Cony-Catching - The Conversion of an English courtesan

The Conversion of an English courtesan

            Sith to discover my parentage would double the grief of my living parents, and revive in them, the memory of my great amiss, and that my untoward fall, would be a dishonour to the house from whence I came. Sith to manifest the place of my birth would be a blemish (through my beastly life so badly misled) to the shire were I was born: sith to discourse my name might be holden a blot in my kindred's brow, to have a sinew in their stock of so little grace. I will conceal my parents, kin, and country, and shroud my name with silence, lest envy might taunt others for my wantonness. Know therefore I was born about threescore miles from London of honest and wealthy parents, who had many children, but I their only daughter, and therefore the jewel wherein they most delighted, and more, the youngest of all, and therefore the more favoured: for being gotten in the waning of my parents' age, they doted on me above the rest, and so set their hearts the more on fire. I was the fairest of all, and yet not more beautiful than I was witty, insomuch that being a pretty parrot, I had such quaint conceits, and witty words in my mouth that the neighbours said I was too soon wise, to be long old. Would to God, either the proverb had been authentical, or their sayings prophecies; then had I by death in my nonage, buried many blemishes that my riper years brought me to. For the extreme love of my parents, was the very efficient cause of my follies, resembling herein the nature of the ape, that ever killeth that young one which he loveth most, with embracing it too fervently. So my father and mother, but she most of all, although he too much, so cockered me up in my wantonness, that my wit grew to the worst, and I waxed upwards with the ill weeds: whatsoever I did, be it never so bad, might not be found fault withal, my father would smile at it and say 'twas but the trick of a child, and my mother allowed of my unhappy parts, alluding to this profane and old proverb, An untoward girl makes a good woman

            But now I find, in sparing the rod they hate the child, that over-kind fathers make unruly daughters. Had they bent the wand while it had been green, it would have been pliant, but I, ill-grown in my years, am almost remediless. The hawk that is most perfect for the flight and will, seldom proveth haggard and children that are virtuously nurtured in youth will be honestly matured in age: fie upon such as say, young saints, old devils: it is no doubt a devilish and damnable saying, for what is not bent in the cradle, will hardly be bowed in the saddle. Myself am an instance, who after I grew to be six years old was set to school, where I profited so much that I write and read excellently well, played upon the virginals, lute & cithern, and could sing prick-song<97> at the first sight, insomuch as by that time I was twelve years old, I was holden for the most fair and best qualitied young girl in all that country, but with this, bewailed of my well-wishers, in that my parents suffered me to be so wanton.

            But they so tenderly affected me, and were so blinded with my excellent qualities that they had no insight into my ensuing follies. For I growing to be thirteen year old, feeling the reins of liberty loose on mine own neck, began with the wanton heifer<98> to aim at mine own will, and to measure content, by the sweetness of mine own thought, insomuch, that pride creeping on, I began to prank myself with the proudest, and to hold it in disdain, that any in the parish, should exceed me in bravery. As my apparel was costly, so I grew to be licentious, and to delight to be looked on, so that I haunted and frequented all feasts and weddings, & other places of merry meetings, where, as I was gazed on of many, so I spared no glances to survey all with a curious eye-favour. I observed Ovid's rule right: Spectatum veniunt, veniunt spectentur ut ipsi.<99>

            I went to see & be seen, and decked myself in the highest degree of bravery, holding it a glory when I was waited on with many eyes to make censure of my birth. Beside, I was an ordinary dancer<100>, and grew in that quality so famous that I was noted as the chiefest thereat in all the country, yea, and to soothe me up in these follies, my parents took a pride in my dancing, which afterward proved my overthrow and their heart-breaking.

            Thus, as an unbridled colt, I carelessly led forth my youth and wantonly spent the flower of my years, holding such maidens as were modest, fools, and such as were not as wilfully wanton as myself, puppies, ill brought up and without manners: growing on in years, as tide nor time tarrieth no man, I began to wax passion-proud, and think her not worthy to live that was not a little in love: that as divers young men began to favour me for my beauty, so I began to censure of some of them partially, and to delight in the multitude of many wooers, being ready to fall from the tree before I was come to the perfection of a blossom: which an uncle of mine seeing, who was my mother's brother, as careful of my welfare as nigh to me in kin, finding fit opportunity to talk with me, gave me this wholesome exhortation.

A Watchword to Wanton Maidens.

            “Cousin, I see the fairest hawk hath oftentimes the sickest feathers, that the hottest day hath the most sharpest thunders; the brightest sun, the most sudden shower, & the youngest virgins, the most dangerous fortunes: I speak as a kinsman, and wish as a friend: the blossom of a maiden's youth, (such as yourself) hath attending upon it many frosts to nip it, and many cares to consume it, so that if it be not carefully looked unto, it will perish before it come to any perfection.

            “A virgin's honour, consisteth not only in the gifts of nature, as to be fair and beautiful, though they be favours that grace maidens much: for as they be glistering, so they be momentary, ready to be worn with every winter's blast, and parched with every summer's sun: There is no face so fair but the least mole, the slenderest scar, the smallest brunt of sickness will quickly blemish.

            “Beauty, cousin, as it flourisheth in youth, so it fadeth in age, it is but a folly that feedeth man's eye, a painting that nature lends for a time, and men allow on for a while, insomuch that such as only aim at your fair looks, tie but their loves to an apprenticeship of beauty: which broken either with cares, misfortune or years, their destinies are at liberty, and they begin to loathe you, and like of others.

Forma bonum fragile est quantumque accedit ad annos
Fit minor et spacio carpitur ipsa suo
<101>

            “Then cousin, stand not too much on such a slippery glory, that is as brittle as glass; be not proud of beauty's painting, that hatched by time, perisheth in short time: neither are women the more admirable of wise men for their gay apparel, though fools are fed with gauds: for a woman's ornaments, is the excellency of her virtues: and her inward good qualities, are of far more worth than her outward braveries: embroidered hair, bracelets, silks, rich attire and such trash do rather bring the name of a young maid in question, than add to her fame any title of honour.

            “The Vestal Virgins were not reverenced of the senators for their curious clothing, but for their chastity. Cornelia<102> was not famous for ornaments of gold, but for excellent virtues. Superfluity in apparel, showeth rather lightness of mind than it importeth any other inward good quality: and men judge of maidens' rareness by the modesty of their raiment, holding it rather garish than glorious, to be tricked up in superfluous and exceeding braveries. Neither cousin, is it seemly for maids to jet abroad, or to frequent too much company.

            “For she that is looked on by many cannot choose but be hardly spoken of by some, for report hath a blister on her tongue, and maidens' actions are narrowly measured. Therefore would not the ancient Romans, suffer their daughters, to go any further than their mothers' looks guided them. And therefore Diana is painted with a tortoise under her feet, meaning that a maid should not be a straggler, but like the snail, carry her house on her head, and keep at home at her work, for to keep her name without blemish, and her virtues from the slander of envy.

            “A maid that hazards herself in much company, may venture the freedom of her heart by the folly of her eye: for so long the pot goes to the water, that it comes broken home, and such as look much must needs like at last: the fly dallies with a flame, but at length she burneth, flax and fire put together will kindle, a maid in company of young men shall be constrained to listen to the wanton allurements of many cunning speeches: If she hath not either with Ulysses tasted of Moly<103>, or stopped her ears warily, she may either be enticed with the Sirens or enchanted by Circes: youth is apt to yield to sweet persuasions, and therefore cousin, think nothing more dangerous than to gad abroad: neither cousin do I allow this wanton dancing in young virgins: 'tis more commendation for them to moderate their manners, than to measure their feet, and better to hear nothing than to listen unto unreverent music: Silence is a precious jewel, and nothing so much worth as a countenance full of chastity: light behaviour is a sign of lewd thoughts, and men will say, there goes a wanton that will not want one, if a place and person were agreeable to her desires: if a maiden's honour be blemished, or her honesty called in question, she is half deflowered, and therefore had maidens need to be chary, lest envy report them for unchaste. Cousin I speak this generally, which if you apply particularly to yourself, you shall find in time my words were well said.”

            I gave him slender thanks, but with such a frump that he perceived how light I made of his counsel: which he perceiving, shaked his head, and with tears in his eyes departed. But I whom wanton desires had drawn in delight, still presumed in my former follies, and gave myself either to gad abroad, or else at home to read dissolute pamphlets, which bred in me many ill-affected wishes, so that I gave leave to love and lust to enter into the centre of my heart, where they harboured till they wrought my final and fatal prejudice.

            Thus leading my life loosely, and being soothed up with the applause of my too kind and loving parents, I had many of every degree that made love unto me, as well for my beauty, as for the hope of wealth that my father would bestow upon me: sundry suitors I had, and I allowed of all, although I particularly granted love to none, yielding them friendly favours, as being proud I had more wooers than any maid in the parish beside: amongst the rest there was a wealthy farmer that wished me well, a man of some forty years of age, one too worthy for one of so little worth as myself, and him my father, mother, and other friends would have had me match myself withal: but I that had had the reins of liberty too long in mine own hands, refused him and would not be ruled by their persuasions, and though my mother with tears entreated me to consider of mine own estate, & how well I sped if I wedded with him, yet carelessly I despised her counsel, and flatly made answer that I would none of him: which though it pinched my parents at the quick, yet rather than they would displease me, they left me in mine own liberty to love. Many there were beside him, men's sons of no mean worth, that were wooers unto me, but in vain: either my fortune or destiny drove me to a worse end, for I refused them all, and with the beetle, refusing to light on the sweetest flowers all day, nestled at night in a cowshard.

            It fortuned that as many sought to win me, so amongst the rest there was an odd companion that dwelt with a gentleman hard by, a fellow of small reputation, and of no living, neither had he any excellent qualities but thrumming on the gittern, but of pleasant disposition he was, and could bawl out many quaint & ribaldrous jigs & songs, and so was favoured of the foolish sect for his foppery. This shifting companion, suitable to myself in vanity, would oft-times be jesting with me, and I so long dallying with him, that I began deeply (oh, let me blush at this confession) to fall in love with him, and so construed of all his actions that I consented to my own overthrow: for as smoke will hardly be concealed, so love will not be long smothered, but will bewray her own secrets: which was manifest in me, who in my sporting with him so bewrayed my affection that he spying I favoured him, began to strike when the iron was hot and to take opportunity by the forehead: and one day finding me in a merry vein, began to question with me of love: which although at the first I slenderly denied him, yet at last I granted, so that not only I agreed to plight him my faith, but that night meeting to have farther talk, I lasciviously consented that he cropped the flower of my virginity. When thus I was spoiled by such a base companion, I gave myself to content his humour, and to satisfy the sweet of mine own wanton desires. Oh, let me here breathe, and with tears bewail the beginning of my miseries, and to exclaim against the folly of my parents, who by too much favouring me in my vanity in my tender youth laid the first plot of my ensuing repentance: Had they with one correction chastised my wantonness, and suppressed my foolish will with their grave advice, they had made me more virtuous and themselves less sorrowful. A father's frown is a bridle to the child, and a mother's check is a stay to the stubborn daughter. Oh, had my parents in over-loving me not hated me, I had not at this time cause to complain. Oh, had my father regarded the saying of the wise man, I had not been thus woe-begone.

            If thy daughter be not shamefast hold her straitly, lest she abuse herself through overmuch liberty.
            Take heed of her that hath an unshamefast eye, & marvel not if she trespass against thee.
            The daughter maketh the father to watch secretly, and the carefulness he hath for her taketh away his sleep.
            In her virginity, lest she should be deflowered in her father's house.
            If therefore thy daughter be unshamefast in her youth, keep her straitly, lest she cause thine enemies to laugh thee to scorn, and make thee a common talk in the city, and defame thee among the people, and bring thee to public shame.
<104>

            Had my parents with care considered of this holy counsel, and levelled my life by the loadstone of virtue, had they looked narrowly into the faults of my youth, and bent the tree while it was a wand, and taught the hound while he was a puppy, this blemish had never befortuned me, nor so great dishonour had not befallen them. Then by my example let all parents take heed, lest in loving their children too tenderly they subvert them utterly, lest in manuring the ground too much with the unskilful husbandman, it wax too fat and bring forth more weeds than flowers, lest cockering their children under their wings without correction, they make them careless and bring them to destruction: as their nurture is in youth, so will their nature grow in age. If the palm-tree be suppressed while it is a scion, it will contrary to nature be crooked when it is a tree.

Quo semel est imbuta recens servabit odorem testa diu. <105>

            If then virtue be to be engrafted in youth, lest they prove obstinate in age, reform your children betimes both with correction and counsel, so shall you that are parents glory in the honour of their good endeavours: but leaving this digression, again to the looseness of mine own life, who now having lost the glory of my youth, and suffered such a base slave to possess it, which many men of worth had desired to enjoy, I waxed bold in sin & grew shameless, insomuch he could not desire so much as I did grant: whereupon, seeing he durst not reveal it to my father to demand me in marriage, he resolved to carry me away secretly, and therefore wished me to provide for myself, and to furnish me every way both with money and apparel, hoping, as he said, that after we were departed, and my father saw we were married and that no means was to amend it, he would give his free consent, and use us as kindly and deal with us as liberally as if we had matched with his goodwill. I that was apt to any ill, agreed to this, and so wrought the matter that he carried me away into a strange place, and then using me awhile as his wife, when our money began to wax low, he resolved secretly to go into the country where my father dwelt, to hear not only how my father took my departure but what hope we had of his ensuing favour: Although I was loath to be left alone in a strange place, yet I was willing to hear from my friends, who no doubt conceived much heart-sorrow for my unhappy fortunes, so that I parted with a few tears and enjoined him, to make all the haste he might to return. He being gone, as the eagles always resort where the carrion is, so the bruit being spread abroad of my beauty, and that at such an inn lay such a fair young gentlewoman, there resorted thither many brave young gentlemen, and cutting companions that, tickled with lust, aimed at the possession of my favour, and by sundry means sought to have a sight of me: which I easily granted to all, as a woman that counted it a glory to be wondered at by many men's eyes, insomuch that, coming amongst them, I set their hearts more and more on fire, that there rose divers brawls who should be most in my company: being thus haunted by such a troop of lusty rufflers, I began to find mine own folly, that had placed my first affection so loosely, and therefore began as deeply to loathe him that was departed, as erst I liked him when he was present, vowing in myself though he had the spoil of my virginity, yet never after should he triumph in the possession of my favour, and therefore began I to affection these new-come guests, and one above the rest, who was a brave young gentleman, and no less addicted unto me than I devoted unto him, for daily he courted me with amorous sonnets, and curious proud letters, and sent me jewels, and all that I might grace him with the name of my servant: I returned him as loving lines at last, and so contented his lusting desire that secretly and unknown to all the rest, I made him sundry nights my bedfellow, where I so bewitched him with sweet words that he began deeply to dote upon me, insomuch that selling some portion of land that he had, he put it into ready money, and providing horse and all things convenient, carried me secretly away, almost as far as Bath. This was my second choice, and my second shame: thus I went forward in wickedness and delighted in change, having left mine old love to look after some other mate more fit for her purpose: how he took my departure when he returned I little cared, for now I had my content, a gentleman, young, lusty and endued with good qualities, and one that loved me more tenderly than himself: thus lived this new-entertained friend and I together unmarried, yet as man and wife for awhile, so lovingly as was to his content and my credit: but as the tiger though for awhile she hide her claws, yet at last she will reveal her cruelty, and as the agnus castus leaf when it looks most dry, is the most full of moisture, so women's wantonness is not qualified by their wariness, nor does their chariness for a month, warrant their chastity forever, which I proved true, for my supposed husband, being every way a man of worth, could not covertly hide himself in the country, though a stranger, but that he fell in acquaintance with many brave gentlemen whom he brought home to his lodging, not only to honour them with his liberal courtesy but also to see me, being proud if any man of worth applauded my beauty. Alas poor gentleman, too much bewitched by the wiliness of a woman, had he deemed my heart to be a harbour for every new desire, or mine eye a suitor to every new face, he would not have been so fond as to have brought his companions into my company, but rather would have mewed me up as a hen, to have kept that several to himself by force which he could not retain by kindness: but the honest minded novice little suspected my change, although I God wot placed my delight, in nothing more than the desire of new choice, which fell out thus:

            Amongst the rest of the gentlemen that kept him company, there was one that was his most familiar, and he reposed more trust and confidence in him than in all the rest: this gentleman began to be deeply enamoured of me, and showed it by many signs which I easily perceived, and I whose ear was pliant to every sweet word, and who so allowed of all that were beautiful, affected him no less, so that love prevailing above friendship, he broke the matter with me, and made not many suits in vain before he obtained his purpose, for he had what he wished, and I had what contented me. I will not confess that any of the rest had some seldom favours, but this gentleman was my second self, and I loved him more for the time at the heel than the other at the heart, so that although the other youth bare the charges and was made Sir Pay-for-all, yet this new friend was he that was master of my affections: which kindness betwixt us was so unwisely cloaked, that in short time it was manifest to all our familiars, which made my supposed husband to sigh, and others to smile, but he that was hit with the horn was pinched at the heart. Yet so extreme was the affection he bare to me that he had rather conceal his grief than any way make me discontent, so that he smothered his sorrow with patience, and brooked the injury with silence, till our loves grew so broad before, that it was a wonder to the world: whereupon one day at dinner, I being very pleasant with his chosen friend and my choice lover, I know not how, but either by fortune or it may be some set match, there was by a gentleman, there present a question popped in about women's passions and their mutability in affections, that the controversy was defended pro and contra with arguments whether a woman might have a second friend or no? At last it was concluded, that love and lordship brooks no fellowship, and therefore none so baseminded to bear a rival. Hereupon arose a question about friends that were put in trust, how it was a high point of treason, for one to betray another, especially in love, insomuch that one gentleman at the board, protested by a solemn oath, that if any friend of his, made privy and favoured with the sight of his mistress whom he loved, whether it were his wife or no, should secretly seek to encroach into his room and offer him the dishonour to partake his love, he would not use any other revenge but at the next greeting stab him with his poignado, though he were condemned to death for the action. All this fitted for the humour of my supposed husband, and struck both me and my friend into a quandary, but I scornfully jested at it, whenas my husband, taking the ball before it fell to the ground, began to make a long discourse what faithless friends they were that would fail in love, especially where a resolved trust of the party beloved was committed unto them: and hereupon to make the matter more credulous, and to quip my folly, and to taunt the baseness of his friend's mind, that so he might with courtesy both warn us of our wantonness, and reclaim us from ill, he promised to tell a pleasant story, performed as he said, not long since in England, and it was to this effect.

A pleasant discourse how a wise wanton by her husband's gentle warning became to be a modest matron

            There was a gentleman (to give him his due) an esquire here in England, that was married to a young gentlewoman, fair and of a modest behaviour, virtuous in her looks, howsoever she was in her thoughts, and one that every way with her dutiful endeavour and outward apparance of honesty did breed her husband's content, insomuch that the gentleman so deeply affected her, as he counted all those hours ill spent which he passed not away in her company: besotting so himself in the beauty of his wife that his only care was to have her every way delighted: living thus pleasantly together, he had one special friend amongst the rest whom he so dearly affected, as ever Damon did his Pythias, Pylades his Orestes, or Titus his Gisippus<106>, he unfolded all his secrets in his bosom, and what passion he had in his mind that either joyed him or perplexed him, he revealed unto his friend & directed his actions according to the sequel of his counsels, so that they were two bodies and one soul. This gentleman for all the inward favour shown him by his faithful friend, could not so withstand the force of fancy, but he grew enamoured of his friend's wife, whom he courted with many sweet words and fair promises, charms that are able to enchant almost the chastest ears, and so subtly couched his arguments, discovered such love in his eyes, and such sorrow in his looks that despair seemed to sit in his face, and swore that if she granted not him le don du merci<107>, the end of a lover's sighs, then would present his heart as a tragic sacrifice to the sight of his cruel mistress: the gentlewoman waxing pitiful, as women are kind-hearted and are loath gentlemen should die for love, after a few excuses, let him dub her husband knight of the forked order<108>, and so to satisfy his humour, made forfeit of her own honour. Thus these two lovers continued by a great space in such pleasures as unchaste wantons count their felicity, having continually such opportunity to exercise their wicked purpose, sith the gentleman himself did give them free liberty to love, neither suspecting his wife or suspecting his friend: at last, as such traitorous abuses will burst forth, it fell so out, that a maid who had been an old servant in the house began to grow suspicious, that there was too much familiarity between the mistress and her master's friend, and upon this watched them divers times so narrowly, that at last she found them more private than either agreed with her master's honour, or her own honesty, and thereupon revealed it one day unto her master: he little credulous of the light behaviour of his wife, blamed the maid, and bade her take heed lest she sought to blemish her virtues with slander, whom he loved more tenderly than his own life: the maid replied, that she spake not of envy to him, but of mere love she bare unto him, and the rather that he might shadow such a fault in time, and by some means prevent it, lest if others should note it as well as she, his wife's good name and his friend's should be called in question: At these wise words spoken by so base a drudge as his maid, the gentleman waxed astonished, and listened to her discourse, wishing her to discover how she knew or was so privy to the folly of her mistress, or by what means he might have assured proof of it: she told him that her own eyes were witnesses, for she saw them unlawfully together, and please you sir quoth she, to feign yourself to go from home, and then in the back house to keep you secret, I will let you see as much as I have manifested unto you: upon this the master agreed, and warned his maid not so much as to make it known to any of her fellows. Within a day or two after, the gentleman said he would go a-hunting, and so rise very early, and causing his men to couple up his hounds, left his wife in bed and went abroad: as soon as he was gone a mile from the house he commanded his men to ride afore, and to start the hare and follow the chase, and we will come fair and softly after: they obeying their master's charge, went their ways, and he returned by a back way to his house and went secretly to the place where his maid and he had appointed. In the meantime, the mistress thinking her husband safe with his hounds, sent for her friend to her bedchamber, by a trusty servant of hers, in whom she assured that was a secret pander in such affairs, and the gentleman was not slack to come, but making all the haste he could, came and went into the chamber, asking for the master of the house very familiarly: the old maid noting all this, as soon as she knew them together, went and called her master, and carried him up by a secret pair of stairs to her mistress' chamber door, where peeping in at a place that the maid before had made for the purpose, he saw more than he looked for, and so much as pinched him at the very heart, causing him to accuse his wife for a strumpet and his friend for a traitor: yet for all this, valuing his own honour more than their dishonesty, thinking if he should make an uproar, he should but aim at his own discredit, and cause himself to be a laughing game to his enemies, he concealed his sorrow with silence, and taking the maid apart, charged her to keep all secret, whatsoever she had seen, even as she esteemed of her own life, for if she did bewray it to any, he himself would with his sword make an end of her days, and with that, putting his hand in his sleeve, gave the poor maid six angels to buy her a new gown. The wench, glad of this gift, swore solemnly to tread it underfoot, and sith it pleased him to conceal it, never to reveal it as long as she lived: upon this they parted, she to her drudgery and he to the field to his men where after he had killed the hare, he returned home, and finding his friend in the garden, that in his absence had been grafting horns in the chimneys, and entertained him with his wonted familiarity, and showed no bad countenance to his wife, but dissembled all his thoughts, to the full. As soon as dinner was done, and that he was gotten solitary by himself, he began to determine of revenge, but not as every man would have done, how to have brought his wife to shame & her love to confusion, but he busied his brains how he might reserve his honour inviolate, reclaim his wife, and keep his friend: meditating a long time how he might bring all this to pass, at last a humour fell into his head, how cunningly to compass all three, and therefore he went & got him certain slips, which are counterfeit pieces of money, being brass, & covered over with silver, which the common people call slips: having furnished himself with these, he put them in his purse, and at night went to bed as he was wont to do, yet not using the kind familiarity that he accustomed: notwithstanding, he abstained not from the use of her body, but knew his wife as aforetimes, and every time he committed the act with her, he laid the next morning in the window a slip where he was sure she might find it, and so many times as it pleased him to be carnally pleasant with his wife, so many slips he still laid down upon her cushionet. This he used for the space of a fortnight, till at last his wife, finding every day a slip, or sometime more or less, wondered how they came there, and examining her waiting-maids, none of them could tell her anything touching them, whereupon she thought to question with her husband about it, but being out of her remembrance, the next morning as he & she lay dallying in bed it came into her mind, and she asked her husband if he laid those slips on her cushioned, that she of late found there, having never seen any before. Aye marry did I, quoth he, and I have laid them there upon special reason, and it is this. Ever since I have been married to thee, I have deemed thee honest, and therefore used and honoured thee as my wife, parting coequal favours betwixt us as true loves, but of late finding the contrary, & with these eyes seeing thee play the whore with my friend in whom I did repose all my trust, I sought not as many would have done, to have revenged in blood, but for the safety of mine own honour, which otherwise would have been blemished by thy dishonesty, I have been silent, and have neither wronged my quondam friend, nor abused thee, but still do hold bed with thee, that the world should not suspect anything, and to quench the desire of lust I do use thy body, but not so lovingly as I would a wife, but carelessly as I would a strumpet, and therefore even as to a whore, so I give thee hire, which is for every time a slip, a counterfeit coin: which is good enough for such a slippery wanton, that will wrong her husband that loved her so tenderly: and thus will I use thee for the safety of mine own honour till I have assured proof that thou becomest honest: And thus with tears in his eyes, and his heart ready to burst with sighs, he was silent, when his wife, stricken with remorse of conscience, leaping out of her bed in her smock, humbly confessing all, craved pardon, promising if he should pardon this offence which was new begun in her, she would become a new reformed woman, and never after so much as in thought, give him any occasion of suspicion of jealousy: The patient husband not willing to urge his wife, took her at her word, and told her that when he found her so reclaimed, he would as afore he had done, use her lovingly and as his wife, but till he was so persuaded of her honesty, he would pay her still slips for his pleasure, charging her not to reveal anything to his friend, or to make it known to him that he was privy to their loves. Thus the debate ended, I guess, in some kind greeting, and the gentleman went abroad to see his pastures, leaving his wife in bed full of sorrow and almost rending her heart asunder with sighs. As soon as he was walked abroad, the gentleman his friend came to the house and asked for the goodman: the pander that was privy to all their practices, said, that his master was gone abroad to see his pastures, but his mistress was in bed: why then says he, I will go and raise her up: so coming into the chamber and kissing her, meaning as he was wont to have used other accustomed dalliance, she desired him to abstain, with broken sighs & her eyes full of tears: he, wondering what should make her thus discontent, asked her what was the cause of her sorrow, protesting with a solemn oath, that if any had done her injury, he would revenge it, were it with hazard of his life: She then told him, scarce being able to speak for weeping, that she had a suit to move him in, which if he granted unto her, she would hold him in love and affection without change next her husband forever: he promised to do whatsoever it was: then says she, swear upon a bible you will do it without exception: with that he took a bible that lay in the window & swore, that whatsoever she requested him to do, were it to the loss of his life, he would without exception perform it. Then she, holding down her head and blushing, began thus. I need not quoth she make manifest how grossly and grievously you and I have both offended God and wronged the honest gentleman my husband and your friend, he putting a special trust in us both, & assuring such earnest affiance in your unfeigned friendship that he even committeth me, his wife, his love, his second life, into your bosom: this love have I requited with inconstancy, in playing the harlot, that faith that he reposeth in you, have you returned with treachery and falsehood, in abusing mine honesty and his honour, now a remorse of conscience toucheth me for my sins, that I heartily repent, and vow ever hereafter to live only to my husband, and therefore my suit is to you, that from henceforth you shall never so much as motion any dishonest question unto me, nor seek any unlawful pleasure or conversing at my hands: This is my suit, and hereunto I have sworn you, which oath if you observe as a faithful gentleman, I will conceal from my husband what is past, and rest in honest sort your faithful friend forever: at this she burst into tears, and uttered such sighs, that he thought for very grief her heart would have clave asunder. The gentleman, astonished at this strange metamorphosis of his mistress, sat a good while in a maze, and at last taking her by the hand, made this reply, so God help me, fair sweeting, I am glad of this motion, and wondrous joyful that God hath put such honest thoughts into your mind, & hath made you the means to reclaim me from my folly: I feel no less remorse than you do in wronging so honest a friend as your husband, but this is the frailness of man: and therefore to make amends I protest anew, never hereafter so much as in thought, as to motion you of dishonesty, only I crave you be silent: she promised that and so they ended. And so for that time they parted: at noon the gentleman came home, and cheerfully saluted his wife and asked if dinner were ready, and sent for his friend, using him wonderfully familiarly, giving him no occasion of mistrust, and so pleasantly they passed away the day together: at night, when his wife and he went to bed, she told him all what had passed between her and his friend, and how she had bound him with an oath, and that he voluntarily of himself swore as much, being heartily sorry that he had so deeply offended so kind a friend: the gentleman commended her wit, and found her afterward a reclaimed woman, she living so honestly that she never gave him any occasion of mistrust. Thus the wise gentleman reclaimed with silence a wanton wife, and retained an assured friend.

            At this pleasant tale all the board was at a mutiny, and they said the gentleman did passing wisely that wrought so cunningly for the safety of his own honour, but highly exclaiming against such a friend as would to his friend offer such villainy, all condemning her that would be false to so loving a husband. Thus they did diversely descant, & passed away dinner, but this tale wrought little effect in me, for as one past grace, I delighted in change, but the gentleman that was his familiar and my paramour was so touched that never after he would touch me dishonestly, but reclaimed himself, abstained from me, and became true to his friend. I, wondering that according to his wonted custom he did not seek my company, he and I being one day in the chamber alone, and he in his dumps, I began to dally with him, and to ask him why he was so strange, and used not his accustomed favours to me. He solemnly made answer that though he had played the fool in setting his fancy upon another man's wife, & in wronging his friend, yet his conscience was now touched with remorse: & ever since he heard the tale afore rehearsed he had vowed in himself never to do my husband the like wrong again: my husband, quoth I, he is none of mine; he hath brought me from my friends, and keeps me here unmarried, and therefore am I as free for you as for him, & thus began to grow clamorous because I was debarred of my lust. The gentleman, seeing me shameless, wished me to be silent, and said: although you be but his friend, yet he holds you as dear as his wife, and therefore I will not abuse him, neither would I wish you to be familiar with any other, seeing you have a friend that loves you so tenderly: much good counsel he gave me, but all in vain, for I scorned it, and began to hate him, and resolved both to be rid of him and my supposed husband, for falling in with another familiar of my husband's, I so inveigled him with sweet words that I caused him to make a piece of money to steal me away, and so carry me to London, where I had not lived long with him, ere he seeing my light behaviour, left me to the world, and to shift for myself. Here by my example may you note the inconstant life of courtesans and common harlots, who after they have lost their honesty, care not who grow into their favour nor what villainy they commit: they fancy all as long as crowns last, and only aim at pleasure and ease: They cleave like caterpillars to the tree, and consume the fruit where they fall; they be vultures that prey on men alive, and like the serpent sting the bosom wherein they are nourished. I may best discourse their nature because I was one of their profession, but now being metamorphosed, I hold it meritorious for me to warn women from being such wantons, and to give a caveat to men lest they addict themselves to such straggling strumpets as love none though they like all, but affectionate only for profit, and when he hath spent all, they beat him out of doors with the prodigal child. But stopping here till occasion serve me fitter to discover the manner of courtesans, to myself, who now being brought to London and left here at random, was not such a house-dove while any friend stayed with me, but that I had visited some houses in London that could harbour as honest a woman as myself: whenas therefore I was left to myself, I removed my lodging and got me into one of those houses of good hospitality whereunto persons resort commonly called a trugging-house, or to be plain, a whore-house, where I gave myself to entertain all companions, sitting or standing at the door like a stall, to allure or draw in wanton passengers, refusing none that would with his purse purchase me to be his, to satisfy the disordinate desire of his filthy lust: now I began not to respect personage, good qualities, to the gracious favour of the man when eye had no respect of person, for the oldest lecher was as welcome as the youngest lover, so he brought meat in his mouth; otherwise I pronounced against him:

Si nihil attuleris ibis Homere foras<109>

            I waxed thus in this hell of voluptuousness, daily worse & worse, yet having, as they term it, a respect to the main chance, as near as I could to avoid diseases, and to keep myself brave in apparel, although I paid a kind of tribute to the bawd, according as the number and benefit of my companions did exceed, but never could I be brought to be a pickpocket or thievish by any of their persuasions, although I wanted daily no instructions to allure me to that villainy: for I think nature had wrought in me a contrary humour, otherwise my bad nurture and conversing with such bad company had brought me to it: marry in all their vices I carried a brazen face & was shameless, for what ruffian was there in London that would utter more desperate oaths than I in mine anger? what to spit, quaff, or carouse more devilishly or rather damnable than myself? and for beastly communication, Messalina of Rome<110> might have been waiting-maid: Besides, I grew so grafted in sin that consuetu[de]o peccandi tollebat sensum peccati, custom of sin, took away the feeling of the sin, for I so accustomably used myself to all kind of vice, that I accounted swearing no sin: whoredom, why I smiled at that, and could profanely say, that it was a sin which God laughed at: gluttony I held good fellowship, & wrath, honour and resolution: I despised God, nay in my conscience I might easily have been persuaded there was no God: I contemned the preachers, and when any wished me to reform my life, I bade away with the Puritan, and if any young woman refused to be as vicious every way as myself, I would then say, Gip fine soul, a young saint will prove an old devil. I never would go to the church, and sermons, I utterly refused, holding them as needless tales told in a pulpit: I would not bend mine ears to the hearing of any good discourse, but still delighted in jangling ditties of ribaldry.

            Thus to the grief of my friends, hazard of my soul and consuming of my body, I spent a year or two in this base and bad kind of life, subject to the whistle of every desperate ruffian, till on a time there resorted to our house a clothier, a proper young man, who by fortune, coming first to drink, espying me, asked me if I would drink with him: there needed no great entreaty, for as then I wanted company, and so clapped me down by him, and began very pleasantly to welcome him: the man, being of himself modest and honest, noted my personage and judicially reasoned of my strumpetlike behaviour, and inwardly, as after he reported unto me, grieved that so foul properties were hidden in so good a proportion, and that such rare wit and excellent beauty was blemished with whoredom's base deformity: insomuch that he began to think well of me, and to wish that I were as honest as I was beautiful. Again, see how God wrought for my conversion, since I gave myself to my loose kind of life I never liked any so well as him, insomuch that I began to judge of every part, and methought he was the properest man that ever I saw: thus we sat, both amorous of other, I lasciviously, & he honestly: at last he questioned with me what country woman I was and why, being so proper a woman, I would beseem to dwell or live in a base ale-house, especially in one that had a bad name: I warrant he wanted no knavish reply to fit him, for I told him the house was as honest as his mother's: marry, if there were in it a good wench or two that would pleasure their friends at a need, I guessed by his nose what porridge he loved, and that he hated none such: well, seeing me in that voice, he said little, but shaked his head, paid for the beer, and went his way, only taking his leave of me with a kiss, which methought was the sweetest that ever was given me: as soon as he was gone I began to think what a handsome man he was, and wished that he would come and take a night's lodging with me: sitting in a dump to think of the quaintness of his personage till other companions came in that shaked me out of that melancholy, but as soon again as I was secret to myself, he came into my remembrance.

            Passing over thus a day or two, this clothier came again to our house, whose sight cheered me up, for that spying him out at a casement, I ran down the stairs and met him at the door and heartily welcomed him, & asked him if he would drink: I come for that purpose says he, but I will drink no more below, but in a chamber: marry sir quoth I, you shall, and so brought him into the fairest room. In there sitting together drinking: at last the clothier fell to kissing and other dalliance, wherein he found me not coy: at last told me that he would willingly have his pleasure of me, but the room was too lightsome, for of all things in the world he could not in such actions away with a light chamber: I consented unto him, and brought him into a room more dark, but still he said it was too light: then I carried him into a farther chamber, where drawing a buckram curtain afore the window, and closing the curtains of the bed, I asked him smiling if that were close enough. No, sweet love, says he the curtain is thin, & not broad enough for the window; peradventure some watching eye may espy us. My heart misdoubts, & my credit is my life: good love if thou hast a more close room than this, bring me to it: why then quoth I follow me, & with that I brought him into a back loft, where stood a little bed only appointed to lodge suspicious persons, so dark that at noondays it was impossible for any man to see his own hands: How now sir quoth I, is not this dark enough? He sitting him down on the bedside, fetched a deep sigh, & said, indifferent, so, so, but there is a glimpse of light in at the tiles. Somebody may by fortune see us: in faith no quoth I, none but God: God says he, why can God see us here? good sir quoth I, why I hope you are not so simple, but God's eyes are so clear and penetrating that they can pierce through walls of brass, and that were we enclosed never so secretly, yet we are manifestly seen to him and alas quoth he sweet love, if God see us shall we not be more ashamed to do such a filthy act before him than before men? I am sure thou art not so shameless but thou wouldst blush & be afraid to have the meanest commoner in London see thee in the action of thy filthy lust, and dost thou not shame more to have God the maker of all things see thee, who revengeth sin with death, he whose eyes are clearer than the sun, who is the searcher of the heart, and holdeth vengeance in his hands to punish sinners? Consider, sweet love, that if man and wife would be ashamed to have any of their friends see them in the act of generation, or performing the rights of marriage which is lawful, and allowed before God, yet for modesty do it in the most covert they may, then how impudent or graceless should we be, to fulfil our filthy lust before the eyes of the Almighty, who is greater than all kings or princes on the earth. Oh, let us tremble that we but once durst have such wanton communication in the hearing of his divine Majesty, who pronounceth damnation for such as give themselves over to adultery.

            It is not possible, saith the Lord, for any whoremaster or lascivious wanton to enter into the kingdom of God: for such sins whole cities have sunk, kingdoms have been destroyed: and though God suffereth such wicked livers to escape for a while, yet at length he payeth home, in this world with beggary, shame, diseases or infamy, and in the other life with perpetual damnation: weigh but the inconvenience that grows through thy loose life, thou art hated of all that are good, despised of the virtuous, and only well thought of, of reprobates, rascals, ruffians, and such as the world hates, subject to their lust and gaining thy living at the hands of every diseased lecher. Oh what a miserable trade of life is thine that livest of the vomit of sin, in hunting after maladies: but suppose, while thou art young thou art favoured of thy companions, when thou waxest old, and that thy beauty is faded, then thou shalt be loathed and despised, even of them that professed most love unto thee: then good sister, call to mind the baseness of thy life, the heinous outrage of thy sin, that God doth punish it with the rigour of his justice: oh thou art made beautiful, fair and well formed, and wilt thou then by thy filthy lust make thy body, which if thou be honest is the temple of God, the habitation of the devil? Consider this, and call to God for mercy, and amend thy life: leave this house, and I will become thy faithful friend in all honesty, and use thee as mine own sister: at this such a remorse of conscience, such a fearful terror of my sin struck into my mind that I kneeled down at his feet, and with tears besought him he would help me out of that misery, for his exhortation had caused in me a loathing of my wicked life, and I would not only become a reformed woman, but hold him as dear as my father that gave me life: whereupon he kissed me with tears, and so we went down together, where we had further communication, and presently he provided me another lodging, where I not only used myself so honestly, but also was so penitent every day in tears for my former folly, that he took me to his wife: and how I have lived since, and loathed filthy lust, I refer myself to the majesty of God, who knoweth the secrets of all hearts.

            Thus countrymen I have published the conversion of an English courtesan, which if any way it be profitable either to forewarn youth or withdraw bad persons to goodness, I have the whole end of my desire, only craving every father would bring up his children with careful nurture, and every young woman respect the honour of her virginity.

FINIS

 

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