1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Nashe

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 1:168.



THOMAS NASH, a lively satirist, who amused the town with his attacks on Gabriel Harvey and the Puritans, wrote a comedy called Summer's Last Will and Testament, which was exhibited before Queen Elizabeth in 1592. He was also concerned with Marlow in writing the tragedy of Dido, Queen of Carthage. He was imprisoned for being the author of a satirical play, never printed, called the Isle of Dogs. Another piece of Nash's, entitled the Supplication of Pierce Penniless to the Devil, was printed in 1592, which was followed next year by Christ's Tears over Jerusalem. Nash was a native of Leostoff, in Suffolk, and was born about the year 1564; he was of St John's college, Cambridge. He died about the year 1600, after a "life spent," he says, "in fantastical satirism, in whose veins heretofore I mispent my spirit, and prodigally conspired against good hours." He was the Churchill of his day, and was much famed for his satires. One of his contemporaries remarks of him, in a happy couplet—

His style was witty, though he had some gall,
Something he might have mended, so may all.
Return from Parnassus.

The versification of Nash is hard and monotonous. The following is from his comedy of "Summer's Last Will and Testament," and is a favourable specimen of his blank verse: great part of the play is in prose:—

I never lov'd ambitiously to climb,
Or thrust my hand too far into the fire.
To be in heaven sure is a blessed thing,
But, Atlas-like, to prop heaven on one's back
Cannot but be more labour than delight.
Such is the state of men in honour placed:
They are gold vessels made for servile uses;
High trees that keep the weather from low houses,
But cannot shield the tempest from themselves.
I love to dwell betwixt the hills and dales,
Neither to be so great as to be envied,
Nor yet so poor the world should pity me.

In his poem of Pierce Penniless, Nash draws a harrowing picture of the despair of a poor scholar—

All, worthless wit! to train me to this woe:
Deceitful arts that nourish discontent:
Ill thrive the folly that bewitch'd me so!
Vain thoughts adieu! for now I will repent—
And yet my wants persuade me to proceed,
For none take pity of a scholar's need.
Forgive me, God, although I curse my birth,
And ban the air wherein I breathe a wretch,
Since misery hath daunted all my mirth,
And I am quite undone through promise breach;
Ah, friends! — no friends that then ungentle frown
When changing fortune casts us headlong down.