Read CHAPTER V of The Complete English Tradesman, free online book, by Daniel Defoe, on


Solomon was certainly a friend to men of business, as it appears by his frequent good advice to them.  In Prov. xvii, he says, ’He that is slothful in business, is brother to him that is a great waster:’  and in another place, ‘The sluggard shall be clothed in rags,’ (Prov. xxii, or to that purpose.  On the contrary, the same wise man, by way of encouragement, tells them, ‘The diligent hand maketh rich,’ (Prov. , and, ’The diligent shall bear rule, but the slothful shall be under tribute.’

Nothing can give a greater prospect of thriving to a young tradesman, than his own diligence; it fills himself with hope, and gives him credit with all who know him; without application, nothing in this world goes forward as it should do:  let the man have the most perfect knowledge of his trade, and the best situation for his shop, yet without application nothing will go on.  What is the shop without the master? what the books without the book-keeper? what the credit without the man?  Hark how the people talk of such conduct as the slothful negligent trader discovers in his way.

‘Such a shop,’ says the customer, ’stands well, and there is a good stock of goods in it, but there is nobody to serve but a ’prentice-boy or two, and an idle journeyman:  one finds them always at play together, rather than looking out for customers; and when you come to buy, they look as if they did not care whether they showed you any thing or no.  One never sees a master in the shop, if we go twenty times, nor anything that bears the face of authority.  Then, it is a shop always exposed, it is perfectly haunted with thieves and shop-lifters; they see nobody but raw boys in it, that mind nothing, and the diligent devils never fail to haunt them, so that there are more outcries of ‘Stop thief!’ at their door, and more constables fetched to that shop, than to all the shops in the row.  There was a brave trade at that shop in Mr ­’s time:  he was a true shopkeeper; like the quack doctor, you never missed him from seven in the morning till twelve, and from two till nine at night, and he throve accordingly ­he left a good estate behind him.  But I don’t know what these people are; they say there are two partners of them, but there had as good be none, for they are never at home, nor in their shop:  one wears a long wig and a sword, I hear, and you see him often in the Mall and at court, but very seldom in his shop, or waiting on his customers; and the other, they say, lies a-bed till eleven o’clock every day, just comes into the shop and shows himself, then stalks about to the tavern to take a whet, then to Child’s coffee-house to hear the news, comes home to dinner at one, takes a long sleep in his chair after it, and about four o’clock comes into the shop for half an hour, or thereabouts, then to the tavern, where he stays till two in the morning, gets drunk, and is led home by the watch, and so lies till eleven again; and thus he walks round like the hand of a dial.  And what will it all come to? ­they’ll certainly break, that you may be sure of; they can’t hold it long.’

’This is the town’s way of talking, where they see an example of it in the manner as is described; nor are the inferences unjust, any more than the description is unlike, for such certainly is the end of such management, and no shop thus neglected ever made a tradesman rich.

On the contrary, customers love to see the master’s face in the shop, and to go to a shop where they are sure to find him at home.  When he does not sell, or cannot take the price offered, yet the customers are not disobliged, and if they do not deal now, they may another time:  if they do deal, the master generally gets a better price for his goods than a servant can, besides that he gives better content; and yet the customers always think they buy cheaper of the master too.

I seem to be talking now of the mercer or draper, as if my discourse were wholly bent and directed to them; but it is quite contrary, for it concerns every tradesman ­the advice is general, and every tradesman claims a share in it; the nature of trade requires it.  It is an old Anglicism, ‘Such a man drives a trade;’ the allusion is to a carter, that with his voice, his hands, his whip, and his constant attendance, keeps the team always going, helps himself, lifts at the wheel in every slough, doubles his application upon every difficulty, and, in a word, to complete the simile, if he is not always with his horses, either the wagon is set in a hole, or the team stands still, or, which is worst of all, the load is spoiled by the waggon overthrowing.

It is therefore no improper speech to say, such a man drives his trade; for, in short, if trade is not driven, it will not go.

Trade is like a hand-mill, it must always be turned about by the diligent hand of the master; or, if you will, like the pump-house at Amsterdam, where they put offenders in for petty matters, especially beggars; if they will work and keep pumping, they sit well, and dry and safe, and if they work very hard one hour or two, they may rest, perhaps, a quarter of an hour afterwards; but if they oversleep themselves, or grow lazy, the water comes in upon them and wets them, and they have no dry place to stand in, much less to sit down in; and, in short, if they continue obstinately idle, they must sink; so that it is nothing but pump or drown, and they may choose which they like best.

He that engages in trade, and does not resolve to work at it, is felo de se; it is downright murdering himself; that is to say, in his trading capacity, he murders his credit, he murders his stock, and he starves, which is as bad as murdering, his family.

Trade must not be entered into as a thing of light concern; it is called business very properly, for it is a business for life, and ought to be followed as one of the great businesses of life ­I do not say the chief, but one of the great businesses of life it certainly is ­trade must, I say, be worked at, not played with; he that trades in jest, will certainly break in earnest; and this is one reason indeed why so many tradesmen come to so hasty a conclusion of their affairs.

There was another old English saying to this purpose, which shows how much our old fathers were sensible of the duty of a shopkeeper:  speaking of the tradesman as just opening his shop, and beginning a dialogue with it; the result of which is, that the shop replies to the tradesman thus:  ‘Keep me, and I will keep thee.’  It is the same with driving the trade; if the shopkeeper will not keep, that is, diligently attend to his shop, the shop will not keep, that is, maintain him:  and in the other sense it is harsher to him, if he will not drive his trade, the trade will drive him; that is, drive him out of the shop, drive him away.

All these old sayings have this monitory substance in them; namely, they all concur to fill a young tradesman with true notions of what he is going about; and that the undertaking of a trade is not a sport or game, in which he is to meet with diversions only, and entertainment, and not to be in the least troubled or disturbed:  trade is a daily employment, and must be followed as such, with the full attention of the mind, and full attendance of the person; nothing but what are to be called the necessary duties of life are to intervene; and even these are to be limited so as not to be prejudicial to business.

And now I am speaking of the necessary things which may intervene, and which may divide the time with our business or trade, I shall state the manner in a few words, that the tradesman may neither give too much, nor take away too much, to or from any respective part of what may be called his proper employment, but keep as due a balance of his time as he should of his books or cash.

The life of man is, or should be, a measure of allotted time; as his time is measured out to him, so the measure is limited, must end, and the end of it is appointed.

The purposes for which time is given, and life bestowed, are very momentous; no time is given uselessly, and for nothing; time is no more to be unemployed, than it is to be ill employed.  Three things are chiefly before us in the appointment of our time:  1.  Necessaries of natur.  Duties of religion, or things relating to a future lif.  Duties of the present life, namely, business and calling.

I. Necessities of nature, such as eating and drinking; rest, or sleep; and in case of disease, a recess from business; all which have two limitations on them, and no more; namely, that they be

1.  Referred to their proper seasons.

2.  Used with moderation.

Both these might give me subject to write many letters upon; but I study brevity, and desire rather to hint than dwell upon things which are serious and grave, because I would not tire you.

II.  Duties of religion:  these may be called necessities too in their kind, and that of the sublimest nature; and they ought not to be thrust at all out of their place, and yet they ought to be kept in their place too.

III.  Duties of life, that is to say, business, or employment, or calling, which are divided into three kinds: 

1.  Labour, or servitude.

2.  Employment.

3.  Trade.

By labour, I mean the poor manualist, whom we properly call the labouring man, who works for himself indeed in one respect, but sometimes serves and works for wages, as a servant, or workman.

By employment, I mean men in business, which yet is not properly called trade, such as lawyers, physicians, surgeons, scriveners, clerks, secretaries, and such like:  and

By trade I mean merchants and inland-traders, such as are already described in the introduction to this work.

To speak of time, it is divided among these; even in them all there is a just equality of circumstances to be preserved, and as diligence is required in one, and necessity to be obeyed in another, so duty is to be observed in the third; and yet all these with such a due regard to one another, as that one duty may not jostle out another; and every thing going on with an equality and just regard to the nature of the thing, the tradesman may go on with a glad heart and a quiet conscience.

This article is very nice, as I intend to speak to it; and it is a dangerous thing indeed to speak to, lest young tradesmen, treading on the brink of duty on one side, and duty on the other side, should pretend to neglect their duty to heaven, on pretence that I say they must not neglect their shops.  But let them do me justice, and they will do themselves no injury; nor do I fear that my arguing on this point should give them any just cause to go wrong; if they will go wrong, and plead my argument for their excuse, it must be by their abusing my directions, and taking them in pieces, misplacing the words, and disjointing the sense, and by the same method they may make blasphemy of the Scripture.

The duties of life, I say, must not interfere with one another, must not jostle one another out of the place, or so break in as to be prejudicial to one another.  It is certainly the duty of every Christian to worship God, to pay his homage morning and evening to his Maker, and at all other proper seasons to behave as becomes a sincere worshipper of God; nor must any avocation, either of business or nature, however necessary, interfere with this duty, either in public or in private.  This is plainly asserting the necessity of the duty, so no man can pretend to evade that.

But the duties of nature and religion also have such particular seasons, and those seasons so proper to themselves, and so stated, as not to break in or trench upon one another, that we are really without excuse, if we let any one be pleaded for the neglect of the other.  Food, sleep, rest, and the necessities of nature, are either reserved for the night, which is appointed for man to rest, or take up so little room in the day, that they can never be pleaded in bar of either religion or employment.

He, indeed, who will sleep when he should work, and perhaps drink when he should sleep, turns nature bottom upwards, inverts the appointment of providence, and must account to himself, and afterwards to a higher judge, for the neglect.

The devil ­if it be the devil that tempts, for I would not wrong Satan himself ­plays our duties often one against another; and to bring us, if possible, into confusion in our conduct, subtly throws religion out of its place, to put it in our way, and to urge us to a breach of what we ought to do:  besides this subtle tempter ­for, as above, I won’t charge it all upon the devil ­we have a great hand in it ourselves; but let it be who it will, I say, this subtle tempter hurries the well-meaning tradesman to act in all manner of irregularity, that he may confound religion and business, and in the end may destroy both.

When the tradesman well inclined rises early in the morning, and is moved, as in duty to his Maker he ought, to pay his morning vows to him either in his closet, or at the church, where he hears the six o’clock bell ring to call his neighbours to the same duty ­then the secret hint comes across his happy intention, that he must go to such or such a place, that he may be back time enough for such other business as has been appointed over-night, and both perhaps may be both lawful and necessary; so his diligence oppresses his religion, and away he runs to transact his business, and neglects his morning sacrifice to his Maker.

On the other hand, and at another time, being in his shop, or his counting-house, or warehouse, a vast throng of business upon his hands, and the world in his head, when it is highly his duty to attend it, and shall be to his prejudice to absent himself ­then the same deceiver presses him earnestly to go to his closet, or to the church to prayers, during which time his customer goes to another place, the neighbours miss him in his shop, his business is lost, his reputation suffers; and by this turned into a practice, the man may say his prayers so long and so unseasonably till he is undone, and not a creditor he has (I may give it him from experience) will use him the better, or show him the more favour, when a commission of bankrupt comes out against him.

Thus, I knew once a zealous, pious, religious tradesman, who would almost shut up his shop every day about nine or ten o’clock to call all his family together to prayers; and yet he was no presbyterian, I assure you; I say, he would almost shut up his shop, for he would suffer none of his servants to be absent from his family worship.

This man had certainly been right, had he made all his family get up by six o’clock in the morning, and called them to prayers before he had opened his shop; but instead of that, he first suffered sleep to interfere with religion, and lying a-bed to postpone and jostle out his prayers ­and then, to make God Almighty amends upon himself, wounds his family by making his prayers interfere with his trade, and shuts his customers out of his shop; the end of which was, the poor good man deceived himself, and lost his business.

Another tradesman, whom I knew personally well, was raised in the morning very early, by the outcries of his wife, to go and fetch a midwife.  It was necessary, in his way, to go by a church, where there was always, on that day of the week, a morning sermon early, for the supplying the devotion of such early Christians as he; so the honest man, seeing the door open, steps in, and seeing the minister just gone up into the pulpit, sits down, joins in the prayers, hears the sermon, and goes very gravely home again; in short, his earnestness in the worship, and attention to what he had heard, quite put the errand he was sent about out of his head; and the poor woman in travail, after having waited long for the return of her husband with the midwife, was obliged (having run an extreme hazard by depending on his expedition) to dispatch other messengers, who fetched the midwife, and she was come, and the work over, long before the sermon was done, or that any body heard of the husband:  at last, he was met coming gravely home from the church, when being upbraided with his negligence, in a dreadful surprise he struck his hands together, and cried out, ’How is my wife?  I profess I forgot it!’

What shall we say now to this ill-timed devotion, and who must tempt the poor man to this neglect?  Certainly, had he gone for the midwife, it had been much more his duty, than to go to hear a sermon at that time.

I knew also another tradesman, who was such a sermon-hunter, and, as there are lectures and sermons preached in London, either in the churches or meeting-houses, almost every day in the week, used so assiduously to hunt out these occasions, that whether it was in a church or meeting-house, or both, he was always abroad to hear a sermon, at least once every day, and sometimes more; and the consequence was, that the man lost his trade, his shop was entirely neglected, the time which was proper for him to apply to his business was misapplied, his trade fell off, and the man broke.

Now it is true, and I ought to take notice of it also, that, though these things happen, and may wrong a tradesman, yet it is oftener, ten times for once, that tradesmen neglect their shop and business to follow the track of their vices and extravagence ­some by taverns, others to the gaming-houses, others to balls and masquerades, plays, harlequins, and operas, very few by too much religion.

But my inference is still sound, and the more effectually so as to that part; for if our business and trades are not to be neglected, no, not for the extraordinary excursions of religion, and religious duties, much less are they to be neglected for vices and extravagances.

This is an age of gallantry and gaiety, and never was the city transposed to the court as it is now; the play-houses and balls are now filled with citizens and young tradesmen, instead of gentlemen and families of distinction; the shopkeepers wear a differing garb now, and are seen with their long wigs and swords, rather than with aprons on, as was formerly the figure they made.

But what is the difference in the consequences?  You did not see in those days acts of grace for the relief of insolvent debtors almost every session of parliament, and yet the jails filled with insolvents before the next year, though ten or twelve thousand have been released at a time by those acts.

Nor did you hear of so many commissions of bankrupt every week in the Gazette, as is now the case; in a word, whether you take the lower sort of tradesman, or the higher, where there were twenty that failed in those days, I believe I speak within compass if I say that five hundred turn insolvent now; it is, as I said above, an age of pleasure, and as the wise man said long ago, ’He that loves pleasure shall be a poor man’ ­so it is now; it is an age of drunkenness and extravagance, and thousands ruin themselves by that; it is an age of luxurious and expensive living, and thousands more undo themselves by that; but, among all our vices, nothing ruins a tradesman so effectually as the neglect of his business:  it is true, all those things prompt men to neglect their business, but the more seasonable is the advice; either enter upon no trade, undertake no business, or, having undertaken it, pursue it diligently:  drive your trade, that the world may not drive you out of trade, and ruin and undo you.  Without diligence a man can never thoroughly understand his business and how should a man thrive, when he does not perfectly know what he is doing, or how to do it?  Application to his trade teaches him how to carry it on, as much as his going apprentice taught him how to set it up.  Certainly, that man shall never improve in his trading knowledge, that does not know his business, or how to carry it on:  the diligent tradesman is always the knowing and complete tradesman.

Now, in order to have a man apply heartily, and pursue earnestly, the business he is engaged in, there is yet another thing necessary, namely, that he should delight in it:  to follow a trade, and not to love and delight in it, is a slavery, a bondage, not a business:  the shop is a bridewell, and the warehouse a house of correction to the tradesman, if he does not delight in his trade.  While he is bound, as we say, to keep his shop, he is like the galley-slave chained down to the oar; he tugs and labours indeed, and exerts the utmost of his strength, for fear of the strapado, and because he is obliged to do it; but when he is on shore, and is out from the bank, he abhors the labour, and hates to come to it again.

To delight in business is making business pleasant and agreeable; and such a tradesman cannot but be diligent in it, which, according to Solomon, makes him certainly rich, and in time raises him above the world and able to instruct and encourage those who come after him.