“It is the fashion nowadays,” said Clovis, “to talk about the romance of Business. There isn’t such a thing. The romance has all been the other way, with the idle apprentice, the truant, the run-away, the individual who couldn’t be bothered with figures and book-keeping and left business to look after itself. I admit that a grocer’s shop is one of the most romantic and thrilling things I have ever happened upon, but the romance and thrill are centred in the groceries, not the grocer. The citron and spices and nuts and dates, the barrelled anchovies and Dutch cheeses, the jars of caviar and chest of tea, they carry the mind away to Levantine coast towns and tropic shores, to the Old World wharfs and quays of the Low Countries, to dusty Astrachan and far Cathay; if the grocer’s apprentice has any romance in him it is not a business education he gets behind the grocer’s counter, it is a standing invitation to dream and to wander, and to remain poor. As a child such places as South America and Asia Minor were brought painstakingly under my notice, the names of their principal rivers and the heights of their chief mountain peaks were committed to my memory. and I was earnestly enjoined to consider them as parts of the world that I lived in; it was only when I visited a large well-stocked grocer’s shop that I realized that they certainly existed. Such galleries of romance and fascination are not bequeathed to us by the business man; he is only the dull custodian, who talks glibly of Spanish olives and Rangoon rice, a Spain that he has never known or wished to know, a Rangoon that he has never imagined or could imagine. It was the unledgered wanderer, the careless-hearted seafarer, the aimless outcast, who opened up new trade routes, tapped new markets, brought home samples or cargoes of new edibles and unknown condiments. It was they who brought the glamour and romance to the threshold of business life, where it was promptly reduced to pounds, shillings and pence; invoiced, double-entried, quoted, written off, and so forth; most of these terms are probably wrong, but a little inaccuracy sometimes serves tons of explanation.
“On the other side of the account there is the industrious apprentice, who grew up into the business man, married early and worked late, and lived, thousands and thousands of him, in little villas outside big towns. He is buried by the thousand in Kensal Green and other large cemeteries; any romance that was ever in him was buried prematurely in shop and warehouse and office. Whenever I feel in the least tempted to be business-like or methodical or even decently industrious I go to Kensal Green and look at the graves of those who died in business.”