« ForrigeFortsæt »
tions in life; and saw, for the first time, that true religion was no way incompatible with, or an enemy to, rational enjoyments. I now likewise began to read with great pleasure the rational and moderate divines of all denominations; and a year or two after, I began with metaphysics, in the intricate, though pleasing labyrinths of which I have occasionally since wandered, nor am I ever likely to find my way out. After this I did not long remain in Mr Wesley's society.
My new wife's attachment to books was a very fortunate circumstance for us both, not only as it was a perpetual source of rational amusement, but also as it tended to promote my trade. Her extreme love for books made her delight to be in the shop, so that she soon became perfectly acquainted with every part of it, and, as my stock increased, with other rooms where I kept books, and could readily get any article that was asked for. Accordingly, when I was out on business, my shop was well attended. This constant attention and good usage procured me many customers, and I soon perceived that I could sell double and treble the quantity of books if I had a larger stock. But how to enlarge it I knew not, except by slow degrees, as my profits should enable me; for as I was almost a stranger in London, I had but few acquaintances, and these few were not of the opulent sort. I also saw that the town abounded with cheats, swindlers, &c. who obtained money and other property under false pretences, of which the credulous were defrauded, which often prevented me from endeavouring to borrow, lest I should be suspected of having the same bad designs. I was several times so hard put to it for cash to purchase parcels of books which were offered to me, that I more than once pawned my watch and a suit of clothes, and twice I pawned some books for money to purchase others. In 1778 I was relieved from this pinched state of affairs, by entering into partnership with a worthy man, Mr John Dennis, who was possessed of some capital. This partnership existed two years, under the firm of J. Lackington and Company; and while it lasted, we issued a catalogue of our books, which included twelve thousand volumes. In 1780 the partnership was dissolved; and as Mr Dennis had more money in the concern than myself, he took my notes for what was deficient, which was a great favour done to me. We parted with great friendship, and I was left to pursue trade in my own way.
It was some time in the year 1780 when I resolved, from that period, to give no person whatever any credit. I was induced to make this resolution from various motives. I had observed that where credit was given, most bills were not paid within six months, many not within a twelvemonth, and some not within two years. Indeed many tradesmen have accounts of seven years' standing, and some bills are never paid. The losses sustained by the interest of money in long credits, and by those bills that were not paid at all; the inconveniences attending not having the ready money to lay out in trade to the best advantage, together with the great loss of time in keeping accounts and collecting debts, convinced me that, if I could but establish a ready-money business, without any exceptions, I should be enabled to sell every article very cheap—
"Let all the learned say all they can,
When I communicated my ideas on this subject to some of my acquaintances, I was much laughed at and ridiculed; and it was thought that I might as well attempt to rebuild the tower of Babel, as to establish a large business without giving credit. But notwithstanding this discouragement, I determined to make the experiment, and began by plainly marking in every book, feeing the title, the lowest price that I would take for it; which being much lower than the common market-prices, I not only retained my former customers, but soon increased their numbers. But it can scarcely be imagined what difficulties I encountered for several years together. I even sometimes thought of relinquishing this my favourite scheme altogether, as by it I was obliged to deny credit to my very acquaintance: I was also under the necessity of refusing it to the most respectable characters, as no exception was or now is made, not even in favour of nobility; my porters being strictly enjoined, by one general order, to bring back all books not previously paid for, except they receive the amount on delivery. Again, many in the country found it difficult to remit small sums that were under bankers' notes (which difficulty is now done away, as all postmasters receive small sums of money, and give drafts for the same on the post-office in London); and others, to whom I was a stranger, did not like to send the money first, as not knowing how I should treat them, and suspecting, by the price of the articles, there must certainly be some deception. Many, unacquainted with my plan of business, were much offended, until the advantages accruing to them from it were duly explained, when they very readily acceded to it. As to the anger of such, who, though they were acquainted with it, were still determined to deal on credit only, I considered that as of little consequence, from an opinion that some of them would have been as much enraged when their bills were sent in, had credit been given them.
I had also difficulties of another nature to encounter. When I first began to sell very cheap, many came to my shop prepossessed against my goods, and of course often saw faults where none existed; so that the best editions were, merely from prejudice, deemed very bad editions, and the best bindings said to be inferior workmanship, for no other reason but because I sold them so cheap; and I often received letters from the country to know if such and such articles were realty as I stated them in my catalogues, and if they really were the best editions, if really in calf, and really elegantly bound, with many other realties. I was afraid, for some years, that I should be really mad with vexation. But these letters of realties have for years happily ceased; and the public are now really and thoroughly convinced that I will not assert in my catalogues what is not really true. But imagine what I must have felt on hearing the very best of goods depreciated, on no other account whatever but because they were not charged at a higher price!
It is also worth observing that there were not wanting, among the booksellers, some who were mean enough to assert that all my books were bound in sheep; and many other unmanly artifices were practised; all of which, so far from injuring me, as basely intended, turned to my account; for when gentlemen were brought to my shop by their friends to purchase some trifling article, or were led into it by curiosity, they were often very much surprised to see many thousands of volumes in elegant and superb bindings. The natural conclusion was, that if I had not held forth to the public better terms than others, I should not have been so much envied and misrepresented.
"To Malice, sure, I'm much obliged,
So that, whether I am righteous or not, all these afflictions have worked together for my good. But my temporal salvation was not effected without " conditions." As every envious transaction was to me an additional spur to exertion, I am therefore not a little indebted to Messrs Envy, Detraction, and Co., for my present prosperity; though I can safely say this is the only debt I am determined not to pay.
In the first three years after I refused to give credit to any person, my business increased much; and as the whole of my profit, after paying all expenses, was laid out in books, my stock was continually enlarged, so that my catalogues in the year 1784 were very much augmented in size. The first contained twelve thousand, and the second thirty thousand volumes. This increase was not merely in numbers, but also in value, as a very great part of these volumes was better; that is, books of a higher price.
When I was first initiated into the various manoeuvres practised by booksellers, I found it customary among them (which practice still continues), that when any books had not gone off so rapidly as expected, or so fast as to pay for keeping them in store, they would put what remained of such articles into private sales, where only booksellers are admitted, and of them only such as were invited by having a catalogue sent them. At one of these sales I have frequently seen seventy or eighty thousand volumes sold after dinner, including books of every description, good, bad, and indifferent: by this means they were distributed through the trade.
When first invited to these trade-sales, I was very much surprised to learn that it was common for such as purchased remainders to destroy one-half or three-fourths of such books, and to charge the full publication price, or nearly that, for such as they kept on hand; and there was a kind of standing order amongst the trade, that in case any one was known to sell articles under the publication price, such a person was to be excluded from trade-sales; so blind were copyright-holders to their own interest.
For a short time I cautiously complied with this custom; but I soon began to reflect that many of these books so destroyed possessed much merit, and only wanted to be better known; and that, if others were not worth six shillings, they were worth three, or two, and so in proportion, for higher or lower-priced books. From that time I resolved not to destroy any books that were worth saving, but to sell them off at half, or a quarter, of the publication prices. By selling them in this cheap manner, I have disposed of many hundred thousand volumes, many thousands of which have been intrinsically worth their original prices—greatly of course to the dissatisfaction of the trade.
It may be supposed I could not carry on this large business, in which I had frequently to write catalogues, without some knowledge of literature. This knowledge I gained by dint of application. I read extensively in all branches of literature; and ire order to obtain some ideas in astronomy, geography, electricity, pneumatics, &c. I attended a few lectures given by the eminent Mr Ferguson, the very ingenious Mr Walker, and others; and for some time several gentlemen spent two or three evenings in a week at my house, for the purpose of improvement in science. At these meetings we made the best use of our time with globes, telescopes, microscopes, electrical machines, air-pumps, air-guns, and other philosophical instruments.
My thirst was, and still is, so great for literature, that I could almost subscribe to the opinions of Herillus the philosopher, who placed in learning the sovereign good, and maintained that it was alone sufficient to make us wise and happy. Others have. said that " learning is the mother of all virtue, and that vice is produced from ignorance."' Although that is not strictly true, yet I cannot help regretting the disadvantages I labour under by having been deprived of the benefits of an early education, as it is a loss that can scarcely be repaired in any situation. How much more difficult, then, was it for me to attain any degree of proficiency, when involved in the concerns of a large business!
"Without a genius, learning soars in vain.
To reading and study I added a gradually-increasing knowledge of mankind, for which I know of no school equal to a bookseller's shop. A bookseller who has any taste for literature, may be said to feed his mind as cooks and butchers' wives get fat by the smell of meat. If the master is of an inquisitive and communicative turn, and is in a considerable line of business, his shop will then be a place of resort for persons of various nations, and of various capacities and dispositions. To talk to these different inquirers after books has given me much pleasure and instruction, so that I have sometimes compared my shop to a stage.
In my progress from penury to wealth I had occasion to make many discoveries. I by and by found that lodging in town is not so healthy as it is in the country. Gay's lines were then repeated—
"Long in the noisy town Fve been immured,
The year after, my country lodging, by regular gradation, was transformed into a country-house; and in another year, the inconveniences attending a stage-coach were remedied by a chariot—
"My precious wife has ventured to declare,
For four years Upper Holloway was to me an elysium; then Surrey appeared unquestionably the most beautiful county in England, and Upper Merton the most rural village in Surrey; so now Merton is selected as the seat of occasional philosophical retirement. In these various improvements in my means and position, it was unpleasant to find that I was pursued with envy and malevolence; but I consoled myself with the observation of Dr Johnson, that " it is no less a proof of eminence to have many enemies than many friends." All sorts of stories injurious to my reputation were circulated by those who envied me my success. Whatever was said as to my means of attaining opulence, I can affirm that I found the whole of what I am possessed of in—small profits, bound by industry, and clasped by economy.
In conducting my business, I have ever kept an exact account of my profits and expenses, and regulated my mode of living accordingly. In 1791 the profits of my shop amounted to four thousand pounds, since which time they have yearly increased. My business being large, and branching into different departments, in 1793 I sold to Mr Robert Allan, who had been brought up in my shop, a fourth share of the business; and as the trade is constantly increasing, I suppose I shall be obliged to take another partner very soon; for we now sell more than one hundred thousand volumes annually. The time also approaches when I