Review of Daniel Defoe’s “The Complete English Tradesman”

The Complete English Tradesman: Defoe, Daniel: 9780862994648:  Books

This is an excellent sourcebook on the views held by businessmen in the 18th century. Defoe, you may know, was the author of what some consider the first novel, Robinson Crusoe (1719), which is about an English sailor who gets stranded on a desert island and has to learn how to survive. In that book, we see some of Defoe’s views come through, such as his Puritanism, work ethic, survivalism, self-defense, self-reliance, Bible study, and respecting the Sabbath day. But you can also see a degree of liberalism in him as well, as he allows for drinking alcohol, and smoking tobacco; and the commonly accepted master-slave relationship with “savages,” and the duty to teach them English, the Bible, and Christianity. He also pioneered business journalism, and recommends hearing “all the trading news…there he learns how to buy, and there he gets oftentimes opportunities to sell,” etc (p. 32) on a regular basis, to keep yourself up to date with the ever-changing business world. But in this passage he was not referring to reading business journals, although he pioneered the practice of publishing business news articles. At the time, the main way of getting business news as at “his shop or warehouse,” or working in his office. Although I work at home now, reading this passage made me subscribe to Forbes right away. Defoe attended a Puritan school–the Stoke Newington Presbyterian Academy led by Charles Morton–for the children of dissenters, along with his fellow classmate Samuel Wesley, the father of John Wesley. The unique thing about this book, when compared with the economic ethics of St. Antonino, Luther, Calvin, Perkins, Baxter, Steele, and Wesley, is that all of those men were academic theologians and clergymen. None of them were involved in the daily grind of business activity. Daniel Defoe, however, was personally involved in business every day of his life from the late 1600s to the early 1700s. His book is really the best for gaining wisdom from the firsthand experience of a Puritan businessman. Yes he was a writer, but that was only a hobby. Most of his time was involved in his various business activities as a merchant that traded goods like stockings, oysters, and wool. He once became an agent for marine insurance, but it made him go into such debt that it rendered him bankrupt, probably from the chargebacks aimed at him, once a few of his clients cancelled their policies. The main pitfall of being an insurance agent! After that, he became an accountant; then a trustee for the royal lottery; and then after that, he tried to manufacture bricks, which was successful for awhile until at the age of 42, he decided to publish The Shortest Way with Dissenters (1702), which got him pulled into a defamation lawsuit, accused of libel against the Church of England, put into a pillory, and then prison, which caused his brick works to fail and drove his family into poverty (The Complete English Tradesman, iii-iv).

Seeing that he was a Puritan husband, father of six, amateur theologian, economist, and businessman aquainted with risk, wins, and losses–I can’t think of a single book better than this one to instruct men of God to navigate the realities of the business world. Sure, the pastors that came before him had Biblical insights into economic ethics, but he had the one thing none of them had: plenty of business experience. It was published when he was 66 years old: and contains all the wisdom he gained from his career. If he were alive today, he would emphasize the need for careful bookkeeping and budgeting like small businesses often do with QuickBooks Online; writing clear, concise, and to the point business emails; to avoid working for men like Laban (Gen. 31); getting into a good internship after graduating from school; changing your job categories as many times as necessary, in order to find your niche, and establish yourself in a fixed calling (1 Cor. 7:20); that hard work makes a man rich (Prov. 10:4); that having more than one job is okay, so long as its not “too many irons in the fire,” and that the multitasking does not make you neglect one of your jobs; keeping your business off of online review websites like Glassdoor or Google My Business, so that people can’t attack your online business reputation; to always reply to negative critics with a mild, soft, smooth, and good temper; avoiding expensive friends and expensive living; that engagement and marriage should be done in a context of diligent business activity and frugal bookkeeping; that businessmen should make promises in a conditional manner, informing the person of any unforeseen circumstances, which may change the situation; to avoid lavish spending on an office; that a small business owner should force his wife and children to be acquainted with the family business, because this will provide security for them after he is gone; that owning a small business is a key to financial growth; and lastly, which is the one point I differ with him on the most–that of heavy reliance on business loans–which goes against Romans 13:8: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another.”

About Wesley Gospel is self-published in the spirit of John Wesley and the Reformers, as when they used the printing press. The truth of God won't be censored or suppressed!
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