Cony-Catching - Gentlemen Cony-Catchers

Gentlemen Cony-Catchers

            There be in England, but especially about London, certain quaint, picked, and neat companions, attired in their apparel either a la mode de France, with a side cloak and a hat of a high block and a broad brim, as if he could with his head cosmographize the world in a moment, or else al espagnol, with a straight bombast sleeve like a quail-pipe, his short cloak, and his rapier hanging as if he were entering the list to a desperate combat: his beard squared with such art, either with his moustaches after the lash of lions<68>, standing as stiff as if he wore a ruler in his mouth, or else nicked off with the Italian cut, as if he meant to profess one faith with the upper lip, and another with his nether lip, and then he must be marquisadoed, with a side peak pendent<69>, either sharp like the single of a deer<70>, or curtailed like the broad end of a mole spade. This gentleman, forsooth, haunteth tabling-houses, taverns, and such places where young novices resort, & can fit his humour to all companies, and openly shadoweth his disguise with the name of a traveller, so that he will have a superficial insight into certain phrases of every language, and pronounce them in such a grace as if almost he were that countryman born: then shall you hear him vaunt of his travels and tell what wonders he hath seen in strange countries: how he hath been at Saint James of Compostella in Spain, at Madrid in the King's court, and then drawing out his blade he claps it on the board and swears he bought that in Toledo: then will he rove to Venice, and with a sigh discover the situation of the city, how it is seated two leagues from terra firma in the sea, and speak of Rialto, Treviso and Murano where they make glasses, and to set the young gentleman's teeth on edge, he will make a long tale of La Strado Courtizano where the beautiful courtesans dwell, describing their excellency and what angelical creatures they be, and how amorously they will entertain strangers. Tush, he will discourse the state of Barbary<71>, and there to Eschites and Alcaires<72>, and from thence leap to France, Denmark, and Germany. After all concluding thus.

            What is a gentleman (saith he) without travel? even as a man without one eye. The sight of sundry countries made Ulysses so famous: bought wit is the sweetest, and experience goeth beyond all patrimonies. Did young gentlemen as well as I know the pleasure & profit of travel, they would not keep them at home within their native continent but visit the world, & win more wisdom in travelling two or three years than all the wealth their ancestors left them to possess. Ah, the sweet sight of ladies, the strange wonders in cities, and the divers manners of men and their conditions were able to ravish a young gentleman's senses with the surfeit of content, and what is a thousand pound spent to the obtaining of those pleasures?

            All these novelties doth this pippined braggart boast on, when his only travel hath been to look on a fair day from Dover cliffs to Calais, never having stepped a foot out of England, but surveyed the maps, and heard others talk what they knew by experience. Thus decking himself like the daw with the fair feathers of other birds, and discoursing what he heard other men report, he grew so plausible among young gentlemen that he got his ordinary at the least, and some gracious thanks for his labour. But haply some amongst many, tickled with the desire to see strange countries, and drawn on by his alluring words, would join with him, and question if he meant ever to travel again. He straight after he hath bitten his peak by the end, alla Neopolitano, begins thus to reply.

            Sir, although a man of my travel and experience might be satisfied in the sight of countries, yet so insatiate is the desire of travelling that if perhaps a young gentleman of a liberal and courteous nature were desirous to see Jerusalem or Constantinople, would he well acquit my pains and follow my counsel, I would bestow a year or two with him out of England. To be brief, if the gentleman jump with him, then doth he cause him to sell some lordship, and put some thousand or two thousand pound in the bank to be received by letters of exchange, and because the gentleman is ignorant, my young master his guide must have the disposing of it: which he so well sets out that the poor gentleman never sees any return of his money after. Then must store of suits of apparel be bought and furnished every way: at last, he names a ship wherein they should pass, and so down to Gravesend they go, and there he leaves the young novice, fleeced of his money and woe-begone, as far from travel as Miles the merry cobbler of Shoreditch, that swore he would never travel further than from his shop to the ale-house. I pray you, call you not these fine-witted fellows cony-catchers, Master R.G.?

            But now sir by your leave a little, what if I should prove you a cony-catcher Master R.G.? Would it not make you blush at the matter? I'll go as near to it as the friar did to his hostess's maid when the clerk of the parish took him at levatum at midnight. Ask the Queen's players if you sold them not Orlando Furioso for twenty nobles, and when they were in the country, sold the same play to the Lord Admiral's men for as much more? Was not this plain cony-catching, Master R.G.?

            But I hear when this was objected, that you made this excuse: that there was no more faith to be held with players than with them that valued faith at the price of a feather: for as they were comedians to act, so the actions of their lives were chameleon-like, that they were uncertain, variable, time pleasers, men that measured honesty by profit, and that regarded their authors not by desert, but by necessity of time. If this may serve you for a shadow, let me use it for an excuse of our card cony-catching, for when we meet a country farmer with a full purse, a miserable miser that either racks his tenants' rents or sells his grain in the market at an unreasonable rate: we hold it a devotion to make him a cony in that he is a caterpillar to others, and gets that by pilling and polling of the poor that we strip him of by sleight and agility of wit.

            Is there not here resident about London a crew of terrible hacksters in the habit of gentlemen, well apparelled, and yet some wear boots for want of stockings, with a lock worn at their left ear for their mistress' favour, his rapier alla revolto, his poignado> pendent ready for the stab, and cavilevarst<73> like a warlike magnifico, yet for all this outward show of pride, inwardly they be humble in mind and despise worldly wealth, for you shall never take them with a penny in their purse. These soldados, for under that profession most of them wander, have a policy to scourge ale-houses, for where they light in, they never leap out till they have showed their arithmetic with chalk on every post in the house figured in ciphers like round Os, till they make the goodman cry O, O, O as if he should call an Oyez at assize or sessions. Now sir they have sundry shifts to maintain them in this versing, for either they creep in with the goodwife and so undo the goodman, or else they bear it out with great brags if the host be simple, or else they trip him in some words when he is tipsy that he hath spoken against some justice of peace or other, or some other great man, and then they hold him at a bay with that, till his back almost break. Thus shift they from house to house, having this proverb amongst them: Such must eat as are hungry, and they must pay that have money. Call you not these cony-catchers, Master R.G.?

            It were an endless piece of work to discover the abominable life of brokers, whose shops are the very temples of the devil, themselves his priests, and their books of account more damnable than the Alcoran set out by Mahomet: for as they induce young gentlemen to pawn their lands, as I said before, so they are ready (the more is the pity that it is suffered) to receive any goods, howsoever it be come by, having their shops (as they say) a lawful market to buy and sell in, so that whence grows so many lifts about London but in that they have brokers their friends to buy whatsoever they purloin & steal? And yet is the picklock, lift, or hooker that brings the stolen goods made a flat cony, and used as an instrument only of their villainy: for suppose he hath lifted a gown or a cloak or so many parcels as are worth ten pounds, and ventures his life in hazard for the obtaining of it: the miserable caterpillar the broker will think he dealeth liberally with him if he give him forty shillings; so doth he not only maintain felony, but like a thief cozens the thief. And are not these grand cony-catchers, Master R.G.?

            I knew not far from Fleet bridge a haberdasher: it were a good deed to take Paine to tell his name, that took of a boy of seven year old<74> a rapier worth forty shillings and a stitched taffeta hat worth ten, and all for five shillings: the gentleman, father to the child, was sick when necessity drove him thus nigh to lay his weapon and his bonnet to pawn, and as soon as he recovered, which was within six weeks after, sent the money, and twelve pence for the loan, to have the parcels again. But this cut-throat's answer was, the boy had made him a bill of sale of his hand for a month, and the day was broken, and he had made the best of the rapier and hat. Was not this a Jew and a notable cony-catcher, Master R.G.?

                It had been well if you had rolled out your rhetoric against such a rake-hell. But come to their honest kind of life, and you shall see how they stand upon circumstances: if you borrow but two shillings, there must be a groat for the money and a groat for the bill of sale, and this must be renewed every month, so that they resemble the box at dice, which being well paid all night will in the morning be the greatest winner.

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