In the preceding chapters I have endeavoured, as far as I have been able, to give what I consider to be some sound advice to novices in mining speculation and investment. It is for that particular class of people that the book has been written; the other class, the professionals, those who have studied speculation in all its phases, and who have the advantage of a long experience, may not find the book deeply instructive, nor find within its pages anything that is new to them. But the most experienced speculator runs his risks, and the most experienced have frequently been ruined. Speculators on the Stock Exchange are men fighting against themselves, their success depending upon the advantages they can score one over the other. The contest is a deadly one, and it is not conducted with too scrupulous a regard for honour. There is little or no mercy shown, little or no quarter, neither is there such a thing as an armistice, except upon compulsion. The combatants may be most exemplary husbands and fathers, but such exemplary conduct, such consideration and thoughtfulness for others, would not do in a contest of this kind. There must be incessant watchfulness, no offguardedness, for the alert contestant may thereby gain a formidable advantage. It is a duel for life, and one mistake, one weary action, a momentary abandonment to lassitude, may mean death. 'All is fair in love and war' is a well-known saying. This is more truly the motto of speculation, where any act of roguery and meanness is looked upon as legitimate strategy, where every advantage that subtlety can suggest and hypocrisy secure is fair tactics. Therefore those who enter into such a contest may have a hardihood that is admirable, but which of itself cannot insure success. Hardihood alone is defenceless against consummate skill, especially when a blow beneath the belt, which he would least expect, is not considered dishonourable.
There is no code of honour drawn up which the contestants are bound to obey. Any weapon, so long as it be a formidable and deadly one, and can be handled with skill, is permissible. Novices enter into the contest, with the weakest of weapons, only to find themselves immediately disarmed and defenceless. It is no inspiring battle to watch, any more than it is inspiring to watch a tiger fight. It is a feud in which human nature displays all its animal instincts, where ferociousness is the predominant passion. It is a fight, however, to which there will be no termination - a fight which we must ever suffer in our midst; and, moreover, it is a fight that is fascinating to many, and is a temptation thousands are powerless to resist. The many enter it filled with hope, but they return from it, most of them, crushed with despair. To those who are resolved to enter into it, who will try their luck, I have offered a few words of counsel, and I hope they will not be offered in vain. Doubtless there is other advice, in the shape of 'tips,' which others could give which may be beyond my competence or may have escaped my memory. At any rate, I feel sure that what I have counselled will not be unprofitable to many. But I have a few parting words to say yet, both in this chapter and in the second part of this book.
We have heard a great deal of the one-man company, and there is little doubt that the one-man company is a snare, in which whoever is entrapped is entrapped to his destruction. In all my experience I can recall no such company that has come to anything but grief, whilst nearly every such man, who has made the company merely the means to self-enrichment, and who could only do so by literally robbing others, has been one of the most unscrupulous scoundrels unimprisoned. It is astounding what little feeling or mercy these thieves have for their numerous victims. In their veins there seems to flow as much human blood as in a statue. Why these things are permitted by the law passes my comprehension. It is fraud in one of its worst and vilest aspects, and as long as these robbers go unpunished it only encourages them to persist in their practices, and others to imitate their examples. Their brazen effrontery, too, is as awe-inspiring, as impressive a sight, as gazing into some dark and unwholesome pit, where no light reveals to us where its depths may end. A failure, an exposure, even public execration, is no deterrent to them. They have never been known to blush. They float their companies with a million of capital, and not a single shareholder, not a director even, knows what these men will do with it. Of course, they will put the greater portion into their own pockets. That goes without saying. They wouldn't trouble to float a company for philanthropic purposes, or to give the money back to those who subscribe it. They will pretend to buy a property or two, a piece of land in some country where gold has been found, and they will sell this land again to another company, which they will float and control. For instance, they will give a few hundred pounds for a slice of a wilderness somewhere, and then they will form another company to which they will sell this land for some hundreds of thousands of pounds, thus making an enormous profit out of it. But the shareholders do not share in any way in this profit. It is gambled away in one thing and another, and vanishes like mist in the sun.
This is no exaggerated picture. It has happened many times, and will happen again as long as there is a single fool willing to give to these men his trust and his money. They walk in our midst, as though they were virtue incarnate. They may be seen in the best society. They will be seen yachting in the Mediterranean or running their horses in the St. Leger, enjoying themselves on the proceeds of their robberies, caring not how many they have plunged in poverty nor how many they have ruined. It is a disgrace to civilization. But how impotent that phrase sounds when we may witness so many disgraces to civilization, so many disgraces to humanity! I solemnly warn everyone who reads this book to be cajoled no longer by such scoundrels as these, to have nothing to do with one-man companies. Let them take a lesson from experience. There may, of course, arise such a phenomenon one day as an honest man who will place himself in such a position, who will float companies and nominate figure-heads of directors whom he will rule by his iron will. But when the phenomenon appears we are not likely to recognise it until we have become thoroughly accustomed to its original features. It would be wise of us, therefore, not to count upon such a miracle as this. We may mistake other signs and portents whilst we are watching, and they may be but the old signs in a new guise. Therefore, if we put our trust in anything at all, let us put it in multiple-man companies. Even here there may be snares enough to keep us fully alert, but they are, at least, more easily discoverable. There is, at any rate, the chance of finding one honest and honourable man amongst them. We do not trust ourselves solely to an unmitigated scoundrel, to one who will gamble away our money recklessly, and keep all the gains himself. Moreover, there is more likely to be wisdom in the counsel of many than in the brain of one who has a genius solely for fraud and swindling, who may have an iron will, but whose will is never directed to other than base purposes.