The first step towards extending the business of the original Rothschild house in Frankfort was taken in 1798 by Nathan Mayer, the third and most remarkable of all Mayer Amschel's sons, who in that year started for England with the object of creating a business of his own.
To Nathan Mayer may be ascribed much of the subsequent prosperity of the family, as, by his splendid financial abilities and untiring energy, he contributed far more than any of his brothers towards raising the firm to the brilliant position it has held for the last fifty years. He it was who, by his vast schemes and far-reaching speculations, gave the firm its cosmopolitan character, whilst the great services which he, in common with his brothers, rendered to all the Governments of Europe in turn, gained for his family a reputation and a consideration such as no other firm has ever enjoyed.
Previous to 1798, all the business of the Frankfort house with England was transacted through the firm of Van Notten in London, who acted as the attorneys of the Elector of Hesse in receiving the latter's subsidies from the British Government, and collecting his dividends. When Nathan Mayer had established himself in London, these powers were transferred to him, and so great was the confidence reposed by the Elector in his integrity and shrewdness, that he was allowed carte-blanche as to the disposal of the moneys he received. He was left perfectly free and unfettered in dealing with the Elector's funds and stocks; he could buy or sell at his own discretion.
The choice of London from all the European capitals, as promising the best opening for a branch business, affords a convincing proof of the natural shrewdness of the man. Before many years had elapsed, the splendid success he achieved forced the whole world to acknowledge the soundness of his judgment. His name, by that time, had become familiar to all the leading European statesmen, whilst the business conducted by him in London far exceeded, in the vastness of its proportions, that of any of his brothers. This, after all, was but natural, seeing that London, with its gigantic commerce, its unceasing activity, was the pivot round which the trade of the whole world revolved. That a man of Nathan Mayer's temperament, whose chief delight was in vast and complicated operations, should have taken advantage of the opportunities which London afforded for embarking in enormous undertakings might have been safely anticipated. He could hardly have selected a spot more suited to his plans. A born speculator, he found himself in the midst of an incessant whirlpool of gambling and speculation, from which none but one possessing, as he did, a cool head and a shrewd intellect, could have emerged with flying colours. Whether intuition or instinct dictated his choice, or whether it was due to mature consideration, we do not pretend to say, but the results accruing from his selection must have far surpassed his most sanguine anticipations, as his family, through his influence and skilful management, became the supreme rulers of the money markets of the world, and gained the monopoly and control of all important financial enterprises.
The London firm was the first branch of the Frankfort business, and was, as we have said, started at the commencement of this century by Nathan Mayer Rothschild, the third son of old Mayer Amschel, of the Judengasse. The immediate cause of his repairing to England was a dispute with one of the great cotton manufacturers from Lancashire, who treated Nathan Mayer, himself a rough, unpolished man, in an arrogant, overbearing fashion, which was keenly resented. At that time the Continent, Germany and Austria especially, was entirely dependent on England for its supplies of cotton goods, and the English manufacturers, secure as they thought in their monopoly, abused their position and treated their foreign customers in a very cavalier fashion. In their opinion it was quite a favour on their part to dispose of their wares at all. The Frankfort house did a large business in cotton goods, and it was the behaviour of one of the manufacturers who visited the firm that caused Nathan Mayer to adopt the sudden resolve to go to England.
We cannot do better than repeat his own version, as published in Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton's Biography, of his first experiences and successes in England. In one of his letters Sir Thomas says:— “We dined yesterday at Ham House, to meet the Rothschilds, and very amuaing it was. He (Rothschild) told ua his life and adventures. He was the third son of a banker at Frankfort.' There was not, he said, 'room for us all in that city. I dealt in English goods. One great trader came there who had the market all to himself; he was quite the great man, and did us a favour if he sold us goods. Somehow I offended him and he refused to show me his patterns. Thia was on a Tuesday. I said to my father: 'I will go to England/ I could apeak nothing but German. On the Thursday I started. The nearer I got to England the cheaper the goods were. As soon as I got to Manchester I laid out all my money, things were so cheap, and I made a good profit. I soon found out there were three profits—the raw material, the dyeing, and the manufacturing. I said to the manufacturer, 'I will supply you with material and dye, and you supply me manufactured goods. So I got three profits instead of one, and I could sell goods cheaper than anybody. In a short time I made my £20,000 into £60,000. My success all turned on one maxim. I said, 'I can do what another man can, and so I am a match for the man with the patterns and for all the rest of them.”
Nothing could demonstrate more clearly Nathan Rothschild's profound confidence in his own powers, and his resolute character, than this simple narrative. So rapid was his success in Manchester, that before many years had passed he found even that was too limited a sphere for the mind which could grapple with three profits. He accordingly at the beginning of this centuny established himself in London, where he was afterwards destined to make such a name. Previous to his arrival in London, the business of the parent house in Frankfort had passed through the hands of the banking firm of Van Notten, but Nathan Mayer at once assumed the control and management of the firm's interests in England. In the concluding portion of his letter, Sir T. F. Buxton writes:—
“I forgot to say that soon after Rothschild came to England Buonaparte invaded Germany. 'The Prince of Hesse Cassel,' said Rothschild, 'gave my father his money; there was no time to be lost: he sent it to me. I had £600,000 arrive unexpectedly by post; and I put it to such good use that the Prince made me a present of all his wine and linen.'”
The immense profits realized by these early transactions, Nathan Rothschild soon found means to multiply. It was a period when a man gifted with his remarkable shrewdness and business capacities was bound to succeed. However great his folly may have seemed at the time when Napoleon's forces were trampling all Europe beneath their feet, Nathan Mayer learnt to form a favourable idea of the immense strength and resources of England, and his calculations as to the ultimate issue of the struggle were all in favour of his adopted country. Acting on his convictions, he on one occasion purchased a large amount of bills of the Duke of Wellington at a heavy discount, but knowing that the credit and faith of the country were pledged to their payment he felt he had made a good bargain. To quote his own words once more:—
“When I settled in London, the East India Company had £800,000 worth in gold to sell. I went to the sale, and bought it all. I knew the Duke of Wellington must have it. I had bought a great many of his bills at a discount. The Government sent for me and said they must have it. When they had got it, they did not know how to get it to Portugal. I undertook all that, and I sent it through France, and that was the best business I ever did.”
Nathan Mayer was generally termed a merchant, but, although his commercial transactions were large and important, the scene of his greatest and most profitable triumphs was the Stock Exchange. At a time when the prices of the Funds and all securities were subject to violent fluctuations, the temptations to a great capitalist, with the speculative instinct so strongly developed as in Nathan Mayer, were irresistible. Though a mere stripling among the grey heads of the money market, his almost preternatural sagacity in the art of money making brought him at once into prominence, and he became the leading man on the Stock Exchange, none of the members of which could boast, like him, of having “multiplied their capital 2,500 times in the course of five years.” He had now a field opened out to him for the display of his remarkable powers, and his immense speculations in the Funds, by which he realized large profits, proved him to be gifted with a wonderful intuitive foresight as to the course of events, combined with great fertility of resource, and unrivalled boldness. The introduction which his first business with the Government had secured him to the Ministers, was invaluable in his after career, as it enabled him to procure from privileged sources early information of all that passed in the political world likely to affect the money market. Every piece of early information was worth thousands to him on the Stock Exchange, the pulse of which none knew better how to feel than he. But he was ere long dissatisfied even with the privileges secured to him by his connection with the Government, and he originated a system of intelligence by which news was conveyed to him long before the arrival of the Government couriers and messengers. He had his own staff of active agents and couriers, whose duty it was to follow in the wake of armies or attend at the different Courts to collect and transmit to him regularly, without regard to expense, reports of all that transpired. He organized a system of pigeon post, by which news was conveyed to him from the Continent rapidly and at short intervals. He was known to have spent immense sums on his pigeons, and was ever ready to pay liberally for birds possessing great strength and swiftness. The superiority of his intelligence over that of the Government was proved on several occasions. He was the first to inform Lord Aberdeen of the Paris July revolution, as he had been to announce the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo. In connection with Waterloo an interesting little romance has been written upon the immense sum Nathan Mayer gained by his early knowledge of the victory of the Allies, which his financial strategy enabled him to use to the fullest advantage on the Stock Exchange. Many of his large speculations had been based on the presumed success of the English arms, and he was perhaps congratulating himself on his shrewd foresight and the soundness of his calculations when the sudden and treacherous return of Napoleon from Elba shattered at once his golden dreams and renewed all his previous anxiety and fears. No man, indeed, had greater cause to tremble at the reappearance of the mighty despot than had Nathan Mayer; when the fruits of his victory seemed almost within his grasp, they were at a blow re1- moved, and he was left surrounded with doubts and contingencies. In the midst of its rejoicings the whole of Europe was startled with alarm and dismay. That the deposed Emperor should ever return to harass and devastate Europe, had never occurred to men's minds; it was a possibility of which no one had ever thought. The public alarm was only increased as the news of the glad welcome Napoleon received on his way to Paris became known. So upset was Nathan Mayer by the news, and so intense became his anxiety to learn how matters progressed and were likely to end, that it would not allow him to rest satisfied with the speed of his couriers, but drove him to go himself to the Continent to watch the course of events with his own eyes. He accordingly proceeded to Belgium and followed close in the wake of the English army. "When at length the Duke took up his position at Waterloo, and quietly awaited the French forces, Nathan Mayer felt that the critical moment on which hung the fortunes, not. of Europe alone, bui of the Rothschilds also, had arrived. He had such an immense stake dependent upon the issue, that his feverish anxiety would not allow him to remain in the background. He proceeded to the battle-field and took up a position commanding a view of both armies. We can imagine how eagerly he scanned the field, and noted the disposition and strength of the opposing forces. Those under the command of the Iron Duke must, we should fancy, have struck him as being outmatched and standing but a poor chance with the French army, which included the famous and hitherto invincible " Old Guard/' Turning to the distinguished personages around him, among whom were to be seen Count Pozzo di Borgo, Baron Vincent, General Alava, Baron Muffling, and others of equal note, Nathan Mayer questioned eagerly and wistfully all who cared to give him a hearing. The answers he received were discouraging and but increased his fears, for all were too well aware that the struggle between two such remarkable commanders would be long and stubborn. Though hoping for victory, none felt confident enough to predict such a result. The battle began. A dense smoke, from the furious cannonade, soon enveloped the whole field in a cloud; but Nathan Mayer's straining eyes were able from time to time to see the fierce charges of the French cavalry, by which the safety of the English lines was more than once imperilled. Cold steel, however, conquered, and the assailants recoiled before the bristling hedge of bayonets. And so the battle grew and waxed fiercer as the day progressed. On the opposite hill of Rossomme, Napoleon was seated with a map outstretched before him, and from there he issued the orders for a last and desperate charge, on which all his hopes of victory were placed. The Old Guard, with the gallant Ney at their head, rushed forward to retrieve the fortunes of the day; but in vain. They had met their masters. They were driven back by the British bayonets, and were soon to be seen making their way from the battlefield in the greatest confusion and disorder. With a ringing cheer that told which side had won, the English forces rushed after their foes, whilst Nathan Mayer, his anxiety allayed and his spirits restored, spurred his horse back towards Brussels. It was dusk as he quitted the field, and his solitary ride in the darkness must have been intensely exciting to his already highly taxed brain. It was a ride he cannot readily have forgotten. Having reached Brussels, he procured, after some difficulty, a carriage to convey him. without delay, and at all speed, to Ostend, where he arrived, travel-stained and weary, on the morning of the 19th June. Tired as he was, he would not stay to rest. In spite of the tempestuous sea, and the threatening weather, he wished to make his way across the Channel, but even the fishermen shrank from the attempt. In vain he offered bribes of five hundred, six hundred, eight hundred francs to the poor fellows; they would not venture. It was not until the offer reached two thousand francs that one of them consented to brave the tempest, and endeavour to take Nathan Mayer across to England, on condition that the money was paid to his wife before starting. They set sail, and before they had gone far the threatening weather changed for the better, whilst a favourable breeze sprang up and considerably accelerated their passage. In the evening they sighted Dover and shortly after Nathan Mayer dragged his weary limbs ashore. Even here he would not rest, but, after procuring the swiftest post-horses to be had, resumed his journey to London. The next day he was to be seen leaning against his well-known pillar on the Stock Exchange, apparently broken in health and spirits, and looking as if he had been overwhelmed and crushed by some direful calamity. The greatest gloom and despondency had for days prevailed in the City, and as men looked at Rothschild, and then significantly at each other, they seemed to come unanimously to the conclusion that their hopes had been blasted, and that the worst was yet to be known. Had not Rothschild travelled post-haste from the Continent, and were not his agents already selling out? The Stock Exchange, generally so full of life and noise, was unusually silent; speculators moved about in a listless, aimless way, now and then stopping to discuss in low whispers the cause of the great financier's sales. The gloom and despondency was not lessened when a rumour became current that Rothschild had told a friend in confidence that Blucher with his 117,000 Prussians had been defeated on the 16th and 17th June at Ligny, and that Wellington could not hope with his handful of soldiers to arrest the progress of Napoleon's victorious and far larger forces. The evil news spread through the City like wildfire. The Funds dropped rapidly, and the greatest uneasiness and despondency prevailed. The change was so violent and so sudden. It seemed as if it were but yesterday that Europe had been exulting over the discomfiture of Buonaparte and the restoration of peace. The public thanksgiving, the grand reviews, the public rejoicing, the fireworks, had hardly yet finished, and now,—the whole was in vain,—the scourge of Europe was loose again. And so the day closed, with not a ray of hope to brighten the all-pervading gloom. But the next afternoon a sudden, wild reaction set in. It was everywhere reported, with sparkling eyes and heightened colour in men's cheeks, that Wellington was victorious, and the French defeated. Nathan Mayer had himself been the first to announce the good news with undisguised delight and satisfaction to his friends on the Stock Exchange. When the glad tidings received official confirmation some hours later the public joy knew no limits. The Funds rose again at a bound. Many pitied Rothschild for the enormous losses he had, as they thought, suffered; they little suspected that, while his known agents had been selling openly, his unknown agents had bought up secretly every piece of scrip they could secure. Far from losing, he had by his manipulations pocketed nearly a million sterling. /
In 1806 Nathan Mayer Rothschild married a daughter of Levi Barnet Cohen, one of the wealthiest Jews at that time living in London. After accepting Rothschild as his daughter's suitor, Cohen had some doubts as to the extent of his future son- in-law's riches. A man who speculated so boldly and so largely was not unlikely to be speculating with other persons' money, so Cohen prudently asked for some proof of his reputed wealth. This Rothschild declined to give, saying that as far as wealth and good character went, Mr Cohen could not do better than give him all his daughters in marriage. The name of Rothschild became familiar to the English public mainly through its connection with loans issued for various Governments. This loan business was perhaps the most profitable of all the many enterprises on which the firm embarked, as, to begin with, there was the certainty of a handsome commission; whilst the endless Stock Exchange speculations to which the loans gave rise were a fruitful source of gain to Nathan Mayer. He may fairly be said to have been the first to introduce foreign loans into England, and to have made them popular as investments. Foreign stocks had, of course, been largely held by English capitalists for years, but they had never enjoyed public favour, owing to the interest and dividends being payable abroad. Rothschild, however, arranged that they should in future be paid in London, at fixed rates in sterling money, an arrangement which contributed largely to the success of the loans brought out under his auspices. It speaks well, indeed, for his prudence and caution, that, although the loans issued through other firms were often repudiated and the interest stopped, none that he took up were ever known to suffer from the bankruptcy of the Governments for whom they had been issued. Bather than allow his loans to acquire a bad name through the inability of the contracting State, owing to temporary difficulties, to provide the funds necessary for the payment of the interest, he was known to have advanced his own money for that purpose, trusting to his influence and power to secure its due return. However unfavourable an opinion people may entertain of some foreign loans, it is quite certain that they cannot point to any loan issued by the Rothschilds that has come to a bad end. The first occasion on which he assisted the English Government was in 1819, when he undertook the loan of £12,000,000. This operation was unsuccessful, as the loan fell to a discount; but Rothschild had cleverly shifted the burden on to other shoulders. The list given below, which is by no means complete, will show how varied his loan operations were, and will enable the reader to form an idea of the immense profits attending this line of business. On one single loan he made a profit of £150,000, with which he purchased the well- known Gunnersbury House and grounds. This historical mansion was formerly the residence of Princess Amelia, the aunt of George III., and on her death the house and grounds passed into the hands of a Mr Copland and ultimately became, as we have said, the property of Nathan Mayer Rothschild.
The principal loans issued by Nathan Mayer were the following:—
1818 . Prussian . 5°/o . £5,000,000
1822 . „ . „ . 3,500,000 „ . Russian . „ . 3,500,000
1823 . Austrian . „ . 2,500,000
1824 . Neapolitan . „ . 2,500,000
1825 . Brazilian . „ . 2,000,000 1829 . „ . „ . 800,000 1832 . Belgian . „ . 2,000,000
Total . £21,800,000
The majority of these loans were remarkably successful; but at times the sunshine was broken. On more than one occasion Nathan Mayer sustained such heavy losses that the stability of any other firm but his would have been endangered. He is estimated to have lost not less than half a million by Lord Bexley's scheme for funding Exchequer bills in a Three and a half percent. stock. In 1823, at the time of the French invasion of Spain, he was threatened with severe losses through the French loan, but fortunately for him he saw his danger in time, and managed to distribute the loss among others less alert.
He would often decline proposals for loans without troubling himself about the terms, if the country soliciting his assistance was under the least suspicion, or subject to internal disorganization. With Spain, or the South American states which had formerly acknowledged the Spanish flag, he would never have anything to do. He always cautiously steered clear of every doubtful or unsafe business. During the great speculation fever of 1824 and 1825 he kept studiously aloof, and warned others to follow his example. It is true that, during this time, he established the Alliance Marine Insurance Company, but the history of the causes which led to its formation would seem to show that its establishment had no connection with the speculation then prevailing. , When the numerous bubble companies which had been floated burst in rapid succession, and the inevitable panic occurred, Rothschild greatly relieved the market by his readiness to purchase at a fair price any amount of stock that might be tendered him. Brokers in many instances preferred accepting his offers to realizing their stock on the market. Nothing demonstrated more clearly the power and stability of the firm during this trying period, when the Bank of England had nearly to close its doors, than the unstinted and fearless manner in which it advanced funds to the Bank to enable the latter to meet its calls.'
In 1831 Nathan Mayer did what he regarded as a very clever stroke of business. Mercury, as is well known, is a valuable article, indispensable in many trades, as well as in the dispensing-room. It is a powerful medicine, and is also largely used to separate gold and silver from the earthy impurities with which they combine. Most of the quicksilver found in Europe was derived either from the mines at Idria, in Austria, or from those at Almaden, in Spain. The latter mines had at the time of which we are writing been allowed to fall into disuse, but their richness was well known, even the Greeks and Romans having realized imjnense profits from the rich deposits there. Spain in her difficulties thought of her once famous mines, and willingly mortgaged them to Rothschild as security for the due payment of the interest on the loan he had undertaken. The immediate result of this agreement took the public quite by surprise: the value of Almaden quicksilver was doubled. Under these circumstances, they naturally turned to the Idria mines for their supplies, but only to find that the price there likewise had been doubled. Rothschild had managed to get the Idria mines also under hia control, and by so doing had secured the monopoly of mercury. “This clever stroke of business—as profitable as it was clever—had one notable consequence for the sick and suffering of all nations. Mercurial preparations, largely employed in medicine, are at the present moment no more manufactured from the pure metal aa obtained from the mines, but from the refuse of other articles containing quicksilver, such as the foil of old mirrors and looking-glasses.” This piece of stratagem brought down upon Nathan Mayer a shower of abuse and condemnation from the press.
On another occasion he forced even that venerable institution, the Bank of England, in spite of its prestige and its Government support, to confess that it was no match for the finesse of the great financier. Rothschild particularly required an amount of bullion to promote the success of an operation he had in hand. This bullion the directors willingly lent him on condition that it should be returned by a certain day. On that day Rothschild appeared at the Bank to fulfil his engagement. When asked if he intended to return the bullion, his reply was to produce a bundle of notes for the amount. He was reminded of the terms of the agreement, the directors pointing out that to oblige him they had touched their reserve, and that they now urgently required the bullion. “Very well, gentlemen,” he is reported to have said, “return me my notes; I dare say your cashier will honour them with gold from your vaults, and then I can return you bullion.”
This story is so characteristic of the man, that its authenticity seems undeniable, but the same cannot be said of the following anecdote, which is evidently due to the fertile brain of some imaginative writer. The very minuteness of detail and the dramatic completeness of the narrative are enough to make one suspicious of its genuineness. The elements of improbability are too prominent and manifest to fail to strike the reader. The story runs that the Bank mortally offended Nathan Mayer, by refusing to discount a bill drawn upon him for a large amount by his brother Anselm of Frankfort. The Bank had haughtily replied that they “discounted only their own bills, and not those of private persons.” But they had to deal with one stronger even than the Bank. “Private persons !” exclaimed Rothschild, when the fact was reported to him; “private persons ! I will make these gentlemen feel what sort of private persons we are !” Three weeks afterwards, Nathan Mayer, who had employed the interval in collecting all the bank-notes he could procure in England and on the Continent, presented himself at the Bank as soon as it was opened. He drew from his pocket-book a £5-note, and the clerk naturally counted out five sovereigns, at the same time looking with great astonishment at Rothschild. It seemed strange that he should trouble himself for such a trifle. He, however, examined the coins carefully one by one, and put them in a little canvas bag j then drawing out another note, a third, a fourth, a tenth, a hundredth, he kept demanding change for his notes, never placing the money in his bag without first scrupulously examining the pieces. In some cases he would try them, in the balance, “as,” he observed, “the law gave him the right to do.” The first pocket-book being emptied, and the first bag filled, he passed them to his clerk, and received a second supply of notes, thus continuing to drain the Bank of its gold till the doors were closed. He had spent seven hours in changing £21,000. But as he had nine of his employes engaged in the same manner, it resulted that the Bank had lost £210,000 from its reserve of gold. Moreover, Nathan Mayer had kept the tellers so occupied that no other persons could change a single note. Everything that bears the stamp of eccentricity always pleases the English public, and in this instance the pique of the great millionaire caused endless amusement. The directors, however, laughed less, when they saw him reappear next day at the opening of the Bank, accompanied by his nine allies; they laughed no longer when they heard the financial despot say, with ironical simplicity: “These gentlemen refuse to take my bills; I have sworn not to keep theirs. I will merely warn them that I hold notes enough to keep them occupied for two months.” For two months! eleven millions of gold drawn from the Bank ! The Bank grew alarmed; something had to be done. The next morning a notice appeared that in future Rothschild's bills would be taken as readily as their own.
Shrewd and 'cute as Nathan Mayer proved himself to be, the laugh was not always on his side. He at times met with rivals whose cunning and strategy were too much even for his subtle calculations. A leading banker once lent him a million and a half against the security of Consols, which were then quoted at 84. The terms on which the money was advanced were clear and simple; the banker was to have the option of buying the Consols at 70, should the price recede to 74. Rothschild felt satisfied with his bargain, for the possibility of Consols dropping 10 percent. appeared to him a very remote contingency. The banker, however, had acted on an idea which subsequently fully justified his course of procedure. He at once began unloading Rothschild's Consols on the market, following this up by a similar amount in his own possession. The market grew alarmed at the gigantic sales; uneasiness and doubt followed; the Funds dropped rapidly, and other circumstances occurring to help the depression, the fatal price of 74 was at length reached. The Christian had outmatched the Jew.
When he lived at Stamford Hill, Nathan Mayer had as an opposite neighbour a wealthy stockbroker named Lucas, who, on returning home late one evening, noticed Rothschild's carriage standing ready at the gate. Thinking something must be in the wind, Lucas directed his coachman to drive round to the stable and not unharness the horses, but to wait till he sent for him. Concealing himself, he presently saw Rothschild and two companions enter the carriage, the driver being ordered to drive “to the City.” Hastily summoning hia own carriage, the stockbroker started in pursuit, and saw them alight at New Court. A few minutes later he followed, and, reeling past the housekeeper in an apparently hopelessly drunken state, forced his way, in spite of all opposition, to the financier's private room, where he fell prostrate on the floor. Nathan and his friends were not unnaturally startled by the sudden inrush of their unwelcome and uninvited visitor. They raised him, bathed his face with cold water, but without any benefit, the only result being a convulsive trembling and shrinking. They were at a loss what to do with Lucas, but, noticing that he seemed at length to settle into a heavy slumber, determined to let him remain where he had fallen. Time was precious; they had important matters to discuss, so they covered the reveller with a rug, and proceeded with their business. Important news had been received from Spain, and the result of the consultation was to order certain brokers to commence at once buying up cautiously a particular stock. This settled, Rothschild and his companions separated. After they had gone, Lucas began slowly to recover, and although still uncertain and shaky on his legs, and suffering from a dreadful headache, as he said, he insisted, in spite of the housekeeper's remonstrances, upon going home. On reaching the street he went at once to his office, where he made arrangements for buying up all the stock he could procure. Rothschild was dreadfully upset by this trick, and used always to refer to it as the “base, dishonest, and nefarious stratagem” of Lucas.
In addition to his loan business and speculations, Rothschild embarked in many commercial enterprises, for he was ready to support any undertaking which appeared to him at once sound and likely to prove lucrative. By his immense bill transactions he must have won hundreds of thousands of pounds. A writer in “The Gentleman's Magazine,” shortly after Rothschild's death, said: “He never hesitated for a moment in fixing the rate, either as a drawer or as a taker, on any part of the world; and his memory was so retentive that, notwithstanding the immense transactions on which he entered every foreign post-day, and though he never took note of them, he could, on his return home, with perfect exactness, dictate the whole to his clerks.” Nothing was too gigantic for his grasp; nothing too minute to escape his notice. His mind was as capable of contracting a loan for millions, as of calculating the lowest salary on which a clerk could exist. “It was characteristic of Nathan,” says Martin, in his “Stories of Banks and Bankers,” that “he never paid his employes a farthing more than was necessary for their bare subsistence—or at least not a farthing more than they could compel him to pay. This meanness towards those who assisted him in building up the edifice of his enormous fortune is a reproach to the character of the man from which even his warmest adulators have not been able to free him.” This is a reproach from which we are glad to say the present heads of the firm are free, for their liberality is too well known to require our confirmation.
“One cause of his success,” says the author of “The Stock Exchange,” “was the secrecy with which he shrouded all his transactions, and the tortuous policy with which he misled those who watched him the keenest. If he possessed news calculated to make the Funds rise, he would commission the broker who acted on his behalf to sell half a million. The shoal of men who usually follow the movements of others sold with him. The news soon passed through Capel Court that Rothschild was bearing the market, and the Funds fell. Men looked doubtingly at one another; a general panic spread; bad news was looked for; and these united agencies sank the price two or three percent. This was the result expected, and other brokers, not usually employed by him, bought all they could at the reduced rate. By the time this was accomplished, the good news had arrived; the pressure ceased; the Funds rose instantly; and Mr Rothschild reaped his reward.” To tell who was and who was not his agent was well-nigh impossible, for he is known to have made his very enemies his tools to serve his purposes. He was informed one day that a broker had been openly abusing him on the Stock Exchange, and boasting “how thoroughly he detested Rothschild and the whole Jewish race.” Nathan listened quietly and un- movedly to the statement, merely remarking—
“Thank you; I am much obliged. That man will be useful.”
Shortly afterwards this abusive broker sold out on behalf of a third party, acting secretly for Rothschild, £600,000 Consols; “For,” said Nathan, “they will never suspect he is bearing the market on my account.” It was a common practice with this mighty speculator to have one set of agents selling, and another buying, the same stock, so that there waa no ascertaining what in reality was the object of his manoeuvres. The probable result was a secret confined to his own breast. Owing to his enormous power, subtle stratagems, and profound mystery, no one could conjecture, with any certainty, his purposes. A general suspicion and mistrust followed him in all his actions. If business was flat and dull, it was caused by Rothschild, while, if matters improved, the improvement was declared fictitious and only temporary. The whole Stock Exchange became tilled with an uncomfortable atmosphere of suspicion and incredulity, which kept the members .ever in a fever of apprehension and doubt.
It may not be out of place to mention that Nathan Mayer attributed much of his success to the observance of two maxims: “Another advantage I had. I was an off-hand man; I made a bargain at once.” The second maxim shows that he had a grain of superstition in his composition, for he would never, as he said, have anything to do with an unlucky man or an unlucky place. “I have seen many clever men, very clever men, who had not shoes to their feet. I never act with them. Their advice sounds very well, but fate is against them; they cannot get on themselves, and, if they cannot do good to themselves, how can they do good to me?”
His methods of business and his conduct procured him many enemies. The satirists were ever ridiculing his portly figure and slovenly appearance, caricaturing his Jewish accent and his uncouth manners. He was indeed a subject created for . caricature, but he was at the same time utterly insensible to the jeers and laughter he occasioned. He pursued his path without paying the least regard to anything that might be done to give him offence. Undoubtedly he was responsible for much of this satire and ridicule. In his manners and address he seemed to delight in displaying his thorough disregard of all the courtesies and amenities of civilized life. They were to him superfluities and shams. He appeared to pride himself on his blunt and outspoken style of speech, which he mistook for frankness, but which was usually so violent and uncouth that in any other than a millionaire it would not have been tolerated. He was, like most of his family, a man of unbridled temper, which led him into excesses of passion and language quite unworthy of his position in society. A clever anonymous writer thus describes him as he was seen on “'Change”:—
" There is a rigidity and a tension in his features too that would make you fancy, if you did not see that it was not so, that someone was pinching him behind, and that he was either afraid or ashamed to say so. Eyes are usually denominated the windows of the soul; but here you would conclude that the windows are false ones, or that there was no soul to look out of them. There comes not one pencil of light from the interior, neither is there one scintillation of that which comes from without reflected in any direction. The whole puts you in mind of a skin to let, and you wonder why it stands upright without at least something in it. By-and-by another figure comes up to it. It then steps two paces aside, and the most inquisitive glance that you ever saw, and a glance more inquisitive than you would ever have thought of, is drawn out of the erewhile fixed and leaden eye, as if one were drawing a sword from a scabbard. The visiting figure, which has the appearance of coming by accident and not by design, stops but a second or two, in the course of which looks are exchanged which, though you cannot translate, you feel must be of most important meaning. After these the eyes are sheathed up again, and the figure resumes its stony posture. During the morning numbers of visitors come, all of whom meet with a similar reception and vanish in a similar manner; and, last of all, the figure itself vanishes, leaving you utterly at a loss as to what can be its nature and functions." Nathan Mayer must indeed have at once attracted attention as he leaned against his favourite pillar, with his shoulders drawn up to his ears, and his hands plunged deep in his breeches-pockets, motionless, and apparently specu- lationless.
" The name of this gentleman, the entertainments given by him, the charities to which he occasionally subscribed, and the amount of his transactions in the money market were blazoned abroad. Peers and the princes of the blood sat at his table; clergymen and laymen bowed before him; and they who preached loudest against mammon, bent lowest before the mammon-worshipper. Gorgeous plate, fine furniture, an establishment such as many a noble of Norman descent would envy, graced his entertainments. Without social refinement, with manners which, offensive in the million, were but brusque in the millionaire, he collected around him the fastidious members of the most fastidious aristocracy in the world. He saw the representatives of all the States in Europe proud of his friendship. By the democratic envoy of the New World, by the ambassador of the imperial Russ, was his hospitality alike accepted; while the man who warred with slavery in all its forms and phases was himself slave to the golden reputation of the Hebrew. The language which Mr Rothschild could use when his anger overbalanced his discretion was a licence allowed to his wealth; and he who, when placed in a position which almost compelled him to subscribe to a pressing charity, could exclaim, ' Here! write a cheque; I have made one fool of myself!' was courted and caressed by the clergy, was feted and flattered by the poor, was treated as an equal by the first minister of the Crown, and more than worshipped by those whose names stood foremost on the roll of the commercial aristocracy. His mode of dictating letters was characteristic of a mind entirely absorbed in money-making; and his ravings when he found a bill unexpectedly protested, were translated into mercantile language ere they were fit to meet a correspondent's eye. It is painful to write thus depreciatingly of a man who possessed so large a development of brain j but the golden gods of England have many idolaters, and the voice of truth rarely penetrates the private room of the English merchant. There was, however, an occasional gleam of humour in him, sternly as his thoughts were devoted to heaping up riches. ' I am as good as you said he to the Duc de Mont-morenci, when his title was granted, 'you style yourself the first Christian baron, and I am the first Jew baron.'"
This reminds one forcibly of another anecdote. A German Prince, bearing letters of introduction and credit to the great financier, called at New Court, and was shown into the private room where Nathan Mayer was sitting busy with a number of papers before him. On hearing his visitor's name, Rothschild nodded and motioned him to take a seat, whilst he went on steadily with the examination of his papers. This cool treatment was not quite what the Prince expected should have been shown to one of his dignity and rank. After standing a minute or two, he exclaimed: "Did you hear, sir, who I am? I am," naming his full title. “Very well,” said Rothschild, “take two chairs.” More often the point of his jokes was due to his imperfect pronunciation of English. “When dining at the Mansion House one evening, he was heard to remark to a guest who had declared his preference of mutton to venison:” Ah, I see; you like mutton because it is sheep (cheap); others like venison because it is deer (dear)! "
Wealth, whatever luxuries it might command, was unable to secure its possessor happiness or tranquillity of mind. Rothschild was a prey to empty fears, and the care and anxiety inseparable from thef control and safe-keeping of his millions effectually prevented him from ever enjoying any peace of mind or relaxation. He had made numerous enemies; he had ruined many a man of business by his stratagems and speculations, so that it is not surprising to learn he was continually haunted by dreams of assassination. Threatening letters poured in upon him by the hundred, and one in particular, sent to him by a secret political tribunal on the Continent, which declared that as he, by his loans, had supported the Governments in their tyrannical oppression of their subjects, his death had been decided upon and the agents appointed to carry out the crime, is said to have caused him special uneasiness. So great a hold did his fears have over him, that for many yeara before his death he is reported to have slept with loaded pistols at his side. “You must be a happy man,” said Sir T. Fowell Buxton, as he surveyed the comforts and luxuries of his splendid mansion, “in such a home as this.” “Happy, I happy !” was the bitter reply; “what^ happy, when just as you are going to dine a letter is placed in your hand saying: ' If you do not send £500—I will blow your brains out.' Happy, I happy !”
Two tall, dark men, with heavy moustaches and penetrating eyes were once ushered into his room. The financier bowed; the visitors on their side did the same, but said nothing. They were feeling in an anxious, nervous manner in their pockets, as if to find something they had concealed there. Rothschild's fears at once led him to the conclusion that his assassins were at last before him, bent on carrying out the foul deed. Without a moment's hesitation or thought, he seized a ledger within his reach and hurled it with all his force at the unsuspecting visitors, and shouted for assistance. When at last an explanation was forthcoming, and Nathan Mayer discovered that the strangers were two bankers bearing letters of introduction, which they in their nervous haste were unable to discover, his mortification was intense, and he was heard to mutter to himself: “Poor unhappy me ! a victim to nervousness and fancied terrors! and all because of my money!”
What little pleasure and happiness Nathan Mayer did enjoy was derived, not so much from the possession of unbounded wealth, as from the excitement and intriguing attending the making of it. He revelled in the plotting and tricking, the manipulations and stratagems which his gigantic speculations necessitated and'created. “This is the key,” said one who knew him well, “to an understanding of Rothschild's character. His ambition tended to the accomplishment of elaborate financial operations —of making money, if you like; but in this phrase the emphasis must be placed on the making; for he did not value' either money in itself or the things that could be procured by it. He had no taste or inclination for what every Englishman seeks as soon as he has money enough to buy it— comfort in every respect. His ambition was to arrive at his aim more quickly and more effectually than others, and to steer towards it with all his energy. When his end was reached it had lost all its charm for him, and he turned his never-wearying mind to something else.” This view of his character and disposition is confirmed by his own lips, as he declared in answer to the question asked by one of his guests: “I hope that your children are not too fond of money and business to the exclusion of more important things. I am sure you would not wish that?”—“I am sure I should wish that,” was the outspoken reply; “I wish them to give mind, soul, and heart and body—everything to business. That is the way to be happy. It requires a great deal of boldness, and a great deal of caution, to make a great fortune, and, when you have got it, you require ten times as much wit to keep it.” Outside his business Rothschild had few pleasures. Whilst his mansions were crowded with works of art, and the most gorgeous appointments, it was not because he was a patron or admirer of the arts, but because, with his millions, it was expected of him. When Spohr, the famous violinist and composer, called upon Nathan, with a letter of introduction from Nathan's brother in Frankfort, he was told by the banker: “I understand nothing of music. This” —patting his pocket and making his money rattle and jingle—“is my music; we understand that on 'Change. But you can come and dine with me.” “Nevertheless,” added Spohr, “the letter of recommendation to Rothschild was not wholly useless, for he took a whole box at my benefit concert.” At long and rare intervals Rothschild would be seized with a charitable freak; but that his benevolence was due to nothing better than caprice is proved by his own words: “Sometimes to amuse myself I give a beggar a guinea. He thinks it is a mistake, and for fear I should find it out off he runs as hard as he can. I advise you to give a beggar a guinea sometimes. It is very amusing.”
The directions of old Mayer Amschel of Frankfort, that his sons should always remain united, were carried out to their fullest possible extent, by the practice of intermarriage. Thus Baron James, the head of the Paris house, had married one of his nieces; and in 1836 it was decided that Lionel, Nathan Mayer's eldest son, should marry his cousin, the daughter of Anselm Rothschild of Frankfort. Nathan Mayer went to Frankfort to be present at the marriage festivities. He was in bad health at the time, suffering from a carbuncle. On the day of the wedding he was taken seriously ill, but he obstinately maintained that it was but a passing attack. He grew, however, rapidly worse, and, when matters had assumed a threatening and hopeless aspect, his physician was sent for from London. But his services were summoned too late, and the great man, after being delirious for a day or two, gave in to his great enemy. He died on the 28th July, 1836. The first news of his death was conveyed to England by one of his own specially-trained pigeons, which was shot by a sportsman near Brighton. On a slip of paper attached to its leg were the words, “H est mart.” His remains were brought over from Frankfort for interment. Surrounded as he had been during his life. by all the luxuries which money could command, he was placed in his last resting-place with a gorgeous pomp and display that seemed hardly appropriate to the solemnity of the occasion. The coffin which contained his remains was described in the press as being “different in shape from those made in this country, and so handsomely carved and decorated with large silver handles at both sides and ends that it appeared more like a cabinet than a receptacle for the dead.” A procession of carriages, nearly a mile in length, followed it. Among those who were present in the Jewish East-end Cemetery out of respect to the Deceased, were the Austrian, .Russian, Prussian, Neapolitan, and Portuguese ambassadors, besides the Lord Mayor, the sheriffs, aldermen, and a crowd of minor dignitaries.
Much speculation and curiosity was manifested by the public after Nathan Mayer's death as to the amount of the fortune he had left his children, but this was not made known in the will, and has consequently always remained a secret. The directions to his executors were clear and simple. Those gentlemen were expressly bidden to confine themselves to their administrative duties, and not seek to pry into matters which were outside their functions. No statement of the amount of his property, or of the securities in which it was invested, was given in the will, and the main points touched upon were the conduct of the business and the marriage of his daughters. The business was to be conducted by the four sons in co-operation with their uncles abroad. To each of his daughters he left £100,000, which was to be forfeited if they ever married without the consent of their mother and their brothers. Legacies to his employes and dependents, as well as charitable bequests, were conspicuous by their absence—there were none.
At the beginning of the 19th century, Great Britain was hardly a pleasing picture to look upon, as, owing to false principles of government, to the ignorant and blind cultivation of our home trade, and the neglect of our foreign trade and manufacturing industries, it had the appearance of a State driven to the most opposite and contradictory extremes. Priding itself on the possession of the freest constitution in Europe, England yet concealed the greatest tyranny; possessing unbounded riches, it yet allowed the poor peasantry in Ireland to die of hunger, whilst the privation and distress prevalent among the labouring classes generally were so great and indescribable as to threaten to end in riot and rebellion. The hardships endured by the poorer classes in many parts of the country were still further aggravated by the disgraceful condition of our political system. Morality was at a discount; bribery and intrigue were the order of the day. It was a time when the thoughts of all were turned to their own advancement and to the complete forget- fulness of the sufferings of others.
Before the Reform Bill of Lord Grey, corruption was so widespread that the independence of the Crown and that of the constituencies were threatened by the machinations of unscrupulous politicians. The majority of the votes were in the hands of a limited few, eager and ready to advance their own interests at the expense of the nation at large.
The Reform Bill in a great measure remedied the evil, which, however, was by no means annihilated. Corruption sought fresh pastures on which to flourish, and other malpractices ere long came into fashion. Apparently the democratic element had been admitted into the constitution, but we may fairly question whether the power of the landed aristocracy was in any way injured. The limited few still controlled the votes of the majority. Formerly the landed aristocracy ruled the elections, as they were able to influence their tenants, and so secure the return of particular candidates; but much of this power now passed into the hands of the moneyed aristocracy, the large capitalists, who, besides enjoying this addition to their political might, are the principal ruling force in the financial and commercial world. The great landed aristocracy still exercises an important influence in the political world, but the few noble families who previously possessed the monopoly of the boroughs have now to share their power with their rivals, the landed capitalists. The repeal of the Corn Laws was, as D'Israeli truly said, the abolition of the landed aristocracy by the moneyed aristocracy, of the nobility by the bourgeoisie, of pedigree by money.
The agitation preceding the repeal of the Corn Laws was instrumental in expunging from the political creed an article then generally accepted, which had caused much of the distress among the labouring classes, and had largely contributed to the stagnation of the home industries. Politicians up to that time had been unanimous in asserting that the true remedy for the prevailing distress, and the only reliable source of prosperity was to be looked for in agriculture, with a powerful landed aristocracy at its head. It was, they declared, a Quixotic idea to suppose that the prosperity of the country could be permanently benefited by cultivating and extending our foreign trade and our manufacturing industries. The first to recognize the absurdity of this belief, and to point out the evils which would inevitably follow from such a mistaken policy, was Mr C. P. Villiers, the pioneer in the Corn Law crusade. “My charge against the Corn Laws,” said he in one of his speeches, " is, that they limit and endanger our foreign trade, and that all such laws proceed upon a policy directly the reverse of that which is recommended by the present circumstances and condition of the country. And my charge against the legislature is, that this policy has been pursued in this country since the close of the last war, now twenty-three years ago, though each year has proved the folly of it by the injury it has entailed, and is now inflicting upon the country So that, proceeding at home upon the monstrous fallacy that agriculture was the source of all our greatness, and abroad stipulating nothing for our foreign commerce, we were doing everything in our power to cripple our manufactures. Now, if all this had been the error of a particular Government, or the folly of a party that had ceased to exist, it would, I know, be idle to refer to it, the time to remedy the evil being now past; but it is our misfortune that it is the policy of the present hour. The policy of that day—that the home trade is the best trade, and that we ought to create customers by Act of Parliament for that trade, and be as little dependent as possible upon foreign trade, is the ground on which the Corn Laws are defended today." The support and protection accorded by the legislature to the landed aristocracy in England were not enjoyed by the noble orders abroad. The conditions on which land was held on the Continent had undergone extensive modifications, and the nobility had by degrees, owing to the Revolution or modern legislation, lost the direct ownership of the land, with its attendant aeigneurial rights and privileges. The tendency abroad has been to split up the land into small holdings, a course which rendered the disappearance of large proprietors inevitable. In England the contrary is the case; the tendency is towards consolidation in the hands of a few large proprietors. It could hardly be otherwise. The main principle in the English law of land tenure is, that the owner must either cultivate his land to the best advantage himself, or else lease it to those who will do so. This was hard upon small proprietors, who were called upon not only to cultivate the land but to contribute towards its improvement, and this a series of bad seasons would render impossible. The consequence was, that they were compelled to sell their land to the large landowners. In this way the small landed proprietors disappeared, and gave place to the thrifty tenant farmer. Whether it is right or wrong that the land should thus be concentrated in the hands of a limited few, is a question which has agitated the minds of many, and which we, for our part, do not feel called upon to decide. There can, however, be no doubt that, since it has been generally acknowledged that the prosperity and greatness of the country are dependent upon a flourishing foreign trade, the tendency has been to abandon agriculture for manufacturing pursuits, and to leave the cultivation of the soil to those whose wealth renders them independent of the profits or losses attending their labours.
Injurious as were the effects produced by this mistaken policy of fostering the home trade and neglecting the foreign, there can be no question that the country has also suffered severely from the evils resulting from the creation of the National Debt. To the increased taxation and the widespread corruption it engendered, may be ascribed much of the want and privation the poorer classes of the community have had to encounter. However much we may deplore the existence of the National Debt —or national nuisance, as some would call it—we must confess that William III. had no other plan left by which he could procure the money he required. Great events from little causes spring, and it is to the necessities of earlier monarchs rather than to William that we must trace the origin of the system of State borrowing embodied in the National Debt. When our earlier rulers found themselves short of funds, they were accustomed to apply to their faithful subjects for aid, and, as they were not always couched in the most gentle terms, or made with that courtesy which so befits kings, the applications were sure to attract gold to the royal exchequer. In the pursuit of cherished schemes of ambition or revenge, monarchs would recklessly embark on enterprises the cost of which their loyal subjects were afterwards forced to liquidate. Richard I., in his eagerness to visit the Holy Land, stopped short of no device to procure the funds necessary for his object. He extorted money from his subjects, he farmed the revenues, mortgaged the customs, and even threatened to sell London rather than abandon his crusade. His successors imitated and improved upon his system of extortion. Henry III. seized the merchandise of his subjects, and managed to borrow a large sum under the tempting offer of high interest, but, with a forgetfulness characteristic of the times, neither capital nor interest was ever paid. Under the pretence that he was about to start on a crusade, Edward I. seized the plate and money of the monasteries, but, once secure in the possession of the spoil, declined to go. Edward III. imposed heavy taxes, created monopolies, raised forced loans, and availed himself of every possible means to wring money from his unfortunate subjects. As time rolled on, each succeeding monarch strove apparently to rival and outdo his predecessor in unscrupulous exaction. Edward IV. enjoyed the reputation of being the handsomest tax-gatherer in the kingdom. When on one occasion he kissed a buxom widow to show his appreciation of the readiness with which she yielded to his demands, it is said that she at once doubled her contribution in the expectation of being again favoured by the royal lips; but kingly gratitude did not go so far. Henry VII. was guided by logic in his extortion. He forced frugal people to contribute largely, on the ground that they must have saved money by their economy. Henry VIII., owing to his extravagant habits, was continually replenishing his exchequer from the pockets of his subjects; nor was he by any means particular as to the methods by which the supplies were obtained. He seized upon the accumulated property of the monastic orders, and raised a loan of ten percent. on all property from £20 to £300, increasing the percentage on sums above the latter amount. By courtesy the money thus raised was termed a loan, but, when years later he refused to pay the capital or to acknowledge his debt, the transaction was known by a harsher name. Elizabeth displayed a great deal of 'cuteness in her financial operations: she would borrow large sums of her devoted subjects, and, if at any time she had a balance lying idle, would graciously deign to lend it back again to her faithful citizens at a high rate of interest. The Stuarts were not behind their predecessors in recklessness or extravagance, while in extortion they went to extremes of which no one had ever dreamt. Charles I. found to his cost that he had no sovereign right to the property of his subjects, and paid a heavy penalty for rashly endeavouring to force them to yield to his exactions. His failure, however, did not deter Charles II. from similar practices, and the Merry Monarch fairly excelled all his rivals in barefaced thieving, for that is the only term applicable to his action in closing the Exchequer and appropriating to his own use the money deposited there. James II. would have liked to imitate his brother, but the offences which the nation overlooked in the graceful, rollicking Charles, were not to be excused or tolerated in one so universally hated and suspected as his successor. The Stuarts seem to have laboured under the impression that they had a sovereign right to whatever of their subjects' property they might fancy, and regarded all those who declined to accede to their oppressive demands as disloyal subjects and traitors. The result of this difference of opinion is too well known to need description here. William III., on his accession, created, willingly or unwillingly, the National Debt, and by so doing acknowledged the indebtedness of the Crown to the public for the money placed at its disposal. Whatever faults he may have had—and he was by no means faultless— William III. at least deserves all credit for having laid down the principle which has ever since been maintained, that the faith of the State must be preserved inviolate towards its creditors.
The creation of the National Debt has been severely criticized and disapproved by later generations, wiser in their time than their ancestors. We must, however, in justice to William III., remember that he had no option in the matter; it was a case of Hobson's choice. Had he been able to devise a better plan of obtaining the money he required to carry on the war with France, he would, we feel sure, have adopted it, but as no other method suggested itself he was forced to avail himself of the National Debt. To crush his life-long rival, Louis, was a mission which William felt called upon to perform, and which nothing would induce him to abandon. From his earliest years he had learnt to hate the name of France, and his life had been passed in one long struggle to humble the French monarch and frustrate his ambitious schemes. He, who at the head of the small but resolute Dutch Republic had defied single-handed the power of the two strongest nations in Europe; who had seen his countrymen tear down the dykes and canal banks to let loose the waters they confined rather than behold their fatherland desecrated by the presence of the conquering invader, was hardly the man to relinquish the struggle when his hands were strengthened by the resources and energies of England. Time had not effaced from William's memory the recollection of the wrongs and affronts his country had suffered, so that, on his accession to the English crown, he renewed hostilities with even greater zeal and determination than before. Louis on his side, being as anxious to crush William as William was to crush him, did not relax his efforts, but exerted all his strength, brought into play all the arts of diplomacy and intrigue to attain his cherished object. When he remembered how both Charles II. and James II. had been in his pay, how completely successive English ministers had been his tools, it must have galled him to find his hated rival placed on a throne which gave him such greater powers of defiance. Deep as his hatred of William had been formerly, it became deeper and more bitter as he noticed the resolute front and undisguised contempt displayed towards France by his foe after he landed in England. The rage and annoyance, the bitter disappointment and chagrin felt by Louis, were well known, for he made no attempt to conceal them. He sheltered the dethroned James, surrounded him with a mock Court, and did all in his power to irritate the Court of St James's. The contest was maintained by William with a certain amount of personal pride, but, however ardently he may have desired to see France humbled, it was even more important to the interests and welfare of England and of Europe that the ambitious designs and tyrannical projects of Louis should be checked by the strong hand. In addition to his own military genius and undaunted courage, William III. called into requisition the strength and riches of the British Empire. The creation of the National Debt was, under the circumstances, fully justified. “Had he employed/' remarks Mr Francis,” the arbitrary mode of levying supplies of the earlier monarchs; had he made forced loans, and never repaid them; had he seized upon public money and wrung the purses of public men, the country might as well have been governed by a James as a William, and would in all probability have recalled from exile the unfortunate house of Stuart. The evils of William's reign were in the facts that his power was not sufficiently established to borrow on equitable terms; that the bribery, abuses, and corruption of men in high places increased with their position j and, above all, that instead of paying his debts by terminable annuities he made them interminable."
In spite of the great difficulties he experienced in obtaining supplies, William would never abandon the contest, which continued more or less languidly for a number of years, until both parties were thoroughly exhausted by it. At length Namurwas forced to capitulate, and the long-desired suspension of hostilities came. The power of France in Spain was shaken; its coasts were assailed, and Louis, having lost his great captain, was glad to resume his overtures for peace. The peace of Ryswick terminated this memorable struggle, which had cost Europe 480 millions of money and 800,000 men. No great achievement was recorded of this protracted war, nor was the peace it produced of long duration. Its earlier history, like that of most English wars, was not remarkable for its successes. The unanimity so essential to great deeds was at that time an impossibility, owing to the divided state of political parties. Had greater patriotism and less self-interest and advancement been displayed by the House of Commons, William might have been able to bring the war to a successful issue years before.
The principal objection to William's financial innovation was, aa we have already observed, that he borrowed on irredeemable annuities. Had he borrowed on annuities terminable at a certain date, the operation would have been very little dearer, whilst, instead of saddling posterity with a heavy burden, the pressure would have decreased year by year, until the debt finally disappeared. Credit, moreover, would have improved as time went on, and the discontent have lessened. Whatever blame may be attached to William, still stronger must be the blame attached to the advisers of succeeding monarchs, who although perfectly well acquainted with the objections to the raising of money on irredeemable annuities still continued the practice. It was predicted by Sir Robert Walpole that the country would be ruined when the debt amounted to 100 millions. If such was his sincere belief, he is much to be censured for steadily omitting to take steps to avert the calamity. It is needless to say that the debt has long since exceeded Sir Robert's limit, and yet the country is still far from being bankrupt.
In 1696, while the gold was being recoined, exchequer bills in amounts of £5 and £10 were introduced. These were found of great convenience in business, for, being issued on the credit of the Government, they were regarded as equal to gold, and passed freely from hand to hand under the confident knowledge that they would be paid off at par. The Treasury was authorized to contract with capitalists for the supply of cash, and, although these bills were for a short time at a discount, they soon stood at a premium. At first they bore no interest, but, when they were re-issued, interest was paid on them. They have always continued to be a favourite source of supply with succeeding ministries, and when it is found inconvenient to pay them off they are liquidated, with the consent of Parliament, by being added to the fixed debt of the 3ountry.
It is amusing and instructive to note the variety Df expedients William was compelled to employ to obtain his supplies. At one time it was a mild remonstrance, at another a haughty menace, and often a reproach that he had risked his life for an ungrateful country. Heavy as was the cost of maintaining the war with France, the money spent with that object was as nothing compared with the enormous sums expended in buying members of the Lower House. Corruption was rampant throughout society; every man of influence had his price. Some were bribed with contracts, some with portions of loans, while others received titles, commissions, or places. So low had public credit fallen and so high were the demands of members and the premium on money, that of 5 millions voted for the war only 2| millions reached the exchequer. Mr Francis, to whom we are indebted for much of the matter in this chapter, describes very faithfully the state of the finances and of society at that time: “Long annuities and short annuities, lottery tickets and unredeemable debts, made their frequent appearance, and the duties, which principally date from this period, were most pernicious. The hearth- tax was nearly as obnoxious as the poll-tax. The custom and excise duties were doubled. The hawker and the hackney-coach driver, companies and corporations, land and labour, came undei supervision. Births, burials, and bachelors were added to the list, and whether a wife lost a husband or whether a widow gained one, the effect was alike. Beer and ale, wine and vinegar, coal and culm, all contributed to the impoverished State; and although some, who looked back with regret, occasionally indulged their spleen, the general tone of Parliament was submissive. Still there were times when the truth was spoken, and truths like the following were unpleasant:—' We have provided,' said Sir Charles Sedley, ' for the army, we have provided for the navy, and now we must provide for the list. Truly, Mr. Speaker, 'tis a sad reflection that some men should wallow in wealth and places, while others pay away in taxes the fourth part of their revenue. The courtiers and great officers feel not the terms, while the country gentleman is shot through and 'through. His Majesty sees nothing but coaches and great tables, and therefore cannot imagine the want and misery of the rest of his subjects. He is encompassed by a company of crafty old courtiers/” The corrupt transactions which tended so much to increase the National Debt are very remarkable. The assembled Commons declared in a solemn vote: “it is notorious that many millions are unaccounted for;” Mr Hun- gerford was expelled from the Lower House for accepting a bribe of £21, and the Duke of Leeds impeached for taking one of 5,500 guineas. The price of a Speaker—Sir John Trevor—was £1,050, and the Secretary to the Treasury was sent to the Tower on suspicion of similar practices. Money receivers lodged large sums of public money with the goldsmiths at the current interest. Others lent the Exchequer its own cash in other persons' names, and, out of 46 millions raised in fifteen years, 25 millions were unaccounted for. The commissioners of hackney coaches were accessible, and peculation in the army was discovered by the chance petition of the dwellers in a country town. By this it appeared that the inhabitants of Royston in Hertfordshire had large claims made upon them for money by colonels, captains, and cornets, in addition to the food and lodging which were their due. A few independent members took up the question; the public supported them; and at this juncture a book was delivered at the lobby of the house, which asserted that the public embezzlement was as enormous as it was infamous, and that the writer waa prepared to make disclosures which would astonish the world. The offer was accepted; a searching inquiry was instituted, and defalcations were discovered, so great, that all wonder ceased at the increase of the National Debt, and at the decrease of the national glory. The abuses in clothing the army were plain and palpable. The agents habitually detained the money due to the soldiers and used it for their own advantage, or compelled the troops to pay so large a discount that they were in the utmost distress. The subaltern officers were not better off. Colonel Hastings—afterwards cashiered for the offence—obliged them to buy their raiment of him. If they hesitated he threatened; if they refused he confined them. In 1693, an inquiry was ordered into the application of the secret service money, when severe and deserved animadversion was passed upon those through whom it circulated. The power possessed by Government under such abuses may be imagined. They were sure of the votes of those who had places and pensions, and they were sure also of the votes of that large class of expectants which always haunts a profuse ministry; and thus “the courtiers,” as the ministerial party was long designated, could baffle any bills, laugh at all grievances, stifle any accounts, and raise any amount of money.
Under Queen Anne intrigue and corruption still permeated the political world. Money had learnt its innate power, and day by day its influence upon the politics of the nation grew more marked and unmistakable. Through the interest and pressure of the State creditors, the moneyed classes, a law was passed enacting that for the future no one should be eligible to represent a borough in Parliament unless he had an income of £300 a year, or £600 a year in the case of a county member. The power exercised by money waxed every day more prejudicial to the true interests of the country, and the greater that power grew the more baneful became its effects upon the morals of the nation. Bribery was universal. An eager scrambling after wealth disgraced the whole of society, and noble names of all ranks and parties were tarnished by an utter disregard for the laws of common honesty. Everywhere the cry resounded:—
“Get money, money still, And then let virtue follow if she will.”
Maryborough, it is well known, did not scruple to satisfy the cravings of his avarice at the expense of the soldiers to whom his successes were due. His victories were but a source of gain to him; the blood of his gallant veterans, a trifle unworthy of consideration if it interfered with his plans. Somerset, Newcastle, and other ministers lent the State money on terms settled by themselves.
The Funds were diverted from their legitimate purposes and employed in buying the votes of the Lower House. When the Tories came into office no less than 30 millions sterling were found to be unaccounted for in the budget. The scandal connected with this discovery was not diminished when the investigations afterwards instituted proved abortive. The whole tone of parliamentary morality was infamous, and the financial condition of the country was proportionately unsatisfactory and alarming. The National Debt is in a measure answerable for much of the corruption that prevailed, and there is undoubtedly much truth in the arguments which have been urged against this method of raising the money required by the State in emergencies. The objections are directed, not so much against the debt itself as, against the evils it has brought in its train. Speculation was promoted and encouraged by its creation, which, from a business point of view, has certainly been of little benefit to the mercantile world. Seeing fortunes quickly and easily won by speculations in the Funds, merchants were seduced from their own legitimate pursuits. In 1697 the debt amounted to 20 millions, and it was found to be such a convenient agent, with such elastic qualities, that its proportions were for ever on the increase. The deficit in that year was no less than 5 millions. This state of things was turned to account by speculators, who set afloat rumours of every description to disparage the Government. Capital was made out of the distresses of the Ministry, the interest on the debt was declared to be uncertain, and the public credit was depreciated by any and every means. The Funds in consequence attracted an amount of attention and acquired an importance which have but increased with the progress of time. The great Hebrew capitalist and speculator Medina aroused the envy of many by the large fortune he amassed in a comparatively short period. Eager to imitate and rival his success, English merchants began to dabble and speculate in the Funds, and the Royal Exchange soon became—as Change Alley was later—the rendezvous where men of all creeds and nationalities met to tempt the fickle goddess, and enrich themselves by this privileged mode of gambling. Jews and Gentiles, Quakers and Ministers, rogues and hypocrites, all mingled in the fray. On that common ground all prejudices and enmities were sunk and forgotten. A greed for money swayed the hearts and minds of these worshippers of Mammon. The speculation fever spread with surprising rapidity; each day saw the crowd grow in proportion. If business in the Funds slackened, other sources of speculation were discovered: bargains in annuities, lottery tickets, tontines, exchequer bills were made briskly, and bubble companies were promoted with almost the same facilities as in the nineteenth century. “The poor English nation,” said one writer, “run a madding after new inventions, whims, and projects, and this unhappy ingredient my countrymen have in their temper; they are violent and prosecute their projects eagerly.”
William III. created the National Debt, but the foundation stone was indirectly laid by Charles II. when, in 1672, he appropriated to his own use half a million of money deposited by merchants and goldsmiths in the exchequer. Charles, however, repudiated all claims made upon him for the restoration of the money thus taken, and to William belongs the merit of having first acknowledged the indebtedness of the State to its creditors. Not only did he own his liability for sums he himself borrowed, but he added to them the amount misappropriated by his predecessor. The condition on which he negotiated his first loan was that those who advanced him money should receive stock representing double the value of their contributions.
Forty firms expressed their readiness to assist him on these lucrative terms, and in this way he raised half a million sterling towards carrying on the war with France. By making so liberal an offer he gained two immense advantages: he not only obtained the money he required, but he secured the support of the great body of English merchants, who, having placed their capital at his disposal, were naturally interested in the maintenance of his rule. At the same time he won the gratitude of the nobility, who on previous occasions had always been called upon to prove their loyalty by large sacrifices. In 1694, being again in want of funds, William announced that he wished to raise £1,200,000, and that he was willing to grant those merchants who. first subscribed this sum, a charter in their joint capacity under the title of the Bank of England. By this charter they were allowed to carry on a general banking business, and were given certain privileges in buying and selling bills of exchange, bullion, and other commodities. The money was soon subscribed, and in this way the first public debt was handed down to posterity. At William's, death it amounted to 16 millions, but so rapidly did it accumulate that it was 54 millions when his successor died. The increase is partly accounted for by the cost of Marlborough's war, but by far the greater portion was due to the prevailing bribery and corruption.
In 1782 William Pitt first entered the Ministry, holding the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the following year found him, as Prime Minister, at the head of the affairs of the country. To improve the finances was the task which before aught else claimed his attention. This was a problem worthy of his great genius, and the results of his remarkable skill and untiring energy were manifest before many years had passed. The revenue increased rapidly. In 1783 it amounted to but 10 millions sterling, but by 1800 it had risen to 26 millions, while in 1810 it was no less than 62 millions. By Pitt's skilful plans the national finances which, under Lord North's administration, had been allowed to fall into a deplorable condition, were once more re-established, and public credit restored. The most convincing proof of the soundness of Pitt's financial policy is that his measures have been the basis. of all subsequent legislation affecting the revenue and expenditure of the country. He likewise instituted a scheme for the reduction of the National Debt. The result of the various steps taken by him was so favourable that Consols, which in 1784 stood at 54, already reached 76 in 1786, and by 1792 had risen to 96, or a rise of 42 percent. in eight years.
No event in the financial history of England has had such important results immediately and remotely as the suspension of cash payments during the reign of George III. In 1797 the English banks found themselves deeply embarrassed, mainly in consequence of the demands of the Government, who borrowed millions every year for the war, and for the support by subsidies of half the Continental Powers. All cash payments were forbidden, the consequence being that Bank notes fell at once to a discount. The £1 note became worth only 17s. or 18s. The House of Commons at length voted that the value must be restored to par; but the mere vote was insufficient to stop the depreciation. At length, under Lord Liverpool's Ministry, cash payments were resumed, and all who had contracted debts during the depreciation found themselves compelled to pay in cash, by which they lost heavily. Bankruptcy and ruin were the inevitable results.
Having given this hasty and imperfect sketch of the finances of the country up to the beginning of this century, we will proceed to narrate the career of Nathan Mayer Rothschild, the founder of the firm in London.