Preface To Payne’s New Tables Of Interest by Samuel Johnson

Story type: Essay


Designed to answer, in the most correct and expeditious manner, the common purposes of business, particularly the business of the publick funds.


Among the writers of fiction, whose business is to furnish that entertainment which fancy perpetually demands, it is a standing plea, that the beauties of nature are now exhausted; that imitation has exerted all its power; and that nothing more can be done for the service of their mistress, than to exhibit a perpetual transposition of known objects, and draw new pictures, not by introducing new images, but by giving new lights and shades, a new arrangement and colouring to the old. This plea has been cheerfully admitted; and fancy, led by the hand of a skilful guide, treads over again the flowery path she has often trod before, as much enamoured with every new diversification of the same prospect, as with the first appearance of it.

In the regions of science, however, there is not the same indulgence: the understanding and the judgment travel there in the pursuit of Truth, whom they always expect to find in one simple form, free from the disguises of dress and ornament: and, as they travel with laborious step and a fixed eye, they are content to stop, when the shades of night darken the prospect, and patiently wait the radiance of a new morning, to lead them forward in the path they have chosen, which, however thorny, or however steep, is severely preferred to the most pleasing excursions that bring them no nearer to the object of their search. The plea, therefore, that nature is exhausted, and that nothing is left to gratify the mind, but different combinations of the same ideas, when urged as a reason for multiplying unnecessary labours, among the sons of science, is not so readily admitted: the understanding, when in possession of truth, is satisfied with the simple acquisition; and not, like fancy, inclined to wander after new pleasures, in the diversification of objects already known, which, perhaps, may lead to errour.

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But, notwithstanding this general disinclination to accumulate labours, for the sake of that pleasure which arises merely from different modes of investigating truth, yet, as the mines of science have been diligently opened, and their treasures widely diffused, there may be parts chosen, which, by a proper combination and arrangement, may contribute not only to entertainment but use; like the rays of the sun, collected in a concave mirror, to serve particular purposes of light and heat.

The power of arithmetical numbers has been tried to a vast extent, and variously applied to the improvement both of business and science. In particular, so many calculations have been made, with respect to the value and use of money, that some serve only for speculation and amusement; and there is great opportunity for selecting a few that are peculiarly adapted to common business, and the daily interchanges of property among men. Those which happen in the publick funds are, at this time, the most frequent and numerous; and to answer the purposes of that business, in some degree, more perfectly than has hitherto been done, the following tables are published. What that degree of perfection above other tables of the same kind may be, is a matter, not of opinion and taste, in which many might vary, but of accuracy and usefulness, with respect to which most will agree. The approbation they meet with will, therefore, depend upon the experience of those for whom they were principally designed, the proprietors of the publick funds, and the brokers who transact the business of the funds, to whose patronage they are cheerfully committed.

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Among the brokers of stocks are men of great honour and probity, who are candid and open in all their transactions, and incapable of mean and selfish purposes; and it is to be lamented, that a market of such importance, as the present state of this nation has made theirs, should be brought into any discredit by the intrusion of bad men, who, instead of serving their country, and procuring an honest subsistence in the army or the fleet, endeavour to maintain luxurious tables, and splendid equipages, by sporting with the publick credit.

It is not long, since the evil of stockjobbing was risen to such an enormous height, as to threaten great injury to every actual proprietor, particularly, to many widows and orphans, who, being bound to depend upon the funds for their whole subsistence, could not possibly retreat from the approaching danger. But this evil, after many unsuccessful attempts of the legislature to conquer it, was, like many others, at length subdued by its own violence; and the reputable stockbrokers seem now to have it in their power effectually to prevent its return, by not suffering the most distant approaches of it to take footing in their own practice, and by opposing every effort made for its recovery by the desperate sons of fortune, who, not having the courage of highwaymen take ‘Change-alley rather than the road, because, though more injurious than highwaymen, they are less in danger of punishment by the loss either of liberty or life.

With respect to the other patrons, to whose encouragement these tables have been recommended, the proprietors of the publick funds, who are busy in the improvement of their fortunes, it is sufficient to say–that no motive can sanctify the accumulation of wealth, but an ardent desire to make the most honourable and virtuous use of it, by contributing to the support of good government, the increase of arts and industry, the rewards of genius and virtue, and the relief of wretchedness and want.

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What good, what true, what fit we justly call,
Let this be all our care–for this is all;
To lay this treasure up, and hoard with haste
What ev’ry day will want, and most the last.
This done, the poorest can no wants endure;
And this not done, the richest must be poor.

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