A Caveat for Cutpurses

Melody - "Packington's Pound"

from the Roxburghe Collection, vol. ii

My masters, and friends, and good people, draw near,
And look to your purses for that I do say;
And though little mony in them you do bear,
It costs more to get than to lose in a day;
You oft have been told, both the young and the old,
And bidden beware of the Cut-purse so bold;
Then, if you take heed not, free me from the curse,
Who both give you warning for and the cut-purse.
Youth, youth you hadst better been starv'd by thy nurse,
Than live to be hang'd for cutting as purse.

2. It hath been upbraided to men of my trade,
That oftentimes we are the cause of this crime.
Alack and for pitty! why should it be said,
As if they regarded or places or time?
Examples have been of those that were seen
In Westminster-hall, yea, the pleaders between;
Then why should the judges be free from this curse
More than my poor self is, for cutting a purse?

3. At Worster, 'tis known well that even in the jale,
A knight of good worship did there shew his face.
Against the foul sinners in zeale for to raile,
And so lost, ipso facto, his purse in the place:
Nay, once from the seat of judgement so great,
A judge there did lose a fair pouch of velvet.
Oh Lord! for thy mercy how wicked, or worse,
Are those that so venture their necks for a purse!

4. At playes and at sermons and at the Sessions,
'Tis daily their practice such booty to make;
Yea under the gallows, at executions,
They stick not the stare-abouts' purses to take;
Nay, one without grace, at a better place,
At Court, and in Christmas, before the Kings face.
Alack then for pitty! must I bear the curse,
That only belongs to the cunning Cut-purse?

5. But oh, you vile nation of Cut-purses all!
Relent and repent, and amend, and be sound,
And know that you ought not by honest men's fall
Advance your own fortunes to dye above ground:
And though you go gay in silks, as you may,
It is not the highway to heaven, as they say.
Repent then, repent you, for better for worse,
And kiss not the gallows for cutting a purse.

6. The players doe tell you in Bartholemew Faire
What secret consumptions and rascels you are;
For one of their actors, it seems, had the fate,
By some of you trade to be fleeced of late:
Then fall to your prayers, you that are way-layers!
They're fit to chouse all the world that can cheat players;
For he hath the art, and no man the worse,
Whose cunning can pilfer the pilferer's purse.

7. The plain countryman that comes staring to London,
If once you come near him he quickly is undone;
For when he amazedly gazeth about,
One treads on his toes, and the other puls't out;
Then in a strange place, where he knows no face,
His mony is gone, 'tis a pittifull case.
The divel of hell in his trade is not worse
Than gilter, and diver, and cutter of purse.

8. The poor servant maid wears her purse in her placket,
A place of quick feeling, and yet you can take it;
Nor is she aware that you have done the feat,
Untill she is going to pay for her meat;
Then she cryes and she rages amongst her baggages,
And swears at one thrust she hath lost all her wages;
For she is ingaged her own to disburse,
To make good the breach of the cruel Cut-purse.

9. Your eyes and your fingers are nimble of growth,
But Dun many times hath been nimbler than both;
Yet you are deceived by many a slut,
But the hangman is only the Cut-purses cut.
It makes you to vex when he bridles your necks,
And then at the last what becomes of your tricks?
But when you should pray, you begin for to curse
The hand that first shewd you to slash at purse.

10. But now to my hearers this counsel I give,
And pray, friends, remember it as long as you live,
Bring out no more cash in purse, pocket or wallet,
Than one single penny to pay for the ballet;
For Cut-purse doth shrowd himself in a cloud,
There's many a purse hath been lost in a crowd;
For he's the most rouge that doth crowd up, and curses,
Who first cryes, "My masters, beware of your purses!"

This ballad can be found in Act III of Ben Jonson's play: Bartholomew Fair.

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