1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. John Marston

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 1:215.



JOHN MARSTON, a rough and vigorous satirist and dramatic writer, produced his Malcontent, a comedy, prior to 1600; his Antonio and Mellida, a tragedy, in 1602; the Insatiate Countess, What You Will, and other plays, written between the latter date and 1634, when he died. He was also connected with Jonson and Chapman in the composition of the unfortunate comedy, Eastward Hoe. In his subsequent quarrel with Jonson, Marston was satirised by Ben in his "Poetaster," under the name of Demetrius. Marston was author of two volumes of miscellaneous poetry, translations, and satires, one of which (Pigmalion's Image) was ordered to be burned for its licentiousness. Mr. Collier, who states that Marston seems to have attracted a good deal of attention in his own day, quotes from a contemporary diary the following anecdote: — "Nov. 21, 1602. — Jo. Marston, the last Christmas, when he danced with Alderman More's wife's daughter, a Spaniard born, fell into a strange commendation of her wit and beauty. When he had done, she thought to pay him home, and told him she thought he was a poet. 'Tis true, said he, for poets feign and lie; and so did I when I commended your beauty, for you are exceeding foul." This coarseness seems to have been characteristic of Marston: his comedies contain strong biting satires, but he is far from being a moral writer. Hazlitt says, his forte was not sympathy either with the stronger or softer emotions, but an impatient scorn and bitter indignation against the vices and follies of men, which vented itself either in comic irony or in lofty invective. The following humorous sketch of a scholar and his dog is worthy of Shakspeare:—

I was a scholar: seven useful springs
Did I deflower in quotations
Of cross'd opinions 'bout the soul of man;
The more I learnt, the more I learnt to doubt.
Delight, my spaniel, slept, whilst I baus'd leaves
Toss'd o'er the dunces, pored on the old print
Of titled words: and still my spaniel slept.
Whilst I wasted lamp-oil, baited my flesh,
Shrunk up my veins: and still my spaniel slept.
And still I held converse with Zabarell,
Aquinas, Scotus, and, the musty saw
Of Antick Donate: still my spaniel slept.
Still on went I; first, "an sit anima;"
Then, an it were mortal. O hold, hold; at that
They're at brain buffets, fell by the ears amain
Pell-mell together; still my spaniel slept.
Then, whether 'twere corporeal, local, fixt,
"Ex traduce," but whether 't had free will
Or no, hot philosophers
Stood banding factions, all so strongly propt;
I stagger'd, knew not which was firmer part,
But thought quoted, read, observ'd, and pried,
Stufft noting-books: and still my spaniel slept.
At length he wak'd, and yawn'd; and by yon sky,
For aught I know, he knew as much as I.