Cony-Catching - A disputation between Laurence a foist and Fair Nan a traffic, whether a whore or a thief is most prejudicial.

A disputation between Laurence a foist and Fair Nan a traffic, whether a whore or a thief is most prejudicial.

.

Laurence. Nan, well met, what news about your Vine Court that you look so blithe? Your cherry cheeks discovers your good fare, and your brave apparel bewrays a fat purse: is fortune now of late grown so favourable to foists, that your husband hath lighted on some large purchase, or hath your smooth looks linked in some young novice to sweat for a favour all the bite in his bung,<86> and to leave himself as many crowns as thou hast got good conditions, and then he shall be one of Pierce Penniless'<87> fraternity: How is it, sweet wench, goes the world on wheels, that you tread so daintily on your tiptoes?

Nan. Why, Laurence, are you pleasant or peevish, that you quip with such brief girds? Think you a quartern-wind cannot make a quick sail, that easy lifts cannot make heavy burdens, that women have not wiles to compass crowns as well as men? Yes & more, for though they be not so strong in the fists, they be more ripe in their wits: and 'tis by wit that I live and will live, in despite of that peevish scholar, that thought with his cony-catching books to have cross-bit our trade. Dost thou marvel to see me thus brisked? fair wenches cannot want favours, while the world is so full of amorous fools. Where can such girls as myself be blemished with a threadbare coat as long as country farmers have full purses, and wanton citizens pockets full of pence?

Laur. Truth, if fortune so favour thy husband, that he be neither smoked nor clyed, for I am sure all thy bravery comes by his nipping, foisting and lifting.

Nan. In faith sir, no. Did I get no more by mine own wit than I reap by his purchase, I might both go bare & penniless the whole year, but mine eyes are stalls, & my hands lime twigs<88>, else were I not worthy the name of a she cony-catcher. Circe had never more charms, Calypso more enchantments, the Sirens more subtle tunes, than I have crafty sleights to inveigle a cony, and fetch in a country farmer. Laurence, believe me, you men are but fools, your gettings is uncertain, and yet you still fish for the gallows? Though by some great chance you light upon a good bung, yet you fast a great while after, whereas, as we mad wenches have our tenants (for so I call every simple lecher and amorous fox) as well out of term as in term to bring us our rents, alas, were not my wits and my wanton pranks more profitable than my husband's foisting, we might often go to bed supperless for want of surfeiting: and yet I dare swear, my husband gets a hundred pounds a year by bungs.

Laur. Why, Nan, are you grown so stiff, to think your fair looks can get as much as our nimble fingers, or that your sacking can gain as much as our foisting? No, no, Nan, you are two bows down the wind; our foist will get more than twenty the proudest wenches in all London.

Nan. Lie a little further & give me some room. What Laurence your tongue is too lavish, all stands upon proof, and sith I have leisure, and you no great business, as being now when Paul's is shut up and all purchases and conies in their burrows, let us to the tavern and take a room to ourselves, and there for the price of our suppers, I will prove that women, I mean of our faculty, a traffic, or as base knaves term us, strumpets, are more subtle, more dangerous in the commonwealth, and more full of wiles to get crowns than the cunningest foist, nip, lift, prigs, or whatsoever that lives at this day.

Laur. Content, but who shall be moderator in our controversies, sith in disputing pro & contra betwixt ourselves, it is but your yea and my nay, and so neither of us will yield to other's victories.

Nan. Trust me, Laurence, I am so assured of the conquest, affying so in the strength of mine own arguments, that when I have reasoned, I will refer it to your judgment and censure.

Laur. And trust me as I am an honest man, I will be indifferent.

Nan. Oh, swear not so deeply, but let me first hear what you can say for yourself.

Laur. What? Why more, Nan, than can be painted out in a great volume, but briefly this. I need not describe the laws of villainy, because R.G. hath so amply penned them down in the first Part of Cony-catching, that though I be one of the faculty, yet I cannot discover more than he hath laid open. Therefore first to the gentleman foist, I pray you, what finer quality: what art is more excellent either to try the ripeness of the wit, or the agility of the hand than that? for him that will be master of his trade, must pass the proudest juggler alive, the points of leger de main: he must have an eye to spy the bung or purse, and then a heart to dare to attempt it, for this by the way, he that fears the gallows shall never be good thief while he lives: he must as the cat watch for a mouse, and walk Paul's, Westminster, the Exchange, and such common haunted places, and there have a curious eye to the person, whether he be a gentleman, citizen or farmer, and note either where his bung lies, whether in his hose or pockets, and then dog the party into a press where his stall with heaving and shoving shall so molest him that he shall not feel when we strip him of his bung, although it be never so fast or cunningly couched about him: What poor farmer almost can come to plead his case at the bar, to attend upon his lawyers at the bench, but look he never so narrowly to it, we have his purse, wherein sometimes there is fat purchase, twenty or thirty pounds: and I pray you, how long would one of your traffics be, earning so much with your chamber-work? Besides, in fairs and markets, and in the circuits after judges, what infinite money is gotten from honest meaning men, that either busy about their necessary affairs or carelessly looking to their crowns, light amongst us that be foists: tush, we dissemble in show, we go so neat in apparel, so orderly in outward appearance, some like lawyers' clerks, others like serving-men that attended there about their masters' business, that we are hardly smoked: versing upon all men with kind courtesies and fair words, and yet being so warily watchful that a good purse cannot be put up in a fair, but we sigh if we share it not amongst us, and though the books of cony-catching hath somewhat hindered us, and brought many brave foists to the halter, yet some of our country farmers, nay of our gentleman and citizens, are so careless in a throng of people that they show us the prey, and so draw on a thief, and bequeath us their purses whether we will or no: for who loves wine so ill, that he will not eat grapes if they fall into his mouth, and who is so base, that if he see a pocket fair before him, will not foist in if he may, or if foisting will not serve, use his knife and nip? for although there be some foists that will not use their knives, yet I hold him not a perfect workman or master of his mystery, that will not cut a purse as well as foist a pocket, and hazard any limb for so sweet a gain as gold: how answer you me this brief objection Nan? Can you compare with either our cunning to get our gains in purchase?

Nan. And have you no stronger arguments goodman Laurence, to argue your excellency in villainy but this? Then in faith put up your pipes, and give me leave to speak: your chop-logic hath no great subtlety for simple: you reason of foisting, & appropriate that to yourselves, to you men I mean, as though there were not women foists and nips, as neat in that trade as you, of as good an eye, as fine and nimble a hand, and of as resolute a heart, yes, Laurence, and your good mistresses in that mystery: for we without like suspicion can pass in your walks under the colour of simplicity to Westminster, with a paper in our hand as if we were distressed women, that had some supplication to put up to the judges or some bill of information to deliver to our lawyers when God wot, we shuffle in for a bung as well as the best of you all, yea, as yourself Laurence, though you be called king of cutpurses: for though they smoke you, they will hardly mistrust us, and suppose our stomach stand against it to foist, yet who can better play the stall or the shadow than we? for in a thrust or throng if we shove hard, who is he that will not favour a woman, and in giving place to us, give you free passage for his purse? Again, in the market, when every wife hath almost her hand on her bung, and that they cry: Beware the cutpurse and cony-catchers, then I as fast as the best with my handbasket as mannerly as if I were to buy great store of butter and eggs for provision of my house, do exclaim against them with my hand on my purse, and say the world is bad when a woman cannot walk safely to market for fear of these villainous cutpurses, whenas the first bung I come to, I either nip or foist, or else stall another while he hath stroken, dispatched, and gone: now I pray you gentle sir, wherein are we inferior to you in foisting? and yet this is nothing to the purpose. For it is one of our most simplest shifts: but yet I pray you, what think you when a farmer, gentleman or citizen come to the term, perhaps he is wary of his purse, and watch him never so warily, yet he will never be brought to the blow, is it not possible for us to pinch him ere he pass? he that is most chary of his crowns abroad, and will cry ware the cony-catchers, will not be afraid to drink a pint of wine with a pretty wench, and perhaps go to a trugging-house to ferry out one for his purpose: then with what cunning we can feed the simple fop, with what fair words, sweet kisses, feigned sighs, as if at that instant we fell in love with him that we never saw before: if we meet him in an evening in the street, if the farmer or other whatsoever be not so forward as to motion some courtesy to us, we straight insinuate into his company, and claim acquaintance of him by some means or other, and if his mind be set for lust, and the devil drive him on to match himself with some dishonest wanton, then let him look to his purse, for if he do but kiss me in the street, I'll have his purse for a farewell, although he never commit any other act at all. I speak not this only by myself, Laurence, for there be a hundred in London more cunning than myself in this kind of cony-catching. But if he come into a house, then let our trade alone to verse upon him: for first we feign ourselves hungry for the benefit of the house, although our bellies were never so full, and no doubt the good pander or bawd, she comes forth like a sober matron, and sets store of cates on the table, and then I fall aboard on them, and though I can eat little, yet I make havoc of all, and let him be sure every dish is well sauced, for he shall pay for a pippin pie that cost in the market four pence, at one of the trugging-houses xviii pence. Thus, what is dainty if it be not dear bought? And yet he must come off for crowns besides, and when I see him draw to his purse, I note the putting up of it well, and ere we part, that world goes hard if I foist him not of all that he hath: and then suppose the worst, that he miss it, am I so simply acquainted or badly provided, that I have not a friend, which with a few terrible oaths and countenance set as if he were the proudest soldado that ever bare arms against Don John of Austria, will face him quite out of his money and make him walk like a woodcock homeward by Weeping Cross, and so buy repentance with all the crowns in his purse? How say you to this, Laurence, whether are women foists inferior to you in ordinary cozenage or no?

Laur. Excellently well reasoned, Nan, thou hast told me wonders. But wench, though you be wily and strike often, your blows are not so big as ours.

Nan. Oh, but note the subject of our disputation, and that is this, which are more subtle and dangerous to the commonwealth? and to that I argue.

Laur. Aye and beshrew me, but you reason quaintly, yet will I prove your wits are not so ripe as ours, nor so ready to reach into the subtleties of kind cozenage, and though you appropriate to yourself the excellency of cony-catching, and that you do it with more art than we men do because of your painted flatteries and sugared words, that you flourish rhetorically like nets to catch fools, yet will I manifest with a merry instance a feat done by a foist, that exceeded any that ever was done by any mad wench in England.

A pleasant tale of a country farmer, that took it in scorn to have his purse cut or drawn from him, and how a foist served him.

            It was told me for a truth that not long since here in London, there lay a country farmer, with divers of his neighbours about law matters, amongst whom, one of them going to Westminster Hall, was by a foist stripped of all the pence in his purse, and coming home made great complaint of his misfortune: some lamented his loss, and others exclaimed against the cutpurses, but this farmer he laughed loudly at the matter, and said such fools as could not keep their purses no surer, were well served, and for my part quoth he, I so much scorn the cutpurses, that I would thank him heartily that would take pains to foist mine: well says his neighbour, then you may thank me, sith my harms learns you to beware, but if it be true, that many things fall out between the cup and the lip, you know not what hands fortune may light in your own lap: tush quoth the farmer, here's forty pounds in this purse in gold; the proudest cutpurse in England win and wear it: as thus he boasted, there stood a subtle foist by and heard all, smiling to himself at the folly of the proud farmer, and vowed to have his purse or venture his neck for it, and so went home and bewrayed it to a crew of his companions, who taking it in dudgeon that they should be put down by a peasant, met either at Laurence Pickering's or at Lambeth: let the Blackamoor take heed I name him not, lest an honourable neighbour of his frown at it, but wheresoever they met, they held a convocation, and both consulted and concluded all by a general consent to bend all their wits to be possessors of this farmer's bung, and for the execution of this their vow they haunted about the inn where he lay, and dogged him into divers places, both to Westminster Hall and other places, and yet could never light upon it: he was so watchful, and smoked them so narrowly that all their travail was in vain: at last one of them fled to a more cunning policy, and went and learned the man's name and where he dwelt, and then hied him to the Compter and entered an action against him of trespass, damages two hundred pounds: when he had thus done, he feed the sergeants, and carried them down with him to the man's lodging, wishing them not to arrest him till he commanded them: well agreed they were, and down to the farmer's lodging they came, where were a crew of foists, whom he had made privy to the end of his practice stood waiting, but he took no knowledge at all of them, but walked up and down: The farmer came out, and went to Paul's, The cutpurse bade stay, and would not yet suffer the officers to meddle with him, till he came into the west end of Paul's Churchyard, and there he willed them to do their office, and they stepping to the farmer, arrested him: The farmer, amazed, being amongst his neighbours, asked the sergeant at whose suit he was troubled? At whose suit soever it be, said one of the cutpurses that stood by, you are wronged honest man, for he hath arrested you here in a place of privilege, where the sheriffs nor the officers have nothing to do with you, and therefore you are unwise if you obey him: tush says another cutpurse, though the man were so simple of himself, yet shall he not offer the church so much wrong as by yielding to the mace, to abolish Paul's liberty, and therefore I will take his part, and with that he drew his sword: another took the man and haled him away, the officer he stuck hard to him, and said he was his true prisoner, and cried clubs: The prentices arose, and there was a great hurlyburly, for they took the officer's part, so that the poor farmer was mightily turmoiled amongst them, and almost haled in pieces: whilst thus the strife was, one of the foists had taken his purse away and was gone, and the officer carried the man away to a tavern, for he swore he knew no such man, nor any man that he was indebted to: as then they sat drinking of a quart of wine, the foist that had caused him to be arrested sent a note by a porter to the officer that he should release the farmer, for he had mistaken the man, which note the officer showed him and bade him pay his fees and go his ways: the poor countryman was content with that, and put his hand in his pocket to feel for his purse, and God wot there was none, which made his heart far more cold than the arrest did, and with that, fetching a great sigh, he said, alas masters I am undone, my purse in this fray is taken out of my pocket, and ten pounds in gold in it besides white money. Indeed said the sergeant, commonly in such brawls the cutpurses be busy, and I pray God the quarrel was not made upon purpose by the pickpockets: well, says his neighbour, who shall smile at you now? The other day when I lost my purse you laughed at me. The farmer brook all, and sat malcontent, and borrowed money of his neighbours to pay the sergeant, and had a learning, I believe, never after to brave the cutpurse.

            How say you to this, Mistress Nan, Was it not well done? What choice-witted wench of your faculty, or she foist, hath ever done the like? tush, Nan, if we begin once to apply our wits, all your inventions are follies towards ours.

Nan. You say good goodman Laurence, as though your subtleties were sudden as women's are, come but to the old proverb, and I put you down, 'Tis as hard to find a hare without a meuse, as a woman without a 'scuse, and that wit that can devise a cunning lie can plot the intent of deep villainies: I grant this fetch of the foist was pretty, but nothing in respect of that we wantons can compass, and therefore to quit your tale with another, hear what a mad wench of my profession did of late to one of your faculty.

A passing pleasant Tale, how a whore Cony-catched a Foist

            There came out of the country a foist, to try his experience here in Westminster Hall, and stroke a hand or two, but the devil a snap he would give to our citizen foists, but wrought warily, and could not be fetched off by no means, and yet it was known he had some twenty pounds about him, but he had planted it so cunningly in his doublet that it was sure enough for finding. Although the city foists laid all the plots they could, as well by discovering him to the gaolers as other ways, yet he was so politic, that they could not verse upon him by any means, which grieved them so, that one day at a dinner, they held a council amongst themselves how to cozen him, but in vain, till at last a good wench that sat by undertook it, so they would swear to let her have all that he had: they confirmed it solemnly, and she put it in practice thus: she subtly insinuated herself into this foist's company, who seeing her a pretty wench, began after twice meeting to wax familiar with her and to question about a night's lodging: after a little nice loving & bidding, she was content for her supper and what else he would of courtesy bestow upon her, for she held it scorn she said, to set a salary price on her body: the foist was glad of this, and yet he would not trust her, so that he put no more but ten shillings in his pocket, but he had above twenty pounds twilted in his doublet. Well, to be short, suppertime came, and thither comes my gentle foist, who making good cheer, was so eager of his game that he would straight to bed by the leave of dame bawd, who had her fee too, and there he lay till about midnight, when three or four old hacksters whom she had provided upon purpose came to the door and rapped lustily: Who is there? says the bawd looking out of the window: Marry, say they, such a justice, and named one about the city that is a mortal enemy to cutpurses: who is come to search your house for a Jesuit and other suspected persons: alas sir says she I have none here: well quoth they, open the door: I will says she, and with that she came into the foist's chamber, who heard all this, and was afraid it was some search for him, so that he desired the bawd to help him that he might not be seen: why then quoth she step into this closet: he whipped in hastily, and never remembered his clothes. She locked him in safe, and then let in the crew of rake-hells, who making as though they searched every chamber, came at last into that where his leman lay, and asked her what she was? She as if she had been afraid, desired their Worships to be good to her, she was a poor country maid come up to the term: and who is that, quoth they, that was in bed with you? None forsooth says she. No says one, that is a lie, here is the print of two, and besides, wheresoever the fox is, here is his skin, for this is his doublet and hose: then down she falls upon her knees and says indeed it was her husband: Your husband quoth they, nay, that cannot be so minion, for why then would you have denied him at the first: With that, one of them turned to the bawd and did question with her what he was, and where he was. Truly sir says she, they came to my house and said they were man and wife, and for my part I know them for no other: And he being afraid, is indeed to confess the truth, shut up in the closet. No doubt, if it please your Worships, says one rake-hell I warrant you he is some notable cutpurse or pickpocket that is afraid to show his face. Come and open the closet, and let us look on him: nay, sir, says she, not for tonight, I beseech your worship, carry no man out of my house: I will give my word he shall be forthcoming tomorrow morning: Your word dame bawd says one, 'tis not worth a straw: you hussy that says ye are his wife, ye shall go with us, and for him that we may be sure he may not start, I'll take his doublet, hose and cloak, and tomorrow I'll send them to him by one of my men. Were there a thousand pounds in them, there shall not be a penny diminished: The whore kneeled down on her knees and feigned to cry pitifully, and desired the justice which was one of her companions not to carry her to prison: yes, hussy quoth he, your mate and you shall not tarry together in one house, that you may make your tales all one: and therefore bring her away, and after ye dame bawd see you lend him no other clothes, for I will send his in the morning betimes, and come you with him to answer for lodging him. I will sir says she, and so away goes the wench & her companions laughing, and left the bawd and the foist: as soon as the bawd thought good, she unlocked the closet and cursed the time that ever they came in her house: now, quoth she, here will be a fair ado, how will you answer for yourself? I fear me I shall be in danger of the cart:<89> well quoth he, to be short, I would not for forty pounds come afore the justice: marry no more would I quoth she, let me shift if you were conveyed hence, but I have not a rag of man's apparel in the house: why quoth he, seeing it is early morning, lend me a blanket to put about me, and I will 'scape to a friend's house of mine: Then leave me a pawn, quoth the bawd: alas I have none says he, but this ring on my finger: why that quoth she, or tarry while the justice comes: so he gave it her, took the blanket and went his ways, whither I know not but to some friend's house of his. Thus was this wily foist by the wit of a subtle wench, cunningly stripped of all that he had, and turned to grass to get more fat.

Nan. How say you to this device, Laurence? Was it not excellent? What think you of a woman's wit if it can work such wonders?

Laur. Marry I think my mother was wiser than all the honest women of the parish besides.

Nan. Why then belike she was of our faculty, and a matron of my profession, nimble of her hands, quick of tongue, and light of her tail: I should have put in sir-reverence, but a foul word is good enough for a filthy knave.

Laur. I am glad you are so pleasant, Nan, you were not so merry when you went to Dunstable: but indeed I must needs confess that women foists, if they be careful in their trades, are (though not so common) yet more dangerous than men foists. Women have quick wits, as they have short heels, and they can get with pleasure what we fish for with danger: but now giving you the bucklers<55> at this weapon, let me have a blow with you at another.

Nan. But before you induce any more arguments, by your leave in a little by-talk, you know, Laurence, that though you can foist, nip, prig, lift, courb and use the black art, yet you cannot cross-bite without the help of a woman, which cross-biting now-a-days is grown to a marvellous profitable exercise: for some cowardly knaves, that for fear of the gallows leave nipping and foisting, become cross-bites, knowing there is no danger therein but a little punishment, at the most the pillory, and that is saved with a little unguentum aureum<90>. As for example, Jack Rhoades is now a reformed man: whatsoever he hath been in his youth, now in his latter days he is grown a corrector of vice, for whomsoever he takes suspicious with his wife, I warrant you he sets a sure fine on head, though he hath nothing for his money but a bare kiss, and in this art we poor wenches are your surest props and stay. If you will not believe me, ask poor A.B. in Turnmill Street what a saucy signor there is, whose purblind eyes can scarcely discern a louse from a flea, and yet he hath such insight into the mystical trade of cross-biting, that he can furnish his board with a hundred pounds worth of plate? I doubt the sand-eyed ass will kick like a Western prig if I rub him on the gall, but 'tis no matter if he find himself touched and stir; although he boasts of the chief of the clergy's favour, yet I'll so set his name out that the boys at Smithfield bars shall chalk him on the back for a cross-bite: Tush, you men are fops in fetching novices over the coals: Hearken to me, Laurence; I'll tell thee a wonder. Not far from Hoxton, perhaps it was there, and if you think I lie, ask Master Richard Chot, and Master Richard Strong, two honest gentlemen that can witness as well as I, this proof of a woman's wit. There dwelt here sometimes a good ancient matron that had a fair wench to her daughter, as young and tender as a morrow-mass priest's<91> leman: her, she set out to sale in her youth, and drew on sundry to be suitors to her daughter, some wooers, and some speeders, yet none married her, but of her beauty they made a profit, and inveigled all, till they had spent upon her what they had, and then, forsooth, she and her young pigeon turned them out of doors like prodigal children: she was acquainted with Dutch & French, Italian and Spaniard, as well as English, & at last, as so often the pitcher goes to the brook that it comes broken home, my fair daughter was hit on the master vein, and gotten with child:  now the mother to colour this matter to save her daughter's marriage, begins to wear a cushion under her own kirtle, and to feign herself with child, but let her daughter pass as though she ailed nothing: when the forty weeks were come, & that my young mistress must needs cry out forsooth, this old B. had gotten housewives answerable to herself, and so brought her daughter to bed, and let her go up and down the house, and the old crone lay in childbed as though she had been delivered, and said the child was hers, and so saved her daughter's 'scape. Was not this a witty wonder Master Laurence, wrought by an old witch, to have a child in her age, and make a young whore seem an honest virgin: tush, this is little to the purpose, if I should recite all, how many she had cozened under the pretence of marriage: well, poor plain Signor See, you were not stiff enough for her, although it cost you many crowns and the loss of your service. I'll say no more; perhaps she will amend her manners. Ah, Laurence, how like you of this gear? In cross-biting we put you down, God wot it is little looked to in and about London, and yet I may say to thee, many a good citizen is cross-bit in the year by odd Walkers abroad: I heard some named the other day as I was drinking at the Swan in Lambeth Marsh: But let them alone, 'tis a foul bird that defiles their own nest, and it were a shame for me to speak against any good wenches or boon companions, that by their wits can wrest money from a churl. I fear me R.G. will name them too soon in his Black Book, a pestilence on him. They say he hath there set down my husband's pedigree, and yours too, Laurence: if he do it, I fear me your brother-in-law Bull<22> is like to be troubled with you both.

Laur. I know not what to say to him, Nan; he hath plagued me already. I hope he hath done with me, and yet I heard say he would have a bout at my nine bowls<92>. But leaving him as an enemy of our trade, again to our disputation. I cannot deny, Nan, but you have set down strange precedents of women's prejudicial wits, but yet though you be cross-bites, foists and nips, yet you are not good lifts, which is a great help to our faculty, to filch a bolt of satin or velvet.

Nan. Stay thee a word; I thought thou hadst spoken of R.B. of Long Lane and his wife: take heed, they be parlous folks, and greatly acquainted with keepers and gaolers: therefore meddle not you with them, for I hear say R.G. hath sworn, in despite of the brazil staff, to tell such a foul tale of him in his Black Book, that it will cost him a dangerous jaunt.

Laur. Nan, Nan, let R.G. beware, for had not an ill fortune fallen to one of his friends R.B., he could take little harm.

Nan. Who is that Laurence?

Laur. Nay I will not name him.

Nan. Why then I prithee what misfortune befell him?

Laur. Marry Nan, he was strangely washed of late by a French barber, and had all the hair of his face miraculously shaved off by the scythe of God's vengeance, insomuch that some said he had that he had not, but as hap was howsoever his hair fell off it stood him in some stead when the brawl was of late, for if he had not cast off his beard and so being unknown, it had cost him some knocks, but it fell out to the best.

Nan. The more hard fortune that he had such ill hap, but hasty journeys breed dangerous sweats, and the physicians call it the alopecia. Yet omitting all this, again to where you left.

Laur. You have almost brought me out of my matter, but I was talking about the lift, commending what a good quality it was, and how hurtful it was, seeing we practise it in mercers' shops, with haberdashers of small wares, haberdashers of hats and caps, amongst merchant tailors for hose and doublets, and in such places getting much gains by lifting, when there is no good purchase abroad for foisting.

Nan. Suppose you are good at the lift, who be more cunning that we women in that we are more trusted, for they little suspect us, and we have as close conveyance as you men: though you have cloaks, we have skirts of gowns, handbaskets, and the crowns of our hats, our plackets, and for a need, false bags under our smocks, wherein we can convey more closely than you.

Laur. I know not where to touch you, you are so witty in your answers, and have so many starting-holes, but let me be pleasant with you a little, what say you to prigging or horse-stealing? I hope you never had experience in that faculty.

Nan. Alas simple sot, yes and more shift to shun the gallows than you.

Laur. Why 'tis impossible.

Nan. In faith, sir, no, and for proof, I will put you down with a story of a mad merry little dapper fine wench who at Spilsby fair had three horses of her own or another man's to sell: as she, her husband and another good fellow walked them up and down the fair, the owner came and apprehended them all, and clapped them in prison. The gaoler not keeping them close prisoners, but letting them lie all in a chamber, by her wit she so instructed them in a formal tale that she saved all their lives thus. Being brought the next morrow after their apprehension before the justices, they examined the men how they came by those horses, and they confessed they met her with them, but where she had them they knew not: Then was my pretty pet brought in, who being a handsome trull, blushed as if she had been full of grace, and being demanded where she had the horses, made this answer, may it please your worships, this man, being my husband, playing the unthrift as many more have done was absent from me for a quarter of a year, which grieved me not a little, insomuch that desirous to see him, and having intelligence he would be at Spilsby fair, I went thither even for pure love of him on foot, and being within some ten miles of the town, I waxed passing weary, and rested me often, and grew very faint. At last there came riding by me a serving-man in a blue coat, with three horses tied one at another's tail, which he led as I guessed, to sell at the fair: the serving-man, seeing me so tired, took pity on me, and asked me if I would ride on one of his empty horses, for his own would not bear double: I thanked him heartily, and at the next hill got up, and rode till we came to a town within three miles of Spilsby, where the serving-man alighted at a house, and bade me ride on afore, and he would presently overtake me: Well, forward I rode half a mile, and looking behind me could see nobody, so being alone, my heart began to rise, and I to think on my husband: As I had rid a little farther, looking down a lane I saw two men coming lustily up as if they were weary, & marking them earnestly, I saw one of them was my husband, which made my heart as light as before it was sad, so staying for them, after a little unkind greeting betwixt us, for I chid him for his unthriftiness, he asked me where I had the horse, and I told him how courteously the serving-man had used me: Why then says he, stay for him: nay quoth I, let's ride on, and get you two up on the empty horses, for he will overtake us ere we come at the town: he rides on a stout lusty young gelding: so forward we went, and looked often behind us, but our serving-man came not: At last we coming to Spilsby alighted, & broke our fast, and tied our horses at the door, that if he passed by, seeing them, he might call in: after we had broke our fast, thinking he had gone some other way, we went into the horse-fair and there walked our horses up and down to meet with the serving-man, not for the intent to sell them. Now, may it please your Worship, whether he had stolen the horses from this honest man or no, I know not, but alas, simply I brought them to the horse-fair, to let him that delivered me them have them again, for I hope your Worships doth imagine, if I had stolen them as it is suspected, I would never have brought them into so public a place to sell, yet if the law be any way dangerous for the foolish deed, because I know not the serving-man it is, I must bide the punishment, and as guiltless as any here. And so, making a low curtsy, she ended, the justice holding up his hand and wondering at the woman's wit that had cleared her husband and his friend, and saved herself without compass of law. How like you of this, Laurence; cannot we wenches prig well?

Laur. By God, Nan, I think I shall be fain to give you the bucklers<125>.

Nan. Alas, good Laurence, thou art no logician, thou canst not reason for thyself, nor hast no witty arguments to draw me to an exigent, and therefore give me leave at large to reason for this supper: remember the subject of our disputation, is this positive question, whether whores or thieves are most prejudicial to the commonwealth? Alas, you poor thieves do only steal and purloin from men, and the harm you do is to imbolish men's goods and bring them to poverty. This is the only end of men's thievery, and the greatest prejudice that grows from robbing or filching: So much do we by our theft, and more by our lechery, for what is the end of whoredom but consuming of goods and beggary? And besides perpetual infamy, we bring young youths (sic) to ruin and utter destruction: I pray you Laurence whether had a merchant's son having wealthy parents better light upon a whore than a cutpurse, the one only taking his money, the other bringing him to utter confusion? For if the foist light upon him, or the cony-catcher, he loseth at the most some hundred pounds, but if he fall into the company of a whore, she flatters him, she inveigles him, she bewitcheth him, that he spareth neither goods nor lands to content her, that is only in love with his coin: if he be married, he forsakes his wife, leaves his children, despiseth his friends, only to satisfy his lust with the love of a base whore, who, when he hath spent all upon her, and he brought to beggary, beateth him out like the prodigal child, and for a small reward, brings him, if to the fairest end, to beg, if to the second, to the gallows; or at the last and worst, to the pox or as prejudicial diseases. I pray you, Laurence when any of you come to your confession at Tyburn, what is your last sermon that you make? that you were brought to that wicked and shameful end by following of harlots, for to that end do you steal to maintain whores, and to content their bad humours. Oh Laurence enter into your own thoughts, and think what the fair words of a wanton will do, what the smiles of a strumpet will drive a man to act, into what jeopardy a man will thrust himself for her that he loves, although for his sweet villainy, he be brought to loathsome leprosy. Tush, Laurence, they say the pox came from Naples, some from Spain, some from France, but wheresoever it first grew, it is so surely now rooted in England that, by S. Sith, it may better be called a morbus Anglicus than Gallicus,<93> and I hope you will grant all these French favours grew from whores: besides, in my high loving or rather creeping, I mean where men and women do rob together, there always the woman is most bloody, for she always urgeth unto death, and though the men would only satisfy themselves with the parties' coin, yet she endeth her theft in blood, murdering parties so deeply as she is malicious. I hope gentle Laurence, you cannot contradict these reasons they be so openly manifestly probable. For mine own part, I hope you do not imagine but I have had some friends besides poor George my husband: alas, he knows it, and is content like an honest simple suffragan, to be co-rival with a number of other good companions, and I have made many a good man, I mean a man that hath a household, for the love of me to go home and beat his poor wife, when God wot I mock him for the money he spent, and he had nothing for his pence but the waste beleavings of others' beastly labours. Laurence, Laurence, if concubines could inveigle Solomon, if Delilah could betray Sampson, then wonder not if we more nice in our wickedness than a thousand such Delilahs, can seduce poor young novices to their utter destructions. Search the gaols; there you shall hear complaints of whores, look into the spitals and hospitals; there you shall see men diseased of the French marbles<94> giving instruction to others that are said, to beware of whores: be an auditor or ear-witness at the death of any thief, and his last testament is: Take heed of a whore: I dare scarce speak of Bridewell because my shoulders tremble at the name of it, I have so often deserved it, yet look but in there, and you shall hear poor men with their hands in their pigeon-holes<95> cry: Oh fie upon whores, when Fowler gives them the terrible lash: examine beggars that lie lame by the highway, and they say they came to that misery by whores. Some threadbare citizens that from merchants and other good trades grow to be base informers and knights of the post<32> cry out when they dine with Duke Humphrey<96>: O, what wickedness comes from whores. prentices that runs from their masters, cries out upon whores. Tush, Laurence, what enormities proceeds more in the commonwealth than from whoredom? But sith 'tis almost supper-time, and mirth is the friend to digestion, I mean a little to be pleasant. I pray you, how many bad profits again grows from whores? Bridewell would have very few tenants, the hospital would want patients and the surgeons much work, the apothecaries would have surfling water and potato-roots lie dead on their hands, the painters could not dispatch and make away their vermilion, if tallow-faced whores used it not for their cheeks: How should Sir John's broadsmen do if we were not? Why Laurence, the Galley would be moored and the Blue Boar so lean, that he would not be man's meat if we of the trade were not to supply his wants: do you think in conscience the Peacock could burnish his fair tail were it not the whore of Babylon and suchlike makes him lusty with crowns? no no, though the Talbot hath bitten some at the game, yet new fresh huntsmen shake the she crew out of the couples. What should I say more Laurence, The suburbs should have a great miss of us, and Shoreditch would complain to Dame Anne a Cleare if we of the sisterhood should not uphold her jollity: Who is that, Laurence, comes in to hear our talk? O 'tis the boy, Nan, that tells us supper is ready. Why then, Laurence, what say you to me? Have I not proved that in foisting and nipping we excel you, that there is none so great inconvenience in the commonwealth as grows from whores, first for the corrupting of youth, infecting of age, for breeding of brawls, whereof ensues murder, insomuch that the ruin of many men comes from us, and the fall of many youths of good hope, if they were not seduced by us, do proclaim at Tyburn, that we be the means of their misery: you men thieves touch the body and wealth, but we ruin the soul, and endanger that which is more precious than the world's treasure: you make work only for the gallows, we both for the gallows and the devil, aye and for the surgeon too, that some lives like loathsome lazars, and die with the French marbles<94>. Whereupon I conclude that I have won the supper.

Laur. I confess it, Nan, for thou hast told me such wondrous villainies, as I thought never could have been in women, I mean of your profession: why, you are crocodiles when you weep, basilisks when you smile, serpents when you devise, and devils' chiefest brokers to bring the world to destruction. And so, Nan, let's sit down to our meat and be merry.

Thus countrymen, you have heard the disputation between these two cozening companions wherein I have shaked out the notable villainy of whores, although Mistress Nan this good oratress, hath sworn to wear a long Hamburg knife to stab me, and all the crew have protested my death: and to prove they meant good earnest, they beleaguered me about in the Saint John's Head within Ludgate: being at supper, there were some fourteen or fifteen of them met, and thought to have made that the fatal night of my overthrow but that the courteous citizens and apprentices took my part, and so two or three of them were carried to the Compter, although a gentleman in my company was sore hurt. I cannot deny but they begin to waste away about London, and Tyburn (since the setting out of my book) hath eaten up many of them: and I will plague them to the extremity. Let them do what they dare with their bilbo blades; I fear them not. And to give them their last adieu, look shortly, countrymen, for a pamphlet against them called The Black Book containing four new laws never spoken of yet: the creeping law of petty thieves, that rob about the suburbs, the limiting law, discoursing the orders of such as follow judges, in their circuits and go about from fair to fair. The jugging law, wherein I will set out the disorders at nine-holes and rifling, how they are only for the benefit of the cutpurses. The stripping law, wherein I will lay open the lewd abuses of sundry gaolers in England. Beside, you shall see there what houses there be about the suburbs and town's end that are receivers of cutpurses' stolen goods, lifts, and suchlike. And lastly, look for a bead-roll or catalogue of all the names of the foists, nips, lifts and priggers in and about London, and although some say I dare not do it, yet I will shortly set it abroach, and whosoever I name or touch, if he think himself grieved I will answer him before the honourable Privy Council.

Prev Next

Back to Introduction