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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VI. The Drama to 1642, Part Two.

II. Chapman, Marston, Dekker

§ 7. Marston’s life

John Marston, a man of good Shropshire family and son of John Marston, a member of the Middle Temple, was probably born, and certainly educated, in Coventry. Italian blood on his mother’s side (she was the daughter of an Italian physician, Andrew Guarsi) helps us to understand some features of his genius and character which distinguished him among his fellows and made him at the same time a typical representative of his age. He was admitted to Brasenose college, Oxford, and graduated in 1593. Marston began his literary career as a satirist, changed his muse and entered the dramatic field in the last year of the sixteenth century, but deserted the theatre for the church in 1607. He was presented to the living of Christchurch in Hampshire, and married the daughter of a clergyman, William Wilkes, chaplain to James I. Ben Jonson sarcastically observed to Drummond that “Marston wrote his father-in-law’s preachings, and his father-in-law his comedies.” A collected but incomplete edition of his plays was published in his lifetime by William Sheares (1633), who speaks of him as “now in his Autumn and declining age,” and “far distant from this place,” but claims for him a position among the best poets of his time. He made no demands of his own upon the attention of posterity. When he died in 1634, he was buried beside his father in the Temple church, “under the stone,” says Wood, “which hath written on it Oblivioni Sacrum.” Marston was thus faithful to the sentiment which, in derision of the ambition of most poets, induced him, in his earlier life, to dedicate his works to forgetfulness.

  • Let others pray
  • For ever their faire poems flourish may;
  • But as for mee, hungry Oblivion
  • Devour me quick, accept my orizon.
  • In any estimate of Marston, it ought to be remembered that he suffered from no illusions—

  • Farre worthier lines, in silence of thy state,
  • Doe sleep securely, free from love or hate.
  • And, again, “He that thinks worse of my rimes than myselfe, I scorn him, for hee cannot: he that thinks better is a foole.” As man of letters, Marston embarked at once upon “a troubled sea of noises and hoarse disputes.” In 1598, he published two volumes, The Metamorphosis of Pygmalion’s Image, And Certain Satires, and, later, The Scourge of Villanie, dedicated “to his most esteemed and best beloved Selfe,” crossing blades with Hall, who, with some arrogance, had claimed the title of father of English satire:
  • I first adventure: follow me who list,
  • And be the second English satirist.