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be honest and profitable work; the respectability of their characters and positions adds greatly to the confidence of the share-taking public. Why, it must be a respectable and bond fide concern; General So-and-so is on the Board," is a remark one often hears; but what if the individual in question has been himself deceived?
There is a certain class of men who, although they would not willingly or knowingly do, or be a party to, any dishonest or dishonorable action, are still to be blamed more or less for the manner in which the outside public is taken in by these swindling prospectuses, and induced to risk their money on what is almost certain to prove a dead loss to them. These are the gentlemen-retired civil servants, officers on half-pay, and others who are peers, or who can write themselves baronets, M.P.'s, or some other guarantee, so to speak, of a certain standing in society. Not, as we have said above, that there is with these persons the most remote idea that they are doing anything not straightforward. Their misfortune is that they are led to believe themselves men of business, and that they accept as gospel all that the promoter, who intends to make a catspaw of them, tells them. These individuals, although they may not be aware of the fact, are the cause of ruin to hundreds of people who have taken shares in this or that company, relying in a great measure on the names of those who are on the Board of Directors. If people in general could only be induced to reason on these as on other matters in the world, they would ask themselves, What can a nian who has passed twenty or thirty years of his life in India, or who has risen to the command of troops in the colonies or elsewhere, or who has vegetated in a country place in England, or who has spent the best part of his days in clubland in London-what can such a man know of the ins and outs of joint-stock company dealings, or of the artful manner in which these perfectly unscrupulous and cleverly trained professionals can make the worse appear the better reason? These directors, as has been said before, are most of them men of honor and of unsullied name; but they risk not a little of these attributes by
mixing themselves up in matters of which they are profoundly ignorant, and yet which involve great responsibilities; for there can be no doubt in the minds of all reasoning persons that the directors are, in a great measure, morally responsible for the ruin that the companies for which they in a manner vouch bring upon those who trust them. The archives of the India Office could tell many a tale of how many hardly earned pensions of civil and military servants are, and will be till those who ought to be the recipients are dead, paid over to solicitors for the purpose of satisfying liabilities incurred by honorable men who, being such themselves, have been too ready to believe others must be the same.
With companies of some years' standing and in working order it is, of course, different; a man may easily know or learn what he is about. But who can fathom the depth of ruin to which this craze for embarking in new concerns may lead? For one that succeeds, or that is really meant to succeed, how many are got up for the sole purpose of making money for the projector, and then fail, leaving the unfortunate shareholder to pay in pocket, and the directors to pay both in pocket and in good name, for the folly of which they have been guilty?
Of those who take shares in new companies it may be said that, if they used more care and discretion, there would not be so many cases of fraud in what Frenchmen would call "this particular industry.' Hardly a day passes in which one, and often three or four, long prospectuses appear in the principal papers, in which £1 shares in the companies being advertised are said to be worth two or three times what the public are asked to buy them for. If the majority of these are not barefaced attempts to raise money on false pretences, then surely no such offence exists at all. In comparison with some of the persons who gain their living by cheating the unwary in this way, welchers on a racecourse might shine as honest men. But the ruin of those who believe in them is, although the greatest, not the only, evil of which this phase of swindling, which has so increased and does still increase, is the cause. There are
many good undertakings which men with means would assist, were it not for the dread which exists of being swallowed up by these speculators, who are on the look-out for victims of whom they can make money.
It would no doubt form the subject of a very curious but extremely useful inquiry to investigate the subject of gold and other mines, and to find out how much money has been thrown away; how many silly but honest men have been ruined by these during the last few years; and how many rogues, who rejoice in the title of company promoters, have escaped the punishment due to them.
There can be little doubt that some steps must be taken to put a stop to an evil which is greatly on the increase, and which is reducing men, and with them their wives and families, to destitution and even beggary. As a rule, an Englishman dislikes and resents the interference of authority with his private affairs; but these dishonest joint-stock companies ought to-and with sensible people they do-form an exception.
To begin with, the Act itself, by which such companies are authorized, requires immediate reform in certain particulars. No company ought to be allowed to publish its prospectus until it has been thoroughly investigated by competent persons appointed for that purpose, and a certificate given that, in the slang of the day, it is all on the square. Again, no company ought to be allowed to commence business until it is proved that a certain amount of capital is not only subscribed, but paid up. In a very practical report by the Chamber of Commerce, it is suggested that not less than two-thirds of the capital should be paid up. Every company should from time to time, more particularly at the commencement of its career, be obliged to announce the actual capital it has in hand. Such rules would put a stop to bogus companies, and greatly tend to establishing bond fide schemes which at present are apt to be classed with the swindles of the day. Give me, said a company promoter to the present writer, a lord as chairman, a baronet, a couple of general officers, and an M. P. as directors, and a £5 note for a few luncheons at the outset, and I will float any company you
The objection to Government interference, which characterizes ourselves and equally our American cousins, is in itself praiseworthy, as it is the child of the spirit of independence. But the time has come when in this matter such interference is called for, and when it becomes the positive duty of our legislators to regulate and suppress, if possible, this greatly growing evil.
Latterly a novel method of inducing the public to take shares has been set on foot. Brokers who are members of the Stock Exchange are forbidden to advertise, but there is another class of the same calling who are free from such control, and can do what they like in this way.
Here are a couple of advertisements which have lately appeared in the daily papers. The names are altered, otherwise they are copied verbatim :
With such advertisements before them, the wonder is, not that so many persons risk their money in undertakings of this kind, but that all who can command, beg, borrow, or steal a £5 note do not invest in them. Whether the statements given above can or cannot be verified is not the question. But there are very few sober-minded people who will say that such attempts to induce people to speculate should be allowed to pass unchallenged.
There is one thing connected with joint-stock company swindles which causes no little surprise to all thinking people. How is it that, with the means of information possessed by the metropolitan press, not a single newspaper has taken up the subject in earnest, and exposed the rascality by which so many persons are being daily led on to ruin? To say nothing of other sources, where any journal may with ease find out which of the many prospectuses daily paraded before the public should and which should not be stigmatized as nothing less than so many endeavors to obtain money on false pretences, almost every London newspaper has on its staff one or more gentlemen whose special duty is to discuss all matters of finance, and who are invariably exceedingly well informed on the subject. When any attempt at swindling in other than the joint-stock company world takes place, the first to find out the offender and to denounce him to the world are the London newspapers; but one of the great est evils of the kind now known among us seems to be exempt from their censure. Englishmen are apt, and with good reason, to regard the press as honest and honorable, ready and anxious to advise their readers for the best, and to warn them of any harm; and it will be a bad day for the country when a contrary opinion prevails. But should the present state of affairs in financial matters continue, can we wonder if a feeling of distrust takes the place of what has hitherto been felt in this respect? If newspapers continue to publish day by day prospectuses which any one who inquires into the matter finds out to be frauds, the result must sooner or later be that the confidence in the honesty of the press must cease. Can we wonder if those who have been cheated by a bogus
affair, of which they learned the existence in the advertising columns of a respectable paper, arrive at the conclusion that money can do anything, and can induce even the London press to give publicity to what is perfectly well known to be a specious, swindling, false statement ?
Would any respectable paper allow a gambling establishment to be brought to the special notice of the public by means of its advertising columns? And if they would not do so, why permit in their columns that which brings about far more ruin to the unsuspecting public than any card or roulette table can do?
Fraudulent finance is a great evil; why it should be tolerated or ignored by those who have it in their power to render it harmless is surely a difficult social problem for our solution. Money works marvels, and it would almost seem as if a certain amount of profit is an excuse for turning a blind eye on what would be otherwise unhesitatingly condemned. Let us hope that all concerned, and more particularly the press, will see the mistake that has been made in affording even a tacit approval, or rather in re fraining from condemning in the plainest terms, a system which, besides ruining many, is making financial transactions a byword throughout Europe.
In the City
According to a time-honored saying, coming events cast their shadows before. If this holds good with regard to certain semi-mysterious advertisements which appeared in the papers during the months of October and November, a goodly number of wonderful gold mines will be placed before the British public between the present time and the close of the year. it is currently reported that no fewer than eight of these concerns will be shortly advertised; and if we are to believe the prospectuses that will be published, a fortune can be made in any one of them in a very few months. In addition to this there are speculations of every possible kind ready to come out in the shape of joint-stock companies (limited); and the only difficulty which those who have money will experience will be in selecting the company they. had better join.
There is another old proverb it might
mining boom" has come upon us with a vengeance. During the week ending November 20, no fewer than six new gold-mining companies, with a total capital of more than two millions sterling, were registered in London; and the total number of these concerns is now said to be four- or five-and-twenty. Those that have been lately floated are,, as a matter of course, still living. But of those gold-mining companies that were brought out before the present mania set in there are no
fewer than four that are either in liquidation or about to be wound up.* What the end of such a state of things will be it needs no great amount of experience to foretell. The chances at present are that we shall, ere the coming year is a couple of months old, witness more misery among the upper and middle classes in England than has been heard of for a very long time.
But what about those who take shares in
these speculations? Is there not yet time to rescue these people from ruin? The one only remedy for this wholesale attempt to get money out of others, is to allow no new joint-stock company to publish any prospectus unless the statements contained therein have been proved and verified by an official of the Board of Trade. -Gentleman's Magazine.
CONFEDERATION-THE SOLVENT OF THE EASTERN QUESTION.
BY GEORGE BADEN-POWELL.
THE abduction and abdication of Prince Alexander startled Western Europe into fresh anxiety as to the Eastern question, and led to a series of acts on the part of Russia which have had one great unintended effect. They have proved the existence of a deeprooted and widespread desire in the States of South-Eastern Europe for such united action as shall give them strength sufficient to keep themselves independent of all foreign domination.
If the matter is thought out, there seems no valid reason that the district of Europe which comprises Roumania, Servia, Bulgaria, Grecce, and what is left of European Turkey, with a warlike population approaching 20 million souls, must necessarily be a subject possession either of the Sultan or of the Czar. There is an obvious petitio principii in the argument that has lately been advanced, that because the Turk has steadily refused, what a strong and wise Government at Constantinople would have done, to promote the formation of strong independent Balkan States, therefore these States are to be first Russianized, and eventually absorbed by Russia.
A somewhat new school has arisen this summer in England, reviving the old argument that British interests have
*See Investors' Guardian, November 20.
nothing now to fear from the presence of Russia at Constantinople. But is it a fact that the Russian is the only alternative to the Turk? Certainly among the peoples of South-Eastern Europe this opinion does not hold its ground. We see that a newspaper is started in Bucharest, under the title of the The Confederation of the Balkan Nations, which will be edited by prominent authors from the three Danubian States, and will be printed in the Roumanian, Bulgarian, and Servian languages. There is a party in Bulgaria eager to persuade the Sobranje to elect King Milan of Roumania Prince of Bulgaria, as being a real step toward the union of these two States. And the feeling has already spread further. M. Philemon, the President of the Athens Municipal Council, was recently at Bucharest, and there addressed a letter to the Romanul," in which he said-" The Hellenic race can have no greater guarantee than that of having her frontiers on the north defended by a brave people, by a State well organized and jealous of its independence. This is said of Roumania, that did not enjoy independence until 1878. There is much more evidence of a similar kind, all pointing to a political rapprochement of all those quondam provinces of Turkey. These
* See Stock Exchange Year Book, 1886.
various peoples are eager individually to prevent all foreign interference in their affairs; and, collectively, they are possessed of the same determination. But they see that their individual desires can only be secured by collective action or union. They are in precisely reverse case to Canada or Australia. The five million Canadians know that their union with the British empire gives them absolute immunity from invasion or interference by the 60 millions in the United States. The three million Australians know that by their union with the British empire neither 36 million French nor 40 million Germans can violate or annex any portion of the soil of Australia. But the five millions in Roumania, the two millions in Servia, and the two millions in Bulgaria, are conscious that at any moment they may individually fall a prey to any of the great Powers. On the map Roumania resembles a mere hapless portion of the fringe of Russia, while Servia seems actually to belong to the Austrian empire; and with Russia at Varna, and Austria at Salonica, the hopes of these nationalities would be inevitably crushed. Yet there are in these anomalous States of South-Eastern Europe altogether ten million inhabitants, and already, on a war footing, they are capable of putting into the field a joint army of four hundred thousand men.
Roumania knows how she lay absolutely at the mercy of Russia in the Russo-Turkish war; and Servia has felt the spur of immigrant officers and soldiers, and experienced how rapidly Russian emissaries can supplant Servians in the control of affairs. These States are well aware of what has happened all along the ever-advancing Russian frontier. First of all, some Mohammedan province has its liberty and independence guaranteed. In a year or two it finds itself a province of Russia. the north of the Black Sea the Treaty of "Nissa" declares the two Kabarda districts liberated from the yoke of the foreigner by the magnanimous Czar. In the year 1774 these two districts are incorporated by Russia, by the Treaty of Kaimardji, which declares the Crimea to be liberated. In the year 1791 the Crimea becomes absorbed into Russia.
On the European side, however, this
State-grabbing" destiny of Russia has received a fatal check, --due to the action partly of the inhabitants themselves, and partly of interested foreign Governments. The spirit of defiant national independence has worked with effect in Servia and in Roumania, and is now rearing its head in Bulgaria; and it is a spirit which will be fostered and supported by the neighboring German Powers and also by the other European Powers.
Of these Danubian Principalities Mr. Freeman has written-" We see in them a transitional state of things, which diplomacy fondly believes to be an eternal settlement of an eternal question, but of which reason and history can say only that we know not what a day may bring forth." Strange indeed and startling, from time to time, have been the births of a day in this Eastern corner of Europe; and even now the air is surcharged with rumors of revolts and plots and wars, paralyzing in the extreme to all industrial and commercial advance.
And yet if we look beneath the surface of passing events we cannot fail to recognize two stormy and at times violent undercurrents. The one is that of Russian ambition. Turn where we will in the Balkan Peninsula, we find this undercurrent, steady and strong, ever setting in one definite direction. The power of the Turk is undermined by giving to his provinces, one after another, Home Rule, with the unvarying result that political separation immediately follows. Mr. Gladstone, curiously enough, avoided all reference to these cases when he told the House of Com
mons that the "last half-century is peculiarly rich in its experience of cases to show how practicable it is to bring into existence local autonomy, and yet not sacrifice but confirm imperial unity."
This undercurrent of political activity on the part of Russia is not of very old standing; and yet in half a century its results are visible in the fact that the greater part of what was European Turkey at the beginning of this century is now in the hands of Russia, or of quasi independent Powers. Successive grants of self-government to Roumania, Servia, and Bulgaria, we used to be told, were mere conduits for the desires and de