If we have saved up money, we are each one anxious to see it increase; but it depends upon the individual temperament as to what degree of increase will satisfy it. In some countries the inhabitants prefer to hoard their savings, dreading to see their money go from their sight; but Englishmen have inherited the instinct to bank and invest their money, and they obey this instinct as though it were a law of their nature. Some prefer a small yield upon their investments, so long as they can be free from anxiety as to its safety, whilst others desire a big yield, and are willing to run a little risk in order to get it. Many shares are pre-eminently suitable for this class of people, for the dividends paid by some companies - especially by the leading Rand companies - are enormous, and quickly make the fortunes of those who are lucky enough to get in at bed-rock prices, or who bought the shares at par or a slight premium. But even some of these people do not know when they are well off, for they have been known to throw away all their advantages on the merest pretext or a sudden scare, from which a little common-sense would have saved them.
Editors of financial newspapers know more than anyone, probably, the dense ignorance that prevails amongst the investing classes, and yet, at the same time, what astoundingly incautious and sanguine people the majority of them are! An editor of an influential paper has numerous correspondents all over the country, who write to him continually, harassing him with the silliest of questions, and giving him problems to solve that would be beyond the solution of the powerfullest human intellect. Someone will write, for instance, and calmly ask for information which it would take months to collect, and which, when collected, so quickly do matters of this kind get out of date, would be quite useless to the recipient. Correspondents should bear in mind that editors are human, just like themselves, and can do only a certain amount of work in a given time, and though they are willing and anxious to do their best for the readers of their particular paper, yet, at the same time, they should be treated with consideration and thoughtfulness. But correspondents actually expect them to be in the secrets of every director of every company, to know precisely at any given moment what they are doing and what they intend to do, and likewise expect them to be the confidants of Nature's secrets, and tell them what she intends to do in the case of every mine that has been opened up in every gold-field. It may seem a startling revelation to some people, but I think it should be insisted upon that even an editor's knowledge is limited, and that even his proprietors see the necessity of allowing him a little recreation now and then.
There would be not the slightest need for editors to be harassed in this manner if people would only exercise ordinary common-sense. But, beyond refusing to bring their intelligence into play, they actually think they are entitled to any service, however arduous and painstaking it might be, in return for the penny or the sixpence they may pay for their paper. For instance, a correspondent will write and give a list of a dozen or so shares, and desire to know (1) the precise position of each; (2) what their prospects are; (3) what dividends they have paid; (4) what dividends they will pay; (5) are any of the shares likely to rise? (6) are any of the companies likely to be reconstructed? (7) how many of the shares are paid up? (8) are the directors honest men? (9) what does it mean that tellurides have been found? (10) what is the Diehl process? (11) how long will the mines last? (12) 'should I average any of the shares?' (13) 'is it true that Mr. So-and-So, a director, has been selling?' (14) 'if so, will you please tell me why?' etc. This is not an imaginary communication, but is an example of many that I have received, which have by no means helped to sweeten my temper. How a correspondent can expect an editor, or even a seer, to answer all these questions in one breath passes my comprehension. And yet this is what is expected as quite an ordinary thing, as though editors have all these details and secrets pigeonholed in a corner of their brains, ready to be called upon at an instant's notice.
Moreover, what a great amount of ignorance it reveals! and yet the correspondent may, no doubt, feel quite assured that he is an astute man, and knows what he is about in thus writing to the editor, who will be bound to give him the information, and also the advice, that will make his fortune. The strange thing is, that it does not occur to him that if the editor had this knowledge he would make use of it to make his own fortune, and thus be for ever freed from the harassments of thoughtless correspondents. Evidently an editor was not born to make money himself, but only to work night and day to make the fortunes of strangers, which should be his sole happiness, the great and supreme joy of his life.
I make this plea on behalf of editors, because I feel that it is sadly needed, and in the hope that it will make correspondents more considerate and thoughtful. Editors are willing to do their very best within the limits of possibility, but the obviously impossible they should be excused from attempting. It is an editor's business to collect facts and information, to arrange them and, if possible, analyze them to the best of his ability, and to pronounce an opinion or judgment upon them as his knowledge and experience instruct and, direct. Moreover, he must do it honestly and disinterestedly, and the value of his labour must be appraised by its results.
Indeed, the duties of a financial journalist are great and varied, perhaps more so than those of an ordinary journalist. As Mr. Charles Duguid has said, in a recently-published book of his, they are really appalling, His knowledge must be vast, his insight penetrative, his analysis and criticism calm and keen, and his judgment sane and sound. He must be detective, solicitor, advocate, judge and jury. Above all, his character must be free from suspicion. He may have every other qualification, but the lack of this one will render his work absolutely worthless. His temptations, like his duties, are also appalling - I had almost said terrible - and one after another succumbs to them. In fact, his first qualification, as Mr. Duguid has pointedly said, is integrity, the second integrity, and the third integrity, and the investor must first of all find him out before he should think of reposing any confidence in him.