London, Volume 4

Knight, Charles

1843

LXXXV.-Old London Rogueries.

LXXXV.-Old London Rogueries.

 

 

It is profoundly interesting, philosophically as well as philanthropically, to think of the quantity of sheer simplicity, of the beautiful innocence and ignorance of infancy, that still survives in this years old world. Above all, the unsophisticated condition, as to many matters, of rustic England, in this noon, almost, of the century, is enough to fill with veneration whosoever will consider the evidences of it which are daily presented in that most instructive department of the public journals, the London Police Intelligence. A police reporter, indeed (or penny-a-liner, as he is sometimes, with too much levity, styled), is the truest historian of his age. And, as no other histories are half so true, so few are nearly so entertaining, or so useful either, as those which he indites: there only we have the manners of the time caught

living as they rise

served up, as it were, piping hot-and human nature naturally delineated; everywhere else it is dressed up, varnished over, idealized, perhaps, or otherwise so metamorphosed or mystified, as hardly to be recognised for the same thing that is accustomed to see and to have to do with in its original condition of flesh and blood. Nay, your penny-a-liner--is not the greatest of historians merely, but the most penetrating of philosophers, going to the root of the matter, and the most instructive of poets and dramatists, not only

high actions and high passions best describing,

but low ones quite as well. All this he is by reason of the matter-of-fact spirit in which he works. For this is his distinction, that (to the shame of literature it must be confessed) he is the only description of-man of letters who is not in some sort, as such, a systematic liar. All other writers set themselves to embellish, elevate, refine truth and naturesome have gone the length of maintaining that this falsification, this lying, is the very soul and indispensable essence of the poetical, in all its forms; he alone takes down and communicates what he hears and sees simply as he hears and

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sees it-

among the faithless, faithful only he.

Sometimes, indeed, the penny-a-liner has not a proper understanding or feeling of this his high function; with a wholly vain and mistaken ambition he toils and tortures himself and his readers in attempting to give his police intelligence a poetical air; and then there ensues the wildest work. of the fraternity unhappily labouring under this distemper some short time ago had got on of the morning papers-or possibly it was an old hand whom the lunacy had suddenly seized; and if of the most interesting columns in the sheet had been every day printed from , as it is called, that is to say from the types thrown by some accident into complete disorder and confusion, it would not have been worse. There, where looked, and where alone could look, for the plain, unperverted truth of things, lay spread out and sprawling the most misbegotten mixture of jest and earnest, neither fish nor flesh, neither fact nor fiction, neither thing nor another. It was as absurd a proceeding as if the writer had sought to impart pungency to his reports by shaking a little cayenne pepper over each of them after he had written it out. Happily, the stock he had laid in of wit or slang, of -hand similes, immemorial puns, proverbs, quotations, and other such stray intellectual treasure, did not last long; and the police intelligence recovered its old trustworthy sobriety, greatly to the relief of all students of that most important as well as attractive department of modern literature. It is really not a field for the antics of ultra-vivacity. If a man be a genius, or think himself such, rather let him be set to report the debates in Parliament, where frequently a little additional animation would not do much harm.

But we were remarking that there is nothing of which this London Police Intelligence conveys a stronger impression than it does of the primitive simplicity and guilelessness, or gullibility, that still lingers, and indeed seems to be general, in the country parts of this kingdom, not excepting even those nearest to the metropolis. It appears, too, to be utterly unteachable. Pockets are carefully buttoned up, and the finest practitioner could scarcely hope to rival Mull'd Sack, the bold and handsome chimney-sweep, who contrived to rob Lady Fairfax, Oliver Cromwell, and Charles II.; but week after week comes the same unvarying history of some great gaping innocent of a farmer from Kent or Surrey accosted on the streets of the roaring Babel by another rustic, looking as honest and as stupid as himself, who perhaps persuades him that he belongs to the same parish, or is of his nearest relations (though he never heard of him before), and, at any rate, by this or some equally ingenious representation, easily seduces him into the next public-house. He may now consider himself as enacting before heaven and earth the interesting part of the mouse fairly within the trap, and enjoying the toasted cheese. As the sit over their tankard, a , to all appearance equally a stranger to both, in the most natural way in the world drops in and joins them, and soon, in the fulness of his heart, unbosoming himself to his new friends, informs them what a happy fellow he is in having just come into possession of a handsome little independence-his only uneasiness at the moment being occasioned by not knowing where to find a proper channel by which he may convey a small donation to the poor out of his new-found wealth, by way of showing his gratitude to Providence. What better can he do than entrust his charity to this honest farmer for the behoof of the parish to

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which he belongs? The other man from the country strongly, and quite disinterestedly, recommends this arrangement; the farmer himself, stirred by benevolence, vanity, and beer, modestly puts in his word in favour of it; it appears to be clearly a very advisable way of accomplishing the desired object. All that is necessary is that the farmer, to prove his respectability, should exhibit property of his own to the amount of the sum the generous stranger is about to confide to his care: straightway the , or , or is put down on the table by each party, by the in notes or sovereigns, by the other probably in the equally well engraved notes of the Bank of Elegance. Nothing, of course, could be more satisfactory; but let the good farmer learn to secure his cash more artificially against the dangers of the town; his friends will wrap up the whole for him in the way the thing should be done, and assist him to place it in his fob: does he not feel that, with it so folded and rammed down, he may laugh at all the pickpockets in London? And so he may, in good sooth, and sing too, upon Juvenal's principle-

Cantabit vacuus coram latrone viator

for his pocket is no longer worth picking--it has been picked already-he is now what this old Latin poet facetiously calls vacant enough he looks on making that discovery; but, unfortunately, he is not , or in the presence of the thieves, for in no long time after the solemnity of replacing the money they both (having done their work) took themselves off-- the disappearing, and then the other going to see what was become of him-and left the self-satisfied benefactor of his parish

alone with his glory.

In this, or some such way as this, the process is now commonly managed: the thing aimed at is to get into actual contact with the man's cash; to induce him to unbutton his pocket, and make visible and palpable manifestation of its contents; which object achieved, there is no further difficulty; he is as certainly plucked as ever was Mrs. Glass's goose after due performance of the initiatory measure of the catching. Sometimes a very simple expedient is successfully employed. On merely being taunted with not being rich enough to produce a certain sum, the unsuspecting subject of the experiment triumphantly draws forth his hidden wealth, and has it of course extracted from his fingers in a moment by the gentlest of operations. This seems to be the very height and perfection of an ingenuous nature, and to be paralleled by nothing except the conduct of the fascinated bird in flying into the invitingly open mouth of the rattlesnake, if even that can match it. Yet, as we have said, instances of fullgrown men being deluded in some such manner as this are of every-day occurrence. And here Old Experience has been able to do nothing, any more than if he had undertaken the instruction of any of the inferior generations which, the philosophers tell us, are distinguished from the human animal chiefly by the want of the progressive tendency; he might as well have kept a school for birds or Bourbons (the only humanities that are made an exception to this rule of the philosophers). The process of deplumation we have been describing has been a standing London trick for some hundreds of years; and, if anything, it seems to be usually performed now-a-days less artistically and with more facility than in former times, as if the rustic visitors of the metropolis, of the class suited for

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being thus practised upon, by a singular privilege grew more and more innocent the farther the rest of the world shot a-head of the manners of the age of gold. The original slang name of this stratagem was Coney-catching. The readers of Shakspere will recollect Slender's angry complaint to Falstaff in the beginning of

The Merry Wives of Windsor:

Marry, sir, I have matter in my head against you, and against your coney-catching rascals, Bardolph, Nym, and Pistol. They carried me to the tavern, and made me drunk, and afterwards picked my pocket.

These last words, found in the quarto edition of the play, though omitted in the subsequent folio, exactly describe the particular mode of victimizing to which this term was appropriated. But both the name and the thing itself were at this time of very recent introduction, if we may trust what is both the most complete and the earliest information we have on the subject, that given by Robert Greene, the famous dramatist, poet, and miscellaneous pamphleteer, in his published in . In the Preface to this tract (the of which he wrote on the same subject, and the forerunner of many more by other popular pens of the day), Greene speaks of coney-catching as a new art,

never heard of in any age before.

His description has all the elaboration and formality of a scientific treatise.

There be requisite,

he begins,

effectually to act the art of coney-catching,

three

several parties; the Setter, the Verser, and the Barnacle. The nature of the Setter is to draw any person familiarily to drink with him, which person they call the Coney; and their method is according to the man they aim at .. .. The poor country farmer, or yeoman, is the mark they most of all shoot at, who they know comes not empty to the town.

The coney-catchers, apparelled like honest civil gentlemen, or good fellows, with a smooth face, as if butter would not melt in their mouths, after dinner, when the clients are come from

Westminster

Hall, and are at leisure to walk up and down Paul's,

Fleet-street

,

Holborn

, the Strond, and such common haunted places, where these cozening companions attend only to spy out a prey; who, as soon as they see a plain country-fellow well and cleanly apparelled, either in a coat of homespun russet, or of frieze, as the time requires, and a side pouch at his side,

There is a Coney,

saith

one

.

The Setter then makes up to the man, and, entering into conversation with him, easily contrives to learn the part of the country he comes from, his name, and other particulars. This information, if he cannot himself prevail upon the countryman to go to drink with him, the Setter carries to his confederate, the Verser; who thereupon going off, crosses the Coney at some turning, and, meeting him full in the face, salutes him by his name, and inquires for all friends in the country. He is the near kinsman of some neighbour of the farmer's, in whose house he has been several times, though the amazed Coney, whose memory is surely none of the best, has entirely forgotten having ever before set eye upon him. But, at any rate, he is very well acquainted with his good neighbour, the cousin or uncle of the stranger. For his sake, the latter proposes that they should drink before they part.

Haply,

continues the account,

the man thanks him, and to the wine or ale they go. Then, ere they part, they make him a Coney, and so ferret-claw him at cards, that they leave him as bare of money as an ape of a tail.

For at this time, it seems, coney-catching was universally managed by the assistance of a pack, or, as the phrase was, a pair of cards.

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Greene defines it, in his Preface, to be

a deceit at cards;

seizing the occasion to run off into a strange disquisition about the invention of cards and dice by the people of Thebes, once upon a time when they were beleaguered and shut up in their town by the Lacedaemonians. But sometimes it will happen that the attempts of both Setter and Verser fail; that

the poor countryman will not stoop unto either of their lures.

In that case, continues our author,

one

, either the Verser or the Setter, or some of their crew, for there is a general fraternity betwixt them, steppeth before the Coney as he goeth, and letteth drop twelvepence in the highway, that of force the Coney must see it. The countryman, spying the shilling, maketh not dainty, but stoopeth very mannerly, and taketh it up; then

one

of the coney-catchers behind crieth,

Half part,

and so challengeth half of his finding. The countryman, content, offereth to change the money.

Nay, faith, friend,

saith the Verser,

'tis ill luck to keep found money; we'll go spend it in a pottle of wine, or in a breakfast, dinner, or supper,

as the time of day requires.

Other stratagems are still in reserve if this should fail; but for these we must refer the reader to our author's own pages. In way or another the countryman can hardly escape falling into the snare. In no long time after the have got him into the tavern cards are called for, or produced by of them, and he soon begins to take an interest in certain tricks in which he is initiated, especially in a new game called Mum-chance, at which, by his connivance (secured while they were left alone together for a few minutes), the sharper cheats and plunders the other (who is, of course, as much a stranger to him as to the farmer) in most triumphant style. Then,

as thus they sit tippling, comes the Barnacle, and thrusts open the door, looking into the room where they are, and, as

one

bashful, steppeth back again, and saith,

I cry you mercy, gentlemen, I thought a friend of mine had been here; pardon my boldness.

Invited by the Verser to come in and drink a cup of wine, he proposes to play a game at cards till his friend arrives.

Why, sir,

saith the Verser,

if you will sit down you shall be taken up for a quart of wine.

With all my heart,

saith the Barnacle.

What will you play at? At primero, primo visto, sant,

one

-and-

thirty

, new cut, or what shall be the game?

The Verser's proposal of mumchance is readily assented to; as before, the countryman lends his assistance to trick and fleece the new-comer; the play runs higher and higher;

this flesheth the coney, the sweetness of gain maketh him frolic;

he is easily induced to exchange his subordinate and auxiliary part for that of a principal in the game. The natural result soon follows; he loses all his money, then he pawns

his rings (if he have any), his sword, his cloak, or what else he hath about him ;

and, in the end, he finds himself stripped of everything, except, perhaps, the indispensable habiliments that cover him.

This enormity,

says Greene,

is not only in London, but now generally dispersed through all England, in every shire, city, and town of any receipt.

As

a cloak for the rain,

or

a shadow for their villany,

it seems, the practitioners of this species of knavery were accustomed to speak of it by the name of the coney-catching , or the coney-catching : the latter mode of expression in particular appears to have carried a high relish with it to these scorners of the law which other people were fools enough to be frightened at and to obey, but which they only laughed at while they rendered it a mock reverence,

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and professed not to transgress its requirements. They had also, Greene tells us, other laws: as, for instance, high law, which meant highway robbery; cheating law, which meant playing with false dice; versing law, which was the passing of false gold; figging law, or the cutting of purses and picking of pockets; Barnard's law, which he defines

a drunken cozenage by cards.

This last, in truth, seems to have been only a species of coney-catching; and from Greene's own account of the matter it may be doubted if the novelty which he claims for the latter art, the principal subject of his pamphlet, is not, after all, a mere trick of book-making--a pretension put forth to excite the more curiosity and interest in his readers, and to enhance in their estimation the importance of his exposures. In his Preface he makes the following statement:--

There was before this, many years ago, a practice put in use by such shifting companions, which was called Barnard's law, wherein, as in the art of coney-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 travel learned without book a

thousand

policies to insinuate himself into a man's acquaintance. Talk of matters of law, he hath plenty of cases at his fingers' 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 can be redressed. Finally, enter into what discourse they list, were it into a broreman's faculty, he knoweth what gains they have for old boots and shoes; yea, and it shall escape 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 rib to you, if your reach far surmount not his. In case he bring to pass that you be glad of his acquaintance, then doth he carry you to the tavern; 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 thereabout, buying and selling, and,there tippled so much malmesey that he hath 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 sayeth,

Masters, I am somewhat bold with you; I pray you be not grieved if I drink my wine 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, twopence, or a groat; and lastly, to be brief, they use the matter so, that he that were an

hundred

years old, and never played in his life for a penny, cannot refuse to be the Verser's half; and consequently at

one

game, of cards he loseth all they play for, be it a

hundred pounds

. And if, perhaps, when the money is lost (to use their word of art), the poor countryman begins 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 hostler or a tapster, or some other to brabble with, that, while the street and company gather to the fray, as the manner is, the Barnard steels away with all the coin, and gets him to

one

blind tavern or other, where these cozeners had appointed to meet.

This, whatever distinctive name it might be called by, evidently was a mere variety of coney-catching, even if, with Greene, we take the employment of cards to be a part of the definition of that art. The whole mystery of this sort of roguery probably assumed a more scientific shape and aspect in the hands of this pamphleteer, and its other expounders whom his example called forth, than naturally or really belonged to it. The writer of a tract entitled which appeared in , years after Greene's death, seems to insinuate that the names at least given to the different performers by the original unfolder of the art of coney-catching were, to a great extent, of his own invention. This writer, however, who calls himself S. R., and was probably Samuel Rowlands, the author of a profusion of more prose and verse, has an object to serve in casting a slight upon the authority of his predecessor; for he has many hitherto unheard of curiosities of art of his own collecting to set before his readers. His new nomenclature of coney-catching will be most distinctly given in his own words.

Marry,

he says,

in effect there is the like underhand traffic daily used and experienced among some few start--up gallants dispersed about the suburbs of London; who term him that draws the fish to the bait the Beater, and not the Setter; the tavern where they go, the Bush; and the fowl so caught, the Bird. As for coney-catching, they cleap [call] it Bat-fowling; the wine, the strap; and the cards, the limetwigs; and he whom he [Greene] makes Verser, the Retriver, and the Barnacle, the Pothunter.

This difference between them as to names, he admits at the same time

breaks no squares,

seeing that they concur as to things. But Greene, he thinks, might have improved his book by expatiating on various cheats which he has not noticed; for instance, the brewers' putting in willow leaves and brown buds into their wort instead of hops (the primitive or ruder form of the quassia and cocculus indicus adulteration)-or

Mother Bunch mixing lime with her ale to make it mighty

--which is perhaps what Steevens was thinking of when he asserted that our ancestors made their sack sparkle by putting lime in the glass, in his note on the controverted passage in the where

mine host of the Garter

says to Bardolph, according to reading,

Let me see thee froth and live ;

but, according to another,

Let me see thee froth and lime.

We do not know whether the authority of this old pamphlet may be accepted as lending some support to the latter reading.

There might have also been compiled a delectable and pleasant treatise,

continues our author,

of the abuse committed by such as sell bottle-ale, who, to make it fly up to the top of the house at the

first

opening, do put gunpowder into the bottles while the ale is new; then, by stopping it close, make the people believe it is the strength of the ale, when, being truly sifted, it is nothing indeed but the strength of the gunpowder that worketh the effect, to the great heart-burning of the parties that drink the same.

This truly strange and marvellous artifice must, we apprehend, be reckoned among the lost inventions. We wonder if these cunning retailers of the olden time ever mixed shot as well as

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powder with their bottled ale--which doubtless would have greatly increased the effect. The coney-catchers, this writer says,

having lost a collop of their living

by Greene's exposures, had invented a number of new tricks since his time. Some did

nothing but walk up and down Paul's, or come to shops to buy wares with budgets of writings under their arms,

offering to recover bad debts.

Not unlike to these,

the enumeration proceeds,

are they that, coming to ordinaries about the Exchange, where merchants do table for the most part [a phrase sounding like an echo of Shylock's--

Even there where merchants most do congregate,

--as if Shakspere's line, then new, had impressed its cadence on the public ear], will say they have

two

or

three

ships of coals late come from Newcastle, and wish they could light on a good chapman that would deal for them altogether

--on which, tempted by a low price, some present will at last put perhaps into the hand of the pretended merchant to secure the bargain. And then there follow many other rogueries, upon which we cannot attempt to enter--including

a sly trick of cozenage lately done in

Cheapside

,

in the matter of a chop-chain--a story of

how a man was cozened in the evening by buying a gilt spoon

in -

the art of carrying stones,

which is interpreted to mean

leaving an alewife in the lurch

--a relation how

a country gentleman of some credit, walking in Paul's, as termers are wont that wait on their lawyers, had his purse cut by a new kind of conveyance

--

a notable exploit performed by a lift

(that is, a thief)-the frauds of apprentices, &c., &c. There is some rare reading in this tract by Master Rowlands (if it be really of his penning)though he has not Greene's dramatic talent, or sharp, graphic style, but is in truth rather a heavy, lumbering writer, and, to speak it reverently, not a little of a blockhead.

We may here stop for a moment to notice the subject of the cant language in which the lawless population of those days conversed among themselves, as their successors still do. The names, as above given, for the different members of the cozening or swindling fraternity, and a few other terms that have been quoted, may be considered as belonging to this peculiar speech. Its origin, however, we believe, is not generally known. The earliest account we have found of it is in the very curious treatise entitled which was printed in . Harman, whose book is dedicated to Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury, was a country gentleman of Kent--a poor gentleman, as he describes himself, who had kept house for years before he drew up and published this treatise

for the utility and profit of his native country ;

and, although not uninfected by the pedantry of his time, of which his preference of the new and learned word or to the vulgar is a small specimen, he is a person of much penetration and sound sense, and he had taken great pains to collect his facts, as well as enjoyed very favourable opportunities of acquiring information not easily to be come at. It will be found that his treatise, which was reprinted at least times within years after its appearance, continued to supply the greater and most valuable portion of their materials to most of the pamphleteers who wrote on the same subject for half a century after, some of whom pilfer not merely his facts and the substance of his statements, but his language itself, without the least acknowledgment. As the

153

is not known to have been reprinted after , till the modern impression (consisting only of a copies) was brought out in , it is probable that it had come to be generally forgotten in the next generation. Harman distinctly asserts that the cant language of the thieves and beggars was the deliberate invention of an individual in the early part of the century.

As far,

he says,

as I can learn or understand by the examination of a number of them, their language, which they term Pedlers' French, or canting, began but within these

thirty

years, or little above, and that the

first

inventor thereof was hanged

all save the head

(the meaning of these last words we do not profess to understand). In another place he states that they had

begun of late to devise some new terms for certain things ;

and he observes that no doubt they would in time change the words they then used for others; yet we believe nearly all the words of more frequent employment that composed the speech on its introduction will be found still to belong to it after the wear and tear of more than years. This may be ascertained by comparing the old vocabularies with those appended to several modern publications, such as the

Life of Bamfylde Moore Carew,

the autobiographical &c. The earliest, probably, is that given by Harman at the end of his treatise, which he heads-

Here followeth their pelting speech; here I set before thee, good reader, the lend, lousy language of those leutering lusks and lazy losels,

&c. Harman's vocabulary, with indeed nearly all the rest of his book, and with scarcely any new matter, is reprinted in a peculiarly impudent piece of plagiarism entitled

The Groundwork of Coney-catching,

which appeared in , introduced by an address to the reader, declaring that the things there set down never yet were disclosed in any book on the same subject. This fraud is noticed in another pamphlet, entitled

Martin Mark-All, Beadle of

Bridewell

, his Defence and Answer to the Bell-man of London; discovering the long-concealed originate and regiment of Rogues,

&c., which was published in , and was doubtless the production of Rowlands, whose initials, S. R., are prefixed to it.

They

(the rogues), says this writer,

have a language among themselves, composed of omnium gatherum; a glimmering whereof

one

of late days hath endeavoured to manifest, as far as his author is pleased to be an intelligencer; the substance whereof he leaveth for those that will debate thereof; enough for him to have the praise, other the pains; notwithstanding Harman's ghost continually clogging his conscience with

sic vos non vobis

.

Rowlands (or S. R.) gives us a vocabulary, or dictionary, of cant words of his own, which he describes as enlarged from that of Harman. It has the addition of some curious cant rhymes. In his account of the origin of the thieves' language, Rowlands agrees with Harman, but is somewhat more specific, as if he had obtained his information in part from independent sources. He distinctly describes it as an artificial invention, and states that it was introduced in the time of a certain head or king of the beggars called Cock Lorrell, whose rule terminated in the year . The words, he observes, are chiefly of Latin, English, and Dutch derivation, mixed with a few drawn from the French and Spanish. Martin Mark-All's Defence is an answer to a production by a much more famous writer, Thomas Decker, poet, dramatist, and miscellaneous pamphleteer, entitled

The Bellman of London, bringing to light the most notorious villanies that are now practised in the kingdom,

&c., which

154

was published in , and long continued a popular favourite, as may appear from the circumstance of a new edition of it, described as

the

fifth

impression,

having been brought out so late as in . It is, however, in great part borrowed without acknowledgment from Harman's and from Greene's At the end is what is called which contains nothing new; nor is there much more than what had long ago been stated by Harman, in a chapter headed

Of Canting-how long it hath been a language-how it is derived,

&c., with which Decker commences another pamphlet, published in , under the title of

Lanthorne and Candle-Light, or the Bellman's

Second

Night's Walk; in which he brings to light a brood of more strange villanies than ever were till this year discovered.

Notwithstanding this profession, many things in this pamphlet also are stolen from Harman, though it also contains much curious matter which appears to be new. In treating of the cant language Decker says,

Within less than fourscore years now past not a word of this language was known,

thus fixing its introduction to the same date assigned by Harman, the rest of whose account, indeed, he straightway goes on to abstract, with some alterations, for the most part merely colourable to disguise the theft.

It is a common misconception to confound this cant phraseology of our ordinary thieves and beggars, consisting of a few peculiar terms and modes of expression mixed with and engrafted upon the language of the country, to the grammatical forms of which it is entirely accommodated, with the wholly distinct and foreign speech of the Gypsy people. The latter is another language altogether, having as little connexion with the English as the Hindostanee has, to which indeed, or to its fountain-head, the Sanscrit, the Gypsy tongue appears to be nearly allied. The notion of the identity of the Gypsy and the cant tongues has been fostered not only by such works as the

Life of Bamfylde Moore Carew,

where the list of cant words at the end is designated a

Gypsy Dictionary,

but by the higher authority of writers like Walter Scott, who, in his has throughout represented and his other Gypsy characters as conversing among themselves in the cant language, which he calls the language of their tribe. It is remarkable, by the bye, that Harman speaks of the Gypsies as utterly extirpated in England in his day.

I hope,

he writes,

their sin (that is, the sin of his native English cursitors) is now at the highest, and that as short and as speedy redress will be for these as hath been of late years for the wretched, wily, wandering, vagabonds calling and naming themselves Egyptians, deeply dissembling and long hiding and covering their deep, deceitful practices, feeding the rude common people wholly addicted and given to novelties, toys, and new inventions, delighting them with the strangeness of the attire of their heads, and practising palmistry to such as would know their fortunes,

&c.

And now,

he adds,

thanks be to God, through wholesome laws and the due execution thereof, all be dispersed, banished, and the memory of them clean extinguished, and, when they be once named hereafter, our children will much marvel what kind of people they were.

This, as we have seen, was in . About half a century afterwards, however, Rowlands (or whoever was the author of

Martin Mark-All

), in stealing Harman's description of the Gypsies in England, omits all that his predecessor says

155

about their disappearance, and indeed expressly:speaks of them as still existing in the country. He says they came in in the time of the same King Cock Lorrell, in whose days the cant speech was invented. Other accounts concur in making the Gypsies to have made their appearance in England in the early part of the century.

Harman's cursitors, or vagabonds, are mostly haunters of the villages, farms, and country parts; though often having intimate connexions, too, with London, and in some cases, as it would appear, their head-quarters there. He is very full and luminous on the Ruffler (or sturdy beggar), the Upright Man (a sort of chief or ruler in the begging and thieving community), the Prigger of Prances (horse-stealer), the Abraham Man (who pretended to have been insane, and to have suffered confinement in Bedlam, or some other house for lunatics), the Freshwater Mariner, or Whipjack (pretending to be a shipwrecked sailor), the Dummerer (feigner of dumbness), and many other varieties of the genus, old and young, male and female. But the Counterfeit Crank, or counterfeiter of the epilepsy, or falling evil, is almost the only of his characters whom he brings forward-upon the metropolitan scene. To this personage his chapter is devoted, and it contains, among other things, a long and amusing story of a Counterfeit Crank, who, early in the morning of All-Hallow-Day, , while the edition of the book was still in the press, and was not yet half printed, made his appearance under our author's

lodging at the White Friars, within the Cloysters, in a little yard or court, whereabouts lay

two

or

three

great ladies, being within the liberties of London, whereby he hoped for the greater gain.

Harman, watching his proceedings, soon became convinced that he was an impostor, and, indeed, after some questioning, reduced him almost to confession; but, having taken to his heels, it was not without great difficulty and a long pursuit that he was at last overtaken, and fairly pinned in the house of an honest Kent yeoman, a good many miles from town. And, after all, though he was stripped to the skin, and merely an old cloak thrown over him, he quickly found an opportunity of again making his escape, and, naked as he was, scampered across the fields, and got snug into cover--somewhere in the vast impenetrable jungle of London. Nothing was heard of him for about a couple of months, but then, with matchless impudence, trusting to a new disguise, on the morning of New Year's Day, he presented himself a time in White Friars. But Harman's practised eye was too sharp for him; it was soon made apparent that he was the same rogue who had but so lately got out of the clutches of justice; on which he bolted off again at Ludgate; but this time he ran no farther than Fleet Bridge before he was caught. Being now sent to , he was put in the pillory at ,

and after that,

concludes the narration,

went in the mill while his ugly picture was a-drawing, and then was whipt at a cart's-tail through London, and his displayed banner carried before him unto his own door (in Maister Hill's Rents), and so back to

Bridewell

again, and there remained for a time, and at length let at liberty on that condition he would prove an honest man, and labour truly to get his living. And his picture remaineth in

Bridewell

for a moniment.

An engraving of this picture, which, we presume, was the

displayed banner

that was carried before its original in his procession at the cart's-tail, is given by Harman, as an embellishment to this history of the

156

Counterfeit Crank, whose name, it seems, was Nicholas Genings; and it is accompanied by another of Nicholas Blunt, an Upright Man, whose trim and comfortable attire and bold bearing present a striking contrast to the rags, and dirt, and feigned decrepitude of his companion. We insert copies of both.
The chief lodging-houses resorted to by the thieves and wandering beggars of the London district in Harman's day are stated to have been

Saint Quinten's,

Three

Cranes in the Vintry, Saint Tybbe's, and Knapsberg.

These

four

,

he adds,

be within

one

mile compass near unto London. Then have you

four

more in Middlesex: Draw the Pudding out of the Fire, in Harrow-on-the-Hill parish; the Cross Keys, in Crayford parish; St. Julien's, in Thistleworth ( Isleworth) parish; the House of Pity, in North-hall parish. These are their chief houses near above London, where commonly they resort unto for lodging, and may repair thither freely at all times . . .. The Upright Men have given all these nicknames to the places above-said. Yet have we

two

notable places in Kent, not far from London; the

one

is between Deptford and Rothered (

Rotherhithe

), called the King's Barn, standing alone, that they have commonly; the other is Kesbrook, standing by Blackheath, half a mile from any house.

Harman has even preserved, in a long list, the names of the principal Upright Men, and other descriptions of rogues, who then haunted the counties of Middlesex, Essex, Sussex, Surrey, and Kent. Among the common beggars of this district were, he tells us, about a Irish men and women, who had come over within the preceding years.

They say,

he adds,

they have been burned and spoiled by the Earl of Desmond, and report well of the Earl of Ormond.

Many of these Irish, it is mentioned in another place, went about with counterfeited or forged begging-licences. Of the common beggars, called Paliards, or Clapperdoggers, and also of the Dummerers, many, too, it seems from other passages, were Welsh. , , and Barmesey (Bermondsey)

157

street, are mentioned as the chief places of residence of the London tinkers, and the quarters in which property stolen by the vagrants who strolled the neighbouring country districts was most likely to be found.

The old adage, that there is nothing new under the sun, would probably receive as ample illustration from the history of the rogueries of London, if we had the means of fully tracing it, as from any other region of human experience. It is wonderful how little inventive genius appears to have been called into action, as far as records go, in the contrivance of new tricks or ways of cheating during some hundreds of years. But, on the other hand, it must be confessed that very little has been required; no matter how long or how often any particular decoy or bait may have been used, it continues to catch the gudgeons as well as at :

Haec placuit semel; haec decies repetita placebit.

Doubtless, if not exactly the pleasure, at least the disposition or capacity

is as great

Of being cheated as to cheat.

The tendencies are evidently made for each other. It is a mistake to regard them as naturally hostile. They are what the logicians call antagonistic, or opposite but not contrary--that is to say, they press indeed in opposite directions, but it is so as to support each other, like the sets of rafters that form the roof of a house. We do not absolutely affirm that the coney-catcher is as indispensable to the coney as the coney is to the coney-catcher; but still we cannot help thinking that either would feel somewhat at a loss without the other-or, at any rate, that the beautiful balance and harmony of parts in the moral system would be considerably impaired by such an abstraction. It is difficult to conceive for what use or end the cheatable portion of the species could have been created if there were none to cheat them. Would they not be superfluities-incumbrances-violating and outraging by their very existence the and most beautiful principle of all cosmogonical philosophy, that nature does nothing in vain? But, besides, these cheats are, after all, perhaps, not of so opposite a disposition or character, in any sense, to the rogues as is commonly taken for granted. The difference between the is of circumstances and position, or, at most, of mere ability and opportunity, rather than of anything more essential. A fool and a knave are not so unlike another. On the hand, your knave is, on a large or high view, always a fool; on the other, your great fool would often be a great knave, if he only had the wit. Observe how the fool is for the most part cozened and cheated--not through his folly alone, but through that and his dishonesty together--not through his stupidity so much as his cupidity :--it is the latter commonly that bites at the hook which the cheat cunningly baits for him. If he were merely a fool, he would be comparatively difficult to catch-fools, it is truly said, are taken care of by heaven-pure folly and simplicity is armed and protected by its very want of any obtruding faculty or passion on which designing villany can take hold; it is a smooth-skinned eel which slips out of the hand that tries to grasp it. But such guilelessness is rare. How is the countryman entrapped in Greene's illustrations of coney-catching? Not, assuredly, by any aversion or scruple he has to join in cheating another person, however indisposed

158

to have that operation performed on himself, and however he may, as he imagines, have all his senses and faculties awake and on the stretch for his own protection. If he had thought only of taking care of himself, bumpkin as he is, he might have been safe-he had capacity, or instinct, enough for self-preservation, if he had confined his ambition to that; what suspended his vigilance, and betrayed him, was his eagerness to draw another into the snare from which he thought he had himself escaped, and to share the dishonest gains of the coneycatcher in addition to getting scatheless out of his hands. And in all cases this is the propensity in his victim upon which the cheat counts most; it is the fool's own inclination to knavery, the wish without the wit, that principally makes him the knave's victim. Take another common London trick--that of money-dropping or ring-dropping. We have seen that Greene mentions this as of the lures employed by the Setter or the Verser to seduce the countryman into the public house, in his written in . The author of a little volume, entitled in a series of letters, published in , is, therefore, in error in telling us (in his Letter) that guinea-dropping, as he calls it, or sweetening, was a paltry little cheat that was recommended to the world about years before by a memorable gentleman that had since had the misfortune to be taken off, that is to say, hanged, for a misdemeanor on the highway. At this date the trick, it would appear, was commonly practised on country gentlemen, as it now is on servant girls from the country. Some half a century, perhaps, later, as we may gather from , which has no date, but in which many things are copied from the preceding authority with certain alterations in accommodation to the change of times, we find the country gentleman transformed into a plain countryman or farmer. And here is the description of the trick given by the famous blind magistrate, Sir John Fielding, in a little tract entitled

Some proper Cautions to the

Sir John Fielding.

Merchants, Tradesmen, and Shop-keepers, Journeymen, Apprentices, Porters, Errand-boys, Book-keepers, and Innkeepers; also very necessary for any person going to London, either on business or pleasure,

which is found at the end of printed in

159

:--

The next class (of gamblers or cheats) are those who find a paper full of gold rings, which they take care to pick up in the sight of a proper object, whose opinion they ask. This set appear very mean, which gives them an opportunity of saying they had rather have found a good piece of bread and cheese, for that he had not broken his fast for a whole day; then wishes the gentleman would give him something for them, that he might buy himself a pair of shoes, a coat, &c. The cull immediately bites, and, thinking to make a cheap purchase of an ignorant fellow, gives him

twenty shillings

for

four

or

five

brass rings washed over. Or, what is more frequent, and yet more successful, is the picking up a shilling or a half-crown before the face of a countryman, whose opinion of it is immediately asked whether it be silver or not, and he is invited to share the finder's good luck in a glass of wine or pot of ale. The harmless countryman, pleased at such an invitation in a strange place, is carried to an alehouse, where the sharper's friends are waiting for him, and where cutting or playing at cards is soon proposed, and the countryman most certainly tricked out of all his money, watch, and everything valuable he has about him.

Thus, we see, if harmless countrymen, and other honest and respectable persons, were somewhat less keen in catching at advantages to which they are not entitled, less fond of a good bargain (to the extent of occasionally appropriating what does not belong to them), less disposed to indulge in pots of wine or ale at the expense of other people, a little more solicitous than they commonly are to restore any article of value or apparent value they may pick up to its proper owner, they would fall into fewer scrapes and mischances. They would seldomer burn their fingers if they did not so often thrust them into the fire-more especially to snatch their neighbours' chestnuts. This consideration, along with others, has sometimes inclined us to think that, after all, the best and most effective way of legislating against swindling and thieving might be to punish the party who has lost his property, and not him who has abstracted it--the man who has been foolish and careless enough to allow himself to be plundered or overreached, rather than the ingenious and dexterous practitioner who has contrived to throw him off his guard. This is no more than the principle upon which the wise Spartans of old proceeded.

Lycurgus,

remarks Montaigne,

considered in theft the vivacity, diligence, boldness, and dexterity of purloining anything from our neighbours, and the utility that redounded to the public, that every

one

might look more narrowly to the conservation of what was his own, and believed that from his double institution of assaulting and defending, advantage was to be made for military discipline (which was the principal science and virtue to which he would inure that nation) of greater consideration than the disorder and injustice of taking another man's goods.

If the protection of property be the object, it may be reasonably doubted whether it would not be attained under this system, at least quite as successfully as under that now in use. And even on grounds of natural propriety and justice, considered liberally and without prejudice, would there be anything so very objectionable in thus rewarding ingenuity and leaving negligence and thoughtlessness to their natural punishment? Is not clever knavery entitled to this much of protection and encouragement according to all the fundamental principles of the Rights of Man? To whom does anything whatever rightfully belong, if not to him whom superior art, courage, or

160

perseverance has put in possession of it, and enabled to snatch it from another less highly endowed with these qualities? Which of the is likely either to preserve it most carefully, or to make the best use of it-he who could not keep it when he had it, or he who, without the original advantage which actual possession gives, yet succeeded in winning it? Which may be supposed to feel the greatest regard and attachment to it, and to be, in so far as that goes, the most worthy of holding and enjoying it? But, independently of these transcendental speculations, there is, as we have said, the more homely consideration that the person who is swindled or plundered is often at heart very nearly as great a rascal as the abler rogue who cheats him, and has, in the transaction between them, been only a loser instead of a winner at the same game, which he has played indeed less openly and boldly, and altogether in a more pitiful and sneaking style, as well as less skilfully and successfully, than the other. No, the cheat in these cases is not the only public nuisance, the only offender that the state ought to endeavour to put down or extirpate; the cheatee, his natural prey and victim, is also a description of person of the most detrimental character in any well-governed commonwealth; if the latter could be got rid of, the former too would soon die out; and sound legislation therefore will direct its attention as sedulously to the object as to the other. Laws against thieves and swindlers must be combined with the enlightenment and general moral elevation of the class of the people on whose imperfect knowledge, or imperfect honesty (oftentimes the consequence of imperfect knowledge), these depredators trade and live. And herein the press too may lend a useful helping hand, even by such details and exposures as we have just been giving.

A stockes to staye sure and safely detayne Lazy, lewd leuterers that lawes do offend. Harman's Caveat, &c.