Gascoigne, George (DNB00)
GASCOIGNE, GEORGE (1525?–1577), poet, was eldest son of Sir John Gascoigne of Cardington, Bedfordshire, by his wife Margaret, daughter of Sir Robert Scargill of Scargill, Yorkshire. Through his mother's family he was kinsman to Sir Martin Frobisher [q. v.] His father's father, Sir William Gascoigne, was great-grandson of Sir William Gascoigne [q. v.], chief justice of the king's bench; was sheriff of Bedfordshire in 1507, 1514, and 1516; was knighted by Henry VIII, and was controller to the household of Cardinal Wolsey. The poet, when dedicating his ‘Tale of Hemetes’ to Queen Elizabeth in 1576, declares that he ‘poured forth’ in his writings ‘such Englishe as I stole in Westmerland,’ expressions that seem to imply that he was brought up in Westmoreland. He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, where Stephen Nevynson was his tutor. He left without a degree, and is said to have entered the Middle Temple before 1548. In that year he is often stated to have suffered imprisonment for dicing. This story is founded on an account of the arrest of ‘Mr. Gastone the lawyare … a great dicer’ in the ‘Autobiographical Anecdotes of Edward Underhill,’ 1551 (cf. Narratives of the Reformation, Camd. Soc.) But Gastone and Gascoigne are in all probability quite different persons. Gastone moreover is said in the same place to have ‘an old wife,’ whereas the poet seems at the time to have been a bachelor (cf. Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. ix. 15, 152). It is true that the poet's father disinherited him on account of his extravagance, and it was not till late in life that he checked his squandering propensities. In 1555 he became a student of Gray's Inn (Harl. MS. 1912, f. 33), and is probably the ‘Gascoine’ called as an ‘ancient’ of the inn on 24 May 1557. He paid a formal fine as an ancient in 1565. He sat in parliament as M.P. for Bedford in 1557–8 and 1558–9. In the spring of 1562, while riding between Chelmsford and London, he began a first poem entitled ‘The Complaint of Philomene,’ but soon flung it aside, and did not complete it till 1576. An early disappointment in love unfitted him for settled occupation. Travel in England and France occupied him about 1563–4. Returning to his home in Bedfordshire he visited his friends the Dyve family, and was introduced to Francis Russell, second earl of Bedford, and doubtless to Arthur, lord Grey de Wilton, who became his special patron. Lord Grey invited him to shoot deer in his company one winter, and presented him with a cross-bow. Gascoigne proved a poor shot, and excused himself in verse for his incapacity. In 1566 he produced at Gray's Inn ‘The Supposes,’ a prose adaptation of Ariosto's comedy ‘Gli Suppositi.’ Aided by Francis Kinwelmersh, who contributed acts i. and iv., he also wrote a blank-verse tragedy in five acts called ‘Jocasta,’ and adapted from Euripides's ‘Phœnissæ.’ Sir Christopher Yelverton supplied an epilogue. A folio manuscript of this play, dated 1568, was in the possession of Mr. Corser.
Gascoigne was now, he writes, ‘determined to abandon all vain delights, and to return unto Gray's Inn, there to undertake again the study of common laws’ (Poems, i. 63). Five fellow-students, Francis and Anthony Kenwelmersh, John Vaughan, Alexander Nevile, and Richard Courtop, challenged him to write five poems on as many Latin mottoes proposed by themselves; he consented, and in these verses, published some years later, freely reproached himself with past excesses. His first published verse was a sonnet prefixed to ‘The French Littleton … by C. Holiband,’ London, 1566. To retrieve his fortunes he married about this date Elizabeth, the well-to-do widow of William Breton, citizen of London. The lady's first husband, by whom she was mother of Nicholas Breton [q. v.], the poet, and of four other children, died on 12 Jan. 1559. Gascoigne must have married her some time before 27 Oct. 1568. On that day the lord mayor, in the interest of Gascoigne's step-children, directed an inquiry into the disposition of William Breton's property, which, it was suggested, was misused by their mother and Gascoigne. Whatever the result of the inquiry, Gascoigne seems to have secured a residence at Walthamstow out of Breton's estate, which he retained till his death.
His debts were still numerous, and he had to ‘lurk at villages’ and avoid the city. In 1572 he presented himself for election as M.P. for Midhurst, and was duly returned. But a petition was presented, apparently by his creditors, against his being permitted to take his seat. In this document he was not only charged with insolvency, but with manslaughter and atheism, and with being ‘a common rymer and a deviser of slanderous pasquils against divers persones of great calling’ (cf. Gent. Mag. 1851, pt. ii. 241–4). To avoid further complications, he resolved to go abroad. He took passage at Gravesend for Holland on 19 March 1572. A drunken Dutch pilot ran the vessel aground on the Dutch coast. Twenty of the crew were drowned, and Gascoigne, with two friends, Rowland Yorke and Herle, narrowly escaped with their lives. Gascoigne, who was nicknamed ‘the Green Knight,’ obtained a captain's commission under William, prince of Orange, and saw some severe service. But a quarrel with his colonel soon drove him to Delft, in order to resign his commission to the prince. While the negotiation was in progress a letter addressed to Gascoigne from a lady at the Hague, then in the possession of the Spaniards, fell into the hands of his personal enemies in the Dutch camp. A charge of treachery was raised, but the prince perceived the baselessness of the accusation, and gave Gascoigne passports enabling him to visit the Hague. Gascoigne afterwards joined an English reinforcement under Colonel Chester, and distinguished himself at the siege of Middleburg, when the prince rewarded him with a gift of three hundred guilders in addition to his ordinary pay. Soon afterwards he was surprised by three thousand Spaniards while commanding five hundred Englishmen with Captain Sheffield. The English retreated to Leyden, but their Dutch allies closed the gates against them. All surrendered to Loques, the Spanish general. Gascoigne and his fellow-officers were sent home after four months' imprisonment. His knowledge of languages—Latin, French, Italian, and Dutch—enabled him to converse freely with his Spanish captors; and his friendliness with Loques exposed him to new charges of treachery. He wrote for his patron, Lord Grey of Wilton, two narratives of his adventures while they were in progress, the one entitled ‘The fruites of warre, written uppon this Theame Dulce Bellum inexpertis,’ and the other ‘Gascoignes voyage into Hollande, An. 1572.’ His military adventures occupied less than three years.
In Gascoigne's absence a collected volume of his verse was published without his authority by H[enry?] W[otton?], who had obtained the manuscript from another friend, G[eorge ?] T[urberville ?]. The volume bore the title ‘A hundreth Sundrie Flowres bounde up in one small Poesie: Gathered partely by Translation in the fyne outlandish Gardins of Euripides, Ovid, Petrarke, Ariosto, and others, and partly by invention out of our owne fruitefull orchardes in England,’ London, for R. Smith . The editor, in the course of the volume, says that Gascoigne, ‘who hath never been dainty of his doings, and therefore I conceal not his name,’ was author of the largest portion of the book. But in spite of the editor's assertion that more than one author is represented in the collection, there is little doubt that Gascoigne is responsible for the whole. The book opens with the ‘Supposes’ and ‘Jocasta,’ which are followed by ‘A discourse of the adventures passed by Master F[erdinando] I[eronimi],’ a prose tale from the Italian, interspersed with a few lyrics; a number of short poems called ‘The deuises of sundrie Gentlemen;’ and finally a long unfinished series of semi-autobiographical reflections in verse, entitled ‘The delectable history of Dan Bartholomew of Bath.’ Many of the shorter pieces were suspected of attacking well-known persons under fictitious names. A loud outcry was raised, to which Gascoigne replied by reissuing, ‘from my poore house at Walthamstow in the forest, 2 Feb. 1575,’ the volume enlarged and altered, under his own name. The new title ran ‘The Posies of George Gascoigne, Esquire. Corrected, perfected, and augmented by the authour,’ London, for R. Smith. Some copies bear in the imprint the name of H. Bynneman as Smith's printer. An apologetic dedication is addressed to ‘the reverend divines unto whom these posies shall happen to be presented.’ The works are here divided into three parts, entitled respectively Flowers, Hearbes, and Weedes. The first part contains short poems and a completed version of ‘Dan Bartholomew;’ the second includes the ‘Supposes,’ the ‘Jocasta,’ and more short poems; the third part is chiefly occupied with a revised version of ‘the pleasant fable of Ferdinando Ieronimi and Leonora de Valasco, translated out of the riding tales of Bartello,’ i.e. Bandello. The volume concludes with a critical essay in prose entitled ‘Certayne notes of Instruction concerning the making of verse or ryme in English, written at the request of Master Edouardo Donati.’ Henceforth Gascoigne confined himself to literary work, but he still suffered much from poverty. In 1575 appeared his ‘tragicall comedie,’ called ‘A Glasse of Government,’ chiefly in prose, but with four choruses and an epilogue in verse, and two didactic poems introduced into the third act. A poem by him of fifty-eight lines, ‘in the commendation of the Noble Art of Venerie,’ was prefixed to George Turberville's ‘Noble Art of Venerie or Hunting’ (1575). Gascoigne accompanied Queen Elizabeth on her visit to the Earl of Leicester's castle of Kenilworth, 9–27 July 1575, and was commissioned by Leicester to write verses and masques for the entertainment of his sovereign. Many of these were issued in 1576, in a separate volume entitled ‘The Princelye Pleasures at the Courte of Kenelwoorth,’ to which George Ferrers, Henry Goldingham, and William Hunnis were also contributors. A reprint of this work is dated 1821, and it reappears in the appendix to Adlard's ‘Amye Robsart,’ 1870. Gascoigne's prose ‘tale of Hemetes the heremyte, pronownced before the Q. Majesty att Woodstocke, [11 Sept.] 1575,’ in the course of the progress from Kenilworth, was not included in ‘The Princelie Pleasures,’ nor was it printed in its author's lifetime. Gascoigne wrote it in four languages—English, French, Latin, and Italian. In 1579 Abraham Fleming [q. v.] had the boldness to annex this ‘pleasant tale …, newly recognised both in Latin and English,’ to his volume called ‘The Paradoxe,’ and allowed it to be supposed that he was the author. Gascoigne's original manuscript, with a dedication to the queen, and a drawing representing him in the act of offering it to her, is in the British Museum (Reg. MS. 18 A. 49, p. 27). It has been printed by Mr. W. C. Hazlitt in his collected edition of Gascoigne's works. It was also in 1576 that Gascoigne's well-known satire in blank verse appeared, dedicated to Lord Grey, and entitled ‘The Steele Glas.’ He completed this satire 12 April 1576, ‘amongst my books in my house here at Walthamstow.’ At the end of the volume was placed ‘The Complainte of Phylomene,’ Gascoigne's first poetic effort, begun thirteen years before. To the ‘Steele Glas’ a youthful friend, ‘Walter Raleigh of the Middle Temple,’ prefixed commendatory stanzas, the earliest by him to appear in print. In April 1576 a visit to Sir Humphry Gilbert at Limehouse suggested to Gascoigne the publication of Gilbert's account of the voyage to Cathay in 1566, which he duly prepared for the press. There followed two serious efforts in prose—‘the fruites of repentaunce’ Gascoigne called them—entitled respectively ‘The Droomme of Doomesday,’ a translation from the Latin of Lothario Conti (May 1576; 1586), dedicated to Francis, second earl of Bedford, and ‘A delicate Diet for daintie-mouthde Droonkardes’ (22 Aug. 1576), dedicated to Lewis Dyve. The first is described at length in Brydges's ‘Restituta,’ iv. 299–307; the second was reprinted by F. G. Waldron in 1789. Finally, in January 1576–7, Gascoigne dedicated to Queen Elizabeth, but did not print, a collection of moral elegies entitled ‘The Griefe of Joye.’ His manuscript is in the British Museum (Royal MS. 18 A. 61), and has been printed by Mr. W. C. Hazlitt. In May 1576 Gascoigne's health had begun to fail (The Droomme of Doomesday, ded.) The ‘Delicate Diet’ is dedicated (Aug. 1576) ‘from my lodging in London.’ But there seems good foundation for the categorical assertion of Richard Simpson that Gascoigne was present at the sack of Antwerp by the Spaniards in November 1576. On 10 Nov. 1576 Thomas Heton, governor of the English House at Antwerp, wrote to the privy council that he had sent accounts of the fall of Antwerp by ‘this bearer, Mr. George Gascoigne [not Gaston, as printed in the Calendar], whose humanity in this time of trouble we for our parts have experimented.’ There is little doubt that Gascoigne was the author of a prose tract, ‘The Spoyle of Antwerpe. Faithfully reported by a true Englishman, who was present at the same. … London, by Richard Iones.’ On this tract was founded ‘A Larum for London, or the Siedge of Antwerp,’ 1602, and Mr. Simpson prints both together in his ‘School of Shakspere,’ pt. i. (1872). All the best evidence shows, however, that Gascoigne in his last years was an invalid who moved about very little and spent most of his time in pious exercises. In the autumn of 1577 he went on a visit to his friend and biographer, George Whetstone, at Stamford, Lincolnshire, and he died at Whetstone's house on 7 Oct. 1577, being buried probably in the family vault of the Whetstones at Bernack, near Stamford. He seems to have left a son William.
Contemporaries praised Gascoigne. W. Webbe, in his ‘Discourse of English Poetrie,’ speaks of him as ‘a witty gentleman and the very chief of our late rhymers,’ who, though ‘deficient in learning,’ was sufficient in ‘his gifts of wit and natural promptness.’ Arthur Hall, in the preface to his translation of the ‘Iliad’ (1581), praises his ‘pretie pythie conceits.’ Puttenham, in his ‘Arte of English Poesie,’ writes of his ‘good metre’ and ‘plentiful vein.’ Francis Meres, in his ‘Comparative Discourse of our English Poets’ in his ‘Palladis Tamia’ (1598), numbers him among ‘the best poets for’ comedies and elegies. Gabriel Harvey had a good word for his ‘commendable parts of conceit and endeavour,’ although he bemoaned his ‘decayed and blasted estate’ (Foure Letters, 1592). Likewise in his ‘De Aulica’ Harvey suggests that Gascoigne, with Chaucer and Surrey, should figure in the library of a maid of honour (Gratulationes Valdinenses, 1578, iv. 21). Edmund Bolton, classing him with the ‘lesser late poets,’ says that his ‘works may be endured.’ His ‘Supposes’ was revived at Trinity College, Oxford, in 1582, and he is represented in the many editions of the ‘Paradise of Dainty Devices’ (1st edit. 1576), and in ‘England's Parnassus,’ 1600. But he soon fell out of date. An epigram of Sir John Davies (1596) notes as an inconsistency in the character of ‘a new-fangled youth,’ that he should ‘praise old George Gascoines rimes.’
Gascoigne's lyrics, such as ‘the arraignment of a lover,’ reissued as a broadsheet in 1581, ‘a straunge passion of a lover,’ ‘a lullabie of a lover,’ or ‘Gascoignes good-morrow,’ are his most attractive productions. But even here his hand is often heavy, and his command of language and metre defective. With rare exceptions his verse, ‘in the measure of xij in the first line and xiiij in the second,’ is now unreadable. As a literary pioneer, however, Gascoigne's position is important. ‘Master Gascoigne,’ writes Nash (pref. to Greene, Menaphon, 1589), ‘is not to be abridged of his deserved esteem, who first beat the path to that perfection which our best poets have aspired to since his departure.’ His ‘Supposes,’ after Ariosto, is the earliest extant comedy in English prose; his ‘Jocasta,’ after Euripides, is the second earliest tragedy in blank verse; his ‘Steele Glas’ is probably the earliest ‘regular verse satire;’ his ‘Certain Notes of Instruction concerning the making of verse,’ in which he deprecates the sacrifice of reason to rhyme, or the use of obsolete words, is the earliest English critical essay; his ‘Adventures of Ferdinando Ieronimi,’ translated from Bandello, one of the earliest known Italian tales in English prose. Gascoigne's sole original comedy, the ‘Glasse of Government,’ which vaguely embodies some local knowledge acquired by the author in the Low Countries, seems to be ‘an attempt to connect Terentian situations with a Christian moral.’ It deals with the careers of four youths—two prodigals who reach bad ends, and two of exemplary virtue, who gain distinction and influence. Mr. Herford shows that it owes much to German school dramas like Gnapheus's ‘Acolastus,’ 1529, Macropedius's ‘Rebelles,’ 1535, and Stymmelius's ‘Studentes,’ 1549 (Herford, Lit. Rel. of England and Germany, pp. 149–64). Shakespeare probably derived the name Petruchio and the underplot of Lucentio's suit to Bianca in the ‘Taming of the Shrew’ from Gascoigne's ‘Supposes.’ ‘From this play also the ridiculous name and character of Dr. Dodipoll seems to have got into our old drama’ (Warton).
A collected edition of Gascoigne's works was published by Abel Jeffes in 1587. Copies are extant with two different title-pages, one running ‘The pleasauntest workes of George Gascoigne, Esquyre: newly compyled into one volume,’ the other beginning ‘The whole workes of George Gascoigne, Esquyre.’ Besides the contents of the 1575 volume there appear here the ‘Steele Glas,’ the ‘Complainte of Phylomene,’ and the ‘Pleasures at Kenelworth Castle.’ Gascoigne is well represented in Chalmers's ‘Poets.’ In 1868–9 Mr. W. C. Hazlitt collected all his extant poems in two volumes (Roxburghe Library). Gascoigne's critical essay was reprinted in Haslewood's ‘Ancient Critical Essays,’ 1815, and with his ‘Steele Glas’ and ‘Complainte of Phylomene’ by Professor Arber in 1868. Gascoigne has been wrongly credited with a virulent attack on the Roman Catholics, ‘The wyll of the Deuyll and last Testament,’ London, by Humphry Powell, n. d., which could not have appeared later than 1550.
Gascoigne's portrait, subscribed with his favourite motto, ‘Tam Marti quam Mercurio,’ appears on the back of the title-page of the first edition of the ‘Steele Glas.’ Another portrait appears in the Reg. MS. containing ‘The tale of Hemetes,’ and has been reproduced by Mr. W. C. Hazlitt. There is an engraved portrait by Fry.[Hunter's Chorus Vatum in Addit. MS. 24487, ff. 448–60, has been largely used by Mr. W. C. Hazlitt in the memoir prefixed to his edition of the poems. Whetstone's Remembraunce of the wel imployed life and godly end of George Gaskoigne, Esquire, London, for Edward Aggas , has been reprinted by Professor Arber and others from the unique copy at the Bodleian Library. See also Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr. i. 374–8, 565–6; Collier's Hist. Dramatic Poetry; Collier's Bibl. Cat.; Wood's Athenæ, ed. Bliss, i. 434; Corser's Collectanea; Warton's Hist. of English Poetry; Simpson's School of Shakspere, a reprint of A Larum for London, pt. i. (1872); Nichols's Progresses, i. 485, 553.]