1821 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Greene

Anonymous, in Retrospective Review 3 (1821) 101.



The chief defect of Greene is a want of circumstance — he is ignorant of the winding passages which lead to the portals of passion — of those repeated strokes which mark the progression of emotion, and in the end produce a pathetic effect. We do not find in him any of those casual expressions which escape from the bitterness of the soul — any of those slight indications of the storm within, more effective than a cento of extravagant hyperboles. There is spirit enough to produce effervescence, but it rises into bombast or sinks into flatness. These remarks are, of course, made with reference to his dramatic works, not to the capabilities of his mind, which was quick and inventive. In addition to his plays, he was the author of a great variety of works — some of a satirical description which manifest great power of wit and humour; and his paltry novel, as it has been termed, of Dorastus and Faunia, on which, as is well known, Shakspeare founded his Winter's Tale, is an interesting and well related story. Indeed, if his novels had not possessed merit of some kind, they would hardly have obtained the popularity they undoubtedly enjoyed. For that they were bought up with eagerness and read with admiration, appears not only from the authority of Nash before quoted, but even from the testimony of his coward enemy Gabriel Harvey, in the foul and disgusting four letters, which he published against Greene after his death. After saying that not only the fine comedies of the daintiest attic wit were become stale, he proceeds; "even Guicciardini's silver historie, and Ariosto's golden cantoes, grow out of request, and the Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia is not 'greene' enough for queasie stomackes, but they must have Greene's Arcadia, and I believed most eagerly longed for Greene's Faerie Queene." And we learn from Sir Thomas Overbury, that he was popular enough amongst one class of females; for that author, in his Character of a Chambermaid, tells us she reads Greene's works over and over.