1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Greene

Thomas Campbell, in Specimens of the British Poets (1819; 1845) 41-42.



ROBERT GREENE was born in Norwich about 1610, was educated at Cambridge, travelled in Spain and Italy, and on his return held, for about a year, the vicarage of Tollesbury, in Essex. The rest of his life seems to have been spent in London, with no other support than his pen, and in the society of men of more wit than worldly prudence. He is said to have died about 1692, from a surfeit occasioned by pickled herrings and Rhenish wine. Greene has acknowledged, with great contrition, some of the follies of his life; but the charge of profligacy which has been so mercilessly laid on his memory must be taken with great abatement, as it was chiefly dictated by his bitterest enemy, Gabriel Harvey, who is said to have trampled on his dead body when laid in the grave. The story, it may be hoped, for the credit of human nature, is untrue, but it shows to what a pitch the malignity of Harvey was supposed to be capable of being excited. Greene is accused of having deserted an amiable wife; but his traducers rather inconsistently reproach him also with the necessity of writing for her maintenance.

A list of his writings, amounting to forty-five separate productions, is given in the Censura Literaria, including five plays, several amatory romances, and other pamphlets, of quaint titles and rambling contents. The writer of that article has vindicated the personal memory of Greene with proper feeling, but he seems to overate the importance that could have ever been attached to him as a writer. In proof of the once great popularity of Greene's writings, a passage is quoted from Ben Jonson's Every Man out of his Humour, where it is said that Saviolina uses choice figures as any in the Arcadia, and Carlo enjoins, "or in Greene's works, whence she may steal with more security." This allusion to the facility of stealing without detection from an author surely argues the reverse of his being popular and well known. Greene's style is in truth most whimsical and grotesque. He lived before there was a good model of familiar prose; and his wit, like a stream that is too weak to force a channel for itself, is lost in rhapsody and diffuseness.