A Penny-Worth of Wit

Author(s): Anonymous


HERE is a penny-worth of wit,
For thoſe that ever went aſtray;
If warning they will take by it,
'twill do them good another day.
It is a touchſtone of true love,
betwixt a harlot and a wife,
The former doth deſtructive prove,
the latter yields the joys of life.
As in this book you may behold
ſet forth by William Lane;
A wealthy merchant brave and bold,
who did a harlot long maintain.
Although a virtuous wife he had,
likewiſe a youthful daughter dear,
Who might have made his heart full glad,
yet ſeldom would he them come near.
The treaſure which he traded for,
on the tempeſtuous ocean wide,
His harlot had, he brought it her,
But nothing to his virtuous bride.
The fineſt ſilks that could be bought,
nay, jewels, rubies, diamonds, rings,
He to his wanton harlot brought,
with many other coſtly things.
She ſtill receiv'd him with a ſmile,
when he came from the raging ſeas,
And ſaid with words as ſmooth as oil,
my deareſt come and take by eaſe
To thy ſoft bed of linen fine,
thou art welcome, love, ſaid ſhe,
Both I, and all that e'er was mine,
ſhall ſtill at thy devotion be.
He brought her two hundred pounds of gold,
and after that two hundred more,
With chains and jewels manifold,
and bid her lay them up in ſtore.
Ay, that i will, thou needſt not fear,
and ſo embrac'd him with a kiſs,
Then took the wealth, and ſaid, my dear,
I'll have a ſpecial care of this.
Then did they banquet many days,
feaſting on rich delicious fare;
Thus by her falſe deluding ways;
ſhe drew him in a fatal ſnare.
When he had liv'd ſome time on ſhore,
he muſt go to the ſea again,
And traffic to increaſe his ſtore,
the wanton harlot to maintain.
To whom he ſaid, my joy, my dear,
with me what venture wilt thou ſend?
A good return thou needſt not fear,
be thy factor and thy friend.
goods, my dear, I'll ſend above
ten pounds, which thou ſhalt take on board,
I know that thou unto me, love,
a triple gain thou wilt afford.
This ſaid, next to his wife he goes,
and aſk'd her in a ſcornful way,
What venture ſhe would now propoſe,
to ſend with him for merchandize?
I'll ſend a penny, love, by thee,
be ſure you take good care of it,
When you are in a foreign land,
pray buy a penny worth of wit.
He put the penny up ſecure,
and ſaid, I'll take a ſpecial care,
To lay it out you may be ſure,
ſo to his miſs he did repair,
And told her what he was to buy,
at which ſhe laugh'd his wife to ſcorn;
On board he went immediately,
and ſet to ſea that very morn.
Now they were gone with merry hearts,
the merchant and his jovial crew,
From port to port in foreign parts,
to trade as they were wont to do.
As he his merchandize did vend,
they turn'd to gems and golden ore,
Which crown'd his labours with content,
he never was ſo rich before.
The wanton harlot's venture then,
did mull to Lrea account liliewife)
For every pound ſhe would have ten,
ſuch was their lucky merchandize.
For joy of which the merchant cry'd,
one merry bout my lads ſhall have
ſplendid ſupper I'll provide,
of all the dainties you can craves,
Before we ſet to ſea again.
This ſaid they to a tavern went,
Where they did feaſt and drink amain,
till many crowns and pounds were ſpent.
One ſingle penny and no more,
my wife a venture ſent with me,
was to lay it out therefore,
in what they call a rarity
She bid me uſe my utmoſt ſkill,
to buy a penny-worth of wit,
But I have kept my penny
and ne'er ſo much as thought of it.
Where ſhall I go to lay it out?
true wit is ſcarce and hard to find,
But come, my lads, let's drink about,
my wife's ſmall venture I'll not mind.
An aged father ſitting by,
whoſe venerable locks were grey,
Straight made the merchant this reply,
hear me a word or two I pray.
Thy harlot in proſperity,
will embrace thee for thy gold,
But if in want and miſery,
you'll nought from her but frowns behold.
And ready to betray thy life,
when wretched, naked, poor, and low,
But thy true-hearted, faithful wife,
will ſtand by thee in well or woe.
If thou wilt prove the truth of this,
ſtrip off thy gaudy, rich, array,
And ſo return to thy proud miſs,
declare that thou waſt caſt away,
Thy riches buried in the main,
beſides as you paſs'd thro' a wood,
One of your ſervants you had ſlain,
for which your life in danger ſtood,
Beſeech her then to ſhelter thee,
declare on her you do depend;
And then, alas! too ſoon you'll ſee,
how far ſhe'd prove a faithful friend.
Then if ſhe frowns go thy wife,
tell hes this melancholy thing,
Who labours moſt thy life to ſave,
let her be moſt in thy eſteem.
Father, the merchant then reply'd,
you muſt this ſingle penny take,
When I have paſs'd the ocean wide,
a proof of this I mean to take.
Taking his leave away he came,
both he and his brave hearts of gold,
To whom he ſaid, I'll prove the ſame,
when I my native land behold.
With full ſpread ſails to ſea they went,
Neptune the golden cargo bore,
Through roaring waves to their content,
at laſt they reach'd the Britiſh ſhore.
The merchant put on poor array,
the very worſt of ragged clothes,
And then, without the leaſt delay,
he to his wanton harlot goes.
When ſhe beheld him in diſtreſs,
ſhe cry'd what is the matter now?
Said he, I'm poor and pennyleſs,
with that he made a courteous bow,
Crying, no man was e'er ſo croſs'd
as I have been, ſweet heart's delight,
My ſhip and all I had is loſt,
witho thy help I'm ruin'd quite.
My loſs is great, yet that's not all,
one of my ſervants I have ſlain,
As we did at a variance fall,
ſome ſhelter let me here obtain.
I dare not now go to my wife,
whom I have wrong'd for many years,
Into thy hands I'll put my life,
take pity on my melting tears.
You bloody villain, ſhe reply'd,
don 't in the leaſt on me depend,
Begone, or as I live ſhe cry'd,
I for an officer will ſend.
I'll give you neither meat nor drink,
nor any ſhelter you ſhall have,
Of muſty, louſy, rags you ſtink,
begone you baſe perfidious knave.
Don 't think that I'll your couſel keep,
or harbour any ſuch as you;
He turn'd about and ſeem'd to weep,
and bade the wanton jilt adieu.
Then to his loving wife he came,
both poor and naked in diſtreſs,
He told her all the very ſame,
yet ſhe reliev'd him ne'ertheleſs.
My dear, ſhe cry'd, ſince it is ſo,
take comfort in thy loving wife;
All that I have ſhall freely go,
to gain a pardon for thy life.
I'll lodge thee in a place ſecure,
where I will daily nouriſh thee;
Believe me, love, you may be ſure
to find a faithful friend in me.
When he this perfect proof had made,
which of the two did love him beſt,
Unto his virtuous wife he ſaid,
my jewel, ſet thy heart at reſt.
Behold I have no ſervant ſlain!
nor have I ſuffer'd any loſs,
Enough I have us to maintain,
the ſtormy ſeas no more I'll croſs.
My loaded ſhip lies near the ſhore,
with gold and jewels richly fraught,
So much I never had before,
thy penny-worth of wit I've bought.
Once more he to his harlot goes,
with fourteen ſailors brave and bold,
All cioth'd with new and coſtly clothes,
of ſilk and of embroider'd gold.
The miſs, when ſhe this pomp beheld,
did offer him a kind embrace,
But he with wrath and anger fill'd,
did ſtraight upbraid her to her face.
But ſhe with ſmiles theſe words expreſs'd,
I have a faithful love for thee,
Whate'er I ſaid was but in jeſt,
why didſt thou go ſo ſoon from me.
It was full time to go from thee,
you have another love in ſtore,
Whom you have furniſh'd with your gold,
and jewels which I brought on ſhore.
'Tis falſe, ſhe cry'd, I have them all,
with that the merchant ſtraight reply'd,
Lay them before me, then I ſhall
be ſoon convinc'd and ſatisfy'd.
Then up ſhe ran and fetch'd them down,
his jewels, gold, and diamonds bright,
He ſeiz'd them all, and with a frown,
he bid the wanton jilt good night.
When he had ſeiz'd the golden purſe,
and ſwept up every precious ſtone,
She cry'd, what, will you rob me thus?
Yes, that I will of what's my own.
You wanted to betray my life,
but thanks to God there 's no ſuch fear,
Theſe jewels ſhall adorn my wife.
Henceforth your houſe I'll not come near.
Home he return'd to his ſweet wife,
and told her all that he had done,
E'er ſince they live a happy life,
and he'll no more to harlots run.
Thus he the wanton harlot bit,
who long had his deſtruction ſought;
Thus was the penny-worth of wit
the beſt that e'er a merchant bought.


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A Penny-Worth of Wit. 2024. In The Corpus of Modern Scottish Writing. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved 25 July 2024, from

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The Corpus of Modern Scottish Writing. 2024. Glasgow: University of Glasgow.


A Penny-Worth of Wit

Document Information

Document ID 111
Title A Penny-Worth of Wit
Year group 1800-1850
Genre Verse/drama
Year of publication 1800
Wordcount 1671

Author information: Anonymous

Author ID 491
Surname Anonymous