When I undertook the task of re-editing Mr. Michie's edition of G-ilbart's "History, Principles, and Practice of Banking," a very short study of the book was necessary to convince me that the work required considerable delicacy in the handling. The feeling grew upon me that I was about to run counter to the well-established maxim that old garments should not be mended with new cloth. Not that I was about to patch a ragged coat with sound cloth, but I feared lest I was attempting to insert patches of modern cloth into an old historical costume, and that the result might be a grotesque mixture.
Gilbart on Banking has become a classic. Gilbart himself was a giant among the pioneers of early joint-stock banking. He started his banking career some thirteen years before joint-stock banks were even possible in England, with the exception of the Bank of England. He took an active share in the task of raising these banks from the position of outcasts, barely tolerated and jealously restricted, to one, at all events, somewhere on the same plane as the older type of bank.
But banking as it exists at the beginning of the twentieth century is widely and essentially different from the banking of Gilbart's day, and much of what Gilbart emphasizes has now not only lost a great deal of its interest, but is barely intelligible to the banker who has only studied existing conditions, and has not followed the historical development of this branch of economics. Nevertheless the value of Gilbart's writings is thoroughly well-established, and requires no vindication from me. He was no sit-at-home student who obtained all his opinions from other men's writings. He wrote upon subjects with which he had the most intimate and exceptional practical acquaintance.
There seemed then two alternatives before me; either to discard the old garment altogether, or to leave it as far as possible in its existing condition. For obvious reasons the first of these was distasteful. The garment was, it is true, old-fashioned, but it had acquired the value which age adds to the article which is sufficiently well-made to stand the rough wear of its early existence. I decided, therefore, to pursue my simile, that I would add a new flounce to the old dress, but leave the original part as far as possible intact.
In cases where, through lapse of time or for other causes, Grilbart's statements are no longer correct, a footnote has been added, and in some cases paragraphs have been omitted, but I have not thought it necessary to substitute my opinion for Grilbart's in cases where opinion only is involved. Tables and statistical matters have been brought up to date, and a few chapters have been omitted or rewritten. Section XVII on the grammar of Banking Terms has been left out of the present edition, as being no longer of interest. Section XIX on "The Administration of a Bank with regard to Proceedings on Bills of Exchange," has been remodelled, as the codification of the law as regards this branch of banking in 1882, has rendered much of Grilbart's matter obsolete.
In the second volume the first chapter, Section XXV, on
"The Administration of the Office," has been rewritten. The section dealing with the clearing systems in England, Scotland, and Ireland, have also been revised or entirely rewritten. Section XXVII on "Banking Documents" has been omitted.
Additional chapters have been added, dealing with the development of joint-stock banking in England, the Baring crisis and its lessons, and the present position of the English note circulation.
I have only to express the hope that our younger bankers, for whom this work is chiefly intended, will find that the book has been improved by these changes. I can make no pretence to the wide experience and intimate practical knowledge of all the details of the business of banking which Grilbart both possessed and was able to express in writing, but I shall be satisfied if I have been able to present Gilbart's work in such a form as to be not only interesting and intelligible, but also practically useful to the readers into whose hands it may come.