There is a novel by John Masefield called ODTAA. Its title stands for 'One Damn Thing After Another'. This would be a good title for a biography of George Gascoigne. Despite having a fine crop of literary firsts to his name (the first Italian-style comedy in English, one of the very first versions of a Greek tragedy in English, and one of the earliest systematic discussions of English metre), he was one of the unluckiest English poets. As he once complained: 'the taste of miserie,/Hath bene alwayes full bitter in his bit.' He started well enough, proceeding from a Bedfordshire gentry family to Gray's Inn. In 1561 he contrived to marry a rich widow who was unfortunately already married to someone else (she apparently believed the earlier marriage was not legal). Legal struggles and fisticuffs with his rival ensued, and eventually Gascoigne was imprisoned for debt in Bedford jail in 1570. In an effort to improve his fortunes he joined Humphrey Gilbert's expedition to the Netherlands in 1572, and spent the next couple of years shuttling between England and the Low Countries. Several battles later, most of which were disasters, he was suspected by both the Dutch and English of having treacherously surrendered to the Spanish during the defence of Leiden in 1574.
LRB 5 July 2001 | PDF Download