1753 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Nashe

Anonymous, in Cibber-Shiels, Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) 1:347-49.



THOMAS NASH, a versifier in the reign of King Charles I. was educated in the university of Cambridge, and was designed for holy orders. He was descended from a family in Hertfordshire, and was born at Leostoff in Suffolk. Whether he obtained any preferment in the church, or was honoured with any great man's patronage, is no where determined. It is reasonable to believe the contrary, because good fortune is seldom without the evidence of flattery, or envy, whereas distress and obscurity, are almost inseparable companions. This is further confirmed in some lines vehemently passionate, in a performance of his called Piers Penniless; which to say nothing of the poetry, are a strong picture of rage, and despair, and part of which as they will shew that he was no mean versifier, shall be quoted by way of specimen. In the abovementioned piece of Piers Penniless, or supplication to the Devil, he had some reflections on the parentage of Dr. Harvey, his father being a rope-maker of Saffron-Walden. This produced contests between the Doctor and him, so that it became a paper war. Amongst other books which Mr. Nash wrote against him, was one entitled, Have with ye, to Saffron Walden; and another called, Four letters confuted. He wrote likewise a poem, called, The White Herring and the Red. He has published two plays, Dido Queen of Carthage, in which he joined with Marloe: and Summers last Will and Testament, a Comedy. Langbaine says, he could never procure a sight of either of these, but as to the play called, See me, and See me not, ascribed to him by Winstanley, he says, it is written by one Drawbridgecourt Belchier, Esq; Thomas Nash had the reputation of a sharp satirist, which talent he exerted with a great deal of acrimony against the Covenanters and Puritans of his time: He likewise wrote a piece called, The Fourfold way to Happiness, in a dialogue between a countryman, citizen, divine, and lawyer, printed in 4to, London, 1633.

In an old poem called the return to Parnassus, or a scourge for Simony, Nash's character is summed up in four lines which Mrs. Cooper thinks is impartially done.

Let all his faults deep in his mournful chest,
And there for ever with his ashes rest!
His stile was witty; tho he had some gall:
Something he might have mended — so may all

From his PIERS PENNILESS.
Why is't damnation to despair and die,
When life is my true happiness disease?
My soul! my soul! thy safety makes me fly
The faulty means that might my pain appease,
Divines, and dying men may talk of Hell,
But, in my heart, her sev'ral torments dwell!

Ah! worthless wit to train me to this woe!
Deceitful arts, that nourish discontent!
Ill thrive the folly that bewitched me so!
Vain thoughts adieu, for now I will repent!
And yet my wants persuade me to proceed;
Since none take pity of a Scholar's need!

Forgive me God, altho I curse my birth,
And ban the air wherein I breath a wretch!
Since misery hath daunted all my mirth
And I am quite undone, thro promise breach
O friends! no friends! that then ungently frown,
When changing fortune casts us headlong down!

Without redress, complains my careless verse,
And Midas ears relent not at my moan!
In some far land will I my griefs rehearse,
'Mongst them that will be moved when I shall groan!
England adieu! the soil that brought me forth!
Adieu unkind where still is nothing worth!