Good Turns and the Art of Merchandizing:
Conceptualizing Exchange in Early Modern England
(draft version)

Barbara Sebek

 


 

     1. For social transactors in early modern England, exchange played a productive role. Exchange practices did not merely reflect material relations of wealth and power, but played a constitutive role in creating, solidifying, destabilizing, or violating the bonds and hierarchies structuring social relations.1 Throughout the period, a national economy gradually solidifies that depends on market forces which operate beyond the local or even the national level.2 As commodity exchange cast an increasingly wider net, it was often seen to disrupt the grounds on which traditional social relationships were established and maintained. The economic and social ruptures of the period raised cultural questions about what makes social relations of exchange binding and valuable, questions underlying contemporary efforts to distinguish between the methods and motives of gift and commodity exchange.

     2. A wide array of social practices in early modern England--from patronage and hospitality to love tokens and New Year's gifts--could be classified under the general rubric of gift exchange as it has been theorized by anthropologists such as Marcel Mauss, Claude Levi-Strauss, Bronislaw Malinowski, and Gayle Rubin. A number of literary critics of the period have explored the ways in which various forms of gift exchange work to establish or mediate cultural identities, social relationships, and relations of power.3 Gift exchange in the early modern period has attracted this attention partly because of the sheer variety of the practices which fall under the heading, and because of the multiple cultural functions it performs. Gift exchange serves as a productive cultural activity, providing a form in which individuals and groups of all social levels in sixteenth and seventeenth-century England could give shape, intelligibility, and material form to abstractly delineated social relations. Given the emergence in the period of new modes of production and organization, and the rise of the money form as a medium of exchange, gift-giving practices became a highly charged arena of cultural work, and the distinction between gifts and commodities became an important ideological question as various social relations--between friends, family members, husbands and wives, masters and servants, rulers and subjects--were being reconfigured.

     3. Keith Wrightson overviews the reconfiguration of social relations within local communities as the gradual, uneven dissolution of "traditional" social relations, based on an ethic of neighborliness and paternalism and deference, and the emergence of capitalistic relations operating beyond the local level, based on calculated profit and economic gain. Wrightson provides a clear synthesis of the processes of social differentiation and realignment which accompanied demographic, political, and economic changes. These processes include population increase and mobility; agrarian "improvements" such as enclosure; urbanization; expanded trade; price inflation; declines in real wages; the expansion of literacy and educational facilities; efforts for religious reform; and improved administrative efficiency and the increased influence of centralized power at the local level. Wrightson points particularly to the years 1580-1630 which saw the peak of population growth, harvest failures on a national scale, great shifts in land tenure organization and rents, and particularly sharp alternations in the scarcity and abundance of grain. Throughout his study, Wrightson insists that these factors had widely uneven effects, depending on regional variation and social group. In fact, Wrightson shows how many of these forces themselves worked to polarize certain social groups, and to create a class of permanently poor wage-earners as the period progressed.

     4. As symbolic economies, gift and commodity exchange provided contemporaries with ways to make sense of, to render meaningful and intelligible, the material processes such as those Wrightson studies. A transactional understanding of social life gains ground in the period as social relations themselves are increasingly understood as relations of exchange. Exchange relations--especially the moment of a transaction--both reflect and constitute social and personal relations; they both articulate or symbolize social and personal identity, and serve as the mechanisms by which these identities are formed. The precise forms which exchange relations take as they perform these functions are, of course, historically variable. Gift and commodity exchange are structures by means of which we may understanding social relations, but they are not static nor timeless. Not only do they take shape differently in different historical and cultural contexts, but they are also relational: they are made meaningful, deployed, and do cultural work in relation to one another--even when one or the other is seemingly absent.4 I avoid positing a simple linear movement from gift to commodity, seeing them rather as residual and emergent forms. I also refuse any simple opposition between them, seeing them rather as mutually constitutive symbolic economies that often overlap or blur together, and that gain meaning in relation to one another. Gift exchange derives importance only as it is perceived to be threatened by emergent forms of exchange and value formation. However, gift-engendered kinds of exchange relations are not clung to in their traditional form but are themselves redefined as they are set in relation to commodity exchange.

     5. In order to distinguish between gifts and commodities and to define the concepts which underlie the distinction between a "gift economy" and "commodity exchange," anthropologist Christopher Gregory combines the theoretical work of political economy, primarily Marx's theories of commodity exchange, and a range of twentieth century anthropologists, most notably Marcel Mauss and his influential study of gift economies in The Gift.5 The fundamental contrast which he offers is that, in gift exchange, transactors are in a state of "reciprocal dependence" while those in commodity exchange are in a state of "reciprocal independence" (12); the exchange of gifts creates "personal relations between people," while commodity exchange creates "objective relations between things" (8). Because commodities are alienable--sharply distinguished from the person who owns them and hence transferable to others--their exchange constitutes a "price-forming process" (19)6 rather than the formation of personal or social bonds. Because transactors in commodity exchange are mutually independent, once their transaction is finalized, each is free to sell, trade or use the obtained commodity.7 Those who engage in a gift transaction, on the other hand, are bound perpetually in a network of giving, receiving, and requiting gifts. These bonds and obligations are the basis of social organization in a culture based on gift exchange. Desire for profit, which derives from the exchange-value of the object of exchange, marks commodity exchange, while a desire for gift-debtors, not profit, motivates the exchange of gifts. According to Gregory, "What a gift transactor desires is the personal relationships that the exchange of gifts creates, and not the things themselves" (19). Gayle Rubin, summarizing Mauss's study of the logic of gift exchange, adds that gift exchange creates social relations as well as personal relationships:

Mauss proposed that the significance of gift giving is that it expresses, affirms, or creates a social link between the partners of an exchange. Gift giving confers upon its participants a special relationship of trust, solidarity, and mutual aid. . . . Mauss proposed that gifts were the threads of social discourse, the means by which such societies were held together in the absence of specialized governmental institutions. (172)

Rather than classifying qualities that inhere in objects, then, the categories gift and commodity conceptualize relations between transactors, the motives of those who engage in exchange, or the systems of exchange by which a particular culture operates.

     6. As it was appealed to and set in relation to commodity exchange in our period, moreover, the gift economy was being redefined and rearticulated, rather than resuscitated in a static, unchanged form. Concluding her study of the decline of household-based hospitality in early modern England, Felicity Heal remarks that "the economic upheavals of the later sixteenth and early seventeenth century" undermined the ability to practice the forms of liberality associated with hospitality; these economic changes also "demonstrat[ed] conclusively that [liberality] was a recessive trait when compared with the commodity mentality" (401). Heal argues that "Englishmen's" appeals to hospitality were used as a "rhetorical weapon to challenge the dominance of the market-place in their own culture by a return to a mythical past of open generosity" (403). Raymond Williams's notion of the "residual" allows us to understand this rhetorical "return" to the past without positing a fixed, inert notion of the gift ethic. By "residual" Williams refers to experiences, meanings, or values that have been formed in the past, but are still active in the cultural process as effective elements of the present (121-27). Thinking of the appeals to open generosity as "residual" in Williams's sense enables us to see how the discursive appeal to past forms can actually function oppositionally, against hegemonic values, values which in the sixteenth century, are still in the process of formation.

     7. Joan Wallach Scott likewise offers a helpful method for a historical understanding of how culturally available symbols compete without focusing exclusively on those symbols that 'win' the competition. Scott argues that in studying changes in the organization of social relationships, the historian must look to changes in how power are represented, considering "the culturally available symbols that evoke multiple (and often contradictory) representations. . . . For historians, the interesting questions are, Which symbolic representations are invoked, how, and in what contexts?" (42-43). The historian must then consider the

normative concepts that set forth interpretations of the meanings of the symbols, that attempt to limit and contain their metaphoric possibilities. . . . [T]hese normative statements depend on the refusal or repression of alternative possibilities, and sometimes overt contests about them take place (at what moments and under what circumstances ought to be a concern of historians). The position that emerges as dominant, however, is stated as the only possible one. Subsequent history is written as if these normative positions were the product of social consensus rather than of conflict. (43)

It is within the historical project that Scott advocates that I situate my reading of how writers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries construct the economies of gift and commodity and the social relations they express and constitute. Although we know that commodity exchange is the form which eventually emerges as dominant, the texts I study were written at a time of struggle and contest between these mutually defining modes.

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     8. Without confusing the term "commodity" as it was used in the sixteenth century with the theory of commodity exchange I have begun to explicate, we can nonetheless note how the history of the term's usage suggests an emergent conception of a denigrated form of exchange motivated by self-interest and the desire for profit, one that can only be articulated by being devalued vis-á-vis idealized gift exchange. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the notion of "commodity" as "selfish interest" does not appear before the later sixteenth century (1571). Prior to the sixteenth century, the term more commonly refers to a general quality or condition of being convenient or useful, or to specific articles that are useful or advantageous. As early as 1436, commodity refers to goods produced for use or sale, or an article of commerce or trade. Distinctive to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is the definition of commodity as a "parcel of goods sold by credit from a usurer." As a general quality, then, commodity shifts in the sixteenth century from the sense of convenience or usefulness to the negative sense of "selfish interest"; as a specific object, a commodity comes to signify in the period not simply any article of commerce but the goods sold by the quintessential figure of denigrated exchange--the usurer.8

     9. As my discussion has so far indicated, however, it would be reductive to assert that contemporary efforts to imagine the gift-commodity distinction merely relied on a simple and straightforward opposition between generosity and acquisitiveness, charity and greed, or communal values and selfish individualist ones. The repeated cries against self-interest and the desire for profit, or the appeal to loyal allegiance and the desire to establish personal bonds, are not descriptions of self-evident or natural motives in place all along; rather, they are ways of responding to and making intelligible the period's reconfigurations of social relationships. As Agnew suggests, motives are "ideological solutions" (6) to cultural problems. More importantly, commercial relations themselves were not self-evident or stable in this transitional period, but rather were under scrutiny, constructed through their relation to gift forms of exchange. My goal for the remainder of this essay is to elaborate on the critical value of gift and commodity as relational categories for studying the early modern period through a reading of the visions of exchange-generated social and commercial relations presented in Arthur Golding's translation of Seneca's De Beneficiis (1578), Thomas Wilson's A Discourse upon Usury (1572) and Lewis Roberts's The Merchant's Mappe of Commerce (1638). I will examine the ideological work that these texts perform as they respond to the shifting understandings of social and commercial relations and the changing notions of how value is constituted that accompany the expansion of commodity exchange and the move toward capitalism in early modern England.

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     10. Many practices in the early modern period--hospitality, clientage, dowry and jointure, political patronage and patronage of the arts9--arguably constitute gift exchange in the strict sense, although they are practices whose gift elements are under pressure from the rise of a commodity mentality. Arthur Golding's translation of Seneca's De Beneficiis10 exemplifies the popular appeal to an idealized gift economy which these new pressures elicited. Golding's Seneca is a manual for good giving which insistently distinguishes "benefiting"--the "doing, receiving, and requiting of good turns" (title page)--from merchandizing, or ordinary bargains and loans.11 A brief look at the treatise will reveal a close alignment between Seneca's oppositions and Gregory's definitions of the distinctions between gift and commodity exchange. My reading will focus as well on the rhetorical and ideological procedures that underpin the construction of a hierarchized distinction between benefits and merchandizing.

     11. The treatise focuses on the proper methods and motives for giving, receiving, and requiting benefits, methods and motives which, when abused or misunderstood, are seen as the root of all social disorder and vice:

[I]t is no marvel that among so many and so great vices, there is none more rife than unthankfulness. . . .The world shall never be without Murderers, Tyrants, Thieves, Whoremongers, Extortioners, Churchrobbers, and Traitors. Beneath all these were an unthankful person, saving that all these proceed from a thankless mind, without which there hath not lightly grown any great mischief. (sigs. A1, B3v)

Despite the centrality of ingratitude in precipitating vice and disorder, benefiting is based on trust rather than legal coercion. Bestowers of benefits who meet with ungrateful recipients do not have recourse to the law; legally enforced bonds or contracts "stain" the honor of benefits, stripping them of their true estimation or value:

Thou art deceived if thou think that any judge can help thee; no Law is able to set thee clear again. Only have thou an eye to the faithfulness of the receiver. So shall benefits keep their estimation, and continue honorable. Thou stainest them, if thou make them a matter of Law. In debts it is a most upright speech and agreeable to the Law of all Realms, to say, Pay that thou owest. But it is the foulest word than can be in benefiting, to say, Pay. . . . The estimation of so noble a thing should perish, if we make a merchandise of benefits. . . . Would God that no surety might be taken of the purchaser by the seller, nor bargains and covenants be made under hand & seal: but rather, that the performance of them were referred to the faithfulness and upright meaning of mens' consciences. (sig. I2v)

It is not surety--a legal bond or piece of property used to guarantee fulfillment of an obligation--but rather trust and "mens' consciences" which make these relations of exchange binding and valuable. This value, however, cannot be measured. The motive for giving benefits is not profit, but fellowship: a benefit is a thing which "most of all other knitteth men together in fellowship" (sig. A4v), a fellowship which it is a "foul shame" to "reckon" or quantify: "It is a vile Usury to keep a reckoning of benefits, as of expenses" (sig. A2v). Those who wish to bestow a good turn "must tread profit underfoot" (sig. M2v). (We've already seen how the Cocks and Sanderson examples violate this prescription.)

     12. The exchange of good turns, unlike lending money or entering into a formal contract, engages transactors in perpetual bonds of friendship:

[T]o him that lends me money, I must pay no more than I have taken; and when I have paid it, I am free and discharged. But unto the other [one who gives a benefit] I must pay more; and when I have requited him, yet nevertheless I am still beholden to him. For when I have requited I must begin new again, & friendship warneth me to admit no unworthy person. So is the Law of benefits a most holy law, wheroutof springeth friendship. (sig. E4, emphasis added)

Here we see that the debt of gratitude is not only unmeasurable and "priceless," but it also extends beyond an immediate transaction or set of transactions. Clearly, in this formulation, those who engage in exchange are mutually dependent transactors who establish personal relations. The thing given, whether it is money, a material object, or a favor, is merely the "badge" of the giver's "good will" (sig. B2); the essence of the benefit is the bond of friendship and obligation between transactors which the thing given signifies. Further, benefits are the very source of friendship; for Seneca, they not only affirm social links but are the wellspring of them.

     13. Both the demotion of the "matter" of the benefit, and the effacement of power differences in forging affective, insoluble social bonds indicate the idealist nature12 of the Senecan economy of the benefit. When material objects and relations or differentials of power are taken into account, the reciprocity and mutuality of the gift economy come under great strain.13 In principle, gift relations are entered into voluntarily, but in practice they are often based on strong differences in power, or on coercion. Gift relations paradoxically combine solidarity, allegiance, and mutuality--expressed in terms of personal identity and interpersonal allegiance--with power inequalities and the potential for exploitation and coercion.14 Denying any significant conceptual separation between gift and commodity exchange, Arjun Appadurai points out how pricing and calculation take place in so-called 'kula systems,' although the "increment being sought...is in reputation, name or fame" (19).15 The loyalty and allegiance engendered and expressed in idealized gift relations do not necessarily "mask" the "actuality" of power inequalities and calculation. Rather, gift relations can, and often do, simultaneously and paradoxically, entail both allegiance and inequality, and hence the potential for exploitation, creating value whose source is at once material and immaterial.

     14. By conceptualizing benefits in complete and stark opposition to ordinary bargains, Golding's Seneca purges benefiting of the negative elements that the gift economy paradoxically combines with more positive ones; the text restricts the negative elements such as exploitation, coercion, reckoning, or codified contracting to the realm of ordinary bargains, reserving positive elements such as loyalty and affective bonds for the economy of the benefit. Golding's Seneca denies the paradoxes that the gift economy can entail by strictly opposing it to ordinary traffic, displacing its negative elements onto the latter. We can describe this rhetorical and ideological maneuver as part of the cultural creation of what Kopytoff calls "separate spheres of exchange." He refers to the notion of spheres of exchange in order to understand the

problem of value and value equivalence . . . the mysterious process by which things that are patently unlike are somehow made to be alike with respect to value....this involves taking the patently singular and inserting it into a uniform category of value with other patently singular things. . . . The difficulty of lumping disparate things into a single commodity sphere is the natural basis for the cultural construction of separate spheres of exchange. The culture takes on the less sweeping task of making value-equivalence by creating several discrete commodity spheres. (71-2)

Although it is unclear why the difficulty of creating value equivalence is "natural" rather than "cultural," and despite terminological differences (for Kopytoff, all exchange is on some level "commoditization"16), I see the categories gift and commodity as precisely the kind of cultural effort to construct distinct spheres of exchange that Kopytoff describes here. As Golding's Seneca illustrates, however, these spheres of exchange are not only distinguished from one another, but are conceived hierarchically. One is idealized or privileged at the other's 'expense.' The commodity sphere is seen as the only one in which value equivalence is effected--since relations remain personal in idealized constructions of the gift sphere, persons remain "singular" and therefore unexchangeable.

     15. In addition to purging the economy of the benefit of corrupting elements such as material power differences, Seneca maintains discrete exchange spheres by trying to deny the value of the material object of exchange. Within the economy of the benefit, itself distinguished from ordinary transactions, he draws a careful distinction between the "matter of the benefit" (sig. Bi)--the thing exchanged, the "thing that is seen" (sig.Bii), whether a material object or a favor--and the "benefit itself" (sig. Bi)--the idealized bond between transactors:

These things [money, offices] are badges of benefits, but not the benefits themselves. . . . There is great difference between the matter of a benefit, and the benefit itself. Therefore, neither Gold, nor Silver, nor any of the things that we receive of our neighbours, is a benefit: but the good will of the giver. . . . The thing that is seen is not a benefit, but the sign and token of a benefit. (sigs. Bi-Bii)

The thing given or the favor granted merely betokens the giver's good will, and the bond between giver and recipient. The locus of value in this system lies in the fact of the properly motivated transaction and in the transaction's intended effects, not in the object given. Therefore, in this vision of gift exchange, the gift as a thing is in itself empty of value.17 Although exchange in the material domain has to happen in order to manifest the immaterial bond between transactors, the Senecan economy negates the value of the material object of exchange, of the "thing that is seen."

     16. Usury is repeatedly constructed as the antithesis of this idealized gift economy--in Seneca's text, in the wider anti-usury debate, and in the many plays with evil usurer figures who insist on the legal bond or statute. Although anti-usury tracts such as Wilson's Discourse Upon Usury (1572) and Lodge's Alarum Against Usurers (1584) are careful to try to distinguish between usury and lawful, respectable trade, between usurers and legitimate merchants, (Lodge sigs. B1-B1v; Wilson 203, 231, 266, 298-99, 309, 365), it is clear in Seneca's formulation that commerce and profit-seeking are morally inferior to benefiting. The noble "estimation" of benefits will "perish, if we make a merchandise of benefits." For Seneca, traffic in quantifiable, alienable objects for the sake of profit, or out of desire for the material objects themselves, is a debased form of exchange. Although this debased form is "agreeable to the law of all realms," it must be kept distinct from the moral economy of the benefit.18

     17. The complex questions about what makes social relations of exchange binding, and about where to locate the agent of enforcement--externally in the law, or internally in the conscience--saturate the debate over usury. In God and the Moneylenders, a "biography" of the Usury Statute of 1571, Norman Jones discusses the attitudes toward the law, conscience, and intention as they operate in these debates. He points out that those on the side of liberalizing usury laws or who defend the practice assume that conscience and good faith operate in lending. Based on a dispute over usury that took place at Canterbury in 1550, a tract by Martin Bucer considers "conscience the ultimate court and charity the basic law" (Jones 22). The liberal position on usury "supported calls for regulations which permitted moderate interest rates, freeing borrowers and lenders to follow their consciences. God, who justifies by faith and who knows the secrets of the heart, would take care of the moral realm" (34). In an extended catalogue of pro and con arguments, Lord Burghley suggests that lending at interest should be tolerated based on the belief that "usury was an internal matter depending on a person's true intentions" (40). Ironically, then, the arguments defending usury or advocating a liberalization of usury laws rely on the belief that the intentions or motives of transactors cannot be determined legally. They support lending at interest--a practice that fuels and is necessitated by a commodity economy--by keeping intention and conscience beyond the sphere of codified and formalized legal regulation, as we have seen Golding's Seneca do when he lays out the moral economy of the benefit. Repeatedly conceptualized in opposition to gift-like bonds by its opponents, usury comes to be defended on the part of its supporters, who borrow the assumptions of their adversaries by appealing to an internalized sphere beyond the reach of legal regulation--the sphere of the gift.

     18. The lawyer in Wilson's Discourse upon Usury (1572) more explicitly (and with rather more sophistry) defends usury by invoking the obligations entailed in the exchange of good turns:

Rewards geven for good turnes done or pleasure received for benefites bestowed are so common, that whoso offendith herein is pointed at and counted a churle, and shall have want when he woulde have. Moreover, who may not give his owne freely, or what is he that wil not or may not take anything that is geven? what is more free than gift? or what is he that will shew such discurtesy not to receive a gift, when it is freely offred? and what other thing do they that seke to borrow money, but entreate merveilouslye and offer frankelye for the time and use of money? (237)

Ockerfoe, the Preacher, eventually repudiates the lawyer's appeal to the gift economy, telling him that he does wrong to call "enforced payments" by the name of gifts: "You geeve a wrong name to youre usurie gaynes, to call them giftes or rewardes, for they are rather compulsorie debtes and violent bargaynes, made against the will altogether (as God knoweth) of the needy and poore borrower" (256). Whereas Seneca posits ingratitude as the root of all disorder and vice, Wilson's preface posits usury as "the cheefest cause of the greatest miserie in thys lande [that] wil be in the ende the undoynge of all" (180). Wilson repeatedly asserts the dichotomy between "free lending" and "fowle gayning" (177),19 between "private gaine" and "commone profite" (180), hierarchized distinctions which parallel those of Golding's Seneca between benefiting and merchandizing, good turns and ordinary bargains, the bond between transactors and the matter of the benefit.

     19. De Beneficiis and the opponents of usury offer, therefore, an ideological strategy for keeping the forces of commodification at bay, a vision of merchandizing and of social relations quite at odds with the vision which we will see at work in Roberts's Merchants Mappe. The effort in De Beneficiis to distinguish sharply between the motives and morality of good turns and the crudely calculating motives of money-lending or profit-seeking align closely with the distinctions between gift and commodity exchange. Personal obligation and trust are the means by which these idealized relations are made binding; and personal relationships themselves are founded by these honorable exchanges. They are set over and against the "price-forming" process that constitutes commodity exchange, a system of exchange which, in the absence of trust, is forced to rely on formal contract and the law as the guarantors of honest dealing.20 As I have argued, however, the opposition between gift and commodity exchange is not as distinct as Wilson or Golding's Seneca would like to believe. Their treatises try to make distinctions in a culture which rendered such distinctions increasingly difficult to make. Seneca's text was appealing and repeatedly translated because it offered a way of conceptualizing social relations, keeping them distinct from commercial relations, at a time when the interrelation of such relationships was in transition.

     20. Jean-Christophe Agnew's account of the changing meanings of the market in England from 1550-1650 offers a way to particularize the difficulties of distinguishing between gift and commodity modes and between social and commercial relations in early modern England. The distinctions between benefiting/gift exchange--the creation of personal relations between reciprocally dependent transactors--and merchandizing/commodity exchange--the creation of objective relations between reciprocally independent transactors--correlates with the distinction between the localized marketplace and the abstract, polymorphous market process, a distinction which Agnew explicates.

     21. Agnew's overall project is to study the changing meanings of the market, the cultural questions which accompany the movement from a localized, visible marketplace to an abstract, polymorphous market process, and the ways in which the theater served as a domain for responding to these questions. He is not concerned with documenting processes of material change but rather with exploring the questions "Britons" posed in the face of the changing market:

In the century preceding the English Civil War, Britons could be described as feeling their way round a problematic of exchange; that is to say, they were putting forward a coherent and repeated pattern of problems or questions about the nature of social identity, intentionality, accountability, transparency, and reciprocity in commodity transactions. (9)

Agnew identifies a "pressure to find emblematic forms that could capture the elusive character of the new political, commercial, and religious relations of Tudor-Stuart society," forms which would work through the problems of how "individuals were to represent themselves to one another . . . [and] how they were to represent these relationships to themselves" (10). Agnew's account of the late medieval marketplace reveals how residual elements of the gift economy were still functioning in the late medieval marketplace.21

     22. Agnew explains that the medieval marketplace in England grew out of ancient gift and tributary practices. The marketplace was localized and public, with semi-religious, ceremonial protections governing it. Public oaths, witnesses and physical tokens were used to mark the solemnity of transactions. The visibility of exchange was highly prized; goods were "presented, not represented" (30). Market exchange was not only public and visible, emphasizing the accountability of its participants, but was also conceived as a "paired activity." It was treated as a "distinctively bilateral or reciprocal relationship" (37), even though, or precisely because, there was always the potential that mutual aid between transactors could pass to its opposite, fraud and exploitation. Individual transactions could and did involve haggling, but this haggling was not part of a price-forming process that exceeded the bounds of the marketplace. Agnew argues that the price-forming process of the medieval marketplace was a "moral economy," based on shared predispositions or a "common estimate" (38).22

     23. Agnew's account of the moral economy of the medieval marketplace approximates Mauss's outline of the moral economy of gift exchange in archaic societies--the elaborate obligations to give, receive, and return gifts--as well as Kopytoff's understanding of a "moral economy" undergirding visible transactions. We can also note some similarity between Agnew's description of the medieval marketplace and Gregory's basic definition of gift exchange as the creation of personal bonds between mutually dependent transactors. As we saw in Seneca, however, the "estimation" of these bonds, unlike the value of merchandise, is beyond "reckoning."

     24. Against the late medieval marketplace, Agnew posits the market process which had emerged by the sixteenth century. No longer suggesting "an experienced physical and social space," the word "market" had come to refer to "the acts of both buying and selling, regardless of locale, and to the price or exchange value of goods and services. . . . As a matter of customary usage, the process of commodity exchange had spilled over the boundaries that had once defined it" (41). In addition to the rise of an abstract market process, Agnew points to the rise of the money form and its "apparent capacity to commute specific obligations, utilities, and meanings into general, fungible equivalents" (42). The "liquidity" of the money form makes it a standard of measure which "clarifies and renders indisputable in one instance only to homogenize and render formless in another" (43). With the expansion of trade and the "monetization of the factors and products of production," commodity exchange grew increasingly opaque, and increasingly impersonal: "The personal and ceremonial apparatus of the marketplace gradually gave way to the relatively impersonal framework of a money and credit market" (49).23 In short, as Agnew and others describe them, the socioeconomic shifts taking place during the sixteenth century can be understood in terms of the schematic distinctions between gift and commodity. Given this century's changing meanings of the market, the expansion of commodity exchange, and the rise of the money form,24 we see how Seneca's effort to oppose legally enforceable bargains to the priceless, unenforceable bonds of benefits is a strategy for clarifying and solidifying seemingly threatened and soluble social relations of exchange.

     25. Unlike some critics who have drawn on anthropological theory of the gift to discuss Renaissance literature,25 I am not idealizing the gift ethos, nor am I viewing appeals to it as naive and foolish efforts to stem the 'inevitable' tide of commodification, credit, and economic individualism. In other words, I am not using the categories of gift and commodity exchange evaluatively, but rather am analyzing how those experiencing the transitional 'moment' of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries used these categories evaluatively. As we saw in Golding's Seneca, for example, privileging gift over commodity--in his terms, privileging benefits over merchandise or debts--was a strategy for making sense of personal, social, and commercial relations, purifying personal relations from the taint of commerce and keeping traffic in "matter"--alienable, quantifiable exchange-values--distinct from the insoluble bonds of allegiance forged in benefiting.

     26. As texts such as John Wheeler's Treatise of Commerce (1601) and Lewis Roberts's The Merchant's Mappe of Commerce (1638) reveal, however, merchandizing was not a universally maligned form of exchange among the early modern English, nor was the liquidity of the money form a universally perplexing phenomenon. In fact, for Wheeler, all social relations are imbedded in markets, and nothing is exempt from the commodification process:

The Prince with his subjects, the Master with his servants, one friend and acquaintance with another, the Captain with his soldiers, the Husband with his wife, Women with and among themselves, and in a word, all the world choppeth and changeth, runneth and raveth after Marts, Markets and Merchandising, so that all things come into Commerce, and pass into traffic (in a manner) in all times, and in all places: not only that, which nature bringeth forth [and here he lists some naturally produced commodities] but further also, this man maketh merchandise of the works of his own hands, this man of another man's labor, one selleth words, another maketh traffic of the skins and blood of other men, yea there are some found so subtle and cunning merchants, that they persuade and induce men to suffer themselves to be bought and sold. (quoted in Bruster, 41)

We have seen how Wilson and Seneca--in order to protect against just the sort of claims of universal commerce that Wheeler offers here--construe social bonds in a manner utterly distinct from commodity exchange. They try to keep certain idealized social relations beyond the reaches of commodity exchange, an effort which Wheeler conceives as futile. Whereas Seneca debases merchandizing in order to elevate benefiting"--"The estimation of so noble a thing should perish, if we make a merchandise of benefits"--Lewis Roberts's Merchant's Mappe celebrates the "art of merchandizing" itself. However, the vision of a brotherhood of heroic merchants offered in the work's prefatory materials--like the defenses of usury that borrow the assumptions of usury's opponents--mimics, draws on, and incorporates elements of the idealized gift economy that writers such as Seneca offer.26

     27. The Merchant's Mappe is a work of cartography, a commercial atlas, and an explication of "exchanges mysteries" (8). The Dictionary of National Biography calls it "one of the earliest systematic treatises on its subject in English."27 As such, it gave Lewis Roberts a wide reputation. Born in 1596, Roberts was, in his own words, "drawne by adverse fortune or cross fate, from the study of Arts to the studie of Marts" (sig. A5). He sought service with the East India company in 1617, was employed by it and the Levant Company, and later became a director of both. In an Epistle to the Merchants of England and readers in general, Roberts says he spent twelve years collecting information "during my abode and imployment in many parts of the World" (sig. A5). In addition to several pages of prefatory materials, The Merchants Mappe consists of three main sections: First, a fifty-page section introduces generally each of the topics addressed in the treatise as a whole: the uses of geography and the work's major geographical divisions (I), the art of merchandizing in general (II), cities and towns of trade (III), customs and duties (IV), moneys and coins (V), weights (VI), accounts and account-keeping (VII), measures (VIII), commodities in general (IX), and exchanges in general (X). The second main section of the work is devoted to each of the "four principal parts" of the world--America (eleven pages), Africa (47 pages), Asia (110 pages), and Europe (262 pages)--with a separate map at the beginning of the section on each region. Each continent's section is divided into chapters on the various countries, kingdoms, provinces, and cities of trade to be found there. The third main section of The Merchants Mappe is the "Exchanges" section, almost two-hundred pages of currency conversion tables. The book closes with a fairly detailed alphabetical index and an alphabetical table of longitude and latitude for all the principal cities mentioned in the text.

     28. Obviously, such a work would have immense practical value for a merchant or traveller, but this does not preclude its participation in the contested cultural discourses about exchange that I have been examining. Contrary to the Senecan economy of the benefit, membership in the community of merchants constructed in Roberts's Merchants Mappe of Commerce does not require "tread[ing] profit underfoot"; in fact, at the very opening of chapter one, it is those led to travel and trade in foreign lands by "the motive Profit" (1) whom Roberts invites to read and thereby "profit" from his work. In a universalizing claim not unlike that of John Wheeler about the clamoring of humankind after marts, markets and merchandizing, Roberts says that trade is driven by "the natural inclination of Mankind to enrich themselves" (11). Nonetheless, the socio-commercial relations constructed in the prefatory materials of his work are infused with the ethos of the gift, an ethos particularly apparent in the dedicatory epistles and commendatory verses. Roberts prefaces The Merchant's Mappe with three dedications. The first is to Sir Morris Abbot, Knight and Governor of the East India Company, and Henry Garraway, governor of the Levant Company. Roberts presents himself as the protectee and client of Garraway and Abbot, expressing his "never-dying Gratitude" for their "noble courtesies"; at the same time, he presents himself as a former employee whose labor has gradually transformed him into their colleague: "in Constantinople before you knew me, I had the honour of your imployments, and after my return thence, I found the approbation of my former indeavours extended itself not only to my admittance (as a Member) into those Societies you governe; but since into places of trust and repute in both of them" (sig. a2v). This dual presentation of his relation to Abbot and Garraway shows how a business relationship can be represented as incorporating and comprising residual gift-like forms.

     29. Roberts's second dedication goes out to the six brothers and one son of Thomas Harvey, who Roberts calls "my deceased Master" (sig. a3v) and "my deceased Patron" (a3v) and under whose employment he travelled and drafted the work in previous years. By offering thanks to the family of his former employer for the support and assistance that he has received, Roberts conceives of the business or commercial relationship as one that is not completely separate from more enduring and ongoing familial relations. Roberts extends this sense of ongoing allegiances and exchange-driven loyalties to all of his merchant readers, not only those that he knows personally and addresses by name. Commingling the language of gift and commodity in the third dedicatory epistle to the merchants of England in general,28 Roberts uses "benefit" and "commodity" interchangeably to refer to a general sense of welfare and mutual advantage; despite the difficulties of the task of "compass[ing] this Work," Roberts says he resolved to work "cheerfully and willingly" when he considered "the generall want thereof, and the common benefit and commoditie that would redound thereby especially to those of my owne profession" (sig. A4). Roberts not only stresses the labor that he undertakes in traveling, compiling, and writing his book, but also stresses its uses for his professional community, a community discussed in the language of benefits. Roberts persisted in his work on the book despite his difficulties "conceiving that as my intentions (joyned to my labour and paines herein) tended onely to the good of others, and principally of Merchants and their Factors, that reside or negotiate in foreign parts, so they will in requital be induced to have a good opinion thereof, as a reward to me, for the benefit that shall redound to them by the same" (sig. A4v). As Roberts's repetition of "redound" underscores, the brotherhood of merchants who "reside or negotiate in foreign parts" is held together by a bond of allegiance and good will, a will expressed in the terms of an ongoing exchange of labor, profit, and gratitude.

     30. This network of gift-coded exchange is further consolidated in the seventeen commendatory verses that follow Roberts's dedicatory epistle in the 1638 edition. Since one of the main functions of such verses was to interest readers in buying the book, these poems from the author's friends, colleagues, and family members participate in the successful commodification of his book. Readers are thus brought into an implicit exchange relation. Izaak Walton's poem is especially interesting in this regard:

In praise of my friend the Author,
and his Booke
To the READER

If thou would'st be a States-man, and survay
Kingdomes for information; heres a way
Made plaine, and easie: fitter far for thee
Then great Ortelius his Geographie.

If thou would'st be a Gentleman, in more
Then title onely; this MAP yeelds thee store
Of Observations, fit for Ornament,
Or use, or to give curious eares content.

If thou would'st be a Merchant, buy this Booke:
For 'tis a prize worth gold; and doe not looke
Daily for such disbursements; no, 'tis rare,
And should be cast up with thy richest ware.

READER, if thou be any, or all three;
(For these may meet and make a harmonie)
Then prayse this Author for his usefull paines,
Whose aime is publike good, not private gaines. (11)

Walton not only re-values merchandizing and merchants in a way contrary to what we saw in Golding's Seneca, he also claims that the Statesman, Gentleman, and Merchant "may meet and make a harmony" with the Mappe's reader positioned as the site of convergence of these potentially conflicting class positions.29

     31. In another commendatory verse, Ralph Hanson presents the author's toil not as a labor-saving device for his readers, but as a prudent investment. He characterizes the merchant-author as a wise investor of the wealth that he has brought to England:

Some Merchants travaile without rest,
From North to South, from East to West,
To gain their wealth, which home they bring
To fill their chests, or with full wing
Profusely spend it here in pleasure,
With health, time, credit and their treasure.
But thou, experience having taught,
That what is buried comes to naught,
Here largely shows by course of Trade,
The merchants map, commerce to aid;
And so by spending gathers more
Than they that basely hide their store.

Unlike those who imprudently expend or hoard their wealth, Lewis Roberts increases his own by sharing it with his fellow merchants. Finally, W. Lewis characterizes the merchant-author as a liberal gift-giver who imparts the wisdom of his life's labor on others:

Though many know much; yet we seldom find
Spirits so free, and profitably kinde,
T'impart what or the industry or sweat
Of a whole Lifetime could observe, or get.

The "profitable kindness" of the merchant-author enables the coexistence of gift and commodity,
a composite imaginative economy that runs counter to the insistence in the cultural generally to set
gift and commodity exchange at odds, further illustrating the status of these exchange modes as
interpenetrating, relational ones.

~~~~~

     32. Despite a persistent cultural need to set gift and commodity exchange at odds, then, we witness the continual discursive blurring between them. We find this blurring at work even in a commercial atlas explicitly devoted to the promotion of international commodity exchange. While it might be argued that these appeals to the liberality of the merchant-gift giver and the community of traders are simply a conventional feature of the encomia of dedicatory verse, or even the legitimating work of early capitalism within the pages of the successfully commodified book, examples of material practices overseas reveal the ways in which gift exchange was used to foster commercial ventures. I conclude now by turning to the examples of John Sanderson and Richard Cocks, two company factors who countenanced radically different trading situations in some of the farthest corners where European traffic had penetrated. Their writings leave traces of the significant, if uneasy, role of gift exchange in conducting international commerce in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.

     33. John Sanderson worked as a factor for the Levant company in Constantinople and other near-east locales during three extended trips in 1582-1602.30 On his second trip, he helped expedite the gift of an expensive organ to the Turkish Sultan from the Levant Company, delivered in Queen Elizabeth's name. Offered as a strategy of alliance with the Turks in order to advance the Company in various intra-European trade rivalries, the gift was so expensive that the Company was forced to levy unpopular taxes on English goods arriving in Turkish ports. Sanderson was chosen to collect this special "imposition" whose validity many merchants contested and refused to pay, with their resistance resulting in some cases in physical violence. Notwithstanding these difficulties, the gift was seen as indispensable in improving relations between the Company and the Turks. In a letter to Sanderson just before his departure from London, Company member John Lello reports from Constantinople that he has urged the Company to hasten the "present": "And how necissary it is I hope you will informe them att large, considering the unconstantnes of thees Turks. Allthough hetherto I have passed well with them, yet do they daily demand the same" (Foster, 175). Upon his return to the Levant, the English factor thus finds himself, for very little remuneration, collecting a highly resisted tax in order to enable a dubious, excessive, unprofitable gift to the Sultan for an already financially strapped trading company.31

     34. Even farther afield, Richard Cocks served in the East India Company's ill-fated English factory in Japan.32 Cocks's diary is liberally peppered with details of presents exchanged with foreign and travelling European merchants, both as a general means of solidifying alliances, and as a practical strategy for furthering specific commercial enterprises. For example, an entry of 4 June 1615 reports the arrival of the king of a neighboring island province. Upon news of the king's arrival in the town where the English factory was located, Cocks details the gifts "laid out" for him, listing each item and its exact cost. "We went and delivered the present, which he took in good parte, offring our nation favorable entertaynment yf we came to traffick in his domynions" (4). Cocks then reports telling the king about a wrangle with some local traders, implicitly requesting his intervention: "but he said littell thereto, but answered, at his retorne he wold talke with me and geve me a present" (4). As with the organ for the Turkish Sultan, significant expense is advanced in the speculative hopes of ensuring future profit. Moreover, contrary to Seneca's idealizing prescriptions, the gift-giving merchants are forced to "keep a reckoning of their benefits." A comparable example appears in Cocks's diary during the visit of another neighboring king, timed precisely so that it does not appear as blatant leverage for the payment of debts owed to the English. The costs of the gift are compared to one recently rumored to have been given by the Dutch, who were bitter rivals with the English for the Japanese trade (98-99).

     35. What we see in the examples of Sanderson and Cocks are the ways that gift exchange was used as a practical, deliberate strategy--albeit an expensive, cumbersome and unreliable one--in conducting international commercial affairs. Notably absent from the accounts of our far-flung traders is any hint of tension between noble gift-exchange and ordinary commerce. Instead, tensions erupt among the English about the expenditure of material resources (resulting even in violence in the case of Sanderson) and between various European commercial powers as they seek a foothold in lucrative networks in world trade entrepots. Nonetheless, gift and commodity exchange are seen to be mutually constituting discursive and material modes of exchange, with the residual form invoked as a means of rendering intelligible, and profitable, that which for many contemporaries was seen as its antithesis.33

 

 

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Notes


1 I adopt the usage "early modern" rather than Renaissance throughout this study, basically following the theoretical and methodological concerns outlined by Leah Marcus in ReDrawing the Boundaries. However, her account of these concerns entirely omits the economic domain. Although she touches on the interest in the "phenomenon of colonialism" (60) among literary scholars of the 'early modern persuasion,' Marcus does not even mention nascent capitalism, the move to commercial or commodity culture, or the expansion of trade as definitive features of the period.

2 The economic shift which most pertains to my argument is the move to a market economy and the expansion of commodity exchange, rather than the emergence of capitalism. For a discussion of why one should not conflate the transition to capitalism with the expansion of markets and commodity exchange, see Maurice Dobb, Studies in the Development of Capitalism, 1-32. Halpern, Chapter four, is also helpful on this point. Walter Cohen offers a succinct summary of what constitutes the capitalist system:

The capitalist system is adequately defined neither as a spirit of enterprise and economic rationality nor as the organization of production for distant markets, motivated by a desire for profit. It is characterized not only by generalized commodity production and circulation based on absolute private property, but also and more importantly by the contradiction within its forces of production--that is, by the separation of the immediate producer from the means of production. Since the forces of production circulate freely on the market, they too are commodities. . . . In other words, labor appears as a commodity that must be sold by a propertyless class, the proletariat, as its only means of livelihood. (162)

3 Louis Montrose, "Gifts and Reasons: The Contexts of Peele's Arraygnement of Paris"; Ronald Sharp, "Gift Exchange and the Economies of Spirit in The Merchant of Venice"; Patricia Fumerton, "Exchanging Gifts: The Elizabethan Currency of Children and Poetry" which appears as "Exchanging Gifts: The Elizabethan Currency of Children and Romance" in her Cultural Aesthetics; Coppelia Kahn, "'Magic of Bounty': Timon of Athens, Jacobean Patronage, and Maternal Power"; and Karen Newman, "Portia's Ring: Unruly Women and Structures of Exchange in The Merchant of Venice"; Mark Thornton-Burnett "Giving and Receiving: the Politics of Exchange in Love's Labour's Lost." Lewis Hyde's The Gift influences many of these studies.

4 Lloyd S. Kramer "Literature, Criticism, and Historical Imagination" explains the usefulness of Derrida's concept of the "supplement" for the historian, a concept which helps explicate the mutually defining nature of gift and commodity as symbolic economies:

The categories through which we describe the world are always opposed by other tendencies that are 'always already' within the category that they theoretically oppose . . . each concept carries or overlaps or supplements the other and therefore precludes the possibility of a complete or pure identity. LaCapra believes that this Derridean insight, which may be called the concept of supplementarity, has great importance for historians who seek constantly to break the world into categorical oppositions and thereby distort the complexity of historical experience and texts. 'Supplementarity reveals why analytic distinctions necessarily overlap in 'reality,'' LaCapra writes, 'and why it is misleading to take them as dichotomous categories. Analytic or polar opposites always leave a problematic difference or remainder for which they do not fully account.' (112)

Kramer acknowledges that the concept of supplementarity does not obliterate all distinctions. Rather, categorical distinctions "should not be transformed into 'transcendental conditions' of knowledge that distort the intricate contestatory process through which the distinctions actually operate" (113).

5 Gregory's book is both a study of the cultural economy of Papua New Guinea and a critique of neoclassical economic development theory. It is the alternative to neoclassical theory which he constructs--not the critique itself--that I am summarizing and examining here for its applicability to early modern England. For other reappraisals of Mauss in recent anthropological exchange theory, see Jonathan Parry, "The Gift, the Indian Gift, and the 'Indian Gift'," Nicholas Thomas, Entangled Objects, Annette Weiner, Inalienable Possessions, and the essays in The Social Life of Things, particularly those by Kopytoff and Appadurai.

6 Gregory explains that the price-forming process of commodity exchange depends on the interplay of use-value, "the intrinsic property of a thing desired or discovered by society at different stages in its historical evolution" (10), and exchange-value, the "quantitative proportion in which use-values of one sort are exchanged for those of another sort" (11).

7 As Nancy Hartsock discusses, only a partial, fragile, and abstract social synthesis is effected by commodity exchange. See especially 97-103. She likens the various dualisms underlying the "exchange abstraction" of commodity exchange to those underlying a mode of thought which she calls "abstract masculinity"--the separation of "exchange from use, quantity from quality, interaction with nature from social interaction, the opposition of participants in the transaction, and the problematic social synthesis" (275).

8 As Fischer points out, the use of "commodity" to refer to goods purchased on credit from a moneylender arose in order to circumvent anti-usury laws (57-8).

9 For a discussion of social relations in the local community which approximate a gift economy, see Wrightson, 51-65. Felicity Heal's Hospitality in Early Modern England offers a thorough study of the changes in household-based hospitality and the open liberality associated with it. Linda Levy Peck's Court Patronage and Corruption can be read as a companion to Heal; the changing attitudes and practices of patronage she discusses dovetail in many respects with those Heal addresses on hospitality. Peck argues that as the first quarter of the seventeenth century progresses, newly stringent definitions of what gets to count as a gift emerge. We will see a similar process in Seneca of demarcating gift and commodity, and redefining what gets to count as a gift. Peck offers an excellent overview of the expansion of patronage under James (32-36). Wallace MacCaffrey's "Place and Patronage in Elizabethan Politics" is often cited as a standard reference on Elizabethan political patronage. On patronage in general as a gift system, see Gundersheimer's "Patronage in the Renaissance: An Exploratory Approach." Kenneth Andrews' use of the term patronage to account for the way the Tudor state handled "ventures in commercial, maritime, and colonial expansion" (15).

10 The first three books of De Beneficiis were translated by Nicholas Hayward, The Line of Liberalitie Dulie Directinge the Wel Bestowing of Benefits (1569; STC 12939). Seneca's work was also translated by Thomas Lodge, the author of An Alarum Against Usurers, a cautionary tale of one young man's victimization by a usurer and his agent. Lodge's first translation of De Beneficiis appears with a translation of all of Seneca's prose works in 1613, enlarged in a second edition in 1620 (STC 22213, 22214). Salmon, Peck, and Heal discuss the appeal of Seneca and how Jacobean England witnesses a vogue for drawing a parallel between first-century Rome and the Jacobean court. Seneca's moral philosophy was often used as a "vehicle for discontent" in Jacobean court circles (Salmon 224). Salmon calls Lodge's translation of Seneca's prose works a "monument to the Jacobean Neostoic cult" (199). I treat Golding's De Beneficiis as a text with a life of its own, as a work contemporary to sixteenth and early seventeenth-century England.

11 I have modernized all spelling and punctuation in the quotes from Golding's text.

12 I'm using "idealist" precisely, in contradistinction to materialist. Bruster touches on the tensions between the ideal and the material which he sees as part of the "materialist vision" of Renaissance literature: "Seemingly an oxymoron, the 'materialist vision' in fact describes the literary practice of a period which itself yoked material and ideal opposites with remarkable facility" (38). In Symbolic Economies After Marx and Freud, Goux offers an extended discussion of ideal-material relation in chapter three, "Monetary Economy and Idealist Philosophy."

13 For a conjectural example, the obligation to requite a powerful patron who bestows an office is not quite the same as the obligation to be a thankful recipient of a poem a poor poet dedicates to you. Not only is there a difference in the material value of the objects exchanged, but being a recipient is potentially a submissive, even humiliating, position. Mauss discusses the humiliation entailed in the failure to reciprocate a gift. Weiner's revision of exchange theory in Inalienable Possessions recasts the assumption that the giver in a transaction necessarily has greater power. Resisting totalized and generalized propositions about exchange, Thomas in Entangled Objects challenges the notion of the superiority of the gift giver even further: "A capacity to generate debt is not inherent in every prestation; it is not necessarily the case that the donor acquires some superiority, even of a merely temporary kind" (22).

14 My description here of the paradoxes entailed in the gift economy owes much to Eisenstadt and Roniger's "Patron-Client Relations as a Model of Structuring Social Exchange." The "core analytical characteristics" (49) of what they call patron-client relations are very close to what I am calling gift relations. According to Eisenstadt and Roniger, patron-client relations have a strong element of long-range credit and obligations built into them, and solidarity is couched in terms of interpersonal loyalty and attachment; this solidarity is related to conceptions of personal identity, especially personal honor and obligations. The relationships established are based more on informal understandings than law or contract, but these less formal understandings are nonetheless tightly binding. Patron-client relations paradoxically combine seemingly contradictory elements: inequality and asymmetry in power are combined with a seeming mutual solidarity expressed in terms of personal identity and interpersonal obligation; potential coercion and exploitation with voluntary relations and compelling mutual obligations; and emphasis on these voluntary, mutual obligations and solidarity is combined with a sense of semi-legality (50-51).

15 Nicholas Thomas, insisting on the particularity of exchange forms, points out that the appropriateness of overt calculation and "matching of quantities" (7)--what Kopytoff calls "value equivalence"--is highly variable across time and place. Thomas nonetheless questions Appadurai's urge to obliterate any distinction between gift and commodity exchange (27-30).

16 Appadurai is even more insistent than Kopytoff in repudiating the gift-commodity distinction and seeing all exchange as commoditization. Keith Hart's 1982 essay "On Commoditization" is the source of the term "commoditization" often used by recent anthropological exchange theorists. I occasionally adopt this usage in order to differentiate my analysis from the many people who use "commodity" and "commodification" without explaining or theorizing the terms.

17 This emptying of material value of the benefit in Seneca runs counter to the great range and intensity of values and powers that inhere in the gift-object in Marcel Mauss's account of the gift economy. See, for example, 31-45. In this way, Senecan benefits diverge sharply from the "classic" account of the gift economy. Pietz discusses how the fetish is concerned with the ability of the material object to carry emotional, commercial and religious values.

18 Golding's dedicatory epistle tempers Seneca's idealized construction of the benefit, claiming that Seneca's work will be "not unexpedient" for the courtier and counselor (sig. iii). Seneca's repeated admonitions to choose cautiously when giving or receiving benefits might be seen to qualify the idealization which I have been stressing here. For example, in Hospitality in Early Modern England, Heal focuses on the instrumental view of liberality offered in a modern translation of De Beneficiis. I understand the repeated calls for caution as a function of the emphasis placed on the insoluble nature of the bond created by benefiting.

19 While Wilson's preface and Ockerfoe set up binary oppositions like this, there are multiple positions on usury offered over the course of the dialogue. Contrary to the preacher's absolute refusal of any lending at interest, the lawyer argues that there are three "sorts" of dealing, for three "sorts" of men: "For as there be three sortes of dealings among men, that is, gift, bargaininge, and lending, so there are three sorts of men, the stark begger, the poore househoulder, and the rich merchant or gentleman. To the first I ought to geve freely, not onely to lend freely; to the second I ought to lend, either frelly or mercifully; with the third I may deale straightly, and aske myne owne with gaine" (236). The lawyer's social typology is interesting for lumping rich merchants together with noblemen. Moreover, it reveals a notion of exchange modes and motives that are directly tied to socioeconomic class and land holding status. Ockerfoe eventually refutes the lawyer's division of men and deals into three classes (253). Valerie Wayne discusses Tilney's use of the dialogue form in The Flower of Friendship to articulate alternative and conflicting views of marriage. She argues that the positions of the conversants in the text align with historically identifiable positions, offering a fictional record of available ideologies of marriage when the work was written (38). These same points apply to form and the positions on usury offered in Wilson's Discourse.

20 The following list schematizes the oppositions between the two symbolic economies as Seneca, Wilson, and the exchange theorists construct them: Gift/Commodity; Benefits/Merchandizing; Visible, localized, enacted in series of transactions/Abstract, unlocated, detached transaction; Immaterial, value in bond between transactors/Calculable, quantified material value; Insoluble bond/Soluble, impersonal relation; Collapses things and persons, ownership confusion/Alienable, private property; Conscience, trust, interpersonal allegiance and obligation/Formal legal regulation; Heartfelt obligation/Codified contract; Feudal/Capitalist; Residual/Emergent; Formed in past/Not yet fully articulated.

21 My reading of Agnew's analysis of the late medieval marketplace was enriched by R.H. Britnell's account of markets, trade, and the institutions of lordship and exercise of patronage in the preceding centuries in The Commercialisation of English Society 1000-1500. Britnell points to the blurring of market and gift forms in the earlier period when he says that "the very complexity of interaction between village households [in the eleventh and twelfth centuries] meant that transactions were of many different kinds. It was not simply that some were commercial and some not. The distinction between commercial exchange and reciprocal gift-giving might be impossible to make" (7). Britnell discusses the mixed nature of the bonds between lords and their retainers in the later fourteenth and fifteenth centuries; these bonds were both commercially inflected and based on long-standing loyalties (206-07).

22 On the notion of "moral economy" in the eighteenth century, see E.P. Thompson, "The Moral Economy of the English Crowd," who discusses popular appeals to an unwritten code which is distinct from formal laws; food riots indicated organized popular resistance to the laws of the propertied. These revolts appeal to a "moral economy" rather than the economy of the "free market" that comes to the onset of market capitalism. J. Stevenson, "The 'Moral Economy' of the English Crowd: Myth and Reality" critiques Thompson's influential essay, which is also reappraised in Suzanne Desan's "Crowds, Community and Ritual in the Work of E.P. Thompson and Natalie Zemon Davis." Alice Kessler-Harris, "The Just Price, the Free Market, and the Value of Women," studying how gender roles have historically shaped wages and the labor market, argues that "the market" is not independent of values, ideas about justice and fairness (267). She also surveys the origins of the notion of "just price" (267-8) when the church fathers aimed to counter the destabilizing effects of market forces which were undermining traditional relations and social hierarchy. Just Price theory "passed down a continuing notion that nonmarket factors have a place in the valuation of objects or wage rates" (268).

23 Sandra Fischer likewise overviews the increasing impersonality of economic transactions in the sixteenth century, as well as a shift away from notions of intrinsic value to those of transferable, attributed, or exchange value (14-16).

24 One cannot overestimate the radical effects throughout Europe in the sixteenth century of the rise of the money form, that is, currency as a unit of measure. See Fernand Braudel, The Structures of Everyday Life, 436-478, for a very helpful explanation of the relation between currency exchange and the European economy, and for a vivid account of the confusion precipitated by the expansion of international money markets, the increased velocity of the circulation of currency, and the fluctuating supply of precious metals on which the value of currency was based. For an extended discussion of these developments in England, see Tawney's introduction to Wilson. Because these developments extend beyond the confines of England, and England's own changing economy is not insulated from international forces, Braudel's book is a useful supplement to the Anglocentric focus which operates in this essay.

25 Sharp's essay on The Merchant of Venice is a salient example. Kahn's "Magic" and Newman "Portia's Ring," on the other hand, offer more thoroughly critical and historicized examples of using anthropological theory of the gift for reading drama. The original version of Fumerton's "Exchanging Gifts" idealized aristocratic gift exchange practices. The placement of this essay in her overall study in Cultural Aesthetics modifies this idealizing stance.

26 Roberts is writing during a period when the nation as an economic entity is just consolidating. A great national trade rivalry between England and Netherlands was heating up during his travels and writing. We find evidence of this national rivalry in Roberts's chapter "of Negrita, or the Land of Negroes," the area of Western Africa around the Niger River. He describes the thriving trade of the Portuguese in the region, including forts and garrisons built and occupied by the Portuguese. The English and other nations, "desirous to share in this rich trade," sailed to the region and, lacking the permanent structures enjoyed by the Portuguese, would anchor along the coast. The Moors from the area would climb in their canoes, bring their gold, and come aboard to trade with the Europeans on their ships. In time, however, the Netherlanders, who came into the areas where the English traded and were known, "were the first that spoyled this golden trade, partly by their sinister dealing, and partly by their undermining and fraudulent tricks" (83). The Dutch, Roberts explains, began a kind of ferry service arrangement by hiring "tolkens" to carry native traders to Dutch ships only. The Africans serve in Roberts's narrative of the event as mere pawns or a backdrop to the trade disputes between the two European nations. The Dutch resisted English efforts to claim rights of sovereignty over the seas (see below, note 31 in chapter five). Lodge's Alarum Against Usurers reveals a positive view of extracting resources from foreign nations that does not extend to the "domesticall practices" of abusive merchant-usurers "who though to publyke commoditie they bring in store of wealth from forrein Nations, yet such are their domesticall practises that not only they inrich themselves mightelye by others misfortunes, but also eate our English Gentrie out of house and home" (sig. B1).

27 The first edition appeared in 1638 followed by four others, in 1677, 1690, 1700 and 1719. Other economic treatises are appended to the later editions, which exclude Roberts's dedicatory epistles to specific patrons, the commendatory verses, and all maps and illustrations. For further discussion of the ideological work performed by this text, see my "Strange Outlandish Wealth," 178-84.

28 Unlike the first two, more topical dedicatory epistles, this third dedicatory epistle appears in both the 1638 and the 1700 editions.

29 According to Kenneth Andrews, the usual division between merchants on the one hand, and landed gentelmen on the other, while an important one at the time, is often drawn too sharply: "Some merchants came from gentry stock, others married into the gentry, acquired estates and coats of arms, or founded noble families. Gentlemen usually had family connections with merchants. In all kinds of business landed gentlemen and merchants are normally found acting in concert, combining their resources and roles" (17).

30 See William Foster's introduction in The Travels of John Sanderson for further information.

31 For more discussion of the organ gift, see Foster's introduction and Mayes.

32 The material on Cocks is from Thompson, ed. The Diary of Richard Cocks. For further material on the East India Company in Japan, see Keay and Chaudhuri.

33 An essay by Joseph Addison on the Royal Exchange in a May 1711 issue of The Spectator--a few years before the final edition of Roberts's Mappe appeared in print--shows the persistence of older notions of exchange in a developed market culture:

There is no place in the town which I so much love to frequent as the Royal exchange. It gives me a secret satisfaction, and in some measure, gratifies my vanity, as I am an Englishman, to see so rich an assembly of countrymen and foreigners consulting together upon the private business of mankind, and making this metropolis a kind of emporium for the whole earth. . . .There are not more useful members in a commonwealth than merchants. They knit mankind together in a mutual intercourse of good offices, distribute the gifts of nature.

Addison fixates on the exchange as a physical locale, rather than as an abstract price-forming process. He sees merchants as benign distributive agents of nature's gifts who do not seek profit, but fellowship (to use Seneca's terms)--creating the "mutual intercourse of good offices." Thus we see how even at this late date, international commodity exchange could be rendered intelligible, and made a source of nationalistic pride, only by envisioning it in terms of gift exchange.

 

 

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Form copyright © 2001 Early Modern Culture.

Content copyright © 2001 Barbara Sebek.