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western world was supplied with the rare productions of the east.
Commerce, necessarily, calls into existence certain systems of reckonings and accounts and, accordingly, ancient authors state the existence of a belief that it was the Phænicians “ who found out the art of casting accounts, keeping registers, and everything that belongs to a factory.”
Phoenicia was the connecting link between the eastern and southern divisions of Asia and those parts of Europe and Africa which border on the Mediterranean. The Phoenicians were celebrated for their ships and navigation, and they planted colonies in various parts of Europe, and amongst other places the south of Spain. Together with the articles of commerce to which they owed their wealth and political importance, they conveyed to other lands the knowledge, both scientific and practical, which they possessed.
The Phoenician numerals were read from right to left.
The Hebrews, Greeks, Romans, and several other nations, used a notation by the letters of their alphabets.
Dr. Wallis proves that the Europeans were acquainted with the Arabian method of notation before A.D. 1000, and that it was brought into England before 1150.
- The introduction of the Arabic system of numbers was the grandest step ever made towards the use of a universal language among the nations of the world. In the whole field of arithmetic and accountancy the same, or nearly similar signs are now used, not only throughout the European continent and its adjacent islands, but in all the civilised parts of North and South America, through Northern Africa, and Western Asia, and in every locality where European adventurers or their descendants have fixed themselves. By whatever variety of name the numeral symbol is called, the symbol itself is nearly everywhere the same; and though
the languages employed are multitudinous, and few of the various peoples of the world could teach an arithmetical sum, or convey by language to any other people the idea associated with a particular numeral sign, yet the written sign itself would be intelligible to them all, from the tropics to the pole."- Bowring.
Book-keeping by double entry, or by what is called the Italian method, and which has become now the almost universal system of merchants, was one of the natural improvements growing out of the use of Arabic numbers, the introduction of which facilitated all the operations of exchange.
The Italian system of book-keeping by double entry is no doubt of great antiquity. It is stated to have been in use amongst the Greeks, from whom the Romans appear to have received it. The remains of it then lingered in Italy, till revived by the commercial cities of that country, whence it became generally adopted throughout Europe.
Book-keeping by single entry may be said to be a portion of the system by double entry.
The progress of the use of the Arabic system of notation in Europe is not very clearly traceable. It is certain that in the beginning of the 16th century Roman figures were used by merchants and accountants. They lingered longer in England than in any other part of the European world, having found an asylum in the dark and dull regions of the Exchequer. The Arabic system was generally adopted in calendars long before its application to common accounts in book-keeping. Roman and Arabic numerals were sometimes intermixed. The first English book which bears its date in Arabic numerals was printed at St. Albans, 1478.
In the Exchequer the antique forms which existed before the Conquest were preserved down to the time of William the Fourth.
It was only in the year 1831 that the Committee on Public Accounts recommended the abolition of the ancient system and the adoption of the Arabic nume
rals and English language. It was in consequence of this change that, in the year 1839, the tallies were ordered to be burnt, a conflagration which led to the destruction of both houses of Parliament.
Professor De Morgan estimates that since the year 1500, no fewer than 3,000 works on arithmetic have been published, in Latin, French, German, Dutch, Italian and English. The first writer of note on the subject, after the Arabian notation was known in Europe, was Jordanus, of Namur, who flourished about the year 1200. The first English print on arithmetic is, no doubt, Cap. I. of “ The Mirrour of the World, or Thymage of the Same,” headed " And after of Arsmetrike, and whereof it proceedeth,” printed by Caxton, in 1480.
Although numerous works on book-keeping have been written, yet comparatively few practical works have been published on that subject. The authors of several of the works written on the subject were schoolmasters and teachers, whose occupations were not likely to afford them opportunities of deducing their theories from practice.
The first European (Lucas de Burgo) who translated a work on Algebra from the writings of the Arabians, (who were indebted to the Hindoos for that science, as well as arithmetic), is also supposed to have written the first treatise on book-keeping. It was published at Venice, in the Italian language, about the year 1495.
The first treatise on book-keeping, in the English language, is believed to be a work by Hugh Oldcastle, a schoolmaster, which was published in London in the year 1543, and afterwards reprinted in 1588, by John Mellis, also a schoolmaster. The following is the title of the work, “A briefe instruction and manner how to keepe bookes of accompts after the order of debitor and creditor, and as well for proper accompts partible, &c., by three hookes, named the memoriall, journal, and leager. Newly augmented and set forth by John Mellis, scholemaister, of London. Imprinted by
him at the Signe of the White Beare, nigh Baynard's Castle, 1588."
The word Ledger was formerly spelt Leager, Leidger, Leiger, and Leger. The name of this book in the Italian and other southern languages of Europe, signifies the Master Book, in French and Dutch the Great Book, and in German and other northern languages, the Head Book. Dr. Johnson spells it "Leger,” and says it is derived from the Dutch verb legger (leggen) to lie or remain in a place. Others derive the word from various other sources.
Only six English works on book-keeping are mentioned as having been published between 1543 and 1700, besides that already mentioned above. During the 18th century various works were written on the subject. Several other treatises have lately been brought out. A work by Mr. J. P. Cory, a Barrister, on the subject of Accounts, &c., published by Pickering, in 1839, contains many useful suggestions and remarks on the subject of book-keeping, although certain errors are found in it. Altogether, about 160 works in the English language, on that subject, are known to exist.
On the subject of solicitors' book-keeping, very few works of any note have been published. Of those works on the subject, at present before the public, some are too elaborate, and (though, no doubt, exhibiting great ability as respects accountantship), unfit for general use, whilst others are too hastily got up.
It is better to adhere to well known and established modes of keeping accounts, and a recognized nomenclature as regards the books used, than to have recourse to elaborate new systems, however exact, accompanied with new names and terms of art.
Solicitors, generally, are more inclined to devote their chief time and attention to business, rather than to keeping an account or record of the business transacted, or its results. It is too generally considered that the accounts can readily be made out at any time, when required; and yet it is a well-known fact, that much is lost by a want of proper attention to the subject.
It is, however, undoubtedly the fact that the members of the profession generally would be glad to avail themselves of a simple and ready mode of keeping their accounts ; but they are repelled by the intricacies of the systems presented to them for adoption.
The present system, it is hoped, will be found more simple and more readily available than others in which more skill and learning may be displayed ; and it has had many years' use to prove its value.
Considering the immense extent of business transacted by the Attorneys and Solicitors of this country, the vast amount of moneys passing through their hands, and the great value of property under their management and control, it is a self-evident fact that the keeping correct accounts of those transactions and moneys, and respecting that property, must be a matter of the utmost consequence.
London alone is a wide enough field to refer to, with respect to this subject, when we consider the amount of legal as well as commercial business transacted in it,-it being " the centre of the wealth and enterprise of the world.”
As has already been said in other quarters, there is “ still plenty of room for various fresh treatises on the important subject of book-keeping," and the Author of this work, therefore, throws in his mite, for the especial perusal, approval, and use of his professional brethren.
With reference to the greater portion of the above remarks, the Author begs to refer to the following works: viz.—Goguet's Origin of Laws, Arts, and Sciences; Evidence of Prophane History to the Truth of Revelation ; Bowring's Decimal System; Kelly's Book-keeping; Keith's Arithmetic.