Rhymes Of The Canting Crew.

Rhymes Of The Canting Crew.
c. 1536
From “The Hye-way to the Spyttel-hons” by ROBERT COPLAND (HAZLITT, Early Popular Poetry of England, iv.) ROBERT COPLAND  and the Porter of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital loquitor.

Copland. Come none of these pedlers this way also,
With pak on bak with their bousy speche 1 crapulous
Jagged and ragged with broken hose and breche?

Porter. Inow, ynow; with bousy coue maimed nace,2 Notes
Teare the patryng coue in the darkeman cace
Docked the dell for a coper meke;
His watch shall feng a prounces nob-chete,
Cyarum, by Salmon, and thou shall pek my jere
In thy gan, for my watch it is nace gere
For the bene bouse my watch hath a coyn.
And thus they babble tyll their thryft is thin
I wote not what with their pedlyng frenche.


[Footnote: Throughout these notes free use has been made of the National Dictionary of Biography; a work which, without question, contains the latest and most accurately sifted array of biographical information, much of which could not be obtained from any other source whatever.]

These lines are of little interest apart from the fact of being the earliest known example of the Canting speech or Pedlar’s French in English literature. Sorry in point or meaning, they are sorrier still as verse. Yet, antedating, by half a century or more, the examples cited by Awdeley and Harman, they possess a certain value they carry us back almost to the beginnings of Cant, at all events to the time when the secret language of rogues and vagabonds first began to assume a concrete form.

Usually ascribed to Thomas Dekker (who “conveyed” them bodily, and with errors, to Lanthorne and Candlelight, published in 1609) this jingle of popular Canting phrases, strung together almost at haphazard, is the production of Robert Copland (1508-1547), the author of The Hye Way to the Spyttel House, a pamphlet printed after 1535, and of which only two or three copies are now known. Copland was a printer-author; in the former capacity a pupil of Caxton in the office of Wynkyn de Worde.

The plan of The Hye Way is simplicity itself. Copland, taking refuge near St. Bartholomew’s Hospital during a passing shower, engages the porter in conversation concerning the “losels, mighty beggars and vagabonds, the michers, hedge-creepers, fylloks and luskes” that “ask lodging for Our Lord’s sake”. Thereupon is drawn a vivid and vigorous picture of the seamy side of the social life of the times. All grades of “vagrom men,” with their frauds and shifts, are passed in review, and when Copland asks about their “bousy” speech, the porter entertains him with these lines.

Lines 2 and 4. Bousy = drunken, sottish, dissipated. So Skelton in Elynoor Rommin (Harl. MSS. ed. Park, I. 416), ’Her face all bowsie’. Booze = to drink heavily, is still colloquial; and, = to drink, was in use as early as A.D. 1300. Line 4. Cove (or Cofe) = a man, an individual. Maimed nace (nase or nazy) = helplessly drunk; Lat. nausea = sickness; cf. line 9, ‘nace gere’. Line 5. Teare (toure or towre) = to look, to see. Patrying cove (patrico, patricove, or pattercove) = a strolling priest; cf. Awdeley, Frat. of Vacabondes (1560), p. 6.:— “A Patriarke Co. doth make marriages, and that is untill death depart the married folke, which is after this sort: When they come to a dead Horse or any dead Catell, then they shake hands and so depart, euery one of them a seuerall way.” The form patrying cove seems to suggest a derivation from ‘pattering’ or ‘muttering’—the Pater-noster, up to the time of the Reformation, was recited by the priest in a low voice as far as ‘and lead us not into temptation’ when the choir joined in. Darkman

cace (or case) = a sleeping apartment or place—ward, barn, or inn: darkmans = night + Lat. casa = house etc.: ‘mans’ is a common canting affix = a thing or place: e.g. lightmans = day; ruffmans = a wood or bush; greenmans = the fields; Chepemans = Cheapside market etc. Line 6. docked the dell = deflowered the girl: dell = virgin; see Harman, Caveat (1575), p. 75:—’A dell is a yonge wenche, able for generation, and not yet knowen or broken by the upright man’. Coper meke (or make) = a half-penny. Line 7. His watch = he: my watch = I, or me: cf. ‘his nabs’ and ‘my nabs’ in modern slang. Feng (A. S.) = to get, to steal, to snatch. Prounces nobchete = prince’s hat or cap: cheat (A. S.) = thing, and mainly used as an affix: thus, belly-chete = an apron; cackling-chete = a fowl; crashing-chetes = the teeth; nubbing-chete = the gallows, and so forth. Line 8. Cyarum, by Salmon—the meaning of cyarum is unknown: by Salmon (or Solomon) = a beggar’s oath, i.e., by the altar or mass. Pek my jere = eat excrement: cf. ‘turd in your mouth’. Line 9. gan = mouth. My watch, see ante, line 7. Nace gere = nauseous stuff: cf. ante, line 4: gere = generic for thing, stuff, or material. Line 10. bene bouse = strong drink or wine.

Taken from Musa Pedestris, Three Centuries of Canting Songs and Slang Rhymes [1536―1896], collected and annotated by John S. Farmer.



Rhymes Of The Canting Crew.
The Beggar’s Curse
Towre Out Ben Morts
The Maunder’s Wooing
A Gage Of Ben Rom-Bouse
Bing Out, Bien Morts
The Song Of The Beggar
The Maunder’s Initiation
The High Pad’s Boast
The Merry Beggars
A Mort’s Drinking Song
. . .