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by the trials and temptations of life. Especially does this last consideration fill me with a deep sense of the privilege and responsibility to which you have summoned me.
I am aware, that, according to usage, the whole circle of knowledge, thought, and aspiration is open to the speaker ; but, as often as I have revolved the occasion in my mind, I have been brought back to the peculiar character of your Association, and have found myself unwilling to touch any theme not addressed to you especially as merchants.
I might fitly speak to you of books; and here, while considering principles to govern the student in his reading, it would be pleasant to dwell on the profitable delights, better than a “shower of cent per cent," on the society, better than fashion or dissipation, and on that completeness of satisfaction, outvying the possessions of wealth, and making the "library dukedom large enough,” — all of which are found in books. But I leave this theme. I might also fitly speak to you of young men, their claims and duties; and here again, while enforcing the precious advantages of Occupation, it would be pleasant to unfold and vindicate that reverence which Antiquity wisely accorded to youth, as the season of promise and hope, pregnant with an unknown future, and therefore to be watched with tеrderness and care, to show how in every young man the uncertain measure of capacities yet undeveloped gives scope to magnificence of anticipation beyond any reality,-- and to inquire what must be done, that all this anticipation may not wholly die while the young man lives. But there are other things which beckon me away. Not on books, not on youth must I speak, but on yet another topic, suggested directly by the name of your Association.
With your kind permission, I shall speak to-night on what this age requires from the mercantile profession, or rather, since nothing is justly required which is not due, what the mercantile profession owes to this age. I would show the principle by which we are to be guided in making the account current between the mercantile profession and Humanity, and, might I so aspire, hold up the Looking-Glass of the Good Merchant. And since example is better than precept, and deeds are more than words, I shall exhibit the career of a remarkable man, whose simple life, beginning as apprentice to a linendraper, and never getting beyond a clerkship, shows what may be accomplished by faithful, humble labor, and reveals precisely those qualities which in this age are needed to crown the character of the Good Merchant.
"I hold every man a debtor to his profession," was a saying of Lord Bacon, repeated by his contemporary and rival, Lord Coke. But this does not tell the whole truth. It restricts within the narrow circle of a profession obligations which are broad and universal as humanity. Rather should it be said that every man owes a debt to mankind. In determining the debt of the merchant, we must first appreciate his actual position in the social system.
At the dawn of modern times trade was unknown. There was nothing then like a policy of insurance, a bank, a bill of exchange, or even a promissory note. The very term “chattels,” so comprehensive in its present application, yet, when considered in its derivation from the mediæval Latin catalla, cattle, reveals the narrow inventory of personal property in those days, when
"two hundred sheep" were paid by a pious Countess of Anjou for a coveted volume of Homilies. The places of honor and power were then occupied by men who had distinguished themselves by the sword, and were known under the various names of Knight, Baron, Count, or -- highest of all - Duke, Dux, leader in war.
Under these influences the feudal system was organized, with its hierarchy of ranks, in mutual relations of dependence and protection; and society for a while rested in its shadow. The steel-clad chiefs who enjoyed power had a corresponding responsibility, while the mingled gallantry and gentleness of chivalry often controlled the iron hand. It was the dukes who led the forces; it was the counts or earls who placed themselves at the head of their respective counties; it was the knights who went forth to do battle with danger, in whatever form, whether from robbers or wild beasts. It was the barons of Runnymede — there was no merchant there — who extorted from King John that Magna Charta which laid the corner-stone of English and American liberty.
Meanwhile trade made its humble beginnings. But for a long time the merchant was of a despised caste, only next above the slave who was sold as a chattel. If a Jew, he was often compelled, under direful torture, to surrender his gains; if a foreigner, he earned toleration by inordinate contribution to the public revenue; if a native, he was treated as caitiff too mean for society, and only good enough to be taxed. In the time of Chaucer he had so far come up, that he was admitted to the promiscuous company, ranging from knight to miller, who undertook the merry pilgrimage from the Tabard Inn to Canterbury; but the gentle poet satirically exposes his selfish talk:
“ His resons spake he ful solempnely,
Souning alway the encrese of his winning:
Betwixen Middelburgh and Orewell.” 1 The man of trade was so low, that it took him long to rise. A London merchant, the famous Gresham, in the time of Elizabeth, founded the Royal Exchange, and a college also; but trade continued still a butt for jest and gibe. At a later day an English statute gave new security to the merchant's accounts; but the contemporaneous dramatists exhibited him to the derision of the theatre, and even the almanacs exposed his ignorant superstitions by chronicling the days supposed to be favorable or unfavorable to trade. But in the grand mutations of society the merchant throve. His wealth increased, his influence extended, and he gradually drew into his company decayed or poverty-stricken members of feudal families, till at last in France (I do not forget the exceptional condition of Italy), at the close of the seventeenth century, an edict was put forth, which John Locke has preserved in the journal of his travels, " that those who merchandise, but do not use the yard, shall not lose their gentility”? (admirable discrimination!); and in England, at the close of the eighteenth century, his former degradation and growing importance were attested in the saying of Dr. Johnson, that “an English merchant is a new species of gentleman." 3 But this high arbiter, bending under feudal traditions, would not even then concede to him any merit,--proclaiming that there were “no qualities in trade that should entitle a man to superiority," -- that
1 Canterbury Tales, Prologue, 276-279. 2 King's Life of Locke, Vol. I.
104. 3 Boswell's Life of Johnson, ed. Croker, (London, 1835,) Vol. II. p. 294,. note, anno 1765.
we cannot think that a fellow, by sitting all day at a desk, is entitled to get above us,"— and to the supposition by his faithful Boswell, that a merchant might be a man of enlarged mind, the determined moralist replied: “ Why, Sir, we may suppose any fictitious character; but there is nothing in trade connected with an enlarged mind.” 1
In America feudalism never prevailed, and our Revolution severed the only cord by which we were connected with this ancient system. It was fit that the Congress which performed this memorable act should have for its President a merchant. It was fit, that, in promulgating the Declaration of Independence, by which, in the face of kings, princes, and nobles, the New Era was inaugurated, the education of the counting-house should flaunt conspicuously in the broad and clerkly signature of JOHN HANCOCK. Our fathers “ builded better than
" they knew"; and these things are typical of the social change then taking place. By yet another act, fresh in your recollection, and of peculiar interest to this assembly, has our country borne the same testimony. A distinguished merchant of Boston, who has ascended through all the gradations of trade, honored always for private virtues as well as public abilities, — need I mention the name of ABBOTT LAWRENCE ? — has been sent to the Court of St. James as ambassador of our Republic, and with that proud commission, higher than any patent of nobility, taken precedence of nobles in that ancient realm. Here I see the triumph of personal merit, but still more the consummation of a new epoch.
Yes, Sir! say what you will, this is the day of the merchant. As in the early ages war was the great concern
1 Boswell's Johnson, Vol. V. pp. 63, 64, Oct. 18, 1773.