Gabriel Harvey

Alexander B. Grosart, Memoir in Harvey, Works (1884) 1:ix-l.

In his Preface to the Letter-Book of Gabriel Harvey, A.D. 1573-80 (Camden Society, 1884), Mr. E. J. LONG SCOTT, M.A., commences his little notice thus:

"Gabriel Harvey, the writer of the following Letter-Book, is better known to us than almost any other man among the literary characters who crowd the Elizabethan stage. His celebrated controversy with Nashe (who raked up against him every circumstance in his life and writings in order to pour unlimited abuse and contempt upon his head) has furnished us with a vivid picture, not only of Harvey's manners and conversation, but even of his dress and physiognomy" (p. v).

This, while true in a way — that is, to the few who have mastered the "wordy war" between Nashe and Harvey — is exceptionally untrue regarded biographically. For of no contemporary of equal notoriety in men's mouths over so many years, do we know so little as of him. The Damascus blade of Thomas Nashe wounded him mortally. He was speedily forgotten — though he lived on to an unusual age; and no one seems to have cared to rescue his memory from its swift and inexorable oblivion. Even his academic course is obscure and dateless. We have had to wait for these long centuries to learn the chief facts of it contained in his (so-called) "Letter-Book." Mr. Scott has not himself added one grain of new information, as he has not troubled himself so much as to bring together what of scanty record has hitherto been made. His one distinguishing service is to have reproduced so admirably a troublesome manuscript.

None of the Registers or Parish-Books of Saffron Walden now extant go so far back as the birth of Gabriel Harvey, nor is there any mention of the Harveys in any of the later local MSS. But it is known from other sources that he was born at Saffron Walden, in Essex, "about 1545," or some seven years before Spenser. He was the eldest son, of a family of six children — four boys and two girls. As everybody knows who knows anything at all of the Harveys, their father was a Ropemaker. If only his eldest son had been as satisfied with the paternal "trade" as was that father himself, the unlucky victim of Nashe's scorpion-tongue and pen had been spared much misery and infamy. Even at this late day there remains a curious proof that so far from having been ashamed of his rope-making the elder Harvey proclaimed it — viz., in the town's museum there is preserved the most of a once fine fireplace from Harvey's house. Its entablature is in three (marble) compartments, after this fashion:—

Ox, with pack, eating of thistles. Three men making a rope. Hive and bees at work.

The middle compartment also contains all the adjuncts to a farmyard — somewhat mutilated — e.g., the end of a house, a bullock or cow, yard with the head of a cow peeping out, a pig, poultry, bullock and corn, and (seemingly) flax or hemp (grown probably for the supply of his trade); also a plant of saffron, whilst on a tree hangs a satchel. From these designs it is to be inferred that Harvey senior carried on a Farm as well as his rope-making business. This is incidentally confirmed by Gabriel's assertion in the notorious matter of his sister Mercy's experiences that she "fetched home and milked the cows." But the main thing is — and all honour to him for it — the rope-making was held for honest labour and trade, not stigma, by the old man. If — as is pretty certain — Gabriel supplied these Latin mottoes, he too must have originally acquiesced. Of course it was one thing thus to have a home-memorial of the family-occupation, and another to have it shouted from the housetop with flout and jeer and waggish drollery. Anthony a-Wood puts the thing as follows:

"This person, who made a great noise in his time, was born at Saffron Walden, in Essex; and tho' his father was a ropemaker, as Thomas Nashe, a great scoffer and his antagonist, tells us, yet he had rich kindred, and was nearly allied to Sir Thomas Smith, the great statesman in Queen Elizabeth's reign" (Fasti, by Bliss, i. 230).

The Smith alliance is very doubtful, and certainly was not "near." But, as unquestionably, the Ropemaker was well-to-do and mindful of the educational interests of his sons (at least). It is to be remembered to his credit that he sent three sons to the University (of Cambridge), and spent on them a good thousand pounds, as Gabriel was ever forward to attest.

From the warmth — not to say exaggerate eulogy — of our Harvey's celebration of Sir Thomas Smith, of Audley End, Saffron Walden, it would appear that this once famous Knight had interested himself from the outset in his poetic celebrator. Gabriel must have been a clever boy, probably the proverbial "clever boy" of the village school. We know nothing of his earlier training. He is found at Cambridge University before Edmund Spenser (who proceeded thither in 1565). "His first academical breeding," says Wood, "was in Christ College, Cambridge; where in a short time he made great proficiency, to the wonder and amazement of his tutor" (as before).

In 1573 he was tutor at Pembroke College. Later he was of Trinity Hall, being addressed by his brother Richard in his "Astrological Discourse," in 1583, as his "verie good and most loving Brother . . at his chambers in Trinitie Hall." He passed both degrees of B.A. and M.A. The following note to Wood's Fasti (i. 230-1) summarizes most of the preceding data — "Gabr. Harvey aulae Pembr. socius prius, electus Nov. 3. 1570; dein socius aulae Trin. electus, Dec. 18. 1578. Spe et opinione magister futurus sit magna de spe excidit" (Baker, MSS. coll., vol. vi.,104, Cole). The latter involved him in a protracted quarrel by the denial of a grace for it. His Letter-Book (as before) contains his correspondence on the weary and irksorne matter with Dr. John Young, Master of Pembroke, etc. (pp. 1-54). He was the winner ultimately, and henceforward his "victorie" dated his letters to intimate friends. These letters are of the oddest and quaintest ever perpetrated by sane man on another. Their vocabulary is simply a wonder; their insistence of self-assertion a still greater wonder; and their tumultuous vituperation of "enemies," most wonderful of all. Sooth to say, combined with the Letters to Spenser (as "Immerito" and "Benevolo") — the actual takes down our ideal of Cambridge in Elizabethan days. Such narrownesses, bitternesses, and vulgarities of enmity among scholarly and dignified men humiliate one to-day. It is a relief to find Spenser uninvolved in the paltry contention — by quiet withdrawal.

According to his own statements he became renowned beyond all precedent (before 1576) as a Lecturer on Rhetoric, with Cicero for guide. Our after-quotations from his Ciceronianus and Rhetor will illustrate this. Many of the books of his Library — preserved in public and private libraries — go to show what an omnivorous and careful reader he was of all that he came across. Professor Morley, in his paper yclept "Hobbinol" (as onward), gives some interesting quotations from notes on his Quintilian in British Museum. It is doubtful, notwithstanding the references in the Gratulations of Walden, whether he ever really travelled in service of the State for Leicester — as it is equally doubtful whether Spenser did. One incidental allusion by his brother Richard would seem to indicate intended but not executed journeying — e.g., in the epistle-dedicatory of his "Astrological Discourse" to John, Bishop of London, in counting upon his acceptance thereof, he thus writes:

"If not for mine owne sake or the worthines of the thing itselfe, yet for Cambridge sake, and that especiall affection which you have alwayes borne toward Universitie men, and namely your singular curtesie toward my brother Gabriel, when he should have travailed to Smalcaldie; which courtesie he doth often recognise...."

"Afterwards," continues Anthony a-Wood, "he became fellow in Trinity Hall, and so excellent and learned an orator and poet, that books of these, faculties were dedicated to him ... he was proctor of that University, and at elder years he applied his studies to astrology, wherein he became eminent, and wrote as 'tis said Almanacks much in esteem in the reign of Queen Elizabeth" (as before). His "Almanacks" have not survived, save in association with his absurd brothers in the sarcastic pages of Nashe. His addiction to astrology is a measure of his calibre — whatever of miscellaneous learning he may have acquired. He was disappointed in a candidature for Orator of the University. He studied Civil Law, and in 1585 was admitted at Oxford Doctor of Laws. He thereafter practised as an Advocate in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury.

There are two indubitable facts that check utter contempt toward Gabriel Harvey, and constrain us to conclude that, spite of his pedantry and conceit, shocking and dastardly malignity toward Robert Greene, and intellectual poverty, there must have been something above these in him: (a) That he was the "familiar " acquaintance of Sir Philip Sidney; (b) That for life he retained the friendship of Edmund Spenser. The latter's fine Sonnet from Dublin secures that his name can never perish. None the less do they remain simple matters-of-fact, that on the one hand he blackened the memory of "deade" Robert Greene, repelled the conciliatory advances of Thomas Nashe, and all through betrayed the most ludicrous self-conceit and over-estimate of himself.

As distinguished from his Latin productions, his English books in warfare with Greene and Nashe have a certain go in them, a certain vigour, a dexterous, apt-worded, wary fence, and (as already noted) an astounding vocabulary; but after all they are mere "Curiosities of Literature," and to be preserved and collected, as we have done, mainly as realistic pictures of the time, and for a background to the magnificent badinage and satire of our English Rabelais — Thomas Nashe, — and as completing the triumvirate — Greene, Nashe, and Harvey.

In strange and suggestive contrast with the "immature" death of his illustrious friend Edmund Spenser — Gabriel Harvey survived until February 7th, 1630 (buried at Saffron Walden February 11th), in at least his eighty-fifth year. Not a single certain syllable is heard of him after Spenser's death (in 1599), albeit there is a floating tradition that the folios of 1607 and 1611 were published under his supervision (to their damage). Thomas Baker (Socius Ejectus) states:

"I have seen an elegy on Dr. Harvey of Saffron Walden, composed by William Pearson, dated in 1630, whereby it appears he died in that year. By that it would seem he practised physic, and was a pretender to astrology" (Fasti i., 230-1).

The following is a (summary) list of Harvey's Latin books:

(a) Rhetor, sive 2. Dierum Oratio de Natura, Arte et Exercitatione Rhetorica. 1577.

(b) Ciceronianus vel Oratio post Reditum, habita Cantabrigiae ad suos auditores. 1577.

(c) Smithus vel Musarum Lachrymae, pro Obitu honoratiss. Viri.... Thomae Smith, Esq., aur. Majestatisque regiae Secretarii. 1578.

(d) [Greek characters] vel Gratulationum Valdensium. Libri quatuour. 1578.

Turning back upon these long somnolent books — mere pickings-out of (literally) scores of Manuscripts that their spider-like industrious author informs us of with premature garrulity in his Foure Letters — I have now to fulfil my engagement of furnishing representative quotations [omitted].

Having thus fulfilled our promise to give representative quotations from the Latin works of Harvey, it seems only fair to him to preserve here the substance of a rehabilitation of him by my good friend Professor Henry Morley. With characteristic chivalry, if also with chivalric rashness, he published in the Fortnightly Review a pugnacious "Apology," which he entitled cleverly "Hobbinol." It were to tire the most omnivorous Reader to reproduce it in extenso; but I have no reluctance in printing its substance of defence (and eke offence). For those who wish more or all, reference is easy to the paper itself (Vol. V., pp. 274-83). I intercalate a few words here and there explanatory or deprecatory. It thus opens:

"When, in 1579, their old comrade at Pembroke Hall, Edward Kirke, prefixed to Spenser's first venture in verse The Shepheardes' Calender [second, not first "venture" — the Sonnets in Jean Vander Noodt's Theatre of Worldlings (1565) long preceding], a letter to Gabriel Harvey, as its unnamed author's 'special friend and fellow-poet,' he only told in prose what is shown by the Calender itself, where Harvey is enshrined as Spenser's Hobbinol. The difference is great between this Hobbinol, as we may see him if we care to look for his true features, and the figure which stands for him in encyclopaedias, in text-books, and in that lively account of the paper-war between Harvey and Nashe which most of us have read with natural enjoyment in Isaac D'Israeli's Calamities of Authors. Hardly a definite fact has been stated, real or imaginary, which has not had a turn given to it unfavourable to the good name of this much misrepresented scholar. A vague concession that 'the friend of Spenser and Sidney could hardly have been contemptible,' is all that we have given us in The Calamities of Authors to qualify the finding of a portrait in the mere caricature produced by an unscrupulous wit, who had more genius but less worth than his antagonist, and who amused himself and the town with extravagant exaggeration of what he took to be the weaknesses of his opponent's character. Yet there is not one — actually not one — sharp point in the indictment against Gabriel Harvey which does not break at a touch when we look from the burlesque upon him to the man himself" (p. 274).

On the closing astonishing averment, to any one acquainted with the "facts," it is enough to answer — (1) that the alleged destructive "touch" is nowhere given or so much as attempted. D'Israeli is superfluously refuted, and other second-hand critics, but absolutely Thomas Nashe is never once dealt with, nor one of his charges or witty stories traversed in this paper. It lies on the surface, indeed, that at the date of this paper the writer was unacquainted with the books of Nashe and Greene at first-hand, and at second-hand most imperfectly. (2) That with Greene's, Nashe's, and Harvey's works before him, the reader will see that making allowance for dashes of caricature, Nashe had reality, not fancy, for his grotesquest representations; and now in the Letter-Book we have Herod out-Heroded in the "fantastique" of his gossip and vituperation, his superlative vanity and opinionativeness, and his foul tongue. As for Nashe's argus-eyes for every droll story that would tell, the assailant of Robert Greene set the base example. He had indeed ignominiously to apologise for his mendacious tittle-tattle in his "Earthquake" letters. Professor Morley continues,—

"He did not become a great man, or what he called 'a megalander'; we may, if we will, class him with what is fossil or extinct in literature — its megatherium or dodo. [Much too vast for so very very small a creature — some fortunately 'extinct' vermin, more apt.] But in his day he worked hard, aspired nobly, and left witness to his labour and his aspiration. [Where? Echo answers 'Where' is this 'witness' to 'noble aspiration'?] Perhaps we do not care, for his own sake, to read the evidence, but set him aside as one of the small matters, if any there be, in which it is not worth while to be just. [Conceded that it is 'right to be just'; but it must be all round, i.e. not to Harvey at the cost of Greene and Nashe, any more than to them at his cost.] Then let him have the advantage of being not merely Gabriel Harvey, although to him that was something, but also Spenser's Hobbinol, which is to us more. He was, during some important years of Spenser's life, the poet's 'long-approved and singular good friend' and counsellor. The counsel was outgrown, but not the friendship. To our credence as well as Harvey's, Spenser has left what he once called 'the eternal memory of our everlasting friendship, the inviolable memory of our unspotted friendship, the sacred memory of our vowed friendship'; and it is a little due perhaps to Spenser that we should ascertain how much credit is due to the commentators who would have us think that he wrote in this way to a conceited pedant seven years older than himself" (p. 275).

This stand-point of defence is skilfully selected, but a very little reflection shows its fundamental weakness. Far be it from me to seek to rob Harvey of the one green leaf that belongs to his memory! Nevertheless, it is inevitable that we here recall three things: (a) That the phrase "long-approved and singular good friend" was a letter-heading of the time as conventional as "your obedient servant" of to-day, — e.g. in the Desmond and other rebel correspondence much the same forms are found passing between men who detested each other. It was a phrase and nothing more, and might simply be adopted by Spenser "caeteris paribus;" (b) That the deepened words "the eternal memory," etc., etc., occur in a letter which bubbles over with raillery even to burlesque on Spenser's part — Nashe himself not exceeding him in his showing up of the Hexameter folly. Nor can any one who has studied the matter doubt that Nashe was right in his suspicion that Harvey made the most of his relations to Spenser, or that it could not be other than an offence to find his name introduced by head and shoulders (c) That Harvey's preposterous exhibitions as a conceited pedant came after, not preceded, Spenser's generous praises for the Nashe-Harvey "wordy war," wherein Harvey went to such lengths of vindictive abuse and self-praise followed long after, whilst there is good reason for thinking that Spenser interfered to withdraw the Sonnets, etc., originally published as Precursor of Pierce's Supererogation in honour of Harvey by Harvey himself. This last point — passing a needless vindication of an alleged claim of Harvey to be related to Sir Thomas Smith of Audley End (a distant cousinship at most) — brings us to Professor Morley's extraordinary dealing with his notorious "vanity;" as for ever demonstrated by — (a) His spreading out in all minutest detail his family and personal history, as though they were of national interest; (b) His publication of laudations by certain contemporaries, not merely at the close of Pierce's Supererogation but as a distinct publication (as shown in its place in Vol. II.) — and which laudations Nashe explicitly proved were largely repudiated by their writers, and affirmed to have been obtained under false pretences.

"It has been said" — he puts it — "in the pleasant book The Calamities of Authors, that Gabriel Harvey's vanity caused him to publish a collection of panegyrics upon himself. Where is it? Can it be that the title of the four books of the Gratulations of Walden, a collection of laudatory epigrams and poems upon Queen Elizabeth, Leicester, Burghley, and three other personages of the Court — the third of them, and dearest of all, Harvey's friend, Philip Sidney — can it be that this volume produced in honour of the Queen's visit to Walden and Audley End, has been mistaken for a set of panegyrics on its editor? Or is such a description given to the nine pages of verses in the Harvey and Nashe quarrel attached to the 229 pages of Pierce's Supererogation? This is the sort of attention and justice clever men get from posterity when they have once been well covered with abuse from which it is nobody's particular business to defend them, and when they have not achieved in their lives anything great enough to draw on them the general attention of their countrymen in after times" (p. 281).

Most innocent-looking is all this, especially the supposition that Isaac D'Israeli was capable of such a "mistake" about the Gratulations of Walden. The absolute and irrefutable answer is: (a) That the "nine pages" and more, were not appended merely to Pierce's Supererogation, but first of all (as already noted) published separately, and the unsold copies then appended to Pierce's Supererogation; (b) That whilst not the quantity but quality of such publication determines the "conceit" of their publisher, "nine pages" and more, of panegyrics, was in all conscience a prodigious thing; (c) That these "nine pages" and more, have packed within them such superlative of laudation as no self-respecting man ever could have made public; and not only so, but (d) That they were thus published without the consent of the writers — as subsequent books (ut supra) demonstrate; and (c) That as noted in the place (Vol. II., p. 2) the first set of "laudations" formed a separate publication before its being made an Appendix to Pierce's Supererogation, and that, still more egregious, this Appendix itself was supplemented with others of the same kind — as witness our reproduction! (Vol. II.) Let the reader turn to these two sets of "Verses" and related Epistles — for Epistles as well as Verses are given — and judge for himself. Finally, Professor Morley seeks to transfer to Richard Harvey the astrological heresies. He partially succeeds; but it is only partially, seeing that he is diplomatically silent on those "Almanacks" that Gabriel himself composed and published, and catered in them to the popular credulities on "the influence of the stars."

No Vindication of Gabriel Harvey is possible, by Professor Morley or anybody else, so long as these three things remain:

1. The Hexameter device. None but a "fantastic pedant" could have insisted on experiment so nonsensical, and none but a man blinded by "vanity" could so have boasted of being the Inventor of Hexameter. The paper on "Hobbinol" is deftly dumb on the whole absurdity. With its mal-influence on Sidney and the hazard of losing the Faery Queen by it, we cannot allow it to be thus dropped.

2. The malignant traducing of Robert Greene. Whilst again and again iterating that he warred not with the dead, Harvey has worked into his Foure Letters every idle piece of gossip and every venomous accusation that his pestiferous industry could ferret out. Professing never to have read Greene's books, he nevertheless piles up epithets of abuse upon them, and rancorous nicknames; and all in the worst style of cold-blooded sentence-spinning. My regard for Professor Morley will not allow me to characterize his verdict on those infamous Foure Letters; than which nothing viler, baser, more heartless, exists in our language; for Harvey makes not the slightest reference to Greene's pathetic and passionate penitence.

3. The rejection of Nashe's offer of reconciliation. Whoso reads the epistle to the first edition of the "Tears" must recognise sincerity and characteristic generosity of forgiveness on the part of one to whom it could not be very easy to bring himself so to stoop. Equally self-evident is the truthfulness of Nashe's record as to how he was misled into such an overture of peace. This being so, it is impossible to acquit Harvey of measureless vindictiveness as of scarcely describable treachery. Nor less declarative of a pedant's "vanity" is his failure to recognise what an ass he had written himself down, and how incomparable was the intellectual force and ability of his young antagonist.

Take him all-in-all, GABRIEL HARVEY must abide a monumental example of how little "much learning (granting that) does for CHARACTER; how possible it is to be a Scholar, and at the same time a Blockhead — mastered by, not mastering his acquisitions; how contemporary reputation often proves to be the toadyism of a clique; and how some men have the art or the un-art of putting their worst foot foremost. Gabriel Harvey one cannot admire, much less love. Associated with SIDNEY and SPENSER indissolubly, we think of Sidney and Spenser, not of him, save by-the-bye. His learning was heavy, but not solid (much as a pound of feathers is of the same weight as a pound of lead, yet incompact); his "rhetoric" magniloquent rather than eloquent; his verse fluent and smooth, but without inspiration; his temperament, vain, cantankerous, malignant; his long life a melancholy failure; his books a tomb, not a monument. I would not, however, leave the Friend of EDMUND SPENSER blamable and despised merely.

Therefore I add last of all. — It must never be forgotten that it was Gabriel Harvey who called "Colin Clout" from North-East Lancashire to London, and (practically) introduced him to Leicester and Sidney, and "affairs of State."