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at liberty, and the lovers are re-united, and live very happily together, labouring for their livelihood, he as a scholar, and she by her needle. At the end of five years her father forgives them, and takes them home; and in two years more Francesco's affairs oblige him to repair to the capital of the island in which these events are supposed to occur. Separated for the first time from his wife, he falls a prey to the fascinations of a courtesan, who discards him after she has wasted the whole of his substance. During the progress of this fatal liaison, his wife had in vain entreated him to return; and now he is so covered with shame that he dare not venture into her presence. In the extremity of his distress, he falls in with a company of players, who persuade him to try his wit in writing for the stage. He follows their advice, and obtains extraordinary success. His purse being thus once more well lined, the courtesan throws out her lures again; but Francesco is proof against them. In the meanwhile his wife has fallen into distress, and a wealthy burgomaster, attracted by her beauty, tempts her fidelity with rich offers. She contemptuously rejects his proposals, and, out of revenge, he charges her before the judges with incontinence, and suborns a youth to testify against her. On this evidence she is pronounced guilty and condemned to banishment; but before the sentence is executed, the youth confesses his perjury, Isabel is declared innocent, and the burgomaster is heavily fined and degraded from his office. The news of this strange occurrence rapidly spreads, and reaches Francesco one day at an ordinary, where it is related by a gentleman, who highly extols the virtue of Isabel, and describes her husband as an unthrift who had not visited her for six years. Francesco is struck with remorse, and hastens into the country to pour out his repentance at the feet of his injured wife, who readily forgives him all past offences.
Francesco's falling in with the players, his success as a writer, his abandonment of Isabel for six years (the precise period mentioned by Greene himself in his last apostrophe to
his wife), and his final remorse, are all autobiographical. The second piece, A Groat's Worth of Wit bought with a Million of Repentance, is pretty nearly a reproduction of the same circumstances, so far as they relate to the actual career of the writer, but with a closer adherence to the reality; for in this narrative Greene avowedly designed to depict some of his personal experiences, and point the moral of his own life.
The story is that of an old usurer who has two sons, Lucanio and Roberto. The latter, married to a 'proper gentlewoman,' is a scholar, and much averse to his father's mode of accumulating a fortune. The consequence is, that when the usurer dies, he leaves the whole of his immense wealth to Lucanio, and cuts off Roberto with a groat. In this extremity, Roberto resolves to have his revenge upon Lucanio, who is simple, and easily imposed upon. In order to effect his purpose he enters into a league with Lamilia, a courtesan, who is to ensnare Lucanio, and to divide her gains with her confederate; but she has no sooner succeeded in captivating her victim, than she reveals the plot, and Roberto is cast out to destitution. This incident brings us to that part of the narrative where Greene's own history is shadowed forth. The turn of events is here identical with the passage in Never Too Late, where Francesco is discarded by the courtesan, and the subsequent train of circumstances is similar in both. Roberto, in great distress of mind, bewails aloud his forlorn estate, and is overheard by a player, who, discovering that he is a ripe scholar, advises him to repair his fortune by writing plays. He follows this counsel, and wealth flows in upon him. Two years elapse, during which time Lamilia has brought Lucanio to beggary, and Roberto has undergone the usual vicissitudes of a literary life, his purse, like the sea, sometimes swelled,
But oh, my dear wife, whose company and sight I have refrained these six years; I ask God and thee forgiveness for so greatly wronging thee, of whom I seldom or never thought until now: pardon me, I pray thee, wheresoever thou art, and God forgive me all my offences. -Repentance of Robert Greene.
anon, like the same sea, fell to a low ebb; yet seldom he wanted, his labours were so well esteemed.' The whole of the following description may be considered as an actual picture of the latter portion of Greene's life:
Marry this rule he kept, whatever he fingered aforehand, was the certain means to unbind a bargain, and being asked why he so sleightly dealt with them that did him good? it becomes me, sayeth he, to be contrary to the world, for commonly when vulgar men receive earnest, they do perform; when I am paid anything beforehand, I break my promise. He had shift of lodgings, where in every place his hostess writ up the woful remembrance of him, his laundress and his boy, for they were ever his inhoushold, besides retainers in sundry other places. His company were lightly the lewdest persons in the land, apt for pilfery, perjury, forgery, or any villany. Of these he knew the cast to cog at cards, cozen at dice; by these he learned the legerdemains of nips, foysts, coneycatchers, crosbyters, lifts, high lawyers, and all the rabble of that unclean generation of vipers; and pithily could he point out their whole courses of craft: so cunning he was in all crafts, as nothing rested in him almost but craftiness. How often the gentlewoman, his wife, laboured vainly to recall him is lamentable to note; but as one given over to all lewdness, he communicated her sorrowful lines among his loose skulls, that jested at her bootless laments.
The Roberto of this narrative is manifestly Robert Greene. Towards the conclusion he is represented as having abandoned himself to 'immeasurable drinking,' which 'had made him the perfect image of the dropsy.' Living in extreme poverty, and having nothing to pay but chalk,' he is at last reduced to a single groat, over which he moralises in this fashion:-O now it is too late, too late to buy wit with thee! and therefore will I see if I can sell to careless youth what I negligently forgot to buy.' Having delivered this soliloquy in the character of Roberto, Greene throws off the thin disguise of fiction, and, taking up the relation himself, addresses the reader in his own person:
Here, gentlemen, break I off Roberto's speech, whose life, in most part agreeing with mine, found one self punishment as I have done. Hereafter suppose me the said Roberto, and I will
go on with what he promised; Greene will send you now his groat's worth of wit, that never showed a mite's worth in his life; and though no man now be by to do me good, yet ere I die I will by my repentance endeavour to do all men good.
The courtesan who figures in both these stories is not altogether an imaginary character. Greene formed an unhappy connexion of that kind with the sister of a ruffian named Cutting Ball, with whom he had, probably, become acquainted in the 'boozing kens' he frequented. Ball appears to have made himself useful to Greene by collecting his myrmidons whenever it was necessary to protect him against arrest. Of this man's crimes there is no record; but the character of them may be inferred from the fact that he was ultimately hanged at Tyburn. It is to this circumstance Green alludes in the following passage, speaking of Roberto's companions:
The shameful end of sundry his consorts, deservedly punished for their amiss, wrought no compunction in his heart; of which one, brother to a brothel he kept, was trust under a tree, as round as a ball.*
The sister of this malefactor bore a son to Greene; and it is something to her credit that she did not desert the poet in the last wretched hours of his life, when he was forsaken by his gay companions, the troops of revellers who used to carouse and surfeit all day long at his lodgings.
It was a common habit of the writers of the day to pun upon names, even in forms of composition where such fantastical devices might be considered wholly inadmissible. Thus Peele, in his pageant before Web, the Lord Mayor of London, makes the following pun on his lordship's name :
'A worthy governor, for London's good
And again in the Polyhymnia, where he is describing the appearance of young Essex :
'That from his armour borrowed such a light,
The boughs of yew-a pun on the old title of the Earls of Essex and Ewe.
Peele, Nash, and Marlowe, to whom he addressed a parting expostulation, were Greene's most intimate literary associates. Their names were so constantly found in companionship during their lives, that Dekker brings their shades together in the Elysian fields, where, after describing old Chaucer, grave Spenser, and other famous poets seated in the arbours and bowers of the Grove of Bays, he thus introduces the four inseparable poets collected, appropriately enough, under the shadow of a great vine tree :
In another company sat learned Watson, industrious Kyd, ingenious Atchlow, and (though he had been a player, moulded out of their pens) yet because he had been their lover, and a register to the Muses, inimitable Bentley: these were likewise carousing to one another at the holy well, some of them singing Pæans to Apollo, some of them hymns to the rest of the gods, whilst Marlowe, Greene, and Peele had got under the shades of a large vine, laughing to see Nash (that was but newly come to their college) still haunted with the sharp and satirical spirit that followed him here upon earth; for Nash inveighed bitterly (as he had wont to do) against dry-fisted patrons, accusing them of his untimely death, because if they had given his muse that cherishment which she most worthily deserved, he had fed to his dying day on fat capons, burnt sack and sugar, and not so desperately have ventured his life, and shortened his days by keeping company with pickle herrings.*
Dekker here alludes to an entertainment, consisting of pickled herrings and Rhenish wine, at which Nash and Greene were present, some time in August, 1592. Upon that occasion, Greene is said to have eaten and drunk to so great an excess that the surfeit was followed by an illness which, in less than a month, terminated in his death. He appears to have been reduced at this time to the lowest condition of distress and degradation; lodging at the house of a struggling shoemaker in Dowgate, and
A Knight's Conjuring Done in Earnest: Discovered in Jest. By Thomas Dekker. 1607.