A Turn For Business
( Originally Published 1851 )
Next to a thorough grounding in good principles, perhaps the thing most essential to success in life is a habit of communicating easily with the world. By entering readily into conversation with others, we not only acquire information by being admitted to the stores which men of various modes of thinking have amassed, and thereby gain an insight into the peculiarities of human character, but those persons into whose society we may be accidentally thrown are gratified to think that they have been able to afford instruction. Seeing that we appreciate their favorite subject, they conceive a high opinion of our penetration, and not unfrequently exert themselves wonderfully to promote our interests. Men in business, particularly, who have this happy turn of being able to slide as it were into discourse, and to throw it into that train which is best suited to the capacities and humors of others, are wonderfully indebted to it for the run of customers it entices to their shops. A stately, grave, or solemn manner, is very inappropriate in measuring stuffs by the yard; and though a man be penetrated by the deepest sense of gratitude, if his bow be stiff, and his countenance not of a relaxing cast, he makes not half so favorable an impression as another who may not perhaps be a more deserving person in the main, but has a more graceful method of acknowledging his obligations. It is astonishing, too, at how cheap a rate good will is to be purchased. An insinuating way of testifying satisfaction with the pleasantness of the weather, is often a very effectual way of extending popularity; it is regarded as an act of condescension when addressed to some, while with others it is received as the indication of a happy temperament, which is at all times attractive. A person who " has little to say," or, in other words, who does not deign to open his mouth except when it is indispensably necessary, never proves generally acceptable. You will hear such a one described as " a very good sort of man in his way;" but people rather avoid him. He has neither the talent of conversing in an amusing vein himself, nor of leading on others to do so; and they are only the arrantest babblers who are contented with an inanimate listener. I remember a striking example of the various fortune of two persons in the same profession, who happened to be of those different dispositions.
Two pedlers made their rounds in the same district of country. The one was a tall, thin man, with a swarthy complexion. Nothing could exceed this fellow's anxiety to obtain customers; his whole powers seemed to be directed to the means of disposing of his wares. He no sooner arrived at a farm-house than he broached the subject nearest his heart Any thing wanted in my line to-day?" He entered into a most unqualified eulogium on their excellency; they were all unequalled in fineness; he could sell them for what might be said to be absolutely nothing; and as for lasting, why, to take his word for it, they would wear forever. He chose the table where the light was most advantageous, proceeded immediately to undo the labyrinth of cord with which his goods were secured, and took the utmost pains to exhibit their whole glories to the eyes of the admiring rustics. If the farmer endeavored to elicit from him some information concerning the state of the crops in the places where he had been travelling, he could only afford a brief and unsatisfactory answer, but was sure to tack to the tail of it the recommendation of some piece of west of England cloth which he held in his hand ready displayed. Nay, if the hospitality of the good wife made him an offer of refreshment before he entered upon business, he most magnanimously, but unpedler-like, resisted the temptation to eat, animated by the still stronger desire to sell. There was no possibility of withdrawing him for a moment from his darling topic. To the master he said, Won't you buy a coat?"—to the mistress, " Won't you buy a shawl?"—to the servant girls, " Won't you buy a gown a-piece ? ' and he earnestly urged the cowherd to purchase a pair of garters, regardless of the notorious fact that the ragged urchin wore no stockings. But all his efforts were ineffectual; even his gaudiest ribbons could not melt the money out of a single female heart; and his vinegar aspect grew yet more meagre as he re-stored each article untouched to his package.
The rival of this unsuccessful solicitor of custom was a short, squat man, fair-haired and ruddy. He came in with a hearty salutation, and set down his pack in some corner, where, as he expressed him-self, it might be " out of the way." He then immediately abandoned himself to the full current of conversation, and gave a detail of every particular of news that was within his knowledge. He could tell the fariner every thing that he desired to know —what number of corn-stacks appeared in the barn-yards wherever he had been, and what quantity of grain still remained uncut or in shock, and he took time to enumerate the whole distinctly. He was equally well prepared in other departments of intelligence, and so fascinating was his gossip, that when the duties of any member of the family called them out of hearing, they were apt to linger so long, that the good wife declared he was a perfect offput to a' wark." This, however, was not meant to make him abate of his talkative humor; and neither did he: the whole budget was emptied first, and he received in turn the narratives of all and sundry. Then came the proposal from some of those whom he had gratified with his news, to " look what was in the pack." The goods were accordingly lugged from their place of concealment, and every one's hand was ready to pick out some necessary or some coveted piece of merchandise. The master discovered that, as he would be needing a suit ere long, it was as well to take it now. The mistress was just waiting for Thomas coming round to supply herself with a variety of articles, " for," quoth she " mony things are needit in a house " The servants exhorted each other to think whether they did not require something, for it was impossible to say when another opportunity of getting it might occur. The ell-wand was forthwith put into diligent requisition, the scissors snipped a. little bit of the selvage, and an adroit " screed " separated the various cloths from the rapidly diminishing webs. The corners of many chests gave up their carefully hoarded gains, with which cheap remnants were triumphantly secured. In the midst of this transfer of finery, the poor herd boy looked on with a countenance so wofully expressive of the fact that he had not a farthing to spend, that some one took compassion on him, and, having laid out a trifling sum, had the satisfaction of making him perfectly happy with the equivalent, flinging it into his unexpectant arms, and exclaiming, Here, callant, there's something for you !" What a multiplicity of pleasing emotions had this trader the tact of calling into exercise, all of them redounding tenfold to his own proper advantage! It was impossible to say whether he cultivated his powers of talk from forethought, as knowing that they would produce a crisis favorable to his own interests, or if he indulged in them because gossiping was con-genial to his own disposition. He had a sharp eye enough to what is called the main chance; but at the same time he did not possess that degree of intellectual depth, which we might expect to find in one who could calculate upon exciting the purchasing propensities by a method so indirect. Most probably, therefore, his success in business was more the result of an accidental cast of mind than of wisdom prepense, or any aptitude beyond common men for the arts of traffic, as considered by themselves.
Such, also, in most cases, is that talent which gets the name of " a fine turn for business." The possessor exerts his powers of pleasing, alike when engaged in the concerns of his profession, and in society when there is no object to serve but that of passing time agreeably. His engaging address is productive of commercial advantages, but it is not a thing acquired and brought into exercise solely for that end. Some people, no doubt, finding themselves to have a prepossessing manner, do employ it systematically to promote their views of business; but by far the greater number employ it because they have it, and without reference to the pecuniary profit that may accrue. The pecuniary profit, however, follows not the less as its consequence; and we have the satisfaction of seeing urbanity of manners almost uniformly rewarded by attaining to easy circumstances, while the man of a gruff unsocial humor has usually to maintain a hard struggle with fortune. The mere packing of knowledge into the heads of children is not the only thing required to insure their future respectability and happiness the qualities of the heart also demand the fostering care of the instructer; and since so much depends on their temper and behavior to those around them, parents cannot be too assiduous in the cultivation of affability, the possession of which virtue is the grand secret that confers " a fine turn for business."— Chambers' Edinburgh Journal.