Alexander Young.

The good merchant : a discourse occasioned by the death of William Parsons, esq., delivered in the church on Church green, March 26, 1837 online

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Online LibraryAlexander YoungThe good merchant : a discourse occasioned by the death of William Parsons, esq., delivered in the church on Church green, March 26, 1837 → online text (page 1 of 2)
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This Discourse was first printed in 1837, immediately after it was delivered.
Portions of it were copied, without acknowledgment, into Hunt's Merchants'
Magazine, No. III., for September, 1839, Vol, I. page 200. This fact is men-
tioned lest any one, reading that article, should suppose that the author of the
Discourse borrowed from the Magazine, whereas the case was directly the




Isaiah, XXIII. 8.


The subject of my discourse is The Character of
the Good Merchant, It is my lot, it is my privilege,
to address a congregation composed chiefly of per-
sons actively engaged in the various branches of
trade and commerce. My position, therefore, may
serve to justify, if it do not seem to demand of me,
the discussion of a topic which necessarily involves
a consideration of the duties of this large and im-
portant class of the community. Let me first give
some account of the rise and progress of this depart-
ment of industry, and detail some of the advantages
and benefits which it has conferred upon the world.

The occupation of the merchant, though not the
earliest, was yet among the earhest in which man-
kind were employed. We trace it back to a very
remote antiquity, nay almost to the cradle of the
human race. It is coeval, at least, with the first
germs of civilization. We look into the Scriptures


of the Old Testament, the oldest chronicle extant,
and among the earliest events there recorded, we
read of " a company of Ishmaehtes, that came from
Gilead with their camels bearing spicery and balm
and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt ; " and
it was to these " merchantmen " that the patriarch
Joseph was sold as a slave ; — so early commenced
that accursed traffic in human flesh.

Commerce, at first, among the nations of the East,
was altogether inland, and was carried on between
countries separated by arid wastes, by means of the
camel, emphatically called by the Arabs " the ship
of the desert." And even this overland commerce
was a hardy and adventurous vocation. The mer-
chant of those early times, it will be recollected,
trusted not to factors or agents to manage his busi-
ness for him, but accompanied his merchandise
through inhospitable climes and over scorching
sands. The passage of the desert was hardly less
perilous than the navigation of the open sea ; and
probably quite as many, if not more, perished from
the hardships and dangers of the former as of the
latter. For the green spots in the desert, where wa-
ter could be procured, were few and far between ;
and the wells were always marked, not only by the
verdure around their margin, but by the bleached
bones of many an exhausted traveller, whose strength
held out only just long enough to enable him to reach
the desired spot, and quench his burning thirst, and

lie down and die. Then too, there were the pirates
of the desert, those roving and marauding tribes, the
descendants of him " whose hand was against every
man, and every man's hand against him." The
merchant was obUged to go armed against those
wild robbers, as much as ever the peaceful trading-
vessel against the freebooters that infest the ocean.
The merchant of ancient times, by thus accom-
panying his merchandise everywhere, was led to visit
various countries, and became acquainted with dif-
ferent races of men ; and it was by this commercial
intercourse that the knowledge of other lands and
nations was first obtained, and the arts of civihzation
gradually diffused. The merchant was the principal,
if not the only, traveller in those days, and of course
was generally, as he often is now, the best informed
man of his times. He could describe, for he had
seen, the wonders of Egypt. He could tell of its
mysterious rites, its hieroglyphic characters, its re-
condite science, its colossal architecture. He led
the way, where the historian and the philosopher
afterwards followed. Herodotus, Pythagoras, and
Plato, only trod in the footsteps of the adventurous
merchant. He was the pioneer of civilization, and
the mediator between strange and hostile countries.
The caravan was the great channel of intercommu-
nication. It was a peaceful army, moving forward
on an errand of mercy, carrying with it the products
and the fabrics of various climes, and scattering the


accumulated treasures of nature and art over the
whole surface of the then known world.

We come down a little later in the history of our
race, and we see the beginnings of that maritime
enterprise, which has since made the whole world
one family, " clasped the islands to the continent,
and one country to another." Even the Jews, who
by their pecuhar polity and the character of their
institutions, as well as by their anti-social and exclu-
sive spirit, were the least addicted to commerce,
even they, in the time of Solomon, had their ships not
only upon the Mediterranean Sea, but upon the
Arabian Gulf The timber and the stone used in
the construction of the Temple, were brought by
water from the forests and the quarries of Lebanon.
Solomon had a navy at Eziongeber, on the Red
Sea, which traded to Ophir, — situated either on the
eastern shore of Africa, or on the Malabar coast, —
and brought thence gold, precious stones, and the
odoriferous sandal-wood. He had also " a navy of
Tarshish, which came once in three years, bringing
gold and silver and ivory," — probably from the west-
ern coast of Africa. The precious lading of these
two fleets, flowing directly into his dominions, added
to the spice trade of the Arabian peninsula, and the
hnen yarn which Egypt supplied, from the flax which
grew so abundantly in the well-watered valley of the
Nile, rendered his territory the emporium for the
commerce of the world. It was to facilitate the in-

land trade, and to secure the benefits of this impor-
tant branch of commerce, that Solomon built cities
in various places, as stations for the innumerable
caravans that were continually passing between the
Mediterranean and the Euphrates ; and among
others, Tadmor in the wilderness, the celebrated
Palmyra, the lovely city of palms. The extent,
wealth and splendor of these inland cities can be
judged of, in some measure, by the ruins of their
architecture that still remain, the most beautiful
monuments in the world. Through these various
channels, the precious metals and other valuable
commodities poured into his kingdom in such a full
and uninterrupted stream, that, in the language of
the sacred historian, " the king made silver to be
in Jerusalem as stones, and cedars made he to be
as the sycamore trees that are in the vale, for abun-
dance." The merchants of Tyre, who were his
factors, were " princes, and her traffickers the hon-
orable of the earth."

But the occupation of the merchant is not only
one of the most ancient, it is also one of the most
useful of human employments. It devolves on him
to collect the surplus products and fabrics of his
native land, and exchange them for such foreign
articles of comfort or luxury as she may require.
In this way he gives substantial encouragement to
agriculture and manufactures, which but for the
markets which he suppHes, might languish and de-


cline. It devolves upon him, too, in times of pub-
lic scarcity, resulting from unfavorable seasons and
a failure of the home crops, to bring from abroad
the means of subsistence and the necessaries of life
for a v^hole people. Commerce, likewise, gives a
spring to all arts and trades. Whilst enriching him-
self, the merchant furnishes employment to a vast
number of artisans and laborers, and thus helps to
knit society together, and to promote among its
members a feehng of mutual interest and good fel-

Just consider, for one moment, how many hands
are constantly employed merely in that navigation
which bears the merchant's orders to the ends of the
earth. These orders are usually more punctually
executed than the edicts of the most absolute despot.
In the remotest lands, thousands stand ready to do
his bidding and gratify his wishes. The ocean
groans beneath the weight of his argosies, which
from the farthest climes bring riches and abundance,
and lay them at his feet. The counting-room of
the merchant may be likened to the cabinet of a
powerful monarch, that sets the whole world in
motion. He establishes the only practicable and
beneficial community of goods. He renders the
productions, the fabrics, the discoveries of every
nation accessible to all the rest. He brings the
widely scattered inhabitants of our globe into con-
tact, establishes relations and facilitates intercourse


among them, and enables each country to enjoy,
reciprocally, the peculiar blessings and advantages
of every other. *^ He provides such facilities of
intellectual communication between the remotest
regions, that not a bright idea can spring up in the
brain of a foreign scholar, than it darts like light-
ning across the Atlantic ; not an improvement ob-
tains in the condition of one society, but it is in-
stantly propagated to every other. By this per-
petual interchange of thought, and this active dif-
fusion of intellect, the most favorable opportunities
are afforded for the dissemination of useful know-
ledge, and especially for the extension of that most
precious of gifts, the Gospel of Jesus." What could
our missionaries do without our ships ?

Of the connection that has, from the earliest ages,
subsisted between commerce and intellectual im-
provement, the records of the human race bear am-
ple and constant evidence. The perfection and
happiness of our nature arise, in a great degree,
from the exercise of our relative and social feelings ;
and the wider these are extended, the more excel-
lent and accomplished will be the character that is
formed. The first step to commercial intercourse
is rude and selfish, and consists of little more than
an interchange or barter of articles necessary to the
accommodation of the parties. But as this inter-
course is extended, mutual confidence takes place ;
habits of acquaintance, and even of esteem and



friendship, are formed ; till it may, perhaps, without
exaggeration, be asserted, that of all the bonds by
which society is at this day united, those of mercan-
tile connection are the most numerous and the most
extensive. The direct consequence of this is not
only an increase of wealth to those countries where
commerce is carried on to its proper extent, but an
improvement in the intellectual character, and a su-
perior degree of civilization, in those by whom its
operations are conducted. Accordingly, we find
that in every nation, where commerce has been cul-
tivated upon great and enlightened principles, a con-
siderable proficiency has been made in liberal studies
and pursuits. Without recurring to the splendid ex-
amples of antiquity, to Tyre, and Sidon, and Co-
rinth, and Carthage, it may be sufficient to advert to
the effect produced by the Free States in Italy, and
the Hanse Towns in Germany, in improving the
character of the age. Under the influence of com-
merce, the barren islands of Venice, and the un-
healthy swamps of Holland, became not only the
seats of opulence and splendor, but the abodes of
literature, science, and the arts ; and vied with each
other, not less in the number and celebrity of their
eminent men and distinguished scholars, than in the
extent of their mercantile concerns.^

Such are the services and benefits of that ancient

^ See Mr. Roscoe's Discourse on the opening of the Liverpool Insti-


and honorable vocation, which gothic prejudices have
attempted to brand with opprobrium, even in the
bosom of nations that owe their wealth and splendor
chiefly to commerce. In the old world generally,
and even in England, till very recently, the peaceful
merchant was regarded with contempt by the stupid
soldier, who had not sense enough to perceive, that
without the aid of the merchant, he could neither
clothe nor subsist his army. It was her commerce
and manufactures that enabled that country to bear
up against the tremendous power of " the man of
destiny," and to form those powerful coalitions, and
support those vast armies, which she mustered from
all parts of continental Europe, to take the field and
fight the great battles, in which her very existence
was involved. It was this " nation of shopkeepers "
that humbled his pride, and crushed his power. Is
not this useful calling quite as honorable as the
inglorious ease in which so many of the nobility
and gentry of the old world wear out their unprofit-
able lives ? Is not the merchant as respectable a
member of the community as the luxurious planter,
the time-serving politician, or the cringing ofiice-
seeker ? How long will the foohsh vanity of men
lead them to look down upon those from whom they
receive the most important benefits ? Shall honor
be always awarded exclusively to the destroyers and
corrupters of our race ? Ought it not to be con-
ferred on those who are employed in supplying the


wants and promoting the comfort and welfare of
mankind ?

This unworthy and foohsh prejudice against trade
dates back to those times of barbarism and ferocity,
when the rising communities of men were as yet un-
acquainted with the benefits which commerce con-
fers. We are told that in the repubhcs of Greece
merchants were inehgible to public office, and were
excluded from the cares of state. From similar igno-
rance the ancient Romans, who were solely occupied
with agriculture and war, regarded the occupation
of the merchant as disreputable and degrading.
But time and necessity gradually disabused their
minds of these ridiculous prejudices ; till at last the
most distinguished persons in the state were not
ashamed of exercising a caUing w^hich they found so
gainful to themselves and so advantageous to their

When the swarms of barbarous nations from the
northern hive had overrun the Roman Empire, and
parcelled it out among themselves, the prejudice
against trade revived. Europe was for ages plunged
in gross darkness and in perpetual warfare. The
profession of arms was the only one that was account-
ed respectable and manly. The people, hemmed in
and kept down by an insolent soldiery, could have
no communication with one another. Commerce,
which can never flourish without liberty, was car-
ried on solely by Jews and usurers, who were a con-


tinual prey to the exactions of a thousand petty ty-
rants. Being thus engrossed by men dev^oid of
character and principle, it fell into disrepute. None
but such wretches, allured by the expectation of vast
profits, would undertake to pursue a calHng environed
with so many difficulties and dangers. Such, un-
doubtedly, was the origin of that aversion and con-
tempt with which trade was for a long time regarded
by what were called the higher orders in the old
monarchies of Europe.

In the mean time, some republics, taking advantage
of their liberty, engaged successfully in commerce,
and by this means attained a degree of wealth and
power that excited the admiration and envy of other
nations. Venice, Genoa, Pisa, Holland, showed the
rest of Europe the wonderful effects that commerce
can produce. Princes then began to encourage it ;
the Cape of Good Hope was doubled ; a New World
was discovered ; and the unexplored wealth of two
hemispheres, the untold treasures of both the Indies,
aroused the cupidity of the nations. They all rushed
into this new source of aggrandizement, and the indif-
ference with which they had hitherto regarded com-
mercial adventure was changed into a universal en-
thusiasm, and they were soon found struggling with
one another to secure the monopoly of the most lu-
crative branches of trade. From that time commerce
has firmly established itself as one of the most hon-
orable of employments, and one of the principal
sources of national opulence and power.


But this ancient, useful, and honorable vocation
has its temptations and dangers, its responsibilities
and duties, peculiar to itself. I know of no better
way of exhibiting them, than by simply portraying
the character and detailing the conduct of The Good
Merchant, In doing this, I shall describe, first, the
manner in which he acquires, and, secondly, the man-
ner in which he dispenses his wealth.

1. In the first place, then, the good merchant is
scrupulously just and upright in all his transactions.
Integrity, good faith, exactness in fulfiUing his en-
gagements, are prominent and distinctive features in
his character. He is a high-minded and honorable
man, who would feel a stain upon his good name
like a wound, and regards with utter abhorrence
everything that wears the appearance of meanness
or duplicity. Knowing that credit is the soul of busi-
ness, he is anxious to sustain the integrity of the
mercantile character. Accordingly, his word is as
good as his bond. He stands to his bargain, and is
faithful to his contract. He is like the good man
described by the Psalmist,

" Who to his plighted vows and trust

Hath ever firmly stood ;
And though he promise to his loss,

He makes his promise good."

He would rather at any time rehnquish something
of his lawful rights, than engage in an irritating dis-
pute. He would rather be the object than the agent


in a dishonorable or fraudulent transaction. When
one told old Bishop Latimer that the cutler had coz-
ened him in making him pay two pence for a knife
not worth a penny, " No," said Latimer, ''he cozen-
ed not me, but his own conscience."

2. Again. The good merchant is not in haste to
be rich, observing that they who are so, are apt to
" fall into temptation and a snare," and often make
shipwreck of their honor and virtue. He pursues
commerce as his chosen calHng, his regular employ-
ment. He expects to continue in it long, perhaps all
his days, and is therefore content to make small
profits and accumulate slowly. When he first enter-
ed into business, he was determined not to be a
drudge, nor be chained to the desk hke a galley-
slave, nor make his counting-room his home. He
recollects that he is not merely a merchant, but a
man ; and that he has a mind to improve, a heart to
cultivate, and a character to form. He is therefore
resolved to have time to develope and store his in-
tellect, to exercise his social affections, and to enjoy
in moderation the innocent and rational pleasures of
life. He accordingly sets apart and consecrates a
portion of his time, his evenings at least, to be spent
at home, in the bosom of his family. He will not,
on any account, deny himself this relaxation ; he will
not, for any consideration, rob himself of this source
of improvement and happiness. He is willing, if need
be, to labor more years in order to obtain the de-


sired amount of wealth, provided he can improve
himself in the mean time, and enjoy hfe as he goes

3. The good merchant, though an enterprising
man, and wilhng to run some risks, knowing this to
be essential to success in commercial adventure, yet
is not wilhng to risk everything, nor put all on the
hazard of a single throw. He feels that he has no
right to do this — that it is morally wrong thus to put
in jeopardy his own peace and the comfort and pros-
pects of his family. Of course he engages in no wild
and visionary schemes, the results of which are alto-
gether uncertain, being based upon unreasonable ex-
pectations and improbable suppositions. He is par-
ticularly careful to embark in no speculation out of
his regular hue of business, and with the details of
which he is not familiar. He is aware, that although
he knows all about the cost of a ship, and can deter-
mine the quality and estimate the value of a bale of
cotton, he is not a good judge of the worth of wild
lands, having had no experience therein. Accord-
ingly, he will have nothing to do with any bargains
of this sort, however promising they may appear.
He will not take a leap in the dark, nor purchase
upon the representations of others, who may be in-
terested in the sale ; — fearing lest what is described
to him as a well-timbered township may turn out to
be a barren waste, and what appears, on paper, a
level and well-watered district, may be found, on


inspection, a steep and stony mountain, of no value
whatever. He therefore deems it safest for him to
keep clear of these grand speculations, and to attend,
quietly and regularly, to his own business. Above
all, he makes it a matter of conscience not to risk
in hazardous enterprises the property of others in-
trusted to his keeping.

The good merchant, having thus acquired a com-
petency, and perhaps amassed a fortune, is liberal in
dispensing his wealth.

1 . At the outset, he is careful to indulge in no ex-
travagance, and to live within his means, the neglect
of which precaution he finds involves so many in fail-
ure and ruin. Simple in his manners, and unosten-
tatious in his habits of life, he abstains from all frivo-
lous and foolish expenditures. At the same time, he
is not niggardly nor mean. On the contrary, he is
liberal in the whole arrangement of his household,
where everything is for use and comfort, and nothing
for ostentation and display. Whatever will contri-
bute to the improvement and welfare of his family, or
whatever will gratify their innocent tastes, be it
books, or engravings, or pictures, he obtains, if within
his means, though it cost much ; knowing that at
the same time he may foster the genius and reward
the labors of our native authors and artists, an esti-
mable class of men, whose works reflect honor upon
their country, and who consequently merit the pa-
tronage of the community. But whatever is intend-


ed for mere parade and vain show, he will have none
of, though it cost nothinfif. He thinks it wise and
good economy to spend a great deal of money, if he
can afford it, to render home attractive, and to make
his children wise, virtuous and happy. Above all,
he never grudges what is paid to the faithful school-
master for their intellectual and moral training ; for
a good education he deems above all price.

2. Having thus liberally provided for all the wants
of his household, the good merchant remembers and
cares for all who are related to him, and who may in
any way stand in need of his aid. And this aid is
administered in the most kind and delicate manner.
He does not wait to be solicited ; he will not stop to
be thanked. He anticipates their wishes, and by a
secret and silent bounty removes the painful sense
of dependence and obhgation. He feels it a pleas-
ure as well as a duty, to help them ; he claims it as
his privilege to do good unto his brethren. He would
feel ashamed to have his needy relatives relieved by
public charity or private alms.

3. But our good merchant feels that he has duties,
not only to his immediate relatives and friends, but to
a larger family, the community in which he lives.
He is deeply interested in its virtue and happiness,
and feels bound to contribute his full share to the es-
tablishment and support of all good institutions, par-
ticularly the institutions of learning, humanity, and
rehgion. He is led to this by the expansive and lib-


eralizing spirit of his calling. It is, unfortunately,
the tendency of some occupations to narrow the
mind and contract the heart. The mere division of


Online LibraryAlexander YoungThe good merchant : a discourse occasioned by the death of William Parsons, esq., delivered in the church on Church green, March 26, 1837 → online text (page 1 of 2)