The Complete English Tradesman Part 3

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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 a.s.severations, 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 Syriac.u.m;_ 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 n.o.body 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 Warwicks.h.i.+re to buy cheese, you demand the cheese 'of the first make,' because that is the best. If you go to Suffolk to buy b.u.t.ter, you refuse the b.u.t.ter of the first make, because that is not the best, but you bargain for 'the right rowing b.u.t.ter,' which is the b.u.t.ter that is made when the cows are turned into the grounds where the gra.s.s 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 circ.u.mference 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 partners.h.i.+p, 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 partners.h.i.+p 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 advertis.e.m.e.nts 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 cla.s.s: 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 cla.s.s 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 circ.u.mstances, 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 apprentices.h.i.+p; for there he learned the operation, here he learns the progression; his apprentices.h.i.+p 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 apprentices.h.i.+p 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.

Let no young tradesman object, that, in the conversation I speak of, there are so many gross things said, and so many ridiculous things argued upon, there being always a great many weak empty heads among the shopkeeping trading world: this may be granted without any impeachment of what I have advanced--for where shall a man converse, and find no fools in the society?--and where shall he hear the weightiest things debated, and not a great many empty weak things offered, out of which nothing can be learned, and from which nothing can be deduced?--for 'out of nothing, nothing can come.'

But, notwithstanding, let me still insist upon it to the tradesman to keep company with tradesmen; let the fool run on in his own way; let the talkative green-ap.r.o.n rattle in his own way; let the manufacturer and his factor squabble and brangle; the grave self-conceited puppy, who was born a boy, and will die before he is a man, chatter and say a great deal of nothing, and talk his neighbours to death--out of every one you will learn something--they are all tradesmen, and there is always something for a young tradesman to learn from them. If, understanding but a little French, you were to converse every day a little among some Frenchmen in your neighbourhood, and suppose those Frenchmen, you thus kept company with, were every one of them fools, mere ignorant, empty, foolish fellows, there might be nothing learnt from their sense, but you would still learn French from them, if it was no more than the tone and accent, and the ordinary words usual in conversation.

Thus, among your silly empty tradesmen, let them be as foolish and empty other ways as you can suggest, though you can learn no philosophy from them, you may learn many things in trade from them, and something from every one; for though it is not absolutely necessary that every tradesman should be a philosopher, yet every tradesman, in his way, knows something that even a philosopher may learn from.

I knew a philosopher that was excellently skilled in the n.o.ble science or study of astronomy, who told me he had some years studied for some simile, or proper allusion, to explain to his scholars the phenomena of the sun's motion round its own axis, and could never happen upon one to his mind, till by accident he saw his maid Betty trundling her mop: surprised with the exactness of the motion to describe the thing he wanted, he goes into his study, calls his pupils about him, and tells them that Betty, who herself knew nothing of the matter, could show them the sun revolving about itself in a more lively manner than ever he could. Accordingly, Betty was called, and bidden bring out her mop, when, placing his scholars in a due-position, opposite not to the face of the maid, but to her left side, so that they could see the end of the mop, when it whirled round upon her arm. They took it immediately--there was the broad-headed nail in the centre, which was as the body of the sun, and the thrums whisking round, flinging the water about every way by innumerable little streams, describing exactly the rays of the sun, darting light from the centre to the whole system.

If ignorant Betty, by the natural consequences of her operation, instructed the astronomer, why may not the meanest shoemaker or pedlar, by the ordinary sagacity of his trading wit, though it may be indeed very ordinary, coa.r.s.e, and unlooked for, communicate something, give some useful hint, dart some sudden thought into the mind of the observing tradesman, which he shall make his use of, and apply to his own advantage in trade, when, at the same time, he that gives such hint shall himself, like Betty and her mop, know nothing of the matter?

Every tradesman is supposed to manage his business his own way, and, generally speaking, most tradesmen have some ways peculiar and particular to themselves, which they either derived from the masters who taught them, or from the experience of things, or from something in the course of their business, which had not happened to them before.

And those little _nostrums_ are oftentime very properly and with advantage communicated from one to another; one tradesman finds out a nearer way of buying than another, another finds a vent for what is bought beyond what his neighbour knows of, and these, in time, come to be learned of them by their ordinary conversation.

I am not for confining the tradesman from keeping better company, as occasion and leisure requires; I allow the tradesman to act the gentleman sometimes, and that even for conversation, at least if his understanding and capacity make him suitable company to them, but still his business is among those of his own rank. The conversation of gentlemen, and what they call keeping good company, may be used as a diversion, or as an excursion, but his stated society must be with his neighbours, and people in trade; men of business are companions for men of business; with gentlemen he may converse pleasantly, but here he converses profitably; tradesmen are always profitable to one another; as they always gain by trading together, so they never lose by conversing together; if they do not get money, they gain knowledge in business, improve their experience, and see farther and farther into the world.

A man of but an ordinary penetration will improve himself by conversing in matters of trade with men of trade; by the experience of the old tradesmen they learn caution and prudence, and by the rashness and the miscarriages of the young, they learn what are the mischiefs that themselves may be exposed to.

Again, in conversing with men of trade, they get trade; men first talk together, then deal together--many a good bargain is made, and many a pound gained, where nothing was expected, by mere casual coming to talk together, without knowing any thing of the matter before they met. The tradesmen's meetings are like the merchants' exchange, where they manage, negociate, and, indeed, beget business with one another.

Let no tradesman mistake me in this part; I am not encouraging them to leave their shops and warehouses, to go to taverns and ale-houses, and spend their time there in unnecessary prattle, which, indeed, is nothing but sotting and drinking; this is not meeting to do business, but to neglect business. Of which I shall speak fully afterwards.

But the tradesmen conversing with one another, which I mean, is the taking suitable occasions to discourse with their fellow tradesmen, meeting them in the way of their business, and improving their spare hours together. To leave their shops, and quit their counters, in the proper seasons for their attendance there, would be a preposterous negligence, would be going out of business to gain business, and would be cheating themselves, instead of improving themselves. The proper hours of business are sacred to the shop and the warehouse. He that goes out of the order of trade, let the pretence of business be what it will, loses his business, not increases it; and will, if continued, lose the credit of his conduct in business also.


[10] [The story of the political upholsterer forms the subject of several amusing papers by Addison in the _Tatler_.]

[11] [To stand in the presence of a prince is the highest mark of honour in the east, as to sit is with us.]

The Complete English Tradesman Part 3

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