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Captains Of Industry Or Men Of Business Who Did Something Besides Making Money - James Lackington

1. Preface

2. David Maydole

3. Ichabod Washburn

4. Elihu Burritt

5. Michael Reynolds

6. Major Robert Pike

7. George Graham

8. John Harrison

9. Peter Faneuil

10. Chauncey Jerome

11. Captain Pierre Laclede Liguest

12. Israel Putnam

13. George Flower

14. Edward Coles

15. Peter H. Burnett

16. Gerrit Smith

17. Peter Force

18. John Bromfield

19. Frederick Tudor

20. Myron Holley

21. The Founders Of Lowell

23. John Smedley

24. Richard Cobden

25. Henry Bessemer

26. John Bright

27. Thomas Edward

28. Robert Dick

29. John Duncan

30. James Lackington

31. Horace Greeley's Start

32. James Gordon Bennett

33. Three John Walters

34. George Hope

35. Sir Henry Cole

36. Charles Summers

37. William B. Astor

38. Peter Cooper

39. Paris Duverney

40. Sir Rowland Hill

41. Marie-Antoine Careme

42. Wonderful Walker

43. Sir Christopher Wren

44. Sir John Rennie

45. Sir Moses Montefiore

46. Marquis Of Worcester

47. An Old Dry-goods Merchant's Recollections



It would seem not to be so very difficult a matter to buy an article for
fifty cents and sell it for seventy-five. Business men know, however,
that to live and thrive by buying and selling requires a special gift,
which is about as rare as other special gifts by which men conquer the
world. In some instances, it is easier to make a thing than to sell it,
and it is not often that a man who excels in the making succeeds equally
well in the selling. General George P. Morris used to say:--

"I know a dozen men in New York who could make a good paper, but among
them all I do not know one who could sell it."

The late Governor Morgan of New York had this talent in a singular
degree even as a boy. His uncle sent him to New York, to buy, among
other things, two or three hundred bushels of corn. He bought two
cargoes, and sold them to advantage in Hartford on his way from the
stage office to his uncle's store, and he kept on doing similar things
all his life. He knew by a sort of intuition when it was safe to buy
twenty thousand bags of coffee, or all the coffee there was for sale in
New York, and he was very rarely mistaken; he had a genius for buying
and selling.

I have seen car-boys and news-boys who had this gift. There are boys who
will go through a train and hardly ever fail to sell a book or two. They
improve every chance. If there is a passenger who wants a book, or can
be made to think he wants one, the boy will find him out.

Now James Lackington was a boy of that kind. In the preface to the
Memoirs which he wrote of his career he described himself as a person
"who, a few years since, began business with five pounds, and now sells
one hundred thousand volumes annually." But in fact he did not begin
business with five pounds, but with nothing at all.

He was the son of a drunken shoemaker who lived in an English country
town, and he had no schooling except a few weeks at a dame's school, at
twopence a week. He had scarcely learned his letters at that school when
his mother was obliged to take him away to help her in tending his
little brothers and sisters. He spent most of his childhood in doing
that, and, as he remarks, "in running about the streets getting into
mischief." When he was ten years old he felt the stirring of an inborn
genius for successful traffic.

He noticed, and no doubt with the hungry eyes of a growing boy, an old
pie-man, who sold his pies about the streets in a careless, inefficient
way, and the thought occurred to him that, if he had pies to sell, he
could sell more of them than the ancient pie-man. He went to a baker and
acquainted him with his thoughts on pie-selling, and the baker soon sent
him out with a tray full of pies. He showed his genius at once. The
spirited way in which he cried his pies, and his activity in going about
with them, made him a favorite with the pie-buyers of the town; so that
the old pie-man in a few weeks lost all his business, and shut up his
shop. The boy served his baker more than a year, and sold so many pies
and cakes for him as to save him from impending bankruptcy. In the
winter time he sold almanacs with such success that the other dealers
threatened to do him bodily mischief.

But this kind of business would not do to depend on for a lifetime, and
therefore he was bound apprentice to a shoemaker at the age of fourteen
years, during which a desire for more knowledge arose within him. He
learned to read and write, but was still so ashamed of his ignorance
that he did not dare to go into a bookstore because he did not know the
name of a single book to ask for. One of his friends bought for him a
little volume containing a translation from the Greek philosopher
Epictetus, a work full of wise maxims about life and duty. Then he
bought other ancient authors, Plato, Plutarch, Epicurus, and others. He
became a sort of Methodist philosopher, for he heard the Methodist
preachers diligently on Sundays, and read his Greek philosophy in the
evenings. He tells us that the account of Epicurus living in his garden
upon a halfpenny a day, and considering a little cheese on his bread as
a great treat, filled him with admiration, and he began forthwith to
live on bread and tea alone, in order to get money for his books. After
ending his apprenticeship and working for a short time as a journeyman,
he married a buxom dairymaid, with whom he had been in love for seven
years. It was a bold enterprise, for when they went to their lodgings
after the wedding they searched their pockets carefully to discover the
state of their finances, and found that they had one halfpenny to begin
the world with. They had laid in provisions for a day or two, and they
had work by which to procure more, so they began their married life by
sitting down to work at shoemaking and singing together the following

"Our portion is not large indeed,
But then how little do we need!
For nature's wants are few.
In this the art of living lies,
To want no more than may suffice,
And make that little do."

They were as happy as the day was long. Twenty times, reports this jolly
shoemaker, he and his wife sang an ode by Samuel Wesley, beginning:--

"No glory I covet, no riches I want,
Ambition is nothing to me;
The one thing I beg of kind Heaven to grant
Is a mind independent and free."

They needed their cheerful philosophy, for all they had to spend on food
and drink for a week was a sum about equal to one of our dollars. Even
this small revenue grew smaller, owing to the hard times, and poor James
Lackington saw his young wife pining away under insufficient food and
sedentary employment. His courage again saved him. After enduring
extreme poverty for three years, he got together all the money he could
raise, gave most of it to his wife, and set out for London, where he
arrived in August, 1774, with two and sixpence in his pocket.

It was a fortunate move for our brave shoemaker. He obtained work and
good wages at once, soon sent for his wife, and their united earnings
more than supplied their wants. A timely legacy of ten pounds from his
grandfather gave them a little furniture, and he became again a
frequenter of second-hand bookstores. He could scarcely resist the
temptation of a book that he wanted. One Christmas Eve he went out with
money to buy their Christmas dinner, but spent the whole sum for a copy
of Young's "Night Thoughts." His wife did not relish this style of
Christmas repast.

"I think," said he to his disappointed spouse, "that I have acted
wisely; for had I bought a dinner we should have eaten it to-morrow, and
the pleasure would have been soon over; but should we live fifty years
longer we shall have the 'Night Thoughts' to feast upon."

It was his love of books that gave him abundant Christmas dinners for
the rest of his life. Having hired a little shop in which to sell the
shoes made by himself and his wife, it occurred to him that he could
employ the spare room in selling old books, his chief motive being to
have a chance to read the books before he sold them. Beginning with a
stock of half a hundred volumes, chiefly of divinity, he invested all
his earnings in this new branch, and in six months he found his stock of
books had increased fivefold. He abandoned his shoemaking, moved into
larger premises, and was soon a thriving bookseller. He was scrupulous
not to sell any book which he thought calculated to injure its readers,
although about this time he found the Methodist Society somewhat too
strict for him. He makes a curious remark on this subject:--

"I well remember," he says, "that some years before, Mr. Wesley told his
society at Bristol, in my hearing, that he could never keep a bookseller
six months in his flock."

His trade increased with astonishing rapidity, and the reason was that
he knew how to buy and sell. He abandoned many of the old usages and
traditions of the book trade. He gave no credit, which was itself a
startling innovation; but his master-stroke was selling every book at
the lowest price he could afford, thus giving his customers a fair
portion of the benefit of his knowledge and activity. He appears to have
begun the system by which books have now become a part of the furniture
of every house. He bought with extraordinary boldness, spending
sometimes as much as sixty thousand dollars in an afternoon's sale.

As soon as he began to live with some liberality kind friends foretold
his speedy ruin. Or, as he says:--

"When by the advice of that eminent physician, Dr. Lettsom, I purchased
a horse, and saved my life by the exercise it afforded me, the old
adage, 'Set a beggar on horseback and he'll ride to the devil,' was
deemed fully verified."

But his one horse became two horses, and his chaise a chariot with
liveried servants, in which vehicle, one summer, he made the round of
the places in which he had lived as a shoemaker, called upon his old
employers, and distributed liberal sums of money among his poor
relations. So far from being ashamed of his business, he caused to be
engraved on all his carriage doors the motto which he considered the
secret of his success:--


In his old age he rejoined his old friends the Methodists, and he
declares in his last edition that, if he had never heard the Methodists
preach, in all probability he should have remained through life "a poor,
ragged, dirty cobbler."

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