Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/74

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[Jan. 9, 1864.
ONCE A WEEK.

vulsion—their joints so thoroughly worked, and in consequence so supple, that whilst the mind counted "two, six, eight, ten, and twenty," they bent like those of a conjuror in all sorts of directions best suited for the operation—while straight flew the glittering coins into my grasp, and the cheque I had handed over, now marked with sundry mystical hieroglyphics, was consigned to some depository to me as unsearchable as the deep.

But I must pass in medias res. There is an apoplexy in banking which, though it proceeds rather from atrophy than plethora, is very fatal and instantaneous in its effects. This is stopping payment. The mere mention of the possibility is, I am aware, highly indelicate. Pound, Schilling, Pense, &. Co. no doubt thought it so; and I wondered whether this was because the evil, like death, is always so near that attempts to avert it are useless, or so great that they trembled even to think of it. But I soon understood, however this might have been, that in the presence of a banker, or even his customers, preparation for such an eventuality was no more to be hinted at than we should think of talking to an elderly gentleman with a short neck and deep-purple face, of a flow of blood to the head. This dread of going to leeward might be, I imagined, lest the banker should be burnt for a sorcerer, and all his constituents indicted for conspiracy; in which case bankruptcy seemed the punishment to which the devil consigned his victims after the expiration and miscarriage of the unlawful alliance which had bound them together. Nevertheless, the consequences of truth are often as sad as the wildest fancies of romance. Is it not enough that these consequences are what real facts make them? The money, bullion, plate, jewellery, deeds, law instruments, and other invaluables of depositors are, at least, of some importance to themselves, who number thousands. Besides, public confidence, the growth of many centuries, suffers a sudden shock, very mischievous to all parties, when one of these institutions comes to grief; life-preservers, strong boxes, bars and bolts, insurance companies, and safeguards against fire, go up to a premium; and even those who do not directly share in the calamity, button up their breeches pockets against the convenience a banker would afford them; whilst those who go on trusting, sleep the worse for it in their beds at night. Twenty-four millions are thus disposed of among the twenty banks of Scotland only, where the system flourishes certainly in luxuriance. The thrifty habits of the North Briton have urged him to devise a means of advantageously disposing of the fruits of his economy; so that the common opinion, that the institution of deposit banks fosters careful habits among the people of Scotland, is taking the stick by the wrong end. However, to be one of those whose savings go to make up the million which at this figure is somewhat less than the treasure in the keeping of but one of these institutions, makes even a Scotchman nervous when ideas of a banker's insolvency enter his head. My innocent understanding soon came to perceive that the difference between a banker and his customer was this. The former keeps his mind at ease by reposing faith in no one; the latter, by implicit reliance upon the firm with which he has his account.

Times, it is believed, are mended; and a good job too; for, in 1814, eighty-nine country bankers came to ruin. In 1825 also there was an awful havoc among them, scarcely a town of any importance throughout the country escaping the spectacle of a firm which had stopped payment During this year there were in all trades 1,107 gazetted bankrupts. Fancy the long faces, the empty tables, the cheerless firesides, the lean bellies and sorrowful hearts, disappointed of the dearest expectations which ordinary prosperity had warranted among thousands of men, women, and children. One bankruptcy in London occasioned, during the panic in question, the stoppage of no less than forty others who were their country correspondents. It is worthy of note that, in despite of this general epidemic, not one Scotch bank was apparently a bit the worse for it.

In 1847 the commercial earthquake was even more disastrous; so that, although no one would of course quarrel with that etiquette which forbids any allusion to the liability of a derangement, or the possible suspension of the functions of life, in these establishments, such things have occurred; and for my part they have dispelled some of those superstitions with which I originally regarded the characters of Messrs. Pound, Schilling, Pense, & Co. and their whole fraternity.

But they do deal with the devil in one way, as I always thought, and as they who know anything about the secret consultations among the partners, or managing directors, are unable to deny. Frauds to a very great extent are often indirectly encouraged by the policy adopted at these privy councils; the bankers being congizant of transactions they ought, due regard being had to the public good, to expose. Pound has obtained this morning from the broker in the City, alarming information upon the affairs of Shortquill, whose bills for very heavy sums of money have been discounted by the firm. Pound had all along protested to his brother traders against the