Dundee Advertiser – 1861

Dundee Advertiser – 4th Dec 1861

James Fairweather’s Case

Some time ago there was in Dundee a prim, fair, young man, whose quiet manners, whose cultivated tastes, whose temperate, home-keeping habits, and whose reserved, but gentlemanly bearing, won him some little favour among our merchants. He was abstemious, studious, thoughtful, fond of reading, fond of his home, and was remarked as one as regular as the clock, a pattern citizen, a model of propriety. In commercial circles it was known that he was ambitious in his transactions, and it was whispered that he traded on such a scale as his supposed means were thought not to warrant; but then, any misgivings that arose from such observations were much allayed by the remembrance of his staid demeanour and exact habits.

His enterprise was thought to be in some degree warranted by his ability, and his adventurousness was by some regarded, not as the result of business temerity, but of mature calculation. He maintained a great appearance of correctness in dress, in his deportment, in his business, and in his domestic habits; and when men who can do that choose to push themselves forward to a foremost position in society, that position is conceded to them.

This young merchant became associated with good families, and, although, after marriage, he failed, the fault was rather attributed to circumstances than to him. That he was a gentleman of high principle was inferred from the circumstance that he had soon paid his depots in full; and all who knew him knew that he was no spendthrift, no rake, no bon vivant, but a most precise and exemplary person.

He re-commenced business; his friends showed him true friendship; his business transactions grew to be carried on on a large scale; and he claimed to be regarded as one of the representatives of the business portion of Young Dundee. Here then we have traced this rising business man upwards to a given point, where he has, for his business transactions, many foreign agencies; for his acquaintances, some of the most deservedly esteemed of our business men; for his home, a house not large, indeed, but furnished in style of quiet elegance, illustrative of the most cultured taste; and, for his partner in life, a lady of uncommon amiability and goodness.

In a prison cell, fed on prison diet, ruled by rigid regulations of a jail, clad in the scarecrow garments of his dungeon, guarded by warders, whose heavy tramp and clanking keys only make the silence of his solitude more dismal, lies James Fairweather now. Pity that so sad a lesson must be given, and the brand of the forger stamped thus roughly on the forehead that lately held itself high in the town; pity for his sake; pity – far greater pity – for the sake of others whose sorrows are sacred, and whose fate it has been to have their fortunes bound up with his. Let us cast no stone at James Fairweather. The spectacle of so great  a fall should soften even his enemies. 

He is today a wreck – a hulk, dismasted, broken, helpless; but yesterday he was a promising argosy, pressing with portly sail, as some thought, to prosperity. We would rather respect than blame the charity which should hold James Fairweather to be not so bad as he now seems. The marring scissors of the prison barber, the woven stigma of the prison dress, the brand officially printed on the prisoner’s forehead by the Judge when he pronounced sentence, do not blind the thoughtful man to the fact that society first lures and then punishes – the first tempts and then derides – its victims. The maxims and usages of modern life make money everything. 

Money is shown to young men as a miracle-worker. Its possession makes all the difference between a somebody and a nobody – a man unrecognised, and a man everywhere received with a smile. It is what is in the bag – not what is in the man – that opens drawing-rooms, and causes a man to be on the street, in the mart, and in the assemblies of the fashionable, a person of consideration. Few men can be possessed of money; therefore to seem to posses it has become in some quarters the great aim of life. How to be poor, and yet appear to be rich – how to have nothing, and yet live elegantly – how to be a merchant without capital, and enter upon expensive business with less means that would be needed to stock the shop of a small grocer – have become secrets of great value. To be really one thing, and to appear something different – to change Cinderella for the Princess, the necessitous clerk for the man of mark on ‘Change – is an object of tremendous importance to those who have no money, but who are determined to make their every public act contradict the fact. Hence this art of seeming has become a primary object of fashionable education, and hence we have in friendship a forswearing of natural feeling – in domestic life a thousand pinchings, and pairings, and meannesses – in business, men of paper (commercial Japanese, with whom paper is the great staple) – and hence, in our churches, we see poverty ashamed of itself, and, because ashamed of itself, veneered, disguised to pass itself off before God in His own house as not poverty, but wealth.

Perhaps it might be to inquire too nicely were we to ask how much the world’s morality is to blame for pushing on men like James Fairweather step by step in their attempts to appear what they are not. The social penalties daily inflicted on those who have no money, and who are honest enough to own it, may have some share in tempting young men of ambitious minds to grasp a position by risking the graver, but more uncertain, penalties of the law. James Fairweather’s great blunder in the eyes of ‘cute financiers was not that he floated fictitious paper, but that he failed to keep it floating; not that he forged, but that he did not meet his forgeries; not that he broke the laws of his country, but that, after so doing, he suffered himself to be found out.

Let it not be thought that the unfortunate man of whom we are writing has met with no other punishment than the one awarded him in court of law. We can well imagine that when he found himself at last arrested as a criminal a feeling of relief must have blended with and softened his dismay at his new position. Some men are gifted with wonderful coolness, but the coolest must find it misery to be for months in what must have been James Fairweather’s position. The poor hypochondriac, who believed himself made of glass, and was tortured with the idea that he might any moment be shivered to atoms, was not more to be pitied than the man, who under the disguise of trade, leads the life of a shark; who takes the hand of innocence and presses it in a hand that has forged; who has dark secrets and desperate projects weighing on his mind, and yet must put on a countenance of cheerful repose; who is on speaking terms with merchant princes, and yet who never sees a policeman look at him in the face without feeling disquieted at a glance; who has, as he sits at his fireside, the reputation of being a gentleman and a Christian, and who has to look the character and to maintain a serene courtesy while fearing that the next knock at his door may be that of the officer of justice. It is not difficult to think of such a man sitting with a composed face at his own fireside, speaking in gentle terms to those around, taking the lead in ordinances of family piety, and while thus engaged feeling deeply that he is a criminal, and that next visitor at his gate may be armed with a warrant for his arrest. We want more praise of godliness with contentment, and less praise of worldly advancement – more respect for personal merit and less for pecuniary position – more of that kindly interchange of feeling between the rich and the not rich, the decline of which poor Judge Talford mourned over in his last words, and when we get these things we shall have fewer of these sad sacrifices at the shrine of the Golden Calf.


Commission agents – also known as commercial agents – work as middlemen between vendors and buyers. In general, commission agents purchase and sell items on behalf of a principal, usually a company.

‘cute – Word History: Cute was originally a shortened form of acute in the sense “keenly perceptive or discerning, shrewd.”In this sense cute is first recorded in a dictionary published in 1731. Probably cute came to be used as a term of approbation for things demonstrating acuteness or ingenious design, and so it went on to develop its own sense of “pretty, fetching.”