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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume III. Renascence and Reformation.

X. George Gascoigne

§ 3. His later works

Certayne notes of Instruction concerning the making of verse or ryme in English, appended to the edition of 1575, apparently as an afterthought, for it is lacking in some copies, was, like many of Gascoigne’s works, the first attempt in English of its kind, and it was soon followed by the more elaborate treatises of Webbe and Puttenham. The Notes have the occasional character common to much of Gascoigne’s work; yet they mark, perhaps, the division between his amateur and his professional career. He now directed his literary activities to the two ends of winning powerful patronage and establishing himself in public esteem. He was employed by Leicester in this same year, 1575, to furnish complimentary verses to the queen on her famous visit to Kenilworth castle; his most elaborate effort on this occasion, the “shew” of Zabeta, was not presented, perhaps because it pressed on Elizabeth somewhat too insistently the advantages of marriage. At Woodstock, he “pronounced” The Tale of Hemetes the heremyte before her majesty, and, in the following January, presented versions of it in French, Latin and Italian to her as a New Year’s gift, with a request for employment. The request was evidently granted, for his next New Year’s gift, The Grief of Joye, is offered as witness “how the interims and vacant hours of those daies which I spent this somer in your service have byn bestowed.”

Though Gascoigne hardly attained the dignity of a literary artist, he certainly succeeded in laying aside the frivolity of his youth and became a portentous moralist. In the dedication of his last acknowledged publication, A Delicate Diet, for daintie mouthde Droonkardes, dated 10 August, 1576, he contrasted the wanton poems of his youth with the serious works of his maturity:

  • When my wanton (and worse smelling) Poesies, presumed fyrst to peark abroade, they came forth sooner than I wyshed, and much before they deserved to be lyked. So that (as you maye sithens perceyve) I was more combred with correction of them, then comforted in the constructions whereunto they were subject. And too make amendes for the lost time which I misbestowed in wryting so wantonlie: I have of latter dayes used al my travaile in matters both serious and Morall. I wrote first a tragicall commedie called The Glasse of Government: and now this last spring, I translated and collected a worthy peece of worke, called The Droomme of Doomes daie, and dedicated the same to my Lord and Maister: And I invented a Satyre, and an Ellegie, called The Steele glasse: and The Complaint of Phylomene. Both which I dedicated to your good Lord and myne, The Lord Greye of Wylton: These works or Pamphlets, I esteeme both Morall and Godly.
  • So, indeed, they are, but they are not of great literary importance. The Steele Glas has, perhaps, received more than its due meed of critical appreciation. It has none of the qualities of the great Latin satirists imitated a generation later by Hall and Marston: perhaps its greatest claim to distinction is the sympathy with the hard lot of the labouring poor, shown also by Gascoigne in some of his earlier work (cf. A gloze upon this text, Dominus iis opus habet). The Droomme of Doomesday is, in part, a translation of Innocent III’s De Contemptu Mundi sive de Miseria Humanae Conditionis, and A Delicate Diet, for daintie mouthde Droonkardes has nothing to distinguish it from the religious tracts of the time.

    In the dedication of The Droomme of Doomesday, Gascoigne wrote (2 May, 1576) that he was “in weake plight for health as your good L. well knoweth,” and he was unable, through illness, to correct the proofs. On 10 August, in the dedication of A Delicate Diet, he wrote to Lewis Dyve, of Broomham, Bedfordshire, “soone after Mighelmasse (by Gods leave) I wyll see you.” He died on 7 October, 1577, after an illness of some months. All this casts some doubt upon the generally accepted theory that he was the George Gascoigne who wrote to the lord treasurer from Paris on 15 September, 1576, that he was about to set forth for Flanders, and who, in November, received £20 for “bringinge of Letters in for her Majesties affaires frome Andwarpe to Hampton Court.” In November there was printed anonymously The Spoyle of Antwerp Faithfully reported by a true Englishman, who was present at the same. The pamphlet was “seene and allowed,” and it was issued by the printer of A Delicate Diet and The Princelye Pleasures; but one does not see why, if it were Gascoigne’s, he should depart from his custom of acknowledging his work. “Master Gascoigne” (he made his first printer say, or said himself) “hath never beene dayntie of his doings, and therfore I conceale not his name.” In spite of the weight of critical opinion in favour of Gascoigne’s authorship of this pamphlet, the evidence stops short of proof.