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Chapter 20



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 circumstances, 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 circumstances 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 circumference 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 nobody 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 God 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 nobody 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 principally 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 assist 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 endorsement 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 pass?'

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.

Upon the whole, take it as a rule, the tradesman ought to be as unsatisfied when he finds a mistake to his gain in his cash, as when he finds it to his loss; and it is every whit as dangerous, nay, it is the more suspicious, because it seems to be laid as a bait for him to stop his mouth, and to prevent further inquiries; and it is on that account that I leave this caution upon record, that the tradesman may be duly alarmed.

The keeping a cash-book is one of the nicest parts of a tradesman's business, because there is always the bag and the book to be brought together, and if they do not exactly speak the same language, even to a farthing, there must be some omission; and how big or how little that omission may be, who knows, or how shall it be known, but by casting and recasting up, telling, and telling over and over again, the money?

If there is but twenty shillings over in the money, the question is, 'How came it there?' It must be received somewhere, and of somebody, more than is entered; and how can the cash-keeper, be he master or servant, know but more was received with it, which is not, and should have been, entered, and so the loss may be the other way? It is true, in telling money there may have been a mistake, and he that received a sum of money may have received twenty shillings too much, or five pounds too much--and such a mistake I have known to be made in the paying and receiving of money--and a man's cash has been more perplexed, and his mind more distracted about it, than the five pounds have been worth, because he could not find it out, till some accident has discovered it;[33] and the reason is, because not knowing which way it could come there, he could not know but some omission might be made to his loss another way, as in the case above mentioned.

I knew, indeed, a strong waterman, who drove a very considerable trade, but, being an illiterate tradesman, never balanced his cash-book for many years, nor scarce posted his other books, and, indeed, hardly understood how to do it; but knowing his trade was exceedingly profitable, and keeping his money all himself, he was easy, and grew rich apace, in spite of the most unjustifiable, and, indeed, the most intolerable, negligence; but lest this should be pleaded as an exception to my general rule, and to invalidate the argument, give me leave to add, that, though this man grew rich in spite of indolence, and a neglect of his book, yet, when he died, two things appeared, which no tradesman in his wits would desire should be said of him.

I. The servants falling out, and maliciously accusing one another, had, as it appeared by the affidavits of several of them, wronged him of several considerable sums of money, which they received, and never brought into the books; and others, of sums which they brought into the books, but never brought into the cash; and others, of sums which they took ready money in the shop, and never set down, either the goods in the day-book, or the money into the cash-book; and it was thought, though he was so rich as not to feel it, that is, not to his hurt, yet that he lost three or four hundred pounds a-year in that manner, for the two or three last years of his life; but his widow and son, who came after him, having the discovery made to them, took better measures afterwards.

II. He never did, or could know, what he was worth, for the accounts in his books were never made up; nor when he came to die, could his executors make up any man's account, so as to be able to prove the particulars, and make a just demand of their debt, but found a prodigious number of small sums of money paid by the debtors, as by receipts in their books and on their files, some by himself, and some by his man, which were never brought to account, or brought into cash; and his man's answer being still, that he gave all to the master, they could not tell how to charge him by the master's account, because several sums, which the master himself received, were omitted being entered in the same manner, so that all was confusion and neglect; and though the man died rich, it was in spite of that management that would have made any but himself have died poor.

Exact book-keeping is to me the effect of a man whose heart is in his business, and who intends to thrive. He that cares not whether his books are kept well or no, is in my opinion one that does not much care whether he thrives or no; or else, being in desperate circumstances, knows it, and that he cannot, or does not thrive, and so matters not which way it goes.

It is true, the neglect of the books is private and secret, and is seldom known to any body but the tradesman himself, at least till he comes to break, and be a bankrupt, and then you frequently hear them exclaim against him, upon that very account. 'Break!' says one of the assignees; 'how should he but break?--why, he kept no books; you never saw books kept in such a scandalous manner in your life; why, he has not posted his cash-book, for I know not how many months; nor posted his day-book and journal at all, except here and there an account that he perhaps wanted to know the balance of; and as for balancing his cash, I don't see any thing of that done, I know not how long. Why, this fellow could never tell how he went on, or how things stood with him: I wonder he did not break a long time ago.'

Now, the man's case was this: he knew how to keep his books well enough, perhaps, and could write well enough; and if you look into his five or six first years of trade, you find all his accounts well kept, the journal duly posted, the cash monthly balanced; but the poor man found after that, that things went wrong, that he went backwards, and that all went down-hill, and he hated to look into his books. As a profligate never looks into his conscience, because he can see nothing there but what terrifies and affrights him, makes him uneasy and melancholy, so a sinking tradesman cares not to look into his books, because the prospect there is dark and melancholy. 'What signify the accounts to me?' says he; 'I can see nothing in the books but debts that 1 cannot pay, and debtors that will never pay; I can see nothing there but how I have trusted my estate away like a fool, and how I am to be ruined for my easiness, and being a sot:' and this makes him throw them away, and hardly post things enough to make up when folks call to pay; or if he does post such accounts as he has money to receive from, that's all, and the rest lie at random, till, as I say, the assignees come to reproach him with his negligence.

Whereas, in truth, the man understood his books well enough, but had no heart to look in them, no courage to balance them, because of the afflicting prospect of them.

But let me here advise tradesmen to keep a perfect acquaintance with their books, though things are bad and discouraging; it keeps them in full knowledge of what they are doing, and how they really stand; and it brings them sometimes to the just reflections on their circumstances which they ought to make; so to stop in time, as I hinted before, and not let things run too far before they are surprised and torn to pieces by violence.

And, at the worst, even a declining tradesman should not let his books be neglected; if his creditors find them punctually kept to the last, it will be a credit to him, and they would see he was a man fit for business; and I have known when that very thing has recommended a tradesman so much to his creditors, that after the ruin of his fortunes, some or other of them have taken him into business, as into partnership, or into employment, only because they knew him to be qualified for business, and for keeping books in particular.

But if we should admonish the tradesman to an exact and regular care of his books, even in his declining fortunes, much more should it be his care in his beginning, and before any disaster has befallen him. I doubt not, that many a tradesman has miscarried by the mistakes and neglect of his books; for the losses that men suffer on that account are not easily set down; but I recommend it to a tradesman to take exact care of his books, as I would to every man to take care of his diet and temperate living, in order to their health; for though, according to some, we cannot, by all our care and caution, lengthen out life, but that every one must and shall live their appointed time,[34] yet, by temperance and regular conduct, we may make that life more comfortable, more agreeable, and pleasant, by its being more healthy and hearty; so, though the exactest book-keeping cannot be said to make a tradesman thrive, or that he shall stand the longer in his business, because his profit and loss do not depend upon his books, or the goodness of his debts depend upon the debtor's accounts being well posted, yet this must be said, that the well keeping of his books may be the occasion of his trade being carried on with the more ease and pleasure, and the more satisfaction, by having numberless quarrels, and contentions, and law-suits, which are the plagues of a tradesman's life, prevented and avoided; which, on the contrary, often torment a tradesman, and make his whole business be uneasy to him for want of being able to make a regular proof of things by his books.

A tradesman without his books, in case of a law-suit for a debt, is like a married woman without her certificate. How many times has a woman been cast, and her cause not only lost, but her reputation and character exposed, for want of being able to prove her marriage, though she has been really and honestly married, and has merited a good character all her days? And so in trade, many a debt has been lost, many an account been perplexed by the debtor, many a sum of money been recovered, and actually paid over again, especially after the tradesman has been dead, for want of hits keeping his books carefully and exactly when he was alive; by which negligence, if he has not been ruined when he was living, his widow and children have been ruined after his decease; though, had justice been done, he had left them in good circumstances, and with sufficient to support them.

And this brings me to another principal reason why a tradesman should not only keep books, but be very regular and exact in keeping them in order, that is to say, duly posted, and all his affairs exactly and duly entered in his books; and this is, that if he should be surprised by sudden or unexpected sickness, or death, as many are, and as all may be, his accounts may not be left intricate and unsettled, and his affairs thereby be perplexed.

Next to being prepared for death, with respect to Heaven and his soul, a tradesman should be always in a state of preparation for death, with respect to his books; it is in vain that he calls for a scrivener or lawyer, and makes a will, when he finds a sudden summons sent him for the grave, and calls his friends about him to divide and settle his estate; if his business is in confusion below stairs, his books out of order, and his accounts unsettled, to what purpose does he give his estate among his relations, when nobody knows where to find it?

As, then, the minister exhorts us to take care of our souls, and make our peace with Heaven, while we are in a state of health, and while life has no threatening enemies about it, no diseases, no fevers attending; so let me second that advice to the tradesman always to keep his books in such a posture, that if he should be snatched away by death, his distressed widow and fatherless family may know what is left for them, and may know where to look for it. He may depend upon it, that what he owes to any one they will come fast enough for, and his widow and executrix will be pulled to pieces for it, if she cannot and does not speedily pay it. Why, then, should he not put her in a condition to have justice done her and her children, and to know how and of whom to seek for his just debts, that she may be able to pay others, and secure the remainder for herself and her children? I must confess, a tradesman not to leave his books in order when he dies, argues him to be either.

1. A very bad Christian, who had few or no thoughts of death upon him, or that considered nothing of its frequent coming unexpected and sudden without warning; or,

2. A very unnatural relation, without the affections of a father, or a husband, or even of a friend, that should rather leave what he had to be swallowed up by strangers, than leave his family and friends in a condition to find, and to recover it.

Again, it is the same case as in matters religious, with respect to the doing this in time, and while health and strength remain. For, as we say very well, and with great reason, that the work of eternity should not be left to the last moments; that a death-bed is no place, and a sick languishing body no condition, and the last breath no time, for repentance; so I may add, neither are these the place, the condition, nor the time, to make up our accounts. There is no posting the books on a death-bed, or balancing the cash-book in a high fever. Can the tradesman tell you where his effects lie, and to whom he has lent or trusted sums of money, or large quantities of goods, when he is delirious and light-headed? All these things must be done in time, and the tradesman should take care that his books should always do this for him, and then he has nothing to do but make his will, and dispose of what he has; and for the rest he refers them to his books, to know where every thing is to be had.


[32] [The sum at the bottom, or foot, of the account.]

[33] [This reminds the editor of an amusing anecdote he has heard, illustrative of the diseased accuracy, as it may be called, of a certain existing London merchant. On reckoning up his household book one year, he found that he had expended one penny more than was accounted for, and there was accordingly an error to that extent in his reckoning. The very idea of an error, however trifling the amount, gave him great uneasiness, and he set himself with the greatest anxiety to discover, if possible, the occasion. He employed the by-hours of weeks in the vain attempt; but at length, having one day to cross Waterloo Bridge, where there is a pontage of a penny for foot passengers, he all at once, to his inconceivable joy, recollected having there disbursed the coin in question about a twelvemonth before.]

[34] [The correct doctrine is, we may not, by our utmost care and diligence, avoid the causes of an early and premature death; but he who acts according to the rules which promote health, and avoids all things which tend to endanger it, has a much better chance of living to the natural period appointed for human life than he who acts otherwise--besides, as stated in the text, making his life more agreeable. The author's illustration would be more properly drawn if we were to say, 'The tradesman, by keeping exact accounts, may not succeed in contending against certain unfavourable circumstances, no more than the man who lives according to the just rules of nature may thereby succeed in inviting other evils that tend to cut short life; but as the temperate man is most likely to be healthy, so is the tradesman, who keeps exact accounts, most likely to thrive in business.']

Daniel Defoe

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