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“‘I will give you the money in Dutch consols.’

“‘Well, doctor, I don’t know what Dutch consols really are; I want 700 guineas in British money.’

“He left me, the matter being still rather uncertain; but the next day he came to see me again, and I took him into my parlour. He said—

“‘I have the money ready—£50 for a deposit. I have brought it in money, as, perhaps, you will like it better that way.’

“‘Thank you; I will give you a receipt.’

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“‘No,’ he said, ‘you needn’t. I know your countrymen are a respectable lot but for the drink, and I know you will not want to be paid twice.’

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“The business was settled, and a friendship sprang up between myself and the old gentleman, which lasted until he died. The arrangements for his funeral were entrusted to me, and were carried out without any of the men employed being allowed to partake of intoxicating drinks. In this way those disgraceful scenes which so frequently are associated with funerals were altogether avoided, and I was subsequently complimented by Dr. Moore, jun., on the highly respectable way in which the arrangements were carried out.”

But poor M‘Currey, when he had become well-to-do and happy in his surroundings, had much to do from intemperance in others. His eldest son fell a victim, and so did several members of his wife’s family. One son, who became a teetotaler when his father prospered in the world, unfortunately, p. 101in the course of his business, met with an accident in falling from a building, which caused his death at the early age of forty-one. “After providing for his family, he did not forget,” says the Temperance Record, “the benevolent institutions of his country. He has left £100 each to St. George’s, Westminster, and Consumptive Hospitals; £100 to the Strangers’ Friend Society, and £600 to the total abstinence cause.” One of old M‘Currey’s converts said to him one day, “You inoculated me into teetotalism, on the White Stiles, Chelsea, at a time when I had not a sixpence. I signed the pledge at one of your open-air meetings there, fifteen years ago, and am doing well, as you may judge from the fact that I have now three houses.” It is thus clear that, in many quarters, teetotalism has not only saved men from ruin, but has made them rich as well. In the career of Mr. David Davies, M.P., we have a remarkable illustration of this fact. He was once a “navvy;” he is now (1878) a man of wealth, and a member of parliament.

One of the largest publishing houses in London, that of Messrs. Cassell, Petter, and Galpin, was founded by John Cassell, a Lancashire carpenter, who walked to London, and when he arrived in the metropolis, found himself with the handsome sum of twopence-halfpenny in his pocket. He was an earnest teetotaller, and became known as a temperance lecturer. He next commenced the sale of coffee, and finding that there was little wholesome reading for the class to which he originally belonged, he commenced a cheap publication, called the Working-man’s Friend. In time other works followed. He then got an immense number of stereos of engravings from French publications, and began to publish illustrated periodicals. In time he was joined by Messrs. Petter and Galpin, printers; and after Mr. Cassell’s lamented death the firm developed the business, till it became one of the most gigantic character. As an illustration of the remarkable extent of the firm’s business, I may mention that, at a tea-meeting, held in the Cannon Street Hotel in the early part of 1878, at which more than 600 workmen were present, Mr. Jeffery, one of the partners, stated, “That Messrs. Cassell, Petter, and Galpin, with the view of benefiting those of their employés who had already given, or might hereafter give, long and faithful service to the firm, had resolved to set aside, from year to year, a fixed proportion of their profits to form a fund, out of which certain benefits might, at their discretion, be paid. The scheme would provide for the payment of a sum of money, varying according to length of service, to the family or representative of any person who might die in their employment after seven, fourteen, or twenty-one years’ service, or, as the case might be, for the payment of bonuses of similar amounts p. 103to those who, having served at least seven years, might be incapacitated by old age, after the age of sixty-five, or who might before that age be totally unable to perform any labour owing to accident or disease. It had been estimated that the fund about to be instituted would provide for the following payments:—To overseers and managing clerks, after seven years’ service, £50; after fourteen years’ service, £75; after twenty-one years’ service, £100: to clickers, sub-foremen, and first-class clerks, after seven years’ service, £37 10s.; after fourteen years’ service, £56 5s.; after twenty-one years’ service, £75: to workmen, workwomen, and clerks, after seven years’ service, £25; after fourteen years’ service, £37 10s.; after twenty-one years’ service, £50. The scheme, which also provided for some other payments, would come into operation from the commencement of the present year. It was intended that a periodical revision of these tables should be made by an actuary. The amount appropriated for carrying out the proposal for 1878 amounted to £600, and Messrs. Cassell, Petter, and Galpin wished to set out the fact that these benefit arrangements were voluntary on their part, and might be withdrawn by them, wholly or in any particular case, if they should see reason for doing so.” It is wonderful, indeed, that such a business should have sprung from the unaided efforts of a raw, uneducated, uncouth Lancashire lad.

Originally, most of the great London publishers were anything but wealthy men. Jacob Tonson started with a capital of £100, left him by his father, a barber-sturgeon in Holborn. He is reported to have said when he died, “I wish I could have the world to begin again, because then I should have died worth £100,000, whereas I am now only worth £80,000.”—Lintott, the great rival of Tonson, left his daughter £55,000, and his son became high sheriff of Sussex.—Edmund Curll, who was born in the West of England, after passing through several menial capacities, became a bookseller’s assistant, and then kept a stall in the purlieus of Covent Garden.—Thomas Guy, whose name is still held in veneration as the founder of Guy’s Hospital, was the son of a coalheaver and lighterman. Very early he seems to have contracted most frugal habits. According to Nichols, he dined every day at his counter, with no other table-cloth than an old newspaper; and he was quite as economical in his dress. In order to get a frugal helpmate, he asked his servant-maid p. 104to become his wife. The girl, of course, was delighted, but presumed too much on her influence over her careful lover. One day, seeing that the paviers, repairing the street in front of the house, had neglected a broken place, she called their attention to it; but they told her that Guy had carefully marked a particular stone, beyond which they were not to go. “Well,” said the girl, “do you mend it; tell him I bade you, and I know he will not be angry.” However, Guy was, and the marriage did not take place. As a bachelor, Guy lived to a ripe old age. The cost of building Guy’s Hospital was £18,793, end he left £219,499 as an endowment. He left also money to Tamworth, his mother’s birthplace, which he represented in parliament for many years; £400 a-year to Christ’s Hospital, and £8,000 to his relative.—Robert Dodsley, who made a handsome fortune as a publisher, commenced life as a footman.—The far-famed Lackington was the son of a drunken cobbler at Wellington, and had no education at all. Loafing about the streets all day as a child, he thought he might turn his talents to account by crying pies, and as a pie-boy he acquired such a pre-eminence that he was soon engaged to vend almanacs. At fourteen he left this vagrant life to be apprenticed to a shoemaker. He came to London with half-a-crown and a wife; but in time he scraped together £25, and started in business in Chiswell Street. His plan was to sell for ready money, and at low prices. He then bought remainders of books which were generally destroyed, and thus he made a fortune. On his chariot, when he started one, he put for his motto, “Small profits do great things.” Again, he was very fond of repeating, “I found all I possess in small profits, bound by industry, and clasped with economy.”

Few have done better than the Chamberses, of Edinburgh. After months of pence-scraping and book-hoarding, Robert succeeded in collecting a stock worth about fifty shillings; and with nothing but these and his yearnings for independence, and his determination to write books by-and-by, but at present to sell them, he, at the age of sixteen, opened a little shop—a stall—in Leith Street. His brother William also started as a bookseller and printer in the same neighbourhood.

William Chambers was born in Peebles, April 16th, 1800; and Robert, coming next in order in the family, was born p. 105July 10th, 1802. The father carried on the hereditary trade of the manufacture of woollen and linen clothes. The grandfather held the office of elder of his church for the last thirty years of his existence. The grandmother was a little woman of plain appearance, a great stickler on points of controversial divinity, a rigorous critic of sermons, and a severe censor of what she considered degenerating manners. The mother was a beauty, and her pretty face led her into an alliance which, in the end, could have been productive of little happiness. Mr. Chambers speaks of his father as “accurate, upright, aspiring in his tastes and habits, with a fund of humour and an immense love of music.” He made some progress in science. “Affected, like others at the time, with the fascinating works of James Fergusson on astronomy, he had a kind of rage for that branch of study, which he pursued by means of a tolerably good telescope, in company with Mungo Park, the African traveller, who had settled as a surgeon in Peebles, and one or two other acquaintances.” The failing of his father was his pliancy of disposition. He was cheated with his eyes open. For such men worldly ruin is only a question of time. In a little while the family were driven from Peebles, and William had to fight the battle of life on his own account. His education, which closed when he was thirteen, had been by no means an expensive one. Books included, it had cost somewhere about sis pounds. For this he was well grounded in English. The most distressing part of his school exercises consisted in learning by heart the catechism of the Westminster Assembly of Divines—a document which he tells us it was impossible for any person under maturity to understand, or to regard in any other light than as a torture. In the case of the two brothers there was a curious malformation. They were sent into the world with six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot. By the neighbours this was considered lucky. In the case of William, the superfluous members were easily removed. It was not so with Robert. The supernumerary toes on the outside of the foot were attached to or formed part of the metatarsal bones, and were so badly amputated as to leave delicate protuberances, calculated to be a torment for life. This unfortunate circumstance, by producing a certain degree of lameness and difficulty in walking, no doubt helped to make Robert the p. 106studious and thoughtful man he was. Thus, indisposed to boyish sports, his progress in education was rapid. Indeed as William confesses, he was left far behind. In 1813, the family difficulties came to a head, and an emigration from Peebles to the gude auld town of Edinburgh was necessitated. Henceforth the mother seems to have been the head of the family. Chambers senior seems to have been a bit of an incumbrance. Poor themselves, they were surrounded by companions in misfortune. Widows of decayed tradesmen, teachers in the decline of life too old to teach, licensed preachers to whom an unkind fate had denied all church preferments, genteel unmarried women who had known better times, and who had now to eke out a precarious existence by colouring maps, or sewing fine needlework for the repository. This little pauperised colony, clinging as it were on to the skirts of respectability, was located on flats in that part of Edinburgh where rents were not of the highest, nor the houses of the grandest architectural character. Here they met with noteworthy individuals, and here William found his first situation as a bookseller’s assistant, with the magnificent salary of four shillings a-week. Lad as he was, William then laid down a resolution, which was not only heroical, considering the depressed circumstances of his family, which may not only be held up as an example to others, but which laid most assuredly the foundation of his success in after-life. “From necessity,” he tells us, “not less than from choice, I resolved to make the weekly four shillings serve for everything. I cannot remember entertaining the slightest despondency on the subject.” For a lad of fourteen thus to resolve, showed that he had the right spirit to conquer circumstances, and to win an old age of respectability and renown. As at this time his father was appointed commercial manager of a salt manufactory, called Joppa Pans—a smoky, odorous place, consisting of a group of buildings situated on the sea-shore, half-way between Portobello and Musselburgh—William was left by himself in Edinburgh to do the best he could. Of course he went to lodge with a Peebles woman, and was surrounded by a host of Peebleshire people, whose delight in the evening was to call up reminiscences of texts, and preachers, and sermons, and to discuss Boston’s “Marrow,” the “Crook in the Lot,” and the “Fourfold State.” It is to be feared we have not p. 107much improved on this. Such modes of spending the evening were certainly quite equal to the modern ones of frequenting music-halls, or of reading some of the trash now issued from the press. We must add that William Chambers had read Franklin’s autobiography, and had imbibed somewhat of his spirit. It is thus that a good, genuine book goes on bearing fruit. It is thus a good example tells in all strata of society. It is thus the life of one man is a blessing in all after time. William Chambers all the while pursued with more or less diligence his studies. He always rose at five in the morning to have a spell at reading. In the same way he made some progress in French, with the pronunciation of which he was already familiar, from the speech of the French prisoners of war in Peebles. He likewise dipped into several books of solid worth, such as Smith’s “Wealth of Nations,” Locke’s “Human Understanding,” Paley’s “Moral Philosophy,” and Blair’s “Belles Lettres.” His brother Robert, who had come to live with him, seems also to have done the same. In 1816, the latter became self-supporting; he had up to that time continued his studies in the hope of becoming a clerk or teacher. All hope in that direction, fortunately for himself and his country, was abandoned, and with a few old books, the remnant of the family library, he started in the world as a second-hand bookseller in Leith Walk. It was in 1819 that William did the same—having left his employers—with five shillings in his pocket, to which sum his weekly wages had latterly been considerately advanced. Unfortunately, Robert had cleared out the family stores, and there was no stock-in-trade with which William could furnish his scanty shelves. He was so fortunate, however, as to get a limited amount of credit from a London publisher of cheap standard literature, and thus he began a career of which he or any one else might well be proud. Bookselling by itself, however, was not sufficient; he tried caligraphy; he taught himself bookbinding; he mastered the art of printing; he became a publisher. His first book, of course, was a cheap edition of Burns’ Songs.

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Such is an outline of the career of the brothers. Then comes the old story of success, of literary and business renown, of happy domestic life, and of the end of all. Both brothers were indefatigable writers. “Altogether,” writes William, “as nearly as can be reckoned, my brother produced p. 108upwards of seventy volumes, exclusively of detached papers, which it would be impossible to enumerate.” His whole writings had for their aim the good of society, the advancement, in some shape or other, of the true and the beautiful. “It will hardly be thought,” he modestly and affectionately adds, “that I exceed the proper bounds of panegyric in stating that, in the long list of literary compositions of Robert Chambers, we see the zealous and successful student, the sagacious and benevolent citizen, and the devoted lover of his country.” A similar eulogium may be pronounced on William himself.

Robert Chambers, the younger brother, thus makes us acquainted with his evening studies while a lad at his native town of Peebles:—

“Among that considerable part of the population who lived down closes and in old thatched cottages, news circulated at third or fourth hand, or was merged in conversation on religious or other topics. My brother and I derived much enjoyment, not to say instruction, from the singing of old ballads, and the telling of legendary stories, by a kind old female relative, the wife of a decayed tradesman, who dwelt in one of the ancient closes. At her humble fireside, under the canopy of a huge chimney, where her half-blind and superannuated husband sat dozing in a chair, the battle of Corunna and other prevailing news was strangely mingled with disquisitions on the Jewish wars. The source of this interesting conversation was a well-worn copy of L’Estrange’s translation of Josephus, a small folio of date 1720. The envied possessor of the work was Tam Fleck, ‘a flichty chield,’ as he was considered, who, not particularly steady at his legitimate employment, struck out a sort of profession by going about in the evenings with his Josephus, which he read as the current news; the only light he had for doing so being usually that imparted by the flickering blaze of a piece of parrot coal. It was his practice not to read more than from two to three pages at a time, interlarded with sagacious remarks of his own by way of foot-notes, and in this way he sustained an extraordinary interest in the narrative. Retailing the matter with great equability in different households, Tam kept all at the same point of information, and wound them up with a corresponding anxiety as to the issue of some moving event in Hebrew annals. Although in this way he p. 109went through a course of Josephus yearly, the novelty somehow never seemed to wear off.

“‘Weel, Tam, what’s the news the nicht?’ would old Geordie Murray say, as Tam entered with his Josephus under his arm, and seated himself at the family fireside.

“‘Bad news, bad news,’ replied Tam. ‘Titus has begun to besiege Jerusalem—it’s gaun to be a terrible business;’ and then he opened his budget of intelligence, to which all paid the most reverential attention. The protracted and severe famine which was endured by the besieged Jews was a theme which kept several families in a state of agony for a week; and when Tam in his readings came to the final conflict and destruction of the city by the Roman general, there was a perfect paroxysm of horror. At such séances my brother and I were delighted listeners. All honour to the memory of Tam Fleck.”

We must again quote from Robert’s reminiscences the following characteristic anecdotes of the grandmother of the Chamberses:—