Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

impious profaning of sacred texts; his other scandalous and blasphemous raving; his riotous and outrageous surfeiting; his continual shifting of lodgings; his plausible mustering and banqueting of roysterly acquaintance at his first coming; his beggarly departing in every hostess's debt; his infamous resorting to the Bankside, Shoreditch, Southwark, and other filthy haunts; his obscure lurking in basest corners; his pawning of his sword, cloak, and what not, when money came short; his impudent pamphletting, phantastical interluding, and desperate libelling, when other cozening shifts failed; his employing of Ball (surnamed Cutting Ball), till he was intercepted at Tyburn, to levy a crew of his trustiest companions to guard him in danger of arrests; his keeping of the aforesaid Ball's sister, a sorry ragged quean, of whom he had his base son, Infortunatus Greene; his forsaking of his own wife, too honest for such a husband; particulars are infinite; his contemning of superiors, deriding of others, and defying of all good order?

The allusion to Greene's 'ruffianly hair,' indicates one of the peculiarities of his personal appearance which other contemporaries corroborate; but the charge of unseemly apparel is contradicted by Nash and Chettle. With reference to his beard, Nash says that Greene 'cherished continually, without cutting, a jolly long red peak, like the spire of a steeple, whereat a man might hang a jewel, it was so sharp and pendant;' and Chettle describes him as a man of indifferent years, of face amiable, of body well-proportioned, his attire after the habit of a scholar-like gentleman, only his hair was somewhat long.'

The blasphemy of which Harvey accuses Greene is the heaviest offence laid to his account, and in the following admonitory address to his former associates and fellow dramatists Greene himself fully admits the truth of the impeachment. This address, in great part autobiographical, was printed at the end of The Groat's Worth of Wit, and, independently of its immediate bearing on Greene's life, is of considerable interest in a literary point of view.

Four Letters and Certain Sonnets.

TO THOSE GENTLEMEN, HIS QUONDAM ACQUAINTANCE, THAT SPEND THEIR WITS IN MAKING PLAYS, R. G. WISHETH A BETTER EXERCISE, AND WISDOM TO PREVENT HIS EXTREMITIES.

If woeful experience may move you, gentlemen, to beware, or unheard-of wretchedness entreat you to take heed, I doubt not but you will look back with sorrow on your time past, and endeavour with repentance to spend that which is to come. Wonder not (for with thee will I first begin), thou famous gracer of tragedians,* that Greene, who hath said with thee, like the fool in his heart, There is no God, should now give glory unto iis greatness; for penetrating is his power, his hand lies heavy npon me, he hath spoken unto me with a voice of thunder, and I have felt he is a God that can punish enemies. Why should thy excellent wit, his gift, be so blinded, that thou shouldest give no glory to the Giver? Is it pestilent Machiavelian policy that thou hast studied? O peevisht folly! What are his rules but mere confused mockeries, able to extirpate, in small time, the generation of mankind. For if sic volo, sic jubeo, hold in those that are able to command; and if it be lawful, fas et nefas, to do anything that is beneficial; only tyrants should possess the earth, and they, striving to exceed in tyranny, should each to other be a slaughterman, till the mightiest, outliving all, one stroke were left for death, that in one age man's life should end. The brother of this-diabolical atheism is dead, and in his life had never the felicity he aimed at; but as he began in craft, lived in fear, and ended in despair. Quam inscrutabilia sunt Dei judicia! This murderer of many brethren had his conscience seared like Cain: this betrayer of him that gave his life for him inherited the portion of Judas: this apostate perished as ill as Julian; and wilt thou, my friend, be his disciple ?§ Look unto me, by him persuaded to that liberty, and thou shalt find it an infernal bondage. I know the least of my demerits merit this miserable death, but wilful straining against known truth exceedeth all the terrors of my soul. Defer not (with me) till this last point of extremity: for little knowest thou how in the end thou shalt be visited.

• Christopher Marlowe. † Mr Dyce proposes to read ' brutish.. Mr. Dyce suggests' broacher.'

The person here alluded to, Mr. Malone thinks, was, probably, Francis Kett, Fellow of Benet College, Cambridge, who was burned at Norwich for holding opinions against the Christian religion.

With thee I join young Juvenal,* that biting satirist, that lastly with me together writ a comedy.+ Sweet boy, might I advise thee, be advised, and get not many enemies by bitter words; inveigh against vain men, for thou canst do it, no man better, no man so well: thou hast a liberty to reprove all, and name none; for one being spoken to, all are offended, none being blamed, no man is injured. Stop shallow water still running, it will rage; tread on a worm, and it will turn; then blame not scholars who are vexed with sharp and bitter lines, if they reprove thy too much liberty of reproof.

And thou no less deserving than the other two, in some things rarer, in nothing inferior, driven (as myself) to extreme shifts, a little have I to say to thee; and were it not an idolatrous oath I would swear by sweet St. George, thou art unworthy better hap, sith thou dependest on so mean a stay. Base minded men all three of you, if by my misery ye be not warned; for unto none of you (like me) sought those burrs to cleave; those puppets (I mean) that speak from our mouths, those antics garnished in our colours. Is it not strange that I, to whom they all have been beholding; is it not like that you, to whom they all have been beholding, shall (were ye in that case that I am now) be both of them at once forsaken? Yes, trust them not: for there is an upstart crow beautified with our feathers, that with his tiger's heart, wrapt in a player's hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you; and being an absolute Johannes factotum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country. Oh, that I might entreat your rare wits to be employed in more profitable courses; and let these apes imitate your past excellence, and never more acquaint them with your admired inventions. I know the best husband of you all will never prove an usurer, and the kindest of them all will never prove a kind nurse: yet whilst you may, seek your better masters: for it is pity men of such rare wits should be subject to the pleasures of such rude grooms.

In this I might insert two more, that both have writ against those buckram gentlemen; but let their own works serve to witness against their own wickedness, if they persevere to maintain any more such peasants. For other new comers, I leave them to the mercy of these painted monsters, who, I doubt not, will drive the best-minded to despise them: for the rest, it skills not though they make a jest at them.

Thomas Lodge, the dramatist, who wrote one of the earliest English Satires, called A Fig for Momus.

↑ A Looking Glass for London and England.

George Peele.

But now return I again to you three, knowing my misery is to you no news: and let me heartily entreat you to be warned by my harms. Delight not, as I have done, in irreligious oaths, for from the blasphemer's house a curse shall not depart : despise drunkenness, which wasteth the wit, and maketh men all equal unto beasts; fly lust, as the deathsman of the soul; and defile not the temple of the Holy Ghost. Abhor those epicures whose loose life hath made religion loathsome to your ears, and when they soothe you with terms of mastership, remember Robert Greene, whom they have often so flattered, perishes now for want of comfort. Remember, gentlemen, your lives are like so many light tapers, that are with care delivered to all of you to maintain: these with wind-puffed wrath may be extinguished, which drunkenness puts out, which negligence let fall: for man's time of itself is not so short, but it is more shortened by sin. The fire of my light is now at the last snuff, and the want of wherewith to sustain it, there is no substance for life to feed on. Trust not then, I beseech ye, left to such weak stays; for they are as changeable in mind as in many attires. Well, my hand is tired, and I am forced to leave where I would begin: for a whole book cannot contain their wrongs, which I am forced to knit up in some few lines of words.

Dibdin, in his Reminiscences, observes that there is not the slightest mention of Shakspeare by any contemporaneous writer. He had overlooked this address, which not only contains a very remarkable reference to Shakspeare, but the earliest intimation we have of Shakspeare's occupation at the theatre. It is from the passage about 'the upstart crow beautified with our feathers,' and 'the only Shake-scene in a country,' that we obtain the first hint of Shakspeare's dramatic apprenticeship as an adaptor to the stage of the writings of others. The impossibility of tracing with accuracy the dates of Shakspeare's plays, renders it doubtful to what particular instances Greene alludes; but there is a sufficient approximation in the supposed dates of the Second and Third Parts of Henry VI. to the time when this address was written, to justify the assumption that the reference is intended specially to these two plays, which are known to have been founded on two older pieces called The First Part of the Contention of the two famous Houses of York and

Lancaster, and The True Tragedie of Richard, Duke of York. Hence, by an obvious inference, the older pieces are supposed to have been written wholly, or in part, by Greene or his friends. The line in italics is a parody on a line taken by Shakspeare from one of the early plays:

O tyger's heart wrapped in a woman's hide.

Had Greene lived a few years longer he would have had still greater reason to complain, or to be proud, of Shakspeare's appropriation of his labours, Shakspeare having founded the last of his dramas, The Winter's Tale, upon one of Greene's novels, Pandosto, the Triumph of Time, even to the adoption of his geographical blunder about the coast of Bohemia.

Notwithstanding the dissipation to which he surrendered himself during his brief career of authorship, Greene was a voluminous writer. His industry, at least, was irreproachable, and the versatility of his powers is amply attested by the extraordinary variety and number of his works. Hazlewood enumerates no less than forty-five independent publications, including plays and translations, which are ascribed to him; and the list is certainly imperfect. The great deficiency is in his plays, of which only five have descended to us. So prolific a producer, depending entirely on his writings for support, may be supposed to have contributed more largely to the theatre, which was to him, as to others, a principal source of profit. His plays, contrasted with those of the writers who belong to the latter part of the reign of Elizabeth and the beginning of the reign of James I., are not of much account. But, estimated by comparison with his contemporaries, Greene is entitled to a higher position. He was one of the founders of the English stage. Shakspeare had not yet appeared when Greene made his triumphs; and the 'witcombats' at the Mermaid, which mark the culminating point of the dramatic poetry of the age, did not take place till many years after his death. Kyd, Marlowe, Lodge, and Peele were his immediate contemporaries, and, although inferior to Kyd in breadth of conception, to Marlowe in passion, and to Lodge

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »