Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Few esquires came to the capital thrice in their lives

From The History of England, from the Accession of James II.

England in the 1600s was plagued with poor or non-existent internal roads and other means of transportation. Macaulay has a wonderful description of the country lord coming to town in an age when travel was so circumscribed.
These gregarious habits had no small share in forming the character of the Londoner of that age. He was, indeed, a different being from the rustic Englishman. There was not then the intercourse which now exists between the two classes. Only very great men were in the habit of dividing the year between town and country. Few esquires came to the capital thrice in their lives. Nor was it yet the practice of all citizens in easy circumstances to breathe the fresh air of the fields and woods during some weeks of every summer. A cockney, in a rural village, was stared at as much as if he had intruded into a Kraal of Hottentots. On the other hand, when the lord of a Lincolnshire or Shropshire manor appeared in Fleet Street, he was as easily distinguished from the resident population as a Turk or a Lascar. His dress, his gait, his accent, the manner in which he gazed at the shops, stumbled into the gutters, ran against the porters, and stood under the waterspouts, marked him out as an excellent subject for the operations of swindlers and barterers. Bullies jostled him into the kennel. Hackney coachmen splashed him from head to foot. Thieves explored with perfect security the huge pockets of his horseman's coat, while he stood entranced by the splendour of the Lord Mayor's show. Moneydroppers, sore from the cart's tail, introduced themselves to him, and appeared to him the most honest friendly gentlemen that he had ever seen. Painted women, the refuse of Lewkner Lane and Whetstone Park, passed themselves on him for countesses and maids of honour. If he asked his way to Saint James's, his informants sent him to Mile End. If he went into a shop, he was instantly discerned to be a fit purchaser of everything that nobody else would buy, of second-hand embroidery, copper rings, and watches that would not go. If he rambled into any fashionable coffee house, he became a mark for the insolent derision of fops and the grave waggery of Templars. Enraged and mortified, he soon returned to his mansion, and there, in the homage of his tenants and the conversation of his boon companions, found consolation for the vexatious and humiliations which he had undergone. There he was once more a great man, and saw nothing above himself except when at the assizes he took his seat on the bench near the Judge, or when at the muster of the militia he saluted the Lord Lieutenant.

A money-dropper? From a Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English by Eric Partridge:
Money-dropper A swindler who, dropping counterfeit money, gets good change from some 'flat': c.: 1748 (Smollett); Grose, 2nd ed.
From Cassell's Dictionary of Slang by Jonathon Green.
Gold-dropper n. (also dropper, money-dropper)(late 17C-19C) (UK Und.) a rogue who specializes in dropping something supposedly valuable where it will be found by a potential victim, who is either lured into a game or persuaded to buy the "valuable", while the con-man claims that although they should, by rights, share the profits, he will sell his share and let the victim have the whole benefit; alternately the victim is introduced to some of the sharp's friends, who propose a game of cards or dice, in which they rob him.
So basically the 17th century London equivalent of the modern Nigerian Prince email scam.

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