What could the woman say to so reasonable a discourse, if she was a woman of any sense, but to reply, she would do any thing that lay in her to assist him, and if her way of living was too great for him to support, she would lessen it as he should direct, or as much as he thought was reasonable?—and thus, going hand in hand, she and he together abating what reason required, they might bring their expenses within the compass of their gettings, and be able to go on again comfortably.
But now, when the man, finding his expenses greater than his income, and yet, when he looks into those expenses, finds that his wife is frugal too, and industrious, and applies diligently to the managing her family, and bringing up her children, spends nothing idly, saves every thing that can be saved; that instead of keeping too many servants, is a servant to every body herself; and that, in short, when he makes the strictest examination, finds she lays out nothing but what is absolutely necessary, what now must this man do? He is ruined inevitably—for all his expense is necessary; there is no retrenching, no abating any thing.
This, I say, is the worst case of the two indeed; and this man, though he may say he is undone by marrying, yet cannot blame the woman, and say he is undone by his wife. This is the very case I am speaking of; the man should not have married so soon; he should have staid till he had, by pushing on his trade, and living close in his expense, increased his stock, and been what we call beforehand in the world; and had he done thus, he had not been undone by marrying.
It is a little hard to say it, but in this respect it is very true, there is many a young tradesman ruined by marrying a good wife—in which, pray take notice that I observe my own just distinction: I do not say they are ruined or undone by a good wife, or by their wives being good, but by their marrying—their unseasonable, early, and hasty marrying—before they had cast up the cost of one, or the income of the other—before they had inquired into the necessary charge of a wife and a family, or seen the profits of their business, whether it would maintain them or no; and whether, as above, they could pay the charges, the increasing necessary charge, of a large and growing family. How to persuade young men to consider this in time, and beware and avoid the mischief of it, that is a question by itself.
Let no man, then, when he is brought to distress by this early rashness, turn short upon his wife, and reproach her with being the cause of his ruin, unless, at the same time, he can charge her with extravagant living, needless expense, squandering away his money, spending it in trifles and toys, and running him out till the shop could not maintain the kitchen, much less the parlour; nor even then, unless he had given her timely notice of it, and warned her that he was not able to maintain so large a family, or so great an expense, and that, therefore, she would do well to consider of it, and manage with a straiter hand, and the like. If, indeed, he had done so, and she had not complied with him, then she had been guilty, and without excuse too; but as the woman cannot judge of his affairs, and he sees and bears a share in the riotous way of their living, and does not either show his dislike of it, or let her know, by some means or other, that he cannot support it, the woman cannot be charged with being his ruin—no, though her way of extravagant expensive living were really the cause of it. I met with a short dialogue, the other day, between a tradesman and his wife, upon such a subject as this, some part of which may be instructing in the case before us.
The tradesman was very melancholy for two or three days, and had appeared all that time to be pensive and sad, and his wife, with all her arts, entreaties, anger, and tears, could not get it out of him; only now and then she heard him fetch a deep sigh, and at another time say, he wished he was dead, and the like expressions. At last, she began the discourse with him in a respectful, obliging manner, but with the utmost importunity to get it out of him, thus:—
Wife.—My dear, what is the matter with you?
Wife.—Nay, don't put me off with an answer that signifies nothing; tell me what is the matter, for I am sure something extraordinary is the case—tell me, I say, do tell me. [Then she kisses him.]
Husb.—Prithee, don't trouble me.
Wife.—I will know what is the matter
Husb.—I tell you nothing is the matter—what should be the matter?
Wife.—Come, my dear, I must not be put off so; I am sure, if it be any thing ill, I must have my share of it; and why should I not be worthy to know it, whatever it is, before it comes upon me.
Husb.—Poor woman! [He kisses her.]
Wife.—Well, but let me know what it is; come, don't distract yourself alone; let me bear a share of your grief, as well as I have shared in your joy.
Husb.—My dear, let me alone, you trouble me now, indeed.
[Still he keeps her off.]
Wife.—Then you will not trust your wife with knowing what touches you so sensibly?
Husb.—I tell you, it is nothing, it is a trifle, it is not worth talking of.
Wife.—Don't put me off with such stuff as that; I tell you, it is not for nothing that you have been so concerned, and that so long too; I have seen it plain enough; why, you have drooped upon it for this fortnight past, and above.
Husb.—Ay, this twelvemonth, and more.
Wife.—Very well, and yet it is nothing.
Husb.—It is nothing that you can help me in.
Wife.—Well, but how do you know that? Let me see, and judge whether I can, or no.
Husb.—I tell you, you cannot.
Wife.—Sure it is some terrible thing then. Why must not I know it? What! are you going to break? Come, tell me the worst of it.
Husb.—Break! no, no, I hope not—Break! no, I'll never break.
Wife.—As good as you have broke; don't presume; no man in trade can say he won't break.
Husb.—Yes, yes; I can say I won't break.
Wife.—I am glad to hear it; I hope you have a knack, then, beyond other tradesmen.
Husb.—No, I have not neither; any man may say so as well as I; and no man need break, if he will act the part of an honest man.
Wife.—How is that, pray?
Husb.—Why, give up all faithfully to his creditors, as soon as he finds there is a deficiency in his stock, and yet that there is enough left to pay them.
Wife.—Well, I don't understand those things, but I desire you would tell me what it is troubles you now; and if it be any thing of that kind, yet I think you should let me know it.
Husb.—Why should I trouble you with it?
Wife.—It would be very unkind to let me know nothing till it comes and swallows you up and me too, all on a sudden; I must know it, then; pray tell it me now.
Husb.—Why, then, I will tell you; indeed, I am not going to break, and I hope I am in no danger of it, at least not yet.
Wife.—I thank you, my dear, for that; but still, though it is some satisfaction to me to be assured of so much, yet I find there is something in it; and your way of speaking is ambiguous and doubtful. I entreat you, be plain and free with me. What is at the bottom of it?—why won't you tell me?—what have I done, that I am not to be trusted with a thing that so nearly concerns me?
Husb.—I have told you, my dear; pray be easy; I am not going to break, I tell you.
Wife.—Well, but let us talk a little more seriously of it; you are not going to break, that is, not just now, not yet, you said; but, my dear, if it is then not just at hand, but may happen, or is in view at some distance, may not some steps be taken to prevent it for the present, and to save us from it at last too.
Husb.—What steps could you think of, if that were the case?
Wife.—Indeed it is not much that is in a wife's power, but I am ready to do what lies in me, and what becomes me; and first, pray let us live lower. Do you think I would live as I do, if I thought your income would not bear it? No, indeed.
Husb.—You have touched me in the most sensible part, my dear; you have found out what has been my grief; you need make no further inquiries.
Wife.—Was that your grief?—and would you never be so kind to your wife as to let her know it?
Husb.—How could I mention so unkind a thing to you?
Wife.—Would it not have been more unkind to have let things run on to destruction, and left your wife to the reproach of the world, as having ruined you by her expensive living?
Husb.—That's true, my dear; and it may be I might have spoke to you at last, but I could not do it now; it looks so cruel and so hard to lower your figure, and make you look little in the eyes of the world, for you know they judge all by outsides, that I could not bear it.
Wife.—It would be a great deal more cruel to let me run on, and be really an instrument to ruin, my husband, when, God knows, I thought I was within the compass of your gettings, and that a great way; and you know you always prompted me to go fine, to treat handsomely, to keep more servants, and every thing of that kind. Could I doubt but that you could afford it very well?
Husb.—That's true, but I see it is otherwise now; and though I cannot help it, I could not mention it to you, nor, for ought I know, should I ever have done it.
Wife.—Why! you said just now you should have done it.
Husb.—Ay, at last, perhaps, I might, when things had been past recovery.
Wife.—That is to say, when you were ruined and undone, and could not show your head, I should know it; or when a statute of bankrupt had come out, and the creditors had come and turned us out of doors, then I should have known it—that would have been a barbarous sort of kindness.
Husb.—What could I do? I could not help it.
Wife.—Just so our old acquaintance G—W—did; his poor wife knew not one word of it, nor so much as suspected it, but thought him in as flourishing circumstances as ever; till on a sudden he was arrested in an action for a great sum, so great that he could not find bail, and the next day an execution on another action was served in the house, and swept away the very bed from under her; and the poor lady, that brought him L3000 portion, was turned into the street with five small children to take care of.
Husb.—Her case was very sad, indeed.
Wife.—But was not he a barbarous wretch to her, to let her know nothing of her circumstances? She was at the ball but the day before, in her velvet suit, and with her jewels on, and they reproach her with it every day.
Husb.—She did go too fine, indeed.
Wife.—Do you think she would have done so, if she had known any thing of his circumstances?
Husb.—It may be not.
Wife.—No, no; she is a lady of too much sense, to allow us to suggest it.
Husb.—And why did he not let her have some notice of it?
Wife.—Why, he makes the same dull excuse you speak of; he could not bear to speak to her of it, and it looked so unkind to do any thing to straiten her, he could not do it, it would break his heart, and the like; and now he has broke her heart.
Husb.—I know it is hard to break in upon one's wife in such a manner, where there is any true kindness and affection; but—
Wife.—But! but what? Were there really a true kindness and affection, as is the pretence, it would be quite otherwise; he would not break his own heart, forsooth, but chose rather to break his wife's heart! he could not be so cruel to tell her of it, and therefore left her to be cruelly and villanously insulted, as she was, by the bailiffs and creditors. Was that his kindness to her?
Husb.—Well, my dear, I have not brought you to that, I hope.
Wife.—No, my dear, and I hope you will not; however, you shall not say I will not do every thing I can to prevent it; and, if it lies on my side, you are safe.
Husb.—What will you do to prevent it? Come, let's see, what can you do?
Wife.—Why, first, I keep five maids, you see, and a footman; I shall immediately give three of my maids warning, and the fellow also, and save you that part of the expense.
Husb.—How can you do that?—you can't do your business.
Wife.—Yes, yes, there's nobody knows what they can do till they are tried; two maids may do all my house-business, and I'll look after my children myself; and if I live to see them grown a little bigger, I'll make them help one another, and keep but one maid; I hope that will be one step towards helping it.
Husb.—And what will all your friends and acquaintance, and the world, say to it?
Wife.—Not half so much as they would to see you break, and the world believe it be by my high living, keeping a house full of servants, and do nothing myself.
Husb.—They will say I am going to break upon your doing thus, and that's the way to make it so.
Wife.—I had rather a hundred should say you were going to break, than one could say you were really broke already.
Husb.—But it is dangerous to have it talked of, I say.
Wife.—No, no; they will say we are taking effectual ways to prevent breaking.
Husb.—But it will put a slur upon yourself too. I cannot bear any mortifications upon you, any more than I can upon myself.
Wife.—Don't tell me of mortifications; it would be a worse mortification, a thousand times over, to have you ruined, and have your creditors insult me with being the occasion of it.
Husb.—It is very kind in you, my dear, and I must always acknowledge it; but, however, I would not have you straiten yourself too much neither.
Wife.—Nay, this will not be so much a mortification as the natural consequence of other things; for, in order to abate the expense of our living, I resolve to keep less company. I assure you I will lay down all the state of living, as well as the expense of it; and, first, I will keep no visiting days; secondly, I'll drop the greatest part of the acquaintance I have; thirdly, I will lay down our treats and entertainments, and the like needless occasions of expense, and then I shall have no occasion for so many maids.
Husb.—But this, my dear, I say, will make as much noise almost, as if I were actually broke.
Wife.—No, no; leave that part to me.
Husb.—But you may tell me how you will manage it then.
Wife.—Why, I'll go into the country.
Husb.—That will but bring them after you, as it used to do.
Wife.—But I'll put off our usual lodgings at Hampstead, and give out that I am gone to spend the summer in Bedfordshire, at my aunt's, where every body knows I used to go sometimes; they can't come after me thither.
Husb.—But when you return, they will all visit you.
Wife.—Yes, and I will make no return to all those I have a mind to drop, and there's an end of all their acquaintance at once.
Husb.—And what must I do?
Wife.—Nay, my dear, it is not for me to direct that part; you know how to cure the evil which you sensibly feel the mischief of. If I do my part, I don't doubt you know how to do yours.
Husb.—Yes, I know, but it is hard, very hard.
Wife.—Nay, I hope it is no harder for you than it is for your wife.
Husb.—That is true, indeed, but I'll see.
Wife.—The question to me is not whether it is hard, but whether it is necessary.
Husb.—Nay, it is necessary, that is certain.
Wife.—Then I hope it is as necessary to you as to your wife.
Husb.—I know not where to begin.
Wife.—Why, you keep two horses and a groom, you keep rich high company, and you sit long at the Fleece every evening. I need say no more; you know where to begin well enough.
Husb.—It is very hard; I have not your spirit, my dear.
Wife.—I hope you are not more ashamed to retrench, than you would be to have your name in the Gazette.
Husb.—It is sad work to come down hill thus.
Wife.—It would be worse to fall down at one blow from the top; better slide gently and voluntarily down the smooth part, than to be pushed down the precipice, and be dashed all in pieces.
There was more of this dialogue, but I give the part which I think most to the present purpose; and as I strive to shorten the doctrine, so I will abridge the application also; the substance of the case lies in a few particulars, thus:—
I. The man was melancholy, and oppressed with the thoughts of his declining circumstances, and yet had not any thought of letting his wife know it, whose way of living was high and expensive, and more than he could support; but though it must have ended in ruin, he would rather let it have gone on till she was surprised in it, than to tell her the danger that was before her.
His wife very well argues the injustice and unkindness of such usage, and how hard it was to a wife, who, being of necessity to suffer in the fall, ought certainly to have the most early notice of it—that, if possible, she might prevent it, or, at least, that she might not be overwhelmed with the suddenness and the terror of it.
II. Upon discovering it to his wife, or rather her drawing the discovery from him by her importunity, she immediately, and most readily and cheerfully, enters into measures to retrench her expenses, and, as far as she was able, to prevent the blow, which was otherwise apparent and unavoidable.
Hence it is apparent, that the expensive living of most tradesmen in their families, is for want of a serious acquainting their wives with their circumstances, and acquainting them also in time; for there are very few ladies so unreasonable, who, if their husbands seriously informed them how things stood with them, and that they could not support their way of living, would not willingly come into measures to prevent their own destruction.
III. That it is in vain, as well as unequal, for a tradesman to preach frugality to his wife, and to bring his wife to a retrenching of her expenses, and not at the same time to retrench his own; seeing that keeping horses and high company is every way as great and expensive, and as necessary to be abated, as any of the family extravagances, let them be which they will.
All this relates to the duty of a tradesman in preventing his family expenses being ruinous to his business; but the true method to prevent all this, and never to let it come so far, is still, as I said before, not to marry too soon; not to marry, till by a frugal industrious management of his trade in the beginning, he has laid a foundation for maintaining a wife, and bringing up a family, and has made an essay by which he knows what he can and cannot do, and also before he has laid up and increased his stock, that he may not cripple his fortune at first, and be ruined before he has begun to thrive.
 [Defoe's views on the subject of the too early marrying of young tradesmen, are in every particular sound. Though there are instances of premature marriages followed by no evil result, but rather the contrary, there can be no doubt, that the only prudent course is to wait till a settlement in life, and a regular income, have been secured. A young man, anxious for other reasons to marry, is sometimes heard to express his conviction that he might live more cheaply married than single. There could be no assertion more inconsistent with all common experience. Even if no positively ruinous consequences arise from an over-early marriage, it almost always occasions much hardship. It saddens a period of life which nature has designed to be peculiarly cheerful. The whole life of such a man becomes like a year in which there has been no May or June. The grave cares of matrimony do not appear to be naturally suitable to the human character, till the man has approached his thirtieth, and the woman her twenty-fourth year.]
OF THE TRADESMAN'S LEAVING HIS BUSINESS TO SERVANTS
It is the ordinary excuse of the gentlemen tradesmen of our times, that they have good servants, and that therefore they take more liberty to be out of their business, than they would otherwise do. 'Oh!' says the shopkeeper, 'I have an apprentice—it is an estate to have such a servant. I am as safe in him as if I had my eye upon the business from morning till night; let me be where I will, I am always satisfied he is at home; if I am at the tavern, I am sure he is in the counting-house, or behind the counter; he is never out of his post.
'And then for my other servants, the younger apprentices,' says he, 'it is all one as if I were there myself—they would be idle it may be, but he won't let them, I assure you; they must stick close to it, or he will make them do it; he tells them, boys do not come apprentices to play, but to work; not to sit idle, and be doing nothing, but to mind their master's business, that they may learn how to do their own.'
'Very well; and you think, Sir, this young man being so much in the shop, and so diligent and faithful, is an estate to you, and so indeed it is; but are your customers as well pleased with this man, too, as you are? or are they as well pleased with him, as they would be, if you were there yourself?'
'Yes, they are,' says the shopkeeper; 'nay, abundance of the customers take him for the master of the shop, and don't know any other; and he is so very obliging, and pleases so well, giving content to every body, that, if I am at any other part of the shop, and see him serving a customer, I never interrupt them, unless sometimes (he is so modest) he will call me, and turning to the ladies say, "There's my master, Madam; if you think he will abate you any thing, I'll call him;" and sometimes they will look a little surprised, and say, "Is that your master? indeed, we thought you had been the master of the shop yourself."'
'Well,' said I, 'and you think yourself very happy in all this, don't you? Pray, how long has this young gentleman to serve? how long is it before his time will be out?' 'Oh, he has almost a year and a half to serve,' says the shopkeeper. 'I hope, then,' said I, 'you will take care to have him knocked on the head, as soon as his time is out.' 'God forbid,' says the honest man; 'what do you mean by that?' 'Mean!' said I, 'why, if you don't, he will certainly knock your trade on the head, as soon as the year and a half comes to be up. Either you must dispose of him, as I say, or take care that he does not set up near you, no, not in the same street; if you do, your customers will all run thither. When they miss him in the shop, they will presently inquire for him; and as, you say, they generally take him for the master, they will ask whether the gentleman is removed that kept the shop before.'
All my shopkeeper could say, was, that he had got a salve for that sore, and that was, that when Timothy was out of his time, he resolved to take him in partner.
'A very good thing, indeed! so you must take Timothy into half the trade when he is out of his time, for fear he should run away with three-quarters of it, when he sets up for himself. But had not the master much better have been Timothy himself?—then he had been sure never to have the customers take Timothy for the master; and when he went away, and set up perhaps at next door, leave the shop, and run after him.'
It is certain, a good servant, a faithful, industrious, obliging servant, is a blessing to a tradesman, and, as he said, is an estate to his master; but the master, by laying the stress of his business upon him, divests himself of all the advantages of such a servant, and turns the blessing into a blast; for by giving up the shop as it were to him, and indulging himself in being abroad, and absent from his business, the apprentice gets the mastery of the business, the fame of the shop depends upon him, and when he sets up, certainly follows him. Such a servant would, with the master's attendance too, be very helpful, and yet not be dangerous; such a servant is well, when he is visibly an assistant to the master, but is ruinous when he is taken for the master. There is a great deal of difference between a servant's being the stay of his master, and his being the stay of his trade: when he is the first, the master is served by him; and when he is gone, he breeds up another to follow his steps; but when he is the last, he carries the trade with him, and does his master infinitely more hurt than good.
A good tradesman has a great deal of trouble with a bad servant, but must take heed that he is not wounded by a good one—the extravagant idle vagrant servant hurts himself, but the diligent servant endangers his master. The greater reputation the servant gets in his business, the more care the master has upon him, lest he gets within him, and worms him out of his business.
The only way to prevent this, and yet not injure a diligent servant, is that the master be as diligent as the servant; that the master be as much at the shop as the man. He that will keep in his business, need never fear keeping his business, let his servant be as diligent as he will. It is a hard thing that a tradesman should have the blessing of a good servant, and make it a curse to him, by his appearing less capable than his man.
Let your apprentice be in the business, but let the master be at the head of the business at all times. There is a great deal of difference between being diligent in the business in the shop, and leading the whole business of the shop. An apprentice who is diligent may be master of his business, but should never be master of the shop; the one is to be useful to his master, the other is to be master of his master; and, indeed, this shows the absolute necessity of diligence and application in a tradesman, and how, for want of it, that very thing which is the blessing of another tradesman's business is the ruin of his.
Servants, especially apprentices, ought to be considered, as they really are, in their moveable station, that they are here with you but seven years, and that then they act or move in a sphere or station of their own: their diligence is now for you, but ever after it is for themselves; that the better servants they have been while they were with you, the more dangerous they will be to you when you part; that, therefore, though you are bound in justice to them to let them into your business in every branch of it, yet you are not bound to give your business away to them; the diligence, therefore, of a good servant in the master's business, should be a spur to the master's diligence to take care of himself.
There is a great deal of difference also between trusting a servant in your business, and trusting him with your business: the first is leaving your business with him, the other is leaving your business to him. He that trusts a servant in his business, leaves his shop only to him; but he that leaves his business to his servant, leaves his wife and children at his disposal—in a word, such a trusting, or leaving the business to the servant, is no less than a giving up all to him, abandoning the care of his shop and all his affairs to him; and when such a servant is out of his time, the master runs a terrible risk, such as, indeed, it is not fit any tradesman should run—namely, of losing the best of his business.
What I have been now saying, is of the tradesman leaving his business to his apprentices and servants, when they prove good, when they are honest and diligent, faithful, and industrious; and if there are dangers even in trusting good servants, and such as do their duty perfectly well, what, then, must it be when the business is left to idle, negligent, and extravagant servants, who both neglect their masters' business and their own, who neither learn their trade for themselves, nor regard it for the interest of their masters? If the first are a blessing to their masters, and may only be made dangerous by their carrying away the trade with them when they go, these are made curses to their masters early, for they lose the trade for themselves and their masters too. The first carry the customers away with them, the last drive the customers away before they go. 'What signifies going to such a shop?' say the ladies, either speaking of a mercer or a draper, or any other trade; 'there is nothing to be met with there but a crew of saucy boys, that are always at play when you come in, and can hardly refrain it when you are there: one hardly ever sees a master in the shop, and the young rude boys hardly mind you when you are looking on their goods; they talk to you as if they cared not whether you laid out your money or no, and as if they had rather you were gone, that they might go to play again. I will go there no more, not I.'
If this be not the case, then you are in danger of worse still, and that is, that they are often thieves—idle ones are seldom honest ones—nay, they cannot indeed be honest, in a strict sense, if they are idle: but by dishonest, I mean downright thieves; and what is more dangerous than for an apprentice, to whom the whole business, the cash, the books, and all is committed, to be a thief?
For a tradesman, therefore, to commit his business thus into the hand of a false, a negligent, and a thievish servant, is like a man that travels a journey, and takes a highwayman into the coach with him: such a man is sure to be robbed, and to be fully and effectually plundered, because he discovers where he hides his treasure. Thus the tradesman places his confidence in the thief, and how should he avoid being robbed?
It is answered, that, generally tradesmen, who have any considerable trust to put into the hands of an apprentice, take security of them for their honesty by their friends, when their indentures are signed; and it is their fault then, if they are not secure. True, it is often so; but in a retail business, if the servant be unfaithful, there are so many ways to defraud a master, besides that of merely not balancing the cash, that it is impossible to detect them; till the tradesman, declining insensibly by the weight of the loss, is ruined and undone.
What need, then, has the tradesman to give a close attendance, and preserve himself from plunder, by acquainting himself in and with his business and servants, by which he makes it very difficult for them to deceive him, and much easier to him to discover it if he suspects them. But if the tradesman lives abroad, keeps at his country-house or lodgings, and leaves his business thus in the hands of his servants, committing his affairs to them, as is often the case; if they prove thieves, negligent, careless, and idle, what is the consequence?—he is insensibly wronged, his substance wasted, his business neglected; and how shall a tradesman thrive under such circumstances? Nay, how is it possible he should avoid ruin and destruction?—I mean, as to his business; for, in short, every such servant has his hand in his master's pocket, and may use him as he pleases.
Again, if they are not thieves, yet if they are idle and negligent, it is, in some cases, the same thing; and I wish it were well recommended to all such servants as call themselves honest, that it is as criminal to neglect their master's business as to rob him; and he is as really a thief who robs him of his time, as he that robs him of his money.
I know, as servants are now, this is a principle they will not allow, neither does one servant in fifty act by it; but if the master be absent, the servant is at his heels—that is to say, is as soon out of doors as his master, and having none but his conscience to answer to, he makes shift to compound with himself, like a bankrupt with his creditor, to pay half the debt—that is to say, half the time to his master, and half to himself, and think it good pay too.
The point of conscience, indeed, seems to be out of the question now, between master and servant; and as few masters concern themselves with the souls, nay, scarce with the morals of their servants, either to instruct them, or inform them of their duty either to God or man, much less to restrain them by force, or correct them, as was anciently practised, so, few servants concern themselves in a conscientious discharge of their duty to their masters—so that the great law of subordination is destroyed, and the relative duties on both sides are neglected; all which, as I take it, is owing to the exorbitant sums of money which are now given with servants to the masters, as the present or condition of their apprenticeship, which, as it is extravagant in itself, so it gives the servant a kind of a different figure in the family, places him above the ordinary class of servants hired for wages, and exempts him from all the laws of family government, so that a master seems now to have nothing to do with his apprentice, any other than in what relates to his business.
And as the servant knows this, so he fails not to take the advantage of it, and to pay no more service than he thinks is due; and the hours of his shop business being run out, he claims all the rest for himself, without the above restraint. Nor will the servants, in these times, bear any examinations with respect to the disposing of their waste time, or with respect to the company they keep, or the houses or places they go to.
The use I make of it is this, and herein it is justly applicable to the case in hand; by how much the apprentices and servants in this age are loose, wild, and ungovernable, by so much the more should a master think himself obliged not to depend upon them, much less to leave his business to them, and dispense with his own attendance in it. If he does, he must have much better luck then his neighbours, if he does not find himself very much wronged and abused, seeing, as I said above, the servants and apprentices of this age do very rarely act from a principle of conscience in serving their master's interest, which, however, I do not see they can be good Christians without.
I knew one very considerable tradesman in this city, and who had always five or six servants in his business, apprentices and journeymen, who lodged in his house; and having a little more the spirit of government in him than most masters I now meet with, he took this method with them. When he took apprentices, he told them beforehand the orders of his family, and which he should oblige them to; particularly, that they should none be absent from his business without leave, nor out of the house after nine o'clock at night; and that he would not have it thought hard, if he exacted three things of them:—
1. That, if they had been out, he should ask them where they had been, and in what company? and that they should give him a true and direct answer.
2. That, if he found reason to forbid them keeping company with any particular person, or in any particular house or family, they should be obliged to refrain from such company.
3. That, in breach of any of those two, after being positively charged with it, he would, on their promising to amend it, forgive them, only acquainting their friends of it; but the second time, he would dismiss them his service, and not be obliged to return any of the money he had with them. And to these he made their parents consent when they were bound; and yet he had large sums of money with them too, not less than L200 each, and sometimes more.
As to his journeymen, he conditioned with them as follows:—
1. They should never dine from home without leave asked and obtained, and telling where, if required.
2. After the shutting in of the shop, they were at liberty to go where they pleased, only not to be out of the house after nine o'clock at night.
3. Never to be in drink, or to swear, on pain of being immediately dismissed without the courtesy usual with such servants, namely, of a month's warning.
These were excellent household laws; but the question is, how shall a master see them punctually obeyed, for the life of all laws depends upon their being well executed; and we are famous in England for being remiss in that very point; and that we have the best laws the worst executed of any nation in the world.
But my friend was a man who knew as well how to make his laws be well executed, as he did how to make the laws themselves. His case was thus: he kept a country-house about two miles from London, in the summer-time, for the air of his wife and children, and there he maintained them very comfortably: but it was a rule with him, that he who expects his servants to obey his orders, must be always upon the spot with them to see it done: to this purpose he confined himself to lie always at home, though his family was in the country; and every afternoon he walked out to see them, and to give himself the air too; but always so ordered his diversions, that he was sure to be at home before nine at night, that he might call over his family, and see that they observed orders, that is, that they were all at home at their time, and all sober.
As this was, indeed, the only way to have good servants, and an orderly family, so he had both; but it was owing much, if not all, to the exactness of his government; and would all masters take the same method, I doubt not they would have the like success; but what servants can a man expect when he leaves them to their own government, not regarding whether they serve God or the devil?
Now, though this man had a very regular family, and very good servants, yet he had this particular qualification, too, for a good tradesman, namely, that he never left his business entirely to them, nor could any of them boast that they were trusted to more than another.
This is certainly the way to have regular servants and to have business thrive; but this is not practised by one master to a thousand at this time—if it were, we should soon see a change in the families of tradesmen, and that very much for the better: nor, indeed, would this family government be good for the tradesman only, but it would be the servant's advantage too; and such a practice, we may say, would in time reform all the next age, and make them ashamed of us that went before them.
If, then, the morals of servants are thus loose and debauched, and that it is a general and epidemic evil, how much less ought tradesmen of this age to trust them, and still less to venture their all upon them, leave their great design, the event of all their business with them, and go into the country in pursuit of their pleasure.
The case of tradesmen differs extremely in this age from those in the last, with respect to their apprentices and servants; and the difference is all to the disadvantage of the present age, namely, in the last age, that is to say, fifty or sixty years ago, for it is not less, servants were infinitely more under subjection than they are now, and the subordination of mankind extended effectually to them; they were content to submit to family government; and the just regulations which masters made in their houses were not scorned and contemned, as they are now; family religion also had some sway upon them; and if their masters did keep good orders, and preserve the worship of God in their houses, the apprentices thought themselves obliged to attend at the usual hours for such services; nay, it has been known, where such orders have been observed, that if the master of the family has been sick, or indisposed, or out of town, the eldest apprentice has read prayers to the family in his place.
How ridiculous, to speak in the language of the present times, would it be for any master to expect this of a servant in our days! and where is the servant that would comply with it? Nay, it is but very rarely now that masters themselves do it; it is rather thought now to be a low step, and beneath the character of a man in business, as if worshipping God were a disgrace, and not an honour, to a family, or to the master of a family; and I doubt not but in a little while more, either the worship of God will be quite banished out of families, or the better sort of tradesmen, and such as have any regard to it, will keep chaplains, as other persons of quality do. It is confessed, the first is most probable, though the last, as I am informed, is already begun in the city, in some houses, where the reader of the parish is allowed a small additional salary to come once a-day, namely, every evening, to read prayers in the house.
But I am not talking on this subject; I am not directing myself to citizens or townsmen, as masters of families, but as heads of trade, and masters in their business; the other part would indeed require a whole book by itself, and would insensibly run me into a long satirical discourse upon the loss of all family government among us; in which, indeed, the practice of house-keepers and heads of families is grown not remiss only in all serious things, but even scandalous in their own morals, and in the personal examples they show to their servants, and all about them.
But to come back to my subject, namely, that the case of tradesmen differs extremely from what it was formerly: the second head of difference is this; that whereas, in former times, the servants were better and humbler than they are now, submitted more to family government, and to the regulations made by their masters, and masters were more moral, set better examples, and kept better order in their houses, and, by consequence of it, all servants were soberer, and fitter to be trusted, than they are now; yet, on the other hand, notwithstanding all their sobriety, masters did not then so much depend upon them, leave business to them, and commit the management of their affairs so entirely to their servants, as they do now.
All that I meet with, which masters have to say to this, is contained in two heads, and these, in my opinion, amount to very little.
I. That they have security for their servants' honesty, which in former times they had not.
II. That they receive greater premiums, or present-money, now with their apprentices, than they did formerly.
The first of these is of no moment; for, first, it does not appear that apprentices in those former days gave no security to their masters for their integrity, which, though perhaps not so generally as now, yet I have good reason to know was then practised among tradesmen of note, and is not now among inferior tradesmen: but, secondly, this security extends to nothing, but to make the master satisfaction for any misapplications or embezzlements which are discovered, and can be proved, but extend to no secret concealed mischiefs: neither, thirdly, do those securities reach to the negligence, idleness, or debaucheries of servants; but, which is still more than all the rest, they do not reach to the worst of robbery between the servant and his master, I mean the loss of his time; so that still there is as much reason for the master's inspection, both into his servants and their business, as ever.
But least of all does this security reach to make the master any satisfaction for the loss of his business, the ill management of his shop, the disreputation brought upon it by being committed to servants, and those servants behaving ill, slighting, neglecting, or disobliging customers; this does not relate to securities given or taken, nor can the master make himself any amends upon his servant, or upon his securities, for this irrecoverable damage. He, therefore, that will keep up the reputation of his shop, or of his business, and preserve his trade to his own advantage, must resolve to attend it himself, and not leave it to servants, whether good or bad; if he leaves it to good servants, they improve it for themselves, and carry the trade away with them when they go; if to bad servants, they drive his customers away, bring a scandal upon his shop, and destroy both their master and themselves.
Secondly, As to the receiving great premiums with their apprentices, which, indeed, is grown up to a strange height in this age, beyond whatever it was before, it is an unaccountable excess, which is the ruin of more servants at this time than all the other excesses they are subject to, nay, in some respect it is the cause of it all; and, on the contrary, is far from being an equivalent to their masters for the defect of their service, but is an unanswerable reason why the master should not leave his business to their management.
This premium was originally not a condition of indenture, but was a kind of usual or customary present to the tradesman's wife to engage her to be kind to the youth, and take a motherly care of him, being supposed to be young when first put out.
By length of time this compliment or present became so customary as to be made a debt, and to be conditioned for as a demand, but still was kept within bounds, and thirty or forty pounds was sufficient to a very good merchant, which now is run up to five hundred, nay, to a thousand pounds with an apprentice; a thing which formerly would have been thought monstrous, and not to be named.
The ill consequences of giving these large premiums are such and so many, that it is not to be entered upon in such a small tract as this; nor is it the design of this work: but it is thus far to the purpose here—namely, as it shows that this sets up servants into a class of gentlemen above their masters, and above their business; and they neither have a sufficient regard to one or other, and consequently are the less fit to be trusted by the master in the essential parts of his business; and this brings it down to the case in hand.
Upon the whole, the present state of things between masters and servants is such, that now more than ever the caution is needful and just, that he that leaves his business to the management of his servants, it is ten to one but he ruins his business and his servants too.
Ruining his business is, indeed, my present subject; but ruining his servants also is a consideration that an honest, conscientious master ought to think is of weight with him, and will concern himself about. Servants out of government are like soldiers without an officer, fit for nothing but to rob and plunder; without order, and without orders, they neither know what to do, or are directed how to do it.
Besides, it is letting loose his apprentices to levity and liberty in that particular critical time of life, when they have the most need of government and restraint. When should laws and limits be useful to mankind but in their youth, when unlimited liberty is most fatal to them, and when they are least capable of governing themselves? To have youth left without government, is leaving fire in a magazine of powder, which will certainly blow it all up at last, and ruin all the houses that are near it.
If there is any duty on the side of a master to his servant, any obligation on him as a Christian, and as a trustee for his parents, it lies here—to limit and restrain them, if possible, in the liberty of doing evil; and this is certainly a debt due to the trust reposed in masters by the parents of the youth committed to them. If he is let loose here, he is undone, of course, and it may be said, indeed, he was ruined by his master; and if the master is afterwards ruined by such a servant, what can be said for it but this? He could expect no other.
To leave a youth without government is indeed unworthy of any honest master; he cannot discharge himself as a master; for instead of taking care of him he indeed casts him off, abandons him, and, to put it into Scripture words, he leads him into temptation: nay, he goes farther, to use another Scripture expression: he delivers him over to Satan.
It is confessed—and it is fatal both to masters and servants at this time—that not only servants are made haughty, and above the government of their masters, and think it below them to submit to any family government, or any restraints of their masters, as to their morals and religion; but masters also seem to have given up all family government, and all care or concern for the morals and manners, as well as for the religion of their servants, thinking themselves under no obligation to meddle with those things, or to think any thing about them, so that their business be but done, and their shop or warehouse duly looked after.
But to bring it all home to the point in hand, if it is so with the master and servant, there is the less room still for the master of such servants to leave any considerable trust in the hands of such apprentices, or to expect much from them, to leave the weight of their affairs with them, and, living at their country lodgings, and taking their own diversions, depend upon such servants for the success of their business. This is indeed abandoning their business, throwing it away, and committing themselves, families, and fortunes, to the conduct of those, who, they have all the reason in the world to believe, have no concern upon them for their good, or care one farthing what becomes of them.
OF TRADESMEN MAKING COMPOSITION WITH DEBTORS, OR WITH CREDITORS
There is an alternative in the subject of this chapter, which places the discourse in the two extremes of a tradesman's fortunes.
I. The fortunate tradesman, called upon by his poor unfortunate neighbour, who is his debtor, and is become insolvent, to have compassion on him, and to compound with him for part of his debt, and accept his offer in discharge of the whole.
II. The unfortunate tradesman become insolvent and bankrupt himself, and applying himself to his creditor to accept of a composition, in discharge of his debt.
I must confess, a tradesman, let his circumstances be what they will, has the most reason to consider the disasters of the unfortunate, and be compassionate to them under their pressures and disasters, of any other men; because they know not—no, not the most prosperous of them—what may be their own fate in the world. There is a Scripture proverb, if I may call it so, very necessary to a tradesman in this case, 'Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.'
N.B. It is not said, let him that standeth take heed, but him that thinketh he standeth. Men in trade can but think they stand; and there are so many incidents in a tradesman's circumstances, that sometimes when he thinks himself most secure of standing, he is in most danger of falling.
If, then, the contingent nature of trade renders every man liable to disaster that is engaged in it, it seems strange that tradesmen should be outrageous and unmerciful to one another when they fall; and yet so it is, that no creditor is so furious upon an unhappy insolvent tradesman, as a brother-tradesman of his own class, and who is at least liable to the same disaster, in the common event of his business.
Nay, I have lived to see—such is the uncertainty of human affairs, and especially in trade—the furious and outrageous creditor become bankrupt himself in a few years, or perhaps months after, and begging the same mercy of others, which he but just before denied to his not more unfortunate fellow-tradesman, and making the same exclamations at the cruelty and hard-heartedness of his creditors in refusing to comply with him, when, at the same time, his own heart must reproach him with his former conduct; how inexorable he was to all the entreaties and tears of his miserable neighbour and his distressed family, who begged his compassion with the lowest submission, who employed friends to solicit and entreat for them, laying forth their misery in the most lively expressions, and using all the arguments which the most moving distress could dictate, but in vain.
The tradesman is certainly wrong in this, as compassion to the miserable is a debt of charity due from all mankind to their fellow-creatures; and though the purse-proud tradesman may be able to say he is above the fear of being in the like circumstances, as some may be, yet, even then, he might reflect that perhaps there was a time when he was not so, and he ought to pay that debt of charity, in acknowledgement of the mercy that has set him above the danger.
And yet, speaking in the ordinary language of men who are subject to vicissitudes of fortune, where is the man that is sure he shall meet with no shock? And how have we seen men, who have to-day been immensely rich, be to-morrow, as it were, reduced to nothing! What examples were made in this city of such precipitations within the memory of some living, when the Exchequer shutting up ruined the great bankers of Lombard Street. To what fell Sir Robert Viner—the great Alderman Backwell—the three brothers of the name of Forth, of whom King Charles II. made that severe pun, that 'Three-fourths of the city were broke?'
To what have we seen men of prodigious bulk in trade reduced—as Sir Thomas Cook, Sir Basil Firebrass, Sheppard, Coggs, and innumerable bankers, money-scriveners, and merchants, who thought themselves as secure against the shocks of trade, as any men in the world could be? Not to instance our late South Sea directors, and others, reduced by the terrible fate of bubbles, whose names I omit because they yet live, though sinking still under the oppression of their fortunes, and whose weight I would be far from endeavouring to make heavier.
Why, then, should any tradesman, presuming on his own security, and of his being out of the reach of disaster, harden his heart against the miseries and distresses of a fellow-tradesman, who sinks, as it were, by his side, and refuse to accept his offer of composition; at least, if he cannot object against the integrity of his representations, and cannot charge him with fraud and deceit, breaking with a wicked design to cheat and delude his creditors, and to get money by a pretended breach? I say, why should any tradesman harden his heart in such a case, and not, with a generous pity, comply with a reasonable and fair proposal, while it is to be had?
I do acknowledge, if there is an evident fraud, if he can detect the bankrupt in any wicked design, if he can prove he has effects sufficient to pay his debts, and that he only breaks with a purpose to cheat his creditors, and he conceals a part of his estate, when he seems to offer a sincere surrender; if this be the case, and it can be made appear to be so—for in such a case, too, we ought to be very sure of the fact—then, indeed, no favour is due, and really none ought to be shown.
And, therefore, it was a very righteous clause which was inflicted on the fraudulent bankrupt, in a late act of Parliament, namely, that in case he concealed his effects, and that it appeared he had, though upon his oath, not given in a full account of his estate, but willingly and knowingly concealed it, or any part of it, with design to defraud his creditors, he should be put to death as a felon: the reason and justice of which clause was this, and it was given as the reason of it when the act was passed in the House of Commons, namely, that the act was made for the relief of the debtor, as well as of the creditor, and to procure for him a deliverance on a surrender of his effects; but then it was made also for the relief of the creditor, too, that he might have as much of his debt secured to him as possible, and that he should not discharge the debtor with his estate in his pocket, suffering him to run away with his (the creditor's) money before his face.
Also it was objected, that the act, without a penalty, would be only an act to encourage perjury, and would deliver the hard-mouthed knave that could swear what he pleased, and ruin and reject the modest conscientious tradesman, that was willing and ready to give up the utmost farthing to his creditors. On this account the clause was accepted, and the act passed, which otherwise had been thrown out.
Now, when the poor insolvent has thus surrendered his all, stript himself entirely upon oath, and that oath taken on the penalty of death if it be false, there seems to be a kind of justice due to the bankrupt. He has satisfied the law, and ought to have his liberty given him as a prey, as the text calls it, Jer. xxxix. 18., that he may try the world once again, and see, if possible, to recover his disasters, and get his bread; and it is to be spoken in honour of the justice as well as humanity of that law for delivering bankrupts, that there are more tradesmen recover themselves in this age upon their second endeavours, and by setting up again after they have thus failed and been delivered, than ever were known to do so in ten times the number of years before.
To break, or turn bankrupt, before this, was like a man being taken by the Turks; he seldom recovered liberty to try his fortune again, but frequently languished under the tyranny of the commissioners of bankrupt, or in the Mint, or Friars, or rules of the Fleet, till he wasted the whole estate, and at length his life, and so his debts were all paid at once.
Nor was the case of the creditor much better—I mean as far as respected his debt, for it was very seldom that any considerable dividend was made; on the other hand, large contributions were called for before people knew whether it was likely any thing would be made of the debtor's effects or no, and oftentimes the creditor lost his whole debt, contribution-money and all; so that while the debtor was kept on the rack, as above, being held in suspense by the creditors, or by the commissioners, or both, he spent the creditor's effects, and subsisted at their expense, till, the estate being wasted, the loss fell heavy on every side, and generally most on those who were least able to bear it.
By the present state of things, this evil is indeed altered, and the ruin of the creditor's effects is better prevented; the bankrupt can no more skulk behind the door of the Mint and Rules, and prevent the commissioners' inspection; he must come forth, be examined, give in an account, and surrender himself and effects too, or fly his country, and be seen here no more; and if he does come in, he must give a full account upon oath, on the penalty of his neck.
When the effects are thus surrendered, the commissioners' proceedings are short and summary. The assignees are obliged to make dividends, and not detain the estate in their own hands, as was the case in former days, till sometimes they became bankrupts themselves, so that the creditors are sure now what is put into the hands of the assignees, shall in due time, and without the usual delay, be fairly divided. On the other hand, the poor debtor having honestly discharged his part, and no objection lying against the sincerity of the discovery, has a certificate granted him, which being allowed by the Lord Chancellor, he is a clear man, and may begin the world again, as I have said above.
The creditor, being thus satisfied that the debtor has been faithful, does not answer the end of the act of Parliament, if he declines to assent to the debtor's certificate; nor can any creditor decline it, but on principles which no man cares to own—namely, that of malice, and the highest resentment, which are things a Christian tradesman will not easily act upon.
But I come now to the other part of the case; and this is supposing a debtor fails, and the creditors do not think fit to take out a commission of bankrupt against him, as sometimes is the case, at least, where they see the offers of the debtor are any thing reasonable: my advice in such case is (and I speak it from long experience in such things), that they should always accept the first reasonable proposal of the debtor; and I am not in this talking on the foot of charity and mercy to the debtor, but of the real and undoubted interest of the creditor; nor could I urge it, by such arguments as I shall bring, upon any other foundation; for, if I speak in behalf of the debtor, I must argue commiseration to the miserable, compassion and pity of his family, and a reflection upon the sad changes which human life exposes us all to, and so persuade the creditor to have pity upon not him only, but upon all families in distress.
But, I say, I argue now upon a different foundation, and insist that it is the creditor's true interest, as I hinted before, that if he finds the debtor inclined to be honest, and he sees reason to believe he makes the best offer he can, he should accept the first offer, as being generally the best the debtor can make; and, indeed, if the debtor be wise as well as honest, he will make it so, and generally it is found to be so. And there are, indeed, many reasons why the first offers of the debtor are generally the best, and why no commission of bankrupt ordinarily raises so much, notwithstanding all its severities, as the bankrupt offers before it is sued out—not reckoning the time and expense which, notwithstanding all the new methods, attend such things, and are inevitable. For example—
When the debtor, first looking into his affairs, sees the necessity coming upon him of making a stop in trade, and calling his creditors together, the first thought which by the consequence of the thing comes to be considered, is, what offers he can make to them to avoid the having a commission sued out against him, and to which end common prudence, as well as honest principles, move him to make the best offers he can. If he be a man of sense, and, according to what I mentioned in another chapter, has prudently come to a stop in time, before things are run to extremities, and while he has something left to make an offer of that may be considerable, he will seldom meet with creditors so weak or so blind to their own interest not to be willing to end it amicably, rather than to proceed to a commission. And as this is certainly best both for the debtor and the creditor, so, as I argued with the debtor, that he should be wise enough, as well as honest enough, to break betimes, and that it was infinitely best for his own interest, so I must add, on the other hand, to the creditor, that it is always his interest to accept the first offer; and I never knew a commission make more of an estate, where the debtor has been honest, than he (the debtor) proposed to give them without it.
It is true, there are cases where the issuing out a commission may be absolutely necessary. For example—
1. Where the debtor is evidently knavish, and discovers himself to be so, by endeavours to carry off his effects, or alter the property of the estate, confessing judgments, or any the usual ways of fraud, which in such cases are ordinarily practised. Or—
2. Where some creditors, by such judgments, or by attachments of debts, goods delivered, effects made over, or any other way, have gotten some of the estate into their hands, or securities belonging to it, whereby they are in a better state, as to payment, than the rest. Or—
3. Where some people are brought in as creditors, whose debts there is reason to believe are not real, but who place themselves in the room of creditors, in order to receive a dividend for the use of the bankrupt, or some of his family.
In these, and such like cases, a commission is inevitable, and must be taken out; nor does the man merit to be regarded upon the foot of what I call compassion and commiseration at all, but ought to be treated like a rapparee, or plunderer, who breaks with a design to make himself whole by the composition; and as many did formerly, who were beggars when they broke, be made rich by the breach. It was to provide against such harpies as these that the act of Parliament was made; and the only remedy against them is a commission, in which the best thing they can do for their creditors is to come in and be examined, give in a false account upon oath, be discovered, convicted of it, and sent to the gallows, as they deserve.
But I am speaking of honest men, the reverse of such thieves as these, who being brought into distress by the ordinary calamities of trade, are willing to do the utmost to satisfy their creditors. When such as these break in the tradesman's debt, let him consider seriously my advice, and he shall find—I might say, he shall always find, but I do affirm, he shall generally find—the first offer the best, and that he will never lose by accepting it. To refuse it is but pushing the debtor to extremities, and running out some of the effects to secure the rest.
First, as to collecting in the debts. Supposing the man is honest, and they can trust him, it is evident no man can make so much of them as the bankrupt. (1.) He knows the circumstances of the debtors, and how best to manage them; he knows who he may best push at, and who best forbear. (2.) He can do it with the least charge; the commissioners or assignees must employ other people, such as attorneys, solicitors, &c., and they are paid dear. The bankrupt sits at home, and by letters into the country, or by visiting them, if in town, can make up every account, answer every objection, judge of every scruple, and, in a word, with ease, compared to what others must do, brings them to comply.
Next, as to selling off a stock of goods. The bankrupt keeps open the shop, disperses or disposes of the goods with advantage; whereas the commission brings all to a sale, or an outcry, or an appraisement, and all sinks the value of the stock; so that the bankrupt can certainly make more of the stock than any other person (always provided he is honest, as I said before), and much more than the creditors can do.
For these reasons, and many others, the bankrupt is able to make a better offer upon his estate than the creditors can expect to raise any other way; and therefore it is their interest always to take the first offer, if they are satisfied there is no fraud in it, and that the man has offered any thing near the extent of what he has left in the world to offer from.
If, then, it be the tradesman's interest to accept of the offer made, there needs no stronger argument to be used with him for the doing it; and nothing is more surprising to me than to see tradesmen, the hardest to come into such compositions, and to push on severities against other tradesmen, as if they were out of the reach of the shocks of fortune themselves, or that it was impossible for them ever to stand in need of the same mercy—the contrary to which I have often seen.
To what purpose should tradesmen push things to extremities against tradesmen, if nothing is to be gotten by it, and if the insolvent tradesman will take proper measures to convince the creditor that his intentions are honest? The law was made for offenders; there needs no law for innocent men: commissions are granted to manage knaves, and hamper and entangle cunning and designing rogues, who seek to raise fortunes out of their creditors' estates, and exalt themselves by their own downfall; they are not designed against honest men, neither, indeed, is there any need of them for such.
Let no man mistake this part, therefore, and think that I am moving tradesmen to be easy and compassionate to rogues and cheats: I am far from it, and have given sufficient testimony of the contrary; having, I assure you, been the only person who actually formed, drew up, and first proposed that very cause to the House of Commons, which made it felony to the bankrupt to give in a false account. It cannot, therefore, be suggested, without manifest injustice, that I would with one breath prompt creditors to be easy to rogues, and to cheating fraudulent bankrupts, and with another make a proposal to have them hanged.
But I move the creditor, on account of his own interest, always to take the first offer, if he sees no palpable fraud in it, or sees no reason to suspect such fraud; and my reason is good, namely, because I believe, as I said before, it is generally the best.
I know there is a new method of putting an end to a tradesman's troubles, by that which was formerly thought the greatest of all troubles; I mean a fraudulent method, or what they call taking out friendly statutes; that is, when tradesmen get statutes taken out against themselves, moved first by some person in kindness to them, and done at the request of the bankrupt himself. This is generally done when the circumstances of the debtor are very low, and he has little or nothing to surrender; and the end is, that the creditors may be obliged to take what there is, and the man may get a full discharge.
This is, indeed, a vile corruption of a good law, and turning the edge of the act against the creditor, not against the debtor; and as he has nothing to surrender, they get little or nothing, and the man is as effectually discharged as if he had paid twenty shillings in the pound; and so he is in a condition to set up again, take fresh credit, break again, and have another commission against him; and so round, as often as he thinks fit. This, indeed, is a fraud upon the act, and shows that all human wisdom is imperfect, that the law wants some repairs, and that it will in time come into consideration again, to be made capable of disappointing the people that intend to make such use of it.
I think there is also wanting a law against twice breaking, and that all second commissions should have some penalty upon the bankrupt, and a third a farther penalty, and if the fourth brought the man to the gallows, it could not be thought hard; for he that has set up and broke, and set up again, and broke again, and the like, a third time, I think merits to be hanged, if he pretends to venture any more.
Most of those crimes against which any laws are published in particular, and which are not capital, have generally an addition of punishment upon a repetition of the crime, and so on—a further punishment to a further repetition. I do not see why it should not be so here; and I doubt not but it would have a good effect upon tradesmen, to make them cautious, and to warn them to avoid such scandalous doings as we see daily practised, breaking three or four, or five times over; and we see instances of some such while I am writing this very chapter.
To such, therefore, I am so far from moving for any favour, either from the law, or from their creditors, that I think the only deficiency of the law at this time is, that it does not reach to inflict a corporal punishment in such a case, but leaves such insolvents to fare well, in common with those whose disasters are greater, and who, being honest and conscientious, merit more favour, but do not often find it.
 [This event took place in 1671, Charles II. finding it necessary to suspend the national payments for a year.]
 [The truth of this continues to be matter of daily observation in our own times.]
 [A name applied, in the seventeenth century, to a certain class of robbers in Ireland.]
OF THE UNFORTUNATE TRADESMAN COMPOUNDING WITH HIS CREDITORS
This is what in the last chapter I called an alternative to that of the fortunate tradesman yielding to accept the composition of his insolvent debtor.
The poor unhappy tradesman, having long laboured in the fire, and finding it is in vain to struggle, but that whether he strives or not strives, he must break; that he does but go backward more and more, and that the longer he holds out, he shall have the less to offer, and be the harder thought of, as well as the harder dealt with—resolves to call his creditors together in time, while there is something considerable to offer them, and while he may have some just account to give of himself, and of his conduct, and that he may not be reproached with having lived on the spoil, and consumed their estates; and thus, being satisfied that the longer he puts the evil day from him, the heavier it will fall when it comes; I say, he resolves to go no farther, and so gets a friend to discourse with and prepare them, and then draws up a state of his case to lay before them.
First, He assures them that he has not wasted his estate, either by vice and immorality, or by expensive and riotous living, luxury, extravagance, and the like.
Secondly, He makes it appear that he has met with great losses, such as he could not avoid; and yet such and so many, that he has not been able to support the weight of them.
Thirdly, That he could have stood it out longer, but that he was sensible if he did, he should but diminish the stock, which, considering his debts, was properly not his own; and that he was resolved not to spend one part of their debts, as he had lost the other.
Fourthly, That he is willing to show them his books, and give up every farthing into their hands, that they might see he acted the part of an honest man to them. And,
Fifthly, That upon his doing so, they will find, that there is in goods and good debts sufficient to pay them fifteen shillings in the pound; after which, and when he has made appear that they have a faithful and just account of every thing laid before them, he hopes they will give him his liberty, that he may try to get his bread, and to maintain his family in the best manner he can; and, if possible, to pay the remainder of the debt.
You see I go all the way upon the suggestion of the poor unfortunate tradesman being critically honest, and showing himself so to the full satisfaction of his creditors; that he shows them distinctly a true state of his case, and offers his books and vouchers to confirm every part of his account.
Upon the suggestion of his being thus sincerely honest, and allowing that the state of his account comes out so well as to pay fifteen shillings in the pound, what and who but a parcel of outrageous hot-headed men would reject such a man? What would they be called, nay, what would they say of themselves, if they should reject such a composition, and should go and take out a commission of bankrupt against such a man? I never knew but one of the like circumstances, that was refused by his creditors; and that one held them out, till they were all glad to accept of half what they said should be first paid them: so may all those be served, who reject such wholesome advice, and the season for accepting a good offer, when it was made them. But I return to the debtor.
When he looks into his books, he finds himself declined, his own fortune lost, and his creditors' stock in his hands wasted in part, and still wasting, his trade being for want of stock much fallen off, and his family expense and house-rent great; so he draws up the general articles thus:—
To cash of my father (being my stock) to begin with in trade L800 0 0 To Cash of my father-in-law, being my wife's portion 600 0 0 To household-goods, plate, &c. of both 100 0 0 To profits in trade for ten years, as by the yearly balance in the journal appears 2469 10 0 To debts abroad esteemed good, as by the ledger appears 1357 8 0 To goods in the warehouse at the prime cost 672 12 0 Plate and some small jewels of my wife's left, and old household-goods altogether 103 0 0 —————— L6102 10 0 Estate deficient to balance 1006 2 0 —————— L7108 12 0 STOCK CREDITOR
By losses by bad debts in trade, in the year 1715 L 50 0 0 By do. 1716 66 10 0 By do. 1717 234 15 0 By do. 1718 43 0 0 By do. 1719 25 0 0 By do. by the South Sea stock, 1720 1280 0 0 By do. in trade, 1721 42 0 0 By do. 1722 106 0 0 By do. 1723 302 0 0 By do. 1724 86 15 0 By house-keeping and expenses, taxes included, as by the cash-book appears, for ten years 1836 12 0 By house-rents at L50 per annum 500 0 0 By credits now owing to sundry persons, as by the ledger appears 2536 0 0 ———————— L7108 12 0 ================
This account is drawn out to satisfy himself how his condition stands, and what it is he ought to do: upon the stating which account he sees to his affliction that he has sunk all his own fortune and his wife's, and is a thousand pounds worse than nothing in the world; and that, being obliged to live in the same house for the sake of his business and warehouse, though the rent is too great for him, his trade being declined, his credit sunk, and his family being large, he sees evidently he cannot go on, and that it will only be bringing things from bad to worse; and, above all the rest, being greatly perplexed in his mind that he is spending other people's estates, and that the bread he eats is not his own, he resolves to call his creditors all together, lay before them the true state of his case, and lie at their mercy for the rest.
The account of his present and past fortune standing as it did, and as appears above, the result is as follows, namely, that he has not sufficient to pay all his creditors, though his debts should prove to be all good, and the goods in his warehouse should be fully worth the price they cost, which, being liable to daily contingencies, add to the reasons which pressed him before to make an offer of surrender to his creditors both of his goods and debts, and to give up all into their hands.
The state of his case, as to his debts and credits, stands as follows:—
His debts esteemed good, as by the ledger, are L1357 8 0 His goods in the warehouse 672 12 0 ———————- L2030 0 0
His creditors demands, as by the same ledger appears, are L3036 0 0
This amounts to fifteen shillings in the pound upon all his debts, which, if the creditors please to appoint an assignee or trustee to sell the goods, and collect the debts, he is willing to surrender wholly into their hands, hoping they will, as a favour, give him his household goods, as in the account, for his family use, and his liberty, that he may seek out for some employment to get his bread.
The account being thus clear, the books exactly agreeing, and the man appearing to have acted openly and fairly, the creditors meet, and, after a few consultations, agree to accept his proposals, and the man is a free man immediately, gets fresh credit, opens his shop again, and, doubling his vigilance and application in business, he recovers in a few years, grows rich; then, like an honest man still, he calls all his creditors together again, tells them he does not call them now to a second composition, but to tell them, that having, with God's blessing and his own industry, gotten enough to enable him, he was resolved to pay them the remainder of his old debt; and accordingly does so, to the great joy of his creditors, to his own very great honour, and to the encouragement of all honest men to take the same measures. It is true, this does not often happen, but there have been instances of it, and I could name several within my own knowledge.
But here comes an objection in the way, as follows: It is true this man did very honestly, and his creditors had a great deal of reason to be satisfied with his just dealing with them; but is every man bound thus to strip himself naked? Perhaps this man at the same time had a family to maintain, and had he no debt of justice to them, but to beg his household goods back of them for his poor family, and that as an alms?-and would he not have fared as well, if he had offered his creditors ten shillings in the pound, and took all the rest upon himself, and then he had reserved to himself sufficient to have supported himself in any new undertaking?
The answer to this is short and plain, and no debtor can be at a loss to know his way in it, for otherwise people may make difficulties where there are none; the observing the strict rules of justice and honesty will chalk out his way for him.
The man being deficient in stock, and his estate run out to a thousand pounds worse than nothing by his losses, &c, it is evident all he has left is the proper estate of his creditors, and he has no right to one shilling of it; he owes it them, it is a just debt to them, and he ought to discharge it fairly, by giving up all into their hands, or at least to offer to do so.
But to put the case upon a new foot; as he is obliged to make an offer, as above, to put all his effects, books, and goods into their power, so he may add an alternative to them thus, namely—that if, on the other hand, they do not think proper to take the trouble, or run the risk, of collecting the debts, and selling the goods, which may be difficult, if they will leave it to him to do it, he will undertake to pay them—shillings in the pound, and stand to the hazard both of debts and goods.
Having thus offered the creditors their choice, if they accept the proposal of a certain sum, as sometimes I know they have chosen to do, rather than to have the trouble of making assignees, and run the hazard of the debts, when put into lawyers' hands to collect, and of the goods, to sell them by appraisement; if, I say, they choose this, and offer to discharge the debtor upon payment, suppose it be of ten or twelve shillings in the pound in money, within a certain time, or on giving security for the payment; then, indeed, the debtor is discharged in conscience, and may lawfully and honestly take the remainder as a gift given him by his creditors for undertaking their business, or securing the remainder of their debt to them—I say, the debtor may do this with the utmost satisfaction to his conscience.
But without thus putting it into the creditors' choice, it is a force upon them to offer them any thing less than the utmost farthing that he is able to pay; and particularly to pretend to make an offer as if it were his utmost, and, as is usual, make protestations that it is the most he is able to pay (indeed, every offer of a composition is a kind of protestation that the debtor is not able to pay any more)—I say, to offer thus, and declare he offers as much as possible, and as much as the effects he has left will produce, if his effects are able to produce more, he is then a cheat; for he acts then like one that stands at bay with his creditors, make an offer, and if the creditors do not think fit to accept of it, they must take what methods they think they can take to get more; that is to say, he bids open defiance to their statutes and commissions of bankrupt, and any other proceedings: like a town besieged, which offers to capitulate and to yield upon such and such articles; which implies, that if those articles are not accepted, the garrison will defend themselves to the last extremity, and do all the mischief to the assailants that they can.
Now, this in a garrison-town, I say, may be lawful and fair, but in a debtor to his creditor it is quite another thing: for, as I have said above, the debtor has no property in the effects which he has in his hands; they are the goods and the estate of the creditor; and to hold out against the creditor, keep his estate by violence, and make him accept of a small part of it, when the debtor has a larger part in his power, and is able to give it—this is not fair, much less is it honest and conscientious; but it is still worse to do this, and at the same time to declare that it is the utmost the debtor can do; this, I say, is still more dishonest, because it is not true, and is adding falsehood to the other injustice.
Thus, I think, I have stated the case clearly, for the conduct of the debtor; and, indeed, this way of laying all before the creditors, and putting it into their choice, seems a very happy method for the comfort of the debtor, cast down and dejected with the weight of his circumstances; and, it may be, with the reproaches of his own conscience too, that he has not done honestly in running out the effects of his creditors, and making other families suffer by him, and perhaps poor families too—I say, this way of giving up all with an honest and single desire to make all the satisfaction he is able to his creditors, greatly heals the breach in his peace, which his circumstances had made before; for, by now doing all that is in his power, he makes all possible amends for what is past, I mean as to men; and they are induced, by this open, frank usage, to give him the reward of his honesty, and freely forgive him the rest of the debt.
There is a manifest difference to the debtor, in point of conscience, between surrendering his whole effects, or estate, to his creditors for satisfaction of their debts, and offering them a composition, unless, as I have said, the composition is offered, as above, to the choice of the creditor. By surrendering the whole estate, the debtor acknowledges the creditors' right to all he has in his possession, and gives it up to them as their own, putting it in their full power to dispose of it as they please.
But, by a composition, the debtor, as I have said above, stands at bay with the creditors, and, keeping their estates in his hands, capitulates with them, as it were, sword in hand, telling them he can give them no more, when perhaps, and too often it is the case, it is apparent that he is in condition to offer more. Now, let the creditors consent to these proposals, be what it will; and, however voluntary it may be pretended to be, it is evident that a force is the occasion of it, and the creditor complies, and accepts the proposal, upon the supposition that no better conditions can be had. It is the plain language of the thing, for no man accepts of less than he thinks he can get: if he believed he could have more, he would certainly get it if he could.
And if the debtor is able to pay one shilling more than he offers, it is a cheat, a palpable fraud, and of so much he actually robs his creditor. But in a surrender the case is altered in all its parts; the debtor says to his creditors, 'Gentlemen, there is a full and faithful account of all I have left; it is your own, and there it is; I am ready to put it into your hands, or into the hands of whomsoever you shall appoint to receive it, and to lie at your mercy.' This is all the man is able to do, and therefore is so far honest; whether the methods that reduced him were honest or no, that is a question by itself. If on this surrender he finds the creditors desirous rather to have it digested into a composition, and that they will voluntarily come into such a proposal, then, as above, they being judges of the equity of the composition, and of what ability the debtor is to perform it, and, above all, of what he may or may not gain by it, if they accept of such a composition, instead of the surrender of his effects, then the case alters entirely, and the debtor is acquitted in conscience, because the creditor had a fair choice, and the composition is rather their proposal to the debtor, than the debtor's proposal to them.
Thus, I think, I have stated the case of justice and conscience on the debtor's behalf, and cleared up his way, in case of a necessity, to stop trading, that he may break without wounding his conscience, as well as his fortunes; and he that thinks fit to act thus, will come off with the reputation of an honest man, and will have the favour of his creditors to begin again, with whatever he may have as to stock; and sometimes that favour is better to him than a stock, and has been the raising of many a broken tradesman, so that his latter end has been better than his beginning.
OF TRADESMEN RUINING ONE ANOTHER BY RUMOUR AND CLAMOUR, BY SCANDAL AND REPROACH
I have dwelt long upon the tradesman's management of himself, in order to his due preserving both his business and his reputation: let me bestow one chapter upon the tradesman for his conduct among his neighbours and fellow-tradesmen.
Credit is so much a tradesman's blessing that it is the choicest ware he deals in, and he cannot be too chary of it when he has it, or buy it too dear when he wants it; it is a stock to his warehouse, it is current money in his cash-chest, it accepts all his bills, for it is on the fund of his credit that he has any bills to accept; demands would else be made upon the spot, and he must pay for his goods before he has them—therefore, I say, it accepts all his bills, and oftentimes pays them too; in a word, it is the life and soul of his trade, and it requires his utmost vigilance to preserve it.
If, then, his own credit should be of so much value to him, and he should be so nice in his concern about it, he ought in some degree to have the same care of his neighbour's. Religion teaches us not to slander and defame our neighbour, that is to say, not to raise or promote any slander or scandal upon his good name. As a good name is to another man, and which the wise man says, 'is better than life,' the same is credit to a tradesman—it is the life of his trade; and he that wounds a tradesman's credit without cause, is as much a murderer in trade, as he that kills a man in the dark is a murderer in matters of blood.
Besides, there is a particular nicety in the credit of a tradesman, which does not reach in other cases: a man is slandered in his character, or reputation, and it is injurious; and if it comes in the way of a marriage, or of a preferment, or post, it may disappoint and ruin him; but if this happens to a tradesman, he is immediately and unavoidably blasted and undone; a tradesman has but two sorts of enemies to encounter with, namely, thieves breaking open his shop, and ill neighbours blackening and blasting his reputation; and the latter are the worst thieves of the two, by a great deal; and, therefore, people should indeed be more chary of their discourse of tradesmen, than of other men, and that as they would not be guilty of murder. I knew an author of a book, who was drawn in unwarily, and without design, to publish a scandalous story of a tradesman in London. He (the author) was imposed upon by a set of men, who did it maliciously, and he was utterly ignorant of the wicked design; nor did he know the person, but rashly published the thing, being himself too fond of a piece of news, which he thought would be grateful to his readers; nor yet did he publish the person's name, so cautious he was, though that was not enough, as it proved, for the person was presently published by those who had maliciously done it.
The scandal spread; the tradesman, a flourishing man, and a considerable dealer, was run upon by it with a torrent of malice; a match which he was about with a considerable fortune was blasted and prevented, and that indeed was the malicious end of the people that did it; nor did it stop there—it brought his creditors upon him, it ruined him, it brought out a commission of bankrupt against him, it broke his heart, and killed him; and after his death, his debts and effects coming in, there appeared to be seven shillings in the pound estate, clear and good over and above all demands, all his debts discharged, and all the expenses of the statute paid.
It was to no purpose that the man purged himself of the crime laid to his charge—that the author, who had ignorantly and rashly published the scandal, declared himself ignorant; the man was run down by a torrent of reproach; scandal oppressed him; he was buried alive in the noise and dust raised both against his morals and his credit, and yet his character was proved good, and his bottom in trade was so too, as I have said above.
It is not the least reason of my publishing this to add, that even the person who was ignorantly made the instrument of publishing the scandal, was not able to retrieve it, or to prevent the man's ruin by all the public reparation he could make in print, and by all the acknowledgement he could make of his having been ignorantly drawn in to do it. And this I mention for the honest tradesman's caution, and to put him in mind, that when he has unwarily let slip anything to the wounding the reputation of his neighbour tradesman, whether in his trading credit, or the credit of his morals, it may not be in his power to unsay it again, that is, so as to prevent the ruin of the person; and though it may grieve him as long as he lives, as the like did the author I mention, yet it is not in his power to recall it, or to heal the wound he has given; and that he should consider very well of beforehand.
A tradesman's credit and a virgin's virtue ought to be equally sacred from the tongues of men; and it is a very unhappy truth, that as times now go, they are neither of them regarded among us as they ought to be.
The tea-table among the ladies, and the coffee-house among the men, seem to be places of new invention for a depravation of our manners and morals, places devoted to scandal, and where the characters of all kinds of persons and professions are handled in the most merciless manner, where reproach triumphs, and we seem to give ourselves a loose to fall upon one another in the most unchristian and unfriendly manner in the world.
It seems a little hard that the reputation of a young lady, or of a new-married couple, or of people in the most critical season of establishing the characters of their persons and families, should lie at the mercy of the tea-table; nor is it less hard, that the credit of a tradesman, which is the same thing in its nature as the virtue of a lady, should be tossed about, shuttle-cock-like, from one table to another, in the coffee-house, till they shall talk all his creditors about his ears, and bring him to the very misfortune which they reported him to be near, when at the same time he owed them nothing who raised the clamour, and owed nothing to all the world, but what he was able to pay.
And yet how many tradesmen have been thus undone, and how many more have been put to the full trial of their strength in trade, and have stood by the mere force of their good circumstances; whereas, had they been unfurnished with cash to have answered their whole debts, they must have fallen with the rest.
We need go no farther than Lombard Street for an exemplification of this truth. There was a time when Lombard Street was the only bank, and the goldsmiths there were all called bankers. The credit of their business was such, that the like has not been seen in England since, in private hands: some of those bankers, as I have had from their own mouths, have had near two millions of paper credit upon them at a time; that is to say, have had bills under their hands running abroad for so much at a time.
On a sudden, like a clap of thunder, King Charles II. shut up the Exchequer, which was the common centre of the overplus cash these great bankers had in their hands. What was the consequence? Not only the bankers who had the bulk of their cash there, but all Lombard Street, stood still. The very report of having money in the Exchequer brought a run upon the goldsmiths that had no money there, as well as upon those that had, and not only Sir Robert Viner, Alderman Backwell, Farringdon, Forth, and others, broke and failed, but several were ruined who had not a penny of money in the Exchequer, and only sunk by the rumour of it; that rumour bringing a run upon the whole street, and giving a check to the paper credit that was run up to such an exorbitant height.
I remember a shopkeeper who one time took the liberty (foolish liberty!) with himself, in public company in a coffee-house, to say that he was broke. 'I assure you,' says he, 'that I am broke, and to-morrow I resolve to shut up my shop, and call my creditors together.' His meaning was, that he had a brother just dead in his house, and the next day was to be buried, when, in civility to the deceased, he kept his shop shut; and several people whom he dealt with, and owed money to, were the next day invited to the funeral, so that he did actually shut up his shop, and call some of his creditors together.
But he sorely repented the jest which he put upon himself. 'Are you broke?' says one of his friends to him, that was in the coffee-house; 'then I wish I had the little money you owe me' (which however, it seems, was not much). Says the other, still carrying on his jest, 'I shall pay nobody, till, as I told you, I have called my people together.' The other did not reach his jest, which at best was but a dull one, but he reached that part of it that concerned himself, and seeing him continue carelessly sitting in the shop, slipped out, and, fetching a couple of sergeants, arrested him. The other was a little surprised; but however, the debt being no great sum, he paid it, and when he found his mistake, told his friends what he meant by his being broke.
But it did not end there; for other people of his neighbours, who were then in the coffee-house, and heard his discourse, and had thought nothing more of it, yet in the morning seeing his shop shut, concluded the thing was so indeed, and immediately it went over the whole street that such a one was broke; from thence it went to the Exchange, and from thence into the country, among all his dealers, who came up in a throng and a fright to look after him. In a word, he had as much to do to prevent his breaking as any man need to desire, and if he had not had very good friends as well as a very good bottom, he had inevitably been ruined and undone.
So small a rumour will overset a tradesman, if he is not very careful of himself; and if a word in jest from himself, which though indeed no man that had considered things, or thought before he spoke, would have said (and, on the other hand, no man who had been wise and thinking would have taken as it was taken)—I say, if a word taken from the tradesman's own mouth could be so fatal, and run such a dangerous length, what may not words spoken slyly, and secretly, and maliciously, be made to do?