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Preface To Rolt’s Dictionary
by [?]

This is the study, without which all other studies will be of little avail; but this alone is not sufficient. It will be necessary to learn many other things, which, however, may be easily included in the preparatory institutions, such as an exact knowledge of the weights and measures of different countries, and some skill in geography and navigation, with which this book may, perhaps, sufficiently supply him.

In navigation, considered as part of the skill of a merchant, is included not so much the art of steering a ship, as the knowledge of the seacoast, and of the different parts to which his cargoes are sent; the customs to be paid; the passes, permissions, or certificates to be procured; the hazards of every voyage, and the true rate of insurance. To this must be added, an acquaintance with the policies and arts of other nations, as well those to whom the commodities are sold, as of those who carry goods of the same kind to the same market; and who are, therefore, to be watched as rivals endeavouring to take advantage of every errour, miscarriage, or debate.

The chief of the means of trade is money, of which our late refinements in traffick have made the knowledge extremely difficult. The merchant must not only inform himself of the various denominations and value of foreign coins, together with their method of counting and reducing; such as the milleries of Portugal, and the livres of France; but he must learn what is of more difficult attainment; the discount of exchanges, the nature of current paper, the principles upon which the several banks of Europe are established, the real value of funds, the true credit of trading companies, with all the sources of profit, and possibilities of loss.

All this he must learn, merely as a private dealer, attentive only to his own advantage; but, as every man ought to consider himself as part of the community to which he belongs, and while he prosecutes his own interest to promote, likewise, that of his country, it is necessary for the trader to look abroad upon mankind, and study many questions which are, perhaps, more properly political than mercantile.

He ought, therefore, to consider very accurately the balance of trade, or the proportion between things exported and imported; to examine what kinds of commerce are unlawful, either as being expressly prohibited, because detrimental to the manufactures or other interest of his country, as the exportation of silver to the East-Indies, and the introduction of French commodities; or unlawful in itself, as the traffick for negroes. He ought to be able to state with accuracy the benefits and mischiefs of monopolies, and exclusive companies; to inquire into the arts which have been practised by them to make themselves necessary, or by their opponents to make them odious. He should inform himself what trades are declining, and what are improvable; when the advantage is on our side, and when on that of our rivals.

The state of our colonies is always to be diligently surveyed, that no advantage may be lost which they can afford, and that every opportunity may be improved of increasing their wealth and power, or of making them useful to their mother country.

There is no knowledge of more frequent use than that, of duties and impost, whether customs paid at the ports, or excises levied upon the manufacturer. Much of the prosperity of a trading nation depends upon duties properly apportioned; so that what is necessary may continue cheap, and what is of use only to luxury may, in some measure, atone to the publick for the mischief done to individuals. Duties may often be so regulated as to become useful even to those that pay them; and they may be, likewise, so unequally imposed as to discourage honesty, and depress industry, and give temptation to fraud and unlawful practices.

To teach all this is the design of the Commercial Dictionary; which, though immediately and primarily written for the merchants, will be of use to every man of business or curiosity. There is no man who is not, in some degree, a merchant, who has not something to buy and something to sell, and who does not, therefore, want such instructions as may teach him the true value of possessions or commodities.

The descriptions of the productions of the earth and water, which this volume will contain, may be equally pleasing and useful to the speculatist with any other natural history; and the accounts of various manufactures will constitute no contemptible body of experimental philosophy. The descriptions of ports and cities may instruct the geographer, as well as if they were found in books appropriated only to his own science; and the doctrines of funds, insurances, currency, monopolies, exchanges, and duties, is so necessary to the politician, that without it he can be of no use either in the council or the senate, nor can speak or think justly either on war or trade.

We, therefore, hope that we shall not repent the labour of compiling this work; nor flatter ourselves unreasonably, in predicting a favourable reception to a book which no condition of life can render useless, which may contribute to the advantage of all that make or receive laws, of all that buy or sell, of all that wish to keep or improve their possessions, of all that desire to be rich, and all that desire to be wise[2].


[1] A new Dictionary of Trade and Commerce, compiled from the information of the most eminent merchants, and from the works of the best writers on commercial subjects in all languages, by Mr. Rolt. Folio, 1757.

[2] Of this preface, Mr. Boswell informs us that Dr. Johnson said he never saw Rolt, and never read the book. “The booksellers wanted a preface to a dictionary of trade and commerce. I knew very well what such a dictionary should be, and I wrote a preface accordingly.” This may be believed; but the book is a most wretched farrago of articles plundered without acknowledgment, or judgment, which, indeed, was the case with most of Rolt’s compilations.