The Complete English Tradesman Part 24

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CHAPTER XX

OF THE TRADESMAN'S KEEPING HIS BOOKS, AND CASTING UP HIS SHOP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am not going to set down rules here for book-keeping, or to teach the tradesman how to do it, but I am showing the necessity and usefulness of doing it at all. That tradesman who keeps no books, may depend upon it he will ere long keep no trade, unless he resolves also to give no credit. He that gives no trust, and takes no trust, either by wholesale or by retail, and keeps his cash all himself, may indeed go on without keeping any books at all; and has nothing to do, when he would know his estate, but to cast up his shop and his cash, and see how much they amount to, and that is his whole and neat estate; for as he owes nothing, so n.o.body is in debt to him, and all his estate is in his shop; but I suppose the tradesman that trades wholly thus, is not yet born, or if there ever were any such, they are all dead.

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

I knew a tradesman that could not write, and yet he supplied the defect with so many ingenious knacks of his own, to secure the account of what people owed him, and was so exact doing it, and then took such care to have but very short accounts with any body, that he brought up his method to be every way an equivalent to writing; and, as I often told him, with half the study and application that those things cost him, he might have learned to write, and keep books too. He made notches upon sticks for all the middling sums, and scored with chalk for lesser things. He had drawers for every particular customer's name, which his memory supplied, for he knew every particular drawer, though he had a great many, as well as if their faces had been painted upon them; he had innumerable figures to signify what he would have written, if he could; and his shelves and boxes always put me in mind of the Egyptian hieroglyphics, and n.o.body understood them, or any thing of them, but himself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the case differs materially in the debtor side of the account; for here the tradesman, who with all his boasts of keeping his books exactly, has yet no ledger, which being, as I have said, duly posted, should show every man's account at one view; and being done every week, left it scarce possible to omit any parcel that was once entered in the day-book or journal--I say, the tradesman keeping no ledger, he looks over his day-book for the whole year past, to draw up the debtor side of his customer's account, and there being a great many parcels, truly he overlooks one or two of them, or suppose but one of them, and gives the chapman the account, in which he sums up his debtor side so much, suppose 136, 10s.: the chapman examining this by his book, as he did the cash, finds two parcels, one 7, 15s., and the other 9, 13s., omitted; so that by his own book his debtor side was 153, 18s.; but being a cunning sharp tradesman, and withal not exceeding honest, 'Well, well,' says he to himself, 'if Mr G. says it is no more than 136, 10s.

what have I to do to contradict him? it is none of my business to keep his books for him; it is time enough for me to reckon for it when he charges me.' So he goes back to him the next day, and settles accounts with him, pays him the balance in good bills which he brought up with him for that purpose, takes a receipt in full of all accounts and demands to such a day of the month, and the next day comes and looks out another parcel of goods, and so begins an account for the next year, like a current chapman, and has the credit of an extraordinary customer that pays well, and clears his accounts every year; which he had not done had he not seen the advantage, and so strained himself to pay, that he might get a receipt in full of all accounts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here let me give tradesmen a caution or two.

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

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

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

My cash-book being cast up for the last month, I find, by the foot of the leaf, there is cash remaining in hand to balance 176, 10s. 6d.

To see if all things are right, I go and tell my money over, and there, to my surprise, I find 194, 10s. 6d. in cash, so that I have 18 there more than I should have. Now, far from being pleased that I have more money by me than I should have, my inquiry is plain, 'How comes this to pa.s.s?'

Perhaps I puzzle my head a great while about it, but not being able to find out, I sit down easy and satisfied, and say, 'Well, I don't much concern myself about it; it is better to be so than 18 missing; I cannot tell where it lies, but let it lie where it will, here is the money to make up the mistake when it appears.'

But how foolish is this! how ill-grounded the satisfaction! and how weak am I to argue thus, and please myself with the delusion! For some months after, it appears, perhaps, that whereas there was 38 entered, received of Mr B.K., the figure 3 was mistaken, and set down for a figure of 5, for the sum received was 58; so that, instead of having 18 more in cash than there ought to be, I have 40s. wanting in my cash, which my son or my apprentice stole from me when they put in the money, and made the mistake of the figures to puzzle the book, that it might be some time before it should be discovered.

The Complete English Tradesman Part 24

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