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ROBERT GREENE was born at Norwich in 1560; or, as some of his biographers state, 1550, which is scarcely reconcilable with the probable date of his matriculation at the University. We learn upon his own authority that his parents were persons well-known and respected amongst their neighbours for 'their gravity and honest life;' and it may be presumed that they were in good circumstances, as they not only placed their son at Cambridge, where he took his degree of A.B. at St. John's College in 1578, but afterwards sent him to travel through Spain and Italy and other parts of the continent a costly undertaking in the sixteenth century. The grand tour, fruitful of advantages to those who knew how to profit by it, was productive only of evil to Greene; for it is certain that he brought back with him from his foreign experiences those habits of profligacy which corrupted the remainder of his life. 'At that time,' he tells us, 'whosoever was worst, I knew myself as bad as he; for being new come from Italy (where I learned all the villanies under the heavens), I was drowned in pride, whoredom was my daily exercise, and gluttony with drunkenness was my only delight.'* This is a miserable opening to the life of a man of genius; and, unfortunately, the rest of the scanty narrative is of the same character.
According to his own account of this part of his career, Greene seems to have gone back to the University on his
* The Repentance of Robert Greene, published after his death. See post, p. 23.
return from his travels, and to have remained there till he took his degree of A.M.; after which he repaired to London, where, having exhausted his means and his friends, and being thrown upon his own resources for support, he became a writer of plays and romances, or, as he calls them, 'love pamphlets.' These particulars, although they are not very coherently related in the strange retrospect of his life from whence they are derived, fix pretty accurately the period when he appeared as an author. He took his degree of A.M. at Clare Hall, Cambridge, in 1583; and the earliest work he is known to have given to the press bears the date of that year. In 1584 he published three prose piecesThe Myrrour of Modestie; Morando, the Tritameron of Love; and Groydonius, the Carde of Fancie. The passage in his Repentance, pointing to these details, speaks of the great popularity he soon acquired by his writings, a fact of which we have abundant proofs in the number of editions through which most of them passed.
At my return into England, I ruffled out in my silks, in the habit of Malcontent, and seemed so discontent, that no place would please me to abide in, nor no vocation cause me to stay myself in; but after I had by degrees proceeded Master of Arts, I left the University and away to London, when (after I had continued some short time, and driven myself out of credit with sundry of my friends) I became an author of plays, and a penner of Love Pamphlets, so that I soon grew famous in that quality, that who for that had grown so ordinary about London as Robin Greene. Young yet in years, though old in wickedness, I began to resolve that there was nothing bad that was profitable; whereupon I became so rooted in all mischief, that I had as great a delight in wickedness as sundry hath in godliness; and as much felicity I took in villany as others had in honesty.
Some allowances must be made for the time and circumstances under which penitent reminiscences like these are collected, and displayed by way of self-abasement and warning to others. At a distance of years, and in a wholly different state of feeling, the mind unconsciously exaggerates the errors of youth, and assigns to small offences the propor