Cony-Catching - The Epistle

The Epistle

To all gentlemen, merchants, appren-
tices and country farmers, health.

            Gentlemen, countrymen, and kind friends, for so I value all that are honest and enemies of bad actions, although in my books of cony-catching I have discovered divers forms of cozenings, and painted out both the sacking and cross-biting laws, which strumpets use to the destruction of the simple, yet willing to search all the substance, as I have glanced at the shadow, & to enter into the nature of villainy, as I have broached up the secrets of vice, I have thought good to publish this dialogue, or disputation between a he cony-catcher, and a she cony-catcher, whether of them are most prejudicial to the commonwealth: discoursing the base qualities of them both, and discovering the inconvenience that grows to men, through the lightness of inconstant wantons, who being wholly given to the spoil, seek the ruin of such as light into their company. In this dialogue, loving countrymen, shall you find what prejudice ensues by haunting of whore-houses, what dangers grows by dallying with common harlots, what inconvenience follows the inordinate pleasures of unchaste libertines, (not only by their consuming of their wealth and impoverishment of their goods and lands, but to the great endangering of their health). For in conversing with them they aim not simply at the loss of goods and blemish of their good names, but they fish for diseases, sickness, sores incurable, ulcers bursting out of the joints, and salt rheums, which by the humour of that villainy leapt from Naples into France, and from France into the bowels of England: which makes many cry out in their bones, whilst goodman surgeon laughs in his purse: a thing to be feared as deadly while men live, as Hell is to be dreaded after death, for it not only infecteth the body, consumeth the soul, and wasteth wealth and worship, but engraves a perpetual shame in the forehead of the party so abused. Whereof Master Higgins hath well written in his Mirror of Magistrates<82> in the person of Mempricius exclaiming against harlots: The verses be these:

Eschew vile Venus' toys, she cuts off age,
And learn this lesson oft, and tell thy friend,
By pox, death sudden, begging, harlots end.

            Besides, I have laid open the wily wisdom of over-wise courtesans, that with their cunning, can draw on, not only poor novices, but such as hold themselves masters of their occupation. What flatteries they use to bewitch, what sweet words to inveigle, what simple holiness to entrap, what amorous glances, what smirking œillades, what cringing courtesies, what stretching adieus, following a man like a bloodhound, with their eyes white, laying out of hair: what frouncing of tresses, what paintings, what ruffs, cuffs and braveries, and all to betray the eyes of the innocent novice: whom when they have drawn on to the bent of their bow, they strip like the prodigal child and turn out of doors like an outcast of the world. The crocodile hath not more tears, Proteus, more shape, Janus more faces, the Hieria<83>, more sundry tunes to entrap the passengers than our English courtesans, to be plain, our English whores: to set on fire the hearts of lascivious and gazing strangers. These common, or rather consuming strumpets, whose throats are softer than oil, and yet whose steps lead unto death. They have their ruffians to rifle, when they cannot fetch over with other cunning, their cross-biters attending upon them, their foists, their busts, their nips, and such like. Being waited on by these villains as by ordinary servants, so that who thinks himself wise enough to escape their flatteries, him they cross-bite; who holds himself to rule, to be bitten with a counterfeit apparitor, him they rifle: if he be not so to be versed upon, they have a foist or a nip upon him, and so sting him to the quick. Thus he that meddles with pitch, cannot but be defiled, and he that acquainteth himself or converseth with any of these cony-catching strumpets, cannot but by some way or other be brought to confusion: for either he must hazard his soul, blemish his good name, lose his goods, light upon diseases, or at the least have been tied to the humour of an harlot, whose quiver is open to every arrow, who likes all that have fat purses, and loves not any that are destitute of pence. I remember a monk in diebus illis<84> writ his opinion of the end of an adulterer thus:

Quatuor his casibus, sine dubio cadet adulter,
Aut hic pauper erit, aut hic subito morietur,
Aut cadet in causum qua debet iudice vinci,
Aut aliquod membrum casu vell crimine perdet.
<85>

            Which I Englished thus:

He that to harlots' lures do yield him thrall,
Through sour misfortune to bad end shall fall:
Or sudden death, or beggary shall him chance,
Or guilt before a judge his shame enhance:
Or else by fault or fortune he shall leese
Some member, sure, escaped from one of these.

            Seeing then such inconvenience grows from the caterpillars of the commonwealth, and that  a multitude of the monsters here about London, particularly and generally abroad in England, to the great overthrow of many simple men that are inveigled by their flatteries, I thought good not only to discover their villainies in a dialogue, but also to manifest by an example, how prejudicial their life is to the state of the land: that such as are warned by an instance, may learn and look before they leap: To that end, kind countrymen, I have set down at the end of the disputation the wonderful life of a courtesan, not a fiction, but a truth of one that yet lives, not now in another form repentant. In the discourse of whose life you shall see how dangerous such trulls be to all estates that be so simple as to trust their feigned subtleties: here shall parents learn how hurtful it is to cocker up their youth in their follies, and have a deep insight how to bridle their daughters, if they see them any ways grow wantons: wishing therefore my labours may be a caveat to my countrymen to avoid the company of such cozening courtesans

Farewell.

R.G.

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