« AnteriorContinuar »
was not given to the world even in part till 1590, nor completely till 1593. His collection of sonnets and songs entitled ‘Astrophel and Stella,’ first appeared in 1591, and his other most celebrated piece in prose, “The Defence of Poesy,’ in 1595. The production in which he satirises the affectation and pedantry of the modern corrupters of the vernacular tongue is a sort of masque, supposed to pass before Queen Elizabeth in Wanstead garden, in which, among other characters, a village schoolmaster called Rombus appears, and declaims in a jargon not unlike that of Shakspeare's Holofernes. Sidney's own prose is the most flowing and poetical that had yet been written in English; but its graces are rather those of artful elaboration than of a vivid natural expres
siveness. The thought, in fact, is generally more poetical.
than the language; it is a spirit of poetry encased in a rhetorical form. Yet, notwithstanding the conceits into which it frequently runs—and which, after all, are mostly rather the frolics of a nimble wit, somewhat too solicitous of display, than the sickly perversities of a coxcombical or effeminate taste — and, notwithstanding also some want of animation and variety, Sidney's is a wonderful style, always flexible, harmonious, and luminous, and on fit occasions rising to great stateliness and splendour; while a breath of beauty and noble feeling lives in and exhales from the whole of his great work, like the fragrance from a garden of flowers. Among the most active occasional writers in prose, also, about this time were others of the poets and dramatists of the day, besides Lodge, who has been already mentioned as one of Lyly's imitators. Another of his productions, besides his tale of Rosalynd, which has lately
attracted much attention, is a Defence of Stage Plays, which he published, probably in 1579, in answer to Stephen Gosson's ‘School of Abuse,’ and of which only two copies are known to exist, both wanting the titlepage.* Greene was an incessant pamphleteer upon all sorts of subjects: the list of his prose publications, as far as they are known, given by Mr. Dyce extends to between thirty and forty articles, the earliest being dated 1584, or eight years before his death. Morality, fiction, satire, blackguardism, are all mingled together in the stream that thus appears to have flowed without pause from his ready pen. “In a night and a day,” says his friend Nash, “would he have yarked up a pamphlet as well as in seven years; and glad was that printer that might be so blest to pay him dear for the very dregs of his wit.”f His wit, indeed, often enough appears to have run to the dregs, nor is it very sparkling at the best; but Greene's prose, though not in general very animated, is more concise and perspicuous than his habits of composition might lead us to expect. He has generally written from a well-informed or full mind, and the matter is interesting even when there is no particular attraction in the manner. Among his most curious pamphlets are his * See Mr. Collier's Introduction to the Shakespeare Society's editions of Gosson’s ‘School of Abuse,’ 1841; and of Northbrooke's ‘Treatise against Dicing, Dancing, Plays, and Interludes,’ 1843. See also his ‘History of Dramatic Poetry,’ ii. 277, &c. There is an imperfect list of the undramatic productions of Thomas Lodge,’ in the introduction to his tragedy of “The Wounds of Civil War” in the eighth volume of the last edition of Dodsley's Old Plays. Lodge's ‘Rosalynd’ is reprinted in Mr. Collier's “Shakespeare's Library.’
several tracts on the rogueries of London, which he describes under the name of “Coney-catching”—a favourite subject also with other popular writers of that day. But the most remarkable of all Greene's contributions to our literature are his various publications which either directly relate or are understood to shadow forth the history of his own wild and unhappy life—his tale entitled ‘Never too Late; or, A Powder of Experience,” 1590; the second part, entitled “Francesco's Fortunes,” the same year; his ‘Groatsworth of Wit, bought with a Million of Repentance,’ and “The Repentance of Robert Greene, Master of Arts,' which both appeared, after his death, in 1592. Greene, as well as Lodge, we may remark, is to be reckoned among the Euphuists; a tale which he published in 1587, and which was no less than five times reprinted in the course of the next half century, is entitled ‘Menaphon; Camilla's Alarum to slumbering Euphues, in his melancholy cell at Silexedra,’ &c.; and the same year he produced “Euphues his Censure to Philantus; wherein is presented a philosophical combat between Hector and Achilles,’ &c. But he does not appear to have persisted in this fashion of style. It may be noticed as curiously illustrating the spirit and manner of our fictitious literature at this time, that in his ‘Pandosto,” or, ‘History of Dorastus and Fawnia, Greene, a scholar, and a Master of Arts of Cambridge, does not hesitate to make Bohemia an island, just as is done by Shakspeare in treating the same story in his Winter's Tale. The critics have been accustomed to instance this as one of the evidences of Shakspeare's ignorance, and Ben Jonson is recorded to have, in his conversation with Drummond of Hawthornden, quoted it as a proof that his
great brother dramatist “wanted art,” and sometimes sense.” The truth is, as has been observed," such deviations from fact, and other incongruities of the same character, were not minded, or attempted to be avoided, either in the romantic drama, or in the legends out of which it was formed. They are not blunders, but part and parcel of the fiction. The making Bohemia an island is not nearly so great a violation of geographical truth as other things in the same play are of all the proprieties and possibilities of chronology and history—for instance, the co-existence of a kingdom of Bohemia at all, or of that modern barbaric name, with anything so entirely belonging to the old classic world as the Oracle of Delphi. The story (though no earlier record of it has yet been discovered) is not improbably much older than either Shakspeare or Greene: the latter no doubt expanded and adorned it, and mainly gave it its present shape; but it is most likely that he had for his groundwork some rude popular legend or tradition, the characteristic middle age geography and chronology of which he most properly did not disturb. But the most brilliant pamphleteer of this age was Thomas Nash. Nash is the author of one slight dramatic piece, mostly in blank verse, but partly in prose, and having also some lyrical poetry interspersed, called ‘Summer's Last Will and Testament,” which was exhibited before Queen Elizabeth at Nonsuch, in 1592; and
* Yet Jonson has elsewhere expressly commended Shakspeare for his art. See his well-known verses prefixed to the first folio edition of the Plays.
+ See Notice on the Costume of the Winter's Tale in Knight's Shakspere, vol. iv.
he also assisted Marlow in his “Tragedy of Dido, Queen of Carthage,’ which, although not printed till 1594, is supposed to have been written before 1590. But his satiric was of a much higher order than his dramatic talent. There never perhaps was poured forth such a rushing and roaring torrent of wit, ridicule, and invective, as in the rapid succession of pamphlets which he published in the course of the year 1589 against the Puritans and their famous champion (or rather knot of champions) taking the name of Martin Mar-Prelate; unless in those in which he began two years after to assail poor Gabriel Harvey, his persecution of and controversy with whom lasted a much longer time—till indeed the Archbishop of Canterbury (Whitgift) interfered in 1597 to restore the peace of the realm, by an order that all Harvey's and Nash's books should be taken wherever they might be found, “and that none of the said books be ever printed hereafter.” Mr. D'Israeli has made both these controversies familiar to modern readers by his lively accounts of the one in his ‘Quarrels,’ of the other in his “Calamities’ of Authors; and ample specimens of the criminations and recriminations hurled at one another by Nash and Harvey have also been given by Mr. Dyce, in the Life of Greene prefixed to his edition of that writer's dramatic and poetical works. Harvey too was a man of great talent; but it was of a kind very different from that of Nash. Nash's style is remarkable for its airiness and facility; clear it of its old spelling, and, unless it be for a few words and idioms which have now dropt out of the popular speech, it has quite a modern air. This may show, by the bye, that the language has not altered so much since the latter part of the sixteenth century as the