The Complete English Tradesman (1839 ed.)
by Daniel Defoe
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To say I took this for the lawful money of England, will not add at all, except it be to the fraud; for my being deceived does not at all make it be lawful money: so that, in a word, there can be nothing in that part but increasing the criminal part, and adding one knave more to the number of knaves which the nation was encumbered with before.

The case to me is very clear, namely, that neither by law, justice, nor conscience, can the tradesman put off his bad money after he has taken it, if he once knows it to be false and counterfeit money. That it is against the law is evident, because it is not good and lawful money of England; it cannot be honest, because you do not pay in the coin you agreed for, or perform the bargain you made, or pay in the coin expected of you; and it is not just, because you do not give a valuable consideration for the goods you buy, but really take a tradesman's goods away, and return dross and dirt to him in the room of it.

The medium I have to propose in the room of this, is, that every man who takes a counterfeit piece of money, and knows it to be such, should immediately destroy it—that is to say, destroy it as money, cut it in pieces; or, as I have seen some honest tradesmen do, nail it up against a post, so that it should go no farther. It is true, this is sinking so much upon himself, and supporting the credit of the current coin at his own expense, and he loses the whole piece, and this tradesmen are loth to do: but my answer is very clear, that thus they ought to do, and that sundry public reasons, and several public benefits, would follow to the public, in some of which he might have his share of benefit hereafter, and if he had not, yet he ought to do it.

First, by doing thus, he puts a stop to the fraud—that piece of money is no more made the instrument to deceive others, which otherwise it might do; and though it is true that the loss is only to the last man, that is to say, in the ordinary currency of the money, yet the breach upon conscience and principle is to every owner through whose hands that piece of money has fraudulently passed, that is to say, who have passed it away for good, knowing it to be counterfeit; so that it is a piece of good service to the public to take away the occasion and instrument of so much knavery and deceit.

Secondly, he prevents a worse fraud, which is, the buying and selling such counterfeit money. This was a very wicked, but open trade, in former days, and may in time come to be so again: fellows went about the streets, crying 'Brass money, broken or whole;' that is to say, they would give good money for bad. It was at first pretended that they were obliged to cut it in pieces, and if you insisted upon it, they would cut it in pieces before your face; but they as often got it without that ceremony, and so made what wicked shifts they could to get it off again, and many times did put it off for current money, after they had bought it for a trifle.

Thirdly, by this fraud, perhaps, the same piece of money might, several years after, come into your hands again, after you had sold it for a trifle, and so you might lose by the same shilling two or three times over, and the like of other people; but if men were obliged to demolish all the counterfeit money they take, and let it go no farther, they they would be sure the fraud could go no farther, nor would the quantity be ever great at a time; for whatever quantity the false coiners should at any time make, it would gradually lessen and sink away, and not a mass of false and counterfeit coin appear together, as was formerly the case, and which lost the nation a vast sum of money to call in.

It has been the opinion of some, that a penalty should be inflicted upon those who offered any counterfeit money in payment; but besides that, there is already a statute against uttering false money, knowing it to be such. If any other or farther law should be made, either to enforce the statute, or to have new penalties added, they would still fall into the same difficulties as in the act.

1. That innocent men would suffer, seeing many tradesmen may take a piece of counterfeit money in tale with other money, and really and bona fide not know it, and so may offer it again as innocently as they at first took it ignorantly; and to bring such into trouble for every false shilling which they might offer to pay away without knowing it, would be to make the law be merely vexatious and tormenting to those against whom it was not intended, and at the same time not to meddle with the subtle crafty offender whom it was intended to punish, and who is really guilty.

2. Such an act would be difficultly executed, because it would still be difficult to know who did knowingly utter false money, and who did not; which is the difficulty, indeed, in the present law—so that, upon the whole, such a law would no way answer the end, nor effectually discover the offender, much less suppress the practice. But I am not upon projects and schemes—it is not the business of this undertaking.

But a general act, obliging all tradesmen to suppress counterfeit money, by refusing to put it off again, after they knew it to be counterfeit, and a general consent of tradesmen to do so; this would be the best way to put a stop to the practice, the morality of which is so justly called in question, and the ill consequences of which to trade are so very well known; nor will any thing but a universal consent of tradesmen, in the honest suppressing of counterfeit money, ever bring it to pass. In the meantime, as to the dishonesty of the practice, however popular it is grown at this time, I think it is out of question; it can have nothing but custom to plead for it, which is so far from an argument, that I think the plea is criminal in itself, and really adds to its being a grievance, and calls loudly for a speedy redress.

Another trading fraud, which, among many others of the like nature, I think worth speaking of, is the various arts made use of by tradesmen to set off their goods to the eye of the ignorant buyer.

I bring this in here, because I really think it is something of kin to putting off counterfeit money; every false gloss put upon our woollen manufactures, by hot-pressing, folding, dressing, tucking, packing, bleaching, &c, what are they but washing over a brass shilling to make it pass for sterling? Every false light, every artificial side-window, sky-light, and trunk-light we see made to show the fine Hollands, lawns, cambrics, &c. to advantage, and to deceive the buyer—what is it but a counterfeit coin to cheat the tradesman's customers?—an ignis fatuus to impose upon fools and ignorant people, and make their goods look finer than they are?

But where in trade is there any business entirely free from these frauds? and how shall we speak of them, when we see them so universally made use of? Either they are honest, or they are not. If they are not, why do we, I say, universally make use of them?—if they are honest, why so much art and so much application to manage them, and to make goods appear fairer and finer to the eye than they really are?—which, in its own nature, is evidently a design to cheat, and that in itself is criminal, and can be no other.

And yet there is much to be said for setting goods out to the best advantage too; for in some goods, if they are not well dressed, well pressed, and packed, the goods are not really shown in a true light; many of our woollen manufactures, if brought to market rough and undressed, like a piece of cloth not carried to the fulling or thicking mill, it does not show itself to a just advantage, nay, it does not show what it really is; and therefore such works as may be proper for so far setting it forth to the eye may be necessary. For example:

The cloths, stuffs, serges, druggets, &c, which are brought to market in the west and northern parts of England, and in Norfolk, as they are bought without the dressing and making up, it may be said of them that they are brought to market unfinished, and they are bought there again by the wholesale dealers, or cloth-workers, tuckers, and merchants, and they carry them to their warehouses and workhouses, and there they go through divers operations again, and are finished for the market; nor, indeed, are they fit to be shown till they are so; the stuffs are in the grease, the cloth is in the oil, they are rough and foul, and are not dressed, and consequently not finished; and as our buyers do not understand them till they are so dressed, it is no proper finishing the goods to bring them to market before—they are not, indeed, properly said to be made till that part is done.

Therefore I cannot call all those setting-out of goods to be knavish and false; but when the goods, like a false shilling, are to be set out with fraud and false colours, and made smooth and shining to delude the eye, there, where they are so, it is really a fraud; and though in some cases it extremely differs, yet that does not excuse the rest by any means.

The packers and hot-pressers, tuckers, and cloth-workers, are very necessary people in their trades, and their business is to set goods off to the best advantage; but it may be said, too, that their true and proper business is to make the goods show what really they are, and nothing else. It is true, as above, that in the original dress, as a piece of cloth or drugget, or stuff, comes out of the hand of the maker, it does not show itself as it really is, nor what it should and ought to show: thus far these people are properly called finishers of the manufactures, and their work is not lawful only, but it is a doing justice to the manufacture.

But if, by the exuberances of their art, they set the goods in a false light, give them a false gloss, a finer and smoother surface than really they have: this is like a painted jade, who puts on a false colour upon her tawny skin to deceive and delude her customers, and make her seem the beauty which she has no just claim to the name of.

So far as art is thus used to show these goods to be what they really are not, and deceive the buyer, so far it is a trading fraud, which is an unjustifiable practice in business, and which, like coining of counterfeit money, is making goods to pass for what they really are not; and is done for the advantage of the person who puts them off, and to the loss of the buyer, who is cheated and deceived by the fraud.

The making false lights, sky-lights, trunks, and other contrivances, to make goods look to be what they are not, and to deceive the eye of the buyer, these are all so many brass shillings washed over, in order to deceive the person who is to take them, and cheat him of his money; and so far these false lights are really criminal, they are cheats in trade, and made to deceive the world; to make deformity look like beauty, and to varnish over deficiencies; to make goods which are ordinary in themselves appear fine; to make things which are ill made look well; in a word, they are cheats in themselves, but being legitimated by custom, are become a general practice; the honestest tradesmen have them, and make use of them; the buyer knows of it, and suffers himself to be so imposed upon; and, in a word, if it be a cheat, as no doubt it is, they tell us that yet it is a universal cheat, and nobody trades without it; so custom and usage make it lawful, and there is little to be said but this, Si populus vult decepi, decipiatur—if the people will be cheated, let them be cheated, or they shall be cheated.

I come next to the setting out their goods to the buyer by the help of their tongue; and here I must confess our shop rhetoric is a strange kind of speech; it is to be understood in a manner by itself; it is to be taken, not in a latitude only, but in such a latitude as indeed requires as many flourishes to excuse it, as it contains flourishes in itself.

The end of it, indeed, is corrupt, and it is also made up of a corrupt composition; it is composed of a mass of rattling flattery to the buyer, and that filled with hypocrisy, compliment, self-praises, falsehood, and, in short, a complication of wickedness; it is a corrupt means to a vicious end: and I cannot see any thing in it but what a wise man laughs at, a good man abhors, and any man of honesty avoids as much as possible.

The shopkeeper ought, indeed, to have a good tongue, but he should not make a common prostitute of his tongue, and employ it to the wicked purpose of abusing and imposing upon all that come to deal with him. There is a modest liberty, which trading licence, like the poetic licence, allows to all the tradesmen of every kind: but tradesmen ought no more to lie behind the counter, than the parsons ought to talk treason in the pulpit.

Let them confine themselves to truth, and say what they will. But it cannot be done; a talking rattling mercer, or draper, or milliner, behind his counter, would be worth nothing if he should confine himself to that mean silly thing called truth—they must lie; it is in support of their business, and some think they cannot live without it; but I deny that part, and recommend it, I mean to the tradesmen I am speaking of, to consider what a scandal it is upon trade, to pretend to say that a tradesman cannot live without lying, the contrary to which may be made appear in almost every article.

On the other hand, I must do justice to the tradesmen, and must say, that much of it is owing to the buyers—they begin the work, and give the occasion. It was the saying of a very good shopman once upon this occasion, 'That their customers would not be pleased without lying; and why,' said he, 'did Solomon reprove the buyer?—he said nothing to the shopkeeper—"It is naught, it is naught," says the buyer; "but when he goes away, then he boasteth" (Prov. xx. 14.) The buyer telling us,' adds he, 'that every thing is worse than it is, forces us, in justifying its true value, to tell them it is better than it is.'

It must be confessed, this verbose way of trading is most ridiculous, as well as offensive, both in buyer and seller; and as it adds nothing to the goodness or value of the goods, so, I am sure, it adds nothing to the honesty or good morals of the tradesman, on one side or other, but multiplies trading-lies on every side, and brings a just reproach on the integrity of the dealer, whether he be the buyer or seller.

It was a kind of a step to the cure of this vice in trade, for such it is, that there was an old office erected in the city of London, for searching and viewing all the goods which were sold in bulk, and could not be searched into by the buyer—this was called garbling; and the garbler having viewed the goods, and caused all damaged or unsound goods to be taken out, set his seal upon the case or bags which held the rest, and then they were vouched to be marketable, so that when the merchant and the shopkeeper met to deal, there was no room for any words about the goodness of the wares; there was the garbler's seal to vouch that they were marketable and good, and if they were otherwise, the garbler was answerable.

This respected some particular sorts of goods only, and chiefly spices and drugs, and dye-stuffs, and the like. It were well if some other method than that of a rattling tongue could be found out, to ascertain the goodness and value of goods between the shopkeeper and the retail buyer, that such a flux of falsehoods and untruths might be avoided, as we see every day made use of to run up and run down every thing that is bought or sold, and that without any effect too; for, take it one time with another, all the shopkeeper's lying does not make the buyer like the goods at all the better, nor does the buyer's lying make the shopkeeper sell the cheaper.

It would be worth while to consider a little the language that passes between the tradesman and his customer over the counter, and put it into plain homespun English, as the meaning of it really imports. We would not take that usage if it were put into plain words—it would set all the shopkeepers and their customers together by the ears, and we should have fighting and quarrelling, instead of bowing and curtseying, in every shop. Let us hark a little, and hear how it would sound between them. A lady comes into a mercer's shop to buy some silks, or to the laceman's to buy silver laces, or the like; and when she pitches upon a piece which she likes, she begins thus:

Lady.—I like that colour and that figure well enough, but I don't like the silk—there is no substance in it.

Mer.—Indeed, Madam, your ladyship lies—it is a very substantial silk.

Lady.-No, no! you lie indeed, Sir; it is good for nothing; it will do no service.

Mer.—Pray, Madam, feel how heavy it is; you will find it is a lie; the very weight of it may satisfy you that you lie, indeed, Madam.

Lady.—Come, come, show me a better piece; I am sure you have better.

Mer.—Indeed, Madam, your ladyship lies; I may show you more pieces, but I cannot show you a better; there is not a better piece of silk of that sort in London, Madam.

Lady.—Let me see that piece of crimson there.

Mer.—Here it is, Madam.

Lady.—No, that won't do neither; it is not a good colour.

Mer.—Indeed, Madam, you lie; it is as fine a colour as can be dyed.

Lady.—Oh fy! you lie, indeed, Sir; why, it is not in grain.

Mer.—Your ladyship lies, upon my word, Madam; it is in grain, indeed, and as fine as can be dyed.

I might make this dialogue much longer, but here is enough to set the mercer and the lady both in a flame, and to set the shop in an uproar, if it were but spoken out in plain language, as above; and yet what is all the shop-dialect less or more than this? The meaning is plain—it is nothing but you lie, and you lie—downright Billingsgate, wrapped up in silk and satin, and delivered dressed finely up in better clothes than perhaps it might come dressed in between a carman and a porter.

How ridiculous is all the tongue-padding flutter between Miss Tawdry, the sempstress, and Tattle, my lady's woman, at the change-shop, when the latter comes to buy any trifle! and how many lies, indeed, creep into every part of trade, especially of retail trade, from the meanest to the uppermost part of business!—till, in short, it is grown so scandalous, that I much wonder the shopkeepers themselves do not leave it off, for the mere shame of its simplicity and uselessness.

But habits once got into use are very rarely abated, however ridiculous they are; and the age is come to such a degree of obstinate folly, that nothing is too ridiculous for them, if they please but to make a custom of it.

I am not for making my discourse a satire upon the shopkeepers, or upon their customers: if I were, I could give a long detail of the arts and tricks made use of behind the counter to wheedle and persuade the buyer, and manage the selling part among shopkeepers, and how easily and dexterously they draw in their customers; but this is rather work for a ballad and a song: my business is to tell the complete tradesman how to act a wiser part, to talk to his customers like a man of sense and business, and not like a mountebank and his merry-andrew; to let him see that there is a way of managing behind a counter, that, let the customer be what or how it will, man or woman, impertinent or not impertinent—for sometimes, I must say, the men customers are every jot as impertinent as the women; but, I say, let them be what they will, and how they will, let them make as many words as they will, and urge the shopkeeper how they will, he may behave himself so as to avoid all those impertinences, falsehoods, follish and wicked excursions which I complain of, if he pleases.

It by no means follows, that because the buyer is foolish, the seller must be so too; that because the buyer has a never-ceasing tongue, the seller must rattle as fast as she; that because she tells a hundred lies to run down his goods, he must tell another hundred to run them up; and that because she belies the goods one way, he must do the same the other way.

There is a happy medium in these things. The shopkeeper, far from being rude to his customers on one hand, or sullen and silent on the other, may speak handsomely and modestly, of his goods; what they deserve, and no other; may with truth, and good manners too, set forth his goods as they ought to be set forth; and neither be wanting to the commodity he sells, nor run out into a ridiculous extravagance of words, which have neither truth of fact nor honesty of design in them.

Nor is this middle way of management at all less likely to succeed, if the customers have any share of sense in them, or the goods he shows any merit to recommend them; and I must say, I believe this grave middle way of discoursing to a customer, is generally more effectual, and more to the purpose, and more to the reputation of the shopkeeper, than a storm of words, and a mouthful of common, shop-language, which makes a noise, but has little in it to plead, except to here and there a fool that can no otherwise be prevailed with.

It would be a terrible satire upon the ladies, to say that they will not be pleased or engaged either with good wares or good pennyworths, with reasonable good language, or good manners, but they must have the addition of long harangues, simple, fawning, and flattering language, and a flux of false and foolish words, to set off the goods, and wheedle them in to lay out their money; and that without these they are not to be pleased.

But let the tradesman try the honest part, and stand by that, keeping a stock of fashionable and valuable goods in his shop to show, and I dare say he will run no venture, nor need he fear customers; if any thing calls for the help of noise, and rattling words, it must be mean and sorry, unfashionable, and ordinary goods, together with weak and silly buyers; and let the buyers that chance to read this remember, that whenever they find the shopkeeper begins his noise, and makes his fine speeches, they ought to suppose he (the shopkeeper) has trash to bring out, and believes he has fools to show it to.



It is a modern custom, and wholly unknown to our ancestors, who yet understood trade, in proportion to the trade they carried on, as well as we do, to have tradesmen lay out two-thirds of their fortune in fitting up their shops.

By fitting up, I do not mean furnishing their shops with wares and goods to sell—for in that they came up to us in every particular, and perhaps went beyond us too—but in painting and gilding, fine shelves, shutters, boxes, glass-doors, sashes, and the like, in which, they tell us now, it is a small matter to lay out two or three hundred pounds, nay, five hundred pounds, to fit up a pastry-cook's, or a toy-shop.

The first inference to be drawn from this must necessarily be, that this age must have more fools than the last: for certainly fools only are most taken with shows and outsides.

It is true, that a fine show of goods will bring customers; and it is not a new custom, but a very old one, that a new shop, very well furnished, goes a great way to bringing a trade; for the proverb was, and still is, very true, that every body has a penny for a new shop; but that a fine show of shelves and glass-windows should bring customers, that was never made a rule in trade till now.

And yet, even now, I should not except so much against it, if it were not carried on to such an excess, as is too much for a middling tradesman to bear the expense of. In this, therefore, it is made not a grievance only, but really scandalous to trade; for now, a young beginner has such a tax upon him before he begins, that he must sink perhaps a third part, nay, a half part, of his stock, in painting and gilding, wainscoting and glazing, before he begins to trade, nay, before he can open his shop. As they say of building a watermill, two-thirds of the expense lies under the water; and when the poor tradesman comes to furnish his shop, and lay in his stock of goods, he finds a great hole made in his cash to the workmen, and his show of goods, on which the life of his trade depends, is fain to be lessened to make up his show of boards, and glass to lay them in.

Nor is this heavy article to be abated upon any account; for if he does not make a good show, he comes abroad like a mean ordinary fellow, and nobody of fashion comes to his shop; the customers are drawn away by the pictures and painted shelves, though, when they come there, they are not half so well filled as in other places, with goods fit for a trade; and how, indeed, should it be otherwise? the joiners and painters, glaziers and carvers, must have all ready money; the weavers and merchants may give credit; their goods are of so much less moment to the shopkeeper, that they must trust; but the more important show must be finished first, and paid first; and when that has made a deep hole in the tradesman's stock, then the remainder may be spared to furnish the shop with goods, and the merchant must trust for the rest.

It will hardly be believed in ages to come, when our posterity shall be grown wiser by our loss, and, as I may truly say, at our expense, that a pastry-cook's shop, which twenty pounds would effectually furnish at a time, with all needful things for sale, nay, except on an extraordinary show, as on twelfth-day at night for cakes, or upon some great feast, twenty pounds can hardly be laid out at one time in goods for sale, yet that fitting up one of these shops should cost upwards of L300 in the year 1710—let the year be recorded—the fitting up to consist of the following particulars:—

1. Sash windows, all of looking-glass plates, 12 inches by 16 inches in measure.

2. All the walls of the shop lined up with galley-tiles, and the back shop with galley-tiles in panels, finely painted in forest-work and figures.

3. Two large pier looking-glasses and one chimney glass in the shop, and one very large pier-glass seven feet high in the back shop.

4. Two large branches of candlesticks, one in the shop, and one in the back room.

5. Three great glass lanterns in the shop, and eight small ones.

6. Twenty-five sconces against the wall, with a large pair of silver standing candlesticks in the back room, value L25.

7. Six fine large silver salvers to serve sweetmeats.

8. Twelve large high stands of rings, whereof three silver, to place small dishes for tarts, jellies, &c., at a feast.

9. Painting the ceiling, and gilding the lanterns, the sashes, and the carved work, L55.

These, with some odd things to set forth the shop, and make a show, besides small plate, and besides china basins and cups, amounted to, as I am well informed, above L300.

Add to this the more necessary part, which was:—

1. Building two ovens, about L25.

2. Twenty pounds in stock for pies, cheese-cakes, &c.

So that, in short, here was a trade which might be carried on for about L30 or L40 stock, required L300 expenses to fit up the shop, and make a show to invite customers.

I might give something of a like example of extravagance in fitting up a cutler's shop, Anglice a toyman, which are now come up to such a ridiculous expense, as is hardly to be thought of without the utmost contempt: let any one stop at the Temple, or at Paul's corner, or in many other places.

As to the shops of the more considerable trades, they all bear a proportion of the humour of the times, but do not call for so loud a remark. Leaving, therefore, the just reflection which such things call for, let me bring it home to the young tradesman, to whom I am directing this discourse, and to whom I am desirous to give solid and useful hints for his instruction, I would recommend it to him to avoid all such needless expenses, and rather endeavour to furnish his shop with goods, than to paint and gild it over, to make it fine and gay; let it invite customers rather by the well-filled presses and shelves, and the great choice of rich and fashionable goods, that one customer being well-served may bring another; and let him study to bring his shop into reputation for good choice of wares, and good attendance on his customers; and this shall bring a throng to him much better, and of much better people, than those that go in merely for a gay shop.

Let the shop be decent and handsome, spacious as the place will allow, and let something like the face of a master be always to be seen in it; and, if possible, be always busy, and doing something in it, that may look like being employed: this takes as much with the wiser observers of such things, as any other appearance can do.

I have heard of a young apothecary, who setting up in a part of the town, where he had not much acquaintance, and fearing much whether he should get into business, hired a man acquainted with such business, and made him be every morning between five and six, and often late in the evenings, working very hard at the great mortar; pounding and beating, though he had nothing to do with it, but beating some very needless thing, that all his neighbours might hear it, and find that he was in full employ, being at work early and late, and that consequently he must be a man of vast business, and have a great practice: and the thing was well laid, and took accordingly; for the neighbours, believing he had business, brought business to him; and the reputation of having a trade, made a trade for him.

The observation is just: a show may bring some people to a shop, but it is the fame of business that brings business; and nothing raises the fame of a shop like its being a shop of good trade already; then people go to it, because they think other people go to it, and because they think there is good choice of goods; their gilding and painting may go a little way, but it is the having a shop well filled with goods,[29] having good choice to sell, and selling reasonable—these are the things that bring a trade, and a trade thus brought will stand by you and last; for fame of trade brings trade anywhere.

It is a sign of the barrenness of the people's fancy, when they are so easily taken with shows and outsides of things. Never was such painting and gilding, such sashings and looking-glasses among the shopkeepers, as there is now; and yet trade flourished more in former times by a gread deal that it does now, if we may believe the report of very honest and understanding men. The reason, I think, cannot be to the credit of the present age, nor it it to the discredit of the former; for they carried on their trade with less gaiety, and with less expense, than we do now.[30]

My advice to a young tradesman is to keep the safe middle between these extremes; something the times must be humoured in, because fashion and custom must be followed; but let him consider the depth of his stock, and not lay out half his estate upon fitting up his shop, and then leave but the other half to furnish it; it is much better to have a full shop, than a fine shop; and a hundred pounds in goods will make a much better show than a hundred pounds' worth of painting and carved work; it is good to make a show, but not to be all show.

It is true, that painting and adorning a shop seems to intimate, that the tradesman has a large stock to begin with, or else they suggest he would not make such a show; hence the young shopkeepers are willing to make a great show, and beautify, and paint, and gild, and carve, because they would be thought to have a great stock to begin with; but let me tell you, the reputation of having a great stock is ill purchased, when half your stock is laid out to make the world believe it; that is, in short, reducing yourself to a small stock to have the world believe you have a great one; in which you do no less than barter the real stock for the imaginary, and give away your stock to keep the name of it only.

I take this indeed to be a French humour, or a spice of it turned English; and, indeed, we are famous for this, that when we do mimic the French, we generally do it to our hurt, and over-do the French themselves.

The French nation are eminent for making a fine outside, when perhaps within they want necessaries; and, indeed, a gay shop and a mean stock is something like the Frenchman with his laced ruffles, without a shirt. I cannot but think a well-furnished shop with a moderate outside is much better to a tradesman, than a fine shop and few goods; I am sure it will be much more to his satisfaction, when he casts up his year's account, for his fine shop will weigh but sorrily in his account of profit and loss; it is all a dead article; it is sunk out of his first money, before he makes a shilling profit, and may be some years a-recovering, as trade may go with him.

It is true that all these notions of mine in trade are founded upon the principle of frugality and good husbandry; and this is a principle so disagreeable to the times, and so contrary to the general practice, that we shall find very few people to whom it is agreeable. But let me tell my young tradesmen, that if they must banish frugality and good husbandry, they must at the same time banish all expectation of growing rich by their trade. It is a maxim in commerce, that money gets money, and they that will not frugally lay up their gain, in order to increase their gain, must not expect to gain as they might otherwise do; frugality may be out of fashion among the gentry, but if it comes to be so among tradesmen, we shall soon see that wealthy tradesmen will be hard to find; for they who will not save as well as gain, must expect to go out of trade as lean as they began.

Some people tell us indeed in many cases, especially in trade, that putting a good face upon things goes as far as the real merit of the things themselves; and that a fine, painted, gilded shop, among the rest, has a great influence upon the people, draws customers, and brings trade; and they run a great length in this discourse by satirising on the blindness and folly of mankind, and how the world are to be taken in their own way; and seeing they are to be deluded and imposed upon in such an innocent way, they ought to be so far deluded and imposed upon, alluding to the old proverbial saying, 'Si populus vult decipi, decipiatur;' that it is no fraud, no crime, and can neither be against conscience, nor prudence; for if they are pleased with a show, why should they not have it? and the like.

This way of talking is indeed plausible; and were the fact true, there might be more in it than I think there is. But I do not grant that the world is thus to be deluded; and that the people do follow this rule in general—I mean, go always to a fine shop to lay out their money. Perhaps, in some cases, it may be so, where the women, and the weakest of the sex too, are chiefly concerned; or where the fops and fools of the age resort; and as to those few, they that are willing to be so imposed upon, let them have it.

But I do not see, that even this extends any farther than to a few toy-shops, and pastry-cooks; and the customers of both these are not of credit sufficient, I think, to weigh in this case: we may as well argue for the fine habits at a puppet-show and a rope-dancing, because they draw the mob about them; but I cannot think, after you go but one degree above these, the thing is of any weight, much less does it bring credit to the tradesman, whatever it may do to the shop.

The credit of a tradesman respects two sorts of people, first, the merchants, or wholesale men, or makers, who sell him his goods, or the customers, who come to his shop to buy.

The first of these are so far from valuing him upon the gay appearance of his shop, that they are often the first that take an offence at it, and suspect his credit upon that account: their opinion upon a tradesman, and his credit with them, is raised quite another way, namely, by his current pay, diligent attendance, and honest figure; the gay shop does not help him at all there, but rather the contrary.

As to the latter, though some customers may at first be drawn by the gay appearance and fine gilding and painting of a shop, yet it is the well sorting a shop with goods, and the selling good pennyworths, that will bring trade, especially after the shop has been open some time: this, and this only, establishes the man and the credit of the shop.

To conclude: the credit raised by the fine show of things is also of a different kind from the substantial reputation of a tradesman; it is rather the credit of the shop, than of the man; and, in a word, it is no more or less than a net spread to catch fools; it is a bait to allure and deceive, and the tradesman generally intends it so. He intends that the customers shall pay for the gilding and painting his shop, and it is the use he really makes of it, namely, that his shop looking like something eminent, he may sell dearer than his neighbours: who, and what kind of fools can so be drawn in, it is easy to describe, but satire is none of our business here.

On the contrary, the customers, who are the substantial dependence of a tradesman's shop, are such as are gained and preserved by good usage, good pennyworths, good wares, and good choice; and a shop that has the reputation of these four, like good wine that needs no bush, needs no painting and gilding, no carved works and ornaments;[31] it requires only a diligent master and a faithful servant, and it will never want a trade.


[29] [In another place, the author recommends a light stock, as showing a nimble trade. There can be little doubt that he is more reasonable here. A considerable abundance of goods is certainly an attraction to a shop. No doubt, a tradesman with little capital would only be incurring certain ruin having a larger stock than he could readily pay for. He must needs keep a small stock, if he would have a chance at all of doing well in the world. But this does not make it the less an advantage to a tradesman of good capital to keep an abundant and various stock of goods.]

[30] [It is really curious to find in this chapter the same contrast drawn between the old and the new style of fitting up shops, and carrying on business, as would be drawn at the present day by nine out of every ten common observers. The notion that the shops of the past age were plain, while those of the present are gaudy, and that the tradesmen of a past age carried on all their business in a quiet way and with little expense, is as strongly impressed on the minds of the present generation, as it is here seen to have been on those of Defoe's contemporaries, a hundred and twenty years ago, although it is quite impossible that the notion can be just in both cases. The truth probably is, that in Defoe's time, and at all former times, there were conspicuous, but not very numerous, examples of finely decorated shops, which seemed, and really were, very much of a novelty, as well as a rather striking exception from the style in which such places in general were then, and had for many years been furnished. So far, however, from these proving, as Defoe anticipates, a warning to future generations, the general appearance of shops has experienced a vast improvement since those days; and the third-rate class are now probably as fine as the first-rate were at no distant period. At the same time, as in the reign of the first George, we have now also a few shops fitted up in a style of extraordinary and startling elegance, and thus forming that contrast with the general appearance of shops for the last forty years, which makes old people, and many others, talk of all the past as homely and moderate, and all the present as showy and expensive.]

[31] [The author seems here to carry his objections to decoration to an extreme. Good usage, good pennyworths, good wares, and good choice, are doubtless the four cardinal points of business; but a handsome shop also goes a considerable way in attracting customers, and is a principle which no prudent tradesman will despise.]



It was an ancient and laudable custom with tradesmen in England always to balance their accounts of stock, and of profit and loss, at least once every year; and generally it was done at Christmas, or New-year's tide, when they could always tell whether they went backward or forward, and how their affairs stood in the world; and though this good custom is very much lost among tradesmen at this time, yet there are a great many that do so still, and they generally call it casting up shop. To speak the truth, the great occasion of omitting it has been from the many tradesmen, who do not care to look into things, and who, fearing their affairs are not right, care not to know how they go at all, good or bad; and when I see a tradesman that does not cast up once a-year, I conclude that tradesman to be in very bad circumstances, that at least he fears he is so, and by consequence cares not to inquire.

As casting up the shop is the way to know every year whether he goes backward or forward, and is the tradesman's particular satisfaction, so he must cast up his books too, or else it will be very ominous to the tradesman's credit.

Now, in order to doing this effectually once a-year, it is needful the tradesman should keep his books always in order; his day-book duly posted, his cash duly balanced, and all people's accounts always fit for a view. He that delights in his trade will delight in his books; and, as I said that he that will thrive must diligently attend his shop or warehouse, and take up his delight there, so, I say now, he must also diligently keep his books, or else he will never know whether he thrives or no.

Exact keeping his books is one essential part of a tradesman's prosperity. The books are the register of his estate, the index of his stock. All the tradesman has in the world must be found in these three articles, or some of them:—

Goods in the shop; Money in cash; Debts abroad.

The shop will at any time show the first of these upon a small stop to cast it up; the cash-chest and bill-box will show the second at demand; and the ledger when posted will show the last; so that a tradesman can at any time, at a week's notice, cast up all these three; and then, examining his accounts, to take the balance, which is a real trying what he is worth in the world.

It cannot be satisfactory to any tradesman to let his books go unsettled, and uncast up, for then he knows nothing of himself, or of his circumstances in the world; the books can tell him at any time what his condition is, and will satisfy him what is the condition of his debts abroad.

In order to his regular keeping his books, several things might be said very useful for the tradesman to consider:

I. Every thing done in the whole circumference of his trade must be set down in a book, except the retail trade; and this is clear, if the goods are not in bulk, then the money is in cash, and so the substance will be always found either there, or somewhere else; for if it is neither in the shop, nor in the cash, nor in the books, it must be stolen and lost.

II. As every thing done must be set down in the books, so it should be done at the very time of it; all goods sold must be entered in the books before they are sent out of the house; goods sent away and not entered, are goods lost; and he that does not keep an exact account of what goes out and comes in, can never swear to his books, or prove his debts, if occasion calls for it.

I am not going to set down rules here for book-keeping, or to teach the tradesman how to do it, but I am showing the necessity and usefulness of doing it at all. That tradesman who keeps no books, may depend upon it he will ere long keep no trade, unless he resolves also to give no credit. He that gives no trust, and takes no trust, either by wholesale or by retail, and keeps his cash all himself, may indeed go on without keeping any books at all; and has nothing to do, when he would know his estate, but to cast up his shop and his cash, and see how much they amount to, and that is his whole and neat estate; for as he owes nothing, so nobody is in debt to him, and all his estate is in his shop; but I suppose the tradesman that trades wholly thus, is not yet born, or if there ever were any such, they are all dead.

A tradesman's books, like a Christian's conscience, should always be kept clean and clear; and he that is not careful of both will give but a sad account of himself either to God or man. It is true, that a great many tradesmen, and especially shopkeepers, understand but little of book-keeping; but it is as true that they all understand something of it, or else they will make but poor work of shopkeeping.

I knew a tradesman that could not write, and yet he supplied the defect with so many ingenious knacks of his own, to secure the account of what people owed him, and was so exact doing it, and then took such care to have but very short accounts with any body, that he brought up his method to be every way an equivalent to writing; and, as I often told him, with half the study and application that those things cost him, he might have learned to write, and keep books too. He made notches upon sticks for all the middling sums, and scored with chalk for lesser things. He had drawers for every particular customer's name, which his memory supplied, for he knew every particular drawer, though he had a great many, as well as if their faces had been painted upon them; he had innumerable figures to signify what he would have written, if he could; and his shelves and boxes always put me in mind of the Egyptian hieroglyphics, and nobody understood them, or any thing of them, but himself.

It was an odd thing to see him, when a country-chap, came up to settle accounts with him; he would go to a drawer directly, among such a number as was amazing: in that drawer was nothing but little pieces of split sticks, like laths, with chalk-marks on them, all as unintelligible as the signs of the zodiac are to an old school-mistress that teaches the horn-book and primer, or as Arabic or Greek is to a ploughman. Every stick had notches on one side for single pounds, on the other side for tens of pounds, and so higher; and the length and breadth also had its signification, and the colour too; for they were painted in some places with one colour, and in some places with anther; by which he knew what goods had been delivered for the money: and his way of casting up was very remarkable, for he knew nothing of figures; but he kept six spoons in a place on purpose, near his counter, which he took out when he had occasion to cast up any sum, and, laying the spoons in a row before him, he counted upon them thus:

One, two, three, and another, one odd spoon, and t'other

By this he told up to six; if he had any occasion to tell any farther, he began again, as we do after the number ten in our ordinary numeration; and by this method, and running them up very quick, he would count any number under thirty-six, which was six spoons of six spoons, and then, by the strength of his head, he could number as many more as he pleased, multiplying them always by sixes, but never higher.

I give this instance to show how far the application of a man's head might go to supply the defect, but principally to show (and it does abundantly show it) what an absolute necessity there is for a tradesman to be very diligent and exact in keeping his books, and what pains those who understand their business will always take to do it.

This tradesman was indeed a country shopkeeper; but he was so considerable a dealer, that he became mayor of the city which he lived in (for it was a city, and that a considerable city too), and his posterity have been very considerable traders in the same city ever since, and they show their great-grandfather's six counting spoons and his hieroglyphics to this day.

After some time, the old tradesman bred up two of his sons to his business, and the young men having learned to write, brought books into the counting-house, things their father had never used before; but the old man kept to his old method for all that, and would cast up a sum, and make up an account with his spoons and his drawers, as soon as they could with their pen and ink, if it were not too full of small articles, and that he had always avoided in his business.

However, as I have said above, this evidently shows the necessity of book-keeping to a tradesman, and the very nature of the thing evidences also that it must be done with the greatest exactness. He that does not keep his books exactly, and so as that he may depend upon them for charging his debtors, had better keep no books at all, but, like my shopkeeper, score and notch every thing; for as books well kept make business regular, easy, and certain, so books neglected turn all into confusion, and leave the tradesman in a wood, which he can never get out of without damage and loss. If ever his dealers know that his books are ill kept, they play upon him, and impose horrid forgeries and falsities upon him: whatever he omits they catch at, and leave it out; whatever they put upon him, he is bound to yield to; so that, in short, as books well kept are the security of the tradesman's estate, and the ascertaining of his debts, so books ill kept will assist every knavish customer or chapman to cheat and deceive him.

Some men keep a due and exact entry or journal of all they sell, or perhaps of all they buy or sell, but are utterly remiss in posting it forward to a ledger; that is to say, to another book, where every parcel is carried to the debtor's particular account. Likewise they keep another book, where they enter all the money they receive, but, as above, never keeping any account for the man; there it stands in the cash-book, and both these books must be ransacked over for the particulars, as well of goods sold, as of the money received, when this customer comes to have his account made up; and as the goods are certainly entered when sold or sent away, and the money is certainly entered when it is received, this they think is sufficient, and all the rest superfluous.

I doubt not such tradesmen often suffer as much by their slothfulness and neglect of book-keeping, as might, especially if their business is considerable, pay for a book-keeper; for what is such a man's case, when his customer, suppose a country dealer, comes to town, which perhaps he does once a-year (as in the custom of other tradesmen), and desires to have his account made up? The London tradesman goes to his books, and first he rummages his day-book back for the whole year, and takes out the foot[32] of all the parcels sent to his chapman, and they make the debtor side of the account; then he takes his cash-book, if it deserves that name, and there he takes out all the sums of money which the chapman has sent up, or bills which he has received, and these make the creditor side of the account; and so the balance is drawn out, and this man thinks himself a mighty good accountant, that he keeps his books exactly; and so perhaps he does, as far as he keeps them at all; that is to say, he never sends a parcel away to his customer, but he enters it down, and never receives a bill from him, but he sets it down when the money is paid; but now take this man and his chap, together, as they are making up this account. The chapman, a sharp clever tradesman, though a countryman, has his pocket-book with him, and in it a copy of his posting-book, so the countrymen call a ledger, where the London tradesman's accounts are copied out; and when the city tradesman has drawn out his account, he takes it to his inn and examines it by his little book, and what is the consequence?

If the city tradesman has omitted any of the bills which the country tradesman has sent him up, he finds it out, and is sure to put him in mind of it. 'Sir,' says he, 'you had a bill from me upon Mr A.G. at such a time, for thirty pounds, and I have your letter that you received the money; but you have omitted it in the account, so that I am not so much in your debt by thirty pounds, as you thought I was.'

'Say you so!' says the city tradesman; 'I cannot think but you must be mistaken.'

'No, no!' says the other, 'I am sure I can't be mistaken, for I have it in my book; besides, I can go to Mr A.G., whom the bill was drawn upon, and there is, to be sure, your own endorsement upon it, and a receipt for the money.'

'Well,' says the citizen, 'I keep my books as exact as any body—I'll look again, and if it be there I shall find it, for I am sure if I had it, it is in my cash-book.'

'Pray do, then,' says the countryman, 'for I am sure I sent it you, and I am sure I can produce the bill, if there be occasion.'

Away goes the tradesman to his books, which he pretends he keeps so exact, and examining them over again, he finds the bill for thirty pounds entered fairly, but in his running the whole year over together, as well he might, he had overlooked it, whereas, if his cash-book had been duly posted every week, as it ought to have been, this bill had been regularly placed to account.

But now, observe the difference: the bill for thirty pounds being omitted, was no damage to the country tradesman, because he has an account of it in his book of memorandums, and had it regularly posted in his books at home, whatever the other had, and also was able to bring sufficient proof of the payment; so the London tradesman's omission was no hurt to him.

But the case differs materially in the debtor side of the account; for here the tradesman, who with all his boasts of keeping his books exactly, has yet no ledger, which being, as I have said, duly posted, should show every man's account at one view; and being done every week, left it scarce possible to omit any parcel that was once entered in the day-book or journal—I say, the tradesman keeping no ledger, he looks over his day-book for the whole year past, to draw up the debtor side of his customer's account, and there being a great many parcels, truly he overlooks one or two of them, or suppose but one of them, and gives the chapman the account, in which he sums up his debtor side so much, suppose L136, 10s.: the chapman examining this by his book, as he did the cash, finds two parcels, one L7, 15s., and the other L9, 13s., omitted; so that by his own book his debtor side was L153, 18s.; but being a cunning sharp tradesman, and withal not exceeding honest, 'Well, well,' says he to himself, 'if Mr G. says it is no more than L136, 10s. what have I to do to contradict him? it is none of my business to keep his books for him; it is time enough for me to reckon for it when he charges me.' So he goes back to him the next day, and settles accounts with him, pays him the balance in good bills which he brought up with him for that purpose, takes a receipt in full of all accounts and demands to such a day of the month, and the next day comes and looks out another parcel of goods, and so begins an account for the next year, like a current chapman, and has the credit of an extraordinary customer that pays well, and clears his accounts every year; which he had not done had he not seen the advantage, and so strained himself to pay, that he might get a receipt in full of all accounts.

It happens some years after that this city tradesman dies, and his executors finding his accounts difficult to make up, there being no books to be found but a day-book and a cash-book, they get some skilful book-keeper to look into them, who immediately sees that the only way to bring the accounts to a head, is to form a ledger out of the other two, and post every body's account into it from the beginning; for though it were a long way back, there is no other remedy.

In doing this, they come to this mistake, among a great many others of the like kind in other chapmen's accounts; upon this they write to the chapman, and tell him they find him debtor to the estate of the deceased in such a sum of money, and desire him to make payment.

The country shopkeeper huffs them, tells them he always made up accounts with Mr. G., the deceased, once a-year, as he did with all his other chapmen, and that he took his receipt in full of all accounts and demands, upon paying the balance to him at such a time; which receipt he has to show; and that he owes him nothing, or but such a sum, being the account of goods bought since.

The executors finding the mistake, and how it happened, endeavour to convince him of it; but it is all one-he wants no convincing, for he knows at bottom how it is; but being a little of a knave himself, or if you please, not a little, he tells them he cannot enter into the accounts so far back—Mr G. always told him he kept his books very exactly, and he trusted to him; and as he has his receipt in full, and it is so long ago, he can say nothing to it.

From hence they come to quarrel, and the executors threaten him with going to law; but he bids them defiance, and insists upon his receipt in full; and besides that, it is perhaps six years ago, and so he tells them he will plead the statute of limitations upon them; and then adds, that he does not do it avoid a just debt, but to avoid being imposed upon, he not understanding books so well as Mr G. pretended to do; and having balanced accounts so long ago with him, he stands by the balance, and has nothing to say to their mistakes, not he. So that, in short, not finding any remedy, they are forced to sit down by the loss; and perhaps in the course of twenty years' trade, Mr G. might lose a great many such parcels in the whole; and had much better have kept a ledger; or if he did not know how to keep a ledger himself, had better have hired a book-keeper to have come once a-week, or once a-month, to have posted his day-book for him.

The like misfortune attends the not balancing his cash, a thing which such book-keepers as Mr G. do not think worth their trouble; nor do they understand the benefit of it. The particulars, indeed, of this article are tedious, and would be too long for a chapter; but certainly they that know any thing of the use of keeping an exact cash-book, know that, without it, a tradesman can never be thoroughly satisfied either of his own not committing mistakes, or of any people cheating him, I mean servants, or sons, or whoever is the first about him.

What I call balancing his cash-book, is, first, the casting up daily, or weekly, or monthly, his receipts and payments, and then seeing what money is left in hand, or, as the usual expression of the tradesman is, what money is in cash; secondly, the examining his money, telling it over, and seeing how much he has in his chest or bags, and then seeing if it agrees with the balance of his book, that what is, and what should be, correspond.

And here let me give tradesmen a caution or two.

1. Never sit down satisfied with an error in the cash; that is to say, with a difference between the money really in the cash, and the balance in the book; for if they do not agree, there must be a mistake somewhere, and while there is a mistake in the cash, the tradesman cannot, at least he ought not to be, easy. He that can be easy with a mistake in his cash, may be easy with a gang of thieves in his house; for if his money does not come right, he must have paid something that is not set down, and that is to be supposed as bad as if it were lost; or he must have somebody about him that can find the way to his money besides himself, that is to say, somebody that should not come to it; and if so, what is the difference between that and having a gang of thieves about him?—for every one that takes money out of his cash without his leave, and without letting him know it, is so far a thief to him: and he can never pretend to balance his cash, nor, indeed, know any thing of his affairs, that does not know which way his money goes.

2. A tradesman endeavouring to balance his cash, should no more be satisfied if he finds a mistake in his cash one way, than another—that is to say, if he finds more in cash than by the balance of his cash-book ought to be there, than if he finds less, or wanting in cash. I know many, who, when they find it thus, sit down satisfied, and say, 'Well, there is an error, and I don't know where it lies; but come, it is an error on the right hand; I have more cash in hand than I should have, that is all, so I am well enough; let it go; I shall find it some time or other.' But the tradesman ought to consider that he is quite in the dark; and as he does not really know where it lies, so, for ought he knows, the error may really be to his loss very considerably—and the case is very plain, that it is as dangerous to be over, as it would be to be under; he should, therefore, never give it over till he has found it out, and brought it to rights. For example:

If there appears to be more money in the cash than there is by the balance in the cash-book, this must follow—namely, that some parcel of money must have been received, which is not entered in the book; now, till the tradesman knows what sum of money this is, that is thus not entered, how can he tell but the mistake may be quite the other way, and the cash be really wrong to his loss? Thus,

My cash-book being cast up for the last month, I find, by the foot of the leaf, there is cash remaining in hand to balance L176, 10s. 6d.

To see if all things are right, I go and tell my money over, and there, to my surprise, I find L194, 10s. 6d. in cash, so that I have L18 there more than I should have. Now, far from being pleased that I have more money by me than I should have, my inquiry is plain, 'How comes this to pass?'

Perhaps I puzzle my head a great while about it, but not being able to find out, I sit down easy and satisfied, and say, 'Well, I don't much concern myself about it; it is better to be so than L18 missing; I cannot tell where it lies, but let it lie where it will, here is the money to make up the mistake when it appears.'

But how foolish is this! how ill-grounded the satisfaction! and how weak am I to argue thus, and please myself with the delusion! For some months after, it appears, perhaps, that whereas there was L38 entered, received of Mr B.K., the figure 3 was mistaken, and set down for a figure of 5, for the sum received was L58; so that, instead of having L18 more in cash than there ought to be, I have 40s. wanting in my cash, which my son or my apprentice stole from me when they put in the money, and made the mistake of the figures to puzzle the book, that it might be some time before it should be discovered.

Upon the whole, take it as a rule, the tradesman ought to be as unsatisfied when he finds a mistake to his gain in his cash, as when he finds it to his loss; and it is every whit as dangerous, nay, it is the more suspicious, because it seems to be laid as a bait for him to stop his mouth, and to prevent further inquiries; and it is on that account that I leave this caution upon record, that the tradesman may be duly alarmed.

The keeping a cash-book is one of the nicest parts of a tradesman's business, because there is always the bag and the book to be brought together, and if they do not exactly speak the same language, even to a farthing, there must be some omission; and how big or how little that omission may be, who knows, or how shall it be known, but by casting and recasting up, telling, and telling over and over again, the money?

If there is but twenty shillings over in the money, the question is, 'How came it there?' It must be received somewhere, and of somebody, more than is entered; and how can the cash-keeper, be he master or servant, know but more was received with it, which is not, and should have been, entered, and so the loss may be the other way? It is true, in telling money there may have been a mistake, and he that received a sum of money may have received twenty shillings too much, or five pounds too much—and such a mistake I have known to be made in the paying and receiving of money—and a man's cash has been more perplexed, and his mind more distracted about it, than the five pounds have been worth, because he could not find it out, till some accident has discovered it;[33] and the reason is, because not knowing which way it could come there, he could not know but some omission might be made to his loss another way, as in the case above mentioned.

I knew, indeed, a strong waterman, who drove a very considerable trade, but, being an illiterate tradesman, never balanced his cash-book for many years, nor scarce posted his other books, and, indeed, hardly understood how to do it; but knowing his trade was exceedingly profitable, and keeping his money all himself, he was easy, and grew rich apace, in spite of the most unjustifiable, and, indeed, the most intolerable, negligence; but lest this should be pleaded as an exception to my general rule, and to invalidate the argument, give me leave to add, that, though this man grew rich in spite of indolence, and a neglect of his book, yet, when he died, two things appeared, which no tradesman in his wits would desire should be said of him.

I. The servants falling out, and maliciously accusing one another, had, as it appeared by the affidavits of several of them, wronged him of several considerable sums of money, which they received, and never brought into the books; and others, of sums which they brought into the books, but never brought into the cash; and others, of sums which they took ready money in the shop, and never set down, either the goods in the day-book, or the money into the cash-book; and it was thought, though he was so rich as not to feel it, that is, not to his hurt, yet that he lost three or four hundred pounds a-year in that manner, for the two or three last years of his life; but his widow and son, who came after him, having the discovery made to them, took better measures afterwards.

II. He never did, or could know, what he was worth, for the accounts in his books were never made up; nor when he came to die, could his executors make up any man's account, so as to be able to prove the particulars, and make a just demand of their debt, but found a prodigious number of small sums of money paid by the debtors, as by receipts in their books and on their files, some by himself, and some by his man, which were never brought to account, or brought into cash; and his man's answer being still, that he gave all to the master, they could not tell how to charge him by the master's account, because several sums, which the master himself received, were omitted being entered in the same manner, so that all was confusion and neglect; and though the man died rich, it was in spite of that management that would have made any but himself have died poor.

Exact book-keeping is to me the effect of a man whose heart is in his business, and who intends to thrive. He that cares not whether his books are kept well or no, is in my opinion one that does not much care whether he thrives or no; or else, being in desperate circumstances, knows it, and that he cannot, or does not thrive, and so matters not which way it goes.

It is true, the neglect of the books is private and secret, and is seldom known to any body but the tradesman himself, at least till he comes to break, and be a bankrupt, and then you frequently hear them exclaim against him, upon that very account. 'Break!' says one of the assignees; 'how should he but break?—why, he kept no books; you never saw books kept in such a scandalous manner in your life; why, he has not posted his cash-book, for I know not how many months; nor posted his day-book and journal at all, except here and there an account that he perhaps wanted to know the balance of; and as for balancing his cash, I don't see any thing of that done, I know not how long. Why, this fellow could never tell how he went on, or how things stood with him: I wonder he did not break a long time ago.'

Now, the man's case was this: he knew how to keep his books well enough, perhaps, and could write well enough; and if you look into his five or six first years of trade, you find all his accounts well kept, the journal duly posted, the cash monthly balanced; but the poor man found after that, that things went wrong, that he went backwards, and that all went down-hill, and he hated to look into his books. As a profligate never looks into his conscience, because he can see nothing there but what terrifies and affrights him, makes him uneasy and melancholy, so a sinking tradesman cares not to look into his books, because the prospect there is dark and melancholy. 'What signify the accounts to me?' says he; 'I can see nothing in the books but debts that 1 cannot pay, and debtors that will never pay; I can see nothing there but how I have trusted my estate away like a fool, and how I am to be ruined for my easiness, and being a sot:' and this makes him throw them away, and hardly post things enough to make up when folks call to pay; or if he does post such accounts as he has money to receive from, that's all, and the rest lie at random, till, as I say, the assignees come to reproach him with his negligence.

Whereas, in truth, the man understood his books well enough, but had no heart to look in them, no courage to balance them, because of the afflicting prospect of them.

But let me here advise tradesmen to keep a perfect acquaintance with their books, though things are bad and discouraging; it keeps them in full knowledge of what they are doing, and how they really stand; and it brings them sometimes to the just reflections on their circumstances which they ought to make; so to stop in time, as I hinted before, and not let things run too far before they are surprised and torn to pieces by violence.

And, at the worst, even a declining tradesman should not let his books be neglected; if his creditors find them punctually kept to the last, it will be a credit to him, and they would see he was a man fit for business; and I have known when that very thing has recommended a tradesman so much to his creditors, that after the ruin of his fortunes, some or other of them have taken him into business, as into partnership, or into employment, only because they knew him to be qualified for business, and for keeping books in particular.

But if we should admonish the tradesman to an exact and regular care of his books, even in his declining fortunes, much more should it be his care in his beginning, and before any disaster has befallen him. I doubt not, that many a tradesman has miscarried by the mistakes and neglect of his books; for the losses that men suffer on that account are not easily set down; but I recommend it to a tradesman to take exact care of his books, as I would to every man to take care of his diet and temperate living, in order to their health; for though, according to some, we cannot, by all our care and caution, lengthen out life, but that every one must and shall live their appointed time,[34] yet, by temperance and regular conduct, we may make that life more comfortable, more agreeable, and pleasant, by its being more healthy and hearty; so, though the exactest book-keeping cannot be said to make a tradesman thrive, or that he shall stand the longer in his business, because his profit and loss do not depend upon his books, or the goodness of his debts depend upon the debtor's accounts being well posted, yet this must be said, that the well keeping of his books may be the occasion of his trade being carried on with the more ease and pleasure, and the more satisfaction, by having numberless quarrels, and contentions, and law-suits, which are the plagues of a tradesman's life, prevented and avoided; which, on the contrary, often torment a tradesman, and make his whole business be uneasy to him for want of being able to make a regular proof of things by his books.

A tradesman without his books, in case of a law-suit for a debt, is like a married woman without her certificate. How many times has a woman been cast, and her cause not only lost, but her reputation and character exposed, for want of being able to prove her marriage, though she has been really and honestly married, and has merited a good character all her days? And so in trade, many a debt has been lost, many an account been perplexed by the debtor, many a sum of money been recovered, and actually paid over again, especially after the tradesman has been dead, for want of hits keeping his books carefully and exactly when he was alive; by which negligence, if he has not been ruined when he was living, his widow and children have been ruined after his decease; though, had justice been done, he had left them in good circumstances, and with sufficient to support them.

And this brings me to another principal reason why a tradesman should not only keep books, but be very regular and exact in keeping them in order, that is to say, duly posted, and all his affairs exactly and duly entered in his books; and this is, that if he should be surprised by sudden or unexpected sickness, or death, as many are, and as all may be, his accounts may not be left intricate and unsettled, and his affairs thereby be perplexed.

Next to being prepared for death, with respect to Heaven and his soul, a tradesman should be always in a state of preparation for death, with respect to his books; it is in vain that he calls for a scrivener or lawyer, and makes a will, when he finds a sudden summons sent him for the grave, and calls his friends about him to divide and settle his estate; if his business is in confusion below stairs, his books out of order, and his accounts unsettled, to what purpose does he give his estate among his relations, when nobody knows where to find it?

As, then, the minister exhorts us to take care of our souls, and make our peace with Heaven, while we are in a state of health, and while life has no threatening enemies about it, no diseases, no fevers attending; so let me second that advice to the tradesman always to keep his books in such a posture, that if he should be snatched away by death, his distressed widow and fatherless family may know what is left for them, and may know where to look for it. He may depend upon it, that what he owes to any one they will come fast enough for, and his widow and executrix will be pulled to pieces for it, if she cannot and does not speedily pay it. Why, then, should he not put her in a condition to have justice done her and her children, and to know how and of whom to seek for his just debts, that she may be able to pay others, and secure the remainder for herself and her children? I must confess, a tradesman not to leave his books in order when he dies, argues him to be either.

1. A very bad Christian, who had few or no thoughts of death upon him, or that considered nothing of its frequent coming unexpected and sudden without warning; or,

2. A very unnatural relation, without the affections of a father, or a husband, or even of a friend, that should rather leave what he had to be swallowed up by strangers, than leave his family and friends in a condition to find, and to recover it.

Again, it is the same case as in matters religious, with respect to the doing this in time, and while health and strength remain. For, as we say very well, and with great reason, that the work of eternity should not be left to the last moments; that a death-bed is no place, and a sick languishing body no condition, and the last breath no time, for repentance; so I may add, neither are these the place, the condition, nor the time, to make up our accounts. There is no posting the books on a death-bed, or balancing the cash-book in a high fever. Can the tradesman tell you where his effects lie, and to whom he has lent or trusted sums of money, or large quantities of goods, when he is delirious and light-headed? All these things must be done in time, and the tradesman should take care that his books should always do this for him, and then he has nothing to do but make his will, and dispose of what he has; and for the rest he refers them to his books, to know where every thing is to be had.


[32] [The sum at the bottom, or foot, of the account.]

[33] [This reminds the editor of an amusing anecdote he has heard, illustrative of the diseased accuracy, as it may be called, of a certain existing London merchant. On reckoning up his household book one year, he found that he had expended one penny more than was accounted for, and there was accordingly an error to that extent in his reckoning. The very idea of an error, however trifling the amount, gave him great uneasiness, and he set himself with the greatest anxiety to discover, if possible, the occasion. He employed the by-hours of weeks in the vain attempt; but at length, having one day to cross Waterloo Bridge, where there is a pontage of a penny for foot passengers, he all at once, to his inconceivable joy, recollected having there disbursed the coin in question about a twelvemonth before.]

[34] [The correct doctrine is, we may not, by our utmost care and diligence, avoid the causes of an early and premature death; but he who acts according to the rules which promote health, and avoids all things which tend to endanger it, has a much better chance of living to the natural period appointed for human life than he who acts otherwise—besides, as stated in the text, making his life more agreeable. The author's illustration would be more properly drawn if we were to say, 'The tradesman, by keeping exact accounts, may not succeed in contending against certain unfavourable circumstances, no more than the man who lives according to the just rules of nature may thereby succeed in eviting other evils that tend to cut short life; but as the temperate man is most likely to be healthy, so is the tradesman, who keeps exact accounts, most likely to thrive in business.']



It must be acknowledged, that as this chapter seems to be written in favour of the women, it also seems to be an officious, thankless benefaction to the wives; for that, as the tradesman's ladies now manage, they are above the favour, and put no value upon it. On the contrary, the women, generally speaking, trouble not their heads about it, scorn to be seen in the counting house, much less behind the counter; despise the knowledge of their husbands' business, and act as if they were ashamed of being tradesmen's wives, and never intended to be tradesmen's widows.

If this chosen ignorance of theirs comes some time or other to be their loss, and they find the disadvantage of it too late, they may read their fault in their punishment, and wish too late they had acted the humbler part, and not thought it below them to inform themselves of what it is so much their interest to know. This pride is, indeed, the great misfortune of tradesmen's wives; for, as they lived as if they were above being owned for the tradesman's wife, so, when he dies, they live to be the shame of the tradesman's widow. They knew nothing how he got his estate when he was alive, and they know nothing where to find it when he is dead. This drives them into the hands of lawyers, attorneys, and solicitors, to get in their effects; who, when they have got it, often run away with it, and leave the poor widow in a more disconsolate and perplexed condition than she was in before.

It is true, indeed, that this is the women's fault in one respect, and too often it is so in many, since the common spirit is, as I observed, so much above the tradesman's condition; but since it is not so with every body, let me state the case a little for the use of those who still have ther senses about them; and whose pride is not got so much above their reason, as to let them choose to be tradesmen's beggars, rather than tradesmen's widows.

When the tradesman dies, it is to be expected that what estate or effects he leaves, is, generally speaking, dispersed about in many hands; his widow, if she is left executrix, has the trouble of getting things together as well as she can; if she is not left executrix, she has not the trouble indeed, but then it is looked upon that she is dishonoured in not having the trust; when she comes to look into her affairs, she is more or less perplexed and embarrassed, as she has not or has acquainted herself, or been made acquainted, with her husband's affairs in his lifetime.

If she has been one of those gay delicate ladies, that valuing herself upon her being a gentlewoman, and that thought it a step below herself, when she married this mechanic thing called a tradesman, and consequently scorned to come near his shop, or warehouse, and by consequence acquainting herself with any of his affairs,[35] or so much as where his effects lay, which are to be her fortune for the future—I say, if this has been her case, her folly calls for pity now, as her pride did for contempt before; for as she was foolish in the first, she may be miserable in the last part of it; for now she falls into a sea of trouble, she has the satisfaction of knowing that her husband has died, as the tradesmen call it, well to pass, and that she is left well enough; but she has at the same time the mortification of knowing nothing how to get it in, or in what hands it lies. The only relief she has is her husband's books, and she is happy in that, but just in proportion to the care he took in keeping them; even when she finds the names of debtors, she knows not who they are, or where they dwell, who are good, and who are bad; the only remedy she has here, if her husband had ever a servant, or apprentice, who was so near out of his time as to be acquainted with the customers, and with the books, then she is forced to be beholden to him to settle the accounts for her, and endeavour to get in the debts; in return for which she is forced to give him his time and freedom, and let him into the trade, make him master of all the business in the world, and it may be at last, with all her pride, has to take him for a husband; and when her friends upbraid her with it, that she should marry her apprentice boy, when it may be she was old enough to be his mother, her answer is, 'Why, what could I do? I see I must have been ruined else; I had nothing but what lay abroad in debts, scattered about the world, and nobody but he knew how to get them in. What could I do? If I had not done it, I must have been a beggar.' And so, it may be, she is at last too, if the boy of a husband proves a brute to her, as many do, and as in such unequal matches indeed most such people do. Thus, that pride which once set her above a kind, diligent, tender husband, and made her scorn to stoop to acquaint herself with his affairs, by which, had she done it, she had been tolerably qualified to get in her debts, dispose of her shop-goods, and bring her estate together—the same pride sinks her into the necessity of cringing to a scoundrel, and taking her servant to be her master.

This I mention for the caution of those ladies who stoop to marry men of business, and yet despise the business they are maintained by; that marry the tradesman, but scorn the trade. If madam thinks fit to stoop to the man, she ought never to think herself above owning his employment; and as she may upon occasion of his death be left to value herself upon it, and to have at least her fortune and her children's to gather up out of it, she ought not to profess herself so unacquainted with it as not to be able to look into it when necessity obliges her.

It is a terrible disaster to any woman to be so far above her own circumstances, that she should not qualify herself to make the best of things that are left her, or to preserve herself from being cheated, and being imposed upon. In former times, tradesmen's widows valued themselves upon the shop and trade, or the warehouse and trade, that were left them; and at least, if they did not carry on the trade in their own names, they would keep it up till they put it off to advantage; and often I have known a widow get from L300 to L500 for the good-will, as it is called, of the shop and trade, if she did not think fit to carry on the trade; if she did, the case turned the other way, namely, that if the widow did not put off the shop, the shop would put off the widow; and I may venture to say, that where there is one widow that keeps on the trade now, after a husband's decease, there were ten, if not twenty, that did it then.

But now the ladies are above it, and disdain it so much, that they choose rather to go without the prospect of a second marriage, in virtue of the trade, than to stoop to the mechanic low step of carrying on a trade; and they have their reward, for they do go without it; and whereas they might in former times match infinitely to their advantage by that method, now they throw themselves away, and the trade too.[36]

But this is not the case which I particularly aim at in this chapter. If the women will act weakly and foolishly, and throw away the advantages that he puts into their hands, be that to them, and it is their business to take care of that; but I would have them have the opportunity put into their hands, and that they may make the best of it if they please; if they will not, the fault is their own. But to this end, I say, I would have every tradesman make his wife so much acquainted with his trade, and so much mistress of the managing part of it, that she might be able to carry it on if she pleased, in case of his death; if she does not please, that is another case; or if she will not acquaint herself with it, that also is another case, and she must let it alone; but he should put it into her power, or give her the offer of it.

First, he should do it for her own sake, namely, as before, that she may make her advantage of it, either for disposing herself and the shop together, as is said above, or for the more readily disposing the goods, and getting in the debts, without dishonouring herself, as I have observed, and marrying her 'prentice boy, in order to take care of the effects—that is to say, ruining herself to prevent her being ruined.

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