« VorigeDoorgaan »
tion. But it was another Scotchman, the had bis hotel; and his levées were crowded son of an Edinburgh goldsmith, who day after clay by nobles and ladies of the proved the grand magician of speculative highest quality. The heads of the great finance. Undoubtedly William Law en. hereditary houses of France had become joyed opportunities which must be the the courriers of the parvenu, and jostled envy of his ambitious modern imitators. each other in their obsequious servility. The materials his constructive genius Nor, although rank and position had their went to work upon were a lavish, embar- advantages in the way of securing preferrassed, and almost arbitrary court; a in applications, was there any jealous needy aristocracy that had pledged their exclusiveness of classes. Anybody who expectations beyond reasonable hope or had scraped together a handful of livres even possibility of redemption; and a could buy some scrap of the scrip in the trading class whose narrow notions of | open market. The purchase effected, the growing rich had been hitherto limited to gain was sure, for the inflated scrip was drudgery and economy. He appealed going up like a balloon. The Prince of alike to ihe shrewd, the half-educated, and Conti took advantage of the convenient the ignorant. The magnificent faith be situation of his hotel, and a Bourbon professed in the boundless resources of prince was seen hiring out booths in his credit made ready converts among states. gardens to vociferous stockbrokers at men who had ideas without information, fancy ground-rents; while a hunchback is and were only too eager to be dazzled by said to have done even a more ingenious golden illusions. Adventurer, gambler, stroke of business, by offering bis hump and enthusiast as he was, Law might have as a writing.desk to the mobs in the Rue been a sound though daring financier had Quincampoix. Nor was it only French he been gifted with greater discretion or treasury paper that was offered for sale. self-control. We may understand how in the Mississippi project, which was difficult it must have been, even for men affiliated to the credit schemes, Law anof judgment unguided by experience, to ticipated the idea of recent projectors who draw the line between the practical and have palmed American silver-mines on the fantastic in his programme, and to sanguine English investors. He had to resist the seductive sophistry of his elo deal with a public who were even more quence when it was apparently backed up ignorant of geography, if not more confidby tangible results. The prudent duke of ing. And so, on the faith of golden inSavoy listened, was tempted, and reluc- gots, falsely guaranteed as genuine by tantly held back. He had no objection to being displayed at the Bank of France, a offer to the specious arguments of the league of swamp or forest in Louisiana, projector, except that "he was not rich poisoned by fever and overrun by savages, enough to ruin himself." The more reck- came to sell readily for three thousand less regent Orleans could "plunge” with livres. Considering the novelty of the the Scottish projector with greater confi. whole idea, which based a lucrative jointdence. If he had not capital, he had what stock enterprise, with shares duly num. seemed to represent it, in his power of bered, allotted, and registered, on the wild issuing those peremptory decrees that dreams of such a delusive , El Dorado as created a spurious currency and opened had lured so many English adventurers to the State a fictitious credit. Had the to their ruin, it is difficult not to admire regent contented himself with moderate the magnificence of the swindle. The profits, his authority, with Law's ingenious inevitable day of reckoning came, when, audacity, might have made an excellent owing to the ingratitude of the great nothing of a temporary partnership. But it bles, whose avarice outstripped his libwas not in the nature of the brilliant erality, the enchanter's wand was to lose spendthrift to draw the stakes and realize, its virtue prematurely. A run for money so long as fortune befriended him. Be on the bank, originating in the malice of sides, excitable and impoverished Paris the Prince de Conti, precipitated panic had fairly lost its head; and it was easier and universal ruin ; while Law, who was to set such a ball rolling than to arrest it. with difficulty protected from the rabble, Then were witnessed such scenes of finan- disappeared ignominiously from the scene cial excitement as the world has never of his triumphis. We have dwelt at some seen before or since. There was a rush length on his career, because he was unto the Bank of France, to exchange gold doubtedly the greatest and most original and silver for empty promises. There of " city men;" although we must confess was a crush of escutcheoned carriages in that his dying poor, after all, leaves an the Rue Quincampoix, where the magician indelible stain on his reputation. It would
almost appear as if he had succeeded in famous mercantile firms; while we know, deluding himself-a sure indication of of course, that no big joint-stock company weakness. He left his realized capital has a chance of success without the counbehind him in France, having, actually tenance of the aristocracy. But above locked away a great part of it in landed all, there are moneyed houses of colossal property. Had he lived in our days, he means and connections, which form in would bave taken the obvious precaution themselves a select financial aristocracy, of insuring against misfortune in the with such an influence as no mere landed Dutch and English funds — if, after con- magnate could ever boast. It is true that sultation with the most eminent Parisian we can point to many a great nobleman jurists, he had deemed it unsafe to make or prelate in history who for the time has magnificent settlements on his wife. made himself practically omnipotent either
Speculation was a novelty in Law's by commanding gifts as a statesman or time, and great fortunes made in trade or by his obsequiousness as a court favorite. commerce were far from common. No But his influence, great as it may have doubt there were cases where some En- | been, has died with him, if circumstances glish merchant showed abilities and en did not put an end to it in his lifetime. ergy that carried him out of the beaten While such an ascendancy as that of the track, and many another great house be- Rothschilds, for example we make no side that of the De la Poles had been apologies for mentioning by name a fambuilt up upon dealings in the warehouse ily which has asserted an absolutely unique or over the counter. But it is singular position — is extended over all the world that trade had fallen out of favor with our without exception, and seems as solidly higher classes since the Wars of the established as anything can be in the preRoses and the reigns of the Yorkish carious conditions of mortal existence. princes, when members of the aristocracy The rise and progress of the Rothsand dignified churchmen, buying and sell- childs is certainly the most remarkable ing by accredited agents, had regular chapter in the personal romance of busi. business relations with French and Flem- ness. The old Judengasse of Frankfort, ings. Business had come to be held in though it has always teemed with shrewd contempt; the grandson of the trader, and scheming brains, never sent forth a who had possibly been ennobled, lived more quick-witted lad than the progeni. among the landed gentry, ignoring his tor of the line of mighty millionaires. mercantile origin; and the gentry, who Beginning as an errand-boy, we believe, might be envious, as they were certainly and raising himself steadily,- he made contemptuous, professed to hold money many losses as well as profits in his time; making in any shape as ignoble. They but he was never known to miss an opwould draw no nice distinctions between portunity. He possessed dash, prudence, the petty tradesman who lived over the and extraordinary calculating powers in shop, and the merchant who traded to the an almost perfectly balanced combination. Levant or the Indies with his argosies The pet of fortune, he never presumed floating upon every sea. So that even on her favors; and the troubled times in success in trade became a social disability. which his lot was cast, marvellously The wealthy son of the great Turkey served his extraordinary sagacity. Euhouse longed to cast his City slough, and rope was convulsed from one end to the shine in the circles his business closed to other, and the funds everywhere were him. But as his money was the surest rising and falling with the changing forcard he bad to play, where his father had tunes of successive campaigns. Rumor, been frugal he was apt to turn spend with its innumerable tongues, was min. thrift; or else he bought a high-born wife, gling truth with falsehood in almost inex. with the paternal gold, and made a fresh tricable confusion, and making the wildstart in life on the strength of his noble est forecasts of probabilities. At first connections. Now we have changed all Rothschild felt his way cautiously with that, though the process has been a grad- an extraordinary, tact. With constant ual one. The old social barriers have practice his tact developed into a genius been breached in so many places, that which seized the occasions for its exer. they may be said to be practically broken cise when less prudent men stood besidown. The younger sons of dukes and tating, and so missed the golden chance. marquises get a respectable living out of As his speculations turned steadily to cottons and sugars; peers of good de gains, he played his game with increasing scent, who may be Cabinet ministers as assurance, by securing exclusive and early well, are sleeping or active partners in information. When once a man can make
his game upon certainties, his gains are cumulations in the family, and making only to be measured by his credit. And the firm a close corporation ; while no the daring speculator's reputation for one of them seems to have been tempted probity kept pace with his financial suc- by the possession of unlimited means to
Never did a life better point the fritter away his time and talents in dissi. moral that honesty is the best policy, than pation. Nor are their habits of steady that of the original Rothschild. When application in any way surprising; for, half the princes of Europe were running setting aside their natural business apti. for their lives, to borrow Mr. Bright's tudes, the interest of such a connection kindly observation on the troubles of the as theirs must be almost inconceivable. Irish landlords, more than one of these Not only are they colossal financiers, but potentates, like the prince of Hesse, in necessarily cosmopolitan politicians on trusted the shrewd Hebrew with the treas- the grandest scale. Before now they ures they had to abandon. Though there have put their veto on a European war
no legal means of "checking his by closing their strong-boxes to an emintromissions,” he accounted for every peror's application. If funds are indisthing to the uttermost farthing. No doubt pensable to the regeneration of a strughe was richly paid by commission, as he gling country, and to the pleasant underdeserved to be; but his best reward was standing of the powers who are concerned in the character for integrity which has in its fortunes, it is the Rothschilds who been bequeathed to his representatives are appealed to for the necessary advance. and successors. Yet though Rothschild When once an appeal of the kind is made, was scrupulously upright in his dealings, they are very much masters of the delihe is said to have been formidable to re- caté situation. Should they decline for morselessness. He went ordinarily on any reason, when the refusal is published the principle of “Live and let live; nor minor capitalists are shy of entertaining was the leviathan known to have done proposals which are already prejudiced in any injury to the smaller fish who did not the opinion of the public. Should they wantonly interfere with him. But no as. accept, their very name launches the loan piring rival ever directed an attack on handsomely. So it is in a lesser degree him without having bitter cause to repent with mines, railways, land-schemes, or it. Tales are told of the fatal though anything else; for unlimited credit is an legitimate traps laid by the long-headed irresistible force, and money must necesold man as he stood under his favorite sarily breed money. So when the active pillar. For a brief season the course of members of the firm go on progresses ihe stock markets would seem to have abroad, they are fêted by princes of the turned against him, and the securities it bluest blood, in defiance of antiquated was his interest to “bull” would be hand-State ceremonial; while they drop into ed over to the mercies of the “bears." dinner in an off-hand way with the presiThe turn of the markets was only delu dents and past ministers of brand-new sive: when his adversaries were fairly republics. We may conceive the delicate involved at a considerable temporary sac- fattery paid to the omnipotent financier rifice, the many strings he pulled would by the host who is meditating on future mysteriously tighten, and the exulting loans for the schemes that are associated gang of enemies would be “cornered* with his dearest ambitions. Nor is it and crushed.
merely on such a magnificent scale that Bon chien chasse de race; and it is re- the Rothschilds carry on their lucrative markable how the heirs of the family have business. The avowed establishments of taken after their founder. Their Jewish the great firm are the head-centres of inblood may have had something to do with numerable ramifications. From Hamit, and the pride of a position absolutely burg to the Havanna, from San Francisco unique. Baron James, who died the other to the Spice Islands, we understand there day in middle age, was one of the rare are leading local firms which in reality exceptions. He loved the arts for their are anonyinously affiliated to the Roths. own sakes, in place of simply patronizing childs, and which, being on the spot and
em as one of the duties attaching to a thoroughly conversant with the local millionaire's position. But even in Baron trade, are on the outlook to avail themJames the hereditary instincts cane out selves of profitable openings. so far that he attended assiduously to the For money must go on gathering like business he never cared about. The the avalanche, which accumulates more Rothschilds, till lately, have married rapidly the longer it rolls. The under. among themselves, keeping their vast ac-takings of a house of European reputa.
tion may be measured by its energy or faults and follies, they must already have ambition rather than by its actual re- wiped out a heavy instalment of their sources. Everybody is ready and eager moral liabilities. We can hardly conceive to deal with it, knowing that its co-opera- a more wearing life than that of a man of tion in any rational speculation almost naturally honorable nature who, has been suffices to insure success. When we are clinging desperately to a slippery ledge tiding through times of financial agita. with the abyss of dishonor yawning betion, it has reserves to meet any conceiv- neath him. While making efforts as desable strain. The vessel is not only well perate as discreditable to avert the evil found, but strongly manned and’ably day, he fully realizes the fate that awaits bis commanded; and when the storm has confiding business connections, and his swept over and the air has cleared, it tormenting conscience refuses to be siprofits by the shipwrecks of its weaker lenced. In the fear that any show of rivals. We remeinber how the Count of retrenchment will irretrievably shatter his Monte Christo, in Dumas's famous money credit, he resigns himself to lead the life of romance, expressed his views to Danglars a swindler. The dinners at which he enthe banker as to fortunes of various tertains his victims, his equipages, the classes. So there are houses of the sec- expensive education and allowances that ond and third rank, of the highest respec- are suited to his children's imaginary tability or something more, that work prospects, are all become parts of a smoothly along in the old grooves, and shameful system of imposture. He dare transact an extensive business on the not take the wife of his bosom into bis hereditary traditions. In these there is confidence, though she begins to be very little romance, though their profits troubled by ominous forebodings as she fluctuate with the conditions of trade. listens to his mutterings in restless As partners die or withdraw, they be- dreams, and marks him in the gloomy queath their interest to their representa moments of reaction that follow his tives; and the reversion to a share may ghastly attempts at joviality. The sufferbe a more reliable asset than the prospec- ings he has endured and the sacrifices he live succession to a large landed property has submitted to, show the importance nowadays. Occasionally, nevertheless, he attached to maintaining his position; there is a disagreeable surprise and a yet it is almost a relief when the crash dramatic catastrophe. People rub their comes, and he breathes more freely when eyes one fine morning over a paragraph in the mask has been dropped. The worst the City articles, announcing the stoppage of it is — and he has been lamenting it that spreads dismay among confiding when too late — that he has cast his charcreditors. The books have been placed acter after his fortune. But in a worldly in the hands of a distinguished firm of point of view, unless he has been driven accountants whose names have sinister into overt criminality, it is likely that he associations with many similar disasters, comes off better than he deserves. For and the stereotyped assurance is ex- creditors in the City, under circumstances pressed that the liquidation will prove of the kind, show themselves strangely favorable. The hope carries little conso. lenient and forgiving, — partly, perhaps, lation for the initiated. Now that the because they have a sympathetic sense of mine has been sprung, they understand the temptations to which their desaulting all the melancholy story by intuition, and comrade has succumbed, but chiefly be
as inuch surprised as disgusted at cause they have no idea of throwing good their blindness. There are alınost invari- money after bad by wasting valuable time ably reasons for such a crash, which it in vindicating public morality; They ought to have been almost impossible to write off the loss, and all is said, exceptkeep secret. Large sums had been paid ing by some irrepressible outsider with out on the death or retirement of mon- limited means, who, unluckily for himself, eyed partners, and the business had been happens to be beggared. unduly drained; or it had passed into the But frequently of late years, under cir. hands of men of a younger generation, cumstances very similar, the circle of too enterprising to walk in the ways of outsiders has been indefinitely enlarged; their fathers. The gentlemen who have and the transfer of a well-known busigone into the “Gazette ” are no doubt to ness to the promoters of a joint-stock be blamed, and possibly they may have company, seems to us to be always prima come to grief under aggravated circum- facie suspicious; so far suspicious, at stances; yet even then it is difficult not least, that a prudent investor should to pity them. If sufferings can atone for always make searching inquiry before
applying for shares. There are many were no object, and the City kept calm, cases where the business and good will things might work round. But similar have proved worth the purchase money, operations are being carried on simulta. as reference to the share-lists will show. neously in innumerable qnarters; overBut at best, as the sellers best know their confidence bas engendered a rotten state value, they cannot possibly be worth of trade; and the City is on the eve of more; and if the prospectus holds out ex- one of its periodical panics. It must be pectations of high profits, that only proves remembered, too, that the tendency to that the concern is essentially speculative. such panics is far greater than formerly. One can merely buy into it, as you pur- Now, with the general diffusion of specchase the shares of a flourishing bank — ulation, London is but one of many specwhere, though original holders may be ulative centres ; and causes operating in drawing twenty per cent. or more, at cur- Paris, Berlin, or New York, communicate rent prices the returns may represent themselves directly in English enterprise. about a quarter of that. We take it, then, Confidence is shaken; money is called to be a simple axiom, and no want of in; doubtful paper is subjected to the charity to assume, that those who turn a most searching scrutiny, and can only be private concern into a public one have negotiated on ruinous terms. Ugly rumade a good bargain for themselves. mors circulate freely, and respectable They have estimated at a fancy price reputations are whispered away. Trifling "potentialities of growing rich beyond failures are succeeded by others of growthe dreams of avarice," and probably ing consequence, till some conspicuous have exacted a handsome consideration establishment like that we have been al. for hazardous liabilities that began to luding to, suddenly comes to the ground make them uneasy. They may be bon- with a crash that shakes everything in the estly sanguine, though anxious. They neighborhood. So the panic is in full “slow their good faith," as the prospec- swing, and the Stock Exchange in frentus intimates, by consenting to accept a zied agitation. portion of the price in paid-up shares, and The most disastrous of all panics hapby giving their invaluable assistance to pened fifteen years ago, when Overend, the board in the capacity of managing Gurney & Co. closed their doors. Nor directors. Schemes of the sort are not have we even now recovered altogether the less dangerous that the public is from its consequences, though it may be likely to be seduced by well-sounding feared that its lessons have been in great names and plausible figures. Perhaps measure forgotten. No one who witthe company has been floated in a time of nessed it will be likely to forget the asgeneral confidence, when money is plenti. pect of the City on that memorable black ful and speculation buoyant. As it re. Monday. Men were slow to realize the ceives an influx of capital, it has a fresh extent of the disaster; but when once it accession of business. For a year or two had come home to them, they lost faith in it pays wonderful dividends, and the everything. "Overend's," or the "shop
“ shares go on mounting in proportion. at the corner," as it was familiarly called, The great annual meetings are scenes of had been a typical house. It had been general congratulation; and any inquisi. built up carefully by cautious Quakers; tive shareholder who asks inconvenient the names of its successive partners had questions is civilly, sneered down or suin- been synonymous with philanthropy and marily silenced. Anything that tends to probity as much as with substance and depreciate the market value of the shares safe trading. When it had been transrevolts the best feelings of the assembly. formed into a limited company, its shares The hands of the managing directors are had been taken up by shrewd capitalists, strengthened by cordial votes of confi. and its transactions were known to be dence, and they are encouraged to in- more extensive than ever. Few people crease the stakes and go on extending suspected that, before it changed hands, their operations. But times grow bad, the character of the management had also and money tightens. The high-pressure been changing. Experience and pru- . income can only be maintained by doing dence, or the reverse, make all the differbusiness that becomes more and more ence in bill discounting, between handrisky, while engagements are renewed on some returns and desperate risks. And onerous terms. But the dividends must it is a golden rule in money-dealing as in be kept up by hook or crook; for any cobbling, that a man should stick to his sharp drop in the shares means the col- last and not meddle with promiscuous lapse of indispensable credit. If tine irons. Thanks to neglecting some ele