Cony-Catching - To the Reader

To the Reader

Merchants, Apprentices,
farmers, and plain countrymen

            DIOGENES, gentlemen, from a counterfeit coiner of money, became a current corrector of manners, as absolute in the one, as dissolute in the other: time refineth men's effects, and their humours grow different by the distinction of age. Poor Ovid that amorously writ in his youth the art of love, complained in his exile amongst the Getes of his wanton follies. And Socrates' age was virtuous though his prime was licentious. So, gentlemen, my younger years had uncertain thoughts, but now my ripe days calls on to repentant deeds, and I sorrow as much to see others wilful, as I delighted once to be wanton. The odd mad-caps I have been mate too, not as a companion, but as a spy to have an insight into their knaveries, that seeing their trains I might eschew their snares: those mad fellows I learned at last to loathe, by their own graceless villainies, and what I saw in them to their confusion, I can forewarn in others to my country's commodity. None could decipher Tyranism better than Aristippus, not that his nature was cruel, but that he was nurtured with Dionysius: The simple swain that cuts the lapidary's stones, can distinguish a ruby from a diamond only by his labour: though I have not practised their deceits, yet conversing by fortune, and talking upon purpose with such copesmates, hath given me light into their conceits, and I can decipher their qualities, though I utterly mislike of their practices. To be brief gentlemen, I have seen the world and rounded it, though not with travel, yet with experience, and I cry out with Solomon, Omnia sub sole vanitas<2>. I have smiled with the Italian, and worn the viper's head in my hand, and yet stopped his venom. I have eaten Spanish myrobalans, and yet am nothing the more metamorphosed. France, Germany, Poland, Denmark, I know them all, yet not affected to any in the form of my life; only I am English born, and I have English thoughts, not a devil incarnate because I am Italianate, but hating the pride of Italy, because I know their peevishness: yet in all these countries where I have travelled, I have not seen more excess of vanity then we English men practise through vainglory: for as our wits be as ripe as any, so our wills are more ready than they all, to put in effect any of their licentious abuses: yet amongst the rest, letting ordinary sins pass, because custom hath almost made them a law, I will only speak of two such notable abuses, which the practitioners of them shadow with the name of Arts, as never have been heard of in any age before. The first and chief, is called the Art of Cony-catching; the second, the Art of Cross-biting; two such pestilent and prejudicial practices, as of late have been the ruin of infinite persons, and the subversion and overthrow of many merchants, farmers, and honest minded yeomen. The first is a deceit at cards, which growing by enormity into a cozenage, is able to draw (by the subtle show thereof) a man of great judgement to consent to his own confusion. Yet gentlemen when you shall read this book, written faithfully to discover these cozening practices, think I go not about to disprove or disallow the most ancient and honest pastime or recreation of card play, for thus much I know by reading: When the city of Thebes was besieged by them of Lacedemonia, being girt within strong fenced walls, and having men enough, and able to rebate the enemy, they found no inconvenience of force to breed their ensuing bane but famine, in that when victuals waxed scant, hunger would either make them yield by a fainting composition, or a miserable death. Whereupon to weary the foe with wintering at the siege, the Thebans devised this policy, they found out the method of cards and dice, and so busied their brains with the pleasantness of that new invention, passing away the time with strange recreations and pastimes, beguiling hunger with the delight of the new sports, and eating but every third day, and playing two, so their frugal sparing of victuals kept them from famine, the city from sacking, and raised the foe from a mortal siege. Thus was the use of cards and dice first invented, and since amongst princes highly esteemed, and allowed in all commonwealths, as a necessary recreation for the mind: But as in time and malice of man's nature hatcheth abuse, so good things by ill wits are wrested to the worse, and so in cards: for from an honest recreation, it is grown to a prejudicial practice, and most high degree of cozenage, as shall be discovered in my Art of Cony-catching, for not only simple swains, whose wits is in their hands, but young gentlemen, and merchants, are all caught like conies in the hay, and so led like lambs to their confusion.

            The poor man that cometh to the Term to try his right, and layeth his land to mortgage to get some crowns in his purse to see his lawyer, is drawn in by these devilish cony-catchers, that at one cut at cards loseth all his money, by which means, he, his wife and children, is brought to utter ruin and misery. The poor prentice, whose honest mind aimeth only at his master’s profits, by these pestilent vipers of the commonwealth, is smoothly enticed to the hazard of this game at cards, and robbed of his master's money, which forceth him oft times either to run away, or bankrupt all, to the overthrow of some honest and wealthy citizen. Seeing then such a dangerous enormity groweth by them, to the discredit of the estate of England, I would wish the justices appointed as severe censors of such fatal mischiefs, to show themselves patres patrić<3>, by weeding out such worms as eat away the sap of the tree, and rooting this base degree of cozeners out of so peaceable and prosperous a country, for of all devilish practices this is the most prejudicial. The high lawyer that challengeth a purse by the highway side, the foist, the nip, the stall, the snap, I mean the pick-pockets and cutpurses are nothing so dangerous to meet withal, as these cozening cony-catchers. The cheaters that with their false dice make a hand, & strike in at hazard or passage with their dice of advantage, are nothing so dangerous as these base minded caterpillars. For they have their vies and their revies<6> upon the poor cony's back, till they so ferret beat him, that they leave him neither hair on his skin, nor hole to harbour in.

            There was before this many years ago, a practice put in use by such shifting companions, which was called the Barnard's Law, wherein as in the art of cony-catching, four persons were required to perform their cozening commodity. The Taker-up, the Verser, the Barnard and the Rutter, and the manner of it indeed was thus. The Taker-up seemeth a skilful man in all things, who hath by long travail learned without book a thousand policies to insinuate himself into a man's acquaintance: Talk of matters in law, he hath plenty of cases at his finger's ends, and he hath seen, and tried, and ruled in the King's courts: Speak of grazing and husbandry, no man knoweth more shires than he, nor better which way to raise a gainful commodity, and how the abuses and overture of prices might be redressed. Finally, enter into what discourse they list, were it into a brokerman's faculty, he knoweth what gains they have for old boots and shoes: Yea, and it shall scape him hardly, but that ere your talk break off, he will be your countryman at least, and peradventure either of kin, ally, or some stale sib to you, if your reach far surmount not his. In case he bring to pass that you be glad of his acquaintance, then doeth he carry you to the taverns, and with him goes the Verser, a man of more worship than the Taker-up, and he hath the countenance of a landed man. As they are set, comes in the Barnard stumbling into your company, like some aged farmer of the country, a stranger unto you all, that had been at some market town therabout, buying and selling, and there tippled so much Malmsey, that he had never a ready word in his mouth, and is so careless of his money, that out he throweth some forty Angels on the board's end, and standing somewhat aloof, calleth for a pint of wine, and saith: masters, I am somewhat bold with you, I pray you be not grieved if I drink my drink by you: and thus ministers such idle drunken talk, that the Verser who counterfeited the landed man, comes and draws more near to the plain honest dealing man, and prayeth him to call the Barnard more near to laugh at his folly. Between them two the matter shall be so workmanly conveyed and finely argued, that out cometh an old pair of cards, whereat the Barnard teacheth the Verser a new game, that he says cost him for the learning two pots of ale not two hours ago, the first wager is drink, the next two pence or a groat, and lastly to be brief they use the matter so, that he that were an hundred year old, and never played in his life for a penny, cannot refuse to be the Verser's half, and consequently at one game at cards, he loseth all they play for, be it a hundred pound. And if perhaps when the money is lost (to use their word of art) the poor countryman begin to smoke them, and swears the drunken knave shall not get his money so, then standeth the Rutter at the door and draweth his sword and picketh a quarrel at his own shadow, if he lack an ostler or a tapster or some other to brabble with, that while the streets and company gather to the fray, as the manner is, the Barnard steals away with all the coin, and gets him to one blind tavern or other, where these cozeners had appointed to meet.

            Thus gentlemen I have glanced at the Barnard's Law, which though you may perceive it to be a prejudicial insinuating cozenage, yet is the art of cony-catching so far beyond it in subtlety, as the devil is more honest than the holiest angel: for so unlikely is it for the poor cony to lose, that might he pawn his stake to a pound, he would lay it that he cannot be cross-bitten in the cut at cards, as you shall perceive by my present discovery. Yet gentlemen am I sore threatened by the hucksters of that filthy faculty, that if I set their practices in print, they will cut off that hand that writes the pamphlet, but how I fear their bravados, you shall perceive by my plain painting out of them, yea, so little do I esteem such base minded braggarts, that were it not I hope of their amendment, I would in a schedule set down the names of such cozening cony-catchers. Well, leaving them and their course of life to the honourable and the worshipful of the land, to be censors of with justice, have about for a blow at the Art of Cross-biting: I mean not cross-biters at dice, when the cheater with a langret, cut contrary to the vantage, will cross-bite a card cater trey:<4> Nor I mean not when a broking knave cross-biteth a gentleman with a bad commodity: nor when the foyst, the pick-pockets (sir-reverence I mean) is cross-bitten by the Snap, and so smoked for his purchase: nor when the Nip, which the common people call a cutpurse, hath a cross-bite by some bribing officer, who threatening to carry him to prison, takes away all the money, and lets him slip without any punishment: But I mean a more dishonourable art, when a base rogue, either keepeth a whore as his friend, or marries one to be his maintainer, and with her not only cross-bites men of good calling, but especially poor ignorant country farmers, who God wot be by them led like sheep to the slaughter. Thus gentle readers, have I given you a light in brief, what I mean to prosecute at large, and so with an humble suit to all Justices, that they will seek to root out these two roguish arts, I commit you to the Almighty.

            Yours Rob. Greene.

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