The Complete English Tradesman Part 8

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_Laceman_.--Something worse, madam; he has had some misfortunes.

_Lady_.--I am very sorry to hear it, indeed. So her ladys.h.i.+p made her bow, and her coachman drove away.

The short of the story was, her mercer was broke; upon which the city lady prevailed upon her ladys.h.i.+p to go to the other shop, which she did, but declared beforehand she would buy nothing, but give the mercer all the trouble she could; and so said the other. And to make the thing more sure, she would have them go into the shop single, because she fancied the mercer knew the city lady, and therefore would behave more civilly to them both on that account, the other having laid out her money there several times. Well, they went in, and the lady asked for such and such rich things, and had them shown her, to a variety that she was surprised at; but not the best or richest things they could show her gave her any satisfaction--either she did not like the pattern, or the colours did not suit her fancy, or they were too dear; and so she prepares to leave the shop, her coach standing at a distance, which she ordered, that they might not guess at her quality.

But she was quite deceived in her expectation; for the mercer, far from treating her in the manner as she had heard, used her with the utmost civility and good manners. She treated him, on the contrary, as she said herself, even with a forced rudeness; she gave him all the impertinent trouble she was able, as above; and, pretending to like nothing he showed, turned away with an air of contempt, intimating that his shop was ill furnished, and that she should be easily served, she doubted not, at another.

He told her he was very unhappy in not having any thing that suited her fancy--that, if she knew what particular things would please her, he would have them in two hours' time for her, if all the French and Italian merchants' warehouses in London, or all the weavers' looms in Spitalfields, could furnish them. But when that would not do, she comes forward from his back shop, where she had plagued him about an hour and a half; and makes him the slight compliment of (in a kind of a scornful tone too), 'I am sorry I have given you so much trouble.'

'The trouble, madam, is nothing; it is my misfortune not to please you; but, as to trouble, my business is to oblige the ladies, my customers; if I show my goods, I may sell them; if I do not show them, I cannot; if it is not a trouble to you, I'll show you every piece of goods in my shop; if you do not buy now, you may perhaps buy another time.' And thus, in short, he pursued her with all the good words in the world, and waited on her towards the door.

As she comes forward, there she spied the city lady, who had just used the partner as the lady had used the chief master; and there, as if it had been by mere chance, she salutes her with, 'Your servant, cousin; pray, what brought you here?' The cousin answers, 'Madam, I am mighty glad to see your ladys.h.i.+p here; I have been haggling here a good while, but this gentleman and I cannot bargain, and I was just going away.'

'Why, then,' says the lady, 'you have been just such another customer as I, for I have troubled the gentleman mercer this two hours, and I cannot meet with any thing to my mind.' So away they go together to the door; and the lady gets the mercer to send one of his servants to bid her coachman drive to the door, showing him where the fellow stood.

While the boy was gone, she takes the city lady aside, and talking softly, the mercer and his partner, seeing them talk together, withdrew, but waited at a distance to be ready to hand them to the coach. So they began a new discourse, as follows:--

_Lady_.--Well, I am satisfied this man has been ill used in the world.

_Cit._--Why, Madam, how does your ladys.h.i.+p find him?

_Lady_.--Only the most obliging, most gentleman-like man of a tradesman that ever I met with in my life.

_Cit._--But did your ladys.h.i.+p try him as you said you would?

_Lady_.--Try him! I believe he has tumbled three thousand pounds' worth of goods for me.

_Cit._--Did you oblige him to do so?

_Lady_.--I forced him to it, indeed, for I liked nothing.

_Cit._--Is he well stocked with goods?

_Lady_.--I told him his shop was ill furnished.

_Cit._--What did he say to that?

_Lady_.--Say! why he carried me into another inner shop, or warehouse, where he had goods to a surprising quant.i.ty and value, I confess.

_Cit._--And what could you say, then?

_Lady_.--Say! in truth I was ashamed to say any more, but still was resolved not to be pleased, and so came away, as you see.

_Cit._--And he has not disobliged you at all, has he?

_Lady_.--Just the contrary, indeed. (Here she repeated the words the mercer had said to her, and the modesty and civility he had treated her with.)

_Cit._--Well, Madam, I a.s.sure you I have been faithful to my promise, for you cannot have used him so ill as I have used his partner--for I have perfectly abused him for having nothing to please me--I did as good as tell him I believed he was going to break, and that he had no choice.

_Lady_.--And how did he treat you?

_Cit._-Just in the same manner as his partner did your ladys.h.i.+p, all mild and mannerly, smiling, and in perfect temper; for my part, if I was a young wench again, I should be in love with such a man.

_Lady_.--Well, but what shall we do now?

_Cit._--Why, be gone. I think we have teazed them enough; it would be cruel to bear-bait them any more.

_Lady_.--No, I am not for teazing them any more; but shall we really go away, and buy nothing?

_Cit._--Nay, that shall be just as your ladys.h.i.+p pleases--you know I promised you I would not buy; that is to say, unless you discharge me of that obligation.

_Lady_.--I cannot, for shame, go out of this shop, and lay out nothing.

_Cit._--Did your ladys.h.i.+p see any thing that pleased you?

_Lady_.--I only saw some of the finest things in England--I don't think all the city of Paris can outdo him.

_Cit._--Well, madam, if you resolve to buy, let us go and look again.

_Lady_.--'Come, then.' And upon that the lady, turning to the mercer--'Come, sir,' says she, 'I think I will look upon that piece of brocade again; I cannot find in my heart to give you all this trouble for nothing.'

'Madam,' says the mercer, 'I shall be very glad if I can be so happy as to please you; but, I beseech your ladys.h.i.+p, don't speak of the trouble, for that is the duty of our trade; we must never think our business a trouble.'

Upon this the ladies went back with him into his inner shop, and laid out between sixty and seventy pounds, for they both bought rich suits of clothes, and used his shop for many years after.

The short inference from this long discourse is this: That here you see, and I could give many examples very like this, how, and in what manner, a shopkeeper is to behave himself in the way of his business--what impertinences, what taunts, flouts, and ridiculous things, he must bear in his business, and must not show the least return, or the least signal of disgust--he must have no pa.s.sions, no fire in his temper--he must be all soft and smooth: nay, if his real temper be naturally fiery and hot, he must show none of it in his shop--he must be a perfect complete hypocrite, if he will be a complete tradesman.[16]

It is true, natural tempers are not to be always counterfeited--the man cannot easily be a lamb in his shop, and a lion in himself; but let it be easy or hard, it must be done, and it is done. There are men who have, by custom and usage, brought themselves to it, that nothing could be meeker and milder than they, when behind the counter, and yet nothing be more furious and raging in every other part of life--nay, the provocations they have met with in their shops have so irritated their rage, that they would go upstairs from their shop, and fall into phrensies, and a kind of madness, and beat their heads against the wall, and mischief themselves, if not prevented, till the violence of it had gotten vent, and the pa.s.sions abate and cool. Nay, I heard once of a shopkeeper that behaved himself thus to such an extreme, that, when he was provoked by the impertinence of the customers, beyond what his temper could bear, he would go upstairs and beat his wife, kick his children about like dogs, and be as furious for two or three minutes as a man chained down in Bedlam, and when the heat was over, would sit down and cry faster then the children he had abused; and after the fit was over he would go down into his shop again, and be as humble, as courteous, and as calm as any man whatever--so absolute a government of his pa.s.sions had he in the shop, and so little out of it; in the shop a soul-less animal that can resent nothing, and in the family a madman; in the shop meek like the lamb, but in the family outrageous like a Lybian lion.

The sum of the matter is this: it is necessary for a tradesman to subject himself, by all the ways possible, to his business; his customers are to be his idols: so far as he may wors.h.i.+p idols by allowance, he is to bow down to them and wors.h.i.+p them;[17] at least, he is not any way to displease them, or show any disgust or distaste at any thing they say or do. The bottom of it all is, that he is intending to get money by them; and it is not for him that gets money by them to offer the least inconvenience to them by whom he gets it; but he is to consider, that, as Solomon says, 'The borrower is servant to the lender,' so the seller is servant to the buyer.

When a tradesman has thus conquered all his pa.s.sions, and can stand before the storm of impertinence, he is said to be fitted up for the main article, namely, the inside of the counter.

On the other hand, we see that the contrary temper, nay, but the very suggestion of it, hurries people on to ruin their trade, to disoblige the customers, to quarrel with them, and drive them away. We see by the lady above, after having seen the ways she had taken to put this man out of temper--I say, we see it conquered her temper, and brought her to lay out her money cheerfully, and be his customer ever after.

A sour, morose, dogmatic temper would have sent these ladies both away with their money in their pockets; but the man's patience and temper drove the lady back to lay out her money, and engaged her entirely.


[15] Paternoster Row has long been the chief seat of the bookselling and publis.h.i.+ng trade in London; and there are now some splendid shops of mercers or haberdashers in St Paul's Churchyard, also in Ludgate hill adjoining.

[16] [The necessity here insisted on seems a hard one, and scarcely consistent with a just morality. Yet, if the tradesman takes a right view of his situation, he will scarcely doubt the propriety of Defoe's advice. He must consider, that, in his shop, he is, as it were, acting a part. He performs a certain character in the drama of our social arrangements, one which requires all the civility and forbearance above insisted on. He is not called upon, in such circ.u.mstances, to feel, speak, and act, as he would find himself in honour required to do in his private or absolutely personal capacity--in his own house, for instance, or in any public place where he mingled on a footing of equality with his fellow-citizens. Accordingly, there is such a general sense of the justifiableness of his conducting himself in this submissive spirit, that no one would think of imputing it to him as a fault; but he would be more apt to be censured or ridiculed if he had so little sense as to take offence, in his capacity of tradesman, at any thing which it would only concern him to resent if it were offered to him in his capacity as a private citizen.

An incident, somewhat like that so dramatically related by Defoe, occurred a few years ago in the northern capital. A lady had, through whim, pestered a mercer in the manner related in the text, turning over all his goods, and only treating him with rudeness in return. When she finally turned to leave the shop, to inquire, as she said, for better and cheaper goods elsewhere, she found that a shower was falling, against which she had no protection. The tradesman, who had politely shown her to the door, observing her hesitate on the threshold at sight of the rain, requested her to wait a moment, and, stepping backwards for his umbrella, instantly returned, and, in the kindest accents, requested her to accept the loan of it. She took it, and went away, but in a few minutes returned it, in a totally different frame of spirit, and not only purchased extensively on this occasion, but became a constant customer for the future.

Another tradesman in the same city was so remarkable for his imperturbable civility, that it became the subject of a bet--an individual undertaking to irritate him, or, if he failed, to forfeit a certain sum. He went to the shop, and caused an immense quant.i.ty of the finest silks to be turned over, after which he coolly asked for a pennyworth of a certain splendid piece of satin. 'By all means,' said the discreet trader; 'allow me, Sir, to have your penny.' The coin was handed to him, and, taking up the piece of satin, and placing the penny on the end of it, he cut round with his scissors, thus detaching a little bit of exactly the size and shape of the piece of money which was to purchase it. This, with the most polite air imaginable, he handed to his customer, whose confusion may be imagined.]

[17] [It appears to the editor that the case is here somewhat over-stated. While imperterbable good temper and civility are indispensible in the shopkeeper, it is not impossible that he may also err in displaying a _too great obsequiousness_ of _manner_. This, by disgusting the common sense and good taste of customers, may do as much harm as want of civility. A too _pressing_ manner, likewise, does harm, by causing the customer to feel as if he were _obliged_ to purchase. The medium of an easy, obliging, and good-humoured manner, is perhaps what suits best. But here, as in many other things, it is not easy to lay down any general rule. Much must be left to the goos sense and _tact_ of the trader.]

The Complete English Tradesman Part 8

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The Complete English Tradesman Part 8 summary

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