1817 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. John Marston

Nathan Drake, in Shakespeare and his Times (1817; 1838) 308-09.



JOHN MARSTON, who has a claim to introduction here, from his powers as a satirical poet. In 1598, he published The Metamorphosis, or Pigmalion's Image. And certaine Satyres. Of these the former is an elegant and luxurious description of a well-known fable, and to this sportive effusion Shakspeare seems to allude in his Measure for Measure, where Lucio exclaims, "What is there none of Pygmalion's images, newly made woman, to be had now?" (Act. iii. sc. 2.) His fame as a satirist was established the year following, by the appearance of his Scourge of Villanie. Three Bookes of Satyres.

A reprint of these pieces was given to the world by Mr. Bowles, in the year 1764, who terms the author the "British Persius," and adds, that very little is recorded of him with certainty. "Anthony a Wood," he remarks, "who is generally exact in his accounts of men, and much to be lied upon, is remarkably deficient with respect to him; indeed there seems to be little reason to think he was of Oxford: it is certain from his works, that he was of Cambridge, where he was contemporary with Mr. Hall, with whom, as it appears from his satyre, called Reactio, and from the Scourge of Villanie, sat. 10, he had some dispute. — It has not been generally known who was the author of Pigmalion and the five satyres: but that they belong to Marston is clear from the sixth and tenth satyres of the Scourge of Villanie: and to this may be added the evidence of the collector of England's Parnassus, printed 1600, who cites the five first lines of the Dedication to opinion, prefixed to Pigmalion by the name of J. Marston, p. 221."

"These satyres," says Mr. Warton, in his observations on Spenser, "contain many well drawn characters, and several good strokes of a satirical genius, but are not, upon the whole, so finished and classical as Bishop Hall's: the truth is, they were satirists of a different cast: Hall turned his pen against his contemporary writers, and particularly versifiers; Marston chiefly inveighed against the growing foibles and vices of the age."

There is undoubtedly a want of polish in the satirical muse of Marston, which seems, notwithstanding, the result rather of design than inability; for the versification of Pigmalion's Image, is in many of its parts highly melodious. Strength, verging upon coarseness, is, however, the characteristic of the Scourge of Villanie, and may warrant the assertion of the author of The Returne from Parnassus, that he was "a ruffian in his stile." Yet he is highly complimented by Fitz-Geoffry, no mean judge of poetical merit, who declares that he is

—satyrarum proxima primae,
Primaque, fas primas si numerare duas.