Nonfiction > G. Gregory Smith, ed. > Elizabethan Critical Essays
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G. Gregory Smith, ed.  Elizabethan Critical Essays.  1904.
 
Thomas Nashe (1567–1601)
I. Preface to Greene’s Menaphon
1589
 
[The Preface To the Gentlemen Students of both Universities is prefixed to Robert Greene’s Menaphon: Camillas alarum to slumbering Euphues in his melancholie Cell at Silexedra, London, printed by T. O. for Sampson Clarke, 1589. The text is printed from the copy in the British Museum, which is deficient at the end, from the words ‘ere long to their juggling (p. 319, l. 35).’ The lost portion is supplied from the copy of the edition of 1610, also in the British Museum.]

To the Gentlemen Students of Both Vniuersities.

CVRTEOVS and wise, whose iudgements (not entangled with enuie) enlarge the deserts of the Learned by your liberall censures, vouchsafe to welcome your schollerlike Shepheard with such Vniuersitie entertainement as either the nature of your bountie or the custome of your common ciuilitie may affoord. To you he appeales that knew him ab extrema pueritia, whose placet he accounts the plaudite of his paines; thinking his daie labour was not altogether lauisht sine linea, if there be anie thing of all in it that doth olere atticum in your estimate. I am not ignorant how eloquent our gowned age is growen of late, so that euerie mœchanicall mate abhorres the english he was borne too, and plucks with a solemne periphrasis his vt vales from the inkhorne: which I impute not so much to the perfection of arts as to the seruile imitation of vainglorious tragœdians, who contend not so seriouslie to excell in action as to embowell the clowdes in a speach of comparison; thinking themselues more than initiated in poets immortalitie if they but once get Boreas by the beard, and the heauenlie bull by the deaw-lap. But herein I cannot so fully bequeath them to follie, as their idiote art-masters, that intrude themselues to our eares as the alcumists of eloquence, who (mounted on the stage of arrogance) think to outbraue better pens with the swelling bumbast of a bragging blanke verse. Indeed, it may be the ingrafted ouerflow of some kilcow conceipt, that ouercloieth their imagination with a more than drunken resolution, beeing not extemporall in the inuention of anie other meanes to vent their manhood, commits the digestion of their cholerick incumbrances to the spacious volubilitie of a drumming decasillabon. Mongst this kinde of men that repose eternitie in the mouth of a player, I can but ingrosse some deepe read Grammarians, who, hauing no more learning in their scull than will serue to take vp a commoditie, nor Arte in their brain than was nourished in a seruing mans idlenesse, will take vpon them to be the ironicall censors of all, when God and Poetrie doth know they are the simplest of all.
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  To leaue these to the mercie of their mother tongue, that feed on nought but the crummes that fal from the translators trencher, I come (sweet friend) to thy Arcadian Menaphon, whose attire, though not so statelie, yet comelie, dooth entitle thee aboue all other to that temperatum dicendi genus which Tullie in his Orator tearmeth true eloquence. Let other men (as they please) praise the mountaine that in seauen yeares brings foorth a mouse, or the Italianate pen that of a packet of pilfries affoordeth the presse a pamphlet or two in an age, and then in disguised arraie vaunts Ouids and Plutarchs plumes as their owne; but giue me the man whose extemporall vaine in anie humor will excell our greatest Art-masters deliberate thoughts, whose inuention, quicker than his eye, will challenge the proudest Rethoritian to the contention of like perfection with like expedition. What is he amongst Students so simple that cannot bring forth (tandem aliquando) some or other thing singular, sleeping betwixt euerie sentence? Was it not Maros xij. years toyle that so famed his xij. Æneidos? Or Peter Ramus xvj. yeares paines that so praised his pettie Logique? Howe is it, then, our drowping wits should so wonder at an exquisite line that was his masters day labour? Indeede, I must needes say the descending yeares from the Philosophers Athens haue not been supplied with such present Orators as were able in anie English vaine to be eloquent of their owne, but either they must borrow inuention of Ariosto and his Countreymen, take vp choyce of words by exchange in Tullies Tusculane and the Latine Historiographers store-houses, similitudes, nay whole sheetes and tractacts verbatim, from the plentie of Plutarch and Plinie, and, to conclude, their whole methode of writing from the libertie of Comical fictions that haue succeeded to our Rethoritians by a second imitation: so that well may the Adage, Nil dictum quod non dictum prius, bee the most iudiciall estimate of our latter Writers.  2
  But the hunger of our vnsatiate humorists, beeing such as it is, readie to swallowe all draffe without indifference, that insinuates it selfe to their senses vnder the name of delight, imployes oft times manie thred bare witts to emptie their inuention of their Apish deuices, and talke most superficiallie of Pollicie, as those that neuer ware gowne in the Vniuersitie; wherein they reuiue the olde saide Adage, Sus Mineruam, & cause the wiser to quippe them with Asinus ad Lyram. Would Gentlemen & riper iudgements admit my motion of moderation in a matter of follie, I wold perswade them to phisicke their faculties of seeing & hearing, as the Sabæans doo their dulled senses with smelling; who (as Strabo reporteth), ouer-cloyed with such odoriferous sauours as the naturall encrease of their Countrey (Balsamum, Amomum, with Myrrhe and Frankencense) sends foorth, refresh their nosthrills with the vnsauorie sent of the pitchie slime that Euphrates casts vp, and the contagious fumes of Goates beardes burnt; so woulde I haue them, beeing surfetted vnawares with the sweete satietie of eloquence which the lauish of our copious Language maie procure, to vse the remedie of contraries, and recreate their rebated witts not, as they did, with the senting of slyme or Goates beardes burnt, but with the ouer-seeing of that sublime dicendi genus, which walkes abroad for wast paper in each seruing mans pocket, and the otherwhile perusing of our Gothamists barbarisme; so shoulde the opposite comparison of Puritie expell the infection of absurditie, and their ouer-rackte Rhethorique bee the Ironicall recreation of the Reader. But so farre discrepant is the idle vsage of our vnexperienst punies from this prescription, that a tale of Ihon a Brainfords will and the vnluckie furmentie wilbe as soon interteined into their libraries as the best poeme that euer Tasso eternisht: which, being the effect of an vndescerning iudgement, makes drosse as valuable as gold, and losse as welcome as gaine, the Glowworme mentioned in Æsops fables, namelie the apes follie, to be mistaken for fire, when, as God wot, poore soules, they haue nought but their toyle for their heate, their paines for their sweate, and (to bring it to our english prouerbe) their labour for their trauaile. Wherin I can but resemble them to the Panther, who is so greedie of mens excrements that, if they be hangd vp in a vessell higher than his reach, he sooner killeth himselfe with the ouer-stretching of his windlesse bodie than he wil cease from his intended enterprise. Oft haue I obserued what I now set downe; a secular wit, that hath liued all daies of his life by what doo you lacke, to bee more iudiciall in matters of conceit than our quadrant crepundios that spit ergo in the mouth of euerie one they meete: yet those & these are so affectionate to dogged detracting, as the most poysonous Pasquil anie durtie mouthed Martin or Momus euer composed is gathered vp with greedinesse before it fall to the ground, and bought at the deerest, though they smell of the friplers lauander halfe a yeere after: for I know not how the minde of the meanest is fedde with this follie, that they impute singularitie to him that slanders priuelie, and count it a great peece of arte in an inkhorne man, in anie tapsterlie tearmes whatsoeuer, to oppose his superiours to enuie. I will not denie but in scholler-like matters of controuersie a quicker stile may passe as commendable, and that a quippe to an asse is as good as a goad to an oxe; but when an irregular idiot, that was vp to the eares in diuinitie before euer he met with probabile in the Vniuersitie, shall leaue pro & contra before he can scarcely pronounce it, and come to correct Common weales, that neuer heard of the name of Magistrate before he came to Cambridge, it is no meruaile if euery alehouse vaunt the table of the world turned vpside down; since the childe beats his father, & the asse whippes his master. But least I might seeme with these night crowes Nimis curiosus in aliena republica, I’le turne backe to my first text, of studies of delight, and talke a little in friendship with a few of our triuiall translators.  3
  It is a common practise now a daies amongst a sort of shifting companions, that runne through euery arte and thriue by none, to leaue the trade of Nouerint, whereto they were borne, and busie themselues with the indeuors of Art, that could scarcelie latinize their necke-verse if they should haue neede; yet English Seneca read by candle light yeeldes manie good sentences, as Bloud is a begger, and so foorth; and, if you intreate him faire in a frostie morning, he will affoord you whole Hamlets, I should say handfulls of tragical speaches. But O griefe! tempus edax rerum, what’s that will last alwaies? The sea exhaled by droppes will in continuance be drie, and Seneca let bloud line by line and page by page at length must needes die to our stage: which makes his famisht followers to imitate the Kidde in Æsop, who, enamored with the Foxes newfangles, to forsooke all hopes of life to leape into a new occupation, and these men, renowncing all possibilities of credit or estimation, to intermeddle with Italian translations: wherein how poorelie they haue plodded (as those that are neither prouenzall men nor are able to distinguish of Articles), let all indifferent Gentlemen that haue trauailed in that tongue discerne by their twopenie pamphlets: & no meruaile though their home-born mediocritie be such in this matter, for what can be hoped of those that thrust Elisium into hell, and haue not learned, so long as they haue liued in the spheares, the iust measure of the Horizon without an hexameter. Sufficeth them to bodge vp a blanke verse with ifs and ands, & other while for recreation after their candle stuffe, hauing starched their beardes most curiouslie, to make a peripateticall path into the inner parts of the Citie, & spend two or three howers in turning ouer French Doudie, where they attract more infection in one minute than they can do eloquence all dayes of their life by conuersing with anie Authors of like argument.  4
  But least in this declamatorie vaine I should condemne all & commend none, I will propound to your learned imitation those men of import that haue laboured with credit in this laudable kinde of Translation. In the forefront of whom I cannot but place that aged Father Erasmus, that inuested most of our Greeke Writers in the roabes of the auncient Romaines; in whose traces Philip Melancthon, Sadolet, Plantine, and manie other reuerent Germaines insisting haue reedified the ruines of our decayed Libraries, and merueilouslie inriched the Latine tongue with the expence of their toyle. Not long after, their emulation beeing transported into England, euerie priuate Scholler, William Turner and who not, beganne to vaunt their smattering of Latine in English Impressions. But amongst others in that Age, Sir Thomas Eliots elegance did seuer it selfe from all equalls, although Sir Thomas Moore with his Comicall wit at that instant was not altogether idle: yet was not Knowledge fullie confirmed in hir Monarchie amongst vs till that most famous and fortunate Nurse of all learning, Saint Iohns in Cambridge, that at that time was as an Vniuersitie within it selfe—shining so farre aboue all other Houses, Halls, and Hospitalls whatsoeuer, that no Colledge in the Towne was able to compare with the tythe of her Students; hauing (as I haue hearde graue men of credite report) more candles light in it euerie Winter Morning before fowre of the clocke than the fowre of clocke bell gaue stroakes—till Shee (I saie), as a pittying Mother, put too her helping hande, and sent from her fruitefull wombe sufficient Schollers, both to support her owne weale as also to supplie all other inferiour foundations defects, and namelie that royall erection of Trinitie Colledge, which the Vniuersitie Orator, in an Epistle to the Duke of Somerset, aptlie tearmed Colona diducta from the Suburbes of Saint Iohns: In which extraordinarie conception, vno partu in rempublicam prodiere the Exchequer of eloquence Sir Iohn Cheeke, a man of men, supernaturally traded in al tongues, Sir John Mason, Doctor Watson, Redman, Aschame, Grindall, Leuer, Pilkington, all which haue, either by their priuate readings or publique workes, repurged the errors of Arts expelde from their puritie, and set before our eyes a more perfect Methode of Studie.  5
  But howe ill their preceptes haue prospered with our idle Age, that leaue the fountaines of sciences, to follow the riuers of Knowledge, their ouer-fraught Studies with trifling Compendiaries maie testifie: for I knowe not howe it comes to passe by the doating practise of our Diuinitie dunces, that striue to make their Pupills pulpet men before they are reconciled to Priscian, but those yeares which shoulde bee employed in Aristotle are expired in Epitomes; and well too they maye haue so much Catechisme vacation to rake vp a little refuse Philosophie. And heere could to I enter into a large fielde of inuectiue against our abiect abbreuiations of Artes, were it not growen to a newe fashion amongst our Nation to vaunt the pride of contraction in euerie manuarie action: in so much, that the Pater noster, which was woont to fill a sheete of paper, is written in the compasse of a pennie; whereupon one merelie affirmed that prouerb to be deriued, No pennie, no pater noster; which their nice curtailing puts me in mind of the custome of the Scythians, who, if they be at any time distressed with famin, take in their girdles shorter & swaddle themselues streighter, to the intent, no vacuum beeing left in their intrayles, hunger should not so much tirannize ouer their stomacks; euen so these men, opprest with a greater penurie of Art, do pound their capacitie in barren Compendiums, and bound their base humors in the beggerly straites of a hungry Analysis, least, longing after that infinitum which the pouertie of their conceit cannot compasse, they sooner yeeld vp their youth to destinie than their heart to vnderstanding. How is it, then, such bungling practitioners in principles shuld euer profite the Common wealth by their negligent paines, who haue no more cunning in Logique or Dialogue Latine than appertains to the literall construction of either: neuerthelesse, it is daily apparant to our domesticall eyes that there is none so forward to publish their imperfections, either in the trade of glose or translations, as those that are more vnlearned than ignorance and lesse conceiuing than infants. Yet dare I not impute absurditie to all of that societie, though some of them haue set their names to their simplicitie. Who euer my priuate opinion condemneth as faultie, Master Gascoigne is not to bee abridged of his deserued esteeme, who first beate the path to that perfection which our best Poets haue aspired too since his departure; whereto he did ascend by comparing the Italian with the English, as Tullie did Græca cum Latinis. Neither was Master Turberuile the worst of his time, although in translating he attributed too much to the necessitie of rime. And, in this page of praise, I cannot omit aged Arthur Golding, for his industrious toile in Englishing Ouids Metamorphosis, besides manie other exquisite editions of Diuinitie, turned by him out of the French tongue into our own. Master Phaer likewise is not to be forgot in regard of his famous Virgil, whose heauenly verse had it not bin blemisht by his hautie thoghts, England might haue long insulted in his wit, and corrigat qui potest haue been subscribed to his workes. But fortune, the Mistres of change, with a pitying compassion respecting Master Stanihursts praise, would that Phaer shoulde fall that hee might rise, whose heroicall Poetrie, in fired, I should say inspired, with an hexameter furie, recalled to life whateuer hissed barbarisme hath bin buried this hundred yeare, and reuiued by his ragged quill such carterlie varietie as no hodge plowman in a countrie but would haue held as the extremitie of clownerie; a patterne whereof I will propounde to your iudgements, as neere as I can, being parte of one of his descriptions of a tempest, which is thus:
Then did he make heauens vault to rebounde, with rounce robble hobble
Of ruffe raffe roaring, with thwick thwack thurlery bouncing.
Which strange language of the firmament, neuer subiect before to our common phrase, makes vs, that are not vsed to terminate heauens moueings in the accents of any voice, esteeme of their triobulare interpreter as of some Thrasonical huffe snuffe, for so terrible was his stile to all milde eares, as would haue affrighted our peaceable Poets from intermedling hereafter with that quarrelling kinde of verse, had not sweete Master France, by his excellent translation of Master Thomas Watsons sugred Amintas, animated their dulled spirits to such high witted endeuors. But I knowe not how their ouer timerous cowardise hath stoode in awe of enuie, that no man since him durst imitate any of the worste of those Romane wonders in english, which makes me thinke that either the louers of medocritie are verie many or that the number of good Poets are very small: and in trueth, Master Watson except (whom I mentioned before), I knowe not almost any of late dayes that hath shewed himselfe singular in any speciall Latin Poëm, whose Amintas and translated Antigone may march in equipage of honour with any of our ancient Poets. I will not say but wee had a Haddon whose pen would haue challenged the Lawrell from Homer, together with Carre, that came as nere him as Virgil to Theocritus. But Tho. Newton with his Leyland, and Gabriell Haruey, with two or three other, is almost all the store that is left vs at this hower. Epitaphers and position Poets haue wee more than a good many, that swarme like Crowes to a dead carcas, but flie, like Swallows in the Winter, from any continuate subiect of witte. The efficient whereof I imagine to issue from the vpstart discipline of our reformatorie Churchmen, who account wit vanitie, and poetrie impietie; whose error, although the necessitie of Philosophie might confute, which lies couched most closely vnder darke fables profounditie, yet I had rather referre it as a disputatiue plea to diuines than set it downe as a determinate position, in my vnexperienst opinion. But how euer their dissentious iudgements should decree in their afternoone sessions of an sit, the priuat trueth of my discouered Creede in this controuersie is this, that as that beast was thought scarce worthie to bee sacrifised to the Ægiptian Epaphus, who had not some or other blacke spotte on his skinne, so I deeme him farre vnworthie of the name of scholler, & so, consequentlie, to sacrifice his endeuors to art, that is not a Poet, either in whole or in a parte. And here, peraduenture, some desperate quipper will canuaze my proposed comparison plus vltra, reconciling the allusion of the blacke spot to the blacke pot; which makes our Poets vndermeale Muses so mutinous, as euerie stanzo they pen after dinner is full poynted with a stabbe. Which their dagger drunkennesse, although it might be excused with Tam Marti quam Mercurio, yet will I couer it as well as I may with that prouerbial fœcundi calices, that might wel haue been doore keeper to the kanne of Silenus, when, nodding on his Asse trapt with iuie, hee made his moist nosecloth the pausing intermedium twixt euerie nappe. Let frugale scholares and fine fingerd nouices take their drinke by the ownce and their wine by the halpe-worthes, but it is for a Poet to examine the pottle pottes and gage the bottome of whole gallons; qui bene vult [poyein], debet ante [pinyen]. A pot of blew burning ale, with a fierie flaming tost, is as good as Pallas with the nine Muses on Parnassus top: without the which, in vaine may they crie, ‘O thou, my muse, inspire mee with some pen,’ when they want certaine liquid sacrifice to rouze her foorth her denne. Pardon me, Gentlemen, though somewhat merely I glaunce at their imoderate follie, who afifirme that no man can write with conceit, except he takes counsell of the cup: nor would I haue you thinke that Theonino dente I arme my stile against all, since I doo knowe the moderation of many Gentlemen of that studie to be so farre from infamie as their verse from equalitie: whose sufficiencie, were it as well seene into, by those of higher place, as it wanders abroade vnrewarded in the mouthes of vngratefull monsters, no doubte but the remembrance of Mæcenas liberalise extended to Maro, and men of like qualitie, would haue lefte no memorie to that prouerb of pouertie, Si nihil attuleris, ibis Homere foras. ‘Tut,’ saies our English Italians, ‘the finest witts our Climate sends foorth are but drie braind doltes, in comparison of other countries’: whome if you interrupt with redde rationem, they will tell you of Petrarche, Tasso, Celiano, with an infinite number of others; to whome if I should oppose Chaucer, Lidgate, Gower, with such like, that liued vnder the tirranie of ignorance, I do think their best louers would bee much discontented with the collation of contraries, if I should write ouer al their heads, Haile fellow well met. One thing I am sure of, that each of these three haue vaunted their meeters with as much admiration in English as euer the proudest Ariosto did his verse in Italian. What should I come to our court, where the otherwhile vacations of our grauer Nobilitie are prodigall of more pompous wit and choyce of words than euer tragick Tasso could attaine too? But, as for pastorall Poëmes, I will not make the comparison, least our countrimens credit should bee discountenanst by the contention, who, although they cannot fare with such inferior facilitie, yet I knowe would carrie the bucklers full easilie from all forreine brauers, if their subiectum circa quod should sauor of any thing haughtie: and, should the challenge of deepe conceit be intruded by an forreiner to bring our english wits to the tutchstone of Arte, I would preferre diuine Master Spencer, the miracle of wit, to bandie line for line for my life in the honor of England, gainst Spaine, France, Italie, and all the worlde. Neither is he the only swallow of our summer (although Apollo, if his Tripos were vp again, would pronounce him his Socrates), but, he being forborne, there are extant about London many most able men to reuiue Poetrie, though it were executed ten thousand times, as in Platos, so in Puritanes common wealth; as for example Mathew Roydon, Thomas Atchelow, and George Peele, the first of whome, as hee hath shewed himselfe singular in the immortall Epitaph of his beloued Astrophel, besides many other most absolute comicke inuentions (made more publique by euerie mans praise than they can bee by my speache), so the second hath more than once or twise manifested his deepe witted schollership in places of credit, and for the last, thogh not the least of them all, I dare commend him to all that know him as the chiefe supporter of pleasance nowe liuing, the Atlas of Poetrie and primus verborum Artifex, whose first encrease, the Arraignement of Paris, might plead to your opinions his pregnant dexteritie of wit and manifold varietie of inuention, wherein (me iudice) hee goeth a step beyond all that write. Sundrie other sweete Gentlemen I know, that haue vaunted their pens in priuate deuices, and trickt vp a companie of taffata fooles with their feathers, whose beautie if our Poets had not peecte with the supply of their periwigs, they might haue antickt it vntill this time vp and downe the countrey with the King of Fairies, and dined euerie daie at the pease porredge ordinarie with Delphrigus. But Tolossa hath forgot that it was sometime sackt, and beggers that euer they caried their fardles on footback: and in truth no meruaile, when as the deserued reputation of one Roscius is of force to inrich a rabble of counterfets; yet let subiects for all their insolence dedicate a De profundis euerie morning to the preseruation of their Cæsar, least their encreasing indignities returne them ere long to their iuggling to mediocrity, and they bewaile in weeping blankes the wane of their Monarchie.
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  As Poetrie hath beene honoured in those her forenamed professours, so it hath not beene any whit disparaged by William Warners absolute Albions. And heere Authoritie hath made a full point: in whose reuerence insisting I cease to expose to your sport the picture of those Pamphleters and Poets, that make a patrimonie of In speech, and more than a younger brothers inheritance of their Abcie. Reade fauourably, to incourage me in the firstlings of my folly, and perswade your selues I will persecute those idiots and their heires vnto the third generation, that haue made Art bankerout of her ornaments, and sent Poetry a begging vp and downe the Countrey. It may be my Anatomie of Absurdities may acquaint you ere long with my skill in surgery, wherein the diseases of Art more merrily discouered may make our maimed Poets put together their blankes vnto the building of an Hospitall.  7
  If you chance to meete it in Paules, shaped in a new suite of similitudes, as if, like the eloquent apprentice of Plutarch, it were propped at seuen yeares end in double apparell, thinke his master hath fulfilled couenants, and onely cancelled the Indentures of dutie. If I please, I will thinke my ignorance indebted vnto you that applaud it: if not, what rests but that I be excluded from your curtesie, like Apocrypha from your Bibles?
How euer, yours euer,            
Thomas Nash.    
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