Daniel Defoe

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The Anatomy of Exchange Alley

The Anatomy of Exchange Alley (1719)

But before I come to the needful ways for restraining those people, I think ‘twill be of some service to expose their practices to common view, that the people may see a little what kind of dealers they are.

And first, they have this peculiar to them, and in which they outdo all ‘the particular pieces of publick knavery that ever met with in the world, viz. that they have nothing to say for it themselves; they have indeed a particular stock of haryware, as the braziers call it, in their faces, to bear them out in it; but if you talk to them of their occupation, there is not a man but will own, ‘tis a complete system of knavery; that ‘tis a trade founded in fraud, born of deceit, and nourished by trick, cheat, wheedle, forgeries, falsehoods, and all sorts of delusions; coining false news, this way good, that way bad; whispering imaginary terrors, frights, hopes, expectations and then preying upon the weakness of those whose imaginations they have wrought upon, whom they have either elevated or depressed. If they meet with a cull, a young dealer that has money to lay out, they catch him at the door, whisper to him, “Sir, here is a great piece of news, it is not yet publick, it is worth a thousand guineas but to mention it. I am heartily glad I met you, but it must be as secret as the black side of your soul, for they know nothing of it yet in the coffeehouse; if they should, stock would rise 10 per cent in a moment, and I warrant you South-Sea will be in a week’s time, after it is known.” “Well”, says the weak creature, ” prethee, dear Tom, what is it?” “Why, really Sir, I will let you into the secret, upon your honour to keep it till you hear it from other hands; why ‘tis this, the Pretender is certainly taken and is carried prisoner to the castle of Millan, there they have him fast; I assure you, the government had an express of it from my lord St---s within this hour.” “Are you sure of it?” says the fish, who jumps eagerly into the net. “Sure of it ! Why if you will take your coach and go up to the Secretary’s office, you may be satisfied of it yourself, and be down again in two hours, and in the meantime I will be doing something, though it is but a little, till you return.”

Away goes the gudgeon with his head full of wildfire, and a squib in his brain, and coming to the place, meets a croney at the door, who ignorantly confirms the report, and so sets fire to the mine; for indeed the cheat came too far to be baulked at home. So that without giving himself time to consider, he hurries back full of the delusions, dreaming of nothing but of getting a hundred thousand pounds, or purchase two; and even this money was to be gotten only upon the views of his being beforehand with other people.

In this elevation, he meets his broker, who throws more fireworks into the mine, and blows him up to so fierce an inflamation, that he employs him instantly to take guineas to accept stock of any kind, and almost at any price; for the news being now publick, the artists made their price upon him. In a word, having accepted them for fifty thousand pounds more than he is able to pay, the jobber has got an estate, the broker 200 or 300 guineas, and the esquire remains at leisure to sell his coach and horses, his fine seat and rich furniture, to make good the deficiency of his bear-skins, and at last, when all will not go through it, he must give them a brush for the rest.

But now, that I may make good the charge, (viz.) that the whole art and mystery is a meer original system of cheat and delusion; I must let you see too, that this part of the comedy may very well be called “A Bite for the Biter” for which I must go back to the broker and his gudgeon. The moneyed gentleman, finding himself let into the secret indeed, and that he was bitten to the tune of 30,000 l. worse than nothing, after he had unhappily laid as far as his ready money would go, of which piece of honesty they say he has heartily repented, and is in hopes all that come after him will forgive him for the sake of what followed, stopped short, as he might well, you’ll say, when his money was all gone, and bethinks himself, “What am I a doing! I have paid away all this money like a fool; I was drawn in like an ass, by the eager desire of biting my neighbours to a vast sum, and I have been fool enough in that, but I have been ten thousand times a worse fool to pay a groat of the money, especially since I knew I could not pay it all. Besides, who but I would have forgot the nature of the thing I was dealing in, and of the people I was dealing with? Why, is it not all a meer body of knavery? Is not the whole doctrine of stock jobbing a science of fraud? And are not all the dealers meer original thieves and pick-pockets? Nay, do they not own it themselves? Have not I heard T. W. B. O. and J. S. a thousand times say they know their employment was a branch of highway robbing, and only differed in two things, first in degree, (viz.) that it was ten thousand times worse, more remorseless, more void of humanity, done without necessity, and committed upon fathers, brothers, widows, orphans and intimate friends; in all which cases, highwaymen, generally touched with remorse, and affected with principles of humanity and generosity, stop short and choose to prey upon strangers only. Secondly in danger, (viz.) that these rob securely; the other, with the utmost risque that the highwaymen run, at the hazard of their lives, being sure to be hanged first or last, whereas these rob only at the hazard of their reputation, which is generally lost Uore they begin, and of their souls, which trifle is not worth the mentioning. Have I not, I say, heard my broker, Mr. , say all this, and much more? And have I not also heard him say, that no man was obliged to make good any of their Exchange Alley bargains, unless he pleased, and unless he was in haste to part with his money, which indeed I am not. And has not all the brokers and jobbers, when they have been bitten too hard, said the same thing, and refused to pay?

“Pray, how much did old Cudworth, Ph. C----p----m, and Mr. Goo----g, eminent jobbers, monarchs in their days of Exchange Alley, break for? And how much did they ever pay? One, if I mistake not, compounded at last for one penny per pound, and the other two For something less.

“In a word, they are all a gang of rogues and cheats, and I’ll pay none of them. Besides, my lawyer, Sir Thomas Subtle, tells me, there’s not a man of them dares sue me; no, though I had no protection to fly to, and he states the case thus:

‘You have, Sir’ (says Subtle) ‘contracted to accept of stock at a high price: East India at 220, Bank at 160, South Sea 120, and the like. Very well, they come to put it upon you, the stock being since fallen; tell them you cannot take it yet. If they urge your contract, and demand when you will take it, tell them you will take it when you think fit.

’If they swagger, call names, as rogue, cheat, and the like, tell them, as to that, you are all of a fraternity; there is no great matter in it, whether you cheat them, or they cheat you; ‘tis as it happens in the way of trade, that it all belongs to the craft; and as the Devil’s broker, Whiston, said to Parson Giffard, tell them you are all of a trade. If they rage, and tell you the Devil will have you, and such as that, tell them they should let the Devil and you alone to agree about that, ‘tis none of their business; but when he comes for you, tell them you would advise them to keep out of the way, or get a protection, as you have got against them.

” ‘After this, it is supposed they will sue you at law; then leave it to me, I’ll hang them up for a year or two in our courts; and if ever in that time the stock comes up to the price, we will tender the money in court, demand the stock, and saddle the charges of the suit upon them; let them avoid it if they can.’

This is is my lawyer’s opinion,” says he to himself, “and I’ll follow it to a tittle” and so we are told he has, and I do not hear that one stock- jobber has begun to sue him yet, or intends it, nor indeed dare they do it.

This experiment indeed may teach understanding to every honest man that falls into the clutches of these merciless men, called stock-jobbers; and I give the world this notice, that in short, not one of their Exchange Alley bargains need be otherwise than thus complied with; and let these buyers of bear-skins remember it; not a man of them dare go to Common Law to recover the conditions; nor is any man obliged, further than he thinks himself obliged in principle, to make good one of his bargains with them; how far principle will carry any man to be just to a common cheat, that has drawn him into a snare, I do not indeed know; but I cannot suppose ‘twill go a veryreat length, where there is so clear, so plain, and so legal a door to get out at.

---- if we may believe the’ report of those who remember the machines and contrivances of that original of stock- jobbing, Sir Josiah Child, there are those who tell us, letters have been ordered, by private management, to be written from the East-Indies, with an account of the loss of ships which have been arrived there, and the arrival of ships lost; of war [with] the great Mogul, when they have been in perfect tranquility, and of peace with the great Mogul, when he has come down against the factory of Bengale with one hundred thousand men: just as it was thought proper to calculate those rumours for the raising and falling of the stock, and when it was for his purpose to buy cheap, or sell dear.

It would be endless to give an account of the subtilties of that capital che—t, when he had a design to bite the whole Exchange. As he was the leading hand to the market, so he kept it in his power to set the price to all the dealers. The subject then was chiefly the East India stock, though there were other stocks on foot too, though since sunk to nothing; such as the Hudson’s Bay Company, the linnen manufacture stock, paper stock, salt-petre stock and others, all at this day worse than nothing, though some of them then jobbed up to 350 per cent, as the two first in particular.

But the East India stock was the main point, every man’s eye, when he came to market, was upon the brokers who acted for Sir Josiah. Does Sir Josiah sell or buy? If Sir Josiah had a mind to buy, the first thing he did was to commission his brokers to look sower, shake their heads, suggest bad news from India; and at the bottom it followed, “I have commission from Sir Josiah to sell out whatever I can”, and perhaps they would actually sell ten, perhaps twenty thousand pound. Immediately the Exchange (for they were not then come to the Alley) was full of sellers; nobody would buy a shilling, ‘till perhaps the stock would fall six, seven, eight, ten per cent, sometimes more; then the cunning jobber had another set of men employed on purpose to buy, but with privacy and caution, all the stock they could lay their hands on, ‘till by selling ten thousand pound, at four or five per cent lost, he would buy a hundred thousand pound stock at ten or twelve per cent under price; and in a few weeks by just the contrary method, set them all a buying, and then sell them their own stock again at ten or twelve per cent profit.

These honest methods laid the foundation, we will not say of a fine great stone house, on a certain forest, but it certainly laid the foundation of an opulent family, and initiated the crowd of jobbers into that dexterity in tricking and cheating one another, which to this day they are the greatest proficients in that this part of the world ever saw.

Hitherto craft and knavery appears to be their method, but we shall trace them now a little further; and like true hussars that plunder not the enemy only, but their own army, as the opportunity presents, these men are now come to prey upon the government itself.

Let us look into the late lotteries; had not a piercing eye detected the roguery, and not the fall of other things taken off the edge of the people’s fancy for venturing, these artists had brought up the tickets to 16 s. apiece advance, even before the Act was passed. That this could not be but by securing the possession of all the tickets in their own hands, except such select tickets as were not to come to market; I say, that this could not be but by connivance, and this everyone knows; and that this connivance again could not be by some higher people than those that were named to it, this also everyone may know; who they were is none of my business to enquire, though ‘tis easy to guess. ‘Tis very hard when our statesmen come into a confederacy to bite the people, and when dukes turn stock jobbers. Yet that this was done is most certain, and what was this but making a property of the power that might be in their hands, the better to bite the people? For if the Parliament appointed 500,000 l. in tickets to be given out at a certain rate that was low and reasonable, was it not to encourage the people on whom the rest of the national burthen lies? And if by the craft and knavery of jobbers the people are made to pay 600,000 l. for them, which is much about the case, pray why not pay the hundred thousand pounds to the publick, either to pay off a hundred thousand pounds of debt, or to make the burthen of the current year a hundred thousand pounds lighter, of which I am sure there is need enough?

It has been indeed our happiness, that a worthy Member being informed of this abominable cheat, detected it, and laid it before the House; upon which a vote was passed to make void all bargains made for tickets before the Act was passed; so the biters were bitten, and a certain Sir George ---------- was obliged to refund; but the roguery of the design was never a jot the less for that. But the fatal influences of this growing evil does not end here, and I must trace stock-jobbing now to its new acquired capacity of intermeddling with the publick, assisting rebellion, encouraging invasion; and if I do not bring the stock-jobbers, even the Whigs among them, to be guilty of treason against their King and country, and that of the worst kind too, then I do nothing.

Had the stock-jobbers been all Jacobites by profession, or had the employment led them, by the necessity of their business to put King and nation, and particularly their own, to bargain and sale; and had the selling of news been their property, and they had an Act of Parliament, or patent, to entitle them to the sole privilege of imposing what false things they pleased on the people, I should have had much the less reason to have complained of their roguery, and have rather turned myself to the rest of the people, who are the subject they work upon, and only have stood at Exchange Alley end, and cried out, “Gentlemen, have a care of your pockets”.

Again, had it been a private club, or society of men, acting one among another, had the cheats, the frauds, and the tricks they daily make use of, in which the English rogue was a fool to them, been practised upon themselves only; and like gamesters at a publick board, they had only played with those that came there to play with them; in this case also I should have held my tongue, and only put them in mind of an old song; ever of which chimed in with Tantararara, Rogues all, Rogues all.

But when we find this trade become a political vice, a publick crime, and that as it is now carried on, it appears dangerous to the publick, that whenever any wickedness is in hand, any mischief by the worst of the nation’s enemies upon the wheel, the stock- jobbers are naturally made assistant to it, that they become abettors of treason, assistant to rebellion and invasion, then it is certainly time to speak, for the very employment becomes a crime, and we are obliged to expose a sort o men who are more dangerous than a whole nation of enemies abroad, an evil more formidable than the pestilence, and in their practise more fatal to the publick than an invasion of Spaniards.

It is said by some, that the principal leaders in the jobbing trade at that time, and at whom most part of the satyr in this work ought to be pointed, are Whigs, Members of Parliament, and friends to the Government; and that therefore I had best have a care of what I say of them.

My first answer is, so I will. I will have a care of them, and in the next place let them have a care of me; for if I should speak the whole truth of some of them, they might be Whigs, but I dare say they would be neither P----- men or friends to the Government very long, and it is very hard His Majesty should not be told what kind of friends to him such men are.

Besides, I deny the fact; these men friends to the Government! Jesu Maria! The Government may be friendly to them in a manner they do not deserve; but as to their being friends to the Government, that is no more possible than the Cardinal Alberoni or the Chevalier de St. George are friends to the Government; and therefore, without reflecting upon persons, naming names, or the like; there will be no need of names, the dress will describe them; Ilay down this new-fashioned proposition, or postulatum, take it which way you please, that I will make it out by the consequences of what I am going to say.

1. That stock-jobbing, as it is now practised, and as is generally understood by the word stock-jobbing, is neither less or more than high treason in its very nature, and in its consequences.

2. That the stock-jobbers who are guilty of the practices I am going to detect, are eventually traytors to King George, and to his Government, family and interest, and to their country, and deserve to be used at least as confederates with traytors, whenever there are any alarms of invasions, rebellions, or any secret practices against the government, of what kind soever.

This is a black charge, and boldly laid, and ought therefore to be effectually made out, which shall be the work of a few pages in the following sheets.

First, I lay down this as a rule, which I appeal to the laws of reason to support, that all those people, who at a time of publick danger, whether of treasonable invasion from abroad, or trayterous attempts to raise insurrections at home, shall willingly ingly and wittingly abet, assist, or encourage the traytors, invading or rebelling, are equally guilty of treason.

Secondly, All those who shall endeavour to weaken, disappoint and disable the government in their preparations, or discourage the people in their assisting the government to oppose the rebels or invaders, are guilty of treason.

All that can be alledged in contradiction to this, and perhaps that could not be made out neither, is that they are not traytors within the letter of the law; to which I answer, if they were, I should not satyrize them, but impeach them. But if it appears that they are as effectually destructive to the peace and safety of the government, and of the King’s person and family, as if they were in open war with his power, I do the same thing, and fully answer the end proposed.

As there are many thieves besides house-breakers, highwaymen, lifters and pick-pockets, so there are many traytors besides rebels and invaders, and perhaps of a much worse kind; for as in a dispute between a certain Lord and a woman of pleasure in the town, about the different virtue of the sexes, the lady insisted that the men were aggressors in the vice, and that in plain English, if there were no whore-masters, there would be no whores; so, in a word, if there were no parties at home, no disaffection, no traytors among ourselves, there would be no invasions from abroad.

Now I will suppose for the purpose only, that the people I am speaking of were not disaffected to the government; I mean, not originally, and intentionally pointing their design at the government; nay, that they are hearty Whigs, call them as we please; yet if it appear they are hearty knaves too, will do anything for money, and are by the necessity of their business obliged, or by the vehement pursuit of their interest, that is to say, of their profits, pushed upon things as effectually ruinous and destructive to the government, as the very buying arms and ammunition by a professed Jacobite, in order to rebellion could be; are they not traytors even in spite of principle, in spite of the name of Whig; nay, in spite of a thousand meritorious things that might otherwise be said of them, or done by them?

A gun-smith makes ten thousand firelocks in the Minories, the honest man may be a Whig, he designs to sell them to the government to lay up in the Tower, or to kill Spaniards, or any of the rest of the King’s enemies; a merchant comes and buys some of them, and says they are for the West Indies, or to sell France. But upon enquiry it appears they are bought for rebellion; the undesigning gun-smith comes into trouble of course, and it will be very hard for him to prove the negative, (viz.) that when he has furnished the rebels with arms, he had no share in the rebellion.

To bring this home to the case in view, who were the men, who in the late hurry of an expected invasion, sunk the price of stocks 14 to 15 per cent? Who were the men that made a run upon the Bank of England, and pushed at them with some particular pique too, if possible, to have run them down, and brought them to a stop of payment? And what was the consequences of these things? Will they tell us that running upon the Bank, and lowering the stocks, was no treason? We know that, literally speaking, those things are no treason; but is there not a plain constructive treason in the consequences of it? Is not a wilful running down the publick credit, at a time when the nation is threatened with an invasion from abroad, and rebellion at home; is not this adding to the terror of the people? Is not this disabling the government, discouraging the King’s friends, and a visible encouragement of the King’s enemies? Is not all that is taken from the credit of the publick, on such an occasion, added to the credit of the invasion? Does not everything that weakens the government, strengthen its enemies? And is not every step that is taken in prejudice of the King’s interest, a step taken in aid of the designed rebellion?

But it is needful, after having said thus much of the crime, to say something of the place, and then a little of the persons too. The center of the jobbing is in the kingdom of Exchange Alley, `and its adjacencies; the limits are easily surrounded in about a minute and a half, (viz.) stepping out of Jonathan’s into the Alley, you turn your face full south, moving on a few paces, and then turning due east, you advance to Garraway’s; from thence going out at the other door, you go on still east into Birchin-Lane, and then halting a little at the Sword-Blade Bank to do much mischief in fewest words, you immediately face to the north, enter Cornhill, visit two or three petty provinces there in your way west. And thus having boxed your compass, and sailed round the whole jobbing globe, you turn into Jonathan’s again; and so, as most of the great follies of life oblige us to do, you end just where you began.

But this is by way of digression; and even still, before I come to the main case, I am obliged to tell you; that though this is the sphere of the jobbers’ motion, the orbe to which they are confined, and out of which they cannot well act in their way; yet it does not follow, but that men of foreign situation (I mean foreign as to them, I do not mean foreign by nation) and of different figure are seen among them; nay, some whose lustre is said to be too bright for the hemisphere of a coffee-house, have yet their influence there, and act by substitutes and representatives.

Having thus given the blazing characters of three sharpers of Great Britain, knaves of lesser magnitude can have no room to shine; the Alley throngs with Jews, jobbers and brokers, their names are needless, their characters dirty as their employment, and the best thing that I can yet find out to say of them, is that there happens to be two honest men among them, Heavens preserve their integrity; for the place is a snare, ‘the employment in itself fatal to principle, and hitherto the same Aservation which I think was very aptly made upon the Mint, will justly turn upon them, (viz.) that many an honest man has gone in to them, but [I] cannot say that I ever knew one come an honest man out from them.

But to leave them a little, and turn our eyes another way’ is it not surprising to find new faces among these scandalous people, and persons even too big for our reproof? Is it possible that stars of another latitude should appear in our hemisphere? Had it been Sims or Bowcher, or gamesters of the drawing room and masquerades, there had been little to be said; or had the Groom-Porter’s been transposed to Garraway’s and Jonathan’s, it had been nothing new; true gamesters being always ready to turn their hand to any play. But to see statesmen turn dealers, and men of honour stoop to the chicanry of jobbing; to see men at the offices in the morning, at the P House about noon, at the Cabinet at night, and at Exchange Alley in the proper intervals, what new phenomina are these? What fatal things may these shining planets (like the late great light) foretell to the state, and to the publick? For when statesmen turn jobbers the state may be jobbed.

Stock-jobbing is play; a box and dice may be less dangerous, the nature of them are alike, a hazard; and if they venture at either what is not their own, the knavery is the same. It is not necessary, any more than it is safe, to mention the persons I may think of in this remark; they who are the men will easily understand me.

In a word, I appeal to all the world, whether any man that is entrusted with other men’s money (whether publick or private is not the question), ought to be seen in Exchange Alley. Would it not be a sufficient objection to any gentleman or merchant, not to employ any man to keep his cash, or look after his estate, to say of him, he plays, he is a gamester, or he is given to gaming? and stock jobbing, which is still worse, gives the same, or a strongeround of objection in the like cases.

Again, are fewer sharpers and setters in Exchange Alley than at the Groom-Porter’s? Is there less cheating in stock-jobbing than at play, or rather is there not fifty times more? An unentered youth coming to deal in Exchange Alley, is immediately surrounded with bites, setters, pointers, and the worst sort of cheats, just as a young country gentleman is with bawds, pimps, and spongers, when he first comes to town. It is ten thousand to one, when a forward young tradesman steps out of his shop into Exchange Alley, I say ‘tis ten thousand to one but he is undone; if you see him once but enter the fatal door, never discount his bills afterwards, never trust him with goods at six months’ pay any more.

If it be thus dangerous to the mean, what is it to the great? I see only this difference, that in the first the danger is private, in the latter publick.

Even this way it appears that these stock jobbers are dangerous to the peace, since ‘tis in their power to set a rate whenever they please, not only upon private estates, but even upon the whole nation, and in that capacity it is to be hoped the Parliament, who have hitherto redressed the publick grievances, will take care of these people in particular, and deliver the publick from such a set of men as are more fatal to them than a midnight fire, more dangerous than an enemy embarked, nay, I had almost said, than an enemy landed.

For in a word, these men take upon them to put a standard upon our fears; and we are to ask them, when intelligence comes from abroad, whether anything be to be slighted or apprehended; every publick piece of news, every menace of the nation’s enemies is to,receive its weight from them; and the price of stocks is the rule by which we are to guide our judgement in publick affairs, by which we are either to hope or to fear when anything amiss present itself to our view.

Is this an advantage fit to be put into the hand of a subject Are the King’s affairs to go up and down as they please, and the credit of His Majesty’s councils rise and fall as these men shall please to value them? This would be making them kings, and making the King subject to the caprice of their private interest, his affairs be liable e to be rated in Exchange Alley, and to be run down as they pleased; an article which, as the Roman Pontiff, in the first politicks of the Church, made all the kings of the earth become pensioners to the priests, so it would make all the Kings of Britain pensioners to Exchange Alley.

It must be confessed, it looks as if this were the present view in the manner which stock-jobbing now goes on; and there are more mischiefs in it than perhaps we are’ aware of; the extremes either way seem dangerous enough, for example:

If one way the stock-jobbers manage the publick, they scandalously subject the government, the ministers of state, the publick credit, nay, even the elections of Parliament to their orders. So if a government should come absolutely to get the management of the stock-jobbers, it might be many ways fatal to the people’s interest, and indeed put the purse-strings of the nation so much into the hands of a ministry, that if they did not at any time command the general treasure, and be able to raise what money they pleased without a Parliament, they would be able to add what value they pleased to the funds given, raise them when they pleased to draw money in, and sink them when they pleased to issue money out. That in a word, the rate of stocks should be settled every day in the Exchequer; and though they might not be said to stand no more in need of Parliaments, it would be most certain, that they would not stand in so much need of Parliaments as they used to do, and as it is convenient for us they should do.

I must run out a great length in the enumeration of the mischief to the liberty of Great Britain, which might attend such a thing as this; and though at present it may be objected, that it is unreasonable, and entirely needless, because we are under a King that stands in need of no artifices, and is too just to attempt any encroachment on the liberties of his people, and a ministry who we have reason to hope are above taking any such mean steps; yet if ever a time shall come again, when every politick step shall be enquired after to bring grist to the publick mill, and every way that can be found practicable, shall be thought justifiable; then let you citizens of London have a care of a bear-skin Court, and a stock Jobbing ministry, when Exchange Alley shall be transposed to the Exchequer, and the statesmen shall make a property of the brokers.

First published 1719.