Yet in less progressive places the old calumnies against the bourgeoisie continued. In England especially.
To the intense irritation of French and German and Japanese people, England, with Scotland in attendance, has been since about 1700 the very fount of bourgeois values. British merchants, British investors, British inventors, British imperialists, British bankers, British economists have led the Age of Innovation. Only in the twentieth century have they passed along some of their international duties to their American cousins, as now the Americans pass them to the East. Even now the United Kingdom, despite its long love affair with the Labour Party’s Clause IV on nationalization, is by historical and international standards a capitalist paradise. Despite its long relative “decline” — the word is a misapprehension based on the happy fact that once-British inventions have proven rather easy to imitate — it remains even today among the most inventive and innovative and richest societies on earth. 230
One view is that Englishmen have always been good capitalists, eager to learn crossbows from Italians and gunpowder from Chinese. Maybe the people have been individualists, as Alan Macfarlane has persuasively argued, “as far back as we may convenientlyâ€¦.” In a famous book in 1979, The Origins of English Individualism, **Project: 1 day Treat Macfarlane, including his recent work as well
But the attitude towards NNNN was hostile. In 1516 Thomas More, who recommended a nightmarish society of slaves finally achieved in the Soviet Union and its followers, was pleased that “in Utopia all greed for money was entirely removed with the use of money. . . . What a crop of crimes was then pulled up by the roots! Who does not know that fraud, theft, rapine, quarrels, disorders, brawls, seditions, murders, treasons, poisonings. . . die out with the destruction of money? Who does not know that fear, anxiety, worries, toil, and sleepless nights will also perish at the same time as money?” 231
Consider the rhetoric for and against businesspeople in England around the time of Shakespeare and the Puritan saints, before the great alteration. Mainly of course it was against — harshly and at great length. And it was universal. The Confucian thinker, Wang Fuzhi (1619-1692), whose work became influential in China centuries after his death, down to Mao, declared in Comprehensive Mirror (1691) that “the merchants are the clever members of the class of mean [another translation is 'small'] men, and their destruction of man’s nature and ruin of men’s lives have already become extremely serious. . . . They are so deeply sunk in profit they cannot be made to move into the stream of gentlemen and Chinese.” 23
Once people’s brushes or pens get filled they seem to have a hard time restraining their eloquence against money and the market. A traditional peasant-aristocrat resentment of the middleman comes out in volume. In Scotland in 1552-1554 the character Deceit in Sir David Lindsay’s court play A Satire of the Three Estates explains in 54 lines how he has helped merchants to cheat, for instance:
I taught you merchants many a wile,
Upland wives for to beguile
Upon a market day.
And make them think your stuff was good,
When it was rotten, by the Rood [that is, , by the Cross],
And [to] swear it was not sway [so].
I was always whispering in your ear,
And teaching you for to curse and swear,
What your gear cost in France; 233
Although not one word was true. And more:
I taught you wiles many-fold:
To mix the new wine with the old. . . .
To sell right dear and buy goods cheap,
And mix rye meal among the soap,
And saffron with olive oil.
The play bulges with such vituperation of crafts and merchants, unsurprising at the time from the pen of a man yclept “Sir.” The speech of Falsehood, before he is hanged fills 78 lines with the light weights and high prices on offer from the townsmen (with 30 lines added for the stealing shepherd and “good common Thief”): “then all the bakers will I curse/ That mixes bread with dust and bran/ And fine flour with barley meal,” and “Adieu, ye crafty cordiners,/ That sell the shoes over dear,” and so on and so forth, down to Barbara Ehrenreich and Wall Street. 234
Still in 1621 the scholar and cleric Robert Burton in England was writing fiercely, in The Anatomy of Melancholy:
What’s the market? A place, according to Anacharsis, wherein they cozen one another, a trap; nay, what’s the world itself? A vast chaos, a confusion of manners, as fickle as the air, domicilium insanorum [abode of madmen], a turbulent troop full of impurities, a mart of walking spirits, goblins, the theatre of hypocrisy, a shop of knavery, flattery, a nursery of villainy, the scene of babbling, the school of giddiness, the academy of vice; a warfare, ubi velis nolis pugnandum, aut vincas aut succumbas [where, whether or not you wish to fight, you either conquer or succumb], in which kill or be killed; wherein every man is for himself, his private ends, and stands upon his own guard. No charity, love, friendship, fear of God, alliance, affinity, consanguinity, Christianity, can contain them, but if they be any ways offended, or that string of commodity be touched, they fall foul. Old friends become bitter enemies on a sudden for toys and small offences. . . . Our summum bonum is commodity, and the goddess we adore Dea moneta, Queen money, to whom we daily offer sacrifice, which steers our hearts, hands, affections, all: that most powerful goddess, by whom we are reared, depressed, elevated, esteemed the sole commandress of our actions, for which we pray, run, ride, go, come, labor, and contend as fishes do for a crumb that falleth into the water. It is not worth, virtue, (that’s bonum theatrale [a theatrical effect],) wisdom, valour, learning, honesty, religion, or any sufficiency for which we are respected, but money, greatness, office, honor, authority; honesty is accounted folly; knavery, policy; men admired out of opinion, not as they are, but as they seem to be: such shifting, lying, cogging, plotting, counterplotting, temporizing, nattering, cozening, dissembling.
Burton, pp. 352-361
Well. If many people believed this, and acted on it, a modern economy would be impossible. If dignity was not accorded to market transactions and to the innovations that the bourgeoisie brings forward, and if the liberty to trade and to invent were scorned, then the modern world would have stopped in 1600. My claim is that the old, anti-bourgeois view — the exceptions I have said came early among the Italians and Catalans and then the Bavarian such as the Fuggers and the Hanseatic League and the Dutch — dominated the public rhetoric of Scotland and England until the late seventeenth century, that of France until the middle of the eighteenth, and of Germany until the early nineteenth, of Japan until the late nineteenth, of China and India until the late twentieth. The belief I say is ancient, and it lasts into the Bourgeois Era in some circles: we find echoes of it down to the present, in environmentalist suspicions of market solutions to CO2 problems or in populist cries to bring down the CEOs and the World Trade Organization or the fierce hatred among progressives of WalMart bringing low prices and good jobs to the poor.
If the market was in fact a scene mainly of adulterated flour and over-dear shoes, a matter of making upland wives think your stuff was good when it was rotten, a “theatre of hypocrisy” ruled only by lying and plotting, then no one of integrity or indeed of common prudence would want take part in it. The self-selection would drive out all faithful people, by a mechanism economists call the “lemons” effect. If the only automobiles that come to the market are those that are working badly and therefore are fit only to be sold off to suckers (an auto that has been in a serious crash, for example, though “repaired”), then everyone will come to realize that any automobile put up for sale is very likely to be a lemon. 235 If only deceitful Scottish tradesmen, or English knaves and the men admired out of opinion, rather than who they really are, succeed in the secondhand market for horses, then everyone will come to realize that any horse put up for sale by such marketeers is very likely to be rotten, impure, over-dear, and dissembling. Make sure you look in the horse’s mouth and count the sound teeth. Watch out for blue eyes. Watch out for signs of welded breaks in the car chassis. Or, better, don’t buy a horse or car or at all. Walk.
Of course, Lindsay and Burton could not actually have maintained such a view without self-contradiction. After all, they bought their ink and quills to scribble away at A Satire the Three Estates or the Anatomy of Melancholy in a market, and sustained themselves with wine purchased in a market supplied from France with Dea moneta, and rode horseback when they could. Moderns who hold such anti-market views face the same self-contradiction, buying paper and ink and computers in the marketplace to produce The Socialist Worker, or driving their recently purchased Porches to meetings to overthrow capitalism.
Burton himself could not sustain it. In his book the other 18 instances of the word “market” (all coming after the first passage attacking the very idea) refer to market places, not the abstract concept, analogous here to Vanity Fair, and do not carry connotations of nattering by walking spirits. Anyway, such blasts against greed are standard turns in literary performances from the Iliad (I: 122, 149) and the prophet Amos (2:6-7; 5:10-12; 8:4-6) down to Sinclair Lewis and The Sopranos. They must be satisfying to write, because there is a great supply of them; and the demand, too, seems brisk. In its very conventionality, though, Lindsay’s speeches and Burton’s paragraph typify the rhetorical obstacle to a modern economy. The sneer by the aristocrat, the damning by the priest, the envy by the peasant, all directed against markets and the bourgeoisie, conventional in every literature since Mesopotamia, have long sufficed to kill economic growth. Only in recent centuries have the clerisy’s prejudice against the market been offset and partially disabled by economists and pragmatists and the writers of books on how to win friends and influence people.
Consider the analogy with other prejudices. Anti-Semitism was “merely” an idea, unless implemented in Russian pogroms during the 1880s or Viennese politics during the 1890s. But of course without the mere idea, and its long history in Europe, and its intensification in the late nineteenth century, the Russian pogroms and the Viennese newspaper articles and their appalling spawn after 1933 wouldn’t have happened. Hitler, although not much of a reader, was certainly an intellectual, in the sense that hole-in-corner dealers in ideas on the internet are nowadays. Ideas mattered to him and motivated him. The coming of the idea of praise, or toleration, for bourgeois values is like the ending, or the moderating, or at any rate the embarrassing, of anti-Semitism. In fact anti-market prejudice and anti-Semitism were of course connected. Ideas mattered. That ideas mattered didn’t mean that legal and financial implementation was a nullity. But ideas are not, as the economists believe, merely “cheap talk” with no impact on social equilibria.
Or consider racism in America. The hypocrisy of Lindsay’s or Burton’s anti-market blasts while dealing in with their friend Nat in the market for ink can be compared, as Virgil Storr has observed, with talking about African-Americans being quite terrible on the whole, as thieves and the rapists of white women — except my cleaning lady, who is a Good One, or except my friend from church, whom after long acquaintance I hardly remember is one, or Sammy Davis, Jr., who after all was Jewish. “All merchants are crooks,” writes Storr, “but this chap I deal with isn’t so bad.” 236 Or consider prejudice against women. My daughter deserves respect, says the virulent sexist, but those others are whores. My grocer is a good fellow, but in general they’re cheats. The point is that the prejudice against the middleman, the boss, the banker — vile things — if it gets beyond cheap talk, and it often does, can stop innovation and creative destruction cold. It needs to be contradicted, and in Britain in the eighteenth century it was.
This needs to be worked in: The Elizabethan world picture, and the Great Chain of Being, was an “ideology,” a system of ideas supporting those in power. I prefer the word “rhetoric.” Elizabeth gave a short speech in Latin to the heads of Oxford University on September 28, 1592, ending with “Each and every person is to obey his superior in rank. . . . Be of one mind, for you know that unity is the stronger, disunity the weaker and quick to fall into ruin” (Elizabeth 1592, in Marcus et al., eds., p. 328). The theme of Shakespeare’s Corrialanus Sp.*** and exact quite is the same, the Great Chain of Being. It does not entirely disappear even in England — a point that the English historian David Cannadine makes — but by 1776 it does become much less prominent than it was in 1600, this obedience to superiors as the chief political principle. In the United States nowadays, for example, it is believed chiefly by certain restricted members of the country club.
Sombart’s essay on why US doesn’t have a socialist party. US is stratified, so all positions have honor (e.g. my childhood towns of St. Joseph; Wakefield). Plus vague notions of overall level — provincialism (what word does he use?). An individual can try to move up in his little hierarchy. The gravity opposing such attempts is stronger in Europe, especially c. 1600,but even in 1900. Socialist parties are an attempt to raise an entire class. Lacks point in US. (Inspired by Paul Flondor of the University Politechnica of Budapest.) Yu Zhou of Vassar has reminded me that no persuasion is involved in Sombart’s story — so can never change. And he doesn’t allow for change from an immigrant to a more integrated society, working the other way.
As a result, in Shakespeare’s England the economic virtues were not at all respectable. Sneered at, rather. (This despite Will’s own economic success in the business of running theatre companies.) The only one of Shakespeare’s plays that speaks largely of merchants offers no commendation of thrift. Shylock’s “well-worn thrift” is nothing like an admired model for behavior. It is the lack of thrift in aristocratic Bessanio, the “disabling of his estate,” itself viewed as amusing and blameless — since had he but the means he could hold a rival place with Portia’s wealthy and aristocratic suitors — that motivates the blood bargain in the first place. No blame attaches, and all ends well, except for the Jew.
This does not mean that Shakespeare’s contemporaries were not greedy. But their greed expressed itself in an aristocratic notion that Lord Bessanio simply deserved the income from his lands or borrowings or gifts from friends or marrying well or any other unearned income he could assemble, and then gloriously spend. Shylock was to be expropriated to enrich others — never mind such bourgeois notions as incentives to thrift or work. The gentry and especially the aristocracy in Shakespeare’s England discounted bourgeois thrift, and scorned the bourgeois work that earned the income to be thrifty about. Gentlemen, and especially dukes, did not deign to pay their tailoring bills. As late as 1695 the English economic writer Charles Davenant complained that “if these high [land] taxes long continue, in a country so little given to thrift as ours, the landed men must inevitably be driven into the hands of . . . usurers.” 237 The unthrifty were the landed English gentlemen puttin’ on the style. Francis Bacon had been in Shakespeare’s time the very type of such a man, given to “ostentatious entrances, arrayed in all his finery, and surrounded by a glittering retinue,” chronically unthrifty, always in debt, and tempted therefore to misuse the Lord Chancellor’s mace when finally his ambition achieved it, by soliciting bribes from both sides in legal disputes. 238 About the same time as Bacon’s disgrace, a prudent temperance had made Plymouth Colony and Massachusetts Bay succeed where Jamestown, it is said, had failed. The adventurers of Jamestown were gentlemen, not thrifty Puritans.
All of Shakespeare’s works record an aristocratic refusal to calculate. Think of Hamlet’s indecision, Lear’s proud impulsiveness, King Leontes’ irrationalities in A Winter’s Tale. Even Antonio the merchant in The Merchant of Venice makes the bargain impulsively, and admirably, for friendship. Such behavior is quite unlike the prudent examining of ethical account books even in late and worldly Puritans like Daniel Defoe, or in their still later and still more worldly descendants like Benjamin Franklin. What is correct in Weber’s emphasis on worldly asceticism is that the Puritans wrote a good many fictions such as autobiographies stressing it.
It is not just in Shakespeare that around 1600 a modern bourgeoisie and his market activities are disdained in soon-to-be-bourgeois England. Of Thomas Dekker’s popular play The Shoemaker’s Holiday (1599) the literary critic David Bevington declared that “no play better celebrates bourgeois London.” 239 Yet consider.
Historically its hero, Simon Eyre (c.1395-1458), was a draper who rose to be mayor of London, though in the comedy, which was very successful (it was played before the Queen and its acclaim is said to have provoked Shakespeare to write The Merry Wives of Windsor), Eyre is a “professor of the gentle craft” of shoemaking. “Gentle,” as in “gentleman,” meant “noble, at least at the level of gentry.” Check to see when meaning as “not wild” comes The absurdity of calling such a humble job as shoemaking “gentle” is drawn on again and again in the play (1:30, 1:134; 1.219; 3.4, 3.24; 4:47; 7:48). Eyre’s curious catch-phrase, “Prince am I none, yet am nobly born,” taken in form from Orlando Furioso and in application to Eyre and the “gentle craft” from a contemporary novel, underlines the extent of Eyre’s rise in the social hierarchy. 240 His very name, Eyre, is a homonym of Dutch eer or German Ehre, “honor.”
But what is admired in the play is honorable hierarchy and its stability, not the widespread bourgeois upheavals, the creative destruction, the wave of gadgets, to be commended in the eighteenth and especially in the nineteenth centuries. Bevington himself notes that Simon Eyre in the play “is not ‘middle class’ in the nineteenth-century sense of the term, since his values remain stubbornly and proudly those of his artisan origins.” 241 We are in The Shoemaker’s Holiday in a world of zero sum. Eyre starts as a jolly and indulgent master, who deals sharply only once (7.74, 77-78), and this in a minor matter involving how much beer he is going to buy in order to over-reward his workers. He stays that way.
Though he rises quickly to alderman, sheriff, and Lord Mayor, right to the end of the play he speaks in prose. The convention of Elizabethan drama was that the comic figures below the gentry and nobility spoke in prose, and only the elevated figures spoke in blank verse, five beats to the unrhymed line. His journeyman Ralph Damport, for example, is bound for military duty in France, which ennobles a man. As Henry V says before Agincourt, “For he today that sheds his blood with me / Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile, / This day shall gentle his condition.” Ralph, who has lines in the play only after his mission in the army is decided, speaks in blank verse — or at least until he returns from the wars a sad and comical cripple: then it is back to prose for poor demobbed and denobled Ralph (18.15). Ralph’s wife Jane, too, nobly resisting the courting by a gentleman while her husband is at the wars, also rises above the commonality of prose.
Rowland Lacy in the play, nephew of the very grand Earl of Lincoln, disguises himself as Dutch “Hans” in order to court Rose Oatley, daughter of Sir Roger Oatley, Lord Mayor at the beginning. (The “Lord” Mayor is so called because he becomes a knight; perhaps in keeping with the historical facts about Simon Eyre the playwright never raises him to Sir Simon, and so never lets him speak blank verse.) “Hans” speaks in comical Anglo-Dutch, again in prose (the playwright’s name, “Dekker,” is Dutch, meaning “Thatcher,” and Dekker shows an accurate knowledge of the language of that merchant republic). But when “Hans” is revealed as actually being Rowland Lacy, the cousin of an earl, to be knighted at the end by the king, it is back to blank verse again. And so throughout, every character carefully slotted into the Great Chain of Being. Eyre and his sharp-witted wife Margery for example use the familiar “thou” (like tu in French) to address the journeyman shoemakers, but the formal “you” with their superiors (and “you” for plurals at both registers: vous).
The reinforcement of the Great Chain of Being appears all over Elizabethan and early Jacobite drama, and shows even in its rare exceptions. The bizarre feature of both Barabas in Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta and Shylock in The Merchant of Venice is their eloquence before their social superiors. As Lynne Magnusson points out, comic effect in Shakespeare is often achieved by the middling sort trying to speak posh, and disastrously failing. 242 Low commoners stumble amusingly in speaking to social superiors — like Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing, and always, always in prose. 243 Barabas and Shylock have no such problem of elevated fluency, and always speak in blank verse *** check. The very limited experience of Englishmen with the despised Jews — they were not readmitted until the late seventeenth century, having been expelled from England in 1290 — must have made the contrast with the low comic figures doubly impressive. To repeat: the honoring of hierarchy is not “bourgeois” in the disruptive sense that Marx and Schumpeter understood it.
Payment pops up all over the play, the stage direction “giving money” being second only to “enter” in frequency. Bourgeois, yes? No. In keeping with the emphasis on social hierarchy in the play and in the times it was written, the money transfers are almost always payment by a superior to an inferior, expressing hierarchy. They are tips. So again we do not have here a celebration of “bourgeois” in a modern capitalist sense, where one equal dealer buys from another, but a celebration of traditional hierarchy. Eyre gives tips to Ralph on his way to war, as the foreman Hodge and another journeyman immediately also do (1.218, 225, 229). When Eyre becomes sheriff, the cheeky journeyman Firk bringing the good news gets tipped by Mrs. Eyre (10.132). The lordly Lincoln in the opening scene describes with irritation (in blank verse, of course) how he supplied his ne’er-do-well nephew (the romantic lead, Rowland Lacy/”Hans”): “I furnished him with coin, bills of exchange,/ Letters of credit, men to wait on him.” Forty lines later the Lord Mayor Sir Roger Oatley promises to get the aldermen to shower Â£20 on Rowland the noble if he will but take up his commission and fight in France (Oatley wants the wastrel safely away from daughter Rose; it’s the usual comic material of thwarted lovers getting around their rich fathers). Twenty pounds is a considerable sum, well over a skilled workman’s yearly wages: think of $50,000 nowadays. The Â£20 gets circulated another forty lines later by Rowland himself, to undermine the very elders who gave it. Likewise the gentleman Hammon offers the same sum, Â£20, to Ralph back from the wars, if he’ll only sell his loyal wife Jane to Hammon. It’s no go, of course, and Hammon then immediately proves his nobility by reaching down the social order to give the couple the Â£20 anyway (18.97). The Earl of Lincoln and Sir Oatley keep trying to make cash work against love (8.49, 9.97). These are payments both to the same “noble,” that is, blank-verse chap. Again at 16.97 cash payment tries to work against love and fails.
So the middle class is held in its subordinate realm of prose, accepting the position with good grace. Money transactions have nothing to do with business, much less the financing of creative destruction, but rather with reinforcing status differentials, such as lordly types reaching down to bribe or tip their lower status subjects. Or to put it another way, money is bullion in the style of mercantilists such as the economic thinker Thomas Mun, who was a contemporary (as Peter Mortenson observes). “One man’s loss becomes another man’s gain,” said Mun, literally, ??? Holland bound to rise while England declines. 244 Thus the hysteria recently about China (average per capita income in U.S. terms $14 a day) “rising,” while the U.S. ($1NN a day) “falls.” Money circulates in aid of hierarchy, like the league tables of “competing” nations that modern mercantilists like to talk about, but does not lead to specialization and innovation. It is not innovation in its outcome of modern economic growth that’s being celebrated here.
The modestly positioned Simon Eyre does become Lord Mayor. How? By sheer luck, as though a shoemaker had won the Illinois State lottery. 245 As the playwright of course knew, to be an alderman, sheriff, and especially lord mayor of London required considerable wealth already accumulated. One had to put on a good show, and show your liberality, an aristocratic virtue praised in Dekker’s time at all levels of English society. Eyre reflects on his good luck: “By the Lord of Ludgate, it’s a mad life to be a lord mayor. It’s a stirring life, a fine life, a velvet life. . . . This day my fellow prentices of London come to dine with me too; they shall have fine cheer, gentlemanlike cheer. I promised . . . that if ever I came to be mayor of London, I would feast them all; and I’ll do’t, I’ll do’t, by the life of Pharaoh. By this beard, Sim Eyre will be no flincher.” 246 He promises “gentlemanlike” cheer, such as idle gentlemen give and get. He does not forget his “fellow” apprentices.
Eyre gets rich in the traditional story by chancing on a wrecked Dutch ship, whose contents he buys cheaply and sells dearly. This is mercantilist zero-sum: one man’s misfortune is another man’s enrichment. Thomas Deloney’s contemporary novel, The Gentle Craft, Part I, appeared two years before Decker’s play, and was a source for him; for example it was the source of the “Prince am I none” tagline. In the novel it is Eyre’s wife who sees the entrepreneurial opportunity and urges him on. Deloney explains in the novel that she “was inflamed with the desire thereof, as women are (for the most part) very covetous. . . . She could scant find in her heart to spare him time to go to supper for very eagerness to animate him on to take that bargain.” 247 As Laura Stevenson O’Connell put it in an important article on these matters in 1976, “by attributing all the innovation to Mistress Eyre, Deloney can celebrate Eyre’s later achievements as a wise, just, and charitable rich man without having to portray him at first as an entrepreneur who has sullied himself by conjuring up a questionably honest business deal.” 248
In Puritan England, O’Connell explains, “The godly rich man was not a man who was engaged in the pursuit of wealth; he was a man already wealthy.” “The calling of the rich man was the calling of the public servant, preacher, or teacher,” as it had always been. 249 William Perkins, a Puritan preacher at the University of Cambridge whose numerous works were published in 1616-1618, declared that “if God gives abundance, when we neither desire it nor seek it, we may take it, hold it, and use it. . . . But [the businessman] may not desire goods. . . more than necessary, for if he doth, he sinneth.” 250 O’Connell criticizes the Marxist historian Christopher Hill, who according to her “does not realize that once a man reached a certain point of affluence, the Puritans [and the other English people of the time, and the Israelites and the Romans and the medieval Christians and the nineteenth-century clerisy and the Carnegies and the Warren Buffetts and the Bill Gates] insisted that he be diligent in a calling which involved not making money, but spending it.” 251
And so likewise in all the plays and novels of Shakespeare’s time. (In fact, so also always in plays and novels at any time, by tendency, a paradox in view of the bourgeois character of the genre of the European play and novel.) The novelist Deloney, who died around 1600, speaks in his last bourgeois production of a Thomas of Reading, a good rich clothier, but tells nothing of the entrepreneurial activities leading to his wealth, only of his acts of charity and good citizenship after acquiring it. “Far from using the preacher’s approval of abundant wealth and diligent work as a doctrine which encourages poor boys to make good,” writes O’Connell, “Deloney uses Puritan morality as a retreat from the spirit of capitalism.” 252
The piety continued to be in tension with capitalism. Contrast the encouragement to poor boys to make good in Horatio Alger’s novels, such as Struggling Upward, or Luke Larkin’s Luck (1868). The title contains both the struggle and the luck. But a good start in business life does not descend upon Luke, “the son of a carpenter’s widow, living on narrow means, and so compelled to exercise the strictest economy” (p. 1), without tremendous struggling upward, fully 144 pages of it, in which he is industrious, polite, resourceful, and on and on — though not, again, entrepreneurial in the larger sense that made the modern world. Alger’s contemporary in England, Samuel Smiles, who was himself a successful corporate businessman and an admirer of entrepreneurial engineers like George Stephenson or Isabard Kingdom Brunel, understood that riches came from substantive innovation, not from zero-sum luck of find a Dutch wreck or being favored by the tip from the already-rich. Alger did not. The son of a minister, a graduate of Harvard, and a minister briefly himself until after a homosexual scandal, Alger embarked on his writing career, in 1867 (Ragged Dick, 1867: every one of the Alger novels had the same plot). He knew little of the business world. His boys get their start by impressing an older man — in Struggling Upward, for example, Luke impresses a Mr. Armstrong, named a “merchant.” 253 The English clerisy in the nineteenth century, portrayed by George Eliot in 1871-72 as seeking their non-commercial callings in a sadly commercial land, reverted to the earlier and Puritan model, as Alger had: virtue is achieved through possessing wealth by God’s grace and giving it out to suitable objects of largess. It is not achieved by creative destruction.
The imaginers of innovation, or the ministers criticizing it, or the writers of 110 novels for boys, didn’t ordinarily know innovation in business from practicing it. Unlike love or even war, activity in business stops the telling. Multatuli’s Max Havelaar (1860) was a Dutch Uncle Tom’s Cabin, testifying against the virtually slavery in Indonesia. The first narrator, a co/mically self-absorbed dealer in coffee — the most famous opening line in Dutch literature is “I am a dealer in coffee, and live at 37 Lauiergracht” — explains with some warmth why he had previously not engaged in such an unbusinesslike business as writing novels. “For years I asked myself what the use of such things was, and I stand amazed at the insolence with which a writer of novels will fool you with things that never happened and indeed could never happen. If in my own business. . . I put out anything of which the smallest part was an untruth — which is the chief business in poetry and romance — [my competitor] would instantly get wind of it. So I make sure that I write no novels or put out any other falsehoods.” 254 Daniel Defoe, whose business was journalism, was a similar secular Puritan suspicious of fiction and self-contradictory in his suspicion. He wrote in Serious Reflections of Robinson Crusoe, one of his two follow-ons to Robinson Crusoe (Defoe never admitted that anything he wrote was fiction): “This supplying a story by invention is certainly a most scandalous crime.” 255 Then Defoe, and the literal-minded merchant-narrator of Max Havelaar, proceed to pretend the truth of just such a novel — though ironically again, no “falsehoods” in truth from Multatuli, well after the European novel had developed its unusual connection with literal truth, but an exposÃ© written by someone else of the horrors of Dutch colonialism.
In The Shoemaker’s Holiday luck elevates Eyre in the Great Chain of Being. Numerous people above him in the chain just happen to die, and his wife and his foreman put the shipwreck deal in front of his nose. Mortenson notes that Dekker’s play is a version of the pastoral, shifted to London, but that off stage throughout the play there occur highly unpastoral wars (which cripple Ralph; and to which Lacy honorably adjourns at the end), deaths (aldermen especially), and the losses of the Dutch merchant that enrich Eyre. As Mortenson puts it, “Dekker creates a grim world and encourages us to pretend that it is a green one” (Mortenson 1976, p. 252).
In a world after Eden, God gave Eyre abundance, and he of course gives it back. Bevington notes that “his ship literally comes in.” 256 Mortenson and Bevington would agree that such proletarian ideas of enrichment — the novelist Deloney was a silk weaver by trade, no haut bourgeois — have little to do with the entrepreneurial bourgeois praised in the eighteenth and especially in the nineteenth century. The playwright Dekker praises the middling sort, but praises in 1599 nothing like its remote descendents, the Manchester manufacturers, or even the projectors and inventors of contemporary Holland — soon too, in England, to be the admired bourgeois. As to the rhetoric of the economy, then, Dekker’s play is conservative. The machinery differs entirely from that in a pro-bourgeois production in English after about 1690.