Apprentices and Masters

Unlike the Marquis de Mirabeau, (see document Tension between Rich and Poor) Jacques Savary sought to promote commerce and those who engaged in it. In this excerpt from his 1757 edition of The Perfect Merchant, which was widely read, Savary comments on the proper relations between apprentices learning a trade and the masters who owned the shop. Although his views in general were favorable to the chance for personal advancement made possible by commerce, he also retained a clear preference for hierarchy.


The first thing that an apprentice must have is a love and fear of God, for if he is without those, God will not bless his work, and the apprentice will never succeed in his endeavors. . . . The apprentice should also follow the old and honorable tradition of accompanying his masters to the parish mass on Sundays. Less than thirty years ago, all merchants still followed this practice, but today, masters have become lax. Most of them have become as libertine as their apprentices. It should not then be surprising that there are problems in business on a daily basis.

The second thing that an apprentice must have is loyalty to his masters. To this he is bound by his contract of apprenticeship, which usually states that he will work to his master's advantage and avoid harming him. Not only does this mean that he will serve faithfully, but it also [means] that he will stop friends, domestic servants, or any other common people from injuring his master. His conscience, as well as his contract, requires this of him.

The third thing is blind obedience to his master, provided he is not ordered to do that which offends either God or his conscience. In such a case, he ought not to obey. . . .

The fourth thing that an apprentice must have is a great respect for his master. He must always remove his hat before speaking to him, as if his master were his father, since the master sees to his upbringing like a father while the apprentice is under his supervision. In the apprenticeship contract it says that they should act as befitting a good father. . . .

The primary quality that a merchant should have with regard to the sale of his goods is to [be] an honest man. This will ensure his salvation and his reputation, and without a good reputation, a merchant will never make his fortune.

Being an honest man means being of good faith and cheating no one. That is, not using weighted scales or false measures that are lighter or heavier than those set down in the regulations. In dealing with cloth, it means spreading the material out without stretching it in order to give less than full measure. In weighing something, it means not putting one's hand on the scale to make it seem heavier. Finally, it means obeying the law, giving more merchandise rather than less, and not representing one type of good as being another. . . .

With regard to the profit that can be made, it is impossible to make rules. If the wares are silk, drapery fabric, serge, or black cloth, their price is not affected by changes in fashion. If they are manufactured in the realm, there are no import risks involved. And if they are ordinary wares, merchants cannot make big profits since it is well-known merchandise.

Source: Jacques Savary, Le Parfait négotiant, vol. 1 (Paris: new enlarged edition by Philemont-Louis Savary, 1757; originally published 1675), 41–46.