Nabbes, Thomas (DNB00)

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NABBES, THOMAS (fl. 1638), dramatist, born in 1605, belonged to a humble Worcestershire family. On 3 May 1621 he matriculated from Exeter College, Oxford (Oxf. Univ. Reg. Oxf. Hist. Soc. II. ii. 387), but left the university without a degree. He seems to have been employed subsequently in the household of a nobleman near Worcester, and he describes in a poem ‘upon the losing of his way in a forest’ a midnight adventure in the neighbourhood of his master's mansion after he had indulged freely in perry. Another spirited poem ‘upon excellent strong beer which he drank at the town of Wich in Worcestershire’ proves Nabbes to have been of a convivial disposition.

About 1630 Nabbes seems to have settled in London, resolved to try his fortunes as a dramatist. He was always a stranger to the best literary society, but found congenial companions in Chamberlain, Jordan, Marmion, and Tatham, and was known to many ‘gentlemen of the Inns of Court’ (cf. Bride, Ded.) About January 1632–3 his first comedy, ‘Covent Garden,’ was acted by the queen's servants, and was published in 1638 with a modest dedication addressed to Sir John Suckling. In the prologue he defends himself from stealing the title of the piece—in allusion doubtless to Richard Brome's ‘Covent Garden Weeded,’ acted in 1632—and describes his ‘muse’ as ‘solitary.’ His second comedy, ‘Totenham Court,’ was acted at the private house in Salisbury Court in 1633, and was also printed in 1638, with a dedication to William Mills. A third piece, ‘Hannibal and Scipio, an hystorical Tragedy,’ in five acts of blank verse, was produced in 1635 by the queen's servants at their private house in Drury Lane. Nabbes obviously modelled his play upon Marston's ‘Sophonisba.’ It was published in 1637, with a list of the actors' names. A third comedy, ‘The Bride,’ acted at the private house in Drury Lane, again by the queen's servants, in 1638, was published two years later, with a prefatory epistle addressed ‘to the generalty of his noble friends, gentlemen of the severall honorable houses of the Inns of Court.’ One of the characters, Mrs. Ferret, the imperious wife, has been compared to Jonson's Mistress Otter. An unreadable and tedious tragedy, entitled ‘The Unfortunate Mother,’ was published in 1640, with a dedication to Richard Brathwaite, a stranger to him, whom he apologises for addressing. It is said to have been written as a rival to Shirley's ‘Politician,’ but was never acted, owing to the refusal of the actors to undertake the performance. Three friends (E[dward] B[enlowes], C. G., and R. W.) prefixed commendatory verses by way of consoling the author for the slight thus cast upon him.

Langbaine reckons Nabbes among the poets of the third rate. The author of Cibber's ‘Lives of the Poets’ declares that in strict justice ‘he cannot rise above a fifth.’ This severe verdict is ill justified. He is a passable writer of comedies, inventing his own plots, and lightly censuring the foibles of middle-class London society. His tragedies are not attractive. But Samuel Sheppard in the sixth sestiad (‘the Assizes of Apollo’) of his ‘Times Display'd,’ 1646, associates Nabbes's name with the names of D'Avenant, Shirley, Beaumont, and Fletcher, and selects his tragedy of ‘Hannibal and Scipio’ for special commendation. Nabbes displays a satisfactory command of the niceties of dramatic blank verse, in which all his plays, excluding the two earliest comedies, were mainly written. Although he was far more refined in sentiment than most of his contemporaries, he is capable at times of considerable coarseness.

As a writer of masques Nabbes deserves more consideration. His touch was usually light and his machinery ingenious. The least satisfactory was the one first published, viz. ‘Microcosmus. A Morall Maske, presented with generall liking, at the Private House in Salisbury Court, and heere set down according to the intention of the Authour, Thomas Nabbes,’ 1637. A reference to the approaching publication of the work was made in ‘Don Zara del Fogo,’ a mock romance, which was written before 1637, though not published till 1656. Richard Brome contributed prefatory verses. His ‘Spring's Glory’ (1638) bears some resemblance to Middleton's ‘Inner Temple Masque,’ published in 1618. The ‘Presentation intended for the Prince his Highnesse on his Birthday’ (1638) is bright and attractive, although it does not appear to have been actually performed. It was printed with ‘The Spring's Glory,’ together with some occasional verses. The volume, which was dedicated to William, son of Peter Balle, was entitled ‘The Spring's Glory, a Maske. Together with sundry Poems, Epigrams, Elegies, and Epithalamiums. By Thomas Nabbes,’ 1639. Of the poems, the verses on a ‘Mistresse of whose Affection hee was doubtfull’ have a certain charm; they are included in Mr. Linton's ‘Collection of Rare Poems.’ Nabbes contributed commendatory verses to Shackerley Marmion's ‘Legend of Cupid and Psyche,’ 1637; Robert Chamberlain's ‘Nocturnal Lucubrations,’ 1638; Thomas Jordan's ‘Poeticall Varieties,’ 1640; John Tatham's ‘Fancies Theater,’ 1640; Humphrey Mills's ‘A Night's Search.’ 1640; Thomas Beedome's ‘Poems Divine and Humane,’ 1641; and the ‘Phœnix of these Late Times; or, the Life of Mr. Henry Welby, Esq.’ (1637). Welby was an eccentric, who was credited with living without food or drink for the last forty-four years of his life. To the fifth edition of Richard Knolles's ‘Generall Historie of the Turkes’ (1638) Nabbes appended ‘A Continuation of the Turkish Historie, from the Yeare of our Lord 1628 to the end of the Yeare 1637. Collected out of the Dispatches of Sr. Peter Wyche, Knight, Embassador at Constantinople, and others.’ The dedication is addressed to Sir Thomas Roe, whom Nabbes describes as a stranger to him [see Knolles, Richard].

According to Nabbes's ‘Encomium on the Leaden Steeple at Worcester, repayred in 1628,’ he desired to be buried in Worcester Cathedral; but Coxeter was of opinion that his grave was ‘in the Temple Church, under the organ on the inner side.’ The Temple burial register contains no record of Nabbes, but the register often fails to mention the names of those who, although buried there, had, in the opinion of the authorities, no obvious claim to a posthumous reputation.

All Nabbes's works, excluding only the continuation of Knolles, were brought together by Mr. A. H. Bullen in 1887. This collected edition forms vols. i. and ii. of the new series of Mr. Bullen's privately printed ‘Old English Plays.’

[Mr. Bullen's preface to the collected edition of Nabbes's works; Hunter's MS. Chorus Vatum in Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 24487, f. 334; Brydges's Censura, i. 439; Langbaine's English Dramatick Poets; Cibber's Lives of the Poets, ii. 24; Fleay's Biographical Chronicle of the English Drama.]

S. L.