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


A few directions seasonably given, and wisely received, will be sufficient to guide a tradesman in a right management of his business, so as that, if he observes them, he may secure his prosperity and success:  but it requires a long and serious caveat to warn him of the dangers he meets with in his way.  Trade is a straight and direct way, if they will but keep in it with a steady foot, and not wander, and launch out here and there, as a loose head and giddy fancy will prompt them to do.

The road, I say, is straight and direct; but there are many turnings and openings in it, both to the right hand and to the left, in which, if a tradesman but once ventures to step awry, it is ten thousand to one but he loses himself, and very rarely finds his way back again; at least if he does, it is like a man that has been lost in a wood; he comes out with a scratched face, and torn clothes, tired and spent, and does not recover himself in a long while after.

In a word, one steady motion carries him up, but many things assist to pull him down; there are many ways open to his ruin, but few to his rising:  and though employment is said to be the best fence against temptations, and he that is busy heartily in his business, temptations to idleness and negligence will not be so busy about him, yet tradesmen are as often drawn from their business as other men; and when they are so, it is more fatal to them a great deal, than it is to gentlemen and persons whose employments do not call for their personal attendance so much as a shop does.

Among the many turnings and bye-lanes, which, as I say, are to be met with in the straight road of trade, there are two as dangerous and fatal to their prosperity as the worst, though they both carry an appearance of good, and promise contrary to what they perform; these are ­

I. Pleasures and diversions, especially such as they will have us call innocent diversions.

II.  Projects and adventures, and especially such as promise mountains of profit in nubibus [in the clouds], and are therefore the more likely to ensnare the poor eager avaricious tradesman.

1.  I am now to speak of the first, namely, pleasures and diversions.  I cannot allow any pleasures to be innocent, when they turn away either the body or the mind of a tradesman from the one needful thing which his calling makes necessary, and that necessity makes his duty ­I mean, the application both of his hands and head to his business.  Those pleasures and diversions may be innocent in themselves, which are not so to him:  there are very few things in the world that are simply evil, but things are made circumstantially evil when they are not so in themselves:  killing a man is not simply sinful; on the contrary, it is not lawful only, but a duty, when justice and the laws of God or man require it; but when done maliciously, from any corrupt principle, or to any corrupted end, is murder, and the worst of crimes.

Pleasures and diversions are thus made criminal, when a man is engaged in duty to a full attendance upon such business as those pleasures and diversions necessarily interfere with and interrupt; those pleasures, though innocent in themselves, become a fault in him, because his legal avocations demand his attendance in another place.  Thus those pleasures may be lawful to another man, which are not so to him, because another man has not the same obligation to a calling, the same necessity to apply to it, the same cry of a family, whose bread may depend upon his diligence, as a tradesman has.

Solomon, the royal patron of industry, tells us, ’He that is a lover of pleasure, shall be a poor man.’  I must not doubt but Solomon is to be understood of tradesmen and working men, such as I am writing of, whose time and application is due to their business, and who, in pursuit of their pleasures, are sure to neglect their shops, or employments, and I therefore render the words thus, to the present purpose ­’The tradesman that is a lover of pleasure, shall be a poor man.’  I hope I do not wrest the Scripture in my interpretation of it; I am sure it agrees with the whole tenor of the wise man’s other discourses.

When I see young shopkeepers keep horses, ride a-hunting, learn dog-language, and keep the sportsmen’s brogue upon their tongues, I will not say I read their destiny, for I am no fortuneteller, but I do say, I am always afraid for them; especially when I know that either their fortunes and beginnings are below it, or that their trades are such as in a particular manner to require their constant attendance.  As to see a barber abroad on a Saturday, a corn-factor abroad on a Wednesday and Friday, or a Blackwell-hall man on a Thursday, you may as well say a country shopkeeper should go a-hunting on a market-day, or go a-feasting at the fair day of the town where he lives; and yet riding and hunting are otherwise lawful diversions, and in their kind very good for exercise and health.

I am not for making a galley-slave of a shopkeeper, and have him chained down to the oar; but if he be a wise, a prudent, and a diligent tradesman, he will allow himself as few excursions as possible.

Business neglected is business lost; it is true, there are some businesses which require less attendance than others, and give a man less occasion of application; but, in general, that tradesman who can satisfy himself to be absent from his business, must not expect success; if he is above the character of a diligent tradesman, he must then be above the business too, and should leave it to somebody, that, having more need of it, will think it worth his while to mind it better.

Nor, indeed, is it possible a tradesman should be master of any of the qualifications which I have set down to denominate him complete, if he neglects his shop and his time, following his pleasures and diversions.

I will allow that the man is not vicious and wicked, that he is not addicted to drunkenness, to women, to gaming, or any such things as those, for those are not woundings, but murder, downright killing.  A man may wound and hurt himself sometimes, in the rage of an ungoverned passion, or in a phrensy or fever, and intend no more; but if he shoots himself through the head, or hangs himself, we are sure then he intended to kill and destroy himself, and he dies inevitably.

For a tradesman to follow his pleasures, which indeed is generally attended with a slighting of his business, leaving his shop to servants or others, it is evident to me that he is indifferent whether it thrives or no; and, above all, it is evident that his heart is not in his business; that he does not delight in it, or look on it with pleasure.  To a complete tradesman there is no pleasure equal to that of being in his business, no delight equal to that of seeing himself thrive, to see trade flow in upon him, and to be satisfied that he goes on prosperously.  He will never thrive, that cares not whether he thrives or no.  As trade is the chief employment of his life, and is therefore called, by way of eminence, his business, so it should be made the chief delight of his life.  The tradesman that does not love his business, will never give it due attendance.

Pleasure is a bait to the mind, and the mind will attract the body:  where the heart is, the object shall always have the body’s company.  The great objection I meet with from young tradesmen against this argument is, they follow no unlawful pleasures; they do not spend their time in taverns, and drinking to excess; they do not spend their money in gaming, and so stock-starve their business, and rob the shop to supply the extravagant losses of play; or they do not spend their hours in ill company and debaucheries; all they do, is a little innocent diversion in riding abroad now and then for the air, and for their health, and to ease their thoughts of the throng of other affairs which are heavy upon them, &c.

These, I say, are the excuses of young tradesmen; and, indeed, they are young excuses, and, I may say truly, have nothing in them.  It is perhaps true, or I may grant it so for the present purpose, that the pleasure the tradesman takes is, as he says, not unlawful, and that he follows only a little innocent diversion; but let me tell him, the words are ill put together, and the diversion is rather recommended from the word little, than from the word innocent:  if it be, indeed, but little, it may be innocent; but the case is quite altered by the extent of the thing; and the innocence lies here, not in the nature of the thing, not in the diversion or pleasure that is taken, but in the time it takes; for if the man spends the time in it which should be spent in his shop or warehouse, and his business suffers by his absence, as it must do, if the absence is long at a time, or often practised ­the diversion so taken becomes criminal to him, though the same diversion might be innocent in another.

Thus I have heard a young tradesman, who loved his bottle, excuse himself, and say, ’It is true, I have been at the tavern, but I was treated, it cost me nothing.’  And this, he thinks, clears him of all blame; not considering that when he spends no money, yet he spends five times the value of the money in time.  Another says, ’Why, indeed, I was at the tavern yesterday all the afternoon, but I could not help it, and I spent but sixpence.’  But at the same time perhaps it might be said he spent five pounds’ worth of time, his business being neglected, his shop unattended, his books not posted, his letters not written, and the like ­for all those things are works necessary to a tradesman, as well as the attendance on his shop, and infinitely above the pleasure of being treated at the expense of his time.  All manner of pleasures should buckle and be subservient to business:  he that makes his pleasure be his business, will never make his business be a pleasure.  Innocent pleasures become sinful, when they are used to excess, and so it is here; the most innocent diversion becomes criminal, when it breaks in upon that which is the due and just employment of the man’s life.  Pleasures rob the tradesman, and how, then, can he call them innocent diversions?  They are downright thieves; they rob his shop of his attendance, and of the time which he ought to bestow there; they rob his family of their due support, by the man’s neglecting that business by which they are to be supported and maintained; and they oftentimes rob the creditors of their just debts, the tradesman sinking by the inordinate use of those innocent diversions, as he calls them, as well by the expense attending them, as the loss of his time, and neglect of his business, by which he is at last reduced to the necessity of shutting up shop in earnest, which was indeed as good as shut before.  A shop without a master is like the same shop on a middling holiday, half shut up, and he that keeps it long so, need not doubt but he may in a little time more shut it quite up.

In short, pleasure is a thief to business; how any man can call it innocent, let him answer that does so; it robs him every way, as I have said above:  and if the tradesman be a Christian, and has any regard to religion and his duty, I must tell him, that when upon his disasters he shall reflect, and see that he has ruined himself and his family, by following too much those diversions and pleasures which he thought innocent, and which perhaps in themselves were really so, he will find great cause to repent of that which he insisted on as innocent; he will find himself lost, by doing lawful things, and that he made those innocent things sinful, and those lawful things unlawful to him.  Thus, as they robbed his family and creditors before of their just debts ­for maintenance is a tradesman’s just debt to his family, and a wife and children are as much a tradesman’s real creditors as those who trusted him with their goods ­I say, as his innocent pleasures robbed his family and creditors before, they will rob him now of his peace, and of all that calm of soul which an honest, industrious, though unfortunate, tradesman meets with under his disasters.

I am asked here, perhaps, how much pleasure an honest-meaning tradesman may be allowed to take? for it cannot be supposed I should insist that all pleasure is forbidden him, that he must have no diversion, no spare hours, no intervals from hurry and fatigue; that would be to pin him down to the very floor of his shop, as John Sheppard was locked down to the floor of his prison.

The answer to this question every prudent tradesman may make for himself:  if his pleasure is in his shop, and in his business, there is no danger of him; but if he has an itch after exotic diversions ­I mean such as are foreign to his shop, and to his business, and which I therefore call exotic ­let him honestly and fairly state the case between his shop and his diversions, and judge impartially for himself.  So much pleasure, and no more, may be innocently taken, as does not interfere with, or do the least damage to his business, by taking him away from it.

Every moment that his trade wants him in his shop or warehouse, it is his duty to be there; it is not enough to say, I believe I shall not be wanted; or I believe I shall suffer no loss by my absence.  He must come to a point and not deceive himself; if he does, the cheat is all his own.  If he will not judge sincerely at first, he will reproach himself sincerely at last; for there is no fraud against his own reflections:  a man is very rarely a hypocrite to himself.

The rule may be, in a few words, thus:  those pleasures or diversions, and those only, can be innocent, which the man may or does use, or allow himself to use, without hindrance of, or injury to, his business and reputation.

Let the diversions or pleasures in question be what they will, and how innocent soever they are in themselves, they are not so to him, because they interrupt or interfere with his business, which is his immediate duty.  I have mentioned the circumstance which touches this part too, namely, that there may be a time when even the needful duties of religion may become faults, and unseasonable, when another more needful attendance calls for us to apply to it; much more, then, those things which are only barely lawful.  There is a visible difference between the things which we may do, and the things which we must do.  Pleasures at certain seasons are allowed, and we may give ourselves some loose to them; but business, I mean to the man of business, is that needful thing, of which it is not to be said it may, but it must be done.

Again, those pleasures which may not only be lawful in themselves, but which may be lawful to other men, yet are criminal and unlawful to him.  To gentlemen of fortunes and estates, who being born to large possessions, and have no avocations of this kind, it is certainly lawful to spend their spare hours on horseback, with their hounds or hawks, pursuing their game; or, on foot, with their gun and their net, and their dogs to kill the hares or birds, &c. ­all which we call sport.  These are the men that can, with a particular satisfaction, when they come home, say they have only taken an innocent diversion; and yet even in these, there are not wanting some excesses which take away the innocence of them, and consequently the satisfaction in their reflection, and therefore it was I said it was lawful to them to spend their spare hours ­by which I am to be understood, those hours which are not due to more solemn and weighty occasions, such as the duties of religion in particular.  But as this is not my present subject, I proceed; for I am not talking to gentlemen now, but to tradesmen.

The prudent tradesman will, in time, consider what he ought or ought not to do, in his own particular case, as to his pleasures ­not what another man may or may not do.  In short, nothing of pleasure or diversion can be innocent to him, whatever it may be to another, if it injures his business, if it takes either his time, or his mind, or his delight, or his attendance, from his business; nor can all the little excuses, of its being for his health, and for the needful unbending the bow of the mind, from the constant application of business, for all these must stoop to the great article of his shop and business; though I might add, that the bare taking the air for health, and for a recess to the mind, is not the thing I am talking of ­it is the taking an immoderate liberty, and spending an immoderate length of time, and that at unseasonable and improper hours, so as to make his pleasures and diversions be prejudicial to his business ­this is the evil I object to, and this is too much the ruin of the tradesmen of this age; and thus any man who calmly reads these papers will see I ought to be understood.

Nor do I confine this discourse to the innocent diversions of a horse, and riding abroad to take the air; things which, as above, are made hurtful and unlawful to him, only as they are hindrances to his business, and are more or less so, as they rob his shop or warehouse, or business, or his attendance and time, and cause him to draw his affections off from his calling.

But we see other and new pleasures daily crowding in upon the tradesman, and some which no age before this have been in danger of ­I mean, not to such an excess as is now the case, and consequently there were fewer tradesmen drawn into the practice.

The present age is a time of gallantry and gaiety; nothing of the present pride and vanity was known, or but very little of it, in former times:  the baits which are every where laid for the corruption of youth, and for the ruin of their fortunes, were never so many and so mischievous as they are now.

We scarce now see a tradesman’s apprentice come to his fifth year, but he gets a long wig and a sword, and a set of companions suitable; and this wig and sword, being left at proper and convenient places, are put on at night after the shop is shut, or when they can slip out to go a-raking in, and when they never fail of company ready to lead them into all manner of wickedness and debauchery; and from this cause it is principally that so many apprentices are ruined, and run away from their masters before they come out of their times ­more, I am persuaded, now, than ever were to be found before.

Nor, as I said before, will I charge the devil with having any hand in the ruin of these young fellows ­indeed, he needs not trouble himself about them, they are his own by early choice ­they anticipate temptation, and are as forward as the devil can desire them to be.  These may be truly said to be drawn aside of their own lusts, and enticed ­they need no tempter.

But of these I may also say, they seldom trouble the tradesmen’s class; they get ruined early, and finish the tradesman before they begin, so my discourse is not at present directed much to them; indeed, they are past advice before they come in my way.

Indeed, I knew one of these sort of gentlemen-apprentices make an attempt to begin, and set up his trade ­he was a dealer in what they call Crooked-lane wares:  he got about L300 from his father, an honest plain countryman, to set him up, and his said honest father exerted himself to the utmost to send him up so much money.

When he had gotten the money, he took a shop near the place where he had served his time, and entering upon the shop, he had it painted, and fitted up, and some goods he bought in order to furnish it; but before that, he was obliged to pay about L70 of the money to little debts, which he had contracted in his apprenticeship, at two or three ale-houses, for drink and eatables, treats, and junketings; and at the barber’s for long perukes, at the sempstress’s for fine Holland-shirts, turn-overs, white gloves, &c, to make a beau of him, and at several other places.

When he came to dip into this, and found that it wanted still L30 or L40 to equip him for the company which he had learned to keep, he took care to do this first; and being delighted with his new dress, and how like a gentleman he looked, he was resolved, before he opened a shop, to take his swing a little in the town; so away he went, with two of his neighbour’s apprentices, to the play-house, thence to the tavern, not far from his dwelling, and there they fell to cards, and sat up all night ­and thus they spent about a fortnight; the rest just creeping into their masters’ houses, by the connivance of their fellow-servants, and he getting a bed in the tavern, where what he spent, to be sure, made them willing enough to oblige him ­that is to say, to encourage him to ruin himself.

They then changed their course, indeed, and went to the ball, and that necessarily kept them out the most part of the night, always having their supper dressed at the tavern at their return; and thus, in a few words, he went on till he made way through all the remaining money he had left, and was obliged to call his creditors together, and break before he so much as opened his shop ­I say, his creditors, for great part of the goods which he had furnished his shop with were unpaid for; perhaps some few might be bought with ready money.

This man, indeed, is the only tradesman that ever I met with, that set up and broke before his shop was open; others I have indeed known make very quick work of it.

But this part rather belongs to another head.  I am at present not talking of madmen, as I hope, indeed, I am not writing to madmen, but I am talking of tradesmen undone by lawful things, by what they call innocent and harmless things ­such as riding abroad, or walking abroad to take the air, and to divert themselves, dogs, gun, country-sport, and city-recreation.  These things are certainly lawful, and in themselves very innocent; nay, they may be needful for health, and to give some relaxation to the mind, hurried with too much business; but the needfulness of them is so much made an excuse, and the excess of them is so injurious to the tradesman’s business and to his time, which should be set apart for his shop and his trade, that there are not a few tradesmen thus lawfully ruined, as I may call it ­in a word, lawful or unlawful, their shop is neglected, their business goes behind-hand, and it is all one to the subject of breaking, and to the creditor, whether the man was undone by being a knave, or by being a fool; it is all one whether he lost his trade by scandalous immoral negligence, or by sober or religious negligence.

In a word, business languishes, while the tradesman is absent, and neglects it, be it for his health or for his pleasure, be it in good company or in bad, be it from a good or an ill design; and if the business languishes, the tradesman will not be long before he languishes too; for nothing can support the tradesman but his supporting his trade by a due attendance and application.