The Lives of WILLIAM MARPLE and TIMOTHY COTTON
That violence with which, in this age, young people pursue the gratification of their passions without considering how far they therein violate the laws of God and their country, is the common and natural source of those many and great afflictions which fall upon them; and though they do now always bring them to such exemplary punishment as befel the criminal whose memoirs we have undertaken to transmit to posterity, yet they fail not of making them exceedingly uneasy and grievously unhappy, consequences unavoidably entailed on these destructive pleasures, so contrary to the nature of man's soul, and so derogatory from that excellence to the attainment of which he was created. Although one would imagine these observations must naturally occur at some time or other to the minds of persons who ever think at all concerning the design of their own being yet experience convinces us that they very seldom do, and if they do, they make but very little impression.
William Marple, the first of these criminals, was descended from parents of very tolerable fortune, as well as unblemished reputation. Their care had not only gone so far in providing him with useful and common learning, but had also been careful in bestowing on him an excellent education in schools both in town and country. The use he made of them you will quickly hear, which cannot however be mentioned as a reflection on his unhappy parents, who were as industrious to have him taught good, as he was in pursuing evil.
When he grew to years capable of being put out to business, the unsettled giddiness of his temper sufficiently appeared, for being put out to three several trades at his own request, he could not bring himself to any of them, but went at last to a fourth which was that of a joiner, with whom he stayed a considerable space. But before the expiration of his time he fell in love with a young woman and married her, which coming with other stories to his master's ears, occasioned such difference that they parted.
Marple was prodigiously fond of his new married wife, and what is a pretty rare circumstance in this age, his fondness proved the greatest advantage possible to him, for the young woman being in herself both virtuous and industrious, her temper (as it is natural for us to imitate what we love) made so great an impression upon Marple that from a wild, loose and extravagant young man, he became a sober, diligent and honest workman, labouring hard to get his bread, and living at home with his wife in the greatest tranquility and with the utmost satisfaction. But the agreeable beauty of this scene was soon darkened, or rather totally destroyed, by the death of his wife; for no sooner were the transports of his melancholy over than he returned to his old course of life. And in order to efface effectually that grief which still hung over him, he removed out of town to an adjacent village, where he quickly contracted an intimate acquaintance with a young woman, and thereby almost at once put all thoughts of sorrow and honesty quite out of his head. This creature was of a very different disposition from Marple's late wife. She had no regard for the man, farther than she was able to get money out of him; and provided she had wherewith to buy her fine clothes and keep her in handsome lodgings, she gave herself no trouble how he came by it, and this carriage of hers in a short time put him upon illegal methods of obtaining money.
Who were his first companions in his robberies is not in my power to say; it was generally looked upon that one Rouden seduced him, but Marple declared this to be false, and perhaps the best account that can be given is that he was led to it by his own evil inclinations, and his necessities in which they had brought him. However it were, during the time he practised going upon the road nobody committed more robberies than he himself did, preying alike upon all sorts of people, and taking from the poor what little they had, as well as plundering the rich of what they could much better spare.
In Marylebone Fields he and his companion Cotton met with a poor woman with a basket on her head, who gained her livelihood by selling joints of meat to gentlemen's families. The first thing they did was to search her basket, in which there was a fine leg of mutton, which these gentlemen thought fit to dress and eat next day for dinner. They then commanded her to deliver her money, which she declared was a thing out of her power, because she had none about her; upon which they took her pocket and turned it out, where finding seven shillings, Marple struck and abused the woman for daring to tell him a lie.
Amongst the rest of the acquaintance that Marple picked up, was a young man who had a very rich uncle who, though he was very willing to do anything which might be for the real good of his nephew, did not think it at all reasonable to waste his fortune in the supply of the young man's extravagances. This spark, with another, acquainted Marple how easy a thing it would be to rob the old man of a considerable sum of money. They readily came into the project, and accordingly it was put into execution; Marple and the nephew actually committing the robbery, and the other man standing at the door till they came out. The booty they got was about thirty-six guineas, which they divided into three parts. In a very short time, Marple was apprehended and committed to Newgate for this very fact. However, the old man would not prosecute him, because he would not expose his relation.
Yet this was no warning to Marple who continued his old trade, and committed thirty or forty robberies in a very short space. Drinking was a vice he abhorred, and the chief cause for which he addicted himself to this life of rapine was his associating himself with all sorts of lewd women, amongst whom he became acquainted with the infamous Elizabeth Lion, mistress to Jack Shepherd, who grew quickly too impudent and abusive for Marple's conversation, for when he fell under his misfortunes he declared that she was the vilest and most abominable wretch that ever lived. However, to the immodest, lascivious carriage of this woman, he owed the sudden dislike he took to that sort of cattle; which became so strong that he no longer frequented their company, but married a second wife, a young woman of a handsome person, of a good character, and who, as he said, was totally ignorant of the measures he took for getting money.
Timothy Cotton, the second of these malefactors, was descended of mean, yet honest parents, who in his infancy had not spared to give him a very good education, and bred him to get an honest livelihood to the trade of a poulterer. In this, when he grew up, he was for a time very industrious, and got thereby sufficient to have maintained himself and his family, as well as he could reasonably expect; but happening unluckily to call into the acquaintance and conversation of lewd women, they soon took up so much of his thoughts, his time and his money, that he was obliged to think of easier methods of getting it than those to which hitherto he had applied himself. For it is a truth deducible from uninterrupted experience that a whore is not to be maintained at the same easy expense with a wife. Cotton found this to his cost, for he had not committed above five robberies, of which three were with his companion Marple, who had been his schoolfellow, before he was apprehended.
The first of their exploits, I have already told you, was plundering the poor woman's basket. The second was upon the Hampstead Road, where they stopped the coach and robbed the passengers. Three gentlemen coming by on horseback, Marple presented his pistol, and commanded them to ride off as hard as they could; but the fear with which they were seized made them so far mistake his words as to apprehend he bid them deliver, and so they went very readily to work, putting their hands into their pockets to satisfy his demands. But Marple having no guess of their intention, and perceiving them to stand still, repeated his order to them to ride off, with greater vehemency than before, which as soon as they apprehended they very readily complied with, and rode off as hard as their horses would carry them. A little while after this they robbed one Stout, who was servant to Captain Trevor, of his hat, two pounds of butter, his buckles, five and sixpence in money, and some other trivial things. For this fact they were both apprehended, and at the next sessions at the Old Bailey tried and convicted upon very full evidence.
Under sentence of death Marple appeared with less concern than is usually seen in persons under such unfortunate circumstances. He however confessed a multitude of offences with which he was not charged, as well as that particular crime for which he was convicted. He said he had never any strong inclination to drunkenness or gaming, but that addicting himself to the company and conversation of bad women had been the sole occasion of all his misfortunes. He particularly regretted his want of respect towards his parents, and especially towards his mother, who had given him the best of advice, though he had trifled with and abused it. He said that he often struck and abused those whom he robbed, but not so as to endanger their lives, and therefore he hoped they would forgive him, and join their prayers with his for his forgiveness at the hand of God.
Cotton was more tender and more penitent, expressed great sorrow for his numerous offences, and besought Almighty God to accept of a sincere, though late repentance. They both of them protested that their wives had not anything to do with their affairs, that they never advised them, nor were so much as privy to the offences they had committed. Then both of them suffered with much penitence and resignation, on the 24th of March, 1729, Marple being about thirty, and Cotton near twenty-five years of age.
Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals