A Dry-Goods Jobber in 1861

WHAT is a dry-goods jobber? No wonder you ask. You have been hunting, perhaps, for our peripatetic post-office, and have stumbled upon Milk Street and Devonshire Street and Franklin Street. You are almost ready to believe in the lamp of Aladdin, that could build palaces in a night. Looking up to the stately and costly structures which have usurped the place of once familiar dwellings, and learning that they are, for the most part, tenanted by dry-goods jobbers, you feel that for such huge results there must needs be an adequate cause, and so you ask, What is a dry-goods jobber?

It is more than a curious question. For parents desirous of finding their true sphere for promising and for unpromising sons, it is eminently a practical question. It is a question comprehensive of dollars and cents,—also of bones and sinews, of muscles, nerves, and brains, of headache, heartache, and the cyclopaedia of being, doing, and enduring. An adequate answer to such a question must needs ask your indulgence, for it cannot be condensed into a very few words.

A dry-goods jobber is a wholesale buyer and seller, for cash or for approved credit, of all manner of goods, wares, and materials, large and small, coarse and fine, foreign and domestic, which pertain to the clothing, convenience, and garnishing, by night and by day, of men, women, and children: from a button to a blanket; from a calico to a carpet; from stockings to a head-dress; from an inside handkerchief to a waterproof; from a piece of tape to a thousand bales of shirtings; not forgetting linen, silk, or woollen fabrics, for drapery or upholstery, for bed or table, including hundreds of items which time would fail me to recite. All these the dry-goods jobber provides for his customer, the retailer, who in his turn will dispense them to the consumer.

A really competent and successful drygoods jobber, in the year of grace, one thousand, eight hundred and sixty-one, is a new creation. He is begotten of the times. Of him, as truly as of the poet, and with yet more emphasis, it must he said, He is born, not made. He is a poet, a philosopher, an artist, an engineer, a military commander, an advocate, an attorney, a financier, a steam-engine, a telegraphoperator, a servant-of-all-work, a Job, a Hercules, and a Bonaparte, rolled into one.

“ Exaggeration ! ” do you say ? Not at all. — You asked for information ? You shall have it, to your heart’s content.

To a youth, tor a time interrupted in his preparation for college, I said,—

Never mind; this falls in exactly with my well-considered plan. You shall go into a dry-goods store till your eyes recover strength ; it will be the best year’s schooling of your life.

“ How so ?” was the dubious answer; “ what can I learn there ? ”

Learn ? Everything,— common sense included, which is generally excluded from the University curriculum : for example, time, place, quantity, and the worth of each. You shall learn length, breadth, and thickness; hard and soft; pieces and yards ; dozens and the fractions thereof; order and confusion, cleanliness and dirt,— to love the one and hate the other; materials, colors, and shades of color ; patience, manners, decency in general; system and method, and the relation these sustain to independence ; in short, that there is a vast deal more out of books than in books; and, finally, that the man who knows only what is in books is generally a lump of conceit, and of about as much weight in the scales of actual life as the ashes of the Alexandrian library, or the worms in any parchments that may have survived that conflagration.

“ Whew ! ” was his ejaculation ; “ I didn’t know there was so much.”

I dare say not. Most of your limited days have passed under the training of men who are in the like predicament,—whose notion of the chief end of man is, to convert lively boys into thick dictionaries, — and who honestly believe that the chief want of the age is your walking dictionary. Any other type of humanity, they tell us, “ won’t pay.” Much they know of what will and what won’t pay! This comes of partial education,— of one-sided, of warped, and biased education. It puts one out of patience, this arrogance of the University, this presuming upon the ignorance of the million, this assertion of an indispensable necessity to make the boy of the nineteenth century a mere expert in some subdivision of one of the sciences. The obstinacy of an hereditary absolutism, which the world has outgrown, still lingers in our schools of learning. Let us admit the divine right of Science, admit the fitness of a limited number of our youth to become high-priests in her temple, but no divine right of fossil interpreters of Science to compel the entire generation to disembowel their sons and make of these living temples mere receptacles of Roman, Grecian, or Egyptian relics. We don’t believe that “mummy is medicinal,” the Arabian doctor Haly to the contrary notwithstanding. If it ever was, its day has gone by. Therefore let all sensible people pray for a Cromwell,— not to pull down University Science, but to set up the Commonwealth of Common Sense, to subordinate the former to the latter, and to proclaim an education for our own age and for its exigencies. Your drygoods jobber stands in violent contrast to your University man in the matter of practical adaptation. His knowledge is no affair of dried specimens, but every particle of it a living knowledge, ready, at a moment’s warning, for all or any of the demands of life.

You are perhaps thinking,—“Yes, that is supposable, because the lessons learned by the jobber are limited to the common affairs of daily life, are not prospective ; because, belonging only to the passing day, they are easily surveyed on all sides, and their full use realized at once; in short, a mere matter of buying and selling goods: a very inferior thing, as compared with the dignified and scholarly labors of the student.”

How mistaken this estimate is will appear, as we advance to something like a comprehensive survey of the dry-goods jobber’s sphere.

First, then, he is a buyer of all manner of goods, wares, and materials proper to his department in commerce. He is minutely informed in the history of raw materials. He knows the countries from which they come,—the adaptation of soils and climates to their raising,— the skill of the cultivators,—the shipping usages,— the effect of transportation by land and sea on raw materials, and on manufactured articles,—with all the mysteries of insurance allowances and usages, the debentures on exportation, and the duties on importation, in his own and in other lands. His forecast is taxed to the utmost, as to what may be the condition of his own market, six, twelve, or eighteen months from the time of ordering goods, both as to the quantity which may be in market, and as to the fashion, which is always changing,—and also as to the condition of his customers to pay for goods, which will often depend upon the fertility of the season. As respects home-purchases, he is compelled to learn, or to suffer for the want of knowing, that the difference between being a skilful, pleasant buyer and the opposite is a profit or loss of from five to seven and a half or ten per cent.,—or, in other words, the difference, oftentimes, between success and ruin, between comfort and discomfort, between being a welcome and a hated visitor, between being honored as an able merchant and contemned as a mean man or an unmitigated bore.

Is your curiosity piqued to know wherein buyers thus contrasted may differ ? They differ endlessly, like the faces you meet on the street. Thus, one man is born to an open, frank, friendly, and courteous manner; another is cold, reserved, and suspicious. One is prompt, hilarious, and provocative of every good feeling, whenever you chance to meet; the other is slow, morose, and fit to waken every dormant antipathy in your soul. An able buyer is, or becomes, observing to the last degree. He knows the slightest differences in quality and in style, and possesses an almost unerring taste,—knows the condition of the market,—knows every holder of the article he wants, and the lowest price of each. He knows the peculiarities of the seller, — his strong points and his weak points, his wisdom and his foibles, his very temperament, and how it is acted upon by his dinner or the want of it. He knows the estimate put upon his own note by that seller. He knows what his note will sell for in the street. He knows to a feather’s weight the influence of each of these items upon the mind of the seller of whom he wishes to make a purchase. Talk about diplomacy!—there’s not a man in any court in Europe who knows his position, his fulcrum, and his lever, and the use he can make of them, as this man knows. He can unravel any combination, penetrate any disguise, surmount any obstacle. Beyond all other men, he knows when to talk, and when to refrain from talking,— how to throw the burden of negotiation on the seller, — how to get the goods he wants at his own price, not, at his asking, but on the suggestion of the seller, prompted by his own politely obvious unwillingness to have the seller part with his merchandise at any price not entirely acceptable to himself.

The incompetent man, on the other hand, is presuming, exacting, and unfeeling. He not only desires, but asserts the desire, in the very teeth of the seller, to have something which that seller has predetermined that he shall not have. He fights a losing game from the start. He will probably begin by depreciating the goods which he knows, or should know, that the seller has reason to hold in high esteem. He will be likely enough to compare them to some other goods which he knows to be inferior. He will thus arouse a feeling of dislike, if not of anger, where his interest should teach him to conciliate and soothe ; and if he sometimes carry his point, his very victory is in effect a defeat, since it procures him an increased antipathy. This the judicious buyer never does. He repudiates, as a mere half-truth, and a relic of barbarism, the maxim, “ There is no friendship in trade.”

“ But,” you are asking, “ do only those succeed who are born to these extraordinary endowments ? And those who do succeed, are they, in fact, each and all of them, such ‘wonderfully capable men as you have described ? ”

If by success you mean mere money-making, it is not to be denied that some men do that by an instinct, little, if at all, superior to that of the dog who smells out a bone. There are exceptions to all rules ; and there are chances in all games, even in games of skill. Lord Timothy Dexter, as he is facetiously called, shipped warming-pans to the West Indies, in defiance of all geographical objections to the venture, and made money by the shipment,—not because warming-pans were wanted there, but because the natives mistook and used them tor molassesladles. It must be owned that a portion of the successful ones are lucky,—that a portion of them use the blunt weapon of an indomitable will, as an efficient substitute for the finer edge of that nice tact and good manners which they lack. Their very rudeness seems to commend them to the rude natures which confound refinement with trickery and assume that brutality must needs be honest.

But there are other things to be said of buying. The dry-goods jobber frequents the auction-room. If you have never seen a large sale of dry-goods at auction, you have missed one of the remarkable incidents of our day. You are not yet aware of how much an auctioneer and two or three hundred jobbers can do and endure in the short space of three hours. You must know that fifty or a hundred thousand dollars’ worth of goods may easily change owners in that time. You are not to dream of the leisurely way of disposing of somebody’s household-furniture or library, which characterizes the doings of one or two of our fellow-citizens who manage such matters within speaking distance of King’s Chapel: but are rather to picture to yourself a congregation of three hundred of the promptest men in our Atlantic cities, with a sprinkling of Westerners quite as wide awake for bargains, each of them having marked his catalogue ; an auctioneer who considers the sale of a hundred lots an hour his proper rôle, and who is able to see the lip, eye, or finger of the man whose note he covets, in spite of all sounds, signs, or opaque bodies. The man of unquiet nerves or of exacting lungs would do well to leave that arena to the hard-heads and cool-bloods who can pursue their aim and secure their interests undisturbed either by the fractional rat-a-tat-tat of the auctioneer’s “ Twentyseven af—naf—naf—naf,—who ’ll give me thirty ? ” or by the banter and comicalities which a humor-loving auctioneer will interject between these bird-notes, without changing his key, or arresting his sale a moment. If you would see the evidence of comprehensive and minute knowledge, of good taste, quick wit, sound judgment, and electrical decision, attend an auction-sale in New York some morning. There will be no lack of fun to season the solemnity of business, nor of the mixture of courtesy and selfishness usual in every gathering, whether for philanthropic, scientific, or commercial purposes. Many dry-goods jobbers will attend the sale with no intention of Inlying, but simply to note the prices obtained, and, having traced the goods to their owners, to get the same in better order and on better terms; the commission paid to the auctioneer being divided, or wholly conceded by the seller to the buyer, according to his estimate of the note.

A dry-goods buyer will sometimes spend a month in New York, the first third or half of which he will devote to ascertaining what goods are in the market, and what are to arrive ; also to learning the mood of the English, French, and Germans who hold the largest stocks. Sometimes these gentlemen will make an early trial of their goods at auction. Unsatisfactory results will rouse their phlegm or fire, and they declare they will not send another piece of goods to auction, come what may. For local or temporary reasons, buyers sometimes persist in holding back till the season is so far advanced that the foreign gentlemen become alarmed. Their credits in London, Paris, and Amsterdam are running out; they are anxious to make remittances; and then ensues one of those dry-goods panics so characteristic of New York and its mixed multitude; an avalanche of goods descends upon the auction-rooms, and prices drop ten, twenty, forty per cent., it may be, and the unlucky or short-sighted men who made early purchases are in desperate haste to run off their stocks before the market is irreparably broken down. Whether, therefore, to buy early or late, in large or in small quantities, at home or abroad, — are questions beset with difficulty. He who imports largely may land his goods in a bare market and reap a golden harvest, or in a market so glutted with goods that the large sums he counts out to pay the duties may be but a fraction of the loss he knows to be inevitable.

In addition to the problems belonging to time and place of purchasing, to quantities and prices, there is a host of other problems begotten of styles, of colors, of assortments, of texture and finish, of adaptation to one market or another. The profit on a case of goods is often sacrificed by the introduction or omission of one color or figure, the presence or absence of which makes the merchandise desirable or undesirable. Little less than omniscience will suffice to guard against the sometimes sudden, and often most unaccountable, freaks of fashion, whose fiat may doom a thing, in every respect admirably adapted to its intended use, to irretrievable condemnation and loss of value. And when you remember that the purchases of dry-goods must be made in very large quantities, from a month to six or even twelve months before the buyer can sell them, and that his sales are many times larger than his capital, and most of them on long credit, you have before you a combination of exigencies hardly to be paralleled elsewhere.

The crisis of 1857 brought a general collapse. Scores and scores of jobbers failed; very few dared to buy goods. Mills were compelled to run on short time, or to cease altogether. The country became bare of the common necessaries of life. In process of time trade rallied. Manufacturing recommenced ; orders for goods poured in; and for a twelvemonth and more the manufacturer has had it all his own way. His goods are all sold ahead, months ahead of his ability to manufacture. He makes his own price, and chooses his customer. This operates not unkindly on the jobbers who are wealthy and independent ; but for those who have but lately begun to mount the hill of difficulty, it offers one more impediment. For, to men who have a great many goods to sell, it is a matter of moment to secure the customers who can buy in large quantities, and whose notes will bring the money of banks or private capitalists as soon as offered. Against such buyers, men of limited means and of only average business-ability have but a poor chance. There will always he some articles of merchandise in the buying or selling of which they cannot compete.

When a financial crisis overtakes the community, we hear much and sharp censure of all speculation. Speculators, one and all, are forthwith consigned to an abyss of obloquy. The virtuous public outside of trade washes its hands of all participation in the iniquity. This same virtuous public knows very little of what it is talking about. What is speculation ? Shall we say, in brief and in general, that it consists in running risks, in taking extra-hazardous risks, on the chance of making unusually large profits? Is it that men have abandoned the careful ways of the fathers, and do not confine themselves to small stores, small stocks, and cash transactions? And do you know who it is that has compelled this change ? That same public who denounce speculation in one breath, and in the next clamor for goods at low prices, and force the jobber into large stores and large sales at small profits as the indispensable condition of his very existence.

Those who thus rail at speculation are, generally quite unaware that their own inexorable demand for goods at low prices is one of the principal efficient causes of that of which they complain. They do not know that the capacious maw of the insatiable public is yearly filled with millions on millions of shirtings and sheetings. and other articles of prime necessity, without one farthing of profit to the jobber. The outside world reason from the assumption, that the jobber might, but will not, avoid taking considerable risks. They do not consider, for they do not know, how entirely all is changed from the days and circumstances in which a very small business would suffice to maintain the merchant. They do not consider, that, an immense amount of goods being of compulsion sold without profit, a yet other huge amount must be so sold as to compensate for this. Nor do they consider that the possibility of doing this is often contingent upon the buyer’s carefully calculated probability of a rise in the article he is purchasing. Many a time is the jobber enabled and inclined to purchase largely only by the assurance that from the time of his purchase the price will be advanced.

The selling of dry-goods is another department in high art about which the ignorance of outsiders is ineffable. I was once asked, in the way of courtesy and good neighborhood, to call on a clergyman in our vicinity, — which I did. Desirous of doing his part in the matter of good fellowship and smooth conversation, he began thus : —

“Well, now, Mr. Smith, you know all about business : I suppose, if I were to go into a store to buy goods, nineteen men out of twenty would cheat me, if they could; wouldn't they?”

“No, Sir !” I answered, with a swelling of indignation at the injustice, a mingling of pity for the: ignorance, and a foreboding of small benefit from the preaching of a minister of the gospel who knew so little of the world he lived in. “ No, Sir; nineteen men in twenty would not cheat you, if they could ; for the best of all reasons, — it would be dead against their own interest.”

Not a day passes but the question is asked by our youths who are being initiated in the routine of selling goods,— “ Is this honest? Is that honest ? Is it honest to mark your goods as costing more than they do cost ? Is it honest to ask one man more than you ask another ? Ought not the same price to be named to every buyer? Isn't it cheating to get twenty-five per cent, profit ? Can a man sell goods without lying ? Are men compelled to lie and cheat a little in order to earn an honest living ? ” What is the reason that these questions will keep coining up ? That they can no more be laid than Banquo’s ghost ? Here are some of the reasons. First, and foremost, multitudes of young men, whose parents followed the plough, the loom, or the anvil, have taken it into their heads, that they will neither dig, hammer, nor ply the shuttle. To soil their hands with manual labor they cannot abide. The sphere of commerce looks to their longing eyes a better thing than lying down in green pastures, or than a peaceful life beside still waters, procured by laborious farming, or by any mechanical pursuit. Clean linen and stylish apparel are inseparably associated in their minds with an easy and elegant life, and so they pour into our cities, and the ranks of the merchants are filled, and over-filled, many times. Once, the merchant had only to procure an inviting stock, and his goods sold themselves. Undid not go after customers ; they came to him ; and it was a matter of favor to them to supply their wants. Now, all that is changed. There are many more merchants than are needed ; buyers are in request ; and buyers whose credit is the best, to a very great extent, dictate the prices at which they will buy. The question is no longer, How large a profit can I get ? but, How small a profit shall I accept ? The competition for customers is so fierce that the seller hardly dares ask any profit, for fear his more anxious neighbor will undersell him. In order to attract customers, one thing after another has been made “ a leading article,” a bait to be offered at cost or even less than cost,— that being oftentimes the condition on which alone the purchaser will make a beginning of buying.

“Jenkins,” cried an anxious seller, “ you don’t buy anything of me, and I can sell you as cheap as any. Here ’s a bale of sheetings now, at eight cents, will do you good.”

“ How many have you got ? ”

“ Oh, plenty.”

“ Well, how many ? ”

“ Fifteen bales.”

“ Well, I ’ll take them.”

“ Come in and buy something more.”

“ No, nothing more to-day.”

There was a loss of seventy-five dollars, and he did not dare buy more.

It will be obvious that the selling a part of one’s goods at less than cost enhances the necessity of getting a profit on the rest. But how to do this, under the sharp scrutiny of a buyer who knows that his own success, not to say his very existence, depends upon his paying no profit possible to be avoided,—no profit, at all events, not certainly paid by some sharp neighbor who is competing with him for the same trade?

“ But is there anything in all this,” you are asking, “to preclude the jobber’s telling the truth ?” Nothing. “ Anything to preclude strict honesty ? ” Nothing. “ Why, then, do the questions you have quoted continually recur ? ”

I answer: In order to get his share of the best custom in his line, the dry-goods jobber has taken a store in the best position in town, at a rent of from three to fifty thousand dollars a year; has hired men and boys at all prices, from fifty dollars to five thousand,—and enough of these to result in an aggregate of from five to fifty thousand dollars a year for help, without which his business cannot be done. Add to this the usual average for store-expenses of every name, and for the family-expenses of two, five, or seven partners, and you find a dry-goods firm under the necessity of getting out of their year’s sales somewhere from fifteen to a hundred and fifty thousand dollars profit, before they shall have saved one cent to meet the losses of an unfavorable season. Now, though there is nothing even in all these urgencies to justify a single lie or fraud, there is much to sharpen a man's wits to secure the sale of his goods,— much to educate him in all manner of expedients to baffle the inquiries of customers who would be offended, if they could discover that he ever charged them the profit without which he could never meet his expenses. And the jobber’s problem is complicated by the folly, universally prevalent among buyers, of expecting some partiality or peculiarity of favor over their neighbors who are just as good as themselves. Every dry-goods jobber knows that his customer’s foolish hope and expectation often demand three absurdities of him : first, the assurance that he has the advantage over all other jobbers in a better stock of goods, better bought; secondly, that he has a peculiar friendship for himself; and thirdly, that, though of other men he must needs get a profit, in his special instance he shall ask little or none ; and that, such is his regard for him, it is a matter of no moment whether he live in Lowell or Louisiana, in New Bedford or Nebraska, or whether he pay New England bank-notes within thirty days, or wild-cat money and wild lands, which may be converted into cash, with more or less expense and loss, somewhere between nine months and nineand-twenty years.

And yet the uninitiated " can’t understand how an honest merchant can have two prices for the same goods.” An honest man has but one price for the same goods, and that is the cash price. All outside of that is barter, — goods for notes. His first inquiry is, What is the market-value of the note offered ? True, he knows that many of the notes he takes cannot be sold at all; but he also knows that the notes he is willing to take will in the aggregate be guarantied by a reservation of one, two, or three per cent., and that the note of the particular applicant for credit will tend to swell or to diminish the rate ; and he cannot afford to exchange his goods for any note, except at a profit which will guaranty its payment when due,—which, in other words, will make the note equal in value to cash.

Now it is just because all business-contingencies cannot be worked into an unvarying form, as regular as the multiplication-table, and as plain to the apprehension of all men, that a vast amount of lying and of dishonesty is imputed, where it does not exist. Merchants are much like other men, — wise and unwise, farsighted and short-sighted, selfish and unselfish, honest and dishonest. But that they are as a class more dishonest than other men is so far from being true, that I much doubt if we should overstrain the matter, if we should affirm that they are the most honest class of men in the community. There is much in their training which contributes directly, and most efficiently, to this result. Their very first lessons are in feet and inches, in pounds and ounces, in exact calculations, in accounts and balances. Carelessness, mistakes, inaccuracies, they are made to understand, are unpardonable sins. The boy who goes into a store learns, for the first time, that half a cent, a quarter of a cent, an eighth of a cent, may be a matter of the gravest import. He finds a thorough book-keeper absolutely refusing himself rest till he has detected an error of ten cents in a business of six months. And every day’s experience enforces the lesson. It is giving what is due, and claiming what is due, from year’s end to year’s end. Among merchants it is matter of common notoriety, that the prompt and exact adherence to orders insisted on by merchants, and prompt advice of receipt of business and of progress, cannot be expected from our worthy brethren at the bar. (The few honorable exceptions are respectfully informed that they are not referred to.) We do not expect them to weigh or measure the needless annoyance to which they often subject us, because they have never been, like ourselves, trained to the use of weights and measures ; and therefore we are not willing to stigmatize them as dishonest, though they do, in fact, often steal our time and strength and patience, by withholding an answer to a business-letter.

None but those who are in the business know the assiduous attention with which the dry-goods jobber follows up his customers. None but they know the urgent necessity of doing this. The jobber may have travelled a thousand miles to make his customer’s acquaintance, and to prevail upon him to come to Boston to make his purchases ; and some neighbor, who boards at the hotel he happens to make his resting-place, lights upon him, shows him attention, tempts him with bargains not to be refused, prevails upon him to make the bulk of his purchases of him, before his first acquaintance even hears of his arrival. To guard against disappointments such as this, the jobber sends his salesmen to live at hotels, haunts the hotels himself, studies the hotel-register far more assiduously than he can study his own comfort, or the comfort of his wife and children. Of one such jobber it was said, facetiously, — “He goes the round of all the hotels every morning with a lantern, to wake up his customers.” I had an errand one day at noon to such a devotee. Inquiring for him in the counting-room, I was told by his book-keeper to follow the stairs to the top of the store, and I should find him. I mounted flight after flight to the attic, and there I found, not only the man, but also one or two of his customers, surrounding a huge packing-case, upon which they had extemporized a dinner, cold turkey and tongue, and other edibles, taken standing, with plenty of fun for a dessert. The next time we happened to meet, I said,— “ So you take not only time, but also customers, by the forelock! ”

“Yes, to be sure,” was his answer; “let ’em go to their hotel to dinner in the middle of a bill, and somebody lights upon ’em, and carries ’em off to buy elsewhere ; or they begin to remember that it is a long way home, feel homesick, slip off to New York as being so far on the way, and that’s the last you see of ’em. No, we ’re bound to see ’em through, and no let-up till they ’ve bought all they ’ve got on their memorandum.”

We have not yet touched the question of credit. To whom shall the jobber sell his goods ? It is the question of questions. Many a man who has bought well, who in other respects has sold well, who possessed all the characteristics which recommend a man to the confidence and to the good-will of his fellows, has made shipwreck of his fortunes because of his inability to meet this question. He sold his goods to men who never paid him. To say that in this the most successful jobbers are governed by an instinct, by an intuitive conviction which is superior to all rules of judgment, would be to allege what it would be difficult to prove. It would be less difficult to maintain that every competent merchant, however unconscious of the fact, has a standard of judgment by which he tries each applicant for credit. There are characteristics of men who can safely be credited, entirely familiar to his thoughts. He looks upon the man and instantly feels that he is or is not the man for him. He thinks his decision an instinct, or an intuition, because, through much practice, these mental operations have become so rapid as to defy analysis. Not being infallible, he sometimes mistakes; and when he so mistakes, he will be sure to say,—I made that loss because I relied too much upon this characteristic, or because I did not allow its proper weight to the absence of some other,—because I thought his shrewdness or his honesty, his enterprise or his economy, would save him: implying that he had observed some non-conformity to his standard, but had relied upon some excellency in excess to make up for it.

What are the perplexities which beset the question, To whom shall the jobber sell his goods ? They are manifold ; and some of them are peculiar to our country. Our territory is very extensive; our population very heterogeneous ; the economy and close calculation which recommend a man in Massachusetts may discredit him in Louisiana. The very countenance is often a sure indication of character and of capacity, when it is one of a class and a region whose peculiarities we thoroughly understand ; but coming to us from other classes and regions, we are often at fault,—more especially in these latter days, when all strongmindedness is presumed to be foreshadowed in a still beard. Time was when something could be inferred from a lip, a mouth, a chin, — when character could be found in the contour and color of a check ; but that time has passed. The time was, when, among a homogeneous people, a few time-honored characteristics were both relied on and insisted on: for example, good parentage, good moral character, a thorough training, and superior capacity, joined to industry, economy, sound judgment, and good manners. But Young America has learned to make light of some of these, and to dispense altogether with others of them.

Once the buyer was required to prove himself an honest, worthy, and capable man. If he wanted credit, he must humbly sue for it, and prove himself deserving of it; and no man thought of applying for it who was not prepared to furnish irrefragable evidence. Once, a reference to some respectable acquaintance would serve the purpose; and neighbors held themselves bound to tell all they knew. The increase of merchants, and fierce competition for customers, have changed this. Men now regard their knowledge of other men as a part of their capital or stock-in-trade. Their knowledge has been acquired at much cost of labor and money; and they hold themselves absolved from all obligation to give away what they have thus expensively acquired. Moreover, their confidence has sometimes been betrayed, and their free communications have been remorselessly used to their disadvantage. Alas, it cannot be denied that even dry-goods jobbers, with all their extraordinary endowments, are not quite perfect! for some of them will “ state the thing that is not,” and others “convey” their neighbor’s property hi to their own coffers: men who prefer gain to godliness, and mistake much money for respectability.

There are very few men, in Certain sections of the country, who will absolutely refuse to give a letter of introduction to a neighbor on the simple ground of ill-desert. Men dread the ill-will of their neighbor, and particularly the illwill of an unscrupulous neighbor; so, when such a neighbor asks a letter, they give it. I remember such a one bringing a dozen or more letters, some of which contained the highest commendation. The writer of one of these letters sent a private note, through the mail, warning one of the persons addressed against the bearer of his own commendatory letter. Those who had no warning sold, and lost. It would be difficult to find a man, however unworthy, who could not, from some quarter, obtain a very respectable letter of introduction. One of the greatest rogues that ever came to Boston brought letters from two of the foremost houses in New York to two firms second to none in Boston. Neither of these gentlemen was in fault in the matter; the train had been laid by some obliging cousin in a banking-house in London.

In making up our account of the difficulties with which a dry-goods jobber has to deal, in conducting a successful business, it must be distinctly stated, that on no man can he count for information which will, however remotely or slightly, compromise the interest of the one inquired of. Never, perhaps, was it so true as now, that “the seller has need of a hundred eyes.” The competent jobber uses his eyes first of all upon the person of the man who desires to buy of him. He questions him about himself, with such directness or indirectness as instinct and experience dictate. He learns to discriminate between the sensitiveness of the high-toned honest man and the sensitiveness of the rogue. Many men of each class are inclined to resent and resist the catechism. Strange as it may seem, the very men who would inexorably refuse a credit to those who should decline to answer their inquiries are the men most inclined to resent any inquiry about themselves. While they demand the fullest and most particular information from their customers, they wonder that others will not take them on their own estimate of themselves.

The jobber next directs his attention to the buyer's knowledge of goods: of their quality, their style, their worth in market, and their fitness for his own market; all of which will come to light, as he offers to his notice the various articles he has for sale. He will improve the opportunity to draw him out in general conversation, so guiding it as to touch many points of importance, and yet not so as to betray a want of confidence. He sounds him as to his knowledge of other merchants at home and in the city; takes the names of his references,— of several, if he can get them ; puts himself in communication with men who know him, both at his home and in the city. If he can harmonize the information derived from all these sources into a consistent and satisfactory whole, he will then do his utmost to secure his customer, both by selling him his goods at a profit so small that he need have little fear of any neighbor’s underselling him, and also by granting every possible accommodation as to the time and manner of payment.

A moderately thoughtful man will by this time begin to think the elements of toil and of perplexity already suggested sufficient for the time and strength of any man, and more than he would wish to undertake. But experience alone could teach him in how many ways indulged customers can and do manage to make the profit they pay so small, and the toil and vexation they occasion so great, that the jobber is often put upon weighing the question, Should I not be richer without them ? Thus, for example, some of them will affect to doubt that the jobber wishes to sell to them, and propose, as a test, that he shall let them have some choice article at the cost, or at less than the cost, now on one pretext, and now on another, — intimating an indisposition to buy, if they cannot be indulged in that one thing. If they carry their point, that exceptional price is thenceforth claimed as the rule. Another day the concession will he asked on something else ; and by extending this game so as to include a number of jobbers, these shrewd buyers will manage to lay in an assorted stock on which there will have been little or no profit to the sellers. To cap the climax of vexation, these persons will very probably come in, after not many days, and propose to cash their notes at double interest off. Only an official of the Inquisition could turn the thumb-screw so many times, and so remorselessly.

But we have yet to consider the collection of debts. The jobber who has not capital so ample as to buy only for cash is expected invariably to settle his purchases by giving his note, payable at bank on a fixed day. He pays it when due, or fails. Not so with his customers : multitudes of them shrink from giving a note payable; at bank, and some altogether refuse to do so. They wish to buy on open account; or to give a note to be paid at maturity, if convenient, — otherwise not. The number of really prompt and punctual men, as compared with those who are otherwise, is very small. The number of those who never fail is smaller still. The collection - laws are completely alike, probably, in no two States. Some of them appear to have been constructed for the accommodation, not of honest creditors, but of dishonest debtors. In others, they are such as to put each jobber in fear of every other,— a first attachment taking all the property, if the debt be large enough, leaving little or nothing, usually, for those who have been willing to give the debtor such indulgence as might enable him to pay in full, were it granted by all his creditors.

No jobber can open his letters in the morning in the certainty of finding no tidings of a failure. No jobber, leaving his breakfast-table, can assure his wife and children, sick or well, that he will dine or sup with them ; any one of a dozen railroad-trains may, for aught he knows, be sweeping him away to some remote point, to battle with the mischances ot trade, the misfortunes of honest men, or the knavery of rogues and the meshes of the law. Once in the cars, he casts his eye around in uneasy expectation of finding some one or more of his neighbors bound on the same errand. While yet peering over the seats in front of him, he is unpleasantly startled by a slap on the shoulder, and, “Ah, John! bound East? What ’s in the wind ? Any ducks in these days ? ” “Why,— yes, — no, — that is, I ’m going down along, — little uncertain how far, — depends on circumstances.” “So, so, — I see, — mum’s the word.” Well, neither is quite ready to trust the other, —neither quite ready to know the worst; so long as a blow is suspended, it may not fall ; and so, with desperate exertions, they change the subject, converse on things indifferent, — or subside into more or less moody meditations upon their respective chances and prospects.

Any jobber who has seen service will tell you stories without number of these vexatious experiences, sometimes dashed with the comical in no common measure. He will tell you of how they arrived at the last town on the railroad, some six or seven of them ; of how not a word had been lisped of their destination ; of the stampede from the railroad-station to the tavern ; of the spirited bids for horses and wagons; of the chop-fallen disappointment of the man for whom no vehicle remained ; of his steeple-chase a-bareback : and of their various successes with writs and officers, in their rush for the store of the delinquent debtor. Of three such Jehus, the story goes, that, two of them having bought the monopoly of the inside of the only vehicle, and, in so doing, as they thought, having utterly precluded any chance for the third, their dauntless competitor instantly mounted with the driver, commenced negotiations for the horse, which speedily resulted in a purchase, and thereupon detached the horse from the vehicle, drove on, and effected a first attachment, which secured his debt.

The occurrence of “ a bad year ” compels many a jobber to abandon his store and home for one, two, or three months together, and visit his customers scattered all over the land, to make collections. Then it is that the power of persuasion, it possessed, is brought into efficient use ; discrimination, too, is demanded ; good judgment, and power of combination. For a debt that cannot be paid in money may possibly be paid partly in money, or in merchandise of some sort, and in part secured ; and, among the securities offered, to choose those which will involve the least delay is generally no easy matter.

To those who, without experience, are commencing a jobbing-business, a capital of thirty, forty, or fifty thousand dollars seems an inexhaustible fund. Experience teaches that an incautious and unskilful man may easily bury even the largest of these sums in a single season. If not actually lost, it has in effect ceased to be capital, because it cannot be collected, and the notes he has taken are such as will not be discounted.

Success in the jobbing-business makes such demand on talent and capacity as outsiders seldom dream of. Half-a-dozen Secretaries of State, with a Governor and a President thrown in, would not suffice to constitute a first-class jobbingfirm. The general or special incompetence of these distinguished functionaries in their several spheres may probably he covered by the capacity of their subordinates. The President of these United States — of late years, at all events — is not supposed to be in a position to know whether the will is or is not “ a self-determining power.” But no jobbing-firm can thus cloak its deficiencies, or shirk its responsibilities. Goods must be bought, and sold, and paid for; and a master-spirit in each department, capable of penetrating to every particular, and of controlling every subordinate, cannot be dispensed with. He must know that every man to whom he delegates any portion of his work is competent and trustworthy. He must be able to feel that the thing which he deputes to each will be as surely and as faithfully done as though done by his own hand. No criticism is more common or more depreciatory than that “ Such a one will not succeed, because he has surrounded himself with incompetent men.”

It is much to be regretted that it cannot be said, that no man can succeed in the jobbing-business who is not a model of courtesy. Unhappily, our community has not yet reached that elevation. But this may with truth be affirmed, — that many a man fails for the want of courtesy, and for the want of that good-will to his fellows from which all real courtesy springs. There is small chance for any man to succeed who does not command his own spirit. There is no chance whatever for an indolent man ; and, in the long run, little or no chance for the dishonest man. The same must be said for the timid and for the rash man. Nor can we offer any encouragement to the intermittent man. From year’s end to year’s end, the dry-goods jobber finds himself necessitated to be studying his stock and his ledger. He knows, that, while men sleep, the enemy will be sowing tares. In his case, the flying moments are the enemy, and bad stock and bad debts are the tares. To weed out each of these is his unceasing care. And as both the one and the other are forever choking the streams of income which should supply the means of paying his own notes, his no less constant care is to provide such other conduits as shall insure him always a full basin at the bank. Nobody but a jobber can know the vexation of a jobber who cannot find money to cash his notes when they are beginning to be thrown into the market at a price a shade lower than his neighbor’s notes are sold at.

In conclusion, a few material facts should be stated.

As a general proposition, it is not to be denied, that those who are in haste to get rich will find in the dry-goods jobbing-business many temptations and snares into which one may easily fall. A young man who is not fortified by a faithful home-training, and by sound religious principle, will be likely enough to degenerate into a heartless moneymaker.

While the young man who has been well trained at home, who appreciates good manners, good morals, and good books, will derive immense advantage in acquiring that quick discernment, that intuitive apprehension of the rights and of the pleasure of others, and that nice tact, which characterize the highest style of merchants,—he who has not been thus prepared will be more than likely to mistake brusquerie for manliness, and brutality for the sublime of independence. As in a great house there are vessels unto honor and also unto dishonor, so in the purlieus of the dry-goods trade there are gentlemen who would honor and adorn any society, and also men whose manners would shame Hottentots, — whose language, innocent of all preference for Worcester or Webster, a terror to all decent ideas, like scarecrows in corn-fields, is dressed in the cast-off garments of the refuse of all classes.

Success in retailing does not necessarily quality a man to succeed in the dry-goods jobbing-business. The game is played on a much larger scale; it includes other chances, and demands other qualifications, natural and acquired. Instances are not wanting of men who, in the smaller towns, had made to themselves a name and acquired an honorable independence, sinking both capital and courage in their endeavors to manage the business of a city-jobber.

It should be well remembered, that, while it is not indispensable to success in the jobbing-business that each partner should be an expert in every department of the business, in buying, selling, collecting, paying, and book-keeping, it is absolutely necessary that each should be such in his own department, — and that the firm, as a unit, should include a completely competent man for each and every one of these departments. The lack of the qualities which are indispensable to any one of these may, and probably will, prove an abyss deep enough to ingulf the largest commercial ship afloat.

Finally, to avoid disappointment, the man who would embark in the dry-goods trade should make up his mind to meet every variety of experience known to mortals, and to he daunted by nothing, He will assuredly find fair winds and head winds, clear skies and cloudy skies, head seas and cross seas as well as stern seas. A wind that justifies studdingsails may change, without premonition, to a gale that will make ribbons of topsails and of storm-sails. The best crew afloat cannot preclude all casualties, or exclude sleepless nights and cohl sweats now and then ; but a quick eye, a cool head, a prompt hand, and indomitable perseverance will overcome almost all things.