The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

XVI. London and the Development of Popular Literature

§ 5. Nashe

Greene had discovered the way to satisfy London’s interest in itself. His mantle fell on Nashe, who, at the termination of the Marprelate controversy, was driven to look for other means of subsistence. He returned to the review of society with a keener and wider perception of life, a satirical vein not uncoloured by Juvenal and Rabelais and the mastery of an exuberant and torrential style, in which argot blends with Latinisms. Like Greene, he cast about for an attractive setting. The devil was still an object of ribald curiosity, so Nashe associated his satire with that suggestive personality, and, in Pierce Penilesse, his Supplication to the Divell, he represents the literary man as a proverbial lackpenny addressing a complaint to the devil, since appeals to the church are useless. But, though the supplication contains contemporary portraiture of life and character, yet old forms of thought were too deeply ingrained in popular sentiment to be eluded. Nashe reverted to the conception of the seven deadly sins. During the storm of the reformation, the “sins” were banished from literature, but they reappear, towards the end of the century, as a comic interlude in Marlowe’s Faustus, and as a vehicle for political invective and elaborate imagery in Spenser’s Faerie Queene. Nashe presents all the humours of the age and his own disillusionments and aspirations under these “sins.” In this expansive age, when love of travel blended with national self-consciousness, Londoners took a critical interest in foreign types. So Nashe vividly portrays the pride peculiar to the Spaniard, the Italian and the Frenchman. Dutchmen, unwelcome in England because of their commercial competition, are overwhelmed with invectives. In due course, the writer passes on to Gluttony, and then to Drunkenness, in which the Dutch are again satirised. “The nurse of all this enormitie (as of all evills) is Idleness,” the type of which is the stationer who referred all would-be customers to his shop-boy with a jerk of his thumb, but was full of activity at meal-time. Covetousness is not treated; but the supplication is followed by a disquisition on devilry and spiritualism, at that moment one of the burning questions of the day.