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It is mainly, no doubt, but I hope not exclusively, an antiquarian interest which attaches to the name of Thomas Nash. It would be absurd to claim for a writer so obscure a very prominent place in the procession of Englishmen of letters. His works proclaim by their extreme rarity the fact that three centuries of readers have existed cheerfully and wholesomely without any acquaintance with their contents. At the present moment, the number of those living persons who have actually perused the works of Nash may probably be counted on the fingers of two hands. Most of these productions are uncommon to excess, one or two exist in positively unique examples. There is no use in arguing against such a fact as this. If Nash had reached, or even approached, the highest order of merit, he would have been placed, long ere this, within the reach of all. Nevertheless, his merits, relative if not positive, were great. In the violent coming of age of Elizabethan literature, his voice was heard loudly, not always discordantly, and with an accent eminently personal to himself. His life, though shadowy, has elements of picturesqueness and pathos; his writings are a storehouse of oddity and fantastic wit
It has been usual to class Nash with the Precursors of Shakespeare, and until quite lately it was conjectured that he was older than Greene and Peele, a contemporary of Lodge and Chapman. It is now known that he was considerably younger than all these, and even than Marlowe and Shakespeare. Thomas Nash, the fourth child of the Rev. William Nash, who to have been curate of Lowestoft in Suffolk, was baptized in that town in November, 1567. The Nashes continued to live in Lowestoft, where the father died in 1603, probably three years after the death of his son Thomas. Of the latter we hear nothing more until, in October, 1582, at the age of fifteen, he matriculated as a sizar of St. John’s College, Cambridge. Cooper says that he was admitted a scholar on the Lady Margaret’s foundation in 1584. He remained at Cambridge, in unbroken residence, until July, 1589, “seven year together, lacking a quarter,” as he tells us positively in “Lenten Stuff.”
Cambridge was the hotbed of all that was vivid and revolutionary in literature at that moment, and Robert Greene was the centre of literary Cambridge. When Nash arrived, Greene, who was seven years his senior, was still in residence at his study in Clare Hall, having returned from his travels in Italy and Spain, ready, in 1583, to take his degree as master of arts. He was soon, however, to leave for London, and it is unlikely that a boy of sixteen would be immediately admitted to the society of those “lewd wags” who looked up to the already distinguished Greene as to a master. But Greene, without doubt, made frequent visits to his university, and on one of these was probably formed that intimate friendship with Nash which lasted until near the elder poet’s death. Marlowe was at Corpus, then called Benet College, during five years of Nash’s residence, but it is by no means certain that their acquaintance began so early. It is, indeed, in the highest degree tantalizing that these writers, many of whom loved nothing better than to talk about themselves, should have neglected to give us the information which would precisely be most welcome to us. A dozen whole “Anatomies of Absurdity” and “Supplications of Pierce Penniless” might be eagerly exchanged for a few pages in which the literary life of Cambridge from 1582 to 1589 should be frankly and definitely described.
It has been surmised that Nash was ejected from the university in 1587. His enemy, Gabriel Harvey, who was extremely ill-informed, gives this account of what occurred:—
“[At Cambridge], (being distracted of his wits) [Nash] fell into diverse misdemeanours, which were the first steps that brought him to this poor estate. As, namely, in his fresh-time, how he flourished in all impudency towards scholars, and abuse to the townsmen; insomuch that to this day the townsmen call every untoward scholar of whom there is great hope, a very Nash. Then, being bachelor of arts, which by great labour he got, to show afterwards that he was not unworthy of it, had a hand in a show called Terminus et non terminus; for the which his partner in it was expelled the college; but this foresaid Nash played in it (as I suppose) the Varlet of Clubs. . . . Then suspecting himself that he should be stayed for egregie dunsus, and not attain to the next degree, said he had commenced enough, and so forsook Cambridge, being bachelor of the third year.”
But, even in this poor gossip, we find nothing about ejection. Nash’s extraordinary abuse of language is probably the cause of that report. In 1589, in prefacing his “Anatomy of Absurdity,” he remarked:—
“What I have written proceeded not from the pen of vainglory, but from the process of that pensiveness, which two summers since overtook me; whose obscured cause, best known to every name of curse, hath compelled my wit to wander abroad unregarded in this satirical disguise, and counselled my content to dislodge his delight from traitors’ eyes.”
That the young gentleman meant something by these sentences, it is only charitable to suppose; that he could have been intelligible, even to his immediate contemporaries, is hardly to be believed. This “obscured cause” has been taken to be, by some, his removal from the University, and, by others, his entanglement with a young woman. It is perhaps simpler to understand him to say that the ensuing pamphlet was written, in consequence of an intellectual crisis, in 1587, when he was twenty years of age.
At twenty-two, at all events, we find him in London, beginning his career as a man of letters. His first separate publication seems to have been the small quarto in black letter from which a quotation has just been made. This composition, named an “Anatomy” in imitation of several then recent popular treatises of a similar title, is only to be pardoned on the supposition that it was a boyish manuscript prepared at college. It is vilely written, in the preposterous Euphuism of the moment; the style is founded on Lyly, the manner is the manner of Greene, and Whetstone in his moral “Mirrors” and “Heptamerons” has supplied the matter. The “absurdity” satirized in this jejune and tedious tract is extravagant living of all kinds. The author attacks women with great vehemence, but only in that temper which permitted the young Juvenals of the hour to preach against wine and cards and stageplays with intense zeal, while practising the worship of all these with equal ardour. “The Anatomy of Absurdity” is a purely academic exercise, interesting only because it shows, in the praise of Sidney and the passage in defence of poetry, something of the intellectual aptitude of the youthful writer.
In the same year, and a little earlier, Nash published an address “to the gentlemen students of both universities,” as a preface to a romance by Greene. Bibliographers describe a supposititious “Menaphon” of 1587, which nobody has ever seen; even if such an edition existed, it is certain that Nash’s address was not prefixed to it, for the style is greatly in advance of his boyish writing of that year. It is an interesting document, enthusiastic and gay in a manner hardly to be met with again in its author, and diversified with graceful praise of St John’s College, defence of good poetry, and wholesome ridicule of those who were trying to introduce the “Thrasonical huffsnuff” style of which Phaer and Stanihurst were the prophets.
Still in 1589, but later in the year, Nash is believed to have thrown himself into that extraordinary clash of theological weapons which is celebrated as the Martin Marprelate Controversy. As is well known, this pamphlet war grew out of the passionate resentment felt by the Puritans against the tyrannical acts of Whitgift and the Bishops. The actual controversy has been traced back to a defence of the establishment of the Church, by the Dean of Sarum, on the one hand, and a treatise by John Penry the Puritan, on the other, both published in 1587. In 1588 followed the violent Puritan libel, called “Martin Marprelate,” secretly printed, and written, perhaps, by a lawyer named Barrow. Towards the close of the dispute several of the literary wits dashed in upon the prelatical side, and denounced the Martinists with exuberant high spirits. Among these Nash was long thought to have held a very prominent place, for the two most brilliant tracts of the entire controversy, “Pap with an Hatchet,” 1589, and “An Almond for a Parrot,” 1590, were confidently attributed to him. These are now, however, clearly perceived to be the work of a much riper pen, that, namely, of Lyly.
It is probable that the four anonymous and privately printed tracts, which Dr. Grosart has finally selected, do represent Nash’s share in the Marprelate Controversy, although in one of them, “Martin’s Month’s Mind,” I cannot say that I recognize his manner. The “Countercuff,” published in August, 1589, from Gravesend, shows a great advance in power. The academic Euphuism has been laid aside; images and trains of thought are taken from life and experience instead of from books. In “Pasquils Return,” which belongs to October of the same year, the author invents the happy word “Pruritans” to annoy his enemy, and speaks, probably in his own name, but perhaps in that of Pasquil, of a visit to Antwerp. “Martin’s Month’s Mind,” which is a crazy piece of fustian, belongs to December, 1589, while the fourth tract, “Pasquil’s Apology,” appeared so late as July, 1590. The smart and active pen which skirmishes in these pamphlets adds nothing serious to the consideration of the tragical controversy in which it so lightly took part. It amused and trained Nash to write these satires, but they left Udall none the worse and the Bishops none the better. The author repeatedly promises to rehearse the arguments on both sides and sum up the entire controversy in a “May-Game of Martinism,” of which we hear no more.
During the first twelve months of Nash’s residence in London he was pretty busily employed. It is just conceivable that six small publications may have brought in money enough to support him. But after this we perceive no obvious source of income for some considerable time. How the son of a poor Suffolk minister contrived to live in London throughout the years 1590 and 1591, it is difficult to imagine. Certainly not on the proceeds of a single pamphlet. It is not credible that Nash published much that has not come down to us. Perhaps a tract here and there may have been lost.1 He probably subsisted by hanging on to the outskirts of education. Perhaps he taught pupils, more likely still he wrote letters. We know, afterall, too little of the manners of the age to venture on a reply to the question which constantly imposes itself, How did the minor Elizabethan man of letters earn a livelihood? In the case of Nash, I would hazard the conjecture, which is borne out, I think, by several allusions in his writings, that he was a reader to the press, connected, perhaps, with the Queen’s printers, or with those under the special protection of the Bishops.
1 One long narrative poem, the very name of which is too coarse to quote, was, according to Oldys, certainly published; but of this no printed copy is known to exist. John Davies of Hereford says that “good men tore that pamphlet to pieces.” I owe to the kindness of Mr. A. H. Bullen the inspection of a transtript of a very corrupt manuscript of this work.
His only production in 1591, so far as we know, was the insignificant tract called “A Wonderful Astrological Prognostication,” by “Adam Fouleweather.” This has been hastily treated as a defence of “the dishonoured memory” of Nash’s dead friend Greene against Gabriel Harvey. But Greene did not die till the end of 1592, and in the “Prognostication” there is nothing about either Greene or Harvey. The pamphlet is a quizzical satire on the almanac-makers, very much in the spirit of Swift’s Bickerstaff “Predictions” a hundred years later. Of more importance was a preface contributed in this same year to Sir Philip Sidney’s posthumous “Astrophel and Stella.” In this short essay Nash reaches a higher level of eloquence than he had yet achieved, and, in spite of its otiose redundancy, this enthusiastic eulogy of Sidney is pleasant reading.
In 1592, doubtless prior to the death of Greene, Nash published the earliest of his important books, the volume entitled “Pierce Penniless his Supplication to the Devil.” This is a grotesque satire on the vices and the eccentricities of the age. As a specimen of prose style it is remarkable for its spirit and “go,” qualities which may enable us to forget how turbid, ungraceful, and harsh it is. Nash had now dropped the mannerism of the Euphuists; he had hardly gained a style of his own. “Pierce Penniless,” with its chains of “letter-leaping metaphors,” rattles breathlessly on, and at length abruptly ceases. Any sense of the artistic fashioning of a sentence, or of the relative harmony of the parts of a composition, was not yet dreamed of. But before we condemn the muddy turbulence of the author, we must recollect that nothing had then been published of Hooker, Raleigh, or Bacon in the pedestrian manner. Genuine English prose had begun to exist indeed, but had not yet been revealed to the world. Nash, as a lively portrait-painter in grotesque, at this time, is seen at his best in such a caricature as this, scourging “the pride of the Dane”:—
“The most gross and senseless proud dolts are the Danes, who stand so much upon their unwieldy burly-boned soldiery, that they account of no man that hath not a battle-axe at his girdle to hough dogs with, or wears not a cock’s feather in a thrummed hat like a cavalier. Briefly, he is the best fool braggart under heaven. For besides nature hath lent him a flab-berkin face, like one of the four winds, and cheeks that sag like a woman’s dug over his chinbone, his apparel is so stuffed up with bladders of taffaty, and his back like beef stuffed with parsley, so drawn out with ribbands and devises, and blistered with light sarcenet bastings, that you would think him nothing but a swarm of butterflies, if you saw him afar off.”
On the 3rd of September, 1592, Greene came to his miserable end, having sent to the press from his deathbed those two remarkable pamphlets, the “Groatsworth of Wit” and the “Repentance.” For two years past, if we may believe Nash, the profligate atheism of the elder poet had estranged his friend, or at all events had kept him at a distance. But a feeling of common loyalty, and the anger which a true man of letters feels when a genuine poet is traduced by a pedant, led Nash to take up a very strong position as a defender of the reputation of Greene. Gabriel Harvey, although the friend of Spenser, is a personage who fills an odious place in the literary history of the last years of Elizabeth. He was a scholar and a university man of considerable attainments, but he was wholly without taste, and he concentrated into vinegar a temper which must always have had a tendency to be sour. In particular, he loathed the school of young writers who had become famous in direct opposition to the literary laws which he had laid down.
Harvey’s wrath had found a definite excuse in the tract, called “A Quip for an upstart Courtier, or a quaint dispute between Velvet-Breeches and Cloth-Breeches,” which Greene had published early in the year 1592. Accordingly, when he heard of Greene’s death, he hastened to his lodgings, interviewed his landlady, collected scurrilous details, and, with matchless bad taste, issued, before the month was over, his “Four Letters,” a pamphlet in which he trampled upon the memory of Greene. In the latest of his public utterances, Greene had made an appeal to three friends, who, though not actually named, are understood to have been Marlowe, Peele, and Nash.
Of these, the last was the one with the readiest pen, and the task of punishing Harvey fell upon him.
Nash’s first attack on Harvey took the form of a small volume, entitled, “Strange News of the Intercepting of Certain Letters,” published very early in 1593. It was a close confutation of the charges made in Harvey’s “Four Letters,” the vulgarity and insolence of the pedant being pressed home with an insistence which must have been particularly galling to him as coming from a distinguished man of his own university, twenty years his junior. Harvey retorted with the heavy artillery of his “Pierce’s Supererogation,” which was mainly directed against Nash, whom the disappearance of Peele, and the sudden death of Marlowe in June, had left without any very intimate friend as a supporter. Nash retired, for the moment, from the controversy, and in the prefatory epistle to a remarkable work, the most bulky of all his books, “Christ’s Tears over Jerusalem,” he waved the white flag. He bade, he declared, “a hundred unfortunate farewells to fantastical satirism,” and complimented his late antagonist on his “abundant scholarship.” Harvey took no notice of this, and for four years their mutual animosity slumbered. In this same year, 1593, Nash produced the only play which has come down to us as wholly composed by him, the comedy of “Summer’s Last Will and Testament.”
Meanwhile “Pierce Penniless” had enjoyed a remarkable success, and had placed Nash in a prominent position among London men of letters. We learn that in 1596, four years after its original publication, it had run through six editions, besides being translated in 1594 into French, and, a little later, into Macaronic Latin. In “Christ’s Tears” the young writer, conscious of his new importance, deals with what the critics have said about his style. He tells us, and we cannot wonder at it, that objections have been made to “my boisterous compound words, and ending my Italianate coined verbs all in ize.” His defence is not unlike that of De Quincey; we can imagine his asking, when urged to be simple, whether simplicity be in place in a description of Belshazzar’s Feast He says that the Saxon monosyllables that swarm in the English tongue are a scandal to it, and that he is only turning this cheap silver trash into fine gold coinage. Books, he says, written in plain English, “seem like shopkeepers’ boxes, that contain nothing else save halfpence, three-farthings, and two-pences.” To show what sort of doubloons he proposes to mint for English pockets, we need go no further than the opening phrases of his dedication of this very book to that amiable poet, the Lady Elizabeth Carey:—
“Excellent accomplished court-glorifying Lady, give me leave, with the sportive sea-porpoises, preludiately a little to play before the storm of my tears, to make my prayer before I proceed to my sacrifice. Lo, for an oblation to the rich burnished shrine of your virtue, a handful of Jerusalem’s mummianized earth, in a few sheets of waste paper enwrapped, I here, humiliate, offer up at your feet.”
These, however, in spite of the odd neologisms, are sentences formed in a novel and a greatly improved manner, and the improvement is sustained throughout this curious volume. Probably the intimate study of the Authorized Version of the Bible, which this semi-theological tractate necessitated, had much to do with the clarification of the author’s style. At all events, from this time forth, Nash drops, except in polemical passages where his design is provocative, that irritating harshness in volubility which had hitherto marked his manner of writing. Here, for example, is a passage from “Christ’s Tears” which is not without a strangely impressive melody:—
“Over the Temple, at the solemn feast of the Passover, was seen a comet most coruscant, streamed and tailed forth, with glistering naked swords, which in his mouth, as a man in his hand all at once, he made semblance as if he shaked and vambrashed. Seven days it continued; all which time, the Temple was as clear and light in the night as it had been noonday. In the Sanctum Sanctorum was heard clashing and hewing of armour, while flocks of ravens, with a fearful croaking cry, beat, fluttered and clashed against the windows. A hideous dismal owl, exceeding all her kind in deformity and quantity, in the Temple-porch built her nest. From under the altar there issued penetrating plangorous howlings and ghastly deadmen’s groans.”
He tells us, in the preface, that he takes an autumnal air, and in truth there is a melancholy refinement in this volume which we may seek for in vain elsewhere in Nash’s writings. The greater part of the book is a “collachrimate oration” over Jerusalem, placed in the mouth of our Saviour; by degrees the veil of Jerusalem grows thinner and thinner, and we see more and more clearly through it the London of Elizabeth, denounced by a pensive and not, this time, a turbulent satirist.
In 1594 Nash’s pen was particularly active. It was to the Lady Elizabeth Carey, again, that he dedicated “The Terrors of the Night,” a discourse on apparitions. He describes some very agreeable ghosts, as, for instance, those which appeared to a gentleman, a friend of the author’s, in the guise of “an inveigling troop of naked virgins, whose odoriferous breath more perfumed the air than ordnance would that is charged with amomum, musk, civet and ambergreece.” It was surely a mock-modesty which led Nash to fear that such ghost-stories as these would appear to his readers duller than Holland cheese and more tiresome than homespun. To 1594, too, belongs the tragedy of “Dido,” probably left incomplete by Marlowe, and finished by Nash, who shows himself here an adept in that swelling bombast of bragging blank verse of which he affected to disapprove. A new edition of “Christ’s Tears” also belongs to this busy year 1594, which however is mainly interesting to us as having seen the publication of the work which we are here introducing to modern readers.
An eminent French critic, M. Jusserand, whose knowledge of English sixteenth-century literature is unsurpassed, was the first to draw attention to the singular interest which attaches to “The Unfortunate Traveller, or the Life of Jack Wilton,” 1594. In his treatise, “Le Roman au Temps de Shakespeare,” 1887, M. Jusserand insisted upon the fact that this neglected book was the best specimen of the picaresque tale written in English before the days of Defoe. He shows that expressions put in the mouth of Nash’s hero, which had been carelessly treated as autobiographical confessions of foreign travel and the like, on the part of the author, were but features of a carefully planned fiction. “Jack Wilton” describes the career of an adventurer, from his early youth as a page in the royal camp of Henry VIII. at the siege of Tournay, to his attainment of wealth, position, and a beautiful Italian wife.
The first exploit of the page is an encounter with a fraudulent innkeeper, which is described with great spirit, and M. Jusserand has ingeniously surmised that Shakespeare, after reading these pages, determined to fuse the two characters, mine host and the waggish picaroon, into the single immortal figure of Falstaff. After this point in the tale, it is probable that the reader may find the interest of the story flag; but his attention will be reawakened when he reaches the episode of the Earl of Surrey and Fair Geraldine, and that in which Jack, pretending to be Surrey, runs off with his sweet Venetian mistress, Diamante. It will be for the reader of the ensuing pages to say whether Nash had mastered the art of narrative quite so perfectly as M. Jusserand, in his just pride as a discoverer, seems to think. The romance, no doubt, is incoherent and languid at times, and is easily led aside into channels of gorgeous description and vain moral reflection.
It will doubtless be of interest, at this point, to quote the words in which, in a later volume, M. Jusserand has reiterated his praise of “Jack Wilton” and his belief in Nash as the founder of the British novel of character:—
“In the works of Nash and his imitators, the different parts are badly dovetailed; the novelist is incoherent and incomplete; the fault lies in some degree with the picaresque form itself. Nash, however, pointed out the right road, the road that was to lead to the true novel. He was the first among his compatriots to endeavour to relate in prose a long-sustained story, having for its chief concern: the truth. . . . No one, Ben Jonson excepted, possessed at that epoch, in so great a degree as himself, a love of the honest truth. With Nash, then, the novel of real life, whose invention in England is generally attributed to Defoe, begins. To connect Defoe with the past of English literature, we must get over the whole of the seventeenth century, and go back to ‘Jack Wilton,’ the worthy brother of ‘Roxana,’ ‘Moll Flanders,’ and ‘Colonel Jack.’”
It is to be regretted that Nash made no second adventure in pure fiction. “Jack Wilton,” now one of the rarest of his books, was never reprinted in its own age.
How Nash was employed during the next two years, it is not easy to conjecture. When we meet with him once more, the smouldering fire of his quarrel with the Harveys had burst again into flame. “Have with you to Saffron Walden,” 1596, is devoted to the chastisement of “the reprobate brace of brothers, to wit, witless Gabriel and ruffling Richard.” No fresh public outburst on Harvey’s part seems to have led to this attack; but he bragged in private that he had silenced his licentious antagonists. Nash admits that his opponent’s last book “has been kept idle by me, in a bye-settle out of sight amongst old shoes and boots almost this two year.” Harvey was known to have come from Saffron Walden; Nash invites his readers to accompany him to that town to see what they can discover, and he retails a good deal of lively scandal about the rope-maker’s sons. “Have with you” is perhaps the smartest and is certainly the most readable of Nash’s controversial volumes. It gives us, too, some interesting fragments of autobiography. Harvey had accused him of “prostituting his pen like a courtisan,” and Nash makes this curious and not very lucid statement in selfdefence:—
“Neither will I deny it nor will I grant it. Only thus far I’ll go with you, that twice or thrice in a month, when res est angusta domi, the bottom of my purse is turned downward, and my conduit of ink will no longer flow for want of reparations, I am fain to let my plough stand still in the midst of a furrow, and follow some of these newfangled Galiardos and Senior Fantasticos, to whose amorous villanellas and quipassas, I prostitute my pen in hope of gain. . . . Many a fair day ago have I proclaimed myself to the world Piers Penniless.”
Gabriel Harvey must have felt, on reading “Have with you to Saffron Walden,” that his antagonist was right in saying that his pen carried “the hot shot of a musket.” Unfortunately, while Harvey was smarting under these insulting gibes and jests, the jester himself got into public trouble. Little is known of the circumstance which led the Queen’s Privy Council, in the summer of 1597, to throw Nash into the Fleet Prison, but it was connected with the performance of a comedy called “The Isle of Dogs,” which gave offence to the authorities. This play was not printed, and is no longer in existence. The Lord Admiral’s Company of actors, which produced it, had its licence withdrawn until the 27th of August, when Nash was probably liberated. Gabriel Harvey was not the man to allow this event to go unnoticed. He hurried into print with his “Trimming of Thomas Nash,” 1597, a pamphlet of the most outrageous abuse addressed “to the polypragmatical, parasitupocritical and pantophainoudendecontical puppy Thomas Nash,” and adorned with a portrait of that gentleman in irons, with heavy gyves upon his ankles. According to Nash, however, the part of “The Isle of Dogs” which was his composition was so trifling in extent that his imprisonment was a gratuitous act of oppression. How the play with this pleasing title offended has not been handed down to us.
Nash was now a literary celebrity, and yet it is at this precise moment that his figure begins to fade out of sight For the next two years he is not known to have made any public appearance. In 1599 he published the best of all his books; it was unfortunately the latest “Nash’s Lenten Stuff; or, the Praise of the Red Herring” is an encomium on the hospitable town of Yarmouth, to which, in the autumn of 1597, he had fled for consolation, and in which, through six happy weeks, he had found what he sought The “kind entertainment and benign hospitality” of the compassionate clime of Yarmouth deserve from the poor exile a cordial return, and, accordingly, he sings the praise of the Red Herring as richly as if his mouth were still tingling with the delicate bloater. In this book, Nash is kind enough to explain to us the cause of some of the peculiarities of his style. His endeavour has been to be Italianate, and “of all styles I most affect and strive to imitate Aretine’s .”
Whether he was deeply read in the works of il divino Aretino, we may doubt; but it is easy to see that this Scourge of Princes, the very type of the emancipated Italian of the sixteenth century, might have a vague and dazzling attraction for his little eager English imitator.
Be that as it may, “Lenten Stuff” gives us evidence that Nash had now arrived at a complete mastery of the fantastic and irrelevant manner which he aimed at. This book is admirably composed, if we can bring ourselves to admit that the genre is ever admirable. The writer’s vocabulary has become opulent, his phrases flash and detonate, each page is full of unconnected sparks and electrical discharges. A sort of aurora borealis of wit streams and rustles across the dusky surface, amusing to the reader, but discontinuous, and insufficient to illuminate the matter in hand. It is extraordinary that a man can make so many picturesque, striking, and apparently apposite remarks, and yet leave us so frequently in doubt as to his meaning. If this was the result of the imitation of Aretino, Nash’s choice of a master was scarcely a fortunate one.
Thomas Nash was now thirty-two years of age, and with the publication of “Lenten Stuff” we lose sight of him. His old play of “Summers’ Last Will and Testament” was printed in 1600, and he probably died in that year. The song at the close of that comedy or masque reads like the swan-song of its author:—
Autumn hath all the summer’s fruitful treasure;
Gone is our sport, fled is poor [Nash’s ] pleasure!
Short days, sharp days, long nights come on apace;
Ah! who shall hide us from the winter’s face?
Cold doth increase, the sickness will not cease,
And here we lie, God knows, with little ease:
From winter, plague and pestilence,
Good Lord, deliver us!
London doth mourn, Lambeth is quite forlorn,
Trades cry, Woe worth that ever they were born;
The want of term is town and city’s harm.
Close chambers we do want, to keep us warm;
Long banished must we live from our friends:
This low-built house will bring us to our ends.
From winter, plague and pestilence,
Good Lord, deliver us!
Whether pestilence or winter slew him, we do not know. In 1601 Fitzgeoffrey published a short Latin elegy on Nash in his “Affaniae,” alluding in happy phrase to the twin lightnings of his armed tongue and his terrible pen; and Nash had six lines of tempered praise in “The Return from Parnassus.” But all we know of the cause or manner of Nash’s death has to be collected from a passage in “A Knight’s Conjuring,” 1607, written by the satirist on whom his mantle descended, Thomas Dekker. Nash is seen advancing along the Elysian Fields:—
“Marlowe, Greene, and Peele had got under the shades of a large vine, laughing to see Nash, that was but newly come to their college, still haunted with the sharp and satirical spirit that followed him here upon earth; for Nash inveighed bitterly, as he had wont to do, against dry-fisted patrons, accusing them of his untimely death, because if they had given his Muse that cherishment which she most worthily deserved, he had fed to his dying day on fat capons, burnt sack and sugar, and not so desperately have ventured his life and shortened his days by keeping company with pickle herrings.”
This looks as though Nash died of a disease attributed to coarse and unwholesome cheap food. His fame proved to be singularly ephemeral. So far as I am aware, no book of his was reprinted after his death, with the single exception of “Christ’s Tears over Jerusalem,” which was issued again in 1613. His name was mentioned and some interest in his writings was awakened at the close of the next century by Winstanley and by Langbaine, but Oldys, the celebrated antiquary, was the first person who seriously endeavoured to trace the incidents of his life.
Dr. A. B. Grosart saved the works of Nash from all danger of destruction by printing an issue of them, in six volumes, for fifty private subscribers, in 1883-85. But he still remains completely inaccessible to the general reader.
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