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THE HISTORY

OF

THE BLIND BEGGAR

OF BETHNAL GREEN,

CONTAINING

His Birth and Parentage; how he went to the Wars and Lost his Sight, and turned Beggar at Bethnal Green; how he got Riches, and educated his Daughter; of her being Courted by a rich, young Knight; how the Blind Beggar dropt Gold with the Knight's Uncle; of the Knight and the Beggar's Daughter being Married; and, lastly, how the famous Pedigree of the Beggar was discovered, with other Things worthy of Note.


Chapter I.

How Monford went to the Wars of France, where he lost his Sight; how he was accompanied with his Wife, who preserved his Life, and of his Return to England, etc.

In former days, when the rose of England eclipsed the lilies of France, and true English valour made that nation stoop, among other brave gallants that went over to try their fortune, Monford was one, a person well descended, who, being naturally inclined to war and greedy of fame, neither the entreaty of friends nor the marriage he had contracted with a kind, beautiful woman, could alter his purpose; but taking his wife Margaret with him, he, with many hundreds more, crossed the seas, and with the help of a prosperous wind, arriving at Calais, marched to the royal standard, accompanied with his loving wife, who, in manlike attire, became his inseparable companion, and was the cause of saving his life; for many skirmishes happened between the English and French, wherein young Monford behaved himself with wondrous courage; and in one, following too hot the pursuit, was, with divers others, entrapped into ambush, late in the evening; and though he manfully disputed it, making great slaughter of the enemy, yet in spite of resistance he was beaten from his horse by a forcible stroke, and left in the field for dead among the dying men; where he had undoubtedly perished through loss of blood, and the anguish of his wounds, had not his tender-hearted love, upon hearing what had happened and his not returning, hasted to the field, where, among the slain, she by moonlight discovered him, stripped and struggling for life, and by the help of a servant brought him to a shepherd's cottage, where she carefully dressed his wounds and administered such cordials as brought him to himself, to her unspeakable joy; though this joy was something abated when she found he had lost his sight, but true love working in her heart, the alteration or disfigurement of his countenance did not alter her affection; but comforting him in the best manner she could, though his natural courage would not admit of any dejection, she procured him a homely suit of apparel, and brought him (unfit for service) back to England, of whose entertainment and settlement at Bethnal Green, in the county of Middlesex, and course of life, you shall hear in the following chapter.

Chapter II.

How Monford arrived in England and of the Cold Entertainment he found among his relations. How he settled in Bethnal Green, where he continued to beg for his Living.

Monford, having escaped a dreadful storm at sea, landed with his wife on the coast of Essex, where he had some considerable relations, to whom, in his necessity, they applied themselves for succour; but they, who, after the death of his parents, had wasted much of his patrimony, or fearing he might be chargeable to them, would not know him, and those that were convinced he was the same Monford that went over to France gave him but cold entertainment; insomuch that, scorning to rely upon their charity, he told his wife that he intended, early in the morning, to haste towards London, and that he would rather trust to Providence than the ingratitude of those who, in his prosperous days, had caressed him. His wife declared she would labour at her spinning-wheel or do what she was capable for a living. In two days travelling they spent what little money they had saved, so necessity obliged them to ask charity of the people as he passed through the country towns and villages; who, understanding that he came by his misfortune in fighting for the honour of his country, gave liberally to him; and considering that the loss of his sight had rendered him incapable of business, he resolved to embrace what providence had cast in his way, which was to live upon charity. Whereupon, arriving at Bethnal Green, near London, he hired a small cottage for his wife and himself, and daily appearing publicly to crave alms, was from thence called "The Beggar of Bethnal Green," and in a short time found it a thriving trade, insomuch that his bed of straw was changed into down, and his earthen platters and other utensils into a better sort of decent furniture.

Chapter III.

How Monford happened to meet with Snap, an old, experienced Beggar, who gave him an Insight into the Mystery of the Canting Tribe; and how he invited him to the Rendezvous.

Monford resolving in this kind of way to spend the remainder of his days, being very well contented with his trade, having played it with great success in the place where he lived, one day he was encountered by an old proficient in the art of begging, who, seeing him very diligent, did greatly covet his acquaintance, and to know what gang he did belong to. He therefore accosts him in their canting method, which is a sort of speech or rather a gibberish peculiar to themselves. Monford, being ignorant, could make him no direct answer, which the other, whose name was Snap, perceiving, and thereby knowing him to be a young beginner, invited him to their feasts or rendezvous in Whitechapel, whither he having promised to come, and they between them tripped off four black pots of rum, they parted that time.

Chapter IV.

How Monford went to the Beggars' Feast, and of his Entertainment, and also the Presents they made.

Monford, upon his coming home, declared to his wife what a merry companion he met with, and what discourse he had, and likewise what he had promised, entreating her to get things in readiness, that she might conduct him thither, where appeared, instead of a ragged regiment of lame, blind, and dumb, there was a rout of jovial dancers, as gay as the spring, and as merry as the maids; which made them imagine they were mistaken in the place or was imposed upon, and therefore turned to go away, had not Snap started from his chair, where he sat as supervisor, in all his gallantry, and taking him by the hand, let him know who it was introduced him into the assembly, where he was received as brother of their society, every member saluting him with a compliment, and, that he might not want a guide for the future, Snap, in the name of the society, presented him with a dog and a bell trained to the business. So his wife and he, being splendidly entertained, were dismissed, upon his promise that he would not be absent at their yearly meeting.

Chapter V.

What Success he had in the Begging Trade. How his Wife was brought to Bed of a Daughter, and Christened by the Name of Elizabeth.

The blind beggar soon became master of his trade, and, by the help of his dog, trudged often to London, and having the perfect tone, had the luck to return with his pockets well lined with chink. His way of begging became so pleasing to him that he would often sing as follows—

A beggar lives a merry life, And has both wealth and ease; His days are free from care and strife, He does whate'er he please.
While others labour, sweat, and toil, His tongue does get him pelf; He travels with his dog and bell, And brings home store of wealth.

He being by this time in a warm condition, to add further to his joy, his loving wife fell in labour, and was delivered of a daughter, whose birth made him think he was the happiest man alive, and hundred times he kissed her and dandled her in his arms, whom he christened by the name of Elizabeth, and as she increased in years, so her beauty and modesty caused her to be called "Pretty Betty." Some began to dote upon her admirable perfections, and the better to qualify her gave her such learning as was suitable to her degree, which she improved; so that her beauty and wit, her skill in singing, dancing, and playing on instruments of music, procured her the envy of the young maidens thereabouts, who supposed themselves much superior in birth and fortune, would often reflect upon her birth, and call her a beggar's brat. She bore all their ill language without returning it, and endeavoured to win them to her by gentle persuasions; but not prevailing, and her patience spent, she said, "I never injured any of you, but have strove to do you all the good offices which I was capable of doing; why, then, do you envy and abuse me? What if my parents are in a mean station, yet they pay for my education of dancing and singing which they bestow upon me, and though, perhaps, I am not so well descended as some of you, though you may be mistaken, yet Heaven might have made your case the same had it thought fit." Yet, finding that they did not cease to rail at her, and being by this time about fifteen years of age, she prevailed with her parents to grant her leave to seek her fortune.

Chapter VI.

How handsome Betty took Leave of her Parents, and the Entertainment she met with.

Now the time of Betty's departure being come, her parents furnished her with clothes and other necessaries, whereupon she fell upon her knees and craved their blessing, which being given, with many prayers for her prosperity, they took a sad farewell.

Pretty Betty, having now left her father's house, or rather smoke-loft, went pensive along the road towards Stradford, relying only on Providence to direct her. Having walked all night, at sunrise she came to Rumford, in Essex and being ready to faint, betook herself to an inn, and called for something to refresh her. The mistress of the house, taking notice of her garb, beautiful face, and modest behaviour, though dejected, began to ask her from whence she came, and whither she was bound. Betty replied, "I am going to seek my fortune. I am very well educated by my indulgent parents, who live near London; but I am now obliged, contrary to my former expectation, to get my livelihood in some honest way of working." The good woman, being more and more taken with her carriage, demanded if she would be content to stay with her till she could better provide to her advantage, and that she would use her as a daughter rather than a servant. Betty thankfully accepted the offer, and in the performance of whatever she undertook discharged herself so well that she gained the love and applause of all that observed her, insomuch that her name for beauty and ingenuity began to spread, and abundance of young men resorted to the house, which created a great trade, on purpose to see her, who generally took a liking to her; for nature had made her so lovely and charming that she could not but be admired, insomuch that many of them, as they found opportunity, began to buzz love stories in her ears, to which she gave but little heed, till four suitors of greater worth beat off these little assailants, and laid close siege, as in the following chapter will appear.

Chapter VII.

How Pretty Betty, living at an Inn at Rumford, was Courted by Persons of Fortune.

It being whispered about that pretty Betty must needs be some great person's daughter, it highly increased her reputation. At last the inn-keeper's son, a very rich London merchant, courted her. But she modestly declined his offers, as also the offers of all other suitors, by representing to them the inequality of her fortune to theirs; but this served only to increase their passions. And being every day importuned, she at last resolved to discover who her parents were, judging that way to be the most sure means to try the sincerity of their love and affection which they pretended to have for her.

Chapter VIII.

How Pretty Betty being Woo'd by her Master's Son, a Merchant, a Gentleman, and a Knight; how, upon her declaring her Parentage, was slighted by all but the Knight; and of their Agreement.

Our beautiful virgin, being hardly pressed for love and enjoyment, found herself obliged to take a course that might rid her of her lovers, or allot one of them to her share; wherefore she told them she was not really at her own disposal, her parents being alive; therefore, if they loved her as they said, and seeing but one could enjoy her, she was contented her father should choose one for her, of whose choice she would approve.

This set them almost at daggers drawing, who should get thither first, but whither to go they knew not, therefore desired to be informed, every one's heart being filled with joy, not doubting to carry the prize; when thus she began:—"My parents, worthy sirs, live on Bethnal Green. My father is left with a dog and a bell, living upon the charity of good people, and my mother a poor woman that spins for bread. Thus I have declared to you my parents, and though I might have the richest person in the world for a husband, yet I would not marry him without their consent, which I think myself bound in duty to obtain."

Most of her suitors seemed thunderstruck at this plain declaration, every one, except the knight, despising her now as much as they seemed to love her before, each of them swearing they would not undervalue themselves to marry a beggar's child. But the knight was more inflamed than ever, and having a large estate, did not regard interest or a portion so much as he did the pleasing of his fancy with a beautiful, modest, young, and virtuous maid, all of which centred in Pretty Betty. Therefore, after he had paused a while took the blushing virgin by the hand, and said, "You see, fair creature, how they that pretended to love you did it only in expectation of your being descended from wealthy parents, and that they might get a large portion. Though they have left you, if you will accept of me for a husband, who truly love you on account of your virtue and beauty, I will make you my wife and settle on you a jointure." To this she replied, "Alas, sir, I dare not hope for so much happiness, or, if I durst, yet would not dispose of myself without my parents' consent; though I must confess," says she, blushing, "I ever did esteem you above all the gentlemen who did make love and offer themselves to me." This modesty kindled his passion more, and therefore, after many vows of constancy, it was agreed that he should provide horses and servants, and conduct her the next morning to Bethnal Green, to ask and obtain her father's consent; yet this affair was not so secretly managed but spies being abroad soon discovered it, who not only discovered to the knight's uncle, who was guardian and trustee for him, and had the sole care of his estate, but to most of the young men in Rumford who were her admirers, as the following chapter will inform you.

Chapter IX.

How Pretty Betty rid behind the Knight to her Father's House, and what happened on the Road; also what happened between the Knight's Uncle and Betty's Father.

Pretty Betty, having met the knight according to appointment, did not scruple to ride behind him; but they had scarce got out of town when his uncle came to the inn, but not finding either of them there, was confirmed that what had been told him was true, and therefore he followed them to prevent the match, being accompanied with several of Betty's lovers, who suspected the knight had taken her away by force. Their hurry and confusion was great, and the townsmen going a nearer way, overtook and fell foul upon the knight and his servants, without giving him leave to speak for himself or suffering his mistress to excuse him, so that a sharp conflict ensued, till at length divers persons that were travelling the road came and parted them, whereby they came to a right understanding, which made those that had misused him beg his pardon, which he granted, and, dismissing them, kept on his way till, coming to the old man's door, they alighted; which made him, upon hearing the noise of horses trampling, being a thing very unusual, start from the fire, and put his head out of the window, and not understanding the meaning of it, ere the knight's uncle came puffing and blowing at a strange rate crying, "Why, how now nephew? what's this I hear of you? Are you mad to disgrace your family by marrying a beggar's brat? For shame, for shame! consider better than to make yourself a laughing stock to the world by such an unseemly match." Then, turning about to Pretty Betty, said, "Pray how came this about, you baggage you? But, however, I say, nephew, leave her and come along with me and I will provide a rich wife for you suitable to your condition."

To this the young knight would have replied, but the blind beggar Monford, not being able to bear his taunts and reproaches any longer, said, "I cannot see you at all, but sir, whatever you are I hear you too much, and more than becomes a civil gentleman; nor do I count my girl so mean to suffer her to be railed on at my door; therefore, pray sir, hold your prating, or I shall fell you with my staff. I have seen the day when a taller fellow than you durst not put me in a passion. If your kinsman does not think my child a fit match for him, let him let her alone and welcome. I am satisfied she hath her share of beauty and good breeding, and those are enough to recommend her. But know, sir, that I, her father, am willing and ready to lay down as many guineas for my child as you are to drop for your nephew, and therefore care not how soon you begin." The knight's uncle was something surprised at this speech of the blind beggar's; but, however, he accepted of the challenge, and sent to London for a bag of gold. As soon as it was brought, Monford pulled out two large cat skins stuffed with gold from under a bundle of rags, whereby it appeared his trade had been advantageous. Both parties being ready, they rained a golden shower so plentifully that the gentleman's stock failed him, and the beggar, not hearing it chink, fell into laughter and said, "How, sir, is your money done so soon? I thought at first you had more words than money. Pray, for your credit's sake, try your friends, for I have three or four cat skins with golden puddings in their bellies yet." "Indeed," said the gentleman, "I am content to own you have outdone me, and think you have the philosopher's stone, or keep a familiar to bring it to you from the golden mountain. But seeing the world goes so well with you, I shall no further go about to persuade my nephew from being your son-in-law, but beg pardon for what I have done." "Oh, do you so," said the beggar, "then may things be better, perhaps, than you expect." Then, turning to the knight, "Gather up," said he, "the loose coin I have scattered, and here's a cat skin filled which will make up the sum of three thousand pounds, beside a hundred more to buy her a wedding gown. Take this as her present portion, and, as you behave yourself, expect more hereafter. I give her to you, and with her a blessing. Go to church and be married, in God's name, and I wish you both success and prosperity." When he had thus spoken, the knight and bride fell upon their knees, and gave him a thousand thanks and departed, whilst those that had been suitors, hearing what had happened, were ready to hang themselves for madness.

Chapter X.

How Pretty Betty was Married to the Knight, and her true Pedigree discovered.

Things being come to pass, great preparations were made for the wedding. The bride and bridegroom were dressed in rich apparel, and as soon as the ceremony was ended they went to the place appointed for keeping their wedding dinner. Hither resorted abundance of persons of distinction, who had been invited, yet none of them surpassed the bride in modesty and beauty. At length her father and mother came in, dressed in silks and embroidered velvets. The company was pleased with the entertainment, which was very costly, and when the music, dancing, and masquerading was ended, the old man Monford sung a song, wherein he discovered his pedigree and his valour in the wars of France, which also filled the company full of admiration.

OLD MONFORD'S SONG.

You gallants all, that here are come To make this day more happy prove; Know, though I'm blind, I am not dumb, But wish you happiness and love.
The bride, although her birth seems mean, Is born of a noble race; Her predecessors great have been, If you her pedigree do trace.
Know she is Monford's daughter fair, Who lost his sight in the wars of France, Who ever since, in begging here, Did take this happy, thriving chance.
Consider, bridegroom, then her birth, Which some think mean and low, As much of honour can bring forth As you have power to show.

The name of Monford, which had been held so famous for virtue and valour in those days, did not a little cause wonder in the hearers, who, desiring him to explain himself, and give the company a particular account of all his adventures from his youth till the present time, and immediately a profound silence ensued, the noble company sitting in full expectation of being diverted with the surprising achievements and glorious exploits of old Monford, especially his son-in-law, who was more desirous than all the rest to hear this seemingly so much pleasing relation, and his beautiful bride was no less anxious to hear more of her pedigree; for till now she had been kept in the dark with regard to her high birth. Monford, hearing all were silent, begun to relate first, his marriage; second, his going over to France, accompanied by his beloved spouse, his adventures there; and, lastly, how he lost his sight in an engagement, with his return to England, and the success he had by begging; all which caused a general joy, since those who had formerly known him by that name supposed him to be dead; and the bridegroom was pronounced now more happy than ever, whose lovely bride in both birth and fortune equalled his in all degrees, and her father, for the credit of his daughter, promised to leave off his begging trade and live upon what he had got. This day was concluded to the joy and satisfaction of all parties.