The Complete English Tradesman Part 17

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We need go no farther than Lombard Street for an exemplification of this truth. There was a time when Lombard Street was the only bank, and the goldsmiths there were all called bankers. The credit of their business was such, that the like has not been seen in England since, in private hands: some of those bankers, as I have had from their own mouths, have had near two millions of paper credit upon them at a time; that is to say, have had bills under their hands running abroad for so much at a time.

On a sudden, like a clap of thunder, King Charles II. shut up the Exchequer, which was the common centre of the overplus cash these great bankers had in their hands. What was the consequence? Not only the bankers who had the bulk of their cash there, but all Lombard Street, stood still. The very report of having money in the Exchequer brought a run upon the goldsmiths that had no money there, as well as upon those that had, and not only Sir Robert Viner, Alderman Backwell, Farringdon, Forth, and others, broke and failed, but several were ruined who had not a penny of money in the Exchequer, and only sunk by the rumour of it; that rumour bringing a run upon the whole street, and giving a check to the paper credit that was run up to such an exorbitant height.

I remember a shopkeeper who one time took the liberty (foolish liberty!) with himself, in public company in a coffee-house, to say that he was broke. 'I a.s.sure you,' says he, 'that I am broke, and to-morrow I resolve to shut up my shop, and call my creditors together.' His meaning was, that he had a brother just dead in his house, and the next day was to be buried, when, in civility to the deceased, he kept his shop shut; and several people whom he dealt with, and owed money to, were the next day invited to the funeral, so that he did actually shut up his shop, and call some of his creditors together.

But he sorely repented the jest which he put upon himself. 'Are you broke?' says one of his friends to him, that was in the coffee-house; 'then I wish I had the little money you owe me' (which however, it seems, was not much). Says the other, still carrying on his jest, 'I shall pay n.o.body, till, as I told you, I have called my people together.' The other did not reach his jest, which at best was but a dull one, but he reached that part of it that concerned himself, and seeing him continue carelessly sitting in the shop, slipped out, and, fetching a couple of sergeants, arrested him. The other was a little surprised; but however, the debt being no great sum, he paid it, and when he found his mistake, told his friends what he meant by his being broke.

But it did not end there; for other people of his neighbours, who were then in the coffee-house, and heard his discourse, and had thought nothing more of it, yet in the morning seeing his shop shut, concluded the thing was so indeed, and immediately it went over the whole street that such a one was broke; from thence it went to the Exchange, and from thence into the country, among all his dealers, who came up in a throng and a fright to look after him. In a word, he had as much to do to prevent his breaking as any man need to desire, and if he had not had very good friends as well as a very good bottom, he had inevitably been ruined and undone.

So small a rumour will overset a tradesman, if he is not very careful of himself; and if a word in jest from himself, which though indeed no man that had considered things, or thought before he spoke, would have said (and, on the other hand, no man who had been wise and thinking would have taken as it was taken)--I say, if a word taken from the tradesman's own mouth could be so fatal, and run such a dangerous length, what may not words spoken slyly, and secretly, and maliciously, be made to do?

A tradesman's reputation is of the nicest nature imaginable; like a blight upon a fine flower, if it is but touched, the beauty of it, or the flavour of it, or the seed of it, is lost, though the noxious breath which touched it might not reach to blast the leaf, or hurt the root; the credit of a tradesman, at least in his beginning, is too much at the mercy of every enemy he has, till it has taken root, and is established on a solid foundation of good conduct and success. It is a sad truth, that every idle tongue can blast a young shopkeeper; and therefore, though I would not discourage any young beginner, yet it is highly beneficial to alarm them, and to let them know that they must expect a storm of scandal and reproach upon the least slip they make: if they but stumble, fame will throw them down; it is true, if they recover, she will set them up as fast; but malice generally runs before, and bears down all with it; and there are ten tradesmen who fall under the weight of slander and an ill tongue, to one that is lifted up again by the common hurry of report.

To say I am broke, or in danger of breaking, is to break me: and though sometimes the malicious occasion is discovered, and the author detected and exposed, yet how seldom is it so; and how much oftener are ill reports raised to ruin and run down a tradesman, and the credit of a shop; and like an arrow that flies in the dark, it wounds unseen. The authors, no nor the occasion of these reports, are never discovered perhaps, or so much as rightly guessed at; and the poor tradesman feels the wound, receives the deadly blow, and is perhaps mortally stabbed in the vitals of his trade, I mean his trading credit, and never knows who hurt him.

I must say, in the tradesman's behalf, that he is in such a case to be esteemed a sacrifice to the worst and most h.e.l.lish of all secret crimes, I mean envy; which is made up of every hateful vice, a complication of crimes which nothing but the worst of G.o.d's reasonable world can be guilty of; and he will indeed merit and call for every honest man's pity and concern. But what relief is this to him? for, in the meantime, though the devil himself were the raiser of the scandal, yet it shall go about; the blow shall take, and every man, though at the same time expressing their horror and aversion at the thing, shall yet not be able, no not themselves, to say they receive no impression from it.

Though I know the clamour or rumour was raised maliciously, and from a secret envy at the prosperity of the man, yet if I deal with him, it will in spite of all my abhorrence of the thing, in spite of all my willingness to do justice, I say it will have some little impression upon me, it will be some shock to my confidence in the man; and though I know the devil is a liar, a slanderer, a calumniator, and that his name _devil_ is derived from it; and that I knew, if that, as I said, were possible, that the devil in his proper person raised and began, and carried on, this scandal upon the tradesman, yet there is a secret lurking doubt (about him), which hangs about me concerning him; the devil is a liar, but he may happen to speak truth just then, he may chance to be right, and I know not what there may be in it, and whether there may be any thing or no, but I will have a little care, &c.

Thus, insensibly and involuntarily, nay, in spite of friends.h.i.+p, good wishes, and even resolution to the contrary, it is almost impossible to prevent our being shocked by rumour, and we receive an impression whether we will or not, and that from the worst enemy; there is such a powerful sympathy between our thoughts and our interest, that the first being but touched, and that in the lightest manner imaginable, we cannot help it, caution steps on in behalf of the last, and the man is jealous and afraid, in spite of all the kindest and best intentions in the world.

Nor is it only dangerous in case of false accusations and false charges, for those indeed are to be expected fatal; but even just and true things may be as fatal as false, for the truth is not always necessary to be said of a tradesman: many things a tradesman may perhaps allow himself to do, and may be lawfully done, but if they should be known to be part of his character, it would sink deep into his trading fame, his credit would suffer by it, and in the end it might be his ruin; so that he that would not set his hand to his neighbour's ruin, should as carefully avoid speaking some truths, as raising some forgeries upon him.

Of what fatal consequence, then, is the raising rumours and suspicions upon the credit and characters of young tradesmen! and how little do those who are forward to raise such suspicions, and spread such rumours, consult conscience, or principle, or honour, in what they do! How little do they consider that they are committing a trading murder, and that, in respect to the justice of it, they may with much more equity break open the tradesman's house, and rob his cash-chest, or his shop; and what they can carry away thence will not do him half the injury that robbing his character of what is due to it from an upright and diligent conduct, would do. The loss of his money or goods is easily made up, and may be sometimes repaired with advantage, but the loss of credit is never repaired; the one is breaking open his house, but the other is burning it down; the one carries away some goods, but the other shuts goods out from coming in; one is hurting the tradesman, but the other is undoing him.

Credit is the tradesman's life; it is, as the wise man says, 'marrow to his bones;' it is by this that all his affairs go on prosperously and pleasantly; if this be hurt, wounded, or weakened, the tradesman is sick, hangs his head, is dejected and discouraged; and if he does go on, it is heavily and with difficulty, as well as with disadvantage; he is beholding to his fund of cash, not his friends; and he may be truly said to stand upon his own legs, for nothing else can do it.

And therefore, on the other hand, if such a man is any way beholding to his credit, if he stood before upon the foundation of his credit, if he owes any thing considerable, it is a thousand to one but he sinks under the oppression of it; that is to say, it brings every body upon him--I mean, every one that has any demand upon him--for in pus.h.i.+ng for their own, especially in such cases, men have so little mercy, and are so universally persuaded that he that comes first is first served, that I did not at all wonder, that in the story of the tradesman who so foolishly exposed himself in the coffee-house, as above, his friend whom he said the words to, began with him that very night, and before he went out of the coffee-house; it was rather a wonder to me he did not go out and bring in half-a-dozen more upon him the same evening.

It is very rarely that men are wanting to their own interest; and the jealousy of its being but in danger, is enough to make men forget, not friends.h.i.+p only, and generosity, but good manners, civility, and even justice itself, and fall upon the best friends they have in the world, if they think they are in the least danger of suffering by them.

On these accounts it is, and many more, that a tradesman walks in continual jeopardy, from the looseness and inadvertency of men's tongues, ay, and women's too; for though I am all along very tender of the ladies, and would do justice to the s.e.x, by telling you, they were not the dangerous people whom I had in view in my first writing upon this subject, yet I must be allowed to say, that they are sometimes fully even with the men, for ill usage, when they please to fall upon them in this nice article, in revenge for any slight, or but pretended slight, put upon them.

It was a terrible revenge a certain lady, who was affronted by a tradesman in London, in a matter of love, took upon him in this very article. It seems a tradesman had courted her some time, and it was become public, as a thing in a manner concluded, when the tradesman left the lady a little abruptly, without giving a good reason for it, and, indeed, she afterwards discovered, that he had left her for the offer of another with a little more money, and that, when he had done so, he reported that it was for another reason, which reflected a little on the person of the lady; and in this the tradesman did very unworthily indeed, and deserved her resentment: but, as I said, it was a terrible revenge she took, and what she ought not to have done.

First, she found out who it was that her former pretended lover had been recommended to, and she found means to have it insinuated to her by a woman-friend, that he was not only rakish and wicked, but, in short, that he had a particular illness, and went so far as to produce letters from him to a quack-doctor, for directions to him how to take his medicines, and afterwards a receipt for money for the cure; though both the letters and receipt also, as afterwards appeared, were forged, in which she went a dismal length in her revenge, as you may see.

Then she set two or three female instruments to discourse her case in all their gossips' companies, and at the tea-tables wherever they came, and to magnify the lady's prudence in refusing such a man, and what an escape she had had in being clear of him.

'Why,' says a lady to one of these emissaries, 'what was the matter? I thought she was like to be very well married.'

'Oh no, Madam! by no means,' says the emissary.

'Why, Madam,' says another lady, 'we all know Mr H----; he is a very pretty sort of a man.'

'Ay, Madam,' says the emissary again, 'but you know a pretty man is not all that is required.'

'Nay,' says the lady again, 'I don't mean so; he is no beauty, no rarity that way; but I mean a clever good sort of a man in his business, such as we call a pretty tradesman.'

'Ay,' says the lady employed, 'but that is not all neither.'

'Why,' says the other lady, 'he has a very good trade too, and lives in good credit.'

'Yes,' says malice, 'he has some of the first, but not too much of the last, I suppose.'

'No!' says the lady; 'I thought his credit had been very good.'

'If it had, I suppose,' says the first, 'the match had not been broke off.'

'Why,' says the lady, 'I understood it was broken off on his side.'

'And so did I,' says another.

'And so did I, indeed,' says a third.

'Oh, Madam!' says the tool, 'nothing like it, I a.s.sure you.'

'Indeed,' says another, I understood he had quitted Mrs----, because she had not fortune enough for him, and that he courted another certain lady, whom we all know.'

Then the ladies fell to talking of the circ.u.mstances of his leaving her, and how he had broken from her abruptly and unmannerly, and had been too free with her character; at which the first lady, that is to say, the emissary, or tool, as I call her, took it up a little warmly, thus:--

1. _Lady_.--Well, you see, ladies, how easily a lady's reputation may be injured; I hope you will not go away with it so.

2. _Lady_.--Nay, we have all of us a respect for Mrs----, and some of us visit there sometimes; I believe none of us would be willing to injure her.

1. _Lady_.--But indeed, ladies, she is very much injured in that story.

2. _Lady_.--Indeed, it is generally understood so, and every body believes it.

1. _Lady_.--I can a.s.sure you it is quite otherwise in fact.

2. _Lady_.--I believe he reports it so himself, and that with some very odd things about the lady too.

1. _Lady_.--The more base unworthy fellow he.

2. _Lady_.--Especially if he knows it to be otherwise.

1. _Lady_.--Especially if he knows the contrary to be true, Madam.

2. _Lady_.--Is that possible? Did he not refuse her, then?

1. _Lady_.--Nothing like it, Madam; but just the contrary.

2. _Lady_.--You surprise me!

3. _Lady_.--I am very glad to hear it, for her sake.

1. _Lady_.--I can a.s.sure you, Madam, she had refused him, and that he knows well enough, which has been one of the reasons that has made him abuse her as he has done.

The Complete English Tradesman Part 17

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