1815 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Nashe

Thos. Nashe, the younger, "Thomas Nashe" British Lady's Magazine 1 (June 1815) 395-96.



MR. EDITOR,

Pursuant to my promise I enclose you a short sketch of the life of my ancestor, Thomas Nashe. He was my great-uncle's great-grandfather's grandfather; and, in affectionate remembrance of his worth and talents by my parents, I was made successor to his name. I would send you our tree of genealogy, but I am afraid you would burn it for firewood. Yours, &c.

THOS. NASHE, the younger.

THOMAS NASHE was born in Leostaff in Suffolk, about the year 1564 — the same that gave Shakspeare to the world, with whom, in all probability, he was afterwards intimate; for there was much friendship, much emulation, and no petty rivalry among the wits of that day. At sixteen, it is supposed, he was sent to Cambridge; and, after completing his education at St. John's College, he took his degree of bachelor of arts in 1585. He then came to London to seek his fortune, and was the companion of most of the men of talent and genius at that time living, and among others of Robert Green, who, after leading a life not of a very exemplary character, died repentant. Nashe seems to have been a great favourite about the court, though, on account of his wild proceedings, few persons openly and steadily patronised him. He was a man of uncommon wit and severity of satyr, as will appear by the following lines, written upon him after his death:—

Sharply satyric was he, and that way
He went, that since he lived until this day
Few have attempted; and I surely think
Those words shall hardly be set down in ink
That scorch and blast so as his could, &c.

This satirical disposition, probably, was the cause of his quarrel with Dr. Gabriel Harvey, the friend of Spencer, which produced a long paper war between Nashe and his partizans, and his coadjutors. Though Gabriel Harvey was a man of very eminent abilities and much wit, he was no match for Nashe, who, in an answer to four letters written by the former, and in a piece called "Have with you to Saffron Walden," very severely handled his antagonist, whose father happening to have been a rope-maker, Nashe made ample use of the circumstance.

As Winstanley (one of the biographers of our English poets) observes, "Nashe has a poet's brain and a poet's purse;" and, having involved himself, he was put into prison by his creditors. Here it is supposed that he wrote the "Supplication of Pierce Pennyless," which contains the following verse on his own distresses:—

Ah! worthless wit, to train me to this woe!
Deceitful arts that nourish discontent:
I'll thrive the folly that bewitched me so!
Vain thoughts adieu, for now I will repent:
And yet my wants persuade me to proceed,
Since none takes pity on a scholar's need.

Nashe was afterwards released, and wrote some plays; among them, was one called "The Isle of Dogs," which, containing matter offensive to great personages, as is supposed, was the cause of a second imprisonment. How long he remained in confinement is not known; but he wrote many pieces, particularly the "Praise of the Red Herring," in compliment to Yarmouth, near which port he was born, which is perhaps the very wittiest thing of the kind written either then or since. He was likewise the author of "A Comparison between the White Herring and the Red," and of "Summer's last Will and Testament," with several other small publications abounding in poignant satire and humour.

In consequence, probably, of the death of his riotous friend Green, Nashe seems to have repented soon afterwards, and to have contemplated leaving his native country; which, however, he did not carry into effect. One of his last works was "Christ's Tears over Jerusalem," in which he bids a farewell to "fantastical satyrism." He was the writer of a variety criticisms upon plays, actors, and authors contemporaneous with himself. He died about the year 1601.