An erudite Highwayman with a taste for stinging repartee, Old Mob flourishd on the highway between London and the West Country in the late 17th century. The victims, of both his tongue and pistol, included the famous Mountebank, Cornelius a Tilburgh, the Duchess of Portsmouth, mistress of Charles II and the infamous jusge of the "Bloody Assizes", George Jeffreys.
Old Mobb was born at Ramsey, in Hampshire, which continued to be the place of his habitation, when he resided anywhere under his right name, till the day of his apprehending; and he had a wife and five children, besides grandchildren, living there at the time of his shameful death. We have no particular account of his education and private life, from whence we may conclude there was nothing remarkable in either. His adventures on the road we shall relate in the order which we have received them, which is the only method we can follow. Riding one time between Honiton and Exeter, he met with Sir Bartholomew Shower, whom he immediately called to account for the money he had about him. Sir Bartholomew gave him all he had without any words, which proved to be but a very little. Old Mobb looked upon his prize, and finding it infinitely short of his expectations readily told him that there was not enough to answer his present demands, which were very large, and very pressing. "And therefore, sir, says he, "as you are my banker in general, you must instantly draw a bill upon somebody at Exeter for one hundred and fifty pounds, and remain in the next field, as security for the payment, till I have received it."
The Knight would fain have made some evasion, and protested that there was nobody in Exeter who would pay such a sum at a moment's warning; but Old Mobb so terrified him with holding a pistol to his breast that his worship at last consented, and drew upon a rich goldsmith. As soon as Old Mobb had got the note, he made Sir Bartholomew dismount, and walk far enough from the road to be out of everybody's hearing, then bound him hand and foot and left him under a hedge, while he rode to Exeter, and received the money, which was paid without any scruple, the goldsmith knowing the handwriting perfectly well. When he returned, he found the poor Knight where he left him. "Sir," says he, " I am come with a Habeas Corpus to remove you out of your present captivity "; which he accordingly did by untying him and sending him about his business. But Sir Bartholomew was obliged to walk home, which was fully three miles, for our adventurer had cut the girths and bridle of his horse, and turned him stray, ever since he went to Exeter with the note.
Mr John Gadbury, the astrologer, was another who fell into the hands of Old Mobb, who, notwithstanding his familiarity with the stars, was not wise enough to foresee his own misfortune, which has been a common case with men of his profession. This encounter was on the road between Winchester and London. Poor Gadbury trembled, and turned as white as a clout, when Old Mobb told him what he wanted, professing that he had no more money about him than just enough to bear his expenses to London; but our highwayman was not at all moved with compassion at what he said.
"Are not you a lying son of a whore," quoth he, "to pretend you want money when you hold twelve large houses of the planets by lease parole, which you let out again to the Stationers' Company at so much per annum? You must not sham poverty upon me, sir, who know as good things as yourself, and who have a pistol that may prove as fatal as Sirius in the dog days, if you stand trifling with me." Mr Gadbury was at this time, indeed, more apprehensive of Old Mobb's pistol than of any star in the firmament; for he was sensible the influence of it, if discharged, would be much more violent and sudden; so that he looked like one out of his senses. He was now even afraid to deliver his money, lest he should suffer for telling a lie. However, as he saw there was no remedy, he pulled out a bag, in which was about nine pounds in gold and silver, which he gave with a few grumbling expressions. Old Mobb told him he should take no exception at what he said, for it was but just that the loser should have leave to speak, so, setting spurs to his horse, he left the star-gazer to curse the disastrous constellations.
One day Old Mobb overtook the stage-coach going for Bath, with only one gentlewoman in it. When he had commanded the coachman to stop, and was come to the door to raise contribution after his usual manner, the passenger made a great many excuses, and wept very plentifully, in order to move him to pity; she told him she was a poor widow, who had lately lost her husband, and therefore she hoped he would have some compassion on her.
"And is your losing your husband then," says he, "an argument that I must lose my booty? I know your sex too well, madam, to suffer myself to be prevailed on by a woman's tears. Those crocodile drops are always at your command; and no doubt but that dear cuckold of yours, whom you have lately buried, has frequently been persuaded out of his reason by their interposition in your domestic debates. Weeping is so customary to you, that everybody would be disappointed if a woman was to, bury her husband and not weep for him; but you would be more disappointed if nobody was to take notice of your crying; for according to the old proverb, the end of a husband is a widow's tears; and the end of those tears is another husband." The poor gentlewoman upon this ran out into an extravagant detail of her deceased husband's virtues, solemnly protesting that she would never be married again to the best man that wore a head, for she should not expect a blessing to attend her afterwards; with a thousand other things of the same kind. Old Mobb at last interrupted her, and told her he would repeat a pleasant story in verse which he had learned by heart, so, first looking round him to see that the coast was clear on every side, he began as follows :-
"A widow prude had often swore "This," says Old Mobb," is an exact picture of womankind, and as such I committed it to memory; you are very much obliged to me for the recital, which has taken me up more time than I usually spend in taking a purse; let us now pass from the dead to the living, for it is these that I live by. I am in a pretty good humour, and so will not deal rudely by you. Be so kind, therefore, as to search yourself, and use me as honestly as you are able; you know I can examine afterwards, if I am not satisfied with what you give me." The gentlewoman found he was resolute, and so thought it the best way to keep him in temper, which she did by pulling out forty guineas in a silk purse, and presented them to him. It is fifty to one but Old Mobb got more by repeating the verses above than the poor poet that wrote them ever made of his copy. Such is the fate of the sons of Apollo.
No bracelet should approach her more;
Had often proved that second marriage
Was ten times worse than maid's miscarriage,
And always told them of their sin,
When widows would be wives agen:
Women who'd thus themselves abuse,
Should die, she thought, like honest Jews
Let her alone to throw the stones;
If 'twere but law, she'd make no bones.
Thus long she led a life demure;
But not with character secure:
For people said (what won't folks say?)
That she with Edward went astray:
(This Edward was her servant-man)
The rumour through the parish ran,
She heard, she wept, she called up Ned,
Wiped her eyes dry, sighed, sobbed, and said:
'Alas! what sland'rous times are these!
What shall we come to by degrees!
This wicked world! I quite abhor it!
The Lord give me a better for it!
On me this scandal do they fix?
On me? who, God knows, hate such tricks!
Have mercy, Heaven, upon mankind,
And grant us all a better mind!
My husband -Ah that dearest man!
Forget his love I never can;
He took such care of my good name,
And put all sland'rous tongues to shame.
But, ah! he's dead' Here grief amain,
Came bubbling up, and stopped the strain.
Ned was no fool; he saw his cue,
And how to use good fortune knew:
Old Opportunity at hand,
He seized the lock, and bid him stand;
Urged of what use a husband was
To vindicate a woman's cause,
Exclaimed against the sland'rous age;
And swore he could his soul engage
That madam was so free from fault
She ne'er so much as sinned in thought;
Vowing he'd lose each drop of blood
To make that just assertion good.
This logic, which well pleased the dame,
At the same time eludes her shame:
A husband, for a husband's sake,
Was what she'd ne'er consent to take.
Yet, as the age was so censorious,
And Ned's proposals were so glorious,
She thought 'twas best to take upon her,
A second guardian of her honour."
Scarce was Old Mobb parted from this gentlewoman before he saw the appearance of another prize at some distance. Who should it be but the famous Lincoln's Inn Fields mountebank, Cornelius a Tilburgh, who was going to set up a stage at Wells. Our adventurer knew him very well, as indeed did almost everyone at that time, which occasioned his demanding his money in a little rougher language than usual. The poor quacksalver was willing to preserve what he had; and to that end used a great many fruitless expostulations, pretending that he had expended all the money he had brought out with him, and was himself in necessity. But Old Mobb soon gave him to understand that he would not be put off with fine words; and that he had more wit than to believe a mountebank, whose profession is lying.
"You get your money," says he, "as easily as I do, and it is only fulfilling an old proverb if you give me all you have: 'Lightly come, lightly go.' Next market-day, doctor, will make up all, if you have any luck. It will excite people to buy your packets if, as an instance of your great desire to serve them, you tell them what you suffered upon your journey, which nevertheless could not hinder your coming to exercise your bowels of compassion among them, and to restore such as are in a languishing condition." The empiric could scarce forbear laughing to hear Old Mobb hold forth so excellently well, and lay open the craft of his occupation with so much dexterity. He was, notwithstanding, very unwilling to part with his money, and began to read a lecture of morality to our desperado, upon the unlawfulness of his actions, telling him that what he did might frequently be the ruin of poor families, and oblige them afterwards to follow irregular courses, in order to make up what they had lost. "And then," says he, "you are answerable for the sins of such people."
"This is the devil correcting sin with a witness," quoth Old Mobb. " Can I ruin more people than you, dear Mr Theophrastus Bombastus ? You are a scrupulous, conscientious son of a whore, indeed, to tell me of ruining people. I only take their money away from them; but you frequently take away their lives: and what makes it the worse you do it safely, under a pretence of restoring them to health; whereas I should be hanged for killing a man, or even robbing him, if I were taken. You have put out more eyes than the smallpox, made more deaf than the cataracts of Nile; in a word, destroyed more than the pestilence. It is in vain to trifle with me, doctor, unless you have a remedy against the force of gunpowder and lead. If you have any such excellent specific, make use of it instantly, or else deliver your money." Our itinerant quack still continuing his delays, Old Mobb made bold to take a portmanteau from his horse, and put it upon his own, riding off with it, till he came to a convenient place for opening it. Upon examining the inside, he found five and twenty pounds in money and a large golden medal, which King Charles II had given him for poisoning himself in his Majesty's presence; besides all his instruments and implements of quackery.
Another time, Old Mobb met with the Duchess of Portsmouth, on the road between Newmarket and London, attended with a very small retinue. He made bold to stop the coach, and ask her Grace for what she had about her; but madam, who had been long used to command a monarch, did not understand the meaning of being spoken to in this manner by a common man. Whereupon she briskly demanded if he knew who she was.
"Yes, madam, replied Old Mobb, " I know you to be the greatest whore in the kingdom; and that you are maintained at the public charge. I know that all the courtiers depend on your smiles, and that even the K--- himself is your slave. But what of all that? A gentleman collector is a greater man upon the road, and much more absolute than his Majesty is at Court. You may now say, madam, that a single highwayman has exercised his authority where Charles II of England has often begged a favour, and thought himself happy to obtain it at the expense of his treasure, as well as his breath." Her Grace continued to look upon him with a superior lofty air, and told him he was a very insolent fellow; that she would give him nothing, and that he should severely suffer for this affront. Adding that he might touch her if he durst.
"Madam," says Old Mobb, " that haughty French spirit will do you no good here. I am an English freebooter; and insist upon it as my native privilege to seize all foreign commodities. Your money indeed is English, and the prodigious sums that have been lavished on you will be a lasting proof of English folly; nevertheless, all you have is confiscated to me by being bestowed on such a worthless b---h. I am king here, madam, and I have a whore to keep on the public contributions as well as King Charles. It is for this that I collect of all that pass, and you shall have no favour from me." As soon as he had spoken he fell on board her in a very boisterous manner, so that her Grace cried out for quarter, telling him she would deliver all she had. She was as good as her word; for she surrendered two hundred pounds in money, which was in the seat of the coach, besides a very rich necklace, which her royal cully had lately given her, a gold watch and two diamond rings.
Not long after the committing of this robbery, Old Mobb met with Sir George Jeffreys, at that time Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench, as he was going to his country seat. My Lord Chief Justice upon the road was no more than another man; for Old Mobb disabled two servants that attended him, by shooting one through the arm, and the other through the thigh, and then stopped the coach, and demanded his Lordship's money. Jeffreys had before this made himself sufficiently famous, by his Western Assizes, and other very severe proceedings, so that he imagined his name carried terror enough in it to intimidate any man; but he was mistaken in Old Mobb, who had courage to speak his mind without any respect to persons, and when his Lordship told him his name only said he was glad he could be revenged on him in any manner for putting him in bodily fear at Hertford Assizes a few months before.
"According to law, my Lord," says he, " I might charge a constable with you, and bind you over to the Quarterly Sessions, for threatening to take away my life. However, if you please, as I don't love to be spiteful, I will make up the matter with you for what money you have in the coach, which, I think, is as easy as you can desire, and easier than you deserve." Jeffreys expostulated with him upon the great hazard he ran, both of soul and body, by following such wicked courses, telling him that he must expect justice to follow his crimes if he believed there was any such thing as a Providence that governed the world.
"I don't doubt," says Old Mobb," but that when justice has overtaken us both, I shall stand at least as good a chance as your Lordship; who have already written your name in indelible characters of blood, by putting to death so many hundred innocent men, for only standing up in defence of our common liberties, that you might secure the favour of your Prince. It is enough for you to preach morality upon the Bench, where nobody dares to contradict you; but your lessons can have no effect upon me at this time; for I know you too well not to see that they are only calculated to preserve money." This speech of Old Mobb was followed with fifty oaths and imprecations against the poor Judge, which threatened him with nothing but immediate death if he did not deliver his money. Jeffreys saw his authority would now stand him in no stead; so he gave what money he had, which amounted to about fifty-six guineas.
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