Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
A Parthian Prayer
By Robert Greene (15581592)
From A Groats-worth of Wit
To those gentlemen, his quondam acquaintance, that spend their wits in making plays, R. G. wisheth a better exercise, and wisdom to prevent his extremities.
IF woeful experience may move you, gentlemen, to beware, or unheard-of wretchedness entreat you to take heed, I doubt not but you will look back with sorrow on your time past, and endeavour 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 fool in his heart, There is no God, should now give glory unto His greatness: for penetrating is His power, His hand lies heavy upon me, He hath spoken unto me with a voice of thunder, and I have felt He is a God that can punish enemies. Why should thy excellent wit, His gift, be so blinded, that thou shouldst give no glory to the Giver? Is it pestilent Machiavellian policy that thou hast studied? O peevish folly! What are his rules but mere 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 lawful fas et nefas to do anything that is beneficial: only tyrants should possess the earth, and they, striving to exceed in tyranny, should each to other be a slaughter-man; till the mightiest outliving all, one stroke were left for Death, that in one age mans life should end. The brother of this diabolical atheism is dead, and in his life had never the felicity he aimed at; but as he began in craft, lived in fear, and ended in despair. Quam inscrutabilia sunt Dei judicia! This murderer of many brethren had his conscience seared like Cain; 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? Look unto me, by him persuaded to that liberty, and thou shalt find it an infernal bondage. I know the least of my demerits merit this miserable death, but wilful striving against known truth, exceedeth all the terrors of my soul. Defer not (with me) till this last point of extremity; for little knowest thou how in the end thou shalt be visited.
With thee I join young Juvenal, that biting satirist, that lastly with me together writ a comedy. Sweet boy, might I advise thee, be advised, and get not many enemies by bitter words: inveigh against vain men, for thou canst do it, no man better, no man so well; thou hast a liberty to reprove all, and none more; for one being spoken to, all are offended; none being blamed, no man is injured. Stop shallow water still running, it will rage; tread on a worm, and it will turn: then blame not scholars vexed with sharp lines, if they reprove thy too much liberty of reproof.
And thou, no less deserving than the other two, in some things rarer, in nothing inferior; driven (as myself) to extreme shifts, a little have I to say to thee; and were it not an idolatrous oath, I would swear by sweet St. George, thou art unworthy better hap, sith thou dependest on so mean a stay. Base-minded men all three of you, if by my misery ye be not warned; for unto none of you (like me) sought those burs to cleave,those puppets, I mean,that speak from our mouths,those antics garnished in our colours. Is it not strange that I, to whom they all have been beholden,is it not like that you, to whom they all have been beholden,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 tigers heart wrapt in a players hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank-verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes factotum, is in his own conceit the only Shakescene in a country. Oh, that I might entreat your rare wits to be employed in more profitable courses, and let those 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 will never prove a kind nurse: yet, whilst you may, seek you better masters; for it is pity men of such rare wits should be subject to the pleasures of such rude grooms.
In this I might insert two more, that both have writ against these buckram gentlemen; but let their own works serve to witness against their own wickedness, if they persevere to maintain any more such peasants. For other new-comers, I leave them to the mercy of these painted monsters, who (I doubt not) will drive the best minded to despise them; for the rest, it skills not though they make a jest at them.
But now return I again to you three, knowing my misery is to you no news; and let me heartily entreat you to be warned by my harms. Delight not (as I have done) in irreligious oaths; for from the blasphemers house a curse shall not depart. Despise drunkenness, which wasteth the wit, and maketh men all equal unto beasts. Fly lust, as the deathsman of the soul, and defile not the temple of the Holy Ghost. Abhor those epicures whose loose life hath made religion loathsome to your ears: and when they soothe you with terms of mastership, remember Robert Greene, whom they have so often flattered, perishes now for want of comfort. Remember, gentlemen, your lives are like so many lighted tapers, that are with care delivered to all of you to maintain: these with wind-puffed wrath may be extinguished, which drunkenness put out, which negligence let fall; for mans time of itself is not so short, but it is more shortened by sin. The fire of my light is now at the last snuff, and, for want of wherewith to sustain it, there is no substance left for life to feed on. Trust not, then (I beseech ye) to such weak stays; for they are as changeable in mind as in many attires. Well, my hand is tired, and I am forced to leave where I would begin; for a whole book cannot contain these wrongs, which I am forced to knit up in some few lines of words.