Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

gambling inflames the passion for lucre, and thus endangers moral principle in the most alarming form that can be assumed by any one of the category of human vices. It is a truism to exclaim, that the lust of pelf is the arch-fiend which betrays mankind, step by step, to ultimate perdition.

The participator in Joint-Stock speculations must necessarily, from his position, be tainted more or less ; he cannot help lending himself to deceit, at all events; he is feeding the guilty passion for gold; and with the growth of that passion he is liable to lose all Christian prudence ; in short, to degrade himself to the blackest dishonesty.

It is but too well known that there exist numerous companies which have been formed, with very little expectation, if any, on the part of the originators, of ultimate success; we may go further, and declare that some have been formed with the sole purpose of gulling a too-confiding public. The “ Anglo-Bengalee Disinterested Loan and Life Assurance Company" of Boz, with its swindler-sec., quack-doctor, sneaking touter, grasping capitalist, and liveried hall-porter, is no mere conceit of the novelist's brain, but a thoroughly truthful satire. There are establishments actually thriving in the heart of this metropolis, which are sheer counterparts of the Anglo-Bengalee Company; there are plenty of swindlers, too, in London, of the Tigg-Montagu family; like him, having jumped suddenly from greasy suits into elegant attire, a dashing cab, a showy office in the city, and a splendid drawing-room at the west-end; there are amongst us also more than one such ugly customer as Jonas Chuzzlewit, gulling and being gulled ; goaded to desperation by overreaching, and actually contemplating murder as the direful retaliation for cheating and robbery.

Beings like these belong to the dregs of the Joint-Stock class ; but we shall by a little examination find dishonesty enough higher up in the scale. To begin with the Bank of England itself. It is matter of history that its first capital, 1,200,0001. was subscribed for the purpose of being lent at interest to the government of William and Mary, “ at the time in a state of embarrassment. At its very outset, therefore, it was a mere engine of Government-a sort of pawnbroker's shop-a succour which royalty could not have recourse to without degrading itself to the encouragement of the vice of usury. In 1797, when the bank found itself unable to meet a run made upon it for gold for its notes, the Government of that day summarily protected it from bankruptcy by issuing an order that Bank of England notes should be considered a legal tender; consequently the holders of notes at the time were by force of law refused their value in cash, and this extraordinary state of affairs lasted, with various modifications, till 1821, when cash payments were resumed.” Was this honest? The majesty of England blowing bubbles, ard forced to keep the game up by taking possession of other people's soap. What

consequence of such a state of things? “ The notes of the bank, from not being representatives of specie, were considerably depreciated in nominal value ; so great was the depreciation at one time, that four-pound

was the

notes would have been given in exchange for three guineas. In the “ History and Principles of Banking,” it is acutely noticed, " as a serious hardship, that debts contracted during this prevalence of a depreciated currency, have had to be paid in a currency of full value ; for by this means the creditor receives, perhaps, a third more money than the actual value of the original sum owing.”

The issues of the Joint-Stock Banks, when contrasted with the magnitude of the establishments, are deemed exceedingly small; a circumstance that naturally excites suspicion, and suspicion and honesty are seldom found together; though dishonesty is always trailed after by the former. According to the last return (1839), the notes in circulation of all the Joint-Stock Banks were in value 4,665,1101. This divided by the number of banks (108), gives an average circulation of only 43,2001. for each; or, if we include the branches, the average for each office or establishment is only 70001. Supposing the money to be employed in discounting at 5 per cent., the annual profit on 4,665,0001. would be only 230,0001., or no more than 3501. to each establishment. It is evident therefore, that their profit must be principally derived from deposits, which they can employ at 5 per cent., while we believe they give only two.

We have it from the authority of a highly respectable merchant at the present time engaged in Stock affairs, that in many instances the Directors of public companies, who ought to qualify, as it is termed, for their position by the purchase or tenure of a fixed number of shares, never qualify until the speculation assumes a most favourable aspecta very cunning, but indisputably disreputable, dishonest, and therefore immoral proceeding. Such was shewn lately on the failure of Hannay's Marylebone Bank, and indeed the trick is commonly played, as we know from numberless instances of exposures that have attracted public notice, from the days of the South Sea Bubble to the present. We have quoted the least invidious of those facts to confirm our statement.

The facility offered to persons of limited means to enter into hazardous speculations, through the small advances requisite to enable them to become proprietors, is an active cause of the ruin of thousands of dupes. In the Neapolitan Loan, contracted in this country, the original shareholders were sufferers to a ruinous extent, particularly the small shareholders; but the capitalists par excellence, N. M. Rothschild and the original contractors, came out scatheless, and, indeed with a handsome profit. After this illustration we hardly need speak of the South Sea Bubble, the circumstances of which live in every merchant's memory. Many of the mining speculations got up about the year 1824-5, ended in the ruin of the weakest parties, or shareholders, who, for want of means were obliged to make early sacrifice. And for an instance of mercantile deception belonging to the very hour at which we are writing, it is notorious that the extant high price of railway stock is fictitious and delusive; Many a family,” remarked a correspondent of the Times newspaper a few days ago, “is suffering privations owing

to the money it has invested in railways, of which alone the public have reaped the benefit.” But we are anticipating.

If society reposed in its original and natural state, every industrious man would find his labours in the market ready to be purchased by others; but the law of progression is equally natural, and we discover that some men, by a more skilful application of their faculties, or the observance of a more rigid economy than others, gain an extra share of wealth ; this reward of industry is to be seen every day : hence spring the capitalists, and these fortunate individuals continue to accumulate specie which is brought to bear against the fair manufacturer, who is, indeed, the spring and source of public wealth ; who, in fact, furnishes those resources which enrich the treasury of the land. The inventive mind of a, perhaps, penniless adventurer, conceives a scheme whereby he imagines he will suddenly become rich. He gets up the framework of a Joint-Stock Company; he sounds the golden trumpet in the ear of the capitalist ; a 10 or 15 per cent. profit will be the reward of money advanced for the working of the company. The shares are all taken up, and thousands of other capitalists are sighing for some new investment that will probably “put money in his purse" more rapidly than the ordinary funded interest ; and soon again we see the announcement of a new scheme, which is as largely sought after. In this way monopoly is accomplished ; the natural streams of wealth, both national and individual, are diverted; the merely industrious individual is incapacitated for competing with ingenious calculators-quick-minded theorists, the genera of modern times, who have effected his ruin. This is how the tributaries of national wealth have been broken up, and the empty coffers of the treasury have more than once shewn the statesman that the machine of commerce is defective.

The Benefit Societies and Loan Clubs, now swarming in London and other large towns, belong to the Joint-Stock species; and, though they appear harmless in themselves, they are a fraction of the national evil we have endeavoured to point out. The subscription lists of the Benefit Societies produce capital, and this capital draws the labouring class from their usefulness, frequently by creating a feeling of independence, impelling bodies of men to strikes, or defiance of the authority of employers.

The Life Assurance Companies must now engage a few moments' attention, as forming a branch of Joint-Stock operations, of consequence only secondary to the Banks. No scheme bearing the slightest analogy to the present system of Life Assurance is to be found on record until about the middle of the seventeenth century.

The first scheme of importance which seemed for the time to command the attention of thinking men, and which stands prominently forth as the foundation of Life Assurance itself, was the introduction of “ Tontines ;” invented, I believe, by a native of Italy, by name “Tonti,”

Tontino.”

» *

or

* Lawrence on “ Life Assurance.”

i

1

A certain number of persons clubbed together a specified sum (without reference to age or sex) annually, and at the expiration of each year the interest of this fund was divided amongst the subscribers who were living, and so on from year to year, until the last survivor received the whole of the interest. This novelty, having on its face all the appearances of a profitable investment, with a little of the then relish for gambling, as to health and death, caused many thousands to be annually contributed, each man speculating on the life and habits of his co-subscriber, so as to form a rough guess as to who stood the best chance of survivorship. This went on for some time, until some one, either wiser or more inquisitive than his fellows, came to inquire what became of the principal sum subscribed, as the interest on the fund only was awarded. This was a death-blow to the first invention; the money of course, failing heirs, was forfeited to the Crown. But the “snake was scotched, not killed.” To remedy this glaring error, a limited number of years was fixed for the continuation of the “ Tontine," and should any members be alive at the expiration of that time, they were to receive the whole amount originally subscribed; but as many died without receiving any advantage whatever for their subscriptions, and others, longer-lived, received in many cases nearly three hundred times the amount advanced, this plan, from its great inequality, did not, as was anticipated, meet with general approbation; but one permanent good resulted from it, the first tables of the duration of human life being recorded. These were followed by Sir W. Petty's Register of the Bills of Mortality, which was succeeded by Dr. Halley's Tables, and the Northampton Tables, which are still the best authority. Assurance Companies are divided into three sorts of offices—mutual, proprietary, and mixedterms which explain themselves. The members of Mutual Companies share all the losses, and all the profits also. The Proprietary Company work with a nominal capital, on which, on the average, ten per cent. is subscribed ; the shareholders being liable to further calls if the wants of the company require them to meet engagements. The shareholders receive interest for their subscribed capital, according to the success of the undertaking in which they have embarked : on this principle funds can always be obtained to meet any claims which can possibly arise. A Mixed Company, from its name, combines the two systems of Mutual and Proprietary. A capital is raised by means of shareholders subscribing a certain sum, protecting from loss any party assuring with them, and dividing a certain portion of the profits amongst the policyholders, either by way of bonus, or in reduction of premium, at stipulated periods.

Of Assurance Societies, established upon equitable principles, we are bound to admit, that, as far as a joint-stock association can be so, they are morally and commercially beneficial ; it is clear that they present to men in the enjoyment of income, but possessing little property, a most suitable and favourable means of providing, in a greater or less measure, for the endeared or helpless relatives who may survive them. On this subject we add some remarks from a paper in Chambers's “ Edinburgh Journal,” No. 373 : “ That only about 80,000 persons in the United Kingdom should have taken advantage of Life Assurance, being but one in sixty-two of the supposed number of heads of families, surely affords. a striking view of—shall we call it the improvidence of mankind, or shall we not rather designate it as their culpable selfishness ? For what is the predicament of that man, who, for the gratification of his affections, surrounds himself with a wife and children, and peaceably lives in the enjoyment of these valued blessings, with the knowledge that, ere three moments at any time shall have passed, the cessation of his existence may throw wife and children together into a state of destitution ? When the case is fully reflected upon, it must certainly appear as one of gross selfishness, notwithstanding that the world has not been accustomed to regard it in that light. It is unquestionably the duty of every man to provide, while he yet lives, for his own. One part of his income can be devoted by a head of a family to the necessities of the present, another may be stored up, by means of life assurance, to provide against the future ; and then he may be said to do the whole of his duty towards his family, instead of, as is generally the case, only doing the half of it.”

The remarks of one of our own correspondents (the “ Pilgrim,” vide Tegg's Magazine," No. X., page 452,) clearly and justly show the immorality, nay, the impious profanity, committed by a class of speculators, now common, who actually trade in the effects of mortality; who are daily, lynx-eyed, watching the shaft of death in a commercial spirit. We refer to the Cemetery Companies.* Our readers will only require to be reminded of the “ Pilgrim's” observations on Cemeteries, the most remarkable passage of which we cannot refrain from repeating : “ There is something revolting in the idea,” feelingly, says the “ Pilgrim," “ of the separation of body and soul being made a commercial speculation, smelling even frightful in the connexion of death and business, which is 80 conspicuously presented in the formation of Cemetery Companies. Under the old system of churchyard burials, it must be confessed, the clergyman, the sexton, and the gravedigger, received fees for performing God's injunction, to return ' dust to dust;' but to reflect, that, when each human being passes to the other world, his death is made to contribute to the avarice and cupidity of this — that directors, and auditors, and secretaries, pounce upon his corpse ; that his interment is duly entered

* One cemetery company, constantly advertising, allows no sort of regard for decency, or even for commercial gentility, to interfere with its mercenary object. It adopts the vulgar shop practice of ticketing its prices. Vide the following :“ Price for grave in perpetuity, and for monument and gravestone £3 3 0 Interment, including desk service and other fees

1 16 0 Ditto," &c. And so on it proceeds, with its figures of traffic, as though human flesh were irre. verend as carrion. A parallel to this desecration may be found in Mr. Shillebeer's existent or proposed Joint-Stock Burial Company, whose convenient patent hearses we have scen, and which we predict will become as popular as the old hackney coaches were. The patent hearse is licensed to carry the dead inside, and the living (mourners) outside.

« AnteriorContinua »