It is a romance of reckless adventure, and, although it is a work of fiction, a few historical personages and episodes are introduced without much regard to strict accuracy, but greatly to the advantage of the vraisemblance of the story. The hero is a page, ‘a little superior in rank to the ordinary picaro;’ he has served in the English army at Tournay, but lives on his wits and prospers by his impudent devices. He visits Italy in attendance on the Earl of Surrey the poet, of whose relations with the ‘fair Geraldine’ Nash tells a romantic but untrustworthy story, long accepted as authentic by Surrey's biographers. After hairbreadth escapes from the punishment due to his manifold offences, Jack Wilton marries a rich Venetian lady, and rejoins the English army while Francis I and Henry VIII are celebrating the Field of the Cloth of Gold. Thomas Deloney [q. v.] may have suggested such an effort to Nash by his pedestrian ‘Jack of Newbery’ or ‘Thomas of Reading,’ but Nash doubtless designed his romance as a parody of those mediæval story-books of King Arthur and Sir Tristram which he had already ridiculed in his ‘Anatomie of Absurditie.’ Whatever Nash's object, the minute details with which he describes each episode and character anticipate the manner of Defoe. No one of Nash's successors before Defoe, at any rate, displayed similar powers as a writer of realistic fiction. The ‘Unfortunate Traveller’ was, unhappily, Nash's sole excursion into this attractive field of literature.
In 1596 Nash returned to his satiric vein. He had learned that Harvey boasted of having silenced him. To prove the emptiness of the vaunt, he accordingly issued the most scornful of all his tracts: ‘Haue with you to Saffron-Walden, or Gabriel Harueys Hunt is Up, containing a Full Answere to the Eldest Sonne of the Hatter-Maker … 1596.’ The work was dedicated, in burlesque fashion, to Richard Litchfield, barber of Trinity College, Cambridge, and includes a burlesque biography of Harvey, which is very comically devised. Harvey sought to improve on this sally by publishing his ‘Trimming of Thomas Nashe’ late in 1597, while Nash was suffering imprisonment in the Fleet. The heated conflict now attracted the attention of the licensers of the press. The two authors were directed to desist from further action; and in 1599 it was ordered by the Archbishop of Canterbury and others ‘that all Nashe's bookes and Dr. Harvey's bookes be taken, wheresoever they may be, and that none of the same bookes be euer printed hereafter.’ Nash undoubtedly won much sympathy from many spectators of this protracted duel. Francis Meres wrote in his ‘Palladis Tamia’ (1598), ‘As Eupolis of Athens used great liberty in taxing the vices of men: so doth Thomas Nash. Witness the brood of the Harveys.’ Sir John Harington was less complimentary in his epigram (bk. ii. 36):
The proverb says who fights with dirty foes
Must needs be soil'd, admit they win or lose;
Then think it doth a doctor's credit dash
To make himself antagonist to Nash.
Thomas Middleton in his ‘Ant and the Nightingale,’ 1604, generously apostrophises Nash, who was then dead:
Thou hadst a strife with that Tergemini;
Thou hurt'st them not till they had injured thee.
Dekker wrote that Nash ‘made the doctor [Harvey] a flat dunce, and beat him at his two sundry tall weapons, poetrie and oratorie’ (Newes from Hell, 1606).
Like all the men of letters of his day, Nash meanwhile paid some attention to the stage. The great comic actor Tarleton had befriended him on his arrival in London, and he has been credited with compiling ‘Tarltons Newes out of Purgatorie,’ 1590. Alleyn he had eulogised in his ‘Piers Penniless.’ In 1593 he prepared a ‘Pleasant Comedie, called Summers Last Will and Testament.’ It was privately acted about Michaelmas at Beddington, near Croydon, at the house of Sir George Carey. It was not published till 1600. The piece is a nondescript masque, in which Will Summers, Henry VIII's jester, figures as a loquacious and bitter-tongued chorus (in prose), while the Four Seasons, the god Bacchus, Orion, Harvest, Solstitium, and similar abstractions soliloquise in competent blank-verse on their place in human economy. A few songs, breathing the genuine Elizabethan fire, are introduced; that entitled ‘Spring’ has been set to music by Mr. Henschel. For Marlowe's achievements in poetry and the drama Nash, too, had undisguised regard, and in 1594 he completed and saw through the press Marlowe's unfinished ‘Tragedie of Dido’ [see Marlowe, Christopher] (cf. Lenten Stuffe, v. 262). Nash's contribution to the work is bald, and lacks true dramatic quality. But Nash was not discouraged, and in 1597 attempted to convert to dramatic uses his ‘fantastical’ powers of satire. Henslowe agreed to accept a comedy for the lord admiral's company to be called ‘The Isle of Dogs.’ At the time Nash was in exceptional distress, and had to apply to Henslowe for payments on account. ‘Lent the 14 May 1597 to Jubie,’ wrote Henslowe in his ‘Diary’ (p. 94), ‘uppon a notte from Nashe, twentie shellinges more for the Jylle of dogges, wch he is wrytinge