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The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland Volume I Part 6

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Poore painters oft with silly poets joyne, To fill the world with vain and strange conceits, One brings the stuff, the other stamps the coyne Which breeds nought else but glosses of deceits.

Thus painters Cupid paint, thus poets doe A naked G.o.d, blind, young, with arrows two.

Is he a G.o.d, that ever flyes the light?

Or naked he, disguis'd in all untruth?

If he be blind, how hitteth he so right?

How is he young, that tamed old Phoebus youth?

But arrowes two, and tipt with gold or lead, Some hurt, accuse a third with horney head.

No nothing so; an old, false knave he is, By Argus got on Io, then a cow: What time for her, Juno her Jove did miss, And charge of her to Argus did allow.

Mercury killed his false sire for this act, His damme a beast was pardoned, beastly fact.

With father's death, and mother's guilty shame, With Jove's disdain at such a rival's feed: The wretch compel'd, a runegate became, And learn'd what ill, a miser-state did breed, To lye, to steal, to prie, and to accuse, Nought in himself, each other to abuse.

[Footnote 1: Athen, Oxon, folio, p. 226.]

[Footnote 2: Wood, p. 227.]

[Footnote 3: Earl of Leicester.]

[Footnote 4: Lord Brook's life.]

[Footnote 5: For a great many months after his death, it was reckoned indecent in any gentleman to appear splendidly dress'd; the public mourned him, not with exterior formality, but with the genuine sorrow of the heart. Of all our poets he seems to be the most courtly, the bravest, the most active, and in the moral sense, the best.]

[Footnote 6: Camden Brit. in Kent.]

CHISTOPHER MARLOE

Was bred a student in Cambridge, but there is no account extant of his family. He soon quitted the University, and became a player on the same stage with the incomparable Shakespear. He was accounted, says Langbaine, a very fine poet in his time, even by Ben Johnson himself, and Heywood his fellow-actor stiles him the best of poets. In a copy of verses called the Censure of the Poets, he was thus characterized.

Next Marloe bathed in Thespian springs, Had in him those brave sublunary things, That your first poets had; his raptures were All air and fire, which made his verses clear; For that fine madness still he did retain, Which rightly should possess a poet's brain.

His genius inclined him wholly to tragedy, and he obliged the world with six plays, besides one he joined for with Nash, called Dido Queen of Carthage; but before I give an account of them, I shall present his character to the reader upon the authority of Anthony Wood, which is too singular to be pa.s.sed over. This Marloe, we are told, presuming upon his own little wit, thought proper to practise the most epicurean indulgence, and openly profess'd atheism; he denied G.o.d, Our Saviour; he blasphemed the adorable Trinity, and, as it was reported, wrote several discourses against it, affirming Our Saviour to be a deceiver, the sacred scriptures to contain nothing but idle stories, and all religion to be a device of policy and priestcraft; but Marloe came to a very untimely end, as some remarked, in consequence of his execrable blasphemies. It happened that he fell deeply in love with a low girl, and had for his rival a fellow in livery, who looked more like a pimp than a lover. Marloe, fired with jealousy, and having some reason to believe that his mistress granted the fellow favours, he rushed upon him to stab him with his dagger; but the footman being quick, avoided the stroke, and catching hold of Marloe's wrist stabbed him with his own weapon, and notwithstanding all the a.s.sistance of surgery, he soon after died of the wound, in the year 1593. Some time before his death, he had begun and made a considerable progress in an excellent poem called Hero and Leander, which was afterwards finished by George Chapman, who fell short, as it is said, of the spirit and invention of Marloe in the execution of it.

What credit may be due to Mr. Wood's severe representation of this poet's character, the reader must judge for himself. For my part, I am willing to suspend my judgment till I meet with some other testimony of his having thus heinously offended against his G.o.d, and against the best and most amiable system of Religion that ever was, or ever can be: Marloe might possibly be inclined to free-thinking, without running the unhappy lengths that Mr. Wood tells us, it was reported he had done. We have many instances of characters being too lightly taken up on report, and mistakenly represented thro' a too easy credulity; especially against a man who may happen to differ from us in some speculative points, wherein each party however, may think himself Orthodox: The good Dr. Clarke himself, has been as ill spoken of as Wood speaks of Marloe.

His other works are

1. Dr. Faustus, his tragical history printed in 4to. London, 1661.

2. Edward the Second, a Tragedy, printed in 4to. London-when this play was acted is not known.

3. Jew of Malta, a Tragedy played before the King and Queen at Whitehall, 1633. This play was in much esteem in those days; the Jew's part being performed by Mr. Edward Alleyn, the greatest player of his time, and a man of real piety and goodness; he founded and endowed Dulwich hospital in Surry; he was so great an actor, that Betterton, the Roscius of the British nation, used to acknowledge that he owed to him those great attainments of which he was master.

4. l.u.s.t's Dominion; or the Lascivious Queen, published by Mr. Kirkman, 8vo. London, 1661. This play was altered by Mrs. Behn, and acted under, the t.i.tle of the Moor's Revenge.

5. Ma.s.sacre of Paris, with the death of the Duke of Guise, a Tragedy, played by the Right Honourable the Lord Admiral's servants. This play is divided into acts; it begins with the fatal marriage between the King of Navarre, and Margurete de Valois, sister to King Charles IX; the occasion of the ma.s.sacre, and ends with the death of Henry III of France.

6. Tamerlain the Great; or the Scythian Shepherd, a Tragedy in two parts, printed in an old black letter, 8vo. 1593. This is said to be the worst of his productions.

ROBERT GREEN

Received his education at the university of Cambridge, and was, as Winstanley says, a great friend to the printers by the many books he writ. He was a merry droll in those times, and a man so addicted to pleasure, that as Winstanley observes, he drank much deeper draughts of sack, than of the Heliconian stream; he was amongst the first of our poets who writ for bread, and in order the better to support himself, tho' he lived in an age far from being dissolute, viz. in that of the renowned Queen Elizabeth; yet he had recourse to the mean expedient of writing obscenity, and favouring the cause of vice, by which he no doubt recommended himself to the rakes about town, who, as they are generally no true judges of wit, to estimate the merit of a piece, as it happens to suit their appet.i.te, or encourage them in every irregular indulgence. No man of honour who sees a poet endowed with a large share of natural understanding, prost.i.tuting his pen to the vilest purpose of debauchery and lewdness, can think of him but with contempt; and his wit, however brilliant, ought not to screen him from the just indignation of the sober part of mankind. When wit is prost.i.tuted to vice, 'tis wit no more; that is, it ceases to be true wit; and I have often thought there should be some public mark of infamy fixed on those who hurt society by loose writings. But Mr. Green must be freed from the imputation of hypocrisy, for we find him practicing the very doctrines he taught. Winstanley relates that he was married to a very fine and deserving lady, whom he basely forsook, with a child she had by him, for the company of some harlots, to whom he applied the wages of iniquity, while his wife starved. After some years indulgence of this sort, when his wit began to grow stale, we find him fallen into abject poverty, and lamenting the life he had led which brought him to it; for it always happens, that a mistress is a more expensive piece of furniniture than a wife; and if the modern adulterers would speak the truth, I am certain they would acknowledge, that half the money which, in the true sense of the word, is misspent upon those daughters of destruction, would keep a family with decency, and maintain a wife with honour. When our author was in this forlorn miserable state, he writ a letter to his wife, which Mr. Winstanly has preferred, and which, as it has somewhat tender in it I shall insert. It has often been observed, that half the unhappy marriages in the world, are more owing to the men than the women; That women are in general much better beings, in the moral sense, than the men; who, as they bustle less in life, are generally unacquainted with those artifices and tricks, which are acquired by a knowledge of the world; and that then their yoke-fellows need only be tender and indulgent, to win them. But I believe it may be generally allowed, that women are the best or worst part of the human creation: none excel them in virtue; but when they depart from it, none exceed them in vice. In the case of Green, we shall see by the letter he sent his wife how much she was injured.

"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, (tho' shame would let me hardly behold thy face) but exceedingly aggravated, for that I cannot as I ought to thy ownself reconcile myself, that thou might'st witness my inward woe at this instant, that hath made thee a woful wife for so long a time. But equal heaven has denied that comfort, giving at my last need, like succour as I have 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 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 green, and may grow strait, if he be carefully tended, otherwise apt enough to follow his father's folly. That I have offended thee highly, I know; that thou canst forget my injuries, I hardly believe; yet I perswade myself, that if thou sawest my wretched estate, thou couldst not but lament it, nay certainly I know, thou wouldst. All thy wrongs muster themselves about me, and every evil at once plagues me; for my contempt of G.o.d, 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 G.o.d hath cast me down that I might be humbled, and punished for example of others; and though he suffers me in this world to perish without succour, yet I trust 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,

ROBERT GREEN.

This author's works are chiefly these,

The Honourable History of Fryar Bacon, and Fryar Bungy; play'd by the Prince of Palatine's servants. I know not whence our author borrowed his plot, but this famous fryar Minor lived in the reign of Henry III. and died in the reign of Edward I. in the year 1284. He joined with Dr. Lodge in one play, called a Looking Gla.s.s for London; he writ also the Comedies of Fryar Bacon and Fair Enome. His other pieces are, Quip for an upstart Courtier, and Dorastus and Fawnia. Winstanley imputes likewise to him the following pieces. Tully's Loves; Philomela, the Lady Fitzwater's Nightingale; Green's News too Late, first and second part; Green's Arcadia; Green's Farewel to Folly; Green's Groatsworth of Wit.

It is said by Wood in his Fasti, p. 137, vol. i. that our author died in the year 1592, of a surfeit taken by eating pickled herrings, and drinking with them rhenish wine. At this fatal banquet, Thomas Nash, his cotemporary at Cambridge was with him, who rallies him in his Apology of Pierce Pennyless. Thus died Robert Green, whose end may be looked upon as a kind of punishment for a life spent in riot and infamy.

EDMUND SPENSER

was born in London, and educated at Pembroke Hall in Cambridge. The accounts of the birth and family of this great man are but obscure and imperfect, and at his first setting out into life, his fortune and interest seem to have been very inconsiderable.

After he had for some time continued at the college, and laid that foundation of learning, which, joined to his natural genius, qualified him to rise to so great an excellency, he stood for a fellowship, in compet.i.tion with Mr. Andrews, a gentleman in holy orders, and afterwards lord bishop of Winchester, in which he was unsuccessful. This disappointment, joined with the narrowness of his circ.u.mstances, forced him to quit the university [1]; and we find him next residing at the house of a friend in the North, where he fell in love with his Rosalind, whom he finely celebrates in his pastoral poems, and of whose cruelty he has written such pathetical complaints.

It is probable that about this time Spenser's genius began first to distinguish itself; for the Shepherd's Calendar, which is so full of his unprosperous pa.s.sion for Rosalind, was amongst the first of his works of note, and the supposition is strengthened, by the consideration of Poetry's being frequently the offspring of love and retirement. This work he addressed by a short dedication to the Maecenas of his age, the immortal Sir Philip Sidney. This gentleman was now in the highest reputation, both for wit and gallantry, and the most popular of all the courtiers of his age, and as he was himself a writer, and especially excelled in the fabulous or inventive part of poetry; it is no wonder he was struck with our author's genius, and became sensible of his merit. A story is told of him by Mr. Hughes, which I shall present the reader, as it serves to ill.u.s.trate the great worth and penetration of Sidney, as well as the excellent genius of Spenser. It is said that our poet was a stranger to this gentleman, when he began to write his Fairy Queen, and that he took occasion to go to Leicester-house, and introduce himself by sending in to Mr. Sidney a copy of the ninth Canto of the first book of that poem. Sidney was much surprized with the description of despair in that Canto, and is said to have shewn an unusual kind of transport on the discovery of so new and uncommon a genius. After he had read some stanza's, he turned to his steward, and bid him give the person that brought those verses fifty pounds; but upon reading the next stanza, he ordered the sum to be doubled. The steward was no less surprized than his master, and thought it his duty to make some delay in executing so sudden and lavish a bounty; but upon reading one stanza stanza more, Mr. Sidney raised the gratuity to two hundred pounds, and commanded the steward to give it immediately, lest as he read further he might be tempted to give away his whole estate. From this time he admitted the author to his acquaintance and conversation, and prepared the way for his being known and received at court.

Tho' this seemed a promising omen, to be thus introduced to court, yet he did not instantly reap any advantage from it. He was indeed created poet laureat to Queen Elizabeth, but he for some time wore a barren laurel, and possessed only the place without the pension [2]. Lord treasurer Burleigh, under whose displeasure Spenser laboured, took care to intercept the Queen's favours to this unhappy great man. As misfortunes have the most influence on elegant and polished minds, so it was no wonder that Spenser was much depressed by the cold reception he met with from the great; a circ.u.mstance which not a little detracts from the merit of the ministers then in power: for I know not if all the political transactions of Burleigh, are sufficient to counterballance the infamy affixed on his name, by prosecuting resentment against distressed merit, and keeping him who was the ornament of the times, as much distant as possible from the approach of competence. These discouragements greatly sunk our author's spirit, and accordingly we find him pouring out his heart, in complaints of so injurious and undeserved a treatment; which probably, would have been less unfortunate to him, if his n.o.ble patron Sir Philip Sidney had not been so much absent from court, as by his employments abroad, and the share he had in the Low-Country wars, he was obliged to be. In a poem called, The Ruins of Time, which was written some time after Sidney's death, the author seems to allude to the discouragement I have mentioned in the following stanza.

O grief of griefs, O gall of all good hearts!

To see that virtue should despised be, Of such as first were raised for virtue's parts, And now broad-spreading like an aged tree, Let none shoot up that nigh them planted be; O let not these, of whom the muse is scorned, Alive or dead be by the muse adorned.

These lines are certainly meant to reflect on Burleigh for neglecting him, and the Lord Treasurer afterwards conceived a hatred towards him for the satire he apprehended was levelled at him in Mother Hubbard's Tale. In this poem, the author has in the most lively manner, painted out the misfortune of depending on court favours. The lines which follow are among others very remarkable.

Full little knowest thou, that hast not try'd, What h.e.l.l it is in suing long to bide, To dole good days, that nights be better spent, To waste long nights in pensive discontent; To speed to day, to be put back to-morrow, To feed on hope, to pine with fear and sorrow To have thy prince's grace, yet want her peers, To have thy asking, yet wait many years.

To fret thy soul with crosses, and with care.

To eat thy heart, thro' comfortless despair; To fawn, to crouch, to wait, to ride, to run To spend, to give, to want, to be undone.

As this was very much the author's case, it probably was the particular pa.s.sage in that poem which gave offence; for as Hughes very elegantly observes, even the sighs of a miserable man, are sometimes resented as an affront, by him who is the occasion of them. There is a little story, which seems founded on the grievance just now mentioned, and is related by some as a matter of fact [3] commonly reported at that time. It is said, that upon his presenting some poems to the Queen, she ordered him a gratuity of one hundred pounds, but the Lord Treasurer Burleigh objecting to it, said with some scorn of the poet, of whose merit he was totally ignorant, "What, all this for a song?" The queen replied, "Then give him what is reason." Spenser for some time waited, but had the mortification to find himself disappointed of her Majesty's bounty. Upon this he took a proper opportunity to present a paper to Queen Elizabeth in the manner of a pet.i.tion, in which he reminded her of the order she had given, in the following lines.

I was promised on a time To have reason for my rhime, From that time, unto this season I received nor rhime, nor reason.

This paper produced the intended effect, and the Queen, after sharply reproving the treasurer, immediately directed the payment of the hundred pounds the had first ordered. In the year 1579 he was sent abroad by the Earl of Leicester, as appears by a copy of Latin verses dated from Leicester-house, and addressed to his friend Mr. Harvey; but Mr. Hughes has not been able to determine in what service we was employed. When the Lord Grey of Wilton was chosen Deputy of Ireland, Spenser was recommended to him as secretary. This drew him over to another kingdom, and settled him in a scene of life very different from what he had formerly known; but, that he understood, and discharged his employment with skill and capacity, appears sufficiently by his discourse on the state of Ireland, in which there are many solid and judicious remarks, that shew him no less qualified for the business of the state, than for the entertainment of the muses. His life was now freed from the difficulties under which it had hitherto struggled, and his services to the Crown received a reward of a grant from Queen Elizabeth of 3000 Acres of land in the county of Cork. His house was in Kilcolman, and the river Mulla, which he has more than once so finely introduced in his poems, ran through his grounds. Much about this time, he contracted an intimate friendship with the great and learned Sir Walter Raleigh, who was then a captain under the lord Grey. The poem of Spenser's, called Colin Clouts come home again, in which Sir Walter Raleigh is described under the name of the Shepherd of the Ocean, is a beautiful memorial of this friendship, which took its rise from a similarity of taste in the polite arts, and which he agreeably describes with a softness and delicacy peculiar to him. Sir Walter afterwards promoted him in Queen Elizabeth's esteem, thro' whose recommendation she read his writings. He now fell in love a second time with a merchant's daughter, in which, says Mrs. Cooper, author of the muses library, he was more successful than in his first amour. He wrote upon this occasion a beautiful epithalamium, with which he presented the lady on the bridal-day, and has consigned that day, and her, to immortality. In this pleasant easy situation our excellent poet finished the celebrated poem of The Fairy Queen, which was begun and continued at different intervals of time, and of which he at first published only the three first books; to these were added three more in a following edition, but the six last books (excepting the two canto's of mutability) were unfortunately lost by his servant whom he had in haste sent before him into England; for tho' he pa.s.sed his life for some time very serenely here, yet a train of misfortunes still pursued him, and in the rebellion of the Earl of Desmond he was plundered and deprived of his estate. This distress forced him to return to England, where for want of his n.o.ble patron Sir Philip Sidney, he was plunged into new calamities, as that gallant Hero died of the wounds he received at Zutphen. It is said by Mr. Hughes, that Spenser survived his patron about twelve years, and died the same year with his powerful enemy the Lord Burleigh, 1598. He was buried, says he, in Westminster-Abbey, near the famous Geoffery Chaucer, as he had desired; his obsequies were attended by the poets of that time, and others, who paid the last honours to his memory. Several copies of verses were thrown after him into his grave, and his monument was erected at the charge of the famous Robert Devereux, the unfortunate Earl of Ess.e.x. This is the account given by his editor, of the death of Spenser, but there is some reason to believe that he spoke only upon imagination, as he has produced no authority to support his opinion, especially as I find in a book of great reputation, another opinion, delivered upon probable grounds. The ingenious Mr. Drummond of Hawthronden, a n.o.ble wit of Scotland, had an intimate correspondence with all the genius's of his time who resided at London, particularly the famous Ben Johnson, who had so high an opinion of Mr. Drummond's abilities, that he took a journey into Scotland in order to converse with him, and stayed some time at his house at Hawthronden. After Ben Johnson departed, Mr. Drummond, careful to retain what past betwixt them, wrote down the heads of their conversation; which is published amongst his poems and history of the five James's Kings of Scotland. Amongst other particulars there is this. "Ben Johnson told me that Spenser's goods were robbed by the Irish in Desmond's rebellion, his house and a little child of his burnt, and he and his wife nearly escaped; that he afterwards died in King-street [4] by absolute want of bread; and that he refused twenty pieces sent him by the Earl of Ess.e.x [5], and gave this answer to the person who brought them, that he was sure he had no time to spend them."

Mr. Drummond's works, from whence I have extracted the above, are printed in a thin quarto, and may be seen at Mr. Wilson's at Plato's Head in the Strand. I have been thus particular in the quotation, that no one may suspect such extraordinary circ.u.mstances to be advanced upon imagination. In the inscription on his tomb in Westminster Abbey, it is said he was born in the year 1510, and died 1596; Cambden says 1598, but in regard to his birth they must both be mistaken, for it is by no means probable he was born so early as 1510, if we judge by the remarkable circ.u.mstance of his standing for a fellowship in compet.i.tion with Mr. Andrews, who was not born according to Hughes till 1555. Besides, if this account of his birth be true, he must have been sixty years old when he first published his Shepherd's Calendar, an age not very proper for love; and in this case it is no wonder, that the beautiful Rosalind slighted his addresses; and he must have been seventy years old when he entered into business under lord Grey, who was created deputy in Ireland 1580: for which reasons we may fairly conclude, that the inscription is false, either by the error of the carver, or perhaps it was put on when the monument was repaired.

There are very few particulars of this great poet, and it must be a mortification to all lovers of the Muses, that no more can be found concerning the life of one who was the greatest ornament of his profession. No writer ever found a nearer way to the heart than he, and his verses have a peculiar happiness of recommending the author to our friendship as well as raising our admiration; one cannot read him without fancying oneself transported into Fairy Land, and there conversing with the Graces, in that enchanted region: In elegance of thinking and fertility of imagination, few of our English authors have approached him, and no writers have such power as he to awake the spirit of poetry in others. Cowley owns that he derived inspiration from him; and I have heard the celebrated Mr. James Thomson, the author of the Seasons, and justly esteemed one of our best descriptive poets, say, that he formed himself upon Spenser; and how closely he pursued the model, and how n.o.bly he has imitated him, whoever reads his Castle of Indolence with taste, will readily confess.

Mr. Addison, in his characters of the English Poets, addressed to Mr.

Sacheverel, thus speaks of Spenser: Old Spenser next, warm'd with poetic rage, In ancient tales amus'd a barb'rous age; An age, that yet uncultivate and rude, Where-e'er the poet's fancy led, pursued Thro' pathless fields, and unfrequented floods, To dens of dragons, and enchanted woods.

But now the mystic tale, that pleas'd of yore, Can charm an understanding age no more; The long spun allegories, fulsome grow, While the dull moral lyes too plain below.

We view well pleased at distance, all the sights, Of arms, and palfries, battles, fields, and fights, And damsels in distress, and courteous knights.

But when we look too near, the shades decay, And all the pleasing landscape fades away.

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The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland Volume I Part 6 summary

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