網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

a

wise is really a noble one, and does honour to the subscribers. Close to these statues, a white sheet of marble records in appropriate language the public spirit of the proprietors of the Times in prosecuting to conviction, at an immense expense, certain fraudulent City merchants-exceptions and blots in that highly honourable class. The Times Testimonial” will always be read with deep interest, both as eulogistic of the press and our commercial community. A second tablet sets forth, simply but forcibly, the munificence of Mr. Citizen Lydeker, who gave his large fortune to promote the objects of the Marine Society, in succouring and educating the widows and orphans of commanders and officers in our trading navy; at a little distance, too, a diminutive mural stone represents Charity in the act of helping a friendless lad, with such attributes as to remind all visitors of the advantages conferred so liberally by the Marine Society. Long may benevolence brighten and strengthen our commercial greatness! The present home of the underwriters is admirably and conveniently arranged. I can just remember the old house-dark, dingy, and perplexing; and as some worthy merchants will never suffer their counting-houses to be cleaned out, much less whitewashed or painted, so the Lloyd's shrine of the past seemed to rejoice in its want of comfort and convenience. The chief room now is exceedingly commodious, well lighted by several skylights-nobly set among very fine mouldings-while the walls are as pure-looking as paint can make them. The space, perhaps 80 feet by 70, is set out in

ranges of double-seated boxes, with centre tables, the whole having a wide avenue in the middle. These tables are fully occupied, during business hours, by the members, either expecting calls to, or actually engaged in, professional duties. Of course, the rates of assurance on shipping and cargoes vary. Is the vessel sound, new, A 1, or old and in doubtful repair ? Is it about to track a winter or a

more.

summer sea ? Then, what is your commodity-brimstone or flour, wine or sulphuric acid ? On such, or similar accounts, the per-centage required varies from fifteen to forty, and, in extremely hazardous cases, to fifty, or even

Nor must you expect a single underwriter to take the whole risk. You wish to insure, say £1,500, against risks at sea. Well, Mr. A. will take £100, Mr. B. £150, Mr. C. £300, and so on, till your venture is safe—a plan obviously wise, and satisfactory to all parties; for thus, while the risk diminishes on one side, the security increases on the other. Losses from the inefficiency of underwriters are exceedingly rare, nor are there many actions at law on such subjects-much fewer, indeed, than the vast interests represented would make probable. Wonderful London! illustrious merchant princes ! who thus make commerce safe when it seems most dangerous, and interpose the impenetrable ægis of credit between the perils of the “great deep" and the costly freights embarked

upon

it. The chief room would yield an interesting subject for an able artist; every box and table would be an excellent study, and he would not have to pay for sitters. Throw a glance along the benches. What a variety of faces! What restless energy marks some !-what indomitable perseverance others ! A few look apathetic, and on a few the deep lines of disappointment may be readily traced. There is a strong light on the table to the left; how finely it brings out the countenance of the white-haired old gentleman so earnestly engaged in talk with the foreign merchant by his side! In the next box, the most remarkable head is that of a Hebrew underwriter, who is transacting business with a Fortuguese captain ; the bushy head of the latter sets off his bronzed, weather-beaten face to great advantage. Here may be found representatives of every trading community in the world, who, thus brought to

a

gether, soon learn how to understand and sympathize, for they have a common object-gain ! Now let us step into the map-room

There are a few tables and seats in the centre, but on each side a narrow wooden stair conducts to a sort of gallery, in each of which maps and charts, hung on rolls, readily moveable at the slightest touch, are prepared to give their silently eloquent responses to all inquirers. A correspondent informs a member that the vessel he is anxious about is laid up in such a port, or may be now crossing such a gulf, or beating about on such an ocean; immediately the maps are in requisition, and the ship's exact locality is easily ascertained. Experienced underwriters can put their finger on the spot indicated in a moment, and many a merchant who has never smelt salt water is quite familiar with every point of the compass. Then we enter the reading-room—a reading-room without newspapers. You pass down the middle, having on each side long oaken sideboards, covered with rows of stout quarto books, containing letters, arranged according to the country from which they come, and all of them capable of being detached when necessary. These are reports as to the merchant marine of every nation, and especially of our own; and the incomers of a morning con over the fresh arrivals with as much eagerness as a young lady would her billets-doux the day after the 14th of February. There is a sort of demon-worship exceedingly prevalent, even in moral and religious quarters, and Mammon is worshipped here, by old and young, with undisguised zeal. Yet, though money is the root of all evil, its fruit is often unexceptionably good; and, while we cannot honour "Avarice, that keen, old, gentlemanly vice,” we can easily cite examples of the wealth resulting from a life's labour, or one fortunate speculation, being scattered abroad with a liberal hand. “They have dispersed, they have given to

[ocr errors]

the poor, and their praise endureth for ever.Adjoining to this room is a smaller one, in which several wind-dials are exhibited, the hand pointing hopefully or threateningly to E. or W., or N.E. or S., for each wind is desirable for some underwriter's risks. W. is just the wind for H., but it is dangerous for P. Besides these, there is a curious instrument called “The Wind Measurer,” a kind of pen. dulum moved by outward currents of air, which indicates as it moves certain figures on the parchment-sheet over which it vibrates--on a calm day scarcely changing its position, but during heavy gales violently agitated, and perceptibly raised according to the force and direction of the wind.

Various telegraphic means of communication are at the service of the members, and in this way they can correspond with nearly the whole of Europe without leaving the building. What ingenious atoms men are, and how elaborate their wants become in a highly civilized age! We telegraph from St. Stephen's to the opera house to warn members of a division ; we telegraph to the club house to warn members when home duties demand their presence; we telegraph to and from Lloyd's to settle how much in the pound must be paid on a hogshead of claret or a bale of cotton.

Quite apart from the other sources of information, the black book occupies its own stand. Every incoming underwriter faithfully visits it every morning It con. Bains accounts of the loss or damage of insured vessels as far as known on each day, and you need only learn the name of the ship to ascertain whether it is entirely lost or merely damaged-Gratitude only signifies that ship’s damage, but The Gratitude means its absolute loss. When I looked on this terrible book, the day's loss or damage only applied to six vessels, but in stormy weather the number rises frightfully. Judge how interesting such

[ocr errors]

a

a register must prove when all the members have one or more sea risks.

The news-room has a daily supply of journals, metropolitan, provincial, and European, in a variety of languages, brother Jonathan of course being duly attended to. There are also files of the more important newspapers, which extend to many years.

The arrival or non-arrival of the mails is noted from hour to hour; the merchant can need no sort of useful business information that is not at his hand. Nor have the demands of the stomach been neglected. A capital luncheon-room is provided, where, at moderate prices, sandwich, chop, kidney, with the desirable accessories, may be obtained in appetizing forms. Mr. Gladstone's wine licence will be a boon, for then, in addition, hock, claret, or champagne will be attainable. The economical might surely have their beer permitted on the same terms. Why should the licensed victuallers be more protected than other traders ?

The members of Lloyd's, as might be expected, are very numerous, though great care is taken to exclude all but responsible people. The election is by ballot; the names of candidates are exposed in the anteroom for a fortnight previous, and each must have the recommendation of two known members. The Committee are chosen for three years, and the qualification is six years of membership. To show how unselfishly these directors work, we may mention that at a meeting reported in the Times (March 29) we find the following munificent grants were made :$25 for the Mariners' Benevolent Society, £25 for the Lifeboat Society, £30 for rewards to seamen meritoriously active in cases of shipwrecks, besides a number of good. conduct medals, both in gold and silver.

To speak of Lloyd's, is to suggest a thousand interesting topics, and prove the policy, usefulness, and benevolence of such a society; but ample reason has been

« 上一頁繼續 »