1842 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Greene

C. H. Timperley, in Encyclopaedia of Literary and Typographical Anecdote (1842) 1:415.



1592. Died, Sept. 2, Robert Green, an English poet. He was a man of wit and talents, and one of the most facetious, profligate, and indefatigable of the Scribleri family. He laid the foundation of a new dynasty of literary emperors. The first act by which he proved his claim to the throne of Grub-street, has served as a model to his numerous successors — it was, says Mr. D'Israeli, an ambidexterous trick! Green sold his Orlando Furioso to two different theatres, and is among the first authors in English literary history, who wrote as a trader; or as crabbed Anthony Wood phrases it, in the language of celibacy and cynicism, "he wrote to maintain his wife, and that high and loose course of living which poets generally follow." The hermit Anthony seems to have had a mortal antipathy against the Eves of literary men.

Immediately after his death, and whilst the public curiosity was alive concerning him, the following tract was published: — The Repentance of Robert Greene, Maister of Artes. Wherein, by himselfe, is laid open his loose Life, with the Manner of his Death. At London, printed for Cuthbert Burbie. 1592.

The first part of this tract exhibits, in strong colours and the quaint language of the time, his profligacy and subsequent contrition. It next gives us an interesting sketch of his life. From this it appears he was born at Norwich, here spelt Norwitch. His parents must have been respectable, for he was educated at Cambridge, from whence he tells us, "wags as lewd" as himself "drew him to march into Italy and Spaine." In which place he "saw and practised such villanie as is abhomiuable to declare."

On his return to England, "I ruffeled," says he, "out in my silks, in the habit of Malcontent, and no place would please me to abide in." After he had taken his Masters degree at Cambridge, he left the universitie, "and away to London, where he became an author of playes, and a penner of love pamphlets, and who for that trade growne so ordinary as Robin Greene." He then freely confesses that he led a life of unrestrained debauchery, once, and once only, feeling some compunction of the divine judgment. This inward compunction he felt "in Saint Andrews Church, in the cittie of Norwich, at a lecture or sermon then preached by a godly learned man." In the latter part of this tract, he breaks forth into a passionate apostrophe to his injured wife, from whose society he confesses he had estranged himself six years. He most pathetically implores her forgiveness. He concludes with warning young men against the example of his vicious life, assuring them, that God will visit sinfulness.

He appears to have been a thoughtless, good-natured man, and susceptible of the better feelings of the heart, for many of his works contain noble and generous expressions. Neither was he, by any means, to be despised as a poet. The short compositions scattered through his works, to say nothing of his dramatical pieces, indicate much poetical taste and feeling. Subjoined is one of them.

BY A MOTHER TO HER INFANT.
Weepe not, my Wanton, smile upon my knee,
When thou art old theres griefe enough for thee.
Mothers wagge, prettie boy,
Fathers sorrow, fathers joy;
When thy father first did see
Such a boy by him and me,
He was glad, I was woe,
Fortune changd made him so,
When he had left his prettle boy,
Last his sorrow, first his joy.

Weepe not, my Wanton, smile upon my knee,
When thou art old theres griefe enough for thee,
Streaming teares that never stint,
Like pearls drops from a flint,
Fell by course from his eies,
That one anothers place supplies.
Thus he grieved in every part,
Teares of blood fell from his heart,
When he left his prettie boy,
Fathers sorrow, fathers joy.

Weepe not, my Wanton, smile upon my knee,
When thou art old theres griefe enough for thee.
The wanton smiled, father wept,
Mother cried, babie lept,
Now he crow'd more he cride,
Nature could not sorrow hide;
He must goe, he must kisse,
Childe and mother, liable blisse,
For he left his prettie boy,
Fathers sorrow, fathers joy.
Weepe not, my Wanton, smile upon my knee,
When thou art old theres griefe enough for thee.

Green was exceedingly popular in his day, and his works are very voluminous; a beautiful edition of them has lately been published. Mr. Beloe, in his Anecdotes of Scarce Books, enumerates, a great number of Green's productions, and at the conclusion, says, "I here take my leave of Robert Greene, and I confess, not without reluctance. I have been highly entertained with many of his performances, I feel a great respect for his talents, much disgust at his profligacy, but a sincere concern for his misfortunes."