1874 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. John Marston

William Minto, in Characteristics of English Poets (1874) 434-35.



John Marston is the Skelton or Swift of the Elizabethan period. Like them, he wrote in denunciation and derision of what seemed to him vicious or weakly sentimental; and like them, he impatiently carried a passion for directness of speech to the extremes of coarseness. He was for no half-veiled exposure of vices. "Know," he cried, in the preface to the Scourge of Villany, his first furious lash at the age, "I hate to affect too much obscurity and harshness, because they profit no sense. To note vices so that no man can understand them is as fond as the French execution in picture." And a contemporary (in the anonymous Return from Parnassus) confirmed this self-estimate of his purposes:—

Tut, what cares he for modest close-couched terms
Cleanly to gird our looser libertines?
Give him plain naked words, stript from their shirts,
That might beseem plain-dealing Aretine!

Marston's satires are not elegant, self-complacent exercises in imitation of Horace, such as Hall was so vain of writing; he wrote in a more savage and less affected vein:—

Unless the Destin's adamantine band
Should tie my teeth, I cannot choose but bite.