1753 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Greene

Anonymous, in Cibber-Shiels, Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) 1:87-91.



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, so estimate the merit of a piece, as it happens to suit their appetite, or encourage them in every irregular indulgence. No man of honour who sees a poet endowed with a large share of natural understanding, prostituting 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 prostituted 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 practising 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 furniture 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 mispent upon those daughters of destruction, would keep a family with decencys and maintain a wife with honour. When our author was in this forlorn miserable Rate, he writ a letter to his wife, which Mr. Winstanley has preserved, 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 estate 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 own self 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 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 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 [list omitted].

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.