Summary and Analysis
Life was now tranquil, for the banker husband was quiet, sensible, and virtuous. In business he was hard-working and just and was able to provide his family with a good living. Moll chose to live a retired and frugal life, and, therefore, they did not visit or have visitors. For five years their life was one of contentment and ease.
Then, however, the banker trusted a fellow-clerk with a large sum of money, which he lost; although the loss was great, the disaster need not have been too much for Moll's husband to bear. Moll tried to persuade her husband that his credit was good and that the loss would not ruin him, but to no avail. He was so overcome by the event that he fell ill and died.
Again Moll had to face life alone with two children — only now she was forty-eight. She could no longer look forward to being a mistress; she had no friends, and little money. She lived two years in this condition, growing poorer each day. To reduce her expenses Moll sold the house and lived in rooms, and sold most of her furniture and linens. She lived for another year on that money, spending sparingly and eking out an existence.
In reflecting on this period of her life, Moll urges her readers to remember the prayer, "Give me not poverty, lest I steal." One day in her rather aimless wanderings, Moll passed an apothecary's shop where she saw a bundle on a stool and a servant with her back to it. After checking to see that no one was looking, Moll took the bundle and left. She was in a trance, and wandered around until nine o'clock that night. When she arrived home she opened the bundle and found some linen, silverware, silk handkerchiefs, and a little money. Suddenly struck by what she had done, she began to cry; she realized that she could be taken to Newgate Prison for her crime. After sleeping fitfully, she waited for news of the robbery but heard nothing of it. At first, Moll regretted her crime, for fear the person from whom she stole was as poor as she, but the longer she thought about her own condition, the harder her heart became. She reflected on her earlier repentance, her sober and retired life with the banker, and now — driven by necessity — the destruction of her soul. She fell on her knees praying, but soon realized that this repentance was not sincere.
After this, Moll had a great many thieving escapades. Once she even stole a necklace of gold beads from a child's neck after luring the little girl away. She prided herself on not doing bodily harm to the child and thought of her adventure as a lesson to the family for leaving the child unattended.
Another time, a man who was running with a bundle threw it near Moll and said, "God bless you, mistress, let it lie there a little." Soon two more men ran by, with several others in pursuit. Two escaped, but the other was caught. After the crowd had passed, Moll took the bundle and walked away. When she returned home, she found the bundle contained some silk and velvet. Because she "had only robbed the thief," Moll felt no remorse about this robbery.
Moll continued to steal, since so far she had had such good luck. Once, when she was walking around the town, she saw two rings lying on a window ledge inside a house. She thought to knock on the window; if anyone responded, she would warn the people to remove the rings since she "had seen two suspicious fellows take notice of them." But when no one answered her knocks, she broke the glass and took the rings.
Moll's problem now was that she did not know how to sell the things she stole. Therefore, she resolved to renew her friendship with an old acquaintance.
After Moll had been living a settled and contented life for five years, her means of support was suddenly snatched away in unusual circumstances. She again was alone with little means of support.
In Moll's account of her descent into crime, note her progression from a dream state, to horror, to rationalization, to fears, to attempts at reformation, repentance and prayers, to an eventual hardening of the heart.