The Complete English Tradesman (1839 ed.)
by Daniel Defoe
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The title of this work is an index of the performance. It is a collection of useful instructions for a young tradesman. The world is grown so wise of late, or (if you will) fancy themselves so, are so opiniatre, as the French well express it, so self-wise, that I expect some will tell us beforehand they know every thing already, and want none of my instructions; and to such, indeed, these instructions are not written.

Had I not, in a few years' experience, seen many young tradesmen miscarry, for want of those very cautions which are here given, I should have thought this work needless, and I am sure had never gone about to write it; but as the contrary is manifest, I thought, and think still, the world greatly wanted it.

And be it that those unfortunate creatures that have thus blown themselves up in trade, have miscarried for want of knowing, or for want of practising, what is here offered for their direction, whether for want of wit, or by too much wit, the thing is the same, and the direction is equally needful to both.

An old experienced pilot sometimes loses a ship by his assurance and over confidence of his knowledge, as effectually as a young pilot does by his ignorance and want of experience—this very thing, as I have been informed, was the occasion of the fatal disaster in which Sir Cloudesley Shovel, and so many hundred brave fellows, lost their lives in a moment upon the rocks of Scilly.[1]

He that is above informing himself when he is in danger, is above pity when he miscarries—a young tradesman who sets up thus full of himself, and scorning advice from those who have gone before him, like a horse that rushes into the battle, is only fearless of danger because he does not understand it.

If there is not something extraordinary in the temper and genius of the tradesmen of this age, if there is not something very singular in their customs and methods, their conduct and behaviour in business; also, if there is not something different and more dangerous and fatal in the common road of trading, and tradesmen's management now, than ever was before, what is the reason that there are so many bankrupts and broken tradesmen now among us, more than ever were known before? I make no doubt but there is as much trade now, and as much gotten by trading, as there ever was in this nation, at least in our memory; and if we will allow other people to judge, they will tell us there is much more trade, and trade is much more gainful; what, then, must be the reason that the tradesmen cannot live on their trades, cannot keep open their shops, cannot maintain themselves and families, as well now as they could before? Something extraordinary must be the case.

There must be some failure in the tradesman—it can be nowhere else—either he is less sober and less frugal, less cautious of what he does, whom he trusts, how he lives, and how he behaves, than tradesmen used to be, or he is less industrious, less diligent, and takes less care and pains in his business, or something is the matter; it cannot be but if he had the same gain, and but the same expense which the former ages suffered tradesmen to thrive with, he would certainly thrive as they did. There must be something out of order in the foundation; he must fail in the essential part, or he would not fail in his trade. The same causes would have the same effects in all ages; the same gain, and but the same expense, would just leave him in the same place as it would have left his predecessor in the same shop; and yet we see one grow rich, and the other starve, under the very same circumstances.

The temper of the times explains the case to every body that pleases but to look into it. The expenses of a family are quite different now from what they have been. Tradesmen cannot live as tradesmen in the same class used to live; custom, and the manner of all the tradesmen round them, command a difference; and he that will not do as others do, is esteemed as nobody among them, and the tradesman is doomed to ruin by the fate of the times.

In short, there is a fate upon a tradesman; either he must yield to the snare of the times, or be the jest of the times; the young tradesman cannot resist it; he must live as others do, or lose the credit of living, and be run down as if he were bankrupt. In a word, he must spend more than he can afford to spend, and so be undone; or not spend it, and so be undone.

If he lives as others do, he breaks, because he spends more than he gets; if he does not, he breaks too, because he loses his credit, and that is to lose his trade. What must he do?[2]

The following directions are calculated for this exigency, and to prepare the young tradesman to stem the attacks of those fatal customs, which otherwise, if he yields to them, will inevitably send him the way of all the thoughtless tradesmen that have gone before him.

Here he will be effectually, we hope, encouraged to set out well; to begin wisely and prudently; and to avoid all those rocks which the gay race of tradesmen so frequently suffer shipwreck upon. And here he will have a true plan of his own prosperity drawn out for him, by which, if it be not his own fault, he may square his conduct in an unerring manner, and fear neither bad fortune nor bad friends. I had purposed to give a great many other cautions and directions in this work, but it would have spun it out too far, and have made it tedious. I would indeed have discoursed of some branches of home trade, which necessarily embarks the inland tradesman in some parts of foreign business, and so makes a merchant of the shopkeeper almost whether he will or no. For example, almost all the shopkeepers and inland traders in seaport towns, or even in the water-side part of London itself, are necessarily brought in to be owners of ships, and concerned at least in the vessel, if not in the voyage. Some of their trades, perhaps, relate to, or are employed in, the building, or fitting, or furnishing out ships, as is the case at Shoreham, at Ipswich, Yarmouth, Hull, Whitby, Newcastle, and the like. Others are concerned in the cargoes, as in the herring fishery at Yarmouth and the adjacent ports, the colliery at Newcastle, Sunderland, &c., and the like in many other cases.

In this case, the shopkeeper is sometimes a merchant adventurer, whether he will or not, and some of his business runs into sea-adventures, as in the salt trade at Sheffield, in Northumberland, and Durham, and again at Limington; and again in the coal trade, from Whitehaven in Cumberland to Ireland, and the like.

These considerations urged me to direct due cautions to such tradesmen, and such as would be particular to them, especially not to launch out in adventures beyond the compass of their stocks,[3] and withal to manage those things with due wariness. But this work had not room for those things; and as that sort of amphibious tradesmen, for such they are, trading both by water and by land, are not of the kind with those particularly aimed at in these sheets, I thought it was better to leave them quite out than to touch but lightly upon them.

I had also designed one chapter or letter to my inland tradesmen, upon the most important subject of borrowing money upon interest, which is one of the most dangerous things a tradesman is exposed to. It is a pleasant thing to a tradesman to see his credit rise, and men offer him money to trade with, upon so slender a consideration as five per cent. interest, when he gets ten per cent. perhaps twice in the year; but it is a snare of the most dangerous kind in the event, and has been the ruin of so many tradesmen, that, though I had not room for it in the work, I could not let it pass without this notice in the preface.

1. Interest-money eats deep into the tradesman's profits, because it is a payment certain, whether the tradesman gets or loses, and as he may often get double, so sometimes he loses, and then his interest is a double payment; it is a partner with him under this unhappy circumstance, namely, that it goes halves when he gains, but not when he loses.

2. The lender calls for his money when he pleases, and often comes for it when the borrower can ill spare it; and then, having launched out in trade on the supposition of so much in stock, he is left to struggle with the enlarged trade with a contracted stock, and thus he sinks under the weight of it, cannot repay the money, is dishonoured, prosecuted, and at last undone, by the very loan which he took in to help him. Interest of money is a dead weight upon the tradesman, and as the interest always keeps him low, the principal sinks him quite down, when that comes to be paid out again. Payment of interest, to a tradesman, is like Cicero bleeding to death in a warm bath;[4] the pleasing warmth of the bath makes him die in a kind of dream, and not feel himself decay, till at last he is exhausted, falls into convulsions, and expires.

A tradesman held up by money at interest, is sure to sink at last by the weight of it, like a man thrown into the sea with a stone tied about his neck, who though he could swim if he was loose, drowns in spite of all his struggle.

Indeed, this article would require not a letter, but a book by itself; and the tragical stories of tradesmen undone by usury are so many, and the variety so great, that they would make a history by themselves. But it must suffice to treat it here only in general, and give the tradesmen a warning of it, as the Trinity-house pilots warn sailors of a sand, by hanging a buoy upon it, or as the Eddystone light-house upon a sunk rock, which, as the poet says, 'Bids men stand off, and live; come near, and die.'

For a tradesman to borrow money upon interest, I take to be like a man going into a house infected with the plague; it is not only likely that he may be infected and die, but next to a miracle if he escapes.

This part being thus hinted at, I think I may say of the following sheets, that they contain all the directions needful to make the tradesman thrive; and if he pleases to listen to them with a temper of mind willing to be directed, he must have some uncommon ill luck if he miscarries.


[1] [October 22, 1707.—Admiral Shovel, with the confederate fleet from the Mediterranean, as he was coming home, apprehended himself near the rocks of Scilly about noon, and the weather being hazy, he brought to and lay by till evening, when he made a signal for sailing. What induced him to be more cautious in the day than in the night is not known; but the fleet had not been long under sail before his own ship, the Association, with the Eagle and Romney, were dashed to pieces upon the rocks called the Bishop and his Clerks, and all their men lost; the Ferdinand was also cast away, and but twenty-four of her men saved. Admiral Byng, perceiving the misfortune, altered his course, whereby he preserved himself and the rest of the fleet which sailed after him.—Salmon's Chronological Historian. London, 1723.]

[2] [There is much reason for receiving all such complaints as the above with caution. The extravagance of the present, in contrast with the frugality of a past age, has always been a favourite topic of declamation, and appears to have no other foundation than whim. Indeed, it is next to impossible that any great body of men could exist in the circumstances described in the text.]

[3] [Stock is in this book invariably used for what we express by the term capital.]

[4] [Cicero is here given by mistake for Seneca, who thus suffered death by order of the tyrant Nero.]


Being to direct this discourse to the tradesmen of this nation, it is needful, in order to make the substance of this work and the subject of it agree together, that I should in a few words explain the terms, and tell the reader who it is we understand by the word tradesman, and how he is to be qualified in order to merit the title of complete.

This is necessary, because the said term tradesman is understood by several people, and in several places, in a different manner: for example, in the north of Britain, and likewise in Ireland, when you say a tradesman, you are understood to mean a mechanic, such as a smith, a carpenter, a shoemaker, and the like, such as here we call a handicraftsman. In like manner, abroad they call a tradesman such only as carry goods about from town to town, and from market to market, or from house to house, to sell; these in England we call petty chapmen, in the north pethers, and in our ordinary speech pedlars.

But in England, and especially in London, and the south parts of Britain, we take it in another sense, and in general, all sorts of warehouse-keepers, shopkeepers, whether wholesale dealers or retailers of goods, are called tradesmen, or, to explain it by another word, trading men: such are, whether wholesale or retail, our grocers, mercers, linen and woollen drapers, Blackwell-hall factors, tobacconists, haberdashers, whether of hats or small wares, glovers, hosiers, milliners, booksellers, stationers, and all other shopkeepers, who do not actually work upon, make, or manufacture, the goods they sell.

On the other hand, those who make the goods they sell, though they do keep shops to sell them, are not called tradesmen, but handicrafts, such as smiths, shoemakers, founders, joiners, carpenters, carvers, turners, and the like; others, who only make, or cause to be made, goods for other people to sell, are called manufacturers and artists, &c. Thus distinguished, I shall speak of them all as occasion requires, taking this general explication to be sufficient; and I thus mention it to prevent being obliged to frequent and further particular descriptions as I go on.

As there are several degrees of people employed in trade below these, such as workmen, labourers, and servants, so there is a degree of traders above them, which we call merchants; where it is needful to observe, that in other countries, and even in the north of Britain and Ireland, as the handicraftsmen and artists are called tradesmen, so the shopkeepers whom we here call tradesmen, are all called merchants; nay, even the very pedlars are called travelling merchants.[5] But in England the word merchant is understood of none but such as carry on foreign correspondences, importing the goods and growth of other countries, and exporting the growth and manufacture of England to other countries; or, to use a vulgar expression, because I am speaking to and of those who use that expression, such as trade beyond sea. These in England, and these only, are called merchants, by way of honourable distinction; these I am not concerned with in this work, nor is any part of it directed to them.

As the tradesmen are thus distinguished, and their several occupations divided into proper classes, so are the trades. The general commerce of England, as it is the most considerable of any nation in the world, so that part of it which we call the home or inland trade, is equal, if not superior, to that of any other nation, though some of those nations are infinitely greater than England, and more populous also, as France and Germany in particular.

I insist that the trade of England is greater and more considerable than that of any other nation, for these reasons: 1. Because England produces more goods as well for home consumption as for foreign exportation, and those goods all made of its own produce or manufactured by its own inhabitants, than any other nation in the world. 2. Because England consumes within itself more goods of foreign growth, imported from the several countries where they are produced or wrought, than any other nation in the world. And—3. Because for the doing this England employs more shipping and more seamen than any other nation, and, some think, than all the other nations, of Europe.

Hence, besides the great number of wealthy merchants who carry on this great foreign negoce [negotium (Latin) business], and who, by their corresponding with all parts of the world, import the growth of all countries hither—I say, besides these, we have a very great number of considerable dealers, whom we call tradesmen, who are properly called warehouse-keepers, who supply the merchants with all the several kinds of manufactures, and other goods of the produce of England, for exportation; and also others who are called wholesalemen, who buy and take off from the merchants all the foreign goods which they import; these, by their corresponding with a like sort of tradesmen in the country, convey and hand forward those goods, and our own also, among those country tradesmen, into every corner of the kingdom, however remote, and by them to the retailers, and by the retailer to the last consumer, which is the last article of all trade. These are the tradesmen understood in this work, and for whose service these sheets are made public.

Having thus described the person whom I understand by the English tradesman, it is then needful to inquire into his qualifications, and what it is that renders him a finished or complete man in his business.

1. That he has a general knowledge of not his own particular trade and business only—that part, indeed, well denominates a handicraftsman to be a complete artist; but our complete tradesman ought to understand all the inland trade of England, so as to be able to turn his hand to any thing, or deal in any thing or every thing of the growth and product of his own country, or the manufacture of the people, as his circumstances in trade or other occasions may require; and may, if he sees occasion, lay down one trade and take up another when he pleases, without serving a new apprenticeship to learn it.

2. That he not only has a knowledge of the species or kinds of goods, but of the places and peculiar countries where those goods, whether product or manufacture, are to be found; that is to say, where produced or where made, and how to come at them or deal in them, at the first hand, and to his best advantage.

3. That he understands perfectly well all the methods of correspondence, returning money or goods for goods, to and from every county in England; in what manner to be done, and in what manner most to advantage; what goods are generally bought by barter and exchange, and what by payment of money; what for present money, and what for time; what are sold by commission from the makers, what bought by factors, and by giving commission to buyers in the country, and what bought by orders to the maker, and the like; what markets are the most proper to buy every thing at, and where and when; and what fairs are proper to go to in order to buy or sell, or meet the country dealer at, such as Sturbridge, Bristol, Chester, Exeter; or what marts, such as Beverly, Lynn, Boston, Gainsborough, and the like.

In order to complete the English tradesman in this manner, the first thing to be done is lay down such general maxims of trade as are fit for his instruction, and then to describe the English or British product, being the fund of its inland trade, whether we mean its produce as the growth of the country, or its manufactures, as the labour of her people; then to acquaint the tradesman with the manner of the circulation where those things are found, how and by what methods all those goods are brought to London, and from London again conveyed into the country; where they are principally bought at best hand, and most to the advantage of the buyer, and where the proper markets are to dispose of them again when bought.

These are the degrees by which the complete tradesman is brought up, and by which he is instructed in the principles and methods of his commerce, by which he is made acquainted with business, and is capable of carrying it on with success, after which there is not a man in the universe deserves the title of a complete tradesman, like the English shopkeeper.


[5] [This misuse of the term merchant continues to exist in Scotland to the present day.]



The first part of a trader's beginning is ordinarily when he is very young, I mean, when he goes as an apprentice, and the notions of trade are scarcely got into his head; for boys go apprentices while they are but boys; to talk to them in their first three or four years signifies nothing; they are rather then to be taught submission to families, and subjection to their masters, and dutiful attendance in their shops or warehouses; and this is not our present business.

But after they have entered the fifth or sixth year, they may then be entertained with discourses of another nature; and as they begin then to look forward beyond the time of their servitude, and think of setting up and being for themselves, I think then is the time to put them upon useful preparations for the work, and to instruct them in such things as may qualify them best to enter upon the world, and act for themselves when they are so entered.

The first thing a youth in the latter part of his time is to do, is to endeavour to gain a good judgment in the wares of all kinds that he is likely to deal in—as, for example, if a draper, the quality of cloths; if a stationer, the quality of papers; if a grocer, the quality of sugars, teas, &c.; and so on with all other trades. During the first years of a young man's time, he of course learns to weigh and measure either liquids or solids, to pack up and make bales, trusses, packages, &c., and to do the coarser and laborious part of business; but all that gives him little knowledge in the species and quality of the goods, much less a nice judgment in their value and sorts, which however is one of the principal things that belong to trade.

It is supposed that, by this time, if his master is a man of considerable business, his man is become the eldest apprentice, and is taken from the counter, and from sweeping the warehouse, into the counting-house, where he, among other things, sees the bills of parcels of goods bought, and thereby knows what every thing costs at first hand, what gain is made of them, and if a miscarriage happens, he knows what loss too; by which he is led of course to look into the goodness of the goods, and see the reason of things: if the goods are not to expectation, and consequently do not answer the price, he sees the reason of that loss, and he looks into the goods, and sees where and how far they are deficient, and in what; this, if he be careful to make his observations, brings him naturally to have a good judgment in the goods.

If a young man neglects this part, and passes over the season for such improvement, he very rarely ever recovers it; for this part has its season, and that more remarkable than in many other cases, and that season lost, never comes again; a judgment in goods taken in early, is never lost, and a judgment taken in late is seldom good.

If the youth slips this occasion, and, not minding what is before him, goes out of his time without obtaining such a skill as this in the goods he is to deal in, he enters into trade without his most useful tools, and must use spectacles before his time.

For want of this knowledge of the goods, he is at a loss in the buying part, and is liable to be cheated and imposed upon in the most notorious manner by the sharp-sighted world, for his want of judgment is a thing that cannot be hid; the merchants or manufacturers of whom he buys, presently discover him; the very boys in the wholesalemen's warehouses, and in merchant's warehouses, will play upon him, sell him one thing for another, show him a worse sort when he calls for a better, and, asking a higher price for it, persuade him it is better; and when they have thus bubbled him, they triumph over his ignorance when he is gone, and expose him to the last degree.

Besides, for want of judgment in the goods he is to buy, he often runs a hazard of being cheated to a very great degree, and perhaps some time or other a tradesman may be ruined by it, or at least ruin his reputation.

When I lived abroad, I had once a commission sent me from a merchant in London, to buy a large parcel of brandy: the goods were something out of my way, having never bought any in that country before. However, it happened that I had frequently bought and imported brandies in England, and had some judgment in them, so much that I ventured to buy without taking a cooper with me, which was not usual in that place. The first parcel of brandy I saw was very good, and I bought freely to the value of about L600, and shipped them for England, where they gave very good satisfaction to my employer. But I could not complete my commission to my mind in that parcel. Some days after, some merchants, who had seen me buy the other, and thought me a novice in the business, and that I took no cooper to taste the brandy, laid a plot for me, which indeed was such a plot as I was not in the least aware of; and had not the little judgment which I had in the commodity prevented, I had been notoriously abused. The case was thus:—They gave me notice by the same person who helped me to the sight of the first brandy, that there was a cellar of extraordinary good brandy at such a place, and invited me to see it. Accordingly I went in an afternoon, and tasted the brandy, being a large parcel, amounting to about L460.

I liked the goods very well; but the merchant, as they called him, that is to say, the knave appointed to cheat the poor stranger, was cunningly out of the way, so that no bargain was to be made that night. But as I had said that I liked the brandy, the same person who brought me an account of them, comes to my lodgings to treat with me about the price. We did not make many words: I bade him the current price which I had bought for some days before, and after a few struggles for five crowns a-tun more, he came to my price, and his next word was to let me know the gage of the cask; and as I had seen the goods already, he thought there was nothing to do but to make a bargain, and order the goods to be delivered.

But young as I was, I was too old for that too; and told him, I could not tell positively how many I should take, but that I would come in the afternoon, and taste them again, and mark out what I wanted. He seemed uneasy at that, and pretended he had two merchants waiting to see them, and he could sell them immediately, and I might do him a prejudice if I made him wait and put them off, who perhaps might buy in the mean time.

I answered him coldly, I would not hinder him selling them by any means if he could have a better chapman, that I could not come sooner, and that I would not be obliged to take the whole parcel, nor would I buy any of them without tasting them again: he argued much to have me buy them, seeing, as he said, I had tasted them before, and liked them very well.

'I did so,' said I, 'but I love to have my palate confirm one day what it approved the day before.' 'Perhaps,' says he, 'you would have some other person's judgment of them, and you are welcome to do so, sir, with all my heart; send any body you please:' but still he urged for a bargain, when the person sent should make his report; and then he had his agents ready, I understood afterwards, to manage the persons I should send.

I answered him frankly, I had no great judgment, but that, such as it was, I ventured to trust to it; I thought I had honest men to deal with, and that I should bring nobody to taste them for me but myself.

This pleased him, and was what he secretly wished; and now, instead of desiring me to come immediately, he told me, that seeing I would not buy without seeing the goods again, and would not go just then, he could not be in the way in the afternoon, and so desired I would defer it till next morning, which I readily agreed to.

In the morning I went, but not so soon as I had appointed; upon which, when I came, he seemed offended, and said I had hindered him—that he could have sold the whole parcel, &c. I told him I could not have hindered him, for that I had told him he should not wait for me, but sell them to the first good customer he found. He told me he had indeed sold two or three casks, but he would not disoblige me so much as to sell the whole parcel before I came. This I mention, because he made it a kind of a bite upon me, that I should not be alarmed at seeing the casks displaced in the cellar.

When I came to taste the brandy, I began to be surprised. I saw the very same casks which I had touched with the marking-iron when I was there before, but I did not like the brandy by any means, but did not yet suspect the least foul play.

I went round the whole cellar, and I could not mark above three casks which I durst venture to buy; the rest apparently showed themselves to be mixed, at least I thought so. I marked out the three casks, and told him my palate had deceived me, that the rest of the brandy was not for my turn.

I saw the man surprised, and turn pale, and at first seemed to be very angry, that I should, as he called it, disparage the goods—that sure I did not understand brandy, and the like—and that I should have brought somebody with me that did understand it. I answered coldly, that if I ventured my money upon my own judgment, the hazard was not to the seller, but to the buyer, and nobody had to do with that; if I did not like his goods, another, whose judgment was better, might like them, and so there was no harm done: in a word, he would not let me have the three casks I had marked, unless I took more, and I would take no more—so we parted, but with no satisfaction on his side; and I afterwards came to hear that he had sat up all the night with his coopers, mixing spirits in every cask, whence he drew off a quantity of the right brandy, and corrupted it, concluding, that as I had no judgment to choose by but my own, I could not discover it; and it came out by his quarrelling with the person who brought me to him, for telling him I did not understand the goods, upon which presumption he ventured to spoil the whole parcel.

I give you this story as a just caution to a young tradesman, and to show how necessary it is that a tradesman should have judgment in the goods he buys, and how easily he may be imposed upon and abused, if he offers to buy upon his own judgment, when really it is defective. I could enlarge this article with many like examples, but I think this may suffice.

The next thing I recommend to an apprentice at the conclusion of his time, is to acquaint himself with his master's chapmen;[6] I mean of both kinds, as well those he sells to, as those he buys of, and, if he is a factor, with his master's employers. But what I aim at now is the chapmen and customers whom his master chiefly sells to. I need not explain myself not to mean by this the chance customers of a retailer's shop, for there can be no acquaintance, or very little, made with them; I mean the country shopkeepers, or others, who buy in parcels, and who buy to sell again, or export as merchants. If the young man comes from his master, and has formed no acquaintance or interest among the customers whom his master dealt with, he has, in short, slipt or lost one of the principal ends and reasons of his being an apprentice, in which he has spent seven years, and perhaps his friends given a considerable sum of money.

For a young man coming out of his time to have his shop or warehouse stocked with goods, and his customers all to seek, will make his beginning infinitely more difficult to him than it would otherwise be; and he not only has new customers to seek, but has their characters to seek also, and knows not who is good and who not, till he buys that knowledge by his experience, and perhaps sometimes pays too dear for it.

It was an odd circumstance of a tradesman in this city a few years ago, who, being out of his time, and going to solicit one of his master's customers to trade with him, the chapman did not so much as know him, or remember that he had ever heard his name, except as he had heard his master call his apprentice Jacob. I know some masters diligently watch to prevent their apprentices speaking to their customers, and to keep them from acquainting themselves with the buyers, that when they come out of their times they may not carry the trade away with them.

To hinder an apprentice from an acquaintance with the dealers of both sorts, is somewhat like Laban's usage of Jacob, namely, keeping back the beloved Rachel, whom he served his seven years' time for, and putting him off with a blear-eyed Leah in her stead; it is, indeed, a kind of robbing him, taking from him the advantage which he served his time for, and sending him into the world like a man out of a ship set on shore among savages, who, instead of feeding him, are indeed more ready to eat him up and devour him.[7]

An apprentice who has served out his time faithfully and diligently, ought to claim it as a debt to his indentures, that his master should let him into an open acquaintance with his customers; he does not else perform his promise to teach him the art and mystery of his trade; he does not make him master of his business, or enable him as he ought to set up in the world; for, as buying is indeed the first, so selling is the last end of trade, and the faithful apprentice ought to be fully made acquainted with them both.

Next to being acquainted with his master's customers and chapmen, the apprentice, when his time is near expiring, ought to acquaint himself with the books, that is to say, to see and learn his master's method of book-keeping, that he may follow it, if the method is good, and may learn a better method in time, if it is not.

The tradesman should not be at a loss how to keep his books, when he is to begin his trade; that would be to put him to school when he is just come from school; his apprenticeship is, and ought in justice to be, a school to him, where he ought to learn every thing that should qualify him for his business, at least every thing that his master can teach him; and if he finds his master either backward or unwilling to teach him, he should complain in time to his own friends, that they may some how or other supply the defect.

A tradesman's books are his repeating clock, which upon all occasions are to tell him how he goes on, and how things stand with him in the world: there he will know when it is time to go on, or when it is time to give over; and upon his regular keeping, and fully acquainting himself with his books, depends at least the comfort of his trade, if not the very trade itself. If they are not duly posted, and if every thing is not carefully entered in them, the debtor's accounts kept even, the cash constantly balanced, and the credits all stated, the tradesman is like a ship at sea, steered without a helm; he is all in confusion, and knows not what he does, or where he is; he may be a rich man, or a bankrupt—for, in a word, he can give no account of himself to himself, much less to any body else.

His books being so essential to his trade, he that comes out of his time without a perfect knowledge of the method of book-keeping, like a bride undrest, is not fit to be married; he knows not what to do, or what step to take; he may indeed have served his time, but he has not learned his trade, nor is he fit to set up; and be the fault in himself for not learning, or in his master for not teaching him, he ought not to set up till he has gotten some skilful person to put him in a way to do it, and make him fully to understand it.

It is true, there is not a great deal of difficulty in keeping a tradesman's books, especially if he be a retailer only; but yet, even in the meanest trades, they ought to know how to keep books. But the advice is directed to those who are above the retailer, as well as to them; if the book-keeping be small, it is the sooner learned, and the apprentice is the more to blame if he neglects it. Besides, the objection is much more trifling than the advice. The tradesman cannot carry on any considerable trade without books; and he must, during his apprenticeship, prepare himself for business by acquainting himself with every thing needful for his going on with his trade, among which that of book-keeping is absolutely necessary.

The last article, and in itself essential to a young tradesman, is to know how to buy; if his master is kind and generous, he will consider the justice of this part, and let him into the secret of it of his own free will, and that before his time is fully expired; but if that should not happen, as often it does not, let the apprentice know, that it is one of the most needful things to him that can belong to his apprenticeship, and that he ought not to let his time run over his head, without getting as much insight into it as possible; that therefore he ought to lose no opportunity to get into it, even whether his master approves of it or no; for as it is a debt due to him from his master to instruct him in it, it is highly just he should use all proper means to come at it.

Indeed, the affair in this age between masters and their apprentices, stands in a different view from what the same thing was a few years past; the state of our apprenticeship is not a state of servitude now, and hardly of subjection, and their behaviour is accordingly more like gentlemen than tradesmen; more like companions to their masters, than like servants. On the other hand, the masters seem to have made over their authority to their apprentices for a sum of money, the money taken now with apprentices being most exorbitantly great, compared to what it was in former times.

Now, though this does not at all exempt the servant or apprentice from taking care of himself, and to qualify himself for business while he is an apprentice, yet it is evident that it is no furtherance to apprentices; the liberties they take towards the conclusion of their time, are so much employed to worse purposes, that apprentices do not come out of their times better finished for business and trade than they did formerly, but much the worse: and though it is not the proper business and design of this work to enlarge on the injustice done both to master and servant by this change of custom, yet to bring it to my present purpose, it carries this force with it, namely, that the advice to apprentices to endeavour to finish themselves for business during the time of the indenture, is so much the more needful and seasonable.

Nor is this advice for the service of the master, but of the apprentice; for if the apprentice neglects this advice, if he omits to qualify himself for business as above, if he neither will acquaint himself with the customers, nor the books, nor with the buying part, nor gain judgment in the wares he is to deal in, the loss is his own, not his master's—and, indeed, he may be said to have served not himself, but his master—and both his money and his seven years are all thrown away.


[6] [Individuals dealt with.]

[7] [It would be hard to doubt that Defore was sincere in this pleading of the rights of the apprentice; but its morality is certainly far from clear. The master may have gained customers with difficulty, by the exercise of much ingenuity, patience, and industry, or through some peculiar merit of his own. Indeed, it is always to be presumed that a tradesman's customers are attached to him from some of these causes. Of course, it would be hard if his apprentices, instead of collecting customers for themselves by the same means, seduced away those of his master. The true and direct object of an apprenticeship is to acquire a trade, not to acquire customers.]



As plainness, and a free unconstrained way of speaking, is the beauty and excellence of speech, so an easy free concise way of writing is the best style for a tradesman. He that affects a rumbling and bombast style, and fills his letters with long harangues, compliments, and flourishes, should turn poet instead of tradesman, and set up for a wit, not a shopkeeper. Hark how such a young tradesman writes, out of the country, to his wholesale-man in London, upon his first setting up.

'SIR—The destinies having so appointed it, and my dark stars concurring, that I, who by nature was framed for better things, should be put out to a trade, and the gods having been so propitious to me in the time of my servitude, that at length the days are expired, and I am launched forth into the great ocean of business, I thought fit to acquaint you, that last month I received my fortune, which, by my father's will, had been my due two years past, at which time I arrived to man's estate, and became major, whereupon I have taken a house in one of the principal streets of the town of——, where I am entered upon my business, and hereby let you know that I shall have occasion for the goods hereafter mentioned, which you may send to me by the carrier.'

This fine flourish, and which, no doubt, the young fellow dressed up with much application, and thought was very well done, put his correspondent in London into a fit of laughter, and instead of sending him the goods he wrote for, put him either first upon writing down into the country to inquire after his character, and whether he was worth dealing with, or else it obtained to be filed up among such letters as deserved no answer.

The same tradesman in London received by the post another letter, from a young shopkeeper in the country, to the purpose following:—

'Being obliged, Sir, by my late master's decease, to enter immediately upon his business, and consequently open my shop without coming up to London to furnish myself with such goods as at present I want, I have here sent you a small order, as underwritten. I hope you will think yourself obliged to use me well, and particularly that the goods may be good of the sorts, though I cannot be at London to look them out myself. I have enclosed a bill of exchange for L75, on Messrs A.B. and Company, payable to you, or your order, at one-and-twenty days' sight; be pleased to get it accepted, and if the goods amount to more than that sum, I shall, when I have your bill of parcels, send you the remainder. I repeat my desire, that you will send me the goods well sorted, and well chosen, and as cheap as possible, that I may be encouraged to a further correspondence. I am, your humble servant,


This was writing like a man that understood what he was doing; and his correspondent in London would presently say—'This young man writes like a man of business; pray let us take care to use him well, for in all probability he will be a very good chapman.'

The sum of the matter is this: a tradesman's letters should be plain, concise, and to the purpose; no quaint expressions, no book-phrases, no flourishes, and yet they must be full and sufficient to express what he means, so as not to be doubtful, much less unintelligible. I can by no means approve of studied abbreviations, and leaving out the needful copulatives of speech in trading letters; they are to an extreme affected; no beauty to the style, but, on the contrary, a deformity of the grossest nature. They are affected to the last degree, and with this aggravation, that it is an affectation of the grossest nature; for, in a word, it is affecting to be thought a man of more than ordinary sense by writing extraordinary nonsense; and affecting to be a man of business, by giving orders and expressing your meaning in terms which a man of business may not think himself bound by. For example, a tradesman at Hull writes to his correspondent at London the following letter:—

'SIR, yours received, have at present little to reply. Last post you had bills of loading, with invoice of what had loaden for your account in Hamburgh factor bound for said port. What have farther orders for, shall be dispatched with expedition. Markets slacken much on this side; cannot sell the iron for more than 37s. Wish had your orders if shall part with it at that rate. No ships since the 11th. London fleet may be in the roads before the late storm, so hope they are safe: if have not insured, please omit the same till hear farther; the weather proving good, hope the danger is over.

My last transmitted three bills exchange, import L315; please signify if are come to hand, and accepted, and give credit in account current to your humble servant.'

I pretend to say there is nothing in all this letter, though appearing to have the face of a considerable dealer, but what may be taken any way, pro or con. The Hamburgh factor may be a ship, or a horse—be bound to Hamburgh or London. What shall be dispatched may be one thing, or any thing, or every thing, in a former letter. No ships since the 11th, may be no ships come in, or no ships gone out. The London fleet being in the roads, it may be the London fleet from Hull to London, or from London to Hull, both being often at sea together. The roads may be Yarmouth roads, or Grimsby, or, indeed, any where.

By such a way of writing, no orders can be binding to him that gives them, or to him they are given to. A merchant writes to his factor at Lisbon:—

'Please to send, per first ship, 150 chests best Seville, and 200 pipes best Lisbon white. May value yourself per exchange L1250 sterling, for the account of above orders. Suppose you can send the sloop to Seville for the ordered chests, &c. I am.'

Here is the order to send a cargo, with a please to send; so the factor may let it alone if he does not please.[8] The order is 150 chests Seville; it is supposed he means oranges, but it may be 150 chests orange-trees as well, or chests of oil, or any thing. Lisbon white, may be wine or any thing else, though it is supposed to be wine. He may draw L1250, but he may refuse to accept it if he pleases, for any thing such an order as that obliges him.

On the contrary, orders ought to be plain and explicit; and he ought to have assured him, that on his drawing on him, his bills should be honoured—that is, accepted and paid.

I know this affectation of style is accounted very grand, looks modish, and has a kind of majestic greatness in it; but the best merchants in the world are come off from it, and now choose to write plain and intelligibly: much less should country tradesmen, citizens, and shopkeepers, whose business is plainness and mere trade, make use of it.

I have mentioned this in the beginning of this work, because, indeed, it is the beginning of a tradesman's business. When a tradesman takes an apprentice, the first thing he does for him, after he takes him from behind his counter, after he lets him into his counting-house and his books, and after trusting him with his more private business—I say, the first thing is to let him write letters to his dealers, and correspond with his friends; and this he does in his master's name, subscribing his letters thus:—

I am, for my master, A.B. and Company, your humble servant, C.D. And beginning thus:—Sir,

I am ordered by my master A.B. to advise you that—

Or thus:—

Sir, By my master's order, I am to signify to you that

Orders for goods ought to be very explicit and particular, that the dealer may not mistake, especially if it be orders from a tradesman to a manufacturer to make goods, or to buy goods, either of such a quality, or to such a pattern; in which, if the goods are made to the colours, and of a marketable goodness, and within the time limited, the person ordering them cannot refuse to receive them, and make himself debtor to the maker. On the contrary, if the goods are not of a marketable goodness, or not to the patterns, or are not sent within the time, the maker ought not to expect they should be received. For example—

The tradesman, or warehouseman, or what else we may call him, writes to his correspondent at Devizes, in Wiltshire, thus:—

'Sir—The goods you sent me last week are not at all for my purpose, being of a sort which I am at present full of: however, if you are willing they should lie here, I will take all opportunities to sell them for your account; otherwise, on your first orders, they shall be delivered to whoever you shall direct: and as you had no orders from me for such sorts of goods, you cannot take this ill. But I have here enclosed sent you five patterns as under, marked 1 to 5; if you think fit to make me fifty pieces of druggets of the same weight and goodness with the fifty pieces, No. A.B., which I had from you last October, and mixed as exactly as you can to the enclosed patterns, ten to each pattern, and can have the same to be delivered here any time in February next, I shall take them at the same price which I gave you for the last; and one month after the delivery you may draw upon me for the money, which shall be paid to your content. Your friend and servant.

P.S. Let me have your return per next post, intimating that you can or cannot answer this order, that I may govern myself accordingly. To Mr H.G., clothier, Devizes.'

The clothier, accordingly, gives him an answer the next post, as follows:—

'Sir—I have the favour of yours of the 22d past, with your order for fifty fine druggets, to be made of the like weight and goodness with the two packs, No. A.B., which I made for you and sent last October, as also the five patterns enclosed, marked 1 to 5, for my direction in the mixture. I give you this trouble, according to your order, to let you know I have already put the said fifty pieces in hand; and as I am always willing to serve you to the best of my power, and am thankful for your favours, you may depend upon them within the time, that is to say, some time in February next, and that they shall be of the like fineness and substance with the other, and as near to the patterns as possible. But in regard our poor are very craving, and money at this time very scarce, I beg you will give me leave (twenty or thirty pieces of them being finished and delivered to you at any time before the remainder), to draw fifty pounds on you for present occasion; for which I shall think myself greatly obliged, and shall give you any security you please that the rest shall follow within the time.

As to the pack of goods in your hands, which were sent up without your order, I am content they remain in your hands for sale on my account, and desire you will sell them as soon as you can, for my best advantage. I am,' &c.

Here is a harmony of business, and every thing exact; the order is given plain and express; the clothier answers directly to every point; here can be no defect in the correspondence; the diligent clothier applies immediately to the work, sorts and dyes his wool, mixes his colours to the patterns, puts the wool to the spinners, sends his yarn to the weavers, has the pieces brought home, then has them to the thicking or fulling-mill, dresses them in his own workhouse, and sends them up punctually by the time; perhaps by the middle of the month. Having sent up twenty pieces five weeks before, the warehouse-keeper, to oblige him, pays his bill of L50, and a month after the rest are sent in, he draws for the rest of the money, and his bills are punctually paid. The consequence of this exact writing and answering is this—

The warehouse-keeper having the order from his merchant, is furnished in time, and obliges his customer; then says he to his servant, 'Well, this H.G. of Devizes is a clever workman, understands his business, and may be depended on: I see if I have an order to give that requires any exactness and honest usage, he is my man; he understands orders when they are sent, goes to work immediately, and answers them punctually.'

Again, the clothier at Devizes says to his head man, or perhaps his son, 'This Mr H. is a very good employer, and is worth obliging; his orders are so plain and so direct, that a man cannot mistake, and if the goods are made honestly and to his time, there's one's money; bills are cheerfully accepted, and punctually paid; I'll never disappoint him; whoever goes without goods, he shall not.'

On the contrary, when orders are darkly given, they are doubtfully observed; and when the goods come to town, the merchant dislikes them, the warehouseman shuffles them back upon the clothier, to lie for his account, pretending they are not made to his order; the clothier is discouraged, and for want of his money discredited, and all their correspondence is confusion, and ends in loss both of money and credit.


[8] [The practice of trade now sanctions courteous expressions of this kind.]



In the last chapter I gave my thoughts for the instruction of young tradesmen in writing letters with orders, and answering orders, and especially about the proper style of a tradesman's letters, which I hinted should be plain and easy, free in language, and direct to the purpose intended. Give me leave to go on with the subject a little farther, as I think it is useful in another part of the tradesman's correspondence.

I might have made some apology for urging tradesmen to write a plain and easy style; let me add, that the tradesmen need not be offended at my condemning them, as it were, to a plain and homely style—easy, plain, and familiar language is the beauty of speech in general, and is the excellency of all writing, on whatever subject, or to whatever persons they are we write or speak. The end of speech is that men might understand one another's meaning; certainly that speech, or that way of speaking, which is most easily understood, is the best way of speaking. If any man were to ask me, which would be supposed to be a perfect style, or language, I would answer, that in which a man speaking to five hundred people, of all common and various capacities, idiots or lunatics excepted, should be understood by them all in the same manner with one another, and in the same sense which the speaker intended to be understood—this would certainly be a most perfect style.

All exotic sayings, dark and ambiguous speakings, affected words, and, as I said in the last chapter, abridgement, or words cut off, as they are foolish and improper in business, so, indeed, are they in any other things; hard words, and affectation of style in business, is like bombast in poetry, a kind of rumbling nonsense, and nothing of the kind can be more ridiculous.

The nicety of writing in business consists chiefly in giving every species of goods their trading names, for there are certain peculiarities in the trading language, which are to be observed as the greatest proprieties, and without which the language your letters are written in would be obscure, and the tradesmen you write to would not understand you—for example, if you write to your factor at Lisbon, or at Cadiz, to make you returns in hardware, he understands you, and sends you so many bags of pieces of eight. So, if a merchant comes to me to hire a small ship of me, and tells me it is for the pipin trade, or to buy a vessel, and tells me he intends to make a pipiner of her, the meaning is, that she is to run to Seville for oranges, or to Malaga for lemons. If he says he intends to send her for a lading of fruit, the meaning is, she is to go to Alicant, Denia, or Xevia, on the coast of Spain, for raisins of the sun, or to Malaga for Malaga raisins. Thus, in the home trade in England: if in Kent a man tells me he is to go among the night-riders, his meaning is, he is to go a-carrying wool to the sea-shore—the people that usually run the wool off in boats, are called owlers—those that steal customs, smugglers, and the like. In a word, there is a kind of slang in trade, which a tradesman ought to know, as the beggars and strollers know the gipsy cant, which none can speak but themselves; and this in letters of business is allowable, and, indeed, they cannot understand one another without it.

A brickmaker being hired by a brewer to make some bricks for him at his country-house, wrote to the brewer that he could not go forward unless he had two or three loads of spanish, and that otherwise his bricks would cost him six or seven chaldrons of coals extraordinary, and the bricks would not be so good and hard neither by a great deal, when they were burnt.

The brewer sends him an answer, that he should go on as well as he could for three or four days, and then the spanish should be sent him: accordingly, the following week, the brewer sends him down two carts loaded with about twelve hogsheads or casks of molasses, which frighted the brickmaker almost out of his senses. The case was this:-The brewers formerly mixed molasses with their ale to sweeten it, and abate the quantity of malt, molasses, being, at that time, much cheaper in proportion, and this they called spanish, not being willing that people should know it. Again, the brickmakers all about London, do mix sea-coal ashes, or laystal-stuff, as we call it, with the clay of which they make bricks, and by that shift save eight chaldrons of coals out of eleven, in proportion to what other people use to burn them with, and these ashes they call spanish.

Thus the received terms of art, in every particular business, are to be observed, of which I shall speak to you in its turn: I name them here to intimate, that when I am speaking of plain writing in matters of business, it must be understood with an allowance for all these things—and a tradesman must be not only allowed to use them in his style, but cannot write properly without them—it is a particular excellence in a tradesman to be able to know all the terms of art in every separate business, so as to be able to speak or write to any particular handicraft or manufacturer in his own dialect, and it is as necessary as it is for a seaman to understand the names of all the several things belonging to a ship. This, therefore, is not to be understood when I say, that a tradesman should write plain and explicit, for these things belong to, and are part of, the language of trade.

But even these terms of art, or customary expressions, are not to be used with affectation, and with a needless repetition, where they are not called for.

Nor should a tradesman write those out-of-the-way words, though it is in the way of the business he writes about, to any other person, who he knows, or has reason to believe, does not understand them—I say, he ought not to write in those terms to such, because it shows a kind of ostentation, and a triumph over the ignorance of the person they are written to, unless at the very same time you add an explanation of the terms, so as to make them assuredly intelligible at the place, and to the person to whom they are sent.

A tradesman, in such cases, like a parson, should suit his language to his auditory; and it would be as ridiculous for a tradesman to write a letter filled with the peculiarities of this or that particular trade, which trade he knows the person he writes to is ignorant of, and the terms whereof he is unacquainted with, as it would be for a minister to quote the Chrysostome and St Austin, and repeat at large all their sayings in the Greek and the Latin, in a country church, among a parcel of ploughmen and farmers. Thus a sailor, writing a letter to a surgeon, told him he had a swelling on the north-east side of his face—that his windward leg being hurt by a bruise, it so put him out of trim, that he always heeled to starboard when he made fresh way, and so run to leeward, till he was often forced aground; then he desired him to give him some directions how to put himself into a sailing posture again. Of all which the surgeon understood little more than that he had a swelling on his face, and a bruise in his leg.

It would be a very happy thing, if tradesmen had all their lexicon technicum at their fingers' ends; I mean (for pray, remember, that I observe my own rule, not to use a hard word without explaining it), that every tradesman would study so the terms of art of other trades, that he might be able to speak to every manufacturer or artist in his own language, and understand them when they talked one to another: this would make trade be a kind of universal language, and the particular marks they are obliged to, would be like the notes of music, an universal character, in which all the tradesmen in England might write to one another in the language and characters of their several trades, and be as intelligible to one another as the minister is to his people, and perhaps much more.

I therefore recommend it to every young tradesman to take all occasions to converse with mechanics of every kind, and to learn the particular language of their business; not the names of their tools only, and the way of working with their instruments as well as hands, but the very cant of their trade, for every trade has its nostrums, and its little made words, which they often pride themselves in, and which yet are useful to them on some occasion or other.

There are many advantages to a tradesman in thus having a general knowledge of the terms of art, and the cant, as I call it, of every business; and particularly this, that they could not be imposed upon so easily by other tradesmen, when they came to deal with them.

If you come to deal with a tradesman or handicraft man, and talk his own language to him, he presently supposes you understand his business; that you know what you come about; that you have judgment in his goods, or in his art, and cannot easily be imposed upon; accordingly, he treats you like a man that is not to be cheated, comes close to the point, and does not crowd you with words and rattling talk to set out his wares, and to cover their defects; he finds you know where to look or feel for the defect of things, and how to judge their worth. For example:—

What trade has more hard words and peculiar ways attending it, than that of a jockey, or horse-courser, as we call them! They have all the parts of the horse, and all the diseases attending him, necessary to be mentioned in the market, upon every occasion of buying or bargaining. A jockey will know you at first sight, when you do but go round a horse, or at the first word you say about him, whether you are a dealer, as they call themselves, or a stranger. If you begin well, if you take up the horse's foot right, if you handle him in the proper places, if you bid his servant open his mouth, or go about it yourself like a workman, if you speak of his shapes or goings in the proper words—'Oh!' says the jockey to his fellow, 'he understands a horse, he speaks the language:' then he knows you are not to be cheated, or, at least, not so easily; but if you go awkwardly to work, whisper to your man you bring with you to ask every thing for you, cannot handle the horse yourself, or speak the language of the trade, he falls upon you with his flourishes, and with a flux of horse rhetoric imposes upon you with oaths and asseverations, and, in a word, conquers you with the mere clamour of his trade.

Thus, if you go to a garden to buy flowers, plants, trees, and greens, if you know what you go about, know the names of flowers, or simples, or greens; know the particular beauties of them, when they are fit to remove, and when to slip and draw, and when not; what colour is ordinary, and what rare; when a flower is rare, and when ordinary—the gardener presently talks to you as to a man of art, tells you that you are a lover of art, a friend to a florist, shows you his exotics, his green-house, and his stores; what he has set out, and what he has budded or enarched, and the like; but if he finds you have none of the terms of art, know little or nothing of the names of plants, or the nature of planting, he picks your pocket instantly, shows you a fine trimmed fuz-bush for a juniper, sells you common pinks for painted ladies, an ordinary tulip for a rarity, and the like. Thus I saw a gardener sell a gentleman a large yellow auricula, that is to say, a running away, for a curious flower, and take a great price. It seems, the gentleman was a lover of a good yellow; and it is known, that when nature in the auricula is exhausted, and has spent her strengh in showing a fine flower, perhaps some years upon the same root, she faints at last, and then turns into a yellow, which yellow shall be bright and pleasant the first year, and look very well to one that knows nothing of it, though another year it turns pale, and at length almost white. This the gardeners call a run flower, and this they put upon the gentleman for a rarity, only because he discovered at his coming that he knew nothing of the matter. The same gardener sold another person a root of white painted thyme for the right Marum Syriacum; and thus they do every day.

A person goes into a brickmaker's field to view his clamp, and buy a load of bricks; he resolves to see them loaded, because he would have good ones; but not understanding the goods, and seeing the workmen loading them where they were hard and well burnt, but looked white and grey, which, to be sure, were the best of the bricks, and which perhaps they would not have done if he had not been there to look at them, they supposing he understood which were the best; but he, in the abundance of his ignorance, finds fault with them, because they were not a good colour, and did not look red; the brickmaker's men took the hint immediately, and telling the buyer they would give him red bricks to oblige him, turned their hands from the grey hard well-burnt bricks to the soft sammel[9] half-burnt bricks, which they were glad to dispose of, and which nobody that had understood them would have taken off their hands.

I mention these lower things, because I would suit my writing to the understanding of the meanest people, and speak of frauds used in the most ordinary trades; but it is the like in almost all the goods a tradesman can deal in. If you go to Warwickshire to buy cheese, you demand the cheese 'of the first make,' because that is the best. If you go to Suffolk to buy butter, you refuse the butter of the first make, because that is not the best, but you bargain for 'the right rowing butter,' which is the butter that is made when the cows are turned into the grounds where the grass has been mowed, and the hay carried off, and grown again: and so in many other cases. These things demonstrate the advantages there are to a tradesman, in his being thoroughly informed of the terms of art, and the peculiarities belonging to every particular business, which, therefore, I call the language of trade.

As a merchant should understand all languages, at least the languages of those countries which he trades to, or corresponds with, and the customs and usages of those countries as to their commerce, so an English tradesman ought to understand all the languages of trade, within the circumference of his own country, at least, and particularly of such as he may, by any of the consequences of his commerce, come to be any way concerned with.

Especially, it is his business to acquaint himself with the terms and trading style, as I call it, of those trades which he buys of, as to those he sells to; supposing he sells to those who sell again, it is their business to understand him, not his to understand them: and if he finds they do not understand him, he will not fail to make their ignorance be his advantage, unless he is honester and more conscientious in his dealings than most of the tradesmen of this age seem to be.


[9] [Sammel is a term of art the brickmakers use for those bricks which are not well burnt, and which generally look of a pale red colour, and as fair as the other, but are soft.]



It is the judgment of some experienced tradesmen, that no man ought to go from one business to another, and launch out of the trade or employment he was bred to: Tractent fabrilia fabri—'Every man to his own business;' and, they tell us, men never thrive when they do so.

I will not enter into that dispute here. I know some good and encouraging examples of the contrary, and which stand as remarkable instances, or as exceptions to the general rule: but let that be as it will, sometimes providence eminently calls upon men out of one employ into another, out of a shop into a warehouse, out of a warehouse into a shop, out of a single hand into a partnership, and the like; and they trade one time here, another time there, and with very good success too. But I say, be that as it will, a tradesman ought so far to acquaint himself with business, that he should not be at a loss to turn his hand to this or that trade, as occasion presents, whether in or out of the way of his ordinary dealing, as we have often seen done in London and other places, and sometimes with good success.

This acquainting himself with business does not intimate that he should learn every trade, or enter into the mystery of every employment. That cannot well be; but that he should have a true notion of business in general, and a knowledge how and in what manner it is carried on; that he should know where every manufacture is made, and how bought at first hand; that he should know which are the proper markets, and what the particular kinds of goods to exchange at those markets; that he should know the manner how every manufacture is managed, and the method of their sale.

It cannot be expected that he should have judgment in the choice of all kinds of goods, though in a great many he may have judgment too: but there is a general understanding in trade, which every tradesman both may and ought to arrive to; and this perfectly qualifies him to engage in any new undertaking, and to embark with other persons better qualified than himself in any new trade, which he was not in before; in which, though he may not have a particular knowledge and judgment in the goods they are to deal in or to make, yet, having the benefit of the knowledge his new partner is master of, and being himself apt to take in all additional lights, he soon becomes experienced, and the knowledge of all the other parts of business qualifies him to be a sufficient partner. For example—A.B. was bred a dry-salter, and he goes in partner with with C.D., a scarlet-dyer, called a bow-dyer, at Wandsworth.

As a salter, A.B. has had experience enough in the materials for dyeing, as well scarlets as all other colours, and understands very well the buying of cochineal, indigo, galls, shumach, logwood, fustick, madder, and the like; so that he does his part very well. C.D. is an experienced scarlet-dyer; but now, doubling their stock, they fall into a larger work, and they dye bays and stuffs, and other goods, into differing colours, as occasion requires; and this brings them to an equality in the business, and by hiring good experienced servants, they go on very well together.

The like happens often when a tradesman turns his hand from one trade to another; and when he embarks, either in partnership or out of it, in any new business, it is supposed he seldom changes hands in such a manner without some such suitable person to join with, or that he has some experienced head workman to direct him, which, if that workman proves honest, is as well as a partner. On the other hand, his own application and indefatigable industry supply the want of judgment. Thus, I have known several tradesmen turn their hands from one business to another, or from one trade entirely to another, and very often with good success. For example, I have seen a confectioner turn a sugar-baker; another a distiller; an apothecary turn chemist, and not a few turn physicians, and prove very good physicians too; but that is a step beyond what I am speaking of.

But my argument turns upon this—that a tradesman ought to be able to turn his hand to any thing; that is to say, to lay down one trade and take up another, if occasion leads him to it, and if he sees an evident view of profit and advantage in it; and this is only done by his having a general knowledge of trade, so as to have a capacity of judging: and by but just looking upon what is offered or proposed, he sees as much at first view as others do by long inquiry, and with the judgment of many advisers.

When I am thus speaking of the tradesman's being capable of making judgment of things, it occurs, with a force not to be resisted, that I should add, he is hereby fenced against bubbles and projects, and against those fatal people called projectors, who are, indeed, among tradesmen, as birds of prey are among the innocent fowls—devourers and destroyers. A tradesman cannot be too well armed, nor too much cautioned, against those sort of people; they are constantly surrounded with them, and are as much in jeopardy from them, as a man in a crowd is of having his pocket picked—nay, almost as a man is when in a crowd of pickpockets.

Nothing secures the tradesman against those men so well as his being thoroughly knowing in business, having a judgment to weigh all the delusive schemes and the fine promises of the wheedling projector, and to see which are likely to answer, or which not; to examine all his specious pretences, his calculations and figures, and see whether they are as likely to answer the end as he takes upon him to say they will; to make allowances for all his fine flourishes and outsides, and then to judge for himself. A projector is to a tradesman a kind of incendiary; he is in a constant plot to blow him up, or set fire to him; for projects are generally as fatal to a tradesman as fire in a magazine of gunpowder.

The honest tradesman is always in danger, and cannot be too wary; and therefore to fortify his judgment, that he may be able to guard against such people as these, is one of the most necessary things I can do for him.

In order, then, to direct the tradesman how to furnish himself thus with a needful stock of trading knowledge, first, I shall propose to him to converse with tradesmen chiefly: he that will be a tradesman should confine himself within his own sphere: never was the Gazette so full of the advertisements of commissions of bankrupt as since our shopkeepers are so much engaged in parties, formed into clubs to hear news, and read journals and politics; in short, when tradesmen turn statesmen, they should either shut up their shops, or hire somebody else to look after them.

The known story of the upholsterer is very instructive,[10] who, in his abundant concern for the public, ran himself out of his business into a jail; and even when he was in prison, could not sleep for the concern he had for the liberties of his dear country: the man was a good patriot, but a bad shopkeeper; and, indeed, should rather have shut up his shop, and got a commission in the army, and then he had served his country in the way of his calling. But I may speak to this more in its turn.

My present subject is not the negative, what he should not do, but the affirmative, what he should do; I say, he should take all occasions to converse within the circuit of his own sphere, that is, dwell upon the subject of trade in his conversation, and sort with and converse among tradesmen as much as he can; as writing teaches to write—scribendo discis scribere—so conversing among tradesmen will make him a tradesman. I need not explain this so critically as to tell you I do not mean he should confine or restrain himself entirely from all manner of conversation but among his own class: I shall speak to that in its place also. A tradesman may on occasion keep company with gentlemen as well as other people; nor is a trading man, if he is a man of sense, unsuitable or unprofitable for a gentleman to converse with, as occasion requires; and you will often find, that not private gentlemen only, but even ministers of state, privy-councillors, members of parliament, and persons of all ranks in the government, find it for their purpose to converse with tradesmen, and are not ashamed to acknowledge, that a tradesman is sometimes qualified to inform them in the most difficult and intricate, as well as the most urgent, affairs of government; and this has been the reason why so many tradesmen have been advanced to honours and dignities above their ordinary rank, as Sir Charles Duncombe, a goldsmith; Sir Henry Furnese, who was originally a retail hosier; Sir Charles Cook, late one of the board of trade, a merchant; Sir Josiah Child, originally a very mean tradesman; the late Mr Lowndes, bred a scrivener; and many others, too many to name.

But these are instances of men called out of their lower sphere for their eminent usefulness, and their known capacities, being first known to be diligent and industrious men in their private and lower spheres; such advancements make good the words of the wise man—'Seest thou a man diligent in his calling, he shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men.[11]

In the mean time, the tradesman's proper business is in his shop or warehouse, and among his own class or rank of people; there he sees how other men go on, and there he learns how to go on himself; there he sees how other men thrive, and learns to thrive himself; there he hears all the trading news—as for state news and politics, it is none of his business; there he learns how to buy, and there he gets oftentimes opportunities to sell; there he hears of all the disasters in trade, who breaks, and why; what brought such and such a man to misfortunes and disasters; and sees the various ways how men go down in the world, as well as the arts and management, by which others from nothing arise to wealth and estates.

Here he sees the Scripture itself thwarted, and his neighbour tradesman, a wholesale haberdasher, in spite of a good understanding, in spite of a good beginning, and in spite of the most indefatigable industry, sink in his circumstances, lose his credit, then his stock, and then break and become bankrupt, while the man takes more pains to be poor than others do to grow rich.

There, on the other hand, he sees G.D., a plodding, weak-headed, but laborious wretch, of a confined genius, and that cannot look a quarter of a mile from his shop-door into the world, and beginning with little or nothing, yet rises apace in the mere road of business, in which he goes on like the miller's horse, who, being tied to the post, is turned round by the very wheel which he turns round himself; and this fellow shall get money insensibly, and grow rich even he knows not how, and no body else knows why.

Here he sees F.M. ruined by too much trade, and there he sees M.F. starved for want of trade; and from all these observations he may learn something useful to himself, and fit to guide his own measures, that he may not fall into the same mischiefs which he sees others sink under, and that he may take the advantage of that prudence which others rise by.

All these things will naturally occur to him, in his conversing among his fellow-tradesmen. A settled little society of trading people, who understand business, and are carrying on trade in the same manner with himself, no matter whether they are of the very same trades or no, and perhaps better not of the same—such a society, I say, shall, if due observations are made from it, teach the tradesman more than his apprenticeship; for there he learned the operation, here he learns the progression; his apprenticeship is his grammar-school, this is his university; behind his master's counter, or in his warehouse, he learned the first rudiments of trade, but here he learns the trading sciences; here he comes to learn the arcana, speak the language, understand the meaning of every thing, of which before he only learned the beginning: the apprenticeship inducts him, and leads him as the nurse the child; this finishes him; there he learned the beginning of trade, here he sees it in its full extent; in a word, there he learned to trade, here he is made a complete tradesman.

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