« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
indebted to his landlord, who could ill afford such bounty, for the bare necessaries of life. Fortunately the poor people with whom he lodged were persons of a compassionate nature; and his hostess, more than ordinarily touched by the sufferings of a man whose literary reputation presented so strange a contrast to his actual circumstances, was unremitting in her attendance upon him. Gabriel Harvey, in giving an account of his last hours which he professes to have received from the hostess herself, says that she was his only nurse; that none of his old acquaintances came to comfort, or even to visit him, except Mrs. Appleby, and the mother of the boy, whom Harvey calls Infortunatus Greene; that even Nash, although he had been the chief guest at the 'fatal banquet of pickle-herring,' never came to perform the duty of a friend; and that Greene was at last driven to such extremities by sheer poverty that he was obliged to wear his host's shirt while his own was washing, and to sell his doublet, hose, and sword for three shillings. Some of these statements were afterwards contradicted by Nash, who insinuates rather than asserts that Greene was not reduced to such an extremity before his death, and that instead of his apparel being of the value of only three shillings, the doublet he wore at the 'fatal banquet' was so good that a broker would give thirty shillings for it alone, and that Greene had also a very fair cloak with sleeves,' of a grave goose green, worth at least ten shillings. There is so much scurrility in the pamphlets of Nash and Harvey that it is difficult to determine the amount of credit due to either; but Harvey's details are probably accurate, as we find the main facts of Greene's penury and friendlessness attested by himself in the affecting letter he addressed to his wife in his last moments. Nash's principal object in replying to Harvey's pamphlet (published immediately after Greene's death)* was not so
Harvey's pamphlet is entitled Four Letters and Certain Sonnets. Especially touching Robert Greene and other poets, by him abused. But incidentally of divers excellent persons, and some matters of note. To all
much to vindicate the memory of his friend, as to relieve himself from the odium of having been one of Greene's intimate companions, although their intercourse was notorious. A thousand there be,' he declares, 'that have more reason to speak in his behalf than I, who since I first knew him about town have been two years together, and not seen him.' This mean and false disavowal of the associate whom he left to perish in want, throws discredit upon all other parts of Nash's testimony.
The clearest, and, upon the whole, the most reliable narrative of Greene's death is that which is subjoined to his Repentance, the tract written by him during his last illness. It seems to have been compiled by the person to whom the publication of the Repentance was intrusted, and forms a very proper sequel to that work.
THE MANNER OF THE DEATH AND LAST END OF ROBERT GREENE, MASTER OF ARTS.
After that he had penned the former discourse, then lying sore sick of a surfeit which he had taken with drinking, he continued most patient and penitent; yea, he did with tears forsake the world, renounced swearing, and desired forgiveness of God and the world for all his offences; so that during all the time of his sickness, which was about a month's space, he was never heard to swear, rave, or blaspheme the name of God as he was accustomed to do before that time, which greatly comforted his well-willers, to see how mightily the grace of God did work in him.
He confessed himself that he was never heart sick, but said that all his pain was in his belly. And although he continually scoured, yet still his belly swelled, and never left swelling upward, until it swelled him at the heart, and in his face.*
During the whole time of his sickness, he continually called upon God, and recited these sentences following:
O Lord forgive me my manifold offences.
courteous mindes that will vouchsafe the reading. 1592.-Nash's pamphlet, Strange Newes, in which he replies to Harvey's assertions, appeared soon after.
* This exactly accords with the description which he has himself given of Roberto in the Groat's Worth of Wit. See ante, p. 16.
O Lord forgive me my secret sins, and in mercy (Lord) pardon
Thy mercy, O Lord, is above thy works.
And with such like godly sentences he passed the time, even till he gave up the ghost.
And this is to be noted, that his sickness did not so greatly weaken him, but that he walked to his chair and back again the night before he departed, and then, being feeble, laying him down on his bed, about nine of the clock at night, a friend of his told him that his wife had sent him commendations, and that she was in good health; whereat he greatly rejoiced, confessed that he had mightily wronged her, and wished that he might see her before he departed. Whereupon, feeling that his time was but short, he took pen and ink, and wrote her a letter to this effect :*
Sweet wife, as ever there was any good will or friendship between thee and me, see this bearer, my host, satisfied of his debt. I owe him ten pounds, and but for him I had perished in the streets. Forget and forgive my wrongs done unto thee, and Almighty God have mercy on my soul. Farewell till we meet in heaven, for on earth thou shalt never see me more. This 2 of September, 1592,
Written by thy dying husband,
* Harvey gives another version of this letter, in substance identical with a portion of the above, but omitting (perhaps designedly, for Harvey's malignity was quite capable of doing so great a wrong to the memory of the unfortunate poet) those passages in which Greene expresses contrition, and asks for his wife's forgiveness-the one redeeming grace of his miserable life. Harvey says that Greene was deeply indebted to his host, and that he gave him a bond for ten pounds, underneath which he wrote the following letter: Doll, I charge thee by the love of our youth, and by my soul's rest, that thou wilt see this man paid; for if he and his wife had not succoured me, I had died in the streets.-ROBERT GREENE.' This is not so likely, upon the face of it, to be the true version as that given in the text. It is incredible that, after having abandoned his wife, under circumstances of utter heartlessness, upwards of six years before, he would have written to her on his deathbed to ask her to pay a debt for him without some words of penitence or remorse.
There is another still more touching letter extant from Greene to his wife, written during his last illness, and published after his death in the Groat's Worth of Wit. As most of the incidents of his life, recorded by himself or his contemporaries, reflect discredit on his character, it is only just to present such evidence as has been preserved of
He died on the following day, 3rd of September, 1592, and was buried on the 4th in the New Churchyard, near Bedlam. Harvey tells us that his sweet hostess' crowned his dead body with a garland of bays, 'to show that a tenth muse honoured him more being dead than all the nine honoured him alive. I know not whether Skelton, Elverton, or some like flourishing poet were so interred; it were his own request, and his nurse's devotion.'
Shortly after his death appeared that singular confession of his vices and follies which he prepared for the press during his last illness, and to which we are indebted for the chief
the better qualities of his nature. The following is the letter printed in the Groat's Worth of Wit. It is headed
'A LETTER WRITTEN TO HIS WIFE, FOUND WITH THIS BOOK AFTER HIS DEATH.
'The remembrance of many wrongs offered thee, and thy unreproved virtues, add greater sorrow to my miserable state than I can utter, or thou conceive. Neither is it lessened by consideration of thy absence (though shame would let me hardly behold thy face), but exceedingly aggravated, for that I cannot (as I ought) to thy own self reconcile myself, that thou mightest witness my inward woe at this instant, that have made thee a woeful wife for so long a time. But equal heaven hath denied that comfort, giving at my last need, like succour as I sought all my life: being in this extremity as void of help, as thou hast been of hope. Reason would, that after so long waste, I should not send thee a child to bring thee greater charge: but consider he is the fruit of thy womb, in whose face regard not the father so much, as thy own perfections. He is yet Greene, and may grow straight, if he be carefully tended: otherwise apt enough (I fear me) to follow his father's folly. That I have offended thee highly, I know that thou canst forget my injuries, I hardly believe; yet persuade I myself, if thou saw my wretched estate, thou wouldest not but lament it; nay, certainly I know thou wouldest. All my wrongs muster themselves about me; every evil at once plagues me. For my contempt of God, I am contemned of men; for my swearing and forswearing, no man will believe me; for my gluttony I suffer hunger; for my drunkenness, thirst; for my adultery ulcerous sores. Thus God hath cast me down, that I might be humbled; and punished me for example of others' sins; and although he suffers me in this world to perish without succour, yet trust I in the world to come to find mercy, by the merits of my Saviour, to whom I commend thee, and commit my soul. Thy repentant husband, For his disloyalty,
particulars of his biography. If we were to judge by the ordinary standard of human actions, we might reasonably doubt the genuineness of this publication. But Greene was as likely to repent openly as to offend publicly. He was a man of a rash and ardent temperament, and had none of that conventional shame which would have induced him either to conceal his misconduct, or to withhold the expression of his remorse. Even if we had not concurrent testimony from others of the errors of his life, and his contrition at the last, his own acknowledged works fully corroborate most of the particulars revealed in his Repentance, and one of them, as we shall presently see, contains a very remarkable confirmation of his desire to make known to the world the change which had latterly taken place in his feelings and opinions.
Gabriel Harvey's account of Greene's former way of living may be accepted without much hesitation, as it is upon the main sustained by Greene's own statements. It is also of some value as a picture of the town-life of the roysterers and rufflers of the sixteenth century.
I was altogether unacquainted with the man, and never once saluted him by name; but who, in London, hath not heard of his dissolute and licentious living; his loud disguising of a Master of Art with ruffianly hair, unseemly apparel, and more unseemly company, his vain-glorious and thrasonical braving; his piperly extemporizing and Tarletonizing; his apish counterfeiting of every ridiculous and absurd toy; his fine cozening of jugglers and finer juggling with cozeners; his villainous cogging and foisting; his monstrous swearing, and horrible forswearing; his
The Repentance of Robert Greene, Master of Arts. Wherein by himself is laid open his loose life, with the manner of his death. At London, printed for Cuthbert Burbie, and are to be sold at the middle shop in the Poultry, under Saint Mildred's Church. 1592.-The authenticity of this pamphlet is in some degree supported by the fact that in the same year the same stationer, Cuthbert Burbie, published, with Greene's name, the Third and Last Part of Connycatching.
Alluding to Tarleton, the clown. It may be hence inferred that if Greene was at any time an actor, it was in Tarleton's line of cha