THE professors of this law, being somewhat dashed, and their trade greatly impoverished by the late editions of their secret villainies, seek not a new means of life, but a new method how to fetch in their conies and to play their pranks: for as grievous is it for them to let slip a country farmer come to the term that is well apparelled, and in a dirty pair of boots (for that is a token of his new coming up, and a full purse) as it was for the boys of Athens to let Diogenes pass by without a hiss. But the countrymen having had partly a caveat for their cozenage, fear their favourable speeches and their courteous salutations, as deadly as the Greeks did the whistle of Polyphemus<12>. The cony-catcher now no sooner cometh in company, and calleth for a pair of cards, but straight the poor cony smokes him, and says: masters, I bought a book of late for a groat that warns me of card-play, least I fall amongst cony-catchers: What, doest thou take us for such, says the verser? no gentlemen says the cony, you may be men of honest disposition, but yet pardon me, I have forsworn cards ever since I read it: at this reply God wot, I have many a cozening curse at these cony-catchers' hands, but I solemnly stick to the old proverb: the fox the more he is cursed, the better he fares: but yet I will discover some of their newest devices, for these caterpillars resemble the nature of the Syrens, who sitting with their watching eyes upon the rocks to allure sea-passengers to their extreme prejudice, sound out most heavenly melody in such pleasing chords, that who so listens to their harmony, lends his ear unto his own bane and ruin: but if any wary Ulysses pass by and stop his ears against their enchauntments, then have they most delightful jewels to show him, as glorious objects to inveigle his eye with such pleasant vanities, that coming more nigh to behold them, they may dash their ship against a rock and so utterly perish. So these cony-catchers, for that I smoked them in my last book, and laid open their plots and policies, where with they drew poor conies into their lay, seeking with the orators benevolentiam captare<33>, and as they use rhetorical tropes and figures, the better to draw their hearers with the delight of variety: so these moths of the commonwealth, apply their wits to wrap in wealthy farmers with strange and uncouth conceits. Tush, it was so easy for the setter to take up a cony before I discovered the cozenage that one stigmatical shameless companion amongst the rest, would in a bravery wear parsley in his hat, and said he wanted but aqua vitae to take a cony with but since he hath looked on his feet, and veiled his plumes with the Peacock, and swears by all the shoes in his shop, I shall be the next man he means to kill, for spoiling of his occupation: but I laugh at his bravadoes, and though he speaks with his eunuch's voice, and wears a long sword like a morris-pike, were it not I think he would with Bathyllus<34> hang himself at my invective, his name should be set down with the nature of his follies: but let him call himself home from this course of life and this cozenage, and I shall be content to shadow what he is with pardon, but fron this degression again to the double diligence of these cony-catchers, whose new sleights, because you shall the more easily perceive, I will tell you a story pleasant and worth the noting.
A pleasant tale of the cony-chatchers.
Not long since, certain Exeter merchants came up to London to traffic such wares as their city commodities affords, & one of them whose name I conceal, called Master F., having leisure at will, walked about the city to visit his friends, and by chance met with two or three cony-catchers: amongst whom was one of his old and familiar acquaintance. This gentleman at that time taking the setter's office upon him seeing such a fat cony so fit for his purpose began to pitch his lay with this courteous and clawing gratulation. What, Master F., (quoth he) welcome to London, and well are you met; I see time may draw friends together, little did I think to have seen you here, but sith oportunity hath granted me such a favour to meet with such an unlooked-for man, we'll at the next tavern drink a pint of wine together, to your welcome, and the health of our friends. The merchant hearing the gentleman ply him with such plausible entertainment, stooped as a poor cony, and granted to take his courtesy, and with them went the verser, a lusty fellow, well apparelled, and as smooth tongued as if every word came out of an orator's inkhorn: this jolly squire that played the verser, when he came at the tavern door, would needs drop away, and offered to be gone: but the setter said to him, nay I pray you sir stay, and drink with this friend of mine, for I have not a more familiar acquaintance in Exeter: The merchant simply also entreated him, and with few words he was satisfied, and as three of them went in together, and asked for a room, the boy showed them up into a chamber, and as soon as they came to, the verser, having a pair of cards in his pocket, for they thought it too suspicious to call for a pair, stepped to the window, and clapped his hand on the ledge, and laughed, gog's wounds (quoth he) a man can neither come into tavern, nor Alehouse, but he shall find a pair of cards in the window: Here hath been some praying, and have left their books behind them. Boy (quoth he) throw me a couple of faggots on the fire, and set a pottle of sack too, and burn it, and sir he says to the setter, thou and I will play at cards who shall pay for it. Content says the setter, so you will play at a game that I can play at, which is called mum-chance. I know it well, says the verser: have with you for a pottle of burnt sack, and so to it they go, as before in my first part I describe it unto you: the poor merchant the simple honest cony, calling the card: well the verser lost, and at last they reveal the policy to the cony, who wondered at the strange device, and solemnly swore it was impossible for him either to lose, or the other to win: As thus they sat drinking the setter showed him divers tricks at Cards, to pass away the time, because their barnacle stayed over long, who at last, attired like a serving-man, came and thrust open the door, and said, masters by your leave, I look for a greyhound that hath broken my slip, & is run into this house. In faith friend, quoth the setter, here is none, nor did we see any: Then by your leave gentlemen (quoth he) and sit you merry, I had rather have given forty shillings then have lost the dog: Nay stay sir (quoth the verser) and drink a cup of sack with us: at that the Barnacle came in, and courteously took it of them, and made sore lament for his dog, saying, he durst scarce look his master in the face: but I hope (quoth he) he is run to the farmer's house, where he was brought up, and therefore I'll seek him nowhere to day, with that he called for a pint of wine, to requite their courtesies withal, and the verser answered that they would take none of him as a gift, but if he would play for a pint or a quart he should be welcome into their company: at this he sat down, and said he would, then they induced him to play at mum-chance, and the cony called the card, so the barnacle lost all, who being in a great chafe, cursed his luck, and the cards, and offered to play three games, xii. pence: the setter took him up, and secretly asked the cony if he would be his half, or play with him himself. In faith, says the merchant, I dare play with him, as long as five shillings last, and so much I will venture: with that the barnacle drew out a purse with some three or four pence in it, and to this game they go, with vie and revie<6> till the barnacle had lost all his money, then he blasphemed the name of God mightily, and laid his sword and his cloak to pawn to the good man of the house, and borrowed money of it, to the value of some xx. shillings . The cony smiled at this for he counted all his own, & winked upon the verser, and the setter, again they go to it, and they make five games for ten shillings, and every card to be vied at the losers pleasure, the cony won three of them, and the barnacle never a one: then he exclaimed against fortune, and swore he would make short work, and of a ring he borrowed thirty shillings more, and vied hard: well that game he won, and got some twenty shillings of the cony, who thought it was but a chance, that could not hit in seven years again, and the next game they vied, and layed some five pound by on the belt, so that the vie and call, came to some seven pound, then the barnacle stroke in his chopped card, and wipe the cony's mouth clean for troubling his purse, with any of those crowns, yea he so handled the poor merchant, that of nine pound he had in his purse, these three base cony-catchers left him never a penny, although he was sore nipped on the head, with this hard fortune, yet he brooked it with patience, and litle suspected that his countryman the setter had sifted him out of his money, and therefore drunk to him friendly, and took his leave without smoking them at all, and went quiet though discontent to his lodging. The cony-catchers they shared the purchase, and went singing home as winners do that have leave and leisure to laugh at the spoil of such wealthy and honest merchants.
Not long after this, the cony chanced to come to my chamber to visit me for old acquaintance, where he found a book of cony-catching new come out of the press which when he had smiled at, for the strangeness of the title: at last he began to read it, and there saw how simply he was made a cony, and stripped of his crowns: with that he fetched a great sigh, and said: sir, if I had seen this book but two days since, it had saved me nine pound in my purse, and then he rehearsed the whole discourse, how kindly he was made a cony. Thus you may see that these base cony-catchers spare not their own acquaintance nor familiar friends: but like vultures seek to prey upon them, and like the harpy, infects that house wherein they harbour: so odious is their base and detestable kind of cozenage, that the very nips, the cutpurses I mean, desire to smoke them, and have them in as great contempt, as they themselves are despised of others: holding the cony-catcher for their inferior: for, say the nips, I disdaine to use my occupation against any friend, or so draw a purse from him that I am familiarly acquainted with: whereas the cony-catcher preyeth most upon his countrymen and friends, and at the first hand comes with a smiling face to embrace that man, whom presently he means to spoil and cozen. Again, the nip useth his knife, and if he see a bung lie fair, strikes the stroke, and ventures his neck for it if he be taken, which is a certain point (say they) of resolution, though in the basest degree: but the cony-catcher, like a coward keeps himself within compass of law, as the picture of a faint-hearted cozener: like a fawning cur wags his tail upon him he means most deadly to bite. Then let this be a caveat for all men, and all degrees to take heed of such prejudicial peasants: who like worms in a nut eat the kernel, wherein they are bred, and are so venomous minded, that like the viper they disparage whomsoever they light on: I know I shall have many braves uttered against me for this invective: but so I may profit my countrymen I will hazard myself against their deepest villainies: and therefore sleeping never a whit the worse for their bravado, I commit such enemies of the flourishing estate of England, to the consideration of the justices who I hope will look into the loose life of bad, base, and dishonest caterpillars.
A pleasant Tale of a Horse, how at Uxbridge, he cozened a Cony-catcher, and had like to brought him to his Neckverse<35>.
Illustration ? A Knight on Horseback
IT fortuned that not long since certain cony-catchers met by hap a pranker or horse-stealer at Uxbridge, who took up his inn where those honest crews lodged, & as one vice follows another, was as ready to have a cast at cards as he had a hazard at a horse, the cony-catchers who supped with him, feeling him pliant to receive the blow, began to lay the plot how they might make him stoop all the money in his purse, & so for a pint of wine drew him in at cards, by degrees as these rakehells do, Lento gradu,<36> measure all things by minutes: he fell from wine to money, and from pence to pounds, that he was stripped of all that ever he had, as well crowns, apparell, as jewels, that at last to maintain the main and to check vies with revies he laid his horse in the hazard and lost him, when the prigger had smoked the game, and perceived he was bitten of all the bite in his bung, and turned to walk penniless in Mark lane, as the old proverb is, he began to chafe, and to swear, and to rap out goggs Nownes, and his pronouns, while at voluntary he had sworn through the eight parts of speech in the Accidence,<37> avowing they had cozened him both of his money and horse. Whereupon the gross ass more hardy then wise, understanding the cony-catchers were gone, went to the Constable and made hue & cry after them, saying: They had robbed him of his horse, at this the headboroughs followed amain, and by chance met with another hue and cry that came for him that had stolen, which hue and cry was served upon the horse stealer, and at that time as far as I can either conjecture or calculate, the cony-catchers were taken suspicious for the same horse, and the rather for that they were found loose livers & could yield no honest method or means of their maintenance, upon this for the horse they were apprehended, & bound over to the Sessions at Westminster, to answer what might be objected against them in her Majesty's behalf. Well the horse stealer broke from his keepers and got away, but the rest of the rascal crew; the cony-catchers I mean, were brought to the place of judgement, and there like valiant youths they thrust twelve men into a corner, who found them guiltless for the fact, but if great favour had not been shown they had been condemned & burnt in the ears for rogues.
Thus the horse stealer made hue & cry after the cony-catchers, and the man that had lost the horse he pursued the horse stealer, so that a double hue and cry passed on both sides, but the cony-catchers had the worse, for what they got in the bridle they lost in the saddle, what they cozened at cards had like to cost them their necks at the Sessions, so that when they were free and acquited, one of the cony-catchers in a merry vein, said, he had catched many conies, but now a horse had like to caught him, and so deeply quoth he, that Miserere mei<35> had like to have been my best matins. Thus we may see Fallere fallentem non est fraus,<21> every deceit hath his due, he that maketh a trap falleth into the snare himself, and such as covet to cozen all, are crosssed themselves often times almost to the cross, and that is the next neighbour to the gallows. Well gentlemen thus I have bewrayed much and gotten little thanks, I mean of the dishonest sort, but I hope such as measure virtue by her honours, will judge of me as I deserve. Marry the good men cony-catchers, those base excrements of dishonesty, they in their huffs report they have got one (---) I will not bewray his name, but a scholar they say he is, to make an invective against me, in that he is a favourer of those base reprobates, but let them, him, and all know, the proudest peasant of them all, dare not lift his plumes in disparagement of my credit, for if he do, I will for revenge only appoint the jakes farmers<38> of London, who shall cage them in their filthy vessels, and carry them as dung to manure the barren places of Tyburn, and so for cony-catchers an end.