A tradesman's reputation is of the nicest nature imaginable; like a blight upon a fine flower, if it is but touched, the beauty of it, or the flavour of it, or the seed of it, is lost, though the noxious breath which touched it might not reach to blast the leaf, or hurt the root; the credit of a tradesman, at least in his beginning, is too much at the mercy of every enemy he has, till it has taken root, and is established on a solid foundation of good conduct and success. It is a sad truth, that every idle tongue can blast a young shopkeeper; and therefore, though I would not discourage any young beginner, yet it is highly beneficial to alarm them, and to let them know that they must expect a storm of scandal and reproach upon the least slip they make: if they but stumble, fame will throw them down; it is true, if they recover, she will set them up as fast; but malice generally runs before, and bears down all with it; and there are ten tradesmen who fall under the weight of slander and an ill tongue, to one that is lifted up again by the common hurry of report.
To say I am broke, or in danger of breaking, is to break me: and though sometimes the malicious occasion is discovered, and the author detected and exposed, yet how seldom is it so; and how much oftener are ill reports raised to ruin and run down a tradesman, and the credit of a shop; and like an arrow that flies in the dark, it wounds unseen. The authors, no nor the occasion of these reports, are never discovered perhaps, or so much as rightly guessed at; and the poor tradesman feels the wound, receives the deadly blow, and is perhaps mortally stabbed in the vitals of his trade, I mean his trading credit, and never knows who hurt him.
I must say, in the tradesman's behalf, that he is in such a case to be esteemed a sacrifice to the worst and most hellish of all secret crimes, I mean envy; which is made up of every hateful vice, a complication of crimes which nothing but the worst of God's reasonable world can be guilty of; and he will indeed merit and call for every honest man's pity and concern. But what relief is this to him? for, in the meantime, though the devil himself were the raiser of the scandal, yet it shall go about; the blow shall take, and every man, though at the same time expressing their horror and aversion at the thing, shall yet not be able, no not themselves, to say they receive no impression from it.
Though I know the clamour or rumour was raised maliciously, and from a secret envy at the prosperity of the man, yet if I deal with him, it will in spite of all my abhorrence of the thing, in spite of all my willingness to do justice, I say it will have some little impression upon me, it will be some shock to my confidence in the man; and though I know the devil is a liar, a slanderer, a calumniator, and that his name devil is derived from it; and that I knew, if that, as I said, were possible, that the devil in his proper person raised and began, and carried on, this scandal upon the tradesman, yet there is a secret lurking doubt (about him), which hangs about me concerning him; the devil is a liar, but he may happen to speak truth just then, he may chance to be right, and I know not what there may be in it, and whether there may be any thing or no, but I will have a little care, &c.
Thus, insensibly and involuntarily, nay, in spite of friendship, good wishes, and even resolution to the contrary, it is almost impossible to prevent our being shocked by rumour, and we receive an impression whether we will or not, and that from the worst enemy; there is such a powerful sympathy between our thoughts and our interest, that the first being but touched, and that in the lightest manner imaginable, we cannot help it, caution steps on in behalf of the last, and the man is jealous and afraid, in spite of all the kindest and best intentions in the world.
Nor is it only dangerous in case of false accusations and false charges, for those indeed are to be expected fatal; but even just and true things may be as fatal as false, for the truth is not always necessary to be said of a tradesman: many things a tradesman may perhaps allow himself to do, and may be lawfully done, but if they should be known to be part of his character, it would sink deep into his trading fame, his credit would suffer by it, and in the end it might be his ruin; so that he that would not set his hand to his neighbour's ruin, should as carefully avoid speaking some truths, as raising some forgeries upon him.
Of what fatal consequence, then, is the raising rumours and suspicions upon the credit and characters of young tradesmen! and how little do those who are forward to raise such suspicions, and spread such rumours, consult conscience, or principle, or honour, in what they do! How little do they consider that they are committing a trading murder, and that, in respect to the justice of it, they may with much more equity break open the tradesman's house, and rob his cash-chest, or his shop; and what they can carry away thence will not do him half the injury that robbing his character of what is due to it from an upright and diligent conduct, would do. The loss of his money or goods is easily made up, and may be sometimes repaired with advantage, but the loss of credit is never repaired; the one is breaking open his house, but the other is burning it down; the one carries away some goods, but the other shuts goods out from coming in; one is hurting the tradesman, but the other is undoing him.
Credit is the tradesman's life; it is, as the wise man says, 'marrow to his bones;' it is by this that all his affairs go on prosperously and pleasantly; if this be hurt, wounded, or weakened, the tradesman is sick, hangs his head, is dejected and discouraged; and if he does go on, it is heavily and with difficulty, as well as with disadvantage; he is beholding to his fund of cash, not his friends; and he may be truly said to stand upon his own legs, for nothing else can do it.
And therefore, on the other hand, if such a man is any way beholding to his credit, if he stood before upon the foundation of his credit, if he owes any thing considerable, it is a thousand to one but he sinks under the oppression of it; that is to say, it brings every body upon him—I mean, every one that has any demand upon him—for in pushing for their own, especially in such cases, men have so little mercy, and are so universally persuaded that he that comes first is first served, that I did not at all wonder, that in the story of the tradesman who so foolishly exposed himself in the coffee-house, as above, his friend whom he said the words to, began with him that very night, and before he went out of the coffee-house; it was rather a wonder to me he did not go out and bring in half-a-dozen more upon him the same evening.
It is very rarely that men are wanting to their own interest; and the jealousy of its being but in danger, is enough to make men forget, not friendship only, and generosity, but good manners, civility, and even justice itself, and fall upon the best friends they have in the world, if they think they are in the least danger of suffering by them.
On these accounts it is, and many more, that a tradesman walks in continual jeopardy, from the looseness and inadvertency of men's tongues, ay, and women's too; for though I am all along very tender of the ladies, and would do justice to the sex, by telling you, they were not the dangerous people whom I had in view in my first writing upon this subject, yet I must be allowed to say, that they are sometimes fully even with the men, for ill usage, when they please to fall upon them in this nice article, in revenge for any slight, or but pretended slight, put upon them.
It was a terrible revenge a certain lady, who was affronted by a tradesman in London, in a matter of love, took upon him in this very article. It seems a tradesman had courted her some time, and it was become public, as a thing in a manner concluded, when the tradesman left the lady a little abruptly, without giving a good reason for it, and, indeed, she afterwards discovered, that he had left her for the offer of another with a little more money, and that, when he had done so, he reported that it was for another reason, which reflected a little on the person of the lady; and in this the tradesman did very unworthily indeed, and deserved her resentment: but, as I said, it was a terrible revenge she took, and what she ought not to have done.
First, she found out who it was that her former pretended lover had been recommended to, and she found means to have it insinuated to her by a woman-friend, that he was not only rakish and wicked, but, in short, that he had a particular illness, and went so far as to produce letters from him to a quack-doctor, for directions to him how to take his medicines, and afterwards a receipt for money for the cure; though both the letters and receipt also, as afterwards appeared, were forged, in which she went a dismal length in her revenge, as you may see.
Then she set two or three female instruments to discourse her case in all their gossips' companies, and at the tea-tables wherever they came, and to magnify the lady's prudence in refusing such a man, and what an escape she had had in being clear of him.
'Why,' says a lady to one of these emissaries, 'what was the matter? I thought she was like to be very well married.'
'Oh no, Madam! by no means,' says the emissary.
'Why, Madam,' says another lady, 'we all know Mr H——; he is a very pretty sort of a man.'
'Ay, Madam,' says the emissary again, 'but you know a pretty man is not all that is required.'
'Nay,' says the lady again, 'I don't mean so; he is no beauty, no rarity that way; but I mean a clever good sort of a man in his business, such as we call a pretty tradesman.'
'Ay,' says the lady employed, 'but that is not all neither.'
'Why,' says the other lady, 'he has a very good trade too, and lives in good credit.'
'Yes,' says malice, 'he has some of the first, but not too much of the last, I suppose.'
'No!' says the lady; 'I thought his credit had been very good.'
'If it had, I suppose,' says the first, 'the match had not been broke off.'
'Why,' says the lady, 'I understood it was broken off on his side.'
'And so did I,' says another.
'And so did I, indeed,' says a third.
'Oh, Madam!' says the tool, 'nothing like it, I assure you.'
'Indeed,' says another, I understood he had quitted Mrs——, because she had not fortune enough for him, and that he courted another certain lady, whom we all know.'
Then the ladies fell to talking of the circumstances of his leaving her, and how he had broken from her abruptly and unmannerly, and had been too free with her character; at which the first lady, that is to say, the emissary, or tool, as I call her, took it up a little warmly, thus:—
1. Lady.—Well, you see, ladies, how easily a lady's reputation may be injured; I hope you will not go away with it so.
2. Lady.—Nay, we have all of us a respect for Mrs——, and some of us visit there sometimes; I believe none of us would be willing to injure her.
1. Lady.—But indeed, ladies, she is very much injured in that story.
2. Lady.—Indeed, it is generally understood so, and every body believes it.
1. Lady.—I can assure you it is quite otherwise in fact.
2. Lady.—I believe he reports it so himself, and that with some very odd things about the lady too.
1. Lady.—The more base unworthy fellow he.
2. Lady.—Especially if he knows it to be otherwise.
1. Lady.—Especially if he knows the contrary to be true, Madam.
2. Lady.—Is that possible? Did he not refuse her, then?
1. Lady.—Nothing like it, Madam; but just the contrary.
2. Lady.—You surprise me!
3. Lady.—I am very glad to hear it, for her sake.
1. Lady.—I can assure you, Madam, she had refused him, and that he knows well enough, which has been one of the reasons that has made him abuse her as he has done.
2. Lady.—Indeed, she has been used very ill by him, or somebody for him.
1. Lady.—Yes, he has reported strange things, but they are all lies.
2. Lady.—Well; but pray, Madam, what was the reason, if we may be so free, that she turned him off after she had entertained him so long?
1. Lady.—Oh, Madam! reason enough; I wonder he should pretend, when he knew his own circumstances too, to court a lady of her fortune.
2. Lady.—Why, are not his circumstances good, then?
1. Lady.—No, Madam. Good! alas, he has no bottom.
2. Lady.—No bottom! Why, you surprise me; we always looked upon him to be a man of substance, and that he was very well in the world.
1. Lady.—It is all a cheat, Madam; there's nothing in it; when it came to be made out, nothing at all in it.
2. Lady.—That cannot be, Madam; Mr —— has lived always in good reputation and good credit in his business.
1. Lady.—It is all sunk again then, if it was so; I don't know.
2. Lady.—Why did she entertain him so long, then?
1. Lady.—Alas! Madam, how could she know, poor lady, till her friends inquired into things? But when they came to look a little narrowly into it, they soon found reason to give her a caution, that he was not the man she took him for.
2. Lady.—Well, it is very strange; I am sure he passed for another man among us.
1. Lady.—It must be formerly, then, for they tell me his credit has been sunk these three or four years; he had need enough indeed to try for a greater fortune, he wants it enough.
2. Lady.—It is a sad thing when men look out for fortunes to heal their trade-breaches with, and make the poor wife patch up their old bankrupt credit.
1. Lady.—Especially, Madam, when they know themselves to be gone so far, that even with the addition they can stand but a little while, and must inevitably bring the lady to destruction with them.
2. Lady.—Well, I could never have thought Mr —— was in such circumstances.
3. Lady.—Nor I; we always took him for a ten thousand pound man.
1. Lady.—They say he was deep in the bubbles, Madam.
2. Lady.—Nay, if he was gotten into the South Sea, that might hurt him indeed, as it has done many a gentleman of better estates than he.
1. Lady.—I don't know whether it was the South Sea, or some other bubbles, but he was very near making a bubble of her, and L3000 into the bargain.
2. Lady.—I am glad she has escaped him, if it be so; it is a sign her friends took a great deal of care of her.
1. Lady.—He won't hold it long; he will have his desert, I hope; I don't doubt but we shall see him in the Gazette quickly for a bankrupt.
2. Lady.—If he does not draw in some innocent young thing that has her fortune in her own hands to patch him up.
1. Lady.—I hope not, Madam; I hear he is blown where he went since, and there, they say, they have made another discovery of him, in a worse circumstance than the other.
2. Lady.—How, pray?
1. Lady.—Nothing, Madam, but a particular kind of illness, &c. I need say no more.
2. Lady.—You astonish me! Why, I always thought him a very civil, honest, sober man.
1. Lady.—This is a sad world, Madam; men are seldom known now, till it is too late; but sometimes murder comes out seasonably, and so I understand it is here; for the lady had not gone so far with him, but that she could go off again.
2. Lady.—Nay, it was time to go off again, if it were so.
1. Lady.—Nay, Madam, I do not tell this part of my own knowledge; I only heard so, but I am afraid there is too much in it.
Thus ended this piece of hellish wildfire, upon the character and credit of a tradesman, the truth of all which was no more than this—that the tradesman, disliking his first lady, left her, and soon after, though not presently, courted another of a superior fortune indeed, though not for that reason; and the first lady, provoked at being cast off, and, as she called it, slighted, raised all this clamour upon him, and persecuted him with it, wherever she was able.
Such a discourse as this at a tea-table, it could not be expected would be long a secret; it ran from one tittle-tattle society to another; and in every company, snow-ball like, it was far from lessening, and it went on, till at length it began to meet with some contradiction, and the tradesman found himself obliged to trace it as far and as well as he could.
But it was to no purpose to confront it; when one was asked, and another was asked, they only answered they heard so, and they heard it in company in such a place, and in such a place, and some could remember where they had it, and some could not; and the poor tradesman, though he was really a man of substance, sank under it prodigiously: his new mistress, whom he courted, refused him, and would never hear any thing in his favour, or trouble herself to examine whether it were true or no—it was enough, she said, to her, that he was laden with such a report; and, if it was unjust, she was sorry for it, but the misfortune must be his, and he must place it to the account of his having made some enemies, which she could not help.
As to his credit, the slander of the first lady's raising was spread industriously, and with the utmost malice and bitterness, and did him an inexpressible prejudice; every man he dealt with was shy of him; every man he owed any thing to came for it, and, as he said, he was sure he should see the last penny demanded; it was his happiness that he had wherewith to pay, for had his circumstances been in the least perplexed, the man had been undone; nay, as I have observed in another case, as his affairs might have lain, he might have been able to have paid forty shillings in the pound, and yet have been undone, and been obliged to break, and shut up his shop.
It is true, he worked through it, and he carried it so far as to fix the malice of all the reports pretty much upon the first lady, and particularly so far as to discover that she was the great reason of his being so positively rejected by the other; but he could never fix it so upon her as to recover any damages of her, only to expose her a little, and that she did not value, having, as she said wickedly, had her full revenge of him, and so indeed she had.
The sum of the matter is, and it is for this reason I tell you the story, that the reputation of a tradesman is too much at the mercy of men's tongues or women's either; and a story raised upon a tradesman, however malicious, however false, and however frivolous the occasion, is not easily suppressed, but, if it touches his credit, as a flash of fire it spreads over the whole air like a sheet; there is no stopping it.
My inference from all this shall be very brief; if the tongues of every ill-disposed envious gossip, whether man-gossip or woman-gossip, for there are of both sorts, may be thus mischievous to the tradesman, and he is so much at the mercy of the tattling slandering part of the world, how much more should tradesmen be cautious and wary how they touch or wound the credit and character of one another. There are but a very few tradesmen who can say they are out of the reach of slander, and that the malice of enemies cannot hurt them with the tongue. Here and there one, and those ancient and well established, may be able to defy the world; but there are so many others, that I think I may warn all tradesmen against making havoc of one another's reputation, as they would be tenderly used in the same case.
And yet I cannot but say it is too much a tradesman's crime, I mean to speak slightly and contemptibly of other tradesman, their neighbours, or perhaps rivals in trade, and to run them down in the characters they give of them, when inquiry may be made of them, as often is the case. The reputation of tradesmen is too often put into the hands of their fellow-tradesmen, when ignorant people think to inform themselves of their circumstances, by going to those whose interest it is to defame and run them down.
I know no case in the world in which there is more occasion for the golden rule, Do as you would be done unto; and though you may be established, as you may think, and be above the reach of the tongues of others, yet the obligation of the rule is the same, for you are to do as you would be done unto, supposing that you were in the same condition, or on a level with the person.
It is confessed that tradesmen do not study this rule in the particular case I am now speaking of. No men are apter to speak slightly and coldly of a fellow-tradesman than his fellow-tradesmen, and to speak unjustly so too; the reasons for which cannot be good, unless it can be pleaded for upon the foundation of a just and impartial concern in the interest of the inquirer; and even then nothing must be said but what is consistent with strict justice and truth: all that is more than that, is mere slander and envy, and has nothing of the Christian in it, much less of the neighbour or friend. It is true that friendship may be due to the inquirer, but still so much justice is due to the person inquired of, that it is very hard to speak in such cases, and not be guilty of raising dust, as they call it, upon your neighbour, and at least hurting, if not injuring him.
It is, indeed, so difficult a thing, that I scarce know what stated rule to lay down for the conduct of a tradesman in this case:—A tradesman at a distance is going to deal with another tradesman, my neighbour; and before he comes to bargain, or before he cares to trust him, he goes, weakly enough perhaps, to inquire of him, and of his circumstances, among his neighbours and fellow-tradesmen, perhaps of the same profession or employment, and who, among other things, it may be, are concerned by their interest, that this tradesman's credit should not rise too fast. What must be done in this case?
If I am the person inquired of, what must I do? If I would have this man sink in his reputation, or be discredited, and if it is for my interest to have him cried down in the world, it is a sore temptation to me to put in a few words to his disadvantage; and yet, if I do it in gratification of my private views or interest, or upon the foot of resentment of any kind whatever, and let it be from what occasion it will, nay, however just and reasonable the resentment is, or may be, it is utterly unjust and unlawful, and is not only unfair as a man, but unchristian, and is neither less nor more than a secret revenge, which is forbidden by the laws of God and man.
If, on the other hand, I give a good character of the man, or of his reputation, I mean, of his credit in business, in order to have the inquirer trust him, and at the same time know or believe that he is not a sound and good man (that is, as to trade, for it is his character in trade that I am speaking of), what am I doing then? It is plain I lay a snare for the inquirer, and am at least instrumental to his loss, without having really any design to hurt him; for it is to be supposed, before he came to me to inquire, I had no view of acting any thing to his prejudice.
Again, there is no medium, for to refuse or decline giving a character of the man, is downright giving him the worst character I can—it is, in short, shooting him through the head in his trade. A man comes to me for a character of my neighbouring tradesman; I answer him with a repulse to his inquiry thus—
A.—Good sir, do not ask me the character of my neighbours—I resolve to meddle with nobody's character; pray, do not inquire of me.
B.—Well, but, sir, you know the gentleman; you live next door to him; you can tell me, if you please, all that I desire to know, whether he is a man in credit, and fit to be trusted, or no, in the way of his business.
A.—I tell you, sir, I meddle with no man's business; I will not give characters of my neighbours—it is an ill office—a man gets no thanks for it, and perhaps deserves none.
B.—But, sir, you would be willing to be informed and advised, if it were your own case.
A.—It may be so, but I cannot oblige people to inform me.
B.—But you would entreat it as a favour, and so I come to you.
A.—But you may go to any body else.
B.—But you are a man of integrity; I can depend upon what you say; I know you will not deceive me; and, therefore, I beg of you to satisfy me.
A.—But I desire you to excuse me, for it is what I never do—I cannot do it.
B.—But, sir, I am in a great strait; I am just selling him a great parcel of goods, and I am willing to sell them too, and yet I am willing to be safe, as you would yourself, if you were in my case.
A.—I tell you, sir, I have always resolved to forbear meddling with the characters of my neighbours—it is an ill office. Besides, I mind my own business; I do not enter into the inquiries after other people's affairs.
B.—Well, sir, I understand you, then; I know what I have to do.
A.—What do you mean by that?
B.—Nothing, sir, but what I suppose you would have me understand by it.
A.—I would have you understand what I say—namely, that I will meddle with nobody's business but my own.
B.—And I say I understand you; I know you are a good man, and a man of charity, and loth to do your neighbours any prejudice, and that you will speak the best of every man as near as you can.
A.—I tell you, I speak neither the best nor the worst—I speak nothing.
B.—Well, sir, that is to say, that as charity directs you to speak well of every man, so, when you cannot speak well, you refrain, and will say nothing; and you do very well, to be sure; you are a very kind neighbour.
A.—But that is a base construction of my words; for I tell you, I do the like by every body.
B.—Yes, sir, I believe you do, and I think you are in the right of it—am fully satisfied.
A.—You act more unjustly by me than by my neighbour; for you take my silence, or declining to give a character, to be giving an ill character.
B.—No, sir, not for an ill character.
A.—But I find you take it for a ground of suspicion.
B.—I take it, indeed, for a due caution to me, sir; but the man may be a good man for all that, only—
A.—Only what? I understand you—only you won't trust him with your goods.
B.—But another man may, sir, for all that, so that you have been kind to your neighbours and to me too, sir—and you are very just. I wish all men would act so one by another; I should feel the benefit of it myself among others, for I have suffered deeply by ill tongues, I am sure.
A.—Well, however unjust you are to me, and to my neighbour too, I will not undeceive you at present; I think you do not deserve it.
He used a great many more words with him to convince him that he did not mean any discredit to his neighbour tradesman; but it was all one; he would have it be, that his declining to give his said neighbour a good character was giving him an ill character, which the other told him was a wrong inference. However, he found that the man stood by his own notion of it, and declined trusting the tradesman with the goods, though he was satisfied he (the tradesman) was a sufficient man.
Upon this, he was a little uneasy, imagining that he had been the cause of it, as indeed he had, next to the positive humour of the inquirer, though it was not really his fault; neither was the construction the other made of it just to his intention, for he aimed at freeing himself from all inquiries of that nature, but found there was no prevailing with him to understand it any other way than he did; so, to requite the man a little in his own way, he contrived the following method: he met with him two or three days after, and asked him if he had sold his goods to the person his neighbour?
'No,' says he; 'you know I would not.'
'Nay,' says the other, 'I only knew you said so; I did not think you would have acted so from what I said, nor do I think I gave you any reason.'
'Why,' says he, 'I knew you would have given him a good character if you could, and I knew you were too honest to do it, if you were not sure it was just.'
'The last part I hope is true, but you might have believed me honest too, in what I did say, that I had resolved to give no characters of any body.'
'As to that, I took it, as any body would, to be the best and modestest way of covering what you would not have be disclosed, namely, that you could not speak as you would; and I also judged that you therefore chose to say nothing.'
'Well, I can say no more but this; you are not just to me in it, and I think you are not just to yourself neither.'
They parted again upon this, and the next day the first tradesman, who had been so pressed to give a character of his neighbour, sent a man to buy the parcel of goods of the other tradesman, and offering him ready money, bought them considerably cheaper than the neighbour-tradesman was to have given for them, besides reckoning a reasonable discount for the time, which was four months, that the first tradesman was to have given to his neighbour.
As soon as he had done, he went and told the neighbour-tradesman what he had done, and the reason of it, and sold the whole parcel to him again, giving the same four months' credit for them as the first man was to have given, and taking the discount for time only to himself, gave him all the advantage of the buying, and gave the first man the mortification of knowing it all, and that the goods were not only for the same man, but that the very tradesman, whom he would not believe when he declined giving a character of any man in general, had trusted him with them.
He pretended to be very angry, and to take it very ill; but the other told him, that when he came to him for a character of the man, and he told him honestly, that he would give no characters at all, that it was not for any ill to his neighbour that he declined it, he ought to have believed him; and that he hoped, when he wanted a character of any of his neighbours again, he would not come to him for it.
This story is to my purpose in this particular, which is indeed very significant; that it is the most difficult thing of its kind in the world to avoid giving characters of our neighbouring tradesmen; and that, let your reasons for it be what they will, to refuse giving a character is giving a bad character, and is generally so taken, whatever caution or arguments you use to the contrary.
In the next place, it is hard indeed, if an honest neighbour be in danger of selling a large parcel of goods to a fellow, who I may know it is not likely should be able to pay for them, though his credit may in the common appearance be pretty good at that time; and what must I do? If I discover the man's circumstances, which perhaps I am let into by some accident, I say, if I discover them, the man is undone; and if I do not, the tradesman, who is in danger of trusting him, is undone.
I confess the way is clear, if I am obliged to speak at all in the case: the man unsound is already a bankrupt at bottom, and must fail, but the other man is sound and firm, if this disaster does not befall him: the first has no wound given him, but negatively; he stands where he stood before; whereas the other is drawn in perhaps to his own ruin. In the next place, the first is a knave, or rather thief, for he offers to buy, and knows he cannot pay; in a word, he offers to cheat his neighbour; and if I know it, I am so far confederate with him in the cheat.
In this case I think I am obliged to give the honest man a due caution for his safety, if he desires my advice; I cannot say I am obliged officiously to go out of my way to do it, unless I am any way interested in the person—for that would be to dip into other men's affairs, which is not my proper work; and if I should any way be misinformed of the circumstances of the tradesman I am to speak of, and wrong him, I may be instrumental to bring ruin causelessly upon him.
In a word, it is a very nice and critical case, and a tradesman ought to be very sure of what he says or does in such a case, the good or evil fate of his neighbour lying much at stake, and depending too much on the breath of his mouth. Every part of this discourse shows how much a tradesman's welfare depends upon the justice and courtesy of his neighbours, and how nice and critical a thing his reputation is.
This, well considered, would always keep a tradesman humble, and show him what need he has to behave courteously and obligingly among his neighbours; for one malicious word from a man much meaner than himself, may overthrow him in such a manner, as all the friends he has may not be able to recover him; a tradesman, if possible, should never make himself any enemies.
But if it is so fatal a thing to tradesmen to give characters of one another, and that a tradesman should be so backward in it for fear of hurting his neighbour, and that, notwithstanding the character given should be just, and the particular reported of him should be true, with how much greater caution should we act in like cases where what is suggested is really false in fact, and the tradesman is innocent, as was the case in the tradesman mentioned before about courting the lady. If a tradesman may be ruined and undone by a true report, much more may he be so by a false report, by a malicious, slandering, defaming tongue. There is an artful way of talking of other people's reputation, which really, however some people salve the matter, is equal, if not superior, in malice to the worst thing they can say; this is, by rendering them suspected, talking doubtfully of their characters, and of their conduct, and rendering them first doubtful, and then strongly suspected. I don't know what to say to such a man. A gentleman came to me the other day, but I knew not what to say; I dare not say he is a good man, or that I would trust him with five hundred pounds myself; if I should say so, I should belie my own opinion. I do not know, indeed, he may be a good man at bottom, but I cannot say he minds his business; if I should, I must lie; I think he keeps a great deal of company, and the like.
Another, he is asked of the currency of his payments, and he answers suspiciously on that side too; I know not what to say, he may pay them at last, but he does not pay them the most currently of any man in the street, and I have heard saucy boys huff him at his door for bills, on his endeavouring to put them off; indeed, I must needs say I had a bill on him a few weeks ago for a hundred pounds, and he paid me very currently, and without any dunning, or often calling upon, but it was I believe because I offered him a bargain at that time, and I supposed he was resolved to put a good face upon his credit.
A tradesman, that would do as he would be done by, should carefully avoid these people who come always about, inquiring after other tradesman's characters. There are men who make it their business to do thus; and as they are thereby as ready to ruin and blow up good fair-dealing tradesmen as others, so they do actually surprise many, and come at their characters earlier and nearer than they expect they would.
Tradesmen, I say, that will thus behave to one another, cannot be supposed to be men of much principle, but will be apt to lay hold of any other advantage, how unjust soever, and, indeed, will wait for an occasion of such advantages; and where is there a tradesman, but who, if he be never so circumspect, may some time or other give his neighbour, who watches for his halting, advantage enough against him. When such a malicious tradesman appears in any place, all the honest tradesmen about him ought to join to expose him, whether they are afraid of him or no: they should blow him among the neighbourhood, as a public nuisance, as a common barrettor, or raiser of scandal; by such a general aversion to him they would depreciate him, and bring him into so just a contempt, that no body would keep him company, much less credit any thing he said; and then his tongue would be no slander, and his breath would be no blast, and nobody would either tell him any thing, or hear any thing from him: and this kind of usage, I think, is the only way to put a stop to a defamer; for when he has no credit of his own left, he would be unable to hurt any of his neighbour's.
OF THE TRADESMAN'S ENTERING INTO PARTNERSHIP IN TRADE, AND THE MANY DANGERS ATTENDING IT
There are some businesses which are more particularly accustomed to partnerships than others, and some that are very seldom managed without two, three, or four partners, and others that cannot be at all carried on without partnership; and there are those again, in which they seldom join partners together.
Mercers, linen-drapers, banking goldsmiths, and such considerable trades, are often, and indeed generally, carried on in partnership; but other meaner trades, and of less business, are carried on, generally speaking, single-handed.
Some merchants, who carry on great business in foreign ports, have what they call houses in those ports, where they plant and breed up their sons and apprentices; and these are such as I hinted could not carry on their business without partnership.
The trading in partnership is not only liable to more hazards and difficulties, but it exposes the tradesman to more snares and disadvantages by a great deal, than the trading with a single hand does; and some of those snares are these:—
1. If the partner is a stirring, diligent, capable man, there is danger of his slipping into the whole trade, and, getting in between you and home, by his application, thrusting you at last quite out; so that you bring in a snake into your chimney corner, which, when it is warmed and grown vigorous, turns about at you, and hisses you out of the house. It is with the tradesman, in the case of a diligent and active partner, as I have already observed it was in the case of a trusty and diligent apprentice, namely, that if the master does not appear constantly at the head of the business, and make himself be known by his own application and diligence to be what he is, he shall soon look to be what he is not, that is to say, one not concerned in the business.
He will never fail to be esteemed the principal person concerned in the shop, and in the trade, who is principally and most constantly found there, acting at the head of every business; and be it a servant or a partner, the master or chief loses himself extremely by the advances the other makes of that kind; for, whenever they part again, either the apprentice by being out of his time, or the partner by the expiration of the articles of partnership, or by any other determination of their agreement, the customers most certainly desire to deal with the man whom they have so often been obliged by; and if they miss him, inquire after and follow him.
It is true, the apprentice is the more dangerous of the two, because his separation is supposed to be more certain, and generally sooner than the partner; the apprentice is not known, and cannot have made his interest among the buyers, but for perhaps a year, or a year and a half, before his time expired: sooner than that he could not put himself in the way of being known and observed; and then, when his time is out, he certainly removes, unless he is taken into the shop as a partner, and that, indeed, prolongs the time, and places the injury at a greater distance, but still it makes it the more influencing when it comes; and unless he is brought some how or other into the family, and becomes one of the house, perhaps by marriage, or some other settled union with the master, he never goes off without making a great chasm in the master's affairs, and the more, by how much he has been more diligent and useful in the trade, the wounds of which the master seldom if ever recovers.
If the partner were not an apprentice, but that they either came out of their times together, or near it, or had a shop and business before, but quitted it to come in, it may then be said that he brought part of the trade with him, and so increased the trade when he joined with the other in proportion to what he may be said to carry away when he went off; this is the best thing that can be said of a partnership; and then I have this to add, first, that the tradesman who took the partner in has a fair field, indeed, to act in with his partner, and must take care, by his constant attendance, due acquaintance with the customers, and appearing in every part of the business, to maintain not his interest only, but the appearance of his interest, in the shop or warehouse, that he may, on every occasion, and to every customer, not only be, but be known to be, the master and head of the business; and that the other is at best but a partner, and not a chief partner, as, in case of his absence and negligence, will presently be suggested; for he that chiefly appears will be always chief partner in the eye of the customers, whatever he is in the substance of the thing.
This, indeed, is much the same case with what is said before of a diligent servant, and a negligent master, and therefore I forbear to enlarge upon it; but it is so important in both cases, that indeed it cannot well be mentioned too often: the master's full application, in his own person, is the only answer to both. He that takes a partner only to ease him of the toil of his business, that he may take his pleasure, and leave the drudgery, as they call it, to the partner, should take care not to do it till about seven years before he resolves to leave off trade, that, at the end of the partnership, he may be satisfied to give up the trade to his partner, or see him run away with it, and not trouble himself about it.
But if he takes a partner at his beginning, with an intent, by their joint enlarged stock, to enlarge their business, and so carry on a capital trade, which perhaps neither of them were able to do by themselves, and which is the only justifiable reason for taking a partner at all, he must resolve then to join with his partner, not only in stock, but in mutual diligence and application, that the trade may flourish by their joint assistance and constant labour, as two oxen yoked together in the same draught, by their joint assistance, draw much more than double what they could either of them draw by their single strength; and this, indeed, is the only safe circumstance of a partnership: then, indeed, they are properly partners when they are assistants to one another, whereas otherwise they are like two gamesters striving to worm one another out, and to get the mastery in the play they are engaged in.
The very word partner imports the substance of the thing, and they are, as such, engaged to a mutual application, or they are no more partners, but rather one is the trading gentleman, and the other is the trading drudge; but even then, let them depend, the drudge will carry away the trade, and the profit too, at last. And this is the way how one partner may honestly ruin another, and for ought I know it is the only one: for it cannot be said but that the diligent partner acts honestly in acting diligently, and if the other did the same, they would both thrive alike; but if one is negligent and the other diligent, one extravagant and expensive, the other frugal and prudent, it cannot be said to be his fault that one is rich and the other poor—that one increases in the stock, and the other is lessened, and at last worked quite out of it.
As a partner, then, is taken in only for ease, to abate the first tradesman's diligence, and take off the edge of his application, so far a partner, let him be as honest and diligent as he will, is dangerous to the tradesman—nay, the more honest and the more diligent he is, the more dangerous he is, and the more a snare to the tradesman that takes him in; and a tradesman ought to be very cautious in the adventure, for, indeed, it is an adventure—that he be not brought in time to relax his diligence, by having a partner, even contrary to his first intention; for laziness is a subtle insinuating thing, and it is a sore temptation to a man of ease and indolence to see his work done for him, and less need of him in the business than used to be, and yet the business to go on well too; and this danger is dormant, and lies unseen, till after several years it rises, as it were, out of its ambuscade, and surprises the tradesman, letting him see by his loss what his neglect has cost him.
2. But there are other dangers in partnership, and those not a few; for you may not only be remiss and negligent, remitting the weight of the business upon him, and depending upon him for its being carried on, by which he makes himself master, and brings you to be forgot in the business; but he may be crafty too, and designing in all this, and when he has thus brought you to be as it were nobody, he shall make himself be all somebody in the trade, and in that particular he by degrees gets the capital interest, as well as stock in the trade, while the true original of the shop, who laid the foundation of the whole business, brought a trade to the shop, or brought commissions to the house, and whose the business more particularly is, is secretly supplanted, and with the concurrence of his own negligence—for without that it cannot be—is, as it were, laid aside, and at last quite thrust out.
Thus, whether honest or dishonest, the tradesman is circumvented, and the partnership is made fatal to him; for it was all owing to the partnership the tradesman was diligent before, understood his business, and kept close to it, gave up his time to it, and by employing himself, prevented the indolence which he finds breaking insensibly upon him afterwards, by being made easy, as they call it, in the assistance of a partner.
3. But there are abundance of other cases which make a partnership dangerous; for if it be so where the partner is honest and diligent, and where he works into the heart of the business by his industry and application, or by his craft and insinuation, what may it not be if he proves idle and extravagant; and if, instead of working him out, he may be said to play him out of the business, that is to say, prove wild, expensive, and run himself and his partner out by his extravagance?
There are but too many examples of this kind; and here the honest tradesman has the labouring oar indeed; for instead of being assisted by a diligent industrious partner, whom on that account he took into the trade, he proves a loose, extravagant, wild fellow, runs abroad into company, and leaves him (for whose relief he was taken in) to bear the burden of the whole trade, which, perhaps, was too heavy for him before, and if it had not been so, he had not been prevailed with to have taken in a partner at all.
This is, indeed, a terrible disappointment, and is very discouraging, and the more so, because it cannot be recalled; for a partnership is like matrimony, it is almost engaged in for better or for worse, till the years expire; there is no breaking it off, at least, not easily nor fairly, but all the inconveniences which are to be feared will follow and stare in your face: as, first, the partner in the first place draws out all his stock; and this sometimes is a blow fatal enough, for perhaps the partner cannot take the whole trade upon himself, and cannot carry on the trade upon his own stock: if he could, he would not have taken in a partner at all. This withdrawing the stock has sometimes been very dangerous to a partner; nay, has many times been the overthrow and undoing of him and of the family that is left.
He that takes a partner into his trade on this account—namely, for the support of his stock, to enjoy the assistance of so much cash to carry on the trade, ought seriously to consider what he shall be able to do when the partner, breaking off the partnership, shall carry all his stock, and the improvement of it too, with him: perhaps the tradesman's stock is not much increased, perhaps not at all; nay, perhaps the stock is lessened, instead of being increased, and they have rather gone backward than forward. What shall the tradesman do in such a case? And how shall he bear the breach in his stock which that separation would make?
Thus he is either tied down to the partner, or the partner is pinned down to him, for he cannot separate without a breach. It is a sad truth to many a partner, that when the partnership comes to be finished and expired, the man would let his partner go, but the other cannot go without tearing him all to pieces whom he leaves behind him; and yet the partner being loose, idle, and extravagant, in a word, will ruin both if he stays.
This is the danger of partnership in some of the best circumstances of it; but how hazardous and how fatal is it in other cases! And how many an honest and industrious tradesman has been prevailed with to take in a partner to ease himself in the weight of the business, or on several other accounts, some perhaps reasonable and prudent enough, but has found himself immediately involved in a sea of trouble, is brought into innumerable difficulties, concealed debts, and unknown incumbrances, such as he could no ways extricate himself out of, and so both have been unavoidably ruined together!
These cases are so various and so uncertain, that it is not easy to enumerate them: but we may include the particulars in a general or two.
1. One partner may contract debts, even in the partnership itself, so far unknown to the other, as that the other may be involved in the danger of them, though he was not at all concerned in, or acquainted with, them at the same time they were contracted.
2. One partner may discharge debts for both partners; and so, having a design to be knavish, may go and receive money, and give receipts for it, and not bringing it to account, or not bringing the money into cash, may wrong the stock to so considerable a sum as may be to the ruin of the other partner.
3. One partner may confess judgment, or give bonds, or current notes in the name, and as for the account of the company, and yet convert the effects to his own private use, leaving the stock to be answerable for the value.
4. One partner may sell and give credit, and deliver parcels of goods to what sum, or what quantity, he thinks fit, and to whom, and so, by his indiscretion, or perhaps by connivance and knavery, lose to the stock what parcel of goods he pleases, to the ruin of the other partner, and bring themselves to be both bankrupt together.
5. Nay, to sum up all, one partner may commit acts of bankruptcy without the knowledge of the other, and thereby subject the united stock, and both or all the partners, to the danger of a commission, when they may themselves know nothing of it till the blow is given, and given so as to be too late to be retrieved.
All these, and many more, being the ill consequences and dangers of partnership in trade, I cannot but seriously warn the honest industrious tradesman, if possible, to stand upon his own legs, and go on upon his own bottom; to pursue his business diligently, but cautiously, and what we call fair and softly; not eagerly pushing to drive a vast trade, and enjoy but half of it, rather carry on a middling business, and let it be his own.
There may be cases, indeed, which may have their exceptions to this general head of advice; partnerships may sometimes prove successful, and in some particular business they are more necessary than in others, and in some they tell us that they are absolutely necessary, though the last I can by no means grant; but be that as it will, there are so many cases more in number, and of great consequence too, which miscarry by the several perplexed circumstances, differing tempers, and open knavery of partners, that I cannot but give it as a friendly advice to all tradesmen—if possible, to avoid partnerships of all kinds.
But if the circumstances of trade require partnerships, and the risk must be run, I would recommend to the tradesman not to enter into partnerships, but under the following circumstances:—
1. Not to take in any partner who should be allowed to carry on any separate business, in which the partnership is not concerned. Depend upon it, whatever other business your partner carries on, you run the risk of it as much as you do of your own; and you run the risk with this particular circumstance too, that you have the hazard without the profit or success: that is, without a share in the profit or success, which is very unequal and unfair. I know cunning men will tell you, that there may be provision made so effectually in the articles of partnership, that the stock in partnership should be concerned in no other interest or engagements but its own; but let such cunning gentlemen tell me, if the partner meets with a disappointment in his other undertakings, which wounds him so deep as to break him, will it not affect the partnership thus far? 1. That it may cause his stock to be drawn hastily out, and perhaps violently too. 2. That it touches and taints the credit of the partner to be concerned with such a man; and though a man's bottom may support him, if it be very good, yet it is a blow to him, touches his credit, and makes the world stand a little at a stay about him, if it be no more, for a while, till they see that he shows himself upon the Exchange, or at his shop-door again, in spite of all the apprehensions and doubts that have been handed about concerning him. Either of these are so essential to the tradesman, whose partner thus sinks by his own private breaches, in which the parnership is not concerned, that it is worth while to caution the tradesman against venturing. And I must add, too, that many a tradesman has fallen under the disaster by the partner's affairs thus affecting him, though the immediate losses which the partner had suffered have not been charged upon him; and yet I believe it is not so easy to avoid being fallen upon for those debts also.
It is certain, as I formerly noted, rumour will break a tradesman almost at any time. It matters not, at first, whether the rumour be true or false. What rumour can sit closer to a man in business—his own personal misfortunes excepted—than such as this-that his partner is broke? That his partner has met with a loss, suppose an insurance, suppose a fall of stocks, suppose a bubble or a cheat, or we know not what, the partner is sunk, no man knows whether the partnership be concerned in it or no; and while it is not known, every man will suppose it, for mankind always think the worst of every thing.
What can be a closer stroke at the poor tradesman? He knows not what his partner has done; he has reason to fear the worst; he even knows not himself, for a while, whether he can steer clear of the rocks or no; but soon recovers, knows his own circumstances, and struggles hard with the world, pays out his partner's stock, and gets happily over it. And it is well he does so, for that he is at the brink of ruin must be granted; and where one stands and keeps up his reputation and his business, there are twenty would be undone in the same circumstance.
Who, then, would run the venture of a partner, if it were possible to avoid it? And who, if they must have a partner, would have one that was concerned in separate business, in which the partnership was not engaged?
2. If you must have a partner, always choose to have the partner rather under than over you; by this I mean, take him in for a fifth, a fourth, or at most a third, never for a half. There are many reasons to be given for this, besides that of having the greater share of profits, for that I do not give as a reason here at all; but the principal reasons are these:—First, in case of any disaster in any of the particular supposed accidents which I have mentioned, and that you should be obliged to pay out your partner's stock, it will not be so heavy, or be so much a blow to you: and, secondly, you preserve to yourself the governing influence in your own business; you cannot be overruled, overawed, or dogmatically told, it shall, or shall not, be thus, or thus. He that takes in a partner for a third, has a partner servant; he that takes him in for a half, has a partner master—that is to say, a director, or preceptor: let your partner have always a lesser interest in the business than yourself, and be rather less acquainted with the business than yourself, at least not better. You should rather have a partner to be instructed, than a partner to instruct you; for he that teaches you, will always taunt you.
3. If you must have a partner, let him always be your junior, rather than your senior; by this I mean, your junior in business, whether he is so in years or not. There are many reasons why the tradesman should choose this, and particularly the same as the other of taking him in for a junior or inferior part of the trade—that is to say, to maintain the superiority of the business in his own hands; and this I mention, not at all upon account of the pride or vanity of the superiority, for that is a trifle compared to the rest; but that he may have the more authority to inspect the conduct of his partner, in which he is so much and so essentially concerned; and to inquire whether he is doing any thing, or taking any measures, dangerous or prejudicial to the stock, or to the credit of the partnership, that so if he finds any thing, he may restrain him, and prevent in time the mischief which would otherwise be inevitable to them both.
There are many other advantages to a tradesman who is obliged to take a partner, by keeping in his own hands the major part of the trade, which are too long to repeat here; such as his being always able to put a check to any rash adventure, any launching out into bubbles and projects, and things dangerous to the business: and this is a very needful thing in a partnership, that one partner should be able to correct the rash resolves of another in hazardous cases.
By this correcting of rash measures, I mean over-ruling them with moderation and temper, for the good of the whole, and for their mutual advantage. The Romans frequently had two generals, or consuls, to command their armies in the field: one of which was to be a young man, that by his vigour and sprightly forwardness he might keep up the spirits and courage of the soldiers, encourage them to fight, and lead them on by his example; the other an old soldier, that by his experience in the military affairs, age, and counsels, he might a little abate the fire of his colleague, and might not only know how to fight, but know when to fight, that is to say, when to avoid fighting; and the want of this lost them many a victory, and the great battle of Cannae in particular, in which 80,000 Romans were killed in one day.
To compare small things with great, I may say it is just so in the affair of trade. You should always join a sober grave head, weighed to business, and acquainted with trade, to the young trader, who having been young in the work will the easier give up his judgment to the other, and who is governed with the solid experience of the other; and so you join their ways together, the rash and the sedate, the grave and the giddy.
Again, if you must go into partnership, be sure, if possible, you take nobody into partnership but such as whose circumstances in trade you are fully acquainted with. Such there are frequently to be had among relations and neighbours, and such, if possible, should be the man that is taken into partnership, that the hazard of unsound circumstances may be avoided. A man may else be taken into partnership who may be really bankrupt even before you take him; and such things have been done, to the ruin of many an honest tradesman.
If possible, let your partner be a beginner, that his stock may be reasonably supposed to be free and unentangled; and let him be one that you know personally, and his circumstances, and did know even before you had any thoughts of engaging together.
All these cautions are with a supposition that the partner must be had; but I must still give it as my opinion, in the case of such tradesmen as I have all along directed myself to, that if possible they should go on single-handed in trade; and I close it with this brief note, respecting the qualifications of a partner, as above, that, next to no partner, such a partner is best.
OF HONESTY IN DEALING, AND LYING
There is some difference between an honest man and an honest tradesman; and though the distinction is very nice, yet, I must say, it is to be supported. Trade cannot make a knave of an honest man, for there is a specific difference between honesty and knavery which can never be altered by trade or any other thing; nor can that integrity of mind which describes and is peculiar to a man of honesty be ever abated to a tradesman; the rectitude of his soul must be the same, and he must not only intend or mean honestly and justly, but he must do so; he must act honestly and justly, and that in all his dealings; he must neither cheat nor defraud, over-reach nor circumvent his neighbour, nor indeed anybody he deals with; nor must he design to do so, or lay any plots or snares to that purpose in his dealing, as is frequent in the general conduct of too many, who yet call themselves honest tradesmen, and would take it very ill to have any one tax their integrity.
But after all this is premised, there are some latitudes, like poetical licences in other cases, which a tradesman is and must be allowed, and which by the custom and usage of trade he may give himself a liberty in, which cannot be allowed in other cases to any man, no, nor to the tradesman himself out of his business—I say, he may take some liberties, but within bounds; and whatever some pretenders to strict living may say, yet that tradesman shall pass with me for a very honest man, notwithstanding the liberty which he gives himself of this kind, if he does not take those liberties in an exorbitant manner; and those liberties are such as these.
1. The liberty of asking more than he will take. I know some people have condemned this practice as dishonest, and the Quakers for a time stood to their point in the contrary practice, resolving to ask no more than they would take, upon any occasion whatsoever, and choosing rather to lose the selling of their goods, though they could afford sometimes to take what was offered, rather than abate a farthing of the price they had asked; but time and the necessities of trade made them wiser, and brought them off of that severity, and they by degrees came to ask, and abate, and abate again, just as other business tradesmen do, though not perhaps as some do, who give themselves a fuller liberty that way.
Indeed, it is the buyers that make this custom necessary; for they, especially those who buy for immediate use, will first pretend positively to tie themselves up to a limited price, and bid them a little and a little more, till they come so near the sellers' price, that they, the sellers, cannot find in their hearts to refuse it, and then they are tempted to take it, notwithstanding their first words to the contrary. It is common, indeed, for the tradesman to say, 'I cannot abate anything,' when yet they do and can afford it; but the tradesman should indeed not be understood strictly and literally to his words, but as he means it, namely, that he cannot reasonably abate, and that he cannot afford to abate: and there he may be in earnest, namely, that he cannot make a reasonable profit of his goods, if he is obliged to abate, and so the meaning is honest, that he cannot abate; and yet rather than not take your money, he may at last resolve to do it, in hopes of getting a better price for the remainder, or being willing to abate his ordinary gain, rather than disoblige the customer; or being perhaps afraid he should not sell off the quantity; and many such reasons may be given why he submits to sell at a lower price than he really intended, or can afford to do; and yet he cannot be said to be dishonest, or to lie, in saying at first he cannot, or could not, abate.
A man in trade is properly to be said not to be able to do what he cannot do to his profit and advantage. The English cannot trade to Hungary, and into Slavonia—that is to say, they cannot do it to advantage; but it is better for them to trade to Venice with their goods, and let the Venetians carry on a trade into Hungary through Dalmatia, Croatia, &c, and the like in other places.
To bring it down to particular cases: one certain merchant cannot deal in one sort of goods which another merchant is eminent for; the other merchant is as free to the trade as he, but he cannot do it to profit; for he is unacquainted with the trade, and it is out of his way, and therefore he cannot do it.
Thus, to the case in hand. The tradesman says he cannot sell his goods under such a price, which in the sense of his business is true; that is to say, he cannot do it to carry on his trade with the usual and reasonable advantage which he ought to expect, and which others make in the same way of business.
Or, he cannot, without underselling the market, and undervaluing the goods, and seeming to undersell his neighbour-shopkeepers, to whom there is a justice due in trade, which respects the price of sale; and to undersell is looked upon as an unfair kind of trading.
All these, and many more, are the reasons why a tradesman may be said not to lie, though he should say he cannot abate, or cannot sell his goods under such a price, and yet may after think fit to sell you his goods something lower than he so intended, or can afford to do, rather than lose your custom, or rather than lose the selling of his goods, and taking your ready money, which at that time he may have occasion for.
In these cases, I cannot say a shopkeeper should be tied down to the literal meaning of his words in the price he asks, or that he is guilty of lying in not adhering stiffly to the letter of his first demand; though, at the same time, I would have every tradesman take as little liberty that way as may be: and if the buyer would expect the tradesman should keep strictly to his demand, he should not stand and haggle, and screw the shopkeeper down, bidding from one penny to another, to a trifle within his price, so, as it were, to push him to the extremity, either to turn away his customer for a sixpence, or some such trifle, or to break his word: as if he would say, I will force you to speak falsely, or turn me away for a trifle.
In such cases, if, indeed, there is a breach, the sin is the buyer's: at least, he puts himself in the devil's stead, and makes himself both tempter and accuser; nor can I say that the seller is in that case so much to blame as the buyer. However, it were to be wished that on both sides buying and selling might be carried on without it; for the buyer as often says, 'I won't give a farthing more,' and yet advances, as the seller says, 'I can't abate a farthing,' and yet complies. These are, as I call them, trading lies; and it were to be wished they could be avoided on both sides; and the honest tradesman does avoid them as much as possible, but yet must not, I say, in all cases, be tied up to the strict, literal sense of that expression, I cannot abate, as above.
2. Another trading licence is that of appointing, and promising payments of money, which men in business are oftentimes forced to make, and forced to break, without any scrupple; nay, and without any reproach upon their integrity. Let us state this case as clearly as we can, and see how it stands as to the morality of it, for that is the point in debate.
The credit usually given by one tradesman to another, as particularly by the merchant to the wholesale-man, and by the wholesale-man to the retailer, is such, that, without tying the buyer up to a particular day of payment, they go on buying and selling, and the buyer pays money upon account, as his convenience admits, and as the seller is content to take it. This occasions the merchant, or the wholesale-man, to go about, as they call it, a-dunning among their dealers, and which is generally the work of every Saturday. When the merchant comes to his customer the wholesale-man, or warehouse-keeper, for money, he tells him, 'I have no money, Sir; I cannot pay you now; if you call next week, I will pay you.' Next week comes, and the merchant calls again; but it is the same thing, only the warehouseman adds, 'Well, I will pay you next week, without fail.' When the week comes, he tells him he has met with great disappointments, and he knows not what to do, but desires his patience another week: and when the other week comes, perhaps he pays him, and so they go on.
Now, what is to be said for this? In the first place, let us look back to the occasion. This warehouse-keeper, or wholesale-man, sells the goods which he buys of the merchant—I say, he sells them to the retailers, and it is for that reason I place it first there. Now, as they buy in smaller quantities than he did of the merchant, so he deals with more of them in number, and he goes about among them the same Saturday, to get in money that he may pay his merchant, and he receives his bag full of promises, too, every where instead of money, and is put off from week to week, perhaps by fifty shopkeepers in a day; and their serving him thus obliges him to do the same to the merchant.
Again, come to the merchant. Except some, whose circumstances are above it, they are by this very usage obliged to put off the Blackwell-hall factor, or the packer, or the clothier, or whoever they deal with, in proportion; and thus promises go round for payment, and those promises are kept or broken as money comes in, or as disappointments happen; and all this while there is no breach of honesty, or parole; no lying, or supposition of it, among the tradesmen, either on one side or other.
But let us come, I say, to the morality of it. To break a solemn promise is a kind of prevarication; that is certain, there is no coming off of it; and I might enlarge here upon the first fault, namely, of making the promise, which, say the strict objectors, they should not do. But the tradesman's answer is this: all those promises ought to be taken as they are made—namely, with a contingent dependence upon the circumstances of trade, such as promises made them by others who owe them money, or the supposition of a week's trade bringing in money by retail, as usual, both of which are liable to fail, or at least to fall short; and this the person who calls for the money knows, and takes the promise with those attending casualties; which if they fail, he knows the shopkeeper, or whoever he is, must fail him too.
The case is plain, if the man had the money in cash, he need not make a promise or appointment for a farther day; for that promise is no more or less than a capitulation for a favour, a desire or condition of a week's forbearance, on his assurance, that if possible he will not fail to pay him at the time. It is objected, that the words if possible should then be mentioned, which would solve the morality of the case: to this I must answer, that I own I think it needless, unless the man to whom the promise was made could be supposed to believe the promise was to be performed, whether it were possible or no; which no reasonable man can be supposed to do.
There is a parallel case to this in the ordinary appointment of people to meet either at place or time, upon occasions of business. Two friends make an appointment to meet the next day at such a house, suppose a tavern at or near the Exchange: one says to the other, 'Do not fail me at that time, for I will certainly be there;' the other answers, 'I will not fail.' Some people, who think themselves more religious than others, or at least would be thought so, object against these positive appointments, and tell us we ought to say, 'I will, if it pleases God.' or I will, life and health permitting; and they quote the text for it, where our Saviour expressly commands to use such a caution, and which I shall say nothing to lessen the force of.
But to say a word to our present custom. Since Christianity is the public profession of the country, and we are to suppose we not only are Christians ourselves, but that all those we are talking to, or of, are also Christians, we must add that Christianity supposes we acknowledge that life, and all the contingencies of life, are subjected to the dominion of Providence, and liable to all those accidents which God permits to befall us in the ordinary course of our living in the world, therefore we expect to be taken in that sense in all such appointments; and it is but justice to us as Christians, in the common acceptation of our words, that when I say, I will certainly meet my friend at such a place, and at such a time, he should understand me to mean, if it pleases God to give me life and health, or that his Providence permits me to come, or, as the text says, 'If the Lord will;' for we all know that unless the Lord will, I cannot meet, or so much as live.
Not to understand me thus, is as much as to say, you do not understand me to be a Christian, or to act like a Christian in any thing; and on the other hand, they that understand it otherwise, I ought not to understand them to be Christians. Nor should I be supposed to put any neglect or dishonour upon the government of Providence in the world, or to suggest that I did not think myself subjected to it, because I omitted the words in my appointment.
In like manner, when a man comes to me for money, I put him off: that, in the first place, supposes I have not the money by me, or cannot spare it to pay him at that time; if it were otherwise, it may be supposed I would pay him just then. He is then perhaps impatient, and asks me when I will pay him, and I tell him at such a time. This naturally supposes, that by that time I expect to be supplied, so as to be able to pay; I have current bills, or promises of money, to be paid me, or I expect the ordinary takings in my shop or warehouse will supply me to make good my promise: thus my promise is honest in its foundation, because I have reason to expect money to come in to make me in a condition to perform it; but so it falls out, contrary to my expectation, and contrary to the reason of things, I am disappointed, and cannot do it; I am then, indeed, a trespasser upon my creditor, whom I ought to have paid, and I am under affliction enough on that account, and I suffer in my reputation for it also; but I cannot be said to be a liar, an immoral man, a man that has no regard to my promise, and the like; for at the same time I have perhaps used my utmost endeavour to do it, but am prevented by many several men breaking promise with me, and I am no way able to help myself.
It is objected to this, that then I should not make my promises absolute, but conditional. To this I say, that the promises, as is above observed, are really not absolute, but conditional in the very nature of them, and are understood so when they are made, or else they that hear them do not understand them, as all human appointments ought to be understood; I do confess, it would be better not to make an absolute promise at all, but to express the condition or reserve with the promise, and say, 'I will if I can,' or, 'I will if people are just to me, and perform their promises to me.'
But to this I answer, the importunity of the person who demands the payment will not permit it—nothing short of a positive promise will satisfy—they never believe the person intends to perform if he makes the least reserve or condition in his promise, though, at the same time, they know that even the nature of the promise and the reason of the promise strongly implies the condition—I say, the importunity of the creditor occasions the breach, which he reproaches the debtor with the immorality of.
Custom, indeed, has driven us beyond the limits of our morals in many things, which trade makes necessary, and which we cannot now avoid; so that if we must pretend to go back to the literal sense of the command; if our yea must be yea, and our nay nay; if no man must go beyond, or defraud his neighbour; if our conversation must be without covetousness, and the like—why, then, it is impossible for tradesmen to be Christians, and we must unhinge all business, act upon new principles in trade, and go on by new rules—in short, we must shut up shop, and leave off trade, and so in many things we must leave off living; for as conversation is called life, we must leave off to converse: all the ordinary communication of life is now full of lying; and what with table-lies, salutation-lies, and trading-lies, there is no such thing as every man speaking truth with his neighbour.
But this is a subject would launch me out beyond the bounds of a chapter, and make a book by itself. I return to the case particularly in hand—promises of payment of money. Men in trade, I say, are under this unhappy necessity, they are forced to make them, and they are forced to break them; the violent pressing and dunning, and perhaps threatening too, of the creditor, when the poor shopkeeper cannot comply with his demand, forces him to promise; in short, the importunate creditor will not be otherwise put off, and the poor shopkeeper, almost worried, and perhaps a little terrified too, and afraid of him, is glad to do and say any thing to pacify him, and this extorts a promise, which, when the time comes, he is no more able to perform than he was before, and this multiplies promises, and consequently breaches, so much of which are to be placed to the accounts of force, that I must acknowledge, though the debtor is to blame, the creditor is too far concerned in the crime of it to be excused, and it were to be wished some other method could be found out to prevent the evil, and that tradesmen would resolve with more courage to resist the importunities of the creditor, be the consequence what it would, rather than break in upon their morals, and load their consciences with the reproaches of it for all their lives after.
I remember I knew a tradesman, who, labouring long under the ordinary difficulties of men embarrassed in trade, and past the possibility of getting out, and being at last obliged to stop and call his people together, told me, that after he was broke, though it was a terrible thing to him at first too, as it is to most tradesmen, yet he thought himself in a new world, when he was at a full stop, and had no more the terror upon him of bills coming for payment, and creditors knocking at his door to dun him, and he without money to pay. He was no more obliged to stand in his shop, and be bullied and ruffled by his creditors, nay, by their apprentices and boys, and sometimes by porters and footmen, to whom he was forced to give good words, and sometimes strain his patience to the utmost limits: he was now no more obliged to make promises, which he knew he could not perform, and break promises as fast as he made them, and so lie continually both to God and man; and, he added, the ease of his mind which he felt upon that occasion was so great, that it balanced all the grief he was in at the general disaster of his affairs; and, farther, that even in the lowest of his circumstances which followed, he would not go back to live as he had done, in the exquisite torture of want of money to pay his bills and his duns.
Nor was it any satisfaction to him to say, that it was owing to the like breach of promise in the shopkeepers, and gentlemen, and people whom he dealt with, who owed him money, and who made no conscience of promising and disappointing him, and thereby drove him to the necessity of breaking his own promises; for this did not satisfy his mind in the breaches of his word, though they really drove him to the necessity of it: but that which lay heaviest upon him was the violence and clamour of creditors, who would not be satisfied without such promises, even when he knew, or at least believed, he should not be able to perform.
Nay, such was the importunity of one of his merchants, that when he came for money, and he was obliged to put him off, and to set him another day, the merchant would not be satisfied, unless he would swear that he would pay him on that day without fail. 'And what said you to him?' said I. 'Say to him!' said he, 'I looked him full in the face, and sat me down without speaking a word, being filled with rage and indignation at him; but after a little while he insisted again, and asked me what answer I would make him, at which I smiled, and asked him, if he were in earnest? He grew angry then, and asked me if I laughed at him, and if I thought to laugh him out of his money? I then asked him, if he really did expect I should swear that I would pay him the next week, as I proposed to promise? He told me, yes, he did, and I should swear it, or pay him before he went out of my warehouse.
I wondered, indeed, at the discourse, and at the folly of the merchant, who, I understood afterwards, was a foreigner; and though I thought he had been in jest at first, when he assured me he was not, I was curious to hear the issue, which at first he was loth to go on with, because he knew it would bring about all the rest; but I pressed him to know—so he told me that the merchant carried it to such a height as put him into a furious passion, and, knowing he must break some time or other, he was resolved to put an end to his being insulted in that manner; so at last he rose up in a rage, told the merchant, that as no honest man could take such an oath, unless he had the money by him to pay it, so no honest man could ask such a thing of him; and that, since he must have an answer, his answer was, he would not swear such an oath for him, nor any man living, and if he would not be satisfied without it, he might do his worst—and so turned from him; and knowing the man was a considerable creditor, and might do him a mischief, he resolved to shut up that very night, and did so, carrying all his valuable goods with him into the Mint, and the next day he heard that his angry creditor waylaid him the same afternoon to arrest him, but he was too quick for him; and, as he said, though it almost broke his heart to shut up his shop, yet that being delivered from the insulting temper of his creditor, and the perpetual perplexities of want of money to pay people when they dunned him, and, above all, from the necessity of making solemn promises for trifling sums, and then breaking them again, was to him like a load taken off his back when he was weary, and could stand under it no longer; it was a terror to him, he said, to be continually lying, breaking faith with all mankind, and making promises which he could not perform.
This necessarily brings me to observe here, and it is a little for the ease of the tradesman's mind in such severe cases, that there is a distinction to be made in this case between wilful premeditated lying, and the necessity men may be driven to by their disappointments, and other accidents of their circumstances, to break such promises, as they had made with an honest intention of performing them.
He that breaks a promise, however solemnly made, may be an honest man, but he that makes a promise with a design to break it, or with no resolution of performing it, cannot be so: nay, to carry it farther, he that makes a promise, and does not do his endeavour to perform it, or to put himself into a condition to perform it, cannot be an honest man. A promise once made supposes the person willing to perform it, if it were in his power, and has a binding influence upon the person who made it, so far as his power extends, or that he can within the reach of any reasonable ability perform the conditions; but if it is not in his power to perform it, as in this affair of payment of money is often the case, the man cannot be condemned as dishonest, unless it can be made appear, either
1. That when he made the promise, he knew he should not be able to perform it; or,
2. That he resolved when he made the promise not to perform it, though he should be in a condition to do it. And in both these cases the morality of promising cannot be justified, any more than the immorality of not performing it.
But, on the other hand, the person promising, honestly intending when he made the appointment to perform it if possible, and endeavouring faithfully to be able, but being rendered unable by the disappointment of those on whose promises he depended for the performance of his own; I cannot say that such a tradesman can be charged with lying, or with any immorality in promising, for the breach was not properly his own, but the people's on whom he depended; and this is justified from what I said before, namely, that every promise of that kind supposes the possibility of such a disappointment, even in the very nature of its making; for, if the man were not under a moral incapacity of payment, he would not promise at all, but pay at the time he promised. His promising, then, implies that he has only something future to depend upon, to capacitate him for the payment; that is to say, the appointments of payment by other tradesmen, who owe him (that promises) the money, or the daily supply from the ordinary course of his trade, suppose him a retailer in a shop, and the like; all which circumstances are subject to contingencies and disappointments, and are known to be so by the person to whom the promise is made; and it is with all those contingencies and possibilities of disappointment, that he takes or accepts the tradesman's promise, and forbears him, in hopes that he will be able to perform, knowing, that unless he receives money as above, he cannot.
I must, however, acknowledge, that it is a very mortifying thing to a tradesman, whether we suppose him to be one that values his credit in trade, or his principle as to honest dealing, to be obliged to break his word; and therefore, where men are not too much under the hatches to the creditor, and they can possibly avoid it, a tradesman should not make his promises of payment so positive, but rather conditional, and thereby avoid both the immorality and the discredit of breaking his word; nor will any tradesman, I hope, harden himself in a careless forwardness to promise, without endeavouring or intending to perform, from any thing said in this chapter; for be the excuse for it as good as it will, as to the point of strict honesty, he can have but small regard to his own peace of mind, or to his own credit in trade, who will not avoid it as much as possible.
 [The practice of haggling about prices is now very properly abandoned by all respectable dealers in goods, greatly to the comfort of both sellers and buyers.]
 [It was a fashion of trade in Defoe's time, and down to a somewhat later period, to thrust the phrase 'God willing' into almost every promise or announcement, the purport of which might possibly be thwarted by death or any other accident. The phrase, in particular, appeared at the beginning of all letters in which a merchant announced his design of visiting retail dealers in the provinces; as, 'God willing, I shall have the honour of waiting on you on the 15th proximo:' hence English riders, or commercial travellers, came to be known in Scotland by the nickname of God-willings.' This pious phraseology seems now to be banished from all mercantile affairs, except the shipping of goods.]
 [Notwithstanding all this ingenious reasoning, we cannot help thinking that it would be better if conditional promises were made in conditional language. It is not necessarily to be understood in all cases that a direct unreserved promise means something conditional, so that there is a liability to being much deceived and grievously disappointed by all such promises. A sound morality certainly demands that the tradesman should use the practices described in the text as rarely, and with as much reluctance, as possible, and that, like other men, he should make his words, as nearly as may be, the echo of his thoughts.]
OF THE CUSTOMARY FRAUDS OF TRADE, WHICH HONEST MEN ALLOW THEMSELVES TO PRACTISE, AND PRETEND TO JUSTIFY
As there are trading lies which honest men tell, so there are frauds in trade, which tradesmen daily practise, and which, notwithstanding, they think are consistent with their being honest men.
It is certainly true, that few things in nature are simply unlawful and dishonest, but that all crime is made so by the addition and concurrence of circumstances; and of these I am now to speak: and the first I take notice of, is that of taking and repassing, or putting off, counterfeit or false money.
It must be confessed, that calling in the old money in the time of the late King William was an act particularly glorious to that reign, and in nothing more than this, that it delivered trade from a terrible load, and tradesmen from a vast accumulated weight of daily crime. There was scarce a shopkeeper that had not a considerable quantity or bag full of false and unpassable money; not an apprentice that kept his master's cash, but had an annual loss, which they sometimes were unable to support, and sometimes their parents and friends were called upon for the deficiency.
The consequence was, that every raw youth or unskilful body, that was sent to receive money, was put upon by the cunning tradesmen, and all the bad money they had was tendered in payment among the good, that by ignorance or oversight some might possibly be made to pass; and as these took it, so they were not wanting again in all the artifice and sleight of hand they were masters of, to put it off again; so that, in short, people were made bites and cheats to one another in all their business; and if you went but to buy a pair of gloves, or stockings, or any trifle, at a shop, you went with bad money in one hand, and good money in the other, proffering first the bad coin, to get it off, if possible, and then the good, to make up the deficiency, if the other was rejected.
Thus, people were daily upon the catch to cheat and surprise one another, if they could; and, in short, paid no good money for anything, if they could help it. And how did we triumph, if meeting with some poor raw servant, or ignorant woman, behind a counter, we got off a counterfeit half-crown, or a brass shilling, and brought away their goods (which were worth the said half-crown or shilling, if it had been good) for a half-crown that was perhaps not worth sixpence, or for a shilling not worth a penny: as if this were not all one with picking the shopkeeper's pocket, or robbing his house!
The excuse ordinarily given for this practice was this—namely, that it came to us for good; we took it, and it only went as it came; we did not make it, and the like; as if, because we had been basely cheated by A, we were to be allowed to cheat B; or that because C had robbed our house, that therefore we might go and rob D.
And yet this was constantly practised at that time over the whole nation, and by some of the honestest tradesmen among us, if not by all of them.
When the old money was, as I have said, called in, this cheating trade was put to an end, and the morals of the nation in some measure restored—for, in short, before that, it was almost impossible for a tradesman to be an honest man; but now we begin to fall into it again, and we see the current coin of the kingdom strangely crowded with counterfeit money again, both gold and silver; and especially we have found a great deal of counterfeit foreign money, as particularly Portugal and Spanish gold, such as moydores and Spanish pistoles, which, when we have the misfortune to be put upon with them, the fraud runs high, and dips deep into our pockets, the first being twenty-seven shillings, and the latter seventeen shillings. It is true, the latter being payable only by weight, we are not often troubled with them; but the former going all by tale, great quantities of them have been put off among us. I find, also, there is a great increase of late of counterfeit money of our own coin, especially of shillings, and the quantity increasing, so that, in a few years more, if the wicked artists are not detected, the grievance may be in proportion as great as it was formerly, and perhaps harder to be redressed, because the coin is not likely to be any more called in, as the old smooth money was.
What, then, must be done? And how must we prevent the mischief to conscience and principle which lay so heavy upon the whole nation before? The question is short, and the answer would be as short, and to the purpose, if people would but submit to the little loss that would fall upon them at first, by which they would lessen the weight of it as they go on, as it would never increase to such a formidable height as it was at before, nor would it fall so much upon the poor as it did then.
First, I must lay it down as a stated rule or maxim, in the moral part of the question—that to put off counterfeit base money for good money, knowing it to be counterfeit, is dishonest and knavish.
Nor will it take off from the crime of it, or lessen the dishonesty, to say, 'I took it for good and current money, and it goes as it comes;' for, as before, my having been cheated does not authorise me to cheat any other person, so neither was it a just or honest thing in that person who put the bad money upon me, if they knew it to be bad; and if it were not honest in them, how can it be so in me? If, then, it came by knavery, it should not go by knavery—that would be, indeed, to say, it goes as it comes, in a literal sense; that is to say, it came by injustice, and I shall make it go so: but that will not do in matters of right and wrong.
The laws of our country, also, are directly against the practice; the law condemns the coin as illegal—that is to say, it is not current money, or, as the lawyers style it, it is not lawful money of England. Now, every bargain or agreement in trade, is in the common and just acceptation, and the language of trade, made for such a price or rate, in the current money of England; and though you may not express it in words at length, it is so understood, as much as if it were set down in writing. If I cheapen any thing at a shop, suppose it the least toy or trifle, I ask them, 'What must you have for it?' The shopkeeper answers—so much; suppose it were a shilling, what is the English but this—one shilling of lawful money of England? And I agree to give that shilling; but instead of it give them a counterfeit piece of lead or tin, washed over, to make it look like a shilling. Do I pay them what I bargained for? Do I give them one shilling of lawful money of England? Do I not put a cheat upon them, and act against justice and mutual agreement?