Losing Commercial Probity
“Another real Victorian virtue, not to be discredited by many imaginary Victorian virtues, [was] a strict standard of commercial probity . . . when the notion of success was mixed up not only with cynicism but with a queer sort of piratical romance. [But today] the favorite modern ideal in morals and even in religion, especially the religion popularized in the papers for millions of modern businessmen, is the word “adventure.”
The most menacing monster in morals, for the businessmen of my old middle-class, was branded with the title of “adventurer.” In later times, I fancy, the world has defended some pretty indefensible adventurers by implying the glamour of adventure.
My own father and uncles were entirely of the period that believed in progress, and generally in new things, and all the more because they were finding it increasingly difficult to believe in old things; and in some cases in anything at all. But though as Liberals they believed in progress, as honest men they often testified to deterioration.
I remember my father telling me how much he had begun to be pestered by swarms of people wanting private commissions upon transactions, in which they were supposed to represent another interest.
He mentioned it not only with the deepest disgust, but more or less as if it were a novelty as well as a nuisance. He was himself in the habit of meeting these unpleasant people with a humorously simulated burst of heartiness and even hilarity; but it was the only sort of occasion on which his humour might be called grim and ferocious.
When the agent, bargaining for some third party, hinted that an acceptable trifle would smooth the negotiations, he would say with formidable geniality, “Oh, certainly! Certainly! So long as we are all friends and everything is open and above board! I am sure your principals and employers will be delighted to hear from me that I’m paying you a small –__”
He would then be interrupted with a sort of shriek of fear and the kind diplomatic gentleman would cover his tracks as best he could in terror. “And doesn’t that prove to you,” said my father with innocent rationalism, “the immorality of such a proposal?”
(The Autobiography of G.K. Chesterton, Sheed & Ward, 1936, excerpt pp. 16-17)