I say, if I am talking to such a one, I must say to him, that keeping company as above, with men superior to himself in knowledge, in figure, and estate, is not his business; for, first, as such conversation must necessarily take up a great deal of his time, so it ordinarily must occasion a great expense of money, and both destructive of his prosperity; nay, sometimes the first may be as fatal to him as the last, and it is oftentimes true in that sense of trade, that while by keeping company he is drawn out of his business, his absence from his shop or warehouse is the most fatal to him; and while he spends one crown in the tavern, he spends forty crowns' worth of his time; and with this difference, too, which renders it the worse to the tradesman, namely, that the money may be recovered, and gotten up again, but the time cannot. For example—

1. Perhaps in that very juncture a person comes to his warehouse. Suppose the tradesman to be a warehouse-keeper, who trades by commission, and this person, being a clothier in the country, comes to offer him his business, the commission of which might have been worth to him thirty to forty or fifty pounds per annum; but finding him abroad, or rather, not finding him at home and in his business, goes to another, and fixes with him at once. I once knew a dealer lose such an occasion as this, for an afternoon's pleasure, he being gone a-fishing into Hackney-marsh. This loss can never be restored, this expense of time was a fatal expense of money; and no tradesman will deny but they find many such things as this happen in the course of trade, either to themselves or others.

2. Another tradesman is invited to dinner by his great friend; for I am now speaking chiefly upon the subject of keeping high company, and what the tradesman sometimes suffers by it; it is true, that there he finds a most noble entertainment, the person of quality, and that professes a friendship for him, treats him with infinite respect, is fond of him, makes him welcome as a prince—for I am speaking of the acquaintance as really valuable and good in itself—but then, see it in its consequences. The tradesman on this occasion misses his 'Change, that is, omits going to the Exchange for that one day only, and not being found there, a merchant with whom he was in treaty for a large parcel of foreign goods, which would have been to his advantage to have bought, sells them to another more diligent man in the same way; and when he comes home, he finds, to his great mortification, that he has lost a bargain that would have been worth a hundred pounds buying; and now being in want of the goods, he is forced to entreat his neighbour who bought them to part with some of them at a considerable advance of price, and esteem it a favour too. Who now paid dearest for the visit to a person of figure?—the gentleman, who perhaps spent twenty shillings extraordinary to give him a handsome dinner, or the tradesman who lost a bargain worth a hundred pounds buying to go to eat it?

3. Another tradesman goes to 'Change in the ordinary course of his business, intending to speak with some of the merchants, his customers, as is usual, and get orders for goods, or perhaps an appointment to come to his warehouse to buy; but a snare of the like kind falls in his way, and a couple of friends, who perhaps have little or no business, at least with him, lay hold of him, and they agree to go off Change to the tavern together. By complying with this invitation, he omits speaking to some of those merchants, as above, who, though he knew nothing of their minds, yet it had been his business to have shown himself to them, and have put himself in the way of their call; but omitting this, he goes and drinks a bottle of wine, as above, and though he stays but an hour, or, as we say, but a little while, yet unluckily, in that interim, the merchant, not seeing him on the Exchange, calls at his warehouse as he goes from the Exchange, but not finding him there either, he goes to another warehouse, and gives his orders to the value of L300 or L400, to a more diligent neighbour of the same business; by which he (the warehouse-keeper) not only loses the profit of selling that parcel, or serving that order, but the merchant is shown the way to his neighbour's warehouse, who, being more diligent than himself, fails not to cultivate his interest, obliges him with selling low, even to little or no gain, for the first parcel; and so the unhappy tradesman loses not his selling that parcel only, but loses the very customer, which was, as it were, his peculiar property before.

All these things, and many more such, are the consequences of a tradesman's absence from his business; and I therefore say, the expense of time on such light occasions as these, is one of the worst sorts of extravagance, and the most fatal to the tradesman, because really he knows not what he loses.

Above all things, the tradesman should take care not to be absent in the season of business, as I have mentioned above; for the warehouse-keeper to be absent from 'Change, which is his market, or from his warehouse, at the times when the merchants generally go about to buy, he had better be absent all the rest of the day.

I know nothing is more frequent, than for the tradesman, when company invites, or an excursion from business presses, to say, 'Well, come, I have nothing to do; there is no business to hinder, there is nothing neglected, I have no letters to write;' and the like; and away he goes to take the air for the afternoon, or to sit and enjoy himself with a friend—all of them things innocent and lawful in themselves; but here is the crisis of a tradesman's prosperity. In that very moment business presents, a valuable customer comes to buy, an unexpected bargain offers to be sold; another calls to pay money; and the like: nay, I would almost say, but that I am loth to concern the devil in more evils than he is guilty of—that the devil frequently draws a man out of his business when something extraordinary is just at hand for his advantage.

But not, as I have said, to charge the devil with what he is not guilty of, the tradesman is generally his own tempter; his head runs off from his business by a secret indolence; company, and the pleasure of being well received among gentlemen, is a cursed snare to a young tradesman, and carries him away from his business, for the mere vanity of being caressed and complimented by men who mean no ill, and perhaps know not the mischief they do to the man they show respect to; and this the young tradesman cannot resist, and that is in time his undoing.

The tradesman's pleasure should be in his business, his companions should be his books; and if he has a family, he makes his excursions up stairs, and no farther; when he is there, a bell or a call brings him down; and while he is in his parlour, his shop or his warehouse never misses him; his customers never go away unserved, his letters never come in and are unanswered. None of my cautions aim at restraining a tradesman from diverting himself, as we call it, with his fireside, or keeping company with his wife and children: there are so few tradesmen ruin themselves that way, and so few ill consequences happen upon an uxorious temper, that I will not so much as rank it with the rest; nor can it be justly called one of the occasions of a tradesman's disasters; on the contrary, it is too often that the want of a due complacency there, the want of taking delight there, estranges the man from not his parlour only, but his warehouse and shop, and every part of business that ought to engross both his mind and his time. That tradesman who does not delight in his family, will never long delight in his business; for, as one great end of an honest tradesman's diligence is the support of his family, and the providing for the comfortable subsistence of his wife and children, so the very sight of, and above all, his tender and affectionate care for his wife and children, is the spur of his diligence; that is, it puts an edge upon his mind, and makes him hunt the world for business, as hounds hunt the woods for their game. When he is dispirited, or discouraged by crosses and disappointments, and ready to lie down and despair, the very sight of his family rouses him again, and he flies to his business with a new vigour; 'I must follow my business,' says he, 'or we must all starve, my poor children must perish;' in a word, he that is not animated to diligence by the very sight and thought of his wife and children being brought to misery and distress, is a kind of a deaf adder that no music will charm, or a Turkish mute that no pity can move: in a word, he is a creature not to be called human, a wretch hardened against all the passions and affections that nature has furnished to other animals; and as there is no rhetoric of use to such a kind of man as that, so I am not talking to such a one, he must go among the incurables; for, where nature cannot work, what can argument assist?


[19] [Now, as in Defoe's time, a common observer is apt to be impressed with the idea, that expenses, with a large part of the community, exceed gains. Certainly, this is true at all times with a certain portion of society, but probably at no time with a large portion. There is a tendency to great self-deception in all such speculations; and no one ever thinks of bringing them to the only true test—statistical facts. The reader ought, therefore, to pay little attention to the complaints in the text, as to an increased extravagance in the expenses of tradesmen, and only regard the general recommendation, and the reasons by which that recommendation is enforced, to live within income.]

[20] [There can be little doubt, that the calculation of this experienced gentleman is grossly inconsistent with the truth. Nevertheless, this part of Defoe's work contains some curious traits of manners, which are probably not exaggerated]

[21] [Defoe, from his having been employed for several years in Scotland at the time of the Union, must have well known how rare was then the use of white or wheaten bread in that country.]



It was a prudent provision which our ancestors made in the indenture of tradesmen's apprentices, that they should not contract matrimony during their apprenticeship; and they bound it with a penalty that was then thought sufficient. However, custom has taken off the edge of it since; namely, that they who did thus contract matrimony should forfeit their indentures, that is to say, should lose the benefit of their whole service, and not be made free.

Doubtless our forefathers were better acquainted with the advantages of frugality than we are, and saw farther into the desperate consequences of expensive living in the beginning of a tradesman's setting out into the world than we do; at least, it is evident they studied more and practised more of the prudential part in those cases, than we do.

Hence we find them very careful to bind their youth under the strongest obligations they could, to temperance, modesty, and good husbandry, as the grand foundations of their prosperity in trade, and to prescribe to them such rules and methods of frugality and good husbandry, as they thought would best conduce to their prosperity.

Among these rules this was one of the chief—namely, 'that they should not wed before they had sped?' It is an old homely rule, and coarsely expressed, but the meaning is evident, that a young beginner should never marry too soon. While he was a servant, he was bound from it as above; and when he had his liberty, he was persuaded against it by all the arguments which indeed ought to prevail with a considering man—namely, the expenses that a family necessarily would bring with it, and the care he ought to take to be able to support the expense before he brought it upon himself.

On this account it is, I say, our ancestors took more of their youth than we now do; at least, I think, they studied well the best methods of thriving, and were better acquainted with the steps by which a young tradesman ought to be introduced into the world than we are, and of the difficulties which those people would necessarily involve themselves in, who, despising those rules and methods of frugality, involved themselves in the expense of a family before they were in a way of gaining sufficient to support it.

A married apprentice will always make a repenting tradesman; and those stolen matches, a very few excepted, are generally attended with infinite broils and troubles, difficulties, and cross events, to carry them on at first by way of intrigue, to conceal them afterwards under fear of superiors, to manage after that to keep off scandal, and preserve the character as well of the wife as of the husband; and all this necessarily attended with a heavy expense, even before the young man is out of his time; before he has set a foot forward, or gotten a shilling in the world; so that all this expense is out of his original stock, even before he gets it, and is a sad drawback upon him when it comes.

Nay, this unhappy and dirty part is often attended with worse consequences still; for this expense coming upon him while he is but a servant, and while his portion, or whatever it is to be called, is not yet come into his hand, he is driven to terrible exigencies to supply this expense. If his circumstances are mean, and his trade mean, he is frequently driven to wrong his master, and rob his shop or his till for money, if he can come at it: and this, as it begins in madness, generally ends in destruction; for often he is discovered, exposed, and perhaps punished, and so the man is undone before he begins. If his circumstances are good, and he has friends that are able, and expectations that are considerable, then his expense is still the greater, and ways and means are found out, or at least looked for, to supply the expense, and conceal the fact, that his friends may not know it, till he has gotten the blessing he expects into his hands, and is put in a way to stand upon his own legs; and then it comes out, with a great many grieving aggravations to a parent to find himself tricked and defeated in the expectations of his son's marrying handsomely, and to his advantage; instead of which, he is obliged to receive a dish-clout for a daughter-in-law, and see his family propagated by a race of beggars, and yet perhaps as haughty, as insolent, and as expensive, as if she had blessed the family with a lady of fortune, and brought a fund with her to have supported the charge of her posterity.

When this happens, the poor young man's case is really deplorable. Before he is out of his time, he is obliged to borrow of friends, if he has any, on pretence his father does not make him a sufficient allowance, or he trenches upon his master's cash, which perhaps, he being the eldest apprentice, is in his hands; and this he does, depending, that when he is out of his time, and his father gives him wherewith to set up, he will make good the deficiency; and all this happens accordingly so that his reputation as to his master is preserved, and he comes off clear as to dishonesty in his trust.

But what a sad chasm does it make in his fortune! I knew a certain young tradesman, whose father, knowing nothing of his son's measures, gave him L2000 to set up with, straining himself to the utmost for the well introducing his son into the world; but who, when he came to set up, having near a year before married the servant-maid of the house where he lodged, and kept her privately at a great expense, had above L600 of his stock already wasted and sunk, before he began for himself; the consequence of which was, that going in partner with another young man, who had likewise L2000 to begin with, he was, instead of half of the profits, obliged to make a private article to accept of a third of the trade; and the beggar-wife proving more expensive, by far, than the partner's wife (who married afterwards, and doubled his fortune), the first young man was obliged to quit the trade, and with his remaining stock set up by himself; in which case his expenses continuing, and his stock being insufficient, he sank gradually, and then broke, and died poor. In a word, he broke the heart of his father, wasted what he had, and could never recover it, and at last it broke his own heart too.

But I shall bring it a little farther. Suppose the youth not to act so grossly neither; not to marry in his apprenticeship, not to be forced to keep a wife privately, and eat the bread he never got; but suppose him to be entered upon the world, that he has set up, opened shop, or fitted up his warehouse, and is ready to trade, the next thing, in the ordinary course of the world, at this time is a wife; nay, I have met with some parents, who have been indiscreet enough themselves to prompt their sons to marry as soon as they are set up; and the reason they give for it is, the wickedness of the age, that youth are drawn in a hundred ways to ruinous matches or debaucheries, and are so easily ruined by the mere looseness of their circumstances, that it is needful to marry them to keep them at home, and to preserve them diligent, and bind them close to their business.

This, be it just or not, is a bad cure of an ill disease; it is ruining the young man to make him sober, and making him a slave for life to make him diligent. Be it that the wife he shall marry is a sober, frugal, housewifely woman, and that nothing is to be laid to her charge but the mere necessary addition of a family expense, and that with the utmost moderation, yet, at the best, he cripples his fortune, stock-starves his business, and brings a great expense upon himself at first, before, by his success in trade, he had laid up stock enough to support the charge.

First, it is reasonable to suppose, that at his beginning in the world he cannot expect to get so good a portion with a wife, as he might after he had been set up a few years, and by his diligence and frugality, joined to a small expense in house-keeping, had increased both his stock in trade and the trade itself; then he would be able to look forward boldly, and would have some pretence for insisting on a fortune, when he could make out his improvements in trade, and show that he was both able to maintain a wife, and able to live without her. When a young tradesman in Holland or Germany goes a-courting, I am told the first question the young woman asks of him, or perhaps her friends for her, is, 'Are you able to pay the charges?' that is to say, in English, 'Are you able to keep a wife when you have got her?' The question is a little Gothic indeed, and would be but a kind of gross way of receiving a lover here, according to our English good breeding; but there is a great deal of reason in the inquiry, that must be confessed; and he that is not able to pay the charges, should never begin the journey; for, be the wife what she will, the very state of life that naturally attends the marrying a woman, brings with it an expense so very considerable, that a tradesman ought to consider very well of it before he engages.

But it is to be observed, too, that abundance of young tradesmen, especially in England, not only marry early, but by the so marrying they are obliged to take up with much less fortunes in their haste, than when they allow themselves longer time of consideration. As it stands now, generally speaking, the wife and the shop make their first show together; but how few of these early marriages succeed—how hard such a tradesman finds it to stand, and support the weight that attends it—I appeal to the experience of those, who having taken this wrong step, and being with difficulty got over it, are yet good judges of that particular circumstance in others that come after them.[22]

I know it is a common cry that is raised against the woman, when her husband fails in business, namely, that it is the wife has ruined him; it is true, in some particular cases it may be so, but in general it is wrong placed—they may say marrying has ruined the man, when they cannot say his wife has done it, for the woman was not in fault, but her husband.

When a tradesman marries, there are necessary consequences, I mean of expenses, which the wife ought not be charged with, and cannot be made accountable for—such as, first, furnishing the house; and let this be done with the utmost plainness, so as to be decent; yet it must be done, and this calls for ready money, and that ready money by so much diminishes his stock in trade; nor is the wife at all to be charged in this case, unless she either put him to more charge than was needful, or showed herself dissatisfied with things needful, and required extravagant gaiety and expense. Secondly, servants, if the man was frugal before, it may be he shifted with a shop, and a servant in it, an apprentice, or journeyman, or perhaps without one at first, and a lodging for himself, where he kept no other servant, and so his expenses went on small and easy; or if he was obliged to take a house because of his business and the situation of his shop, he then either let part of the house out to lodgers, keeping himself a chamber in it, or at the worst left it unfurnished, and without any one but a maid-servant to dress his victuals, and keep the house clean; and thus he goes on when a bachelor, with a middling expense at most.

But when he brings home a wife, besides the furnishing his house, he must have a formal house-keeping, even at the very first; and as children come on, more servants, that is, maids, or nurses, that are as necessary as the bread he eats—especially if he multiplies apace, as he ought to suppose he may—in this case let the wife be frugal and managing, let her be unexceptionable in her expense, yet the man finds his charge mount high, and perhaps too high for his gettings, notwithstanding the additional stock obtained by her portion. And what is the end of this but inevitable decay, and at last poverty and ruin?

Nay, the more the woman is blameless, the more certain is his overthrow, for if it was an expense that was extravagant and unnecessary, and that his wife ran him out by her high living and gaiety, he might find ways to retrench, to take up in time, and prevent the mischief that is in view. A woman may, with kindness and just reasoning, be easily convinced, that her husband cannot maintain such an expense as she now lives at; and let tradesmen say what they will, and endeavour to excuse themselves as much as they will, by loading their wives with the blame of their miscarriage, as I have known some do, and as old father Adam, though in another case, did before them, I must say so much in the woman's behalf at a venture. It will be very hard to make me believe that any woman, that was not fit for Bedlam, if her husband truly and timely represented his case to her, and how far he was or was not able to maintain the expense of their way of living, would not comply with her husband's circumstances, and retrench her expenses, rather than go on for a while, and come to poverty and misery. Let, then, the tradesman lay it early and seriously before his wife, and with kindness and plainness tell her his circumstances, or never let him pretend to charge her with being the cause of his ruin. Let him tell her how great his annual expense is; for a woman who receives what she wants as she wants it, that only takes it with one hand, and lays it out with another, does not, and perhaps cannot, always keep an account, or cast up how much it comes to by the year. Let her husband, therefore, I say, tell her honestly how much his expense for her and himself amounts to yearly; and tell her as honestly, that it is too much for him, that his income in trade will not answer it; that he goes backward, and the last year his family expenses amounted to so much, say L400—for that is but an ordinary sum now for a tradesman to spend, whatever it has been esteemed formerly—and that his whole trade, though he made no bad debts, and had no losses, brought him in but L320 the whole year, so that he was L80 that year a worse man than he was before, that this coming year he had met with a heavy loss already, having had a shopkeeper in the country broke in his debt L200, and that he offered but eight shillings in the pound, so that he should lose L120 by him, and that this, added to the L80 run out last year, came to L200, and that if they went on thus, they should be soon reduced.

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