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Cony-Catching - A discourse, or rather discovery of the Nip and the Foist, laying open the nature of the Cutpurse and Pick-pocket.

A discourse, or rather discovery of the Nip and the Foist, laying open the nature of the Cutpurse and Pick-pocket.

Illustration: A Cony with a Razor

            Now gentlemen, merchants, farmers, and termers, yea whosoever he be, that useth to carry money about him, let him attentively hear what a piece of new found philosophy, I will lay open to you whose opinions, principles, aphorisms, if you carefuly note and retain in memory, perhaps save some crowns in your purse ere the year pass, and therefore thus: The Nip & the Foist, although their subject is one which they work on, that is, a well lined purse, yet their manner is different, for the nip useth his knife, and the foist his hand: the one cutting the purse, the other drawing the pocket: but of these two scurvy trades, the foist holdeth himself of the highest degree, and therefore, they term themselves gentlemen foists, and so much disdain to be called cutpurses, as the honest man that lives by his hand or occupation, in so much that the foist refuseth even to wear a knife about him to cut his meat withal, lest he might be suspected to grow into the nature of the nip, yet as I said before is their subject and haunt both alike, for their gains lies by all places of resort and assemblies, therefore their chief walks is Paul's, Westminster, the Exchange, plays, bear garden, running at tilt, the Lord Mayor's day, any festival meetings, frays, shootings, or great fairs: to be short, wheresoever there is any extraordinary resort of people, there the nip and the foist have fittest oportunity to show their juggling agility. Commonly, when they spy a farmer or merchant, whom they suspect to be well moneyed, they follow him hard until they see him draw his purse, then spying in what place he puts it up, the stall or the shadows being with the foist or nip, meets the man at some straight turn & jostles him so hard, that the man marvelling, and perhaps quarrelling with him, the whiles the foist hath his purse and bids him farewell. In Paul's (especially in the term time) between ten and eleven, then is their hours, and there they walk, and perhaps, if there be great press, strike a stroke in the middle walk, but that is upon some plain man that stands gazing about, having never seen the Church before; but their chiefest time is at divine service, when men devoutly given do go up to hear either a sermon, or else the harmony of the choir and the organs: there the nip and the foist as devoutly as if he were some zealous parson, standeth soberly with his eyes elevated unto heaven when his hand is either on the purse or in the pocket, surveying every corner of it for coin, then when the service is done and the people press away, he thrusteth amidst the throng, and there worketh his villainy. So likewise in the markets, they note how every one putteth up his purse, and there either in a great press, or while the party is cheapening of meat, the foist is in their pocket and the nip hath the purse by the strings, or some times cuts out the bottom, for they have still their stalls following them, who thrusteth and jostleth him or her whom the foist is about to draw. So likewise at plays, the nip standeth there leaning like some mannerly gentleman against the door as men go in, and there finding talk with some of his companions, spieth what every man hath in his purse, and where, in what place, and in which sleeve or pocket he puts the bung, and according to that so he worketh either where the thrust is great within, or else as they come out at the doors: but suppose that the first is smoked, and the man misseth his purse, & apprehendeth him for it then straight he either conveyeth it to his stall, or else droppeth the bung, and with a great brave he defieth his accuser: and though the purse be found at his foot, yet because he hath it not about him, he comes not within compass of life. Thus have they their shifts for the law, and yet at last, so long the pitcher goeth to the brook that it cometh broken home, and so long the foists put their villainy in practice, that westward they go, and there solemnely make a rehearsal sermon at Tyburn.

            But again, to their places of resort, Westminster, aye marry, that is their chiefest place that brings in their profit, the term-time is their harvest: and therefore, like provident husband-men they take time while time serves, and make hay while the sun shines, following their clients, for they are at the hall very early and there they work like bees, haunting every Court, as the Exchequer chamber, the Star chamber, the Kings-bench, the Common-pleas, and every place where the poor client standeth to hear his lawyer handle his matter, for alas the poor country gentleman or farmer is so busied with his causes, and hath his mind so full of cares to see his counsel and to ply his attorney, that the least thing in his thought is his purse: but the eagle-eyed foist or nip he watcheth, and seeng the client draw his purse to pay some charges or fees necessary for the court, marketh where he putteth it, and then when he thrusteth into the throng, either to answer for himself, or to stand by his counseller to put him in mind of his cause, the foist draws his pocket and leaves the poor client penniless. This do they in all courts, and go disguised like servingmen, wringing the simple people by this juggling subtlety; well might therefore the honourable & worshipful of those courts do to take order from such vile and base minded cutpurses, that as the law hath provided death for them if they be taken, so they might be rooted out especially from Westminster where the poor clients are undone by such roguish catchers. It boots not to tell their course at every remove of her Majesty when the people flock together, nor at Bartholomew fair, on the Queen's day, at the tilt-yard and at all other places of assembly: for let this suffice, at any great press of people or meeting, there the foist and the nip is in his kingdom: Therefore let all men take this caveat, that when they walk abroad amid any of the forenamed places or like assemblies, that they take great care for their purse how they place it, and not leave it careless in their pockets or hose, for the foist is so nimble handed that he exceeds the juggler for agility, and hath his legerdemain as perfectly: therefore an exquisite foist must have three properties that a good surgeon should have, and that is an eagle's eye, a lady's hand, and a lion's heart, an eagle's eye to spy a purchase, to have a quick insight where the bung lies, and then a lion's heart not to fear what the end will be, and then a lady's hand to be little and nimble, the better to dive into the pocket. These are the perfect properties of a foist: but you must note that there be diversities of this kind of people, for there be city nips & country nips, which haunt from fair to fair, and never come in London, unless it be at Bartholomew fair, or some other great and extraordinary assemblies. Now there is a mortal hate between the country foist and the city foist, for if the city foist spy one of the conies in London, straight he seeks by some means to smoke him, and so the country nip if he spy a city nip in any fair, then he smokes him straight, and brings him in danger, if he flee not away the more speedily. Beside there be women foists and women nips, but the woman foist is most dangerous, for commonly there is some old hand, or mouthfair strumpet, who inveigleth either some ignorant man or some young youth to folly, she hath straight her hand in his pocket, and so foists him of all that he hath: but let all men take heed of such common harlots, who either sit in the streets in evenings, or else dwell in bawdy houses and are pliant to every man's lure, such are always foists and pickpockets, and seek the spoil of all such as meddle with them, and in cozening of such base minded lechers as give thenselves to such lewd company, are worthy of whatsoever befalls, and sometime they catch such a Spanish pip, that they have no more hair on their head then on their nails.

            But leaving such strumpets to their souls' confusion and bodies' correction in Bride-well: again, to our nips and foists, who have a kind of fraternity or brotherhood among them, having a hall or place of meeting, where they confer of weighty matters, touching their workmanship, for they are provident in that, every one of them hath some trusty friend whom he calleth his treasurer, and with him he lays up some rateable portion, of every purse he draws, that when need requires, and he is brought in danger, he may have money to make composition with the party: But of late, there hath been a great scourge fallen amongst them, for now if a purse be drawn of any great value, straight the party maketh friends to some one or other of the Counsel or other inferior her Majesty's Justices, and then they send out warrants if they cannot learn who the foist is, to the keepers of Newgate that they take up all the nips and foists about the city, and let them lie there while the money be reanswered unto the party, so that some pay three pound, nay five pound at a time according as the same loss did amount unto, which doth greatly impoverish their trade, and hinder their figging law. Therefore about such causes grows their meeting, for they have a kind of corporation, as having wardens of their company, and a hall: I remember their hall was once about Bishopsgate, near unto Fisher's Folly, but because it was a noted place, they have removed it to Kent-street, and as far as I can learn, it is kept at one Laurence Pickering's house, one that hath been if he be not still a notable foist. A man of good calling he is, and well allied brother in law to Bull the hangman<22>, there keep they their feasts and weekly meetings, fit for their company. Thus have I partly set down the nature of the foist, and the nip, with their special haunts, as a caveat to all estates to beware of such wicked persons, who are as prejudicial to the Commonwealth as any other faculty whatsoever; and although they be by the great discretion of the Judges and Justices daily trussed up, yet still there springeth up young that grow in time to bear fruit fit for the gallows: let then every man be as careful as possibly he may, and by this caveat take heed of his purse, for the prey makes the thief, and there an end.

A merry tale how a Miller had his purse cut in Newgate market.

            IT fortuned that a nip and his stall drinking at the Three Tuns in Newgate market, sitting in one of the rooms next to the street, they might perceive where a meal-man stood selling of meal, and had a large bag by his side, where by conjecture there was some store of money, the old Coole, the old cutpurse I mean, spying this, was delighted with the show of so glorious an object, for a full purse is as pleasing to a cutpurse's eye, as the curious physiognomy of Venus was to the amorous God of war, and entering to a merry vein as one that counted that purchase his own, discovered it to the novice and bade him go & nip it, the young toward scholar although perhaps he had striken some few strokes before, yet seeing no great press of people, and the meal-man's hand often upon his bag, as if he had in times past smoked some of their faculty, was half afraid and doubted of his own experience and so refused to do it. Away villain, saith the old nip, art thou faint hearted, belongs it to our trade to despair? If thou wilt only do common work, and not make experience of some hard matters to attempt, thou wilt never be master of thine occupation, therefore try thy wits and do it, at this the young stripling stalks me out of the Tavern, and feeling if his cuttle-bung were glib and of a good edge, went to this meal-man to enter combat hand to hand with his purse, but seeing the meal-man's eye was still abroad, and for want of other sport that he played with his purse, he was afraid to trust either to his wit or fortune, and therefore went back again without any act achieved. How now, saith the old nip, what hast thou done, nothing, quoth he, the knave is so wary, that it is unpossible to get any purchase there, for he stands playing with his purse for want of other exercise. At this his fellow looks out and smiles, making this reply. And doest thou count it impossible to have the meal-man's bung, lend me thy knife for mine is left at home, & thou shalt see me strike it straight, and I will show thee a method, how perhaps hereafter to do the like after my example, and to make thee a good scholar, and therefore go with me and do as I shall instruct thee, begin but a feigned quarrel, and when I give thee a watch word, then throw flour in my face, and if I miss his purse let me be hanged for my labour, with that he gave him certain principles to observe, and then paid for the wine and out they went together. As soon as they were come to the meal-man, the old nip began to jest with the other about the miller's sack, and the other replied as knavishly, at last, the elder called the younger rogue, rogue thou swain, quoth he, doest thou or darest thou dishonour me with such a base title? And with that taking a whole hand full of meal out of the sack, threw it full in the old nip's neck and his breast, and then ran away. He being thus dusted with meal, entreated the meal-man to wipe it out of his neck, and stooped down his head, the meal-man laughing to see him so arrayed and whited, was willing to shake off the meal, and while he was busy about that, the nip had stroken the purse and done his feat, and both courteously thanked the meal-man and closely went away with his purchase. The poor man thinking little of this cheat, began again to play with his purse strings, and suspected nothing till he had sold a peck of meal, and offered to change money, and then he found his purse bottomless, which struck such a cold quandary to his stomach, as if in a frosty morning he had drunk a draught of small beer next his heart, he began then to exclaim against such villains, and called to mind how in shaking the dust out of the gentleman's neck, he shaked his money out of his purse, and so the poor meal-man fetched a great sigh, knit up his sack and went sorrowing home.

A Kind Conceit of a Foist Performed in Paul's.

            While I was writing this discovery of foisting, & was desirous of any intelligence that might be given me, a gentleman a friend of mine, reported unto me this pleasant tale, of a foist, & as I well remember it grew to this effect. There walked in the middle walk a plain country farmer, a man of good wealth, & that had a well lined purse, only barely thrust up in a round slop<30> which a crew of foists having perceived, their hearts were set on fire to have it, and every one had a fling at him but all in vain, for he kept his hand close in his pocket, and his purse fast in his fist like a subtle churl, that either had been forewarned of Paul's, or else had afore time smoked some of that faculty, well howsoever, it was unpossible to do any good with him he was so wary. The foists spying this, strained their wits to the highest string how to compass this bung, yet could not all their politic conceits fetch the farmer over, for jostle him, chat with him, offer to shake him by the hand, all would not serve to get his hand out of his pocket. At last one of the crew that for his skill might have been doctorate in his mystery, amongst them all chose out a good foist, one of a nimble hand & great agility, and said to the rest thus: masters it shall not be said such a base peasant shall slip away from such a crew of gentlemen foists as we are, and not have his purse drawn, and therefore this time I'll play the stall myself, and if I hit him not home, count me for a bungler for ever, and so he left them and went to the farmer and walked directly before him & next him three or four turns, at last standing still he cried alas honest man help me, I am not well, and with that sunke down suddenly in a swoon, the poor farmer seeing a proper young gentleman (as he thought) fall dead afore him, stepped to him, held him in his arms, rub'd him and chafed him: at this there gathered a great multitude of people about him, and the whilst the foist drew the farmer's purse and away: by that the other thought the feat was done, he began to come something to himself again, and so half staggering, stumbled out of Paul's, and went after the crew where they had appointed to meet, and there boasted of his wit and experience. The farmer little suspecting this villainy, thrust his hand into his pocket and missed his purse, searched for it, but lining and shells and all was gone, which made the countryman in a great maze, that he stood still in a dump so long, that a gentleman perceiving it asked what he ailed: what ail I sir, quoth he, truly I am thinking how men may long as well as women, why dost thou conjecture that, honest man, quoth he? marry sir, answers the farmer, the gentleman even now that swooned here I warrant him breeds his wife's child, for the cause of his sudden qualm that he fell down dead grew of longing: the gentleman demanded how he knew that, well enough sir, quoth he, and he hath his longing too, for the poor man longed for my purse, and thanks be to God he hath it with him. At this all the hearers laughed, but not so merrily as the foist and his fellows, that then were sharing his money.

A Quaint Conceit of a Cutler & a Cutpurse.

            A nip having by fortune lost his cuttle-bung or having not one fit for his purpose, went to a cunning cutler to have a new made, and prescribed the cutler such a method and form to make his knife and the fashion to be so strong, giving such a charge of the fineness of the temper and well setting of the edge, that the cutler wondered what the gentleman would do with it, yet because he offered so largely for the making of it, the cutler was silent and made few questions, only he appointed him the time to come for it, and that was three days after: Well, the time being expired, the gentleman nip came, and seeing his knife liked it passing well, and gave him his money with advantage<39>. The cutler desirous to know to what use he would put it, said to the cutpurse thus, sir quoth he I have made many knives in my days, and yet I never saw any of this form, fashion, temper or edge, & therefore if without offence I pray you tell me how or to what will you use it? While thus he stood talking with the nip, he spying the purse in his apron, had cut it passing cunningly, and then having his purchase close in his hand, made answer, in faith my friend to dissemble is a folly, 'tis to cut a purse withal and I hope to have good handsel, you are a merry gentleman, quoth the cutler, I tell true said the cutpurse and away he goes. No sooner was he gone from the stall, but there came an other and bought a knife and should have single money again, the cutler thinking to put his hand in his bagge, thrust it quite through at the bottom, all his money was gone, & the purse cut, perceiving this and remembering how the man prayed he might have good handsel, he fetched a great sigh and said, now I see he that makes a snare, first falls into it himself: I made a knife to cut other men's purses and mine is the first handsel, well revenge is fallen upon me, but I hope the rope will fall upon him, and so he smoothed up the matter to himself, lest men should laugh at his strange fortune.

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