Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 12

OF THE TRADESMAN'S LEAVING HIS BUSINESS TO SERVANTS


It is the ordinary excuse of the gentlemen tradesmen of our times, that they have good servants, and that therefore they take more liberty to be out of their business, than they would otherwise do. 'Oh!' says the shopkeeper, 'I have an apprentice--it is an estate to have such a servant. I am as safe in him as if I had my eye upon the business from morning till night; let me be where I will, I am always satisfied he is at home; if I am at the tavern, I am sure he is in the counting-house, or behind the counter; he is never out of his post.

'And then for my other servants, the younger apprentices,' says he, 'it is all one as if I were there myself--they would be idle it may be, but he won't let them, I assure you; they must stick close to it, or he will make them do it; he tells them, boys do not come apprentices to play, but to work; not to sit idle, and be doing nothing, but to mind their master's business, that they may learn how to do their own.'

'Very well; and you think, Sir, this young man being so much in the shop, and so diligent and faithful, is an estate to you, and so indeed it is; but are your customers as well pleased with this man, too, as you are? or are they as well pleased with him, as they would be, if you were there yourself?'

'Yes, they are,' says the shopkeeper; 'nay, abundance of the customers take him for the master of the shop, and don't know any other; and he is so very obliging, and pleases so well, giving content to every body, that, if I am at any other part of the shop, and see him serving a customer, I never interrupt them, unless sometimes (he is so modest) he will call me, and turning to the ladies say, "There's my master, Madam; if you think he will abate you any thing, I'll call him;" and sometimes they will look a little surprised, and say, "Is that your master? indeed, we thought you had been the master of the shop yourself."'

'Well,' said I, 'and you think yourself very happy in all this, don't you? Pray, how long has this young gentleman to serve? how long is it before his time will be out?' 'Oh, he has almost a year and a half to serve,' says the shopkeeper. 'I hope, then,' said I, 'you will take care to have him knocked on the head, as soon as his time is out.' 'God forbid,' says the honest man; 'what do you mean by that?' 'Mean!' said I, 'why, if you don't, he will certainly knock your trade on the head, as soon as the year and a half comes to be up. Either you must dispose of him, as I say, or take care that he does not set up near you, no, not in the same street; if you do, your customers will all run thither. When they miss him in the shop, they will presently inquire for him; and as, you say, they generally take him for the master, they will ask whether the gentleman is removed that kept the shop before.'

All my shopkeeper could say, was, that he had got a salve for that sore, and that was, that when Timothy was out of his time, he resolved to take him in partner.

'A very good thing, indeed! so you must take Timothy into half the trade when he is out of his time, for fear he should run away with three-quarters of it, when he sets up for himself. But had not the master much better have been Timothy himself?--then he had been sure never to have the customers take Timothy for the master; and when he went away, and set up perhaps at next door, leave the shop, and run after him.'

It is certain, a good servant, a faithful, industrious, obliging servant, is a blessing to a tradesman, and, as he said, is an estate to his master; but the master, by laying the stress of his business upon him, divests himself of all the advantages of such a servant, and turns the blessing into a blast; for by giving up the shop as it were to him, and indulging himself in being abroad, and absent from his business, the apprentice gets the mastery of the business, the fame of the shop depends upon him, and when he sets up, certainly follows him. Such a servant would, with the master's attendance too, be very helpful, and yet not be dangerous; such a servant is well, when he is visibly an assistant to the master, but is ruinous when he is taken for the master. There is a great deal of difference between a servant's being the stay of his master, and his being the stay of his trade: when he is the first, the master is served by him; and when he is gone, he breeds up another to follow his steps; but when he is the last, he carries the trade with him, and does his master infinitely more hurt than good.

A good tradesman has a great deal of trouble with a bad servant, but must take heed that he is not wounded by a good one--the extravagant idle vagrant servant hurts himself, but the diligent servant endangers his master. The greater reputation the servant gets in his business, the more care the master has upon him, lest he gets within him, and worms him out of his business.

The only way to prevent this, and yet not injure a diligent servant, is that the master be as diligent as the servant; that the master be as much at the shop as the man. He that will keep in his business, need never fear keeping his business, let his servant be as diligent as he will. It is a hard thing that a tradesman should have the blessing of a good servant, and make it a curse to him, by his appearing less capable than his man.

Let your apprentice be in the business, but let the master be at the head of the business at all times. There is a great deal of difference between being diligent in the business in the shop, and leading the whole business of the shop. An apprentice who is diligent may be master of his business, but should never be master of the shop; the one is to be useful to his master, the other is to be master of his master; and, indeed, this shows the absolute necessity of diligence and application in a tradesman, and how, for want of it, that very thing which is the blessing of another tradesman's business is the ruin of his.

Servants, especially apprentices, ought to be considered, as they really are, in their moveable station, that they are here with you but seven years, and that then they act or move in a sphere or station of their own: their diligence is now for you, but ever after it is for themselves; that the better servants they have been while they were with you, the more dangerous they will be to you when you part; that, therefore, though you are bound in justice to them to let them into your business in every branch of it, yet you are not bound to give your business away to them; the diligence, therefore, of a good servant in the master's business, should be a spur to the master's diligence to take care of himself.

There is a great deal of difference also between trusting a servant in your business, and trusting him with your business: the first is leaving your business with him, the other is leaving your business to him. He that trusts a servant in his business, leaves his shop only to him; but he that leaves his business to his servant, leaves his wife and children at his disposal--in a word, such a trusting, or leaving the business to the servant, is no less than a giving up all to him, abandoning the care of his shop and all his affairs to him; and when such a servant is out of his time, the master runs a terrible risk, such as, indeed, it is not fit any tradesman should run--namely, of losing the best of his business.

What I have been now saying, is of the tradesman leaving his business to his apprentices and servants, when they prove good, when they are honest and diligent, faithful, and industrious; and if there are dangers even in trusting good servants, and such as do their duty perfectly well, what, then, must it be when the business is left to idle, negligent, and extravagant servants, who both neglect their masters' business and their own, who neither learn their trade for themselves, nor regard it for the interest of their masters? If the first are a blessing to their masters, and may only be made dangerous by their carrying away the trade with them when they go, these are made curses to their masters early, for they lose the trade for themselves and their masters too. The first carry the customers away with them, the last drive the customers away before they go. 'What signifies going to such a shop?' say the ladies, either speaking of a mercer or a draper, or any other trade; 'there is nothing to be met with there but a crew of saucy boys, that are always at play when you come in, and can hardly refrain it when you are there: one hardly ever sees a master in the shop, and the young rude boys hardly mind you when you are looking on their goods; they talk to you as if they cared not whether you laid out your money or no, and as if they had rather you were gone, that they might go to play again. I will go there no more, not I.'

If this be not the case, then you are in danger of worse still, and that is, that they are often thieves--idle ones are seldom honest ones--nay, they cannot indeed be honest, in a strict sense, if they are idle: but by dishonest, I mean downright thieves; and what is more dangerous than for an apprentice, to whom the whole business, the cash, the books, and all is committed, to be a thief?

For a tradesman, therefore, to commit his business thus into the hand of a false, a negligent, and a thievish servant, is like a man that travels a journey, and takes a highwayman into the coach with him: such a man is sure to be robbed, and to be fully and effectually plundered, because he discovers where he hides his treasure. Thus the tradesman places his confidence in the thief, and how should he avoid being robbed?

It is answered, that, generally tradesmen, who have any considerable trust to put into the hands of an apprentice, take security of them for their honesty by their friends, when their indentures are signed; and it is their fault then, if they are not secure. True, it is often so; but in a retail business, if the servant be unfaithful, there are so many ways to defraud a master, besides that of merely not balancing the cash, that it is impossible to detect them; till the tradesman, declining insensibly by the weight of the loss, is ruined and undone.

What need, then, has the tradesman to give a close attendance, and preserve himself from plunder, by acquainting himself in and with his business and servants, by which he makes it very difficult for them to deceive him, and much easier to him to discover it if he suspects them. But if the tradesman lives abroad, keeps at his country-house or lodgings, and leaves his business thus in the hands of his servants, committing his affairs to them, as is often the case; if they prove thieves, negligent, careless, and idle, what is the consequence?--he is insensibly wronged, his substance wasted, his business neglected; and how shall a tradesman thrive under such circumstances? Nay, how is it possible he should avoid ruin and destruction?--I mean, as to his business; for, in short, every such servant has his hand in his master's pocket, and may use him as he pleases.

Again, if they are not thieves, yet if they are idle and negligent, it is, in some cases, the same thing; and I wish it were well recommended to all such servants as call themselves honest, that it is as criminal to neglect their master's business as to rob him; and he is as really a thief who robs him of his time, as he that robs him of his money.

I know, as servants are now, this is a principle they will not allow, neither does one servant in fifty act by it; but if the master be absent, the servant is at his heels--that is to say, is as soon out of doors as his master, and having none but his conscience to answer to, he makes shift to compound with himself, like a bankrupt with his creditor, to pay half the debt--that is to say, half the time to his master, and half to himself, and think it good pay too.

The point of conscience, indeed, seems to be out of the question now, between master and servant; and as few masters concern themselves with the souls, nay, scarce with the morals of their servants, either to instruct them, or inform them of their duty either to God or man, much less to restrain them by force, or correct them, as was anciently practised, so, few servants concern themselves in a conscientious discharge of their duty to their masters--so that the great law of subordination is destroyed, and the relative duties on both sides are neglected; all which, as I take it, is owing to the exorbitant sums of money which are now given with servants to the masters, as the present or condition of their apprenticeship, which, as it is extravagant in itself, so it gives the servant a kind of a different figure in the family, places him above the ordinary class of servants hired for wages, and exempts him from all the laws of family government, so that a master seems now to have nothing to do with his apprentice, any other than in what relates to his business.

And as the servant knows this, so he fails not to take the advantage of it, and to pay no more service than he thinks is due; and the hours of his shop business being run out, he claims all the rest for himself, without the above restraint. Nor will the servants, in these times, bear any examinations with respect to the disposing of their waste time, or with respect to the company they keep, or the houses or places they go to.

The use I make of it is this, and herein it is justly applicable to the case in hand; by how much the apprentices and servants in this age are loose, wild, and ungovernable, by so much the more should a master think himself obliged not to depend upon them, much less to leave his business to them, and dispense with his own attendance in it. If he does, he must have much better luck then his neighbours, if he does not find himself very much wronged and abused, seeing, as I said above, the servants and apprentices of this age do very rarely act from a principle of conscience in serving their master's interest, which, however, I do not see they can be good Christians without.

I knew one very considerable tradesman in this city, and who had always five or six servants in his business, apprentices and journeymen, who lodged in his house; and having a little more the spirit of government in him than most masters I now meet with, he took this method with them. When he took apprentices, he told them beforehand the orders of his family, and which he should oblige them to; particularly, that they should none be absent from his business without leave, nor out of the house after nine o'clock at night; and that he would not have it thought hard, if he exacted three things of them:--


1. That, if they had been out, he should ask them where they had been, and in what company? and that they should give him a true and direct answer.

2. That, if he found reason to forbid them keeping company with any particular person, or in any particular house or family, they should be obliged to refrain from such company.

3. That, in breach of any of those two, after being positively charged with it, he would, on their promising to amend it, forgive them, only acquainting their friends of it; but the second time, he would dismiss them his service, and not be obliged to return any of the money he had with them. And to these he made their parents consent when they were bound; and yet he had large sums of money with them too, not less than 200 each, and sometimes more.


As to his journeymen, he conditioned with them as follows:--


1. They should never dine from home without leave asked and obtained, and telling where, if required.

2. After the shutting in of the shop, they were at liberty to go where they pleased, only not to be out of the house after nine o'clock at night.

3. Never to be in drink, or to swear, on pain of being immediately dismissed without the courtesy usual with such servants, namely, of a month's warning.


These were excellent household laws; but the question is, how shall a master see them punctually obeyed, for the life of all laws depends upon their being well executed; and we are famous in England for being remiss in that very point; and that we have the best laws the worst executed of any nation in the world.

But my friend was a man who knew as well how to make his laws be well executed, as he did how to make the laws themselves. His case was thus: he kept a country-house about two miles from London, in the summer-time, for the air of his wife and children, and there he maintained them very comfortably: but it was a rule with him, that he who expects his servants to obey his orders, must be always upon the spot with them to see it done: to this purpose he confined himself to lie always at home, though his family was in the country; and every afternoon he walked out to see them, and to give himself the air too; but always so ordered his diversions, that he was sure to be at home before nine at night, that he might call over his family, and see that they observed orders, that is, that they were all at home at their time, and all sober.

As this was, indeed, the only way to have good servants, and an orderly family, so he had both; but it was owing much, if not all, to the exactness of his government; and would all masters take the same method, I doubt not they would have the like success; but what servants can a man expect when he leaves them to their own government, not regarding whether they serve God or the devil?

Now, though this man had a very regular family, and very good servants, yet he had this particular qualification, too, for a good tradesman, namely, that he never left his business entirely to them, nor could any of them boast that they were trusted to more than another.

This is certainly the way to have regular servants and to have business thrive; but this is not practised by one master to a thousand at this time--if it were, we should soon see a change in the families of tradesmen, and that very much for the better: nor, indeed, would this family government be good for the tradesman only, but it would be the servant's advantage too; and such a practice, we may say, would in time reform all the next age, and make them ashamed of us that went before them.

If, then, the morals of servants are thus loose and debauched, and that it is a general and epidemic evil, how much less ought tradesmen of this age to trust them, and still less to venture their all upon them, leave their great design, the event of all their business with them, and go into the country in pursuit of their pleasure.

The case of tradesmen differs extremely in this age from those in the last, with respect to their apprentices and servants; and the difference is all to the disadvantage of the present age, namely, in the last age, that is to say, fifty or sixty years ago, for it is not less, servants were infinitely more under subjection than they are now, and the subordination of mankind extended effectually to them; they were content to submit to family government; and the just regulations which masters made in their houses were not scorned and contemned, as they are now; family religion also had some sway upon them; and if their masters did keep good orders, and preserve the worship of God in their houses, the apprentices thought themselves obliged to attend at the usual hours for such services; nay, it has been known, where such orders have been observed, that if the master of the family has been sick, or indisposed, or out of town, the eldest apprentice has read prayers to the family in his place.

How ridiculous, to speak in the language of the present times, would it be for any master to expect this of a servant in our days! and where is the servant that would comply with it? Nay, it is but very rarely now that masters themselves do it; it is rather thought now to be a low step, and beneath the character of a man in business, as if worshipping God were a disgrace, and not an honour, to a family, or to the master of a family; and I doubt not but in a little while more, either the worship of God will be quite banished out of families, or the better sort of tradesmen, and such as have any regard to it, will keep chaplains, as other persons of quality do. It is confessed, the first is most probable, though the last, as I am informed, is already begun in the city, in some houses, where the reader of the parish is allowed a small additional salary to come once a-day, namely, every evening, to read prayers in the house.

But I am not talking on this subject; I am not directing myself to citizens or townsmen, as masters of families, but as heads of trade, and masters in their business; the other part would indeed require a whole book by itself, and would insensibly run me into a long satirical discourse upon the loss of all family government among us; in which, indeed, the practice of house-keepers and heads of families is grown not remiss only in all serious things, but even scandalous in their own morals, and in the personal examples they show to their servants, and all about them.

But to come back to my subject, namely, that the case of tradesmen differs extremely from what it was formerly: the second head of difference is this; that whereas, in former times, the servants were better and humbler than they are now, submitted more to family government, and to the regulations made by their masters, and masters were more moral, set better examples, and kept better order in their houses, and, by consequence of it, all servants were soberer, and fitter to be trusted, than they are now; yet, on the other hand, notwithstanding all their sobriety, masters did not then so much depend upon them, leave business to them, and commit the management of their affairs so entirely to their servants, as they do now.

All that I meet with, which masters have to say to this, is contained in two heads, and these, in my opinion, amount to very little.

I. That they have security for their servants' honesty, which in former times they had not.

II. That they receive greater premiums, or present-money, now with their apprentices, than they did formerly.

The first of these is of no moment; for, first, it does not appear that apprentices in those former days gave no security to their masters for their integrity, which, though perhaps not so generally as now, yet I have good reason to know was then practised among tradesmen of note, and is not now among inferior tradesmen: but, secondly, this security extends to nothing, but to make the master satisfaction for any misapplications or embezzlements which are discovered, and can be proved, but extend to no secret concealed mischiefs: neither, thirdly, do those securities reach to the negligence, idleness, or debaucheries of servants; but, which is still more than all the rest, they do not reach to the worst of robbery between the servant and his master, I mean the loss of his time; so that still there is as much reason for the master's inspection, both into his servants and their business, as ever.

But least of all does this security reach to make the master any satisfaction for the loss of his business, the ill management of his shop, the disreputation brought upon it by being committed to servants, and those servants behaving ill, slighting, neglecting, or disobliging customers; this does not relate to securities given or taken, nor can the master make himself any amends upon his servant, or upon his securities, for this irrecoverable damage. He, therefore, that will keep up the reputation of his shop, or of his business, and preserve his trade to his own advantage, must resolve to attend it himself, and not leave it to servants, whether good or bad; if he leaves it to good servants, they improve it for themselves, and carry the trade away with them when they go; if to bad servants, they drive his customers away, bring a scandal upon his shop, and destroy both their master and themselves.

Secondly, As to the receiving great premiums with their apprentices, which, indeed, is grown up to a strange height in this age, beyond whatever it was before, it is an unaccountable excess, which is the ruin of more servants at this time than all the other excesses they are subject to, nay, in some respect it is the cause of it all; and, on the contrary, is far from being an equivalent to their masters for the defect of their service, but is an unanswerable reason why the master should not leave his business to their management.

This premium was originally not a condition of indenture, but was a kind of usual or customary present to the tradesman's wife to engage her to be kind to the youth, and take a motherly care of him, being supposed to be young when first put out.

By length of time this compliment or present became so customary as to be made a debt, and to be conditioned for as a demand, but still was kept within bounds, and thirty or forty pounds was sufficient to a very good merchant, which now is run up to five hundred, nay, to a thousand pounds with an apprentice; a thing which formerly would have been thought monstrous, and not to be named.

The ill consequences of giving these large premiums are such and so many, that it is not to be entered upon in such a small tract as this; nor is it the design of this work: but it is thus far to the purpose here--namely, as it shows that this sets up servants into a class of gentlemen above their masters, and above their business; and they neither have a sufficient regard to one or other, and consequently are the less fit to be trusted by the master in the essential parts of his business; and this brings it down to the case in hand.

Upon the whole, the present state of things between masters and servants is such, that now more than ever the caution is needful and just, that he that leaves his business to the management of his servants, it is ten to one but he ruins his business and his servants too.

Ruining his business is, indeed, my present subject; but ruining his servants also is a consideration that an honest, conscientious master ought to think is of weight with him, and will concern himself about. Servants out of government are like soldiers without an officer, fit for nothing but to rob and plunder; without order, and without orders, they neither know what to do, or are directed how to do it.

Besides, it is letting loose his apprentices to levity and liberty in that particular critical time of life, when they have the most need of government and restraint. When should laws and limits be useful to mankind but in their youth, when unlimited liberty is most fatal to them, and when they are least capable of governing themselves? To have youth left without government, is leaving fire in a magazine of powder, which will certainly blow it all up at last, and ruin all the houses that are near it.

If there is any duty on the side of a master to his servant, any obligation on him as a Christian, and as a trustee for his parents, it lies here--to limit and restrain them, if possible, in the liberty of doing evil; and this is certainly a debt due to the trust reposed in masters by the parents of the youth committed to them. If he is let loose here, he is undone, of course, and it may be said, indeed, he was ruined by his master; and if the master is afterwards ruined by such a servant, what can be said for it but this? He could expect no other.

To leave a youth without government is indeed unworthy of any honest master; he cannot discharge himself as a master; for instead of taking care of him he indeed casts him off, abandons him, and, to put it into Scripture words, he leads him into temptation: nay, he goes farther, to use another Scripture expression: he delivers him over to Satan.

It is confessed--and it is fatal both to masters and servants at this time--that not only servants are made haughty, and above the government of their masters, and think it below them to submit to any family government, or any restraints of their masters, as to their morals and religion; but masters also seem to have given up all family government, and all care or concern for the morals and manners, as well as for the religion of their servants, thinking themselves under no obligation to meddle with those things, or to think any thing about them, so that their business be but done, and their shop or warehouse duly looked after.

But to bring it all home to the point in hand, if it is so with the master and servant, there is the less room still for the master of such servants to leave any considerable trust in the hands of such apprentices, or to expect much from them, to leave the weight of their affairs with them, and, living at their country lodgings, and taking their own diversions, depend upon such servants for the success of their business. This is indeed abandoning their business, throwing it away, and committing themselves, families, and fortunes, to the conduct of those, who, they have all the reason in the world to believe, have no concern upon them for their good, or care one farthing what becomes of them.


Daniel Defoe

Sorry, no summary available yet.