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tions of great crimes. Our poetical history furnishes another, and still more striking example of this accusatory spirit; and although there is no reason to suppose that Greene was moved by such morbid influences as those which disturbed the repose of Cowper, we are justified in concluding, from the imperfect evidence we possess, that he equally magnified the vices of his early life. Dissolute as he subsequently became, there was at all events a time, however brief, in which he preserved some reputable relations with society, and was admitted to the intercourse of people of character and condition. The three pieces he published in the second year of his authorship were respectively dedicated to the Countess of Derby, the Earl of Arundel, and the Earl of Oxford. The young writer who appeared under such auspices, could not yet have utterly sunk into the 'wickedness' and 'villany' with which he afterwards reproached himself.
Whether Greene ever embraced any profession is extremely doubtful. It has been supposed that he entered holy orders soon after his return from the continent, and that he was the same Robert Greene who was presented to the vicarage of Tollesbury, in Essex, on the 19th of June, 1584, which he held only a few months. All the facts that have come down to us respecting the poet tend to negative this conjecture. In 1584, Greene had already embarked in authorship in London, where he had previously, as he tells us, resided some time. We may assume, also, that had he been in holy orders, his detractors would have seized upon the circumstance with avidity as an aggravation of the irregularities of his conduct. Yet none of the scandalous attacks that were made upon him contain any allusion to it; nor does he speak of it himself, although his confessions touch upon most of the prominent incidents of his life. His own silence on the subject may be considered conclusive; especially in such passages as the following, which refer directly to religious topics.
Yet let me confess a truth, that even once, and yet but once,
I felt a fear and horror in my conscience, and then the terror of God's judgments did manifestly teach me that my life was bad, that by sin I deserved damnation, and that such was the greatness of my sin, that I deserved no redemption. And this inward motion I received in Saint Andrew's Church, in the city of Norwich, at a lecture or sermon then preached by a godly, learned man, whose doctrine, and the manner of whose teaching, I liked wonderful well; yea (in my conscience) such was his singleness of heart and zeal in his doctrine, that he might have converted the worst monster of the world.
That Greene contemplated the profession of medicine is indicated by decisive evidence on the title-page of one of his tracts, Planetomachia, published in 1585, where he styles himself 'Master of Arts and Student in Physic;' but there is no ground for supposing that he ever advanced any further. It seems, too, that at some time in the course of his career, apparently at a late period, he attempted the stage-an expedient to which most of the dramatists of that age had recourse, especially his friends Peele and Marlowe, and afterwards Shakspeare and Ben Jonson. This conjecture-for it amounts to no more-is founded on an allusion to Greene as a 'player,' in Gabriel Harvey's Four Letters, published after Greene's death, in which he speaks of him as 'the king of the paper stage,' and says that he had played his last part, and was gone to join Tarleton.' There has also been cited in support of this evidence, a MS. note on a copy of The Pinner of Wakefield, 1599, which affirms that play to have been written by. a minister, who acted the Pinner's part himself;' to which is added a memorandum in another hand-writing to this effect :- Ed. Juby saith it was made by Ro. Greene.' Juby was an actor of that time, and his testimony on such a point would be unexceptionable, if it could be verified. But both note and memorandum assert so much for which there is no other witness whatever, that they should be received with caution. They not only ascribe to Greene the authorship of a play which was published anonymously seven years after his death, but inform us at the same time that he was both a minister and an actor.
These loose particulars seem to have been scribbled on the title-page by some collectors of gossip, who were not very particular about the sources of their information.
In 1588 Greene was incorporated at Oxford, a proof that he enjoyed an honourable reputation as a scholar, and that his conduct up to that time had not brought any public disgrace upon him. His marriage, which appears to have been soon succeeded by that downward course of dissipation from which he never recovered, took place at least two years before. The expiatory relation he has himself given of this event, of his heartless desertion of his wife after he had spent her fortune, and of his subsequent life in the lowest dens of London, conveys forcibly its own painful moral.
Thus although God sent his Holy Spirit to call me, and though I heard him, yet I regarded it no longer than the present time, when, suddenly forsaking it, I went forward obstinately in my ruin. Nevertheless, soon after, I married a gentleman's daughter of good account, with whom I lived for a while: but forasmuch as she would persuade me from my wilful wickedness, after I had a child by her, I cast her off, having spent up all the marriage money which I obtained by her.
Then left I her at six or seven, who went into Lincolnshire, and I to London; where in short space I fell into favour with such as were of honourable and good calling. But here note, that though I knew how to get a friend, yet I had not the gift or reason how to keep a friend; for he that was my dearest friend, I would be sure to behave myself towards him that he should ever after profess to be my utter enemy, or else vow never after to come in my company.
Thus my misdemeanours (too many to be recited) caused the most of those so much to despise me, that in the end I became friendless, except it were in a few alehouses, who commonly for my inordinate expenses would make much of me, until I were on the score, far more than ever I meant to pay by twenty nobles thick. After I had wholly betaken me to the penning of plays (which was my continual exercise), I was so far from calling upon God, that I seldom thought on God, but took such delight in swearing and blaspheming the name of God,* that none could
* He elsewhere admonishes Marlowe on having, in common with himself, denied the existence of a God. See post, p. 25.
think otherwise of me, than that I was the child of perdition. These vanities and other trifling pamphlets I penned of love and vain fantasies was my chiefest stay of living, and for those, my vain discourses, I was beloved of the more vainer sort of people, who, being my continual companions, came still to my lodging, and there would continue quaffing, carousing, and surfeiting with me all the day long.
It is upon the close of this passage, and the contrition which Greene expressed on other occasions concerning the frivolity and laxity of his love pamphlets, that his biographers, probably, founded the charge they bring against him, of having prostituted his genius to gratify the tastes of the fashionable profligates of the day. The accusation is in a great degree justified by Greene's own confessions and recantations, in which he speaks of the sundry wanton pamphlets,' and the axioms of amorous philosophy,' he had published, and especially where he describes his repentance as the reformation of a second Ovid; 'inferior by a thousand degrees to him in wit or learning, but, I fear, half as fond in publishing amorous fancies.' He again compares himself to Ovid in the dedication of his Notable Discovery of Coosnage, published in 1591, citing also the examples of Diogenes and Socrates who, renouncing the vices of their youth, became wise and virtuous in their maturity. This address is curious as a piece of autobiography, showing the villainous haunts and associations into which Greene fell in the course of his short career, and the profitable uses to which he afterwards turned the knowledge he had thus acquired, by exposing in his publications the cheats and schemers of the metropolis. The dedication is addressed to the young gentlemen, merchants, apprentices, farmers, and plain countrymen:'
Diogenes, gentlemen, from a counterfeit coiner of money, became a current corrector of manners, as absolute in the one as dissolute in the other: time refineth men's affects, and their humours grow different by the distinction of age. Poor Ovid, that amorously writ in his youth the Art of Love, complained in his exile among the Getes of his wanton follies. And Socrates'
age was virtuous, though his prime was licentious. So, gentlemen, my younger years had uncertain thoughts, but now my ripe days call on to repentant deeds, and I sorrow as much to see others wilful, as I delighted once to be wanton. The odd madcaps I have been mate to, not as a companion, but as a spy to have an insight into their knaveries, that, seeing their trains, I might eschew their snares; those mad fellows I learned at last to loathe, by their own graceless villanies, and what I saw in them to their confusion, I can forewarn in others to my country's commodity. None could decypher tyranny better than Aristippus, not that his nature was cruel, but that he was nurtured with Dionysius; the simple swain that cuts the lapidary's stones, can distinguish a ruby from. a diamond only by his labour; though I have not practised their deceits, yet conversing by fortune, and talking upon purpose with such copes-mates, hath given me light into their conceits, and I can decypher their qualities, though I utterly mislike of their practices.
Greene took great credit to himself, evidently with some justice, for the excellent service he rendered to the commonwealth by his fearless exposure of the rogueries of London; and it appears that it was a service of no little danger, for the 'coney-catchers, cooseners, and crosse biters,'* whose infamous practices he laid bare, menaced him repeatedly with threats of vengeance.
Greene drew largely upon his actual experiences in the stories, treatises, and aphorisms he gave to the world. In two of his pamphlets he apparently relates some of the adventures of his own life, but so ingeniously disguised in the details that it is not easy to separate the true from the fictitious. It is obvious enough, however, that the special incidents of these pieces are mere inventions, and that the autobiographical element consists in the general resemblance they bear to his own fortune, and the moral to be deduced from them.
In the first of these pamphlets, called Never Too Late, the hero, Francesco, carries off Isabel, a gentleman's daughter, for which he is seized and put into prison. He is afterwards set
* Slang names for the various cheats and sharpers of London. The term cross-biter' is said by S. Rowlands to have been invented by one Laurence Crosbiter, or Long Laurence.