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Quotes from the works of Thomas Nashe

Patchy, I know, but I shall add more eventually.


Brief extract from The Anatomy of Absurdity showing Nashe's early dependence on the style of his model, John Lyly, who began the fashion for this cadenced, balanced and alliterative prose with his romance, Euphues : or, The Anatomy of Wit (1579)

N.B.: Modernised spelling

"Never remembering, that as there was a loyal Lucretia, so there was a light-a-love Lais; that as there was modest Medullina, so there was a mischievous Medea; that as there was a steadfast Timoclea, so there was a traitorous Tarpeya; that as there was a sober Sulpitia, so there was a deceitful Scylla; that as there was a chaste Claudia, so there was a wanton Clodia."

Zzzz...sorry, dropped off for a minute there. Doesn't sound like Nashe at all, does it?

Pierce Penilesse his Supplication to the Divell: (1592)

In this passage Nashe gives a swift analysis of the characteristic types of dumb drunk. It demonstrates his powers of observation and supple, vivid, expressive prose. And also what he did with his evenings.

N.B.: Modernised spelling

(A full etext of Pierce Penilesse is now available at Renascence Editions)

"The first is ape drunk, and he leaps and sings and hollers and danceth to the heavens. The second is lion drunk, and he flings the pots about the house, calls his hostess whore, breaks the glass windows with his dagger, and is apt to quarrel with any man that speaks to him. The third is swine drunk - heavy, lumpish, and sleepy, and cries for a little more drink and a few more clothes. The fourth is sheep drunk, wise in his own conceit when he cannot bring forth a right word. The fifth is maudlin drunk, when a fellow will weep for kindness in the midst of his ale, and kiss you, saying "By God, Captain, I love thee; go thy ways, thou dost not think so often of me as I do of thee. I would, if it pleased God, I did not love thee so well as I do"- and then he puts his finger in his eye, and cries."

Now, here is our boy's actual voice.

Verses 3 and 4 of a Song from
Summer's Last Will and Testament(1592)
Beauty is but a flower,
Which wrinkles will devour.
Brightness falls from the air;
Queens have died young and fair;
Dust hath closed Helen's eye:
I am sick; I must die
    Lord, have mercy on us.

Strength stoops unto the grave;
Worms feed on Hector brave;
Swords may not fight with fate;
Earth still holds ope her gate.
'Come, come' the bells do cry:
I am sick; I must die.
    Lord, have mercy on us.

I included these two verses as my quote from the play because this poem is probably the best-known thing Nashe ever wrote, and if I leave them out people will feel hard done by. But for the full text of this song select here.
If you want a prose speech from the play however, select here.

(c1592?) The Choise of Valentines

Apparently dedicated to Lord Strange, the cultivated and affable young nobleman whose patronage Nashe seems to have been anxious to attract c.1592. A bathetic account of an unsatisfactory coupling in a brothel, this is one valentine poem that's definitely not for romantics.

"With that she sprung full lightlie to my lips,

And fast about the neck me colle's and clips.

She wanton faint's, and fall's upon hir bed

And often tosseth too and fro hir head.

She shutts hir eyes, and waggles with hir tongue:

Oh, who is able to abstaine so long?"

Three hundred odd lines of salty pornography, this poem was known for centuries by its alternative title of 'Nashe's Dildo'. For text select here.

(1593) Strange Newes:

Harvey had sideswiped Nashe in Four Letters, now Nashe eagerly wades into him. Having been brought into conflict with each other at secondhand so to speak - Gabriel on account of Nashe's attack on his brother Richard, Nashe on behalf of his dead friend Greene - their long personal feud begins. Harvey's whole pamphlet, says Nashe indignantly, is nothing but a pack of lies...

N.B.: Modernised spelling

"Had they been witty lies, or merry lies, they would never have grieved me; but palpable lies, damned lies, lies as big as one of the Guards' chines of beef, who can abide?
I'll make thee of my counsel, because I love thee (not). When I was in Cambridge, and but a child, I was indifferently persuaded of thee: methought by thy apparel and thy gait, thou shouldst have been a fine fellow. Little did I suspect that wert brother to Io Paean"
(a book of Richard Harvey's) "...or any of the Hs of Hemp Hall" - (the Harveys' father John had been a ropemaker) - "but a cavalier of a clean contrary house. Now thou hast quite spoiled thyself; from the head to the foot I can tell how thou art fashioned..."
(And because Harvey apparently didn't like to be reminded of his father's trade, Nashe continually harps on it.)
"We shall have a good son of you anon, if you be ashamed of your father's occupation. Ah thou wilt never thrive, that art beholding to a trade and canst not abide to hear of it! Thou dost live by the gallows, and wouldst not have a shoe to put on thy foot if thy father had no traffic with the hangman. Had I a ropemaker to my father, and someone had cast it in my teeth, I would forthwith have written in praise of ropemakers, and proved it by sound sillogistry to be one of the seven liberal sciences."

And so on, with a "thou" and a "Gabriel" or worse name at every turn, establishing a cheeky tone calculated to enrage the stately doctor. Nashe, as Nicholl says, moves "resolutely downmarket". He "hits below the belt, a guttersnipe antagonist who cares nothing for the rules of the polemical game." And he's funny. For the epistle to 'Strange Newes', select here.

Christs Teares Over Ierusalem:

Apparently a repentance pamphlet, written in a plague year (though there must be hidden political satire, because the London authorities jailed Nashe over this). This was the only openly religious piece Nashe ever wrote. Even so, he found space for this savage sketch of the fundamentalist preacher - loud, in love with his own voice, ignorant and bloody annoying.

N.B.: Modernised spelling

"They boldly will usurp Moses chair, without any study or preparation. They would have their mouths reverenced as the mouths of the Sybils, who spoke nothing but was registered; yet nothing comes from their mouths but gross, full-stomached tautology. They sweat, they blunder, they bounce and plunge in the pulpit, but all is voice and no substance; they deaf men's ears, but not edify. Scripture peradventure they come off thick and threefold with, but it is so ugly daubed, plastered and patched on, so peevishly specked and applied, as if a botcher with a number of satin and velvet shreds should clout and mend leather doublets and cloth breeches."

Not a very typical passage to be honest, but as an odd writer's oddest work it would be hard to say what's typical of Christs Teares.

The Unfortunate Traveller: (1594)

Is this or isn't this an early picaresque novella? The academics can't make up their minds. It's the life and adventures of Jack Wilton, a roguish young page on the loose in renaissance Europe. In this passage he encounters the love of his life - in prison. While his master the noble Earl of Surrey writes lovelorn sonnets to the lovely Diamante, it's Jack the lad who actually gets her.

N.B.: Modernised spelling

"A pretty round-faced wench was it, with black eyebrows, a high forehead, a little mouth, and a sharp nose - as fat and plum every part of her as a plover, a skin as sleek and soft as the back of a swan, it doth me good when I remember her. Like a bird she tripped on the ground, and bear out her belly as majestical as an ostrich. With a licorous rolling eye fixed piercing on the earth, and sometimes scornfully darted to the one side, she figured forth a high discontented disdain; much like a prince puffing and storming at the treason of some mighty subject fled lately out of his power...What ist, what ist for a maid fair and fresh to spend a little lip-salve on a hungry lover? My master beat the bush and kept a coil and prattling, but I caught the bird; simplicity and plainess shall carry it away in another world."

Jack's a bit too much the wide boy for my taste in heroes, but his story is largely an easy romp - though as always with the unclassifiable Nashe you get sudden disturbing grotesqueries erupting into the apparently merry tale.

The Terrors of the Night:

Possibly inspired by a recent witchcraft case, this is interesting for its stout scepticism regarding dreams, fortune-telling and everything of an X-Files persuasion.

N.B.: Modernised spelling

"Shall I impart unto you a rare secrecy how these great famous conjurers and cunning men ascend by degrees to foretell secrets as they do? First and foremost they are men which have had some little sprinkling of grammar learning in their youth, or at least I will allow them to be surgeons or apothecaries 'prentices; these I say, having run through their thrift at the elbows, and riotously among harlots and make-shifts spent the annuity of halfpenny ale that was left them, fall a-beating their brains how to set up an easy gainful trade, and set a new nap on an old occupation.

Hereupon they presently rake up some dunghill for a few dirty boxes and plasters, and of toasted cheese and candles' ends temper up a few ointments or syrups: which having done, far north, or into some such rude simple country, they get them and set up..."


Have with you to Saffron-Walden

The final onslaught that did for Dr. Harvey. (See here for more on this.)

(Dr.Harvey, lured to Newgate by cunning bailiffs and there imprisoned for debt, sulks and carries on something tremendous...)

"Some lofty tragicall Poet helpe recount and expresse the more than Herculean fury he was in, when hee sawe hee was so notably betrayd and boughte and solde : Hee fumde, hee stampt, hee buffeted himself about the face, beat his head against the walls, and was ready to byte the flesh off his armes if they had not hindred him: out of doors he would haue gone (as I cannot blame him) or hee swore hee would tear downe the walls and set the house on fire if they resisted him: whither, quoth he, you villaines, haue you brought mee? To Newgate, good Master Doctour, with a lowe legge they made answer. I know not where I am. In Newgate, agayne replyed they, good Master Doctour: Into some blinde corner you haue drawne me to be murdred : to no place (replyed they the third time) but to Newgate, good Master Doctour..."

The Harvey in this pamphlet is a travesty, a fictional creation owing more to the bubbling stream of Nashe's irrepressible comic fantasy than to the learned scholar of Cambridge. But...I cannot wish the fault undone, the issue of it being so proper.

Nashes Lenten Stuffe

The last thing Nashe was allowed to publish before the guillotine of censorship fell. Almost hysterically nervy and energetic, it soon leaves behind its declared intention of praising the town of Great Yarmouth and swings into reckless burlesque. It contains Nashe's cynical version of the tale of Hero and Leander, which his dead friend Marlowe had once turned into a deeply romantic poem. Here is Nashe's account of Hero discovering the drowned Leander.

"Downe shee ranne in her loose night-gowne, and her haire about her eares (euen as Semiramis ranne out with her lie-pot in her hand, and her blacke dangling tresses about her shoulders with her iuory combe ensnarled in them, when she heard that Babilon was taken), and thought to haue kist his dead corse aliue againe, but as on his blew iellied sturgeon lips she was about to clappe one of those warme plaisters, boystrous woolpacks of ridged tides came rowling in, and raught him from her, (with a mine belike to carrie him backe to Abidos.) At that she became a franticke Bacchanal outright, & made no more bones but sprang after him, and so resignd up her Priesthood, and left worke for Musaeus and Kit Marlowe."

A curiously flippant treatment of a theme Nashe's friend Marlowe had once memorably treated in his poem 'Hero and Leander'.

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