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THE GROATSWORTH OF WIT.
BY ROBERT GREENE.
(ROBERT GREENE, one of the band of bohemian littérateurs, wits, and adventurers who form a remarkable feature of Elizabeth's time, was born at Norwich in 1660, and died in 1592 of a debauch, wholly deserted, after a disreputable but not infertile life. He wrote plays, romances, and poems : the best are his songs and eclogues, but he is chiefly remembered now for the bitter attack on Shakespeare in the work published at his dying request, “Greene's Groatsworth of Wit purchased with a Million of Repentance,” and the retraction it brought from the publisher later on. Both are given here.]
GREENE will send you now his groatsworth of wit, that never shewed a mites-worth in his life : and though no man now be by, to doe me good, yet ere I die, I will by my repentance indevour to doe all men good.
Deceiving world, that with alluring toyes,
Hast made my life the subject of thy scorne :
To lengthen my life, whom friends have left forlorne.
How well are they that die ere they be borne,
Oft have I sung of love, and of his fire;
But now I finde that Poet was advizde,
And prooves weake love was with the poore despizde.
For when the life with foode is not suffizde,
Witnesse my want, the murderer of my wit;
My ravisht sense, of woonted furie reft,
Set downe the sorrow wherein I am left:
But there fore have high heavens their gifts bereft:
O that a yeare were granted me to live,
And for that yeare my former wits restorde:
How should my sinne with sorrow be deplorde ?
Time loosely spent will not againe be wonno,
O horrenda-fames, how terrible are thy assaultes : but Vermis conscientiæ, more wounding are thy stings. Ah, gentlemen, that live to reade my broken and confused lines, looke not I should (as I was woont) delight you with vaine fantasies, but gather my follies altogether, and, as you would deale with so many parricides, cast them into the fire: call them Telegones, for now they kill their father, and everie lewd line in them written, is a deep piercing wound to my heart; every idle houre spent by any in reading them, brings a million of sorrowes to my soule. O that the teares of a miserable man (for never any man was yet more miserable) might wash their memorie out with my death ; and that those works with me together might be interd. But sith they cannot, let this my last worke witnes against them with me, how I detest them. Blacke is the remembrance of my blacke works, blacker then night, blacker then death, blacker then hell.
Learne wit by my repentance (Gentlemen) and let these fewe rules following be regarded in your lives.
First, in all your actions set God before your eyes; for the feare of the Lord is the beginning of wisedome : Let his word be a lanterne to your feete, and a light unto your paths, then shall you stand as firme rocks, and not be mocked.
Beware of looking backe, for God will not be mocked; of him that hath received much, much shall be demanded..
If thou be poore, be also patient, and strive not to grow rich by indirect means; for goods so gotten shall vanish away like smoke.
If thou be a sonne or servant, despise not reproofe ; for though correction be bitter at the first, it bringeth pleasure in the end.
Had I regarded the first of these rules, or beene obedient at the last; I had not now at my last ende, beene left thus desolate. But now, though to my selfe I give Consilium post facta; yet to others they may serve for timely precepts. And therefore (while life gives leave) will send warning to my olde consorts, which have lived as loosely as myselfe ; albeit weakenesse will scarce suffer me to write, yet to my fellowe Schollers about this Cittie, will I direct these few insuing lines.
To those Gentlemen, his Quondam acquaintance,
to prevent his extremities. IF WOFULL experience may moove you (Gentlemen) to beware, or unheard of wretchednes intreate you to take heed: I doubt not but you will looke backe with sorrow on your time past, and endevour with repentance to spend that which is to come. Wonder not, (for with thee will I first begin) thou famous gracer of Tragedians, that Greene, who hath said with thee, like the foole in his heart, There is no God, should now give glorie unto his greatnesse ; for, penitrating is his power, his hand lies heavie upon me, he hath spoken unto me with a voice of thunder, and I have left, he is a God that can punish enimies. Why should thy excellent wit, his gift, be so blinded, that thou shouldst give no glory to the giver? Is it pestilent Machivilian pollicie that thou hast studied ? O punish follie! What are his rules but meere confused mockeries, able to extirpate in small time, the generation of mankind. For if Sic volo, sic jubeo, hold in those that are able to command: and if it be lawfull Fas f nefas to doe any thing that is beneficiall ; onely Tyrants should possesse the earth; and they, striving to exceede in tyranny, should each to other bee a slaughter man ; till the mightiest outliving all, one stroke were left for Death, that in one age man's life should ende. The brother of this Diabolicall Atheisme is dead, and in his life had never the felicitie he aimed at: but as he began in craft, lived in feare, and ended in despaire. Quum inscrutabilia sunt Dei judicia? This murderer of many brethren, had his conscience seared like Caine: this betrayer of him that gave his life for him, inherited the portion of Judas: this Apostata perished as ill as Julian: and wilt thou, my friend, be his Disciple ? Looke unto me, by him perswaded to that libertie, and thou shalt finde it an infernall bondage. I knowe the least of my demerits merit this miserable death; but wilfull striving against knowne truth, exceedeth al the terrors of my soule. Defer not (with me) till this last point of extremitie ; for little knowest thou how in the end thou shalt be visited.
With thee I joyne young Juvenall, that byting Satyrist, that lastlie with mee together writ a Comedie. Sweete boy, might I advise thee, be advised, and get not many enemies by bitter words : inveigh against vaine men, for thou canst do it, ao man better, no man so wel : thou hast a libertie to reproove all, and name none : for one being spoken to, al are offended ; none being blamed, no man is injured. Stop shallow water still running, it will rage ; tread on a worme, and it will turne : then blame not schollers vexed with sharpe lines, if they reproove thy too much libertie of reproofe.
And thou no lesse deserving then the other two, in some things rarer, in nothing inferiour ; driven (as my selfe) to extreame shifts; a little have I to say to thee: and were it not an idolatrous oth, I would sweare by sweet S. George, thou art unworthie better hap, sith thou dependest on so meane a stay. Base minded men al three of you, if by my miserie ye be not warned : for unto none of you (like me) sought those burres to cleave : those Puppits (I meane) that speake from our mouths, those Anticks garnisht in our colours. Is it not strange that I, to whom they al have beene beholding : is it not like that you, to whome they all have beene beholding, shall (were ye in that case that I am now) be both at once of them forsaken? Yes, trust them not : for there is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers heart wrapt in a Players hide, supposes he is well able to bumbast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes fac totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrie. O that I might intreate your rare wits to be imployed in more profitable courses : & let these apes imitate your past excellence, and never more acquaint them with your admired inventions. I know the best husband of you all will never prove an Usurer, and the kindest of them all wil never proove a kinde nurse : yet, whilst you may, seeke you better Maisters; for it is pittie men of such rare wits, should be subject to the pleasures of such rude groomes.
In this I might insert two more, that both have writ against these buckram Gentlemen : but let their owne works serve to witnesse against their owne wickednesse, if they persever to maintaine any more such peasants.
For other new commers, I leave them to the mercie of these painted monsters, who (I doubt not) will drive the best minded to despise them : for the rest, if skils not though they make a jeast at them.
But now returne I againe to you three, knowing my miserie is to you no news: and let me heartily intreate you to bee warned by my harmes. Delight not (as I have done in irreligious oaths; for, from the blasphemers house, a curse shall not depart. Despise drunkennes, which wasteth the wit, and maketh men all equal unto beasts. Flie lust, as the deathsman of the soule, and defile not the Temple of the holy ghost. Abhorre those Epicures, whose loose life hath made religion lothsome to your eares; and when they sooth you with tearmes of Maistership, remember Robert Greene, whome they have often so flattered, perishes now for want of comfort. Remember, gentlemen, your lives are like so many Tapers, that are with care delivered to all of you to maintaine ; these with wind-puft wrath may be extinguisht, which drunkennes put out, which negligence let fall; for mans time of it selfe is not so short, but it is more shortened by sin. The fire of my light is now at the last snuffe, and the want of wherewith to sustaine it; there is no substance left for life to feede on. Trust not then (I beseech yee) to such weake staies : for they are as changeable in minde, as in many attires. Well, my hand is tired, and I am forst to leave where I would begin: for a whole booke cannot containe their wrongs, which I am forst to knit up in some few lines of words.
Desirous that you should live, though
CHETTLE'S APOLOGY FOR THE FOREGOING.
To the Gentlemen Readers.
IT HATH beene a custome, Gentle men, (in my mind commendable) among former Authors (whose workes are no lesse beautified with eloquente phrase, than garnished with excellent example) to begin an exordium to the Readers of their time : much more convenient I take it, should the writers in these daies (wherein that gravitie of enditing by the elder excercised, is not observ’d, nor that modest decorum kept, which they continued) submit their labours to the favourable censures of their learned overseers. For seeing nothing can be said, that hath not been before said, the singularitie of some mens conceits, (otherwayes excellent well deserving) are no more to be soothed, than the peremptorie posies of two very sufficient Translators commended. To come in print is not to seeke praise, but to crave pardon ; I am urgd to the one ; and bold