TO ALL YOUNG GENTLEMEN, merchants, citizens, apprentices, yeomen,
and plain country farmers, Health.
When Scaevola, gentlemen, saw his native city besieged by Porsena, and that Rome the mistress of the world was ready to be mastered by a professed foe to the public estate: he entered boldly into the enemy's camp, and in the tent of the king (taking him for the king) slew the king's secretary, whereupon condemned, brought to the fire, he thrust his right hand into the flame burning it off voluntary, because it was so unfortunate to miss the fatal stab he had intended to his couuntry's enemies, and then with an honourable resolution, breathed out this, Mallum non esse quam non prodesse patriae.<25>. This instance of Scaevola greatly hath emboldened me to think no pains nor danger too great that groweth to the benefit of my country, & though I cannot as he manage with my cutlass, nor attempt to unleaguer Porsena: yet with my pen I will endevour to display the nature and secrets of divers cozenages more prejudicial to England then the invasion of Porsena was to Rome. For when that valiant king saw the resolution of Scaevola: as one dismayed at the honour of his thoughts, he sorrowed so brave a man had so desperately lost his hand, and thereupon grew friends with the Romans. But gentlemen these cony-catchers, these vultures, these fatal harpies, that putrefy with their infections, this flourishing estate of England, as if they had their consciences sealed with a hot iron, & that as men delivered up into a reprobate sense, grace were utterly exiled from their hearts, so with the deaf adder they not only stop their ears against the voice of the charmer, but dissolutely without any spark of remorse stand upon their bravados, and openly in words & actions maintain their palpable and manifest cozenages, swearing by no less then their enemies' blood, even by God himself, that they will make a massacre of his bones, and cut off my right hand for penning down their abominable practices: but alas for them, poor snakes, words are wind, & looks but glances: every thunderclap hath not a bolt, nor every cony-catcher's oath an execution. I live still, & I live to display their villainies, which, gentlemen you shall see set down in most ample maner in this small treatise, but here by the way, give me leave to answer an objection, that some inferred against me, which was, that I showed no eloquent phrases, nor fine figurative conveiance in my first book as I had done in other of my works, to which I reply that το πρεπον [to prepon]<26>, a certain decorum is to be kept in every thing, and not to apply a high style in a base subject: beside the faculty is so odious, and the men so servile and slavish minded, that I should dishonour that high mystery of eloquence, and derogate from the dignity of our English tongue, either to employ any figure or bestow one choice English word upon such disdained rakehells as those cony-catchers. Therefore humbly I crave pardon, and desire I may write basely of such base wretches, who live only to live dishonestly. For they seek the spoil and ruin of all, and like drones eat away what others labour for. I have set down divers other laws untouched in the first, as their Vincent's law, a notable cozenage at bowls, when certain idle companions stand and make bets, being compacted with the bowlers, who look like honest minded citizens, either to win or lose, as their watch-word shall appoint, then the Prigger or Horse-stealer, with all his gins belonging to his trade, and their subtle cautels to amend the statute, next the curbing law, which some call but too basely hookers, who either dive in at windows, or else with a hook, which they call a courb, do fetch out whatsoever, either apparel, linen, or wollen, that be left abroad. Beside I can set down the subtlety of the black Art, which is picking of locks, a cozenage as prejudicial as any of the rest, and the nature of the lift, which is he that stealeth any parcels, and slyly taketh them away. This (gentlemen) have I searched out for your commodities, that I might lay open to the world, the villainy of these cozening caterpillars, who are not only abhorred of men, but hated of God, living idly to themselves, & odiously to the world, they be those foolish children that Solomon speaks of, that feeds themselves fat with iniquity, those untamed heifers, that will not break the yoke of labour, but get their livings by the painful thrift of other men's hands. I cannot better compare them, than unto vipers, who while they live are hated & shunned of all men as most prejudicial creatures, they feed upon hemlock and aconiton, and such fatal & empoisoned herbs, but the learned apothecaries takes them, cuts off their heads, and after they be embowelled of their flesh, they make the most precious mithridate: so these cony-catchers, foists, nips, priggers, & lifts, while they live are most improfitable members of the commonwealth: they glut themselves as vipers upon the most loathsome, and detestable sins, seeking after folly with greediness, never doing anything that is good, till they be trussed up at Tyburn: and then is a most wholesome mithridate made of them, for by their deaths others are forewarned for falling into the like enormities. And as the gangrene is a disease incurable by the censure of the surgeons, unless the member where it is first be cut off: so this untoward generation of loose libertines, can by no wholesome counsels, nor advised persuasions be dissuaded from their loathsome kind of life, till by death they be fatally, and finally cut off from the commonwealth, whereof spake Ovid well in his Metamorphosis.
Ense resecandum est ne pars sincera trahitur.<27>
Sith then this cursed crew, these Machavellians, that neither care for God nor devil, but set with the Epicures, gain and ease their summum bonum<28> cannot be called to any honest course of living: if the honourable and worshipful of this land look into their lives, and cut off such upstarting suckers that consume the sap from the root of the tree: they shall neither lose their reward in heaven, nor pass over any day wherein there will not be many faithful prayers of the poor, exhibited for their prosperous success and welfare: so deeply are these monstrous cozeners hated in the commonwealth. Thus gentlemen I have discovered in brief, what I mean to prosecute at large: though not eloquently, yet so effectually, that if you be not altogether careless, it may redound to your commodity: forewarned, forearmed: burnt children dread the fire, and such as neither counsel, nor other men's harms may make to beware, are worthy to live long, and still by the loss. But hoping these secrets I have set abroach, and my labours I have taken in searching out those base villainies, shall not be only taken with thanks, but applied with care: I take my leave with this farewell. God either confound, or convert such base minded cozeners.
Yours R. G.