Robert Greene was born at Norwich. He was by birth a gentleman, received his education at Cambridge, and early made a continental tour. He appears to have taken his degree as M. A. of Clare-Hall in that university, 1583. He "was presented to the vicarage of Tollesbury, in Essex, the 19th of June, 1584, which he resigned the following year." It is probable about this period he married. The character of his wife, as pourtrayed by his own pen, is amiable and interesting; highly possessing those softer virtues, which adorn and dignify the female character. The offspring of this union was an only son; but, it is alleged, even this tie of nature combined with all the endowments of the mother could not prevent desertion. This unfortunate circumstance is supposed to have occurred in 1586. Whatever fortune he inherited or received on his marriage, was idly and rapaciously squandered in riotous scenes of dissipation passed in the metropolis. In July 1588 he was incorporated at Oxford, when, according to Wood, he was well known by his poetical as well as satirical vein; and, says the same editor, he "wrote to maintain his wife, and that high and loose course of living which poets generally follow." Winstanley observes "he made his pen mercenary," and Shiels considers him "the first of our poets who wrote for bread," a circumstance not easily ascertained, and not very probable, and if a fact, a matter neither of reproach nor culpability. Many of his writings glaringly describe the wanton habits of his associates; and charity, lamenting the ungovernable pursuits of genius, must ever draw a veil over his numerous errors. Conscious of the improprieties he had thoughtlessly plunged into, he made strenuous exertions to warn the unthinking, and expose the tricks, frauds, and devices, of his miscreant companions. His works contain the seeds of virtue, while his acts display the tares of folly. The records of his penitence are many; and his intention to forsake his imprudent and dissolute course seems to have been founded in truth, good principles, and innate virtue, with an apparent consistency, and determination to carry it into effect. The imbecility of folly renders it wearisome and disgusts; but the habit of indolence that accompanies it is not easily shaken off. In the delusive hope of gratification from the enjoyment of one day more, and the repugnance ever felt to commence the staid course of prudence, the best resolutions waver, are temporized with, lost, and forgotten. Disregarded by his holiday acquaintance, and with a mind embittered with the keen anguish of remembrance, he ended the closing scene in character with the vagrant part of his life, dying, according to Wood, about 1592, of a surfeit taken by eating pickled herrings and drinking rhenish wine. Gabriel Harvey, whom the same writer compares to Achilles torturing the body of Hector, as he most inhumanely trampled upon Greene when he lay full low in his grave, states him to have been buried in the new church-yard near Bedlam.
His pieces were many, and the editions of several extremely numerous, and probably neither as yet wholly ascertained. Those I have perused, display a rich and glowing fancy, much originality and universal command of language, combined with an extensive knowledge of the world. His crowded similes are in unison with those of the period when he wrote, and prove him a disciple of the then fashionable Euphuean sect; they are in general well selected, appositely applied, and quaintly amuse while his moral instructs. He possessed considerable, if not first rate abilities, and it is inconsistent to measure either poetry or prose by any standard of criticism erected two centuries after the decease of the author.
The fame of Greene is not indebted to his biographers for any assistance; nor his character under any obligation to their lenity. To censure and condemn his weakness has not been sufficient; he has been stigmatised with the grossest vices, and it would be useless now to inquire for every authority. Much of the abuse is dictated from the pages of his inveterate antagonist Gabriel Harvey. The sever notes by Oldys are principally derived from the same polluted source, and the adoption of them by Steevens has tended to confirm their severity. The names of Oldys and Steevens are entitled to universal respect and confidence; they may be considered to have sacrificed the greater portion of their lives in substituting facts for theory, and purifying English works from errors and inconsistency. Neither is it the province of one who occasionally recreates a mind, worn and corroded by the pursuits of others, in the gratification of reading, to attempt the controverting of their pages; yet, it may be diffidently suggested, that the sombre shadows might have been relieved without deviating from the fair colouring of truth. Little of the real life of Greene was known at the close of the seventeenth century. Langbaine, who had been many years compiling his Account of the Dramatic Poets, and who sought on all occasions to expose the errors of Winstanley, was under the acknowledged necessity of copying from that writer's meagre narrative; and which narrative, like the distending bladder that swells with each gust of foul air, has been increased in its appearance of malignantly by every subsequent writer. The thoughtless imprudence repeatedly described by Greene in giving an outline of his own character, must be considered as overstrained, for one who had "tasted of the sweet fruites of theology," and probably manufactured with new and exaggerated incidents of folly and extravagance, to swell the hunger-wrought pages, and give variation and strength to his novels. Charity demands this inference when the whole of the vices displayed are found to be gathered with a miser's industry, and embodied, from the tales of invention, for the purpose of degrading him beneath the level of decency and common repute in society. Wood, whose authority is relied on in other points, says, he wrote "to maintain his wife;" a memorial in his favour passed unnoticed: while that source of existence has been asserted to have been prodigally consumed in the support of a wanton.
The works of Greene obtained an extraordinary portion of popularity. In Ben Jonson's Every Man out of his Humour, Maddona Saviolina is described to observe "as pure a phrase and use as choice figures in her ordinary consequences an any be i' the Arcadia. Car. Or rather in Greene's works, where she may steal with more security." Sir Thomas Overbury, in his character of "a chamber maid," says "she reads Greene's works over and over; but is so carried away with the Mirror of Knighthood, she is many times resolv'd to run out of her self, and become a lady-errant." These passages are given in full from their being quoted by Oldys. Of the last he observes, "we may know in what class to rank Greene from what Sir Thomas Overbury says in his character of a chambermaid, who reads Greene's works over and over." If this negative conclusion is supposed to convey a critical decision, or if it means to convey any thing, it must be that of an opinion which depreciates the works of Greene, and to pronounce them either trifling or unworthy of notice, or vulgar and contemptible. Either point may be refuted; but such authority is too light for a decision, while the vague inference of the critic is more easily destroyed in an immediate and familiar view of the passage in question, by considering it written of the era of yesterday, and adopting the name of Fielding, or Smollet, (whose pieces have been equally idolized by chambermaids); thus the distinction of class no longer despoils his literary reputation. Wood considers him "author of several things which were pleasing to men and women of his time; [that] they made such sport and were valued among scholars, but since they have been mostly sold on ballad-monger's stalls." This huckster circulation is a presumptive proof of their morality, if not of their merit; and [Thomas] Warton has pronounced in an extended acceptation, his prose pamphlets, may "claim the appellation of satires." Had the obloquy cast on Greene been attached to any modern writer, who had obtained similar excess of popularity, the hands of Briareus would not have been sufficient to contain the pens employed to apologize for his weakness and dissipation, or canvass the proof of his errors; yet, if "he was a bad man," to use the apposite language of a celebrated writer, "let us not palliate his crimes; but neither let us adopt false or doubtful imputations for the purpose of making him a monster."
1. The Myrrour of Modestie, 1584.
2. Monardo the Tritameron of Love, 1584, 1587.
3. Planetomacha, 1585. [q. an edition without date.]
4. Translation of funeral sermon of P. Gregory XIII. 1585.
3. Euphues censure to Philautus, 1587, 1634.
6. Arcadia or Menaphon, Camillae's alarm to slumbering Euphues, 1587, 1589, 1599, 1605, 1610, 1616, 1634.
7. Pandosto the triumph of Time, 1588, 1629.
8. Perimedes the blackesmith, 1588.
9. The pleasant and delightful History of Dorastus and Fawnia, 1588, 1607, 1675, 1703, 1723, 1735.
10. Alcida, Greene's Metamorphosis, (licensed to John Wolfe, 1588), 1617.
11. The Spanish Masquerado, 1589.
12. Orpharion (licensed to E. White, 1589), 1599.
13. The Royall Exchange, contayning sundry aphorisms of Philosophie, 1590.
14. Greene's Mourning Garment given him by repentance at the funerals of Love, 1590, 1616.
15. Never too late, 1590, 1600, 1607, 1616, 1631. [n.d. Beloe.]
16. A notable discovery of Coosenage, 1591, 1592.
17. The ground work of Conny Catching, 1591.
18. The second and last part of Conny Catching, 1591, 1592.
19. The third and last part of Conny Catching, 1592.
20. Disputation between a hee conny-catcher and shee conny-catcher, 1592.
21. Greene's groatsworth of Wit bought with a million of repentance, n.d. 1592, 1600, 1616, 1617, 1621, 1629, 1637.
22. Philomela the Lady Fitz-Walter's Nightingale, n.d. 1592, 1615, 1631.
23. A Quip for an upstart Courtier, or a dispute between velvet and cloth breeches, 1592, 1620, 1625, 1635. Harl. Mis. Vol. V. p. 371.
24. Ciceronis Amor, Tullie's Love, 1592, 1611, 1615, 1616, 1628, 1639.
25. News both from Heaven and Hell (licensed to John Oxenbridge, 1592), 1593.
26. The Black Book's Messenger, or life and death of Ned Browne, 1592.
27. The repentance of Robert Greene, 1592.
28. Greene's vision at the instant of his death, published by Newman, n.d.
29. Mamillia, or the triumph of Pallas, 1593.
30. Mamillia, or the second part of the triumph of Pallas, 1593.
31. Card of Fancy, 1593, 1608.
32. Greene's funerals, 1594. [I believe not his. I. Reed.]
33. The Honourable Historic of Fryer Bacon and Fryer Bongay, a comedy, 1594, 15993 1630.
34. The History of Orlando Furioso, a play, not divided into acts, 1594, 1599.
35. The comicall Historic of Alphonsus King of Arragon, a play, 1597, 1599.
36. A looking glass for London and England, (a comedy, jointly with Lodge), 1594, 1598.
The Scottish Historic of James the Fourthe slaine at Flodden, intermixed with a pleasant comedie, &c. 1598, 1599.
38. Penelope's Webb, n.d. 1601.
39. History of Faire Bellora, [q. date of first edition, afterwards published as] "A paire of Turtle Doves, or the tragicall History of Bellora and Fidelio. Seconded with the tragicall end of Agamio, wherein (besides other matters pleasing to the reader) by way of dispute betweene a Knight and a Lady, is described this never before debated question, to wit, whether man to woman, or woman to man offer the greater temptations unto unbridled lust, and consequently whether man or woman in that unlawfull act, be the greater offender. A historic pleasant, delightful and witti, fit of all to be perused for their better instruction, but especiall of youth to be regarded, to bridle their follies. Printed for Francis Burton, and are to be sold at his shop in Panics Church-yard at the signe of the Flower de-luce and Crowne, 1606."
40. The debate between Follie and Love, translated out of French, 1608.
41. Thieves falling out true men come by their goods, 1615, 1637. Harl. Mis. Vol. VIII. p. 369.
42. Greene's Farewell to Folie, 1617.
43. Arbasto, the History of Arbasto King of Denmarke, 1617, 1626.
44. Fair Emme a comedy, 1631. [The best authorities for this article are Phillips's Theatrum Poetarum, 1675, and the re-insertion by Steevens in his list for Berkenhout. Langbaine, Mears, and others, consider the piece anonymous. It was performed by Lord Strange's men, who had the other dramas written by Greene, and the construction is similar to Orlando Furioso, not being divided into acts].
45. The History of Jobe, a play, destroyed; see Warburton's list, Censura, Vol. V. p. 274.
[The following pieces have been ascribed to Greene.]
Mihil Mumchance, his discoverie of the art of cheating in false dyce-play, n.d. [Inserted by Mr. Reed in his list, but doubtful. It forms No. 32 in Mr. Beloe's list, though mentioned in the following page as not by Greene.]
Art of Juggling, 1612 [Reed's list, & ante p. 374.]
Greene's ghost haunting coney catchers, 1602, 1606, 1626. ["I doubt this being Greene's." I. Reed.] The Epistle Dedicatory says, this little pamphlet, which by a very friend came to my hands, and adding somewhat of mine owne knowledge, and upon verie credible information, concluding "your's to use S. R." These initials are given to Samuel Rowlands, but they are more probably those of the author of the Art of Juggling.
Greene in conceyte newe raised from his grave to wryte the tragique storye of his faire Valeria of London. (Licensed to William Jones 1597), 1598, was written by John Dickenson.
Greene's poet's vision and a Prince's glory, 1603 [No. 37, of Mr. Beloe's list, written by Thomas Greene the actor, better known by John Cook's dramatic piece of "Greene's Tu Quoque."]
The late Mr. Reed inserted an additional manuscript list of Greene's works in a copy of the Biographia Literaria; to that I have made several additions. The greater portion of the titles having been fully given in Mr. Beloe's Anecdotes of Literature made a repetition unnecessary.