I cannot but wonder, Master R.G. what poetical fury made you so fantastic to write against cony-catchers? Was your brain so barren that you had no other subject? or your wits so dried with dreaming of love-pamphlets that you had no other humour left but satirically with Diogenes to snarl at all men's matters? You never found in Tully<61> nor Aristotle what a setter or a verser was.
It had been the part of a scholar, to have written seriously of some grave subject, either philosophically to have shown how you were proficient in Cambridge, or divinely to have manifested your religion to the world. Such trivial trinkets and threadbare trash had better seemed T.D.<62>, whose brains beaten to the yarking up of ballads, might more lawfully have glanced at the quaint conceits of cony-catching and cross-biting.
But to this my objection methinks I hear your mastership learnedly reply, Nascimur pro patria:<1> Every man is not born for himself, but for his country: and that the end of all studious endeavours ought to tend to the advancing of virtue, or suppressing of vice in the commonwealth. So that you have herein done the part of a good subject and a good scholar, to anatomize such secret villainies as are practised by cozening companions to the overthrow of the simple people, for by the discovery of such pernicious laws you seek to root out of the commonwealth such ill and licentious-living persons as do Ex alieno succo vivere, live of the sweat of other men's brows, and under subtle shifts of wit abused, seek to ruin the flourishing estate of England. These you call vipers, moths of the commonwealth, caterpillars worse than God rained down on Egypt, rotten flesh which must be divided from the whole.
Ense resecandum est ne pars sincera trahitur.<27>
This Master R.G. I know will be your answer, as it is the pretended cause of your injurious pamphlets. And indeed it is very well done, but greater had your praise been if you had entered into the nature of more gross abuses, and set down the particular enormities that grow from such palpable villainies. For truth it is that this is the iron age<63>, wherein iniquity hath the upper hand, and all conditions and estates of men seek to live by their wits, and he is counted wisest that hath the deepest insight into the getting of gains: everything now that is found profitable is counted honest and lawful: and men are valued by their wealth, not by their virtues. He that cannot dissemble cannot live, and men put their sons nowadays apprentices not to learn trades and occupations but crafts and mysteries.
If then wit in this age be counted a great patrimony, and subtlety an inseparable accident to all estates, why should you be so spiteful, Master R.G., to poor cony-catchers above all the rest, sith they are the simplest souls of all in shifting to live in this over-wise world?
But you play like the spider that makes her web to entrap and snare little flies, but weaves it so slenderly that the great ones break through without any damage. You strain gnats, and pass over elephants: you scour the pond of a few croaking frogs and leave behind an infinite number of most venomous scorpions. You decipher poor cony-catchers, that perhaps with a trick at cards win forty shillings from a churl that can spare it, and never talk of those caterpillars that undo the poor, ruin whole Lordships, infect the commonwealth, and delight in nothing but in wrongful extorting and purloining of pelf, whenas such be the greatest cony-catchers of all, as by your leave, Master R.G., I will make manifest.
Sir-reverence on your worship, had you such a mote in your eye that you could not see those fox-furred gentlemen that hide under their gowns faced with foins, more falsehood than all the cony-catchers in England beside, those miserable usurers (I mean) that like vultures prey upon the spoil of the poor, sleeping with his neighbour's pledges all night in his bosom, and feeding upon forfeits and penalties as the ravens do upon carrion? If his poor neighbour want to supply his need, either for his household necessities or his rent at the day, he will not lend a penny for charity, all his money is abroad, but if he offer him either cow or sow, mare or horse, or the very corn scarce sprouted out of the ground to sell, so the bargain may be cheap, though to the beggary of the poor man, he chops with him straight, and makes the poor cony fare the worse all the year after. Why write you not of these cony-catchers Master R.G.?
Besides if pawns come, as the lease of a house, or the fee-simple in mortgage, he can out of his furred cassock draw money to lend: but the old cole hath such quirks and quiddities in the conveyance, such provisos, such days, hours, nay minutes of payment that if his neighbour break but a moment, he takes the forfeit, and like a pink-eyed ferret so claws the poor cony in the burrow that he leaves no hair on his breech nor on his back ere he parts with him. Are not these vipers of the commonwealth, and to be exclaimed against not in small pamphlets but in great volumes?
You set down how there be requisite setters and versers in cony-catching, and be there not so, I pray you, in usury? for when a young youthful gentleman, given a little to lash out liberally, wanteth money, makes he not his moan first to the broker, as subtle a knave to induce him to his overthrow as the wiliest setter or verser in England, and he must be feed to speak to the usurer, and have so much in the pound for his labour; then he shall have grant of money and commodities together, so that if he borrow a hundred pound he shall have forty in silver and threescore in wares, dead stuff, God wot, as lute-strings, hobby-horses, or (if he be greatly favoured) brown paper or cloth, and that shoots out in the lash. Then his land is turned over in statute or recognizance for six months and six months, so that he pays some thirty in the hundred to the usurer, beside the scrivener, he hath a blind share: but when he comes to sell his threescore pound commodities, 'tis well if he get five and thirty.
Thus is the poor gentleman made a mere and simple cony, and versed upon to the uttermost, and yet if he break his day, loseth as much land as cost his father a thousand marks.
Is not this cozenage and cony-catching, Master R.G., and more daily practiced in England, and more hurtful than our poor shifting at cards, and yet your mastership can wink at the cause? They be wealthy, but Cuthbert Cony-catcher cares for none of them, no more than they care for him, and therefore will reveal all. And because, Master R.G., you were pleasant in examples, I'll tell you a tale of a usurer, done within a mile of a knave's head, and since the cuckoo sung last, and it fell out thus.