Frank Osbaldistone begins his memoirs by addressing them to his friend Will Tresham. (Younger than Frank, Will is also the son of the business partner of Frank’s father in the mercantile house of Osbaldistone and Tresham.) Frank is now reaching the end of his life and, rather than leave a friend a portrait, he will live him a record of his thoughts and life.
Frank has been in Bordeaux, France, working in a branch of his father’s mercantile business. However, rather than spending much time at work, he has devoted his time to literature and "manly exercise." Dubourg (with whom Frank has been living while in Bordeaux, and who was an employee of the firm) writes frequently that Frank is "all that a father could wish."
When Frank writes his father that he does not want to continue working in the mercantile business, and rejects the idea that he come home to take a more elevated position in the firm, the senior Osbaldistone calls him home. He believes that the firm currently supplies him with a comfortable living without working, and that it will continue to do so throughout his life, even after his father’s death (and perhaps even more, once Frank comes into his inheritance).
Osbaldistone confronts Frank in the presence of Owen, a longtime clerk of the business and friend of the family. He stresses to Frank the necessity of work, and also that there is additional wealth to accumulate if he is to continue in his current lifestyle.