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Preface and Introduction

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.]

Daniel Defoe

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