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any real reason for venting his venom on ‘kind Kit Marlowe,' unless that saying Nashe fathered on him was the poet's, that Richard Harvey, Gabriel's brother, 'was an asse, good for nothing but to preach of the Iron Age.' This Gabriel was an unscrupulous calumniator of the dead. He gathered garbage from every dust-heap with which to disfigure the graves of the defenceless dead. He had not dared to splutter much about Marlowe living, beyond comparing him with a peacock, but for him deceased he prepared his customary obituary. He was the first to gloat over the poet's loss. In some cryptic verse he vindictively refers to ‘Tamburlaine's' death from the plague, evidently deeming 'the hawty man' had been carried off by the prevailing epidemic. His marvellous epistle, the Newe Letter of Notable Contents, is dated September 1593.
No further unfriendly allusion to Marlowe is discoverable until 1597, four years after his death. In that year Thomas Beard, one of the so-called Puritans, issued a farrago of everything unsavoury that he could scrape together, his compilation being, as he says in his Epistle Dedicatory, 'partly translated out of the French, and partly collected by mine owne industrie out of many authors,'and not, therefore, from his own knowledge. This he issued to the world as The Theatre of God's Judgements. Not only is the volume one of the filthiest of the evil-minded school to which it owes its origin, but its superstitious stories are utterly inane. Amongst its examples of God's judgments against atheists is one of a man, who having sold his soul to Satan for a cup of wine, Satan Alies off with his bargain in full view of the surrounding company. Other equally edifying tales are told, especially of the wearers of the Papal tiara, several of whom, besides having committed unnameable misdeeds, were, according to Beard, reputed to have been punished for atheistic utterances. Another example, Rabelais, is stated to have been deprived of his senses, so that he might die a brutish death; various poets, for their folly in writing verses, perished miserably, whilst lastly Marlowe served his turn to adorn a tale. Beard's story is :
Marlin, by profession a scholler . . . but by practise a playmaker and a poet of scurrilitie, who by giving too large a swing to his owne wit, and suffering his lust to have the full reines, fell (not without just desert) to that outrage and extremitie, that he denied God and his sonne Christ, and not onely in word blasphemed the Trinitie, but also (as it is credibly reported) wrote bookes against it, affirming our Saviour to be but a deceiver, and Moses to be but a conjurer and seducer of the people, and the holy Bible to bee but vaine and idle stories, and all religion but a device of policie. But see what a hooke the Lord put in the nostrils of this barking dogge!
'It so fell out, that in London streets, as he purposed to stab one whome hee ought (owed) a grudge unto with his dagger, the other party perceiving so avoided the stroke, that withall catching hold of his wrest, he stabbed his owne dagger into his owne head, in such sort that notwithstanding all the meanes of surgerie that could be wrought, he shortly after died thereof; the manner of his death being so terrible (for hee even cursed and blasphemed to his last gaspe, and together with his breath an oath flew out of his mouth), that it was not only a manifest signe of God's judgement, but also an horrible and fearefull terror to all that beheld him. But herein did the justice of God most notably appeare, in that hee compelled his owne hand, which had written those blasphemies, to bee the instrument to punish him, and that in his braine which had devised the same.'158
Even this account, circumstantial as if taken down by an eye-witness, does not persuade the impartial mind from preferring the evidence of the church register : from believing that Marlowe instead of dying by his own hand was slain by Francis Archer. It may be mentioned that when a second edition of Beard's bestial book was published fifteen years later, the words ‘London streets' were omitted.
In 1598 was issued another 'hotchpotch' of various marvels of all kinds, relating to celebrated persons and collected
from authors both sacred and profane, out of which these similitudes are for the most part gathered. This book, Palladis Tamia: Wits Treasury, is by a certain ‘Francis Meres, M.A. of both Universities.' Fluellin did not devise further fetched coincidences to prove the similarity between Monmouth and Macedon, than did this Meres to prove likenesses between famous English and celebrated Latin authors. When he could not discover any possible resemblance he appears to have invented one. Whilst giving Thomas Beard as his authority for the legend about Marlowe, he could not forego the opportunity of adapting it to his own purposes by adding the necessary embellishment. His revised account runs thus :
'So our tragical poet, Marlow, for his Epicurisme and Atheisme had a tragicall death; you may read of this Marlow more at large in The Theatre of Gods Judgements, in the 25th chapter entreating of Epicures and Atheists.
'As the poet Lycophron was shot to death by a certain rival of his, so Christofer Marlow was stabd to death by a bawdy servingman, a rival of his in his lewde love." The invention of “a rival in his lewde love" was absolutely requisite to prove the resemblance between the two tragedies : that the authority quoted did not mention the fact was of no consequence to the fantastic Francis Meres. 159
The next godly man to push onwards the snowball of slander was William Vaughan, who, in his Golden Grove, dated 1699, enlarged upon the favourite subject of atheists. Leo the Tenth, one of his examples, was punished for public confession of infidelity by dying in a fit of laughter; in another case an unnamed Italian warrior, for a similar offence, was the first slain in a battle; whilst Marlowe, 'by profession a playmaker,' was the next warning instance. This example, "as it is reported, about 14 years ago (i.e. 1585) wrote a Booke against the Trinitie ; but see the effects of Gods justice. It so hapened that at Detford, a little village about three miles from London, as he meant to stab with his ponyard one named Ingram (sic) that had invited him thither to a feast, and was then playing at tables (i.e. draughts), hee quickly perceiving it, so avoyded the thrust that withal drawing out his dagger for his defence, hee stabd this Marlow into the eye, in such sort, that his braines comming out at the daggers point, hee shortly after dyed. Thus did God, the true executioner of divine justice, worke the ende of impious Atheists.' 160
Vaughan, it will be noticed, has really got hold of the name of the place where the catastrophe occurred, and, amid other modifications, furnishes the name, but of course incorrectly, of the slayer. By this time the story of Marlowe's miserable end had been told so often, always with variations and additions, that by its constant repetition it obtained general credence, and was adopted as a record of fact. 'To repeat a story after another is not to confirm it,' is Gifford's expostulation when clearing Ben Jonson's memory from calumny, but still such slanders are continually heard, and as recklessly retold. Versifiers and others affect to believe in everything evil suggested about Marlowe as steadfastly as did Othello in Desdemona's falseness. The anonymous author of The Return from Parnassus (a versified drama published in 1606, but written a few years earlier), who, besides manifesting his dislike to university authors generally, had evidently read some of the libels, is supposed to fully confirm the lies of the godly about our poet (whom he did not scruple to plagiarise without the slightest acknowledgment or reference) by these lines:
'Marlowe was happy in his buskin Muse,-
Wit lent from heaven, but vices sent from hell.' 161 After that nothing more is to be said, so it is needless to continue the catalogue. The longer the date from the poet's days, the less likely were the libels upon his character to be refuted. It has been seen that his contemporaries, the men who really knew Marlowe and consorted with him, Drayton, Chapman, Shakespeare, the magnificent concourse of immortals, uttered nothing but admiring and reverential words of him, and that not one of them spoke a disparaging syllable over the dead poet's grave. The letter imputed to Kyd, even could its authenticity be proved, is tainted testimony, and would not influence any legal tribunal.
No trust can be placed in the posthumous rabid ravings of either Beard or Vaughan, or the fantastic fooleries of Francis Meres, nor of their copyists. All impartial people will be prepared to agree with Dr. Grosart in entirely doubting the traditional 'tragic end'; for, as he points out,
with one possessed of so strenuous a nostril for scenting out such carrion gossip as Gabriel Harvey, ignorant of that "tragic end," one may well question if ever it were true.'
There was no contemporary statement of the poet's death, except the Deptford register, and that simple record may as well refer to one slain accidentally by relative or friend, as to one purposely killed by a foe.