The Rhetoric of Credit: Merchants in Early Modern Writing

The Rhetoric of Credit: Merchants in Early Modern Writing

The Rhetoric of Credit: Merchants in Early Modern Writing

The Rhetoric of Credit: Merchants in Early Modern Writing


Scores of business advice manuals, double-entry handbooks, and trade publicity briefs give the early modern merchant help on guaranteeing the value of his word. The Rhetoric of Credit looks at the rhetorical handling of the just price of goods, cash and credit; analyses the uses of the heroism in trade; shows how the ethos of the merchant is enhanced in dealing with bankruptcy and sovereign dept, and distinguishes between miser and usurer. Such shifts between the fields of social and financial credit structure the three plays that it goes on to examine: If You Know Not Me (1), The Alchemist, and Eastword Ho!


The first half of this book gives lengthy passages from mercantile handbooks, partly because its aim is to focus on the merchants’ own voiced concerns, and partly to allow other critics to produce more sophisticated readings than I can. The second half, on city comedies, builds on— without repeating—points made earlier, so some of its comments may puzzle cherry-pickers. Only three plays are analyzed, to counterbalance the fissiparous research on the manuals, but the stylized nature of the genre should allow the reader to make comparisons with other plays fairly easily.

Printing conventions in the case of long s, v/u, and i/j have been normalized, and contractions have been expanded.

I have had the help of many people and institutions. The Arts and Humanities Research Board and the University of Wales Bangor provided a year’s study leave in which to complete the book and some funding to cover expenses. I am grateful to staff at the British Library, the library of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, and particularly the Bodleian and Bangor libraries, who have been efficient and friendly from the start.

Several people commented on portions of the manuscript, often with curteously expressed frustration, always with points which were material and pertinent: Tony Claydon, Lucy Cottrell, Margaret Kean, Peter Kitson, Clare McManus, Shirley Stacey, and Michael Whitworth. Tom Corns and Barbara White gave the complete manuscript a shrewd and detailed reading. Inspiring in their own work and generous with the time they gave mine, Lorna Hutson and Peter Mack have my gratitude. Students of cour"13" pgid="pg13" pubid="b1525018" type="intro">

SUPPOSE YOU ASKED A CROSS SECTION OF PEOPLE WHAT THEY thought poetry is made of. I mean, in the same way that sculpture is made of metal or stone, film of celluloid and palpable events, music of noises, and paintings of paint. Most people would reply “words.” I would agree with them. Some indeed would take the words for granted, and so would say metaphors, people, rhythm, or feeling. I would agree with all those, too. A few more might get technical and talk about stanzas or muses and we need not deny those things, either.

Very few would reply “letters”—the letters of the alphabet, from which words are formed. Yet letters—shaped ink-marks or noises— are the one thing we do actually hear on the airwaves or see on the page. As such, they might seem the closest parallel to the stone, metal, noises, and paint of the other arts. Of course, the reason why no one would answer “letters” to our question is that, of all the things just listed, like metaphor, people, rhythm and feeling, letters alone contain no inherent meaning. This observation points at once to an old aesthetic problem in literature. Literature differs from the other arts in using a medium that is public property anyway, and one not manufactured, as pigments or violins are, simply to create objects out of its own material. Indeed literature seems to have no physical material, for the letters of the alphabet, it is said, merely form into words that adduce the meanings, which are what really count.

This book examines many angles on a single question. It may be put thus: what is it, to constitute or communicate all that we know, mean, think, and feel, and turn that into an art (poetry), by countless rearrangements of a mere twenty-six nonpictorial and seemingly meaningless material signs?

Whatever the answers, the matter has struck more than one prominent thinker with wonderment.

There is nothing so strange and at the same time so demanding as the
written word…. (It) is the intelligibility of mind transferred to the most
alien medium. Nothing is so purely the trace of the mind as writing, but

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