1812 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Gabriel Harvey

Isaac D'Israeli, in Calamities of Authors (1812; 1881) 117-30.



GABRIEL HARVEY was an author of considerable rank, but with two learned brothers, as Wood tells us, "had the ill luck to fall into the hands of that noted and restless buffoon, Tom Nash."

Harvey is not unknown to the lover of poetry, from his connexion with Spenser, who loved and revered him. He is the Hobynol whose poem is prefixed to the Faery Queen, who introduced Spenser to Sir Philip Sidney: and, besides his intimacy with the literary characters of his times, he was a Doctor of Laws, an erudite scholar, and distinguished as a poet. Such a man could hardly be contemptible, and yet when some little peculiarities become aggravated, and his works are touched by the caustic of the most adroit banterer of that age of wit, no character has descended to us with such grotesque deformity, exhibited in so ludicrous an attitude.

Harvey was a pedant, but pedantry was part of the erudition of an age when our national literature was passing from its infancy; he introduced hexameter verses into our language and pompously laid claim to an invention which, designed for the reformation of English verse, was practiced till it was found sufficiently ridiculous. His style was infected with his pedantic taste; and the hard outline of his satirical humour betrays the scholastic cynic, not the airy and fluent wit. He had, perhaps, the foibles of a man who was clearing himself from obscurity; he prided himself on his family alliances, while he fastidiously looked askance on the trade of his father — a rope-manufacturer.

He was somewhat rich in his apparel, according to the rank in society he held; and, hungering after the notice of his friends, they fed him on soft sonnet and relishing dedication, till Harvey ventured to publish a collection of panegyrics on himself — and thus gravely stepped into a niche erected to Vanity. At length he and his two brothers — one a divine and the other a physician — became students of astronomy; then an astronomer usually ended in an almanac-maker, and above all, in an astrologer — an avocation which tempted a man to become a prophet. Their "sharp and learned judgment on earthquakes" drove the people out of their senses (says Wood); but when nothing happened of their predictions, the brothers received a severe castigation from those great enemies of prophets, the wits. The buffoon, Tarleton, celebrated for his extempore humour, jested on them at the theatre; Elderton, a drunken ballad-maker, "consumed his ale-crammed nose to nothing in bear-bating them with bundles of ballads." "One on the earthquake commenced with "Quake! quake! quake!" They made the people laugh at their false terrors, or, as Nash humorously describes their fanciful panic, "when they sweated and were not a haire the worse." Thus were the three learned brothers beset by all the town-wits; Gabriel had the hardihood, with all undue gravity, to charge pell-mell among the whole knighthood of drollery; a circumstance probably alluded to by Spenser, in a sonnet addressed to Harvey—

Harvey, the happy above happier men,
I read; that sitting like a looker-on
Of this worlde's stage, dost note with critique pen
The sharp dislikes of each condition;
And, as one carelesse of suspition,
Ne fawnest for the favour of the great;
Ne fearest foolish reprehension
Of faulty men, with daunger to thee threat,
But freely doest of what thee list, entreat,
Like a great lord of peerlesse liberty.—

The "foolish reprehension of faulty men, threatening Harvey with danger," describes that gregarious herd of town-wits in the age of Elizabeth — Kit Marlow, Robert Greene, Dekker, Nash, &c. — men of no moral principle, of high passions, and the most pregnant Lucianic wits who ever flourished at one period. Unfortunately for the learned Harvey, his "critique pen," which is strange in so polished a mind and so curious a student, indulged a sharpness of invective which would have been peculiar to himself; had his adversary, Nash, not quite outdone him. Their pamphlets foamed against each other, till Nash, in his vehement invective, involved the whole generation of the Harveys, made one brother more ridiculous than the other, and even attainted the fair name of Gabriel's respectable sister. Gabriel, indeed, after the death of Robert Greene, the crony of Nash, sitting like a vampyre on his grave, sucked blood from his corpse, in a memorable narrative of the debaucheries and miseries of this town-wit. I throw into the note the most awful satirical address I ever read. It became necessary to dry up the floodgates of these rival ink-horns, by an order of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The order is a remarkable fragment of our literary history, and is thus expressed: — "That all Nashe's bookes and Dr. Harvey's bookes be taken wheresoever they may be found, and that none of the said bookes be ever printed hereafter."

This extraordinary circumstance accounts for the excessive rarity of Harvey's Foure Letters, 1592, and that literary scourge of Nash's, Have with you to Saffron-Walden (Harvey's residence), or Gabriel Harvey's Hunt is up, 1596, pamphlets now as costly as if they consisted of leaves of gold.

Nash, who, in his other works, writes in a style as flowing as Addison's, with hardly an obsolete vestige, has rather injured this literary invective by the evident burlesque he affects of Harvey's pedantic idiom, and for this Mr. Malone has hastily censured him, without recollecting the aim of this modern Lucian. The delicacy of irony, the sous-entendu, that subtlety of indicating what is not told; all that poignant satire, which is the keener for its polish, were not practised by our first vehement satirists; but a bantering masculine humour, a style stamped in the heat of fancy, with all the life-touches of strong individuality, characterise these licentious wits. They wrote then as the old fablers told their tales, naming everything by its name; our refinement cannot approve, but it cannot diminish their real nature, and among our elaborate graces, their naivete must be still wanting.

In this literary satire NASH has interwoven a kind of ludicrous biography of Harvey; and seems to have anticipated the character of Martinus Scriblerus. I leave the grosser parts of this invective untouched, for my business is not with slander, but with ridicule.

Nash opens as a skilful lampooner; he knew well that ridicule, without the appearance of truth, was letting fly an arrow upwards, touching no one. Nash accounts for his protracted silence by adroitly declaring that he had taken these two or three years to get perfect intelligence of Harvey's "Life and conversation, one true point whereof well sat downe will more excruciate him than knocking him about the ears with his own style in a hundred sheets of paper."

And with great humour says—

"As long as it is since he writ against me, so long have I given him a lease of his life, and he hath only held it by my mercy; and now let him thank his friends for this heavy load of disgrace I lay upon him, since I do it but to show my sufficiency; and they urging what a triumph he had over me, hath made me ransack my standish more than I would."

In the history of such a literary here as Gabriel, the birth has ever been attended by portents. Gabriel's mother "dreamt a dream," that she was delivered "of an immense elder gun that can shoot nothing but pellets of chewed paper, and thought, instead of a boy she was brought to bed of one of those kistrell birds called a wind-sucker." At the moment of his birth came into the world "a calf with a double tongue, and eares longer than any ass's, with his feet turned backwards." Facetious analogies of Gabriel's literary genius!

He then paints to the life the grotesque portrait of Harvey; so that the man himself stands alive before us. "He was of an adust swarth choleric dye, like restic bacon, or a dried scate fish; his skin riddled and crumpled like a piece of burnt parchment, with channels and creases in his face, and wrinkles and frets of old age." Nash dexterously attributes this premature old age to his own talents; exulting humorously—

"I have brought him low and shrewdly broken him; look on his head, and you shall find a gray haire for everie line I have writ against him; and you shall have all his beard white too by the time he hath read over this booke "

To give a finishing to the portrait, and to reach the climax of personal contempt, he paints the sordid misery in which he lived at Safron-Walden:—

"Enduring more hardness than a camell, who will line four dayes without water and feedes on nothing but thistles and wormwood, as he feeds on his estate on trotters, sheep porknells, and buttered rootes, in a hexameter meditation."

In his Venetian velvet and pantofles of pride we are told—

"He looks indeed, like a ease of tooth-pickes, or a lute-pin stuck in a suit of apparell. An Usher of a dancing-schoole he is such a basia de umbra de umbra de los pedes; a kisser of the shadow of your feetes shadow he is!"

This is, doubtless, a portrait resembling the original, with its Cervantic touches; Nash would not have risked what the eyes of his readers would instantly have proved to be fictitious; and in fact though the Grangerites know of no portrait of Gabriel Harvey they will find a woodcut of him by the side of this description, it is indeed, in a most pitiable attitude, expressing that gripe of criticism which seized on Gabriel "upon the news of the going in hand of my booke."

The ponderosity and prolixity of Gabriel's "period of a mile," are described with a facetious extravagance, which may be given as a specimen of the eloquence of ridicule. Harvey entitled his various pamphlets "Letters."

"More letters yet from the doctor? Out upon it, here's a packet of epistling, as bigge as a packe of woollen cloth, or a stack of salt fish. Carrier, didst thou bring it by wayne or by horsebacke? By wayne, sir, and it hath crakt me three axle-trees. — Heavie newes! Take them again! I will never open them. — My cart (quoth he, deep-sighing,) hath cryde creake under them fortie times everie furlong; wherefore if you be a good man rather make mud-walls with them, mend highways, or damme up quagmires with them.

"When I came to unrip and unbumbast this Gargantuan bag pudding, and found nothing in it but dogs tripes, swines livers, oxe galls, and sheepes guts, I was in a bitterer chafe than anie cooke at a long sermon, when his meat burnes.

"O 'tis an unconscionable vast gor-bellied volume, bigger bulkt than a Dutch hoy, and more cumbersome than a payre of Switzer's galeaze breeches."

And in the same ludicrous style he writes—

"One epistle thereof to John Wolfe (Harvey's printer) I took and weighed in an ironmonger's scale, and it counter poyseth a cade of herrings with three Holland cheeses. It was rumoured about the Court that the guard meant to trie masteries with it before the Queene, and instead of throwing the sledge, or the hammer, to hurle it foorth at the armes end for a wager.

"Sixe and thirtie sheets it comprehendeth which with him is but sixe and thirtie full points (periods); for he makes no more difference 'twixt a sheet of paper and a full pointe, than there is 'twixt two black puddings for a pennie and a pennie for a pair of black puddings. Yet these are but the shortest proverbes of his wit, for he never bids a man good Morrow, but be makes a speech as long as a proclamation nor drinkes to anie, but he reads a lecture of three howers long, de Arte bibendi. O 'tis a precious apothegmatical pedant."

It was the foible of Harvey to wish to conceal the humble avocation of his father: this forms a perpetual source of the bitterness or the pleasantry of Nash who, indeed, calls his pamphlet "a full answer to the eldest son of the halter maker," which, he says "is death to Gabriel to remember; wherefore from time to time he doth nothing but turmoile his thoughts how to invent new pedigrees, and what great nobleman's bastard he was likely to be, not whose sonne he is reputed to be. Yet he would not have a shoo to put on his foote if his father had not traffiqued with the hangman. — Harvey nor his brothers cannot bear to he called the sonnes of a rope-maker, which, by his private confession to some of my friends, was the only thing that most set him affire against me. Turne over his two bookes he hath published against me, wherein he hath clapt paper God's plentie, if that could press a man to death, and see if, in the waye of answer, or otherwise, he once mentioned the word rope-maker, or come within forty foot of it; except in one place of his first booke, where he nameth it not neither, but goes thus cleanly to worke: — 'and may not a good sonne have a reprobate for his father?' a periphrase of a rope-maker, which, if I should shryve myself, I never heard before." According to Nash, Gabriel took his oath before a justice that his father was an honest man, and kept his sons at the Universities a long time. "I confirmed it, and added, Ay! which is more, three proud sonnes, that when they met the hangman, their father's best customer, would not put off their hats to him—"

Such repeated raillery on this foible of Harvey touched him more to the quick, and more raised the public laugh, than any other point of attack; for it was merited. Another foible was, perhaps, the finical richness of Harvey's dress, adopting the Italian fashions on his return from Italy, "when he made ne bones of taking the wall of Sir Philip Sidney, in his black Venetian velvet." On this the fertile invention of Nash raises a scandalous anecdote concerning Gabriel's wardrobe; a tale of his hobby-horse revelling and domineering at Audley-end, when the Queen was there, to which place Gabriel came ruffling it out, hufty tufty, in his suit of velvet — which he had "untrussed, and pelted the outside from the lining of an old velvet saddle he had borrowed!" "The rotten mould of that worm-eaten relique, he means, when he dies, to hang over his tomb for a monument." Harvey was proud of his refined skill in "Tuscan authors," and too fond of their worse conceits. Nash alludes to his travels in Italy, "to fetch him twopenny worth of Tuscanism, quite renouncing his natural English accents and gestures, wrested himself wholly to the Italian punctilios, painting himself like a courtezan, till the Queen declared, 'he looked something like an Italian!' At which he roused his plumes, pricked his ears, and run away with the bridle between his teeth." These were malicious tales, to make his adversary contemptible, whenever the merry wits at court were willing to sharpen themselves on him.

One of the most difficult points of attack was to break through that bastion of sonnets and panegyrics with which Harvey had fortified himself by the aid of his friends, against the assaults of Nash. Harvey had been commended by the learned and the ingenious. Our Lucian, with his usual adroitness, since he could not deny Harvey's intimacy with Spenser and Sidney, gets rid of their suffrages by this malicious sarcasm: "It is a miserable thing for a man to be said to have had friends, and now to have neer a one left!" As for the others, whom Harvey calls "his gentle and liberall friends," Nash boldly caricatures the grotesque crew, as "tender itchie brained infants, that cared not what they did, so they might come in print; worthless whippets, and jack-straws, who meeter it in his commendation, whom he would compare with the highest." The works of these young writers he describes by an image exquisitely ludicrous and satirical:—

"These mushrumpes, who pester the world with their pamphlets, are like those barbarous people in the hot countries, who, when they have bread to make, doe ne more than clap the dowe upon a post on the outside of their houses, and there leave it to the sun to bake; so their indigested conceipts, far rawer than anie dowe, at all adventures upon the post they clap, pluck them off who will, and think they have made as good a batch of poetrie as may be."

Of Harvey's list of friends he observes:—

"To a bead-roll of learned men and lords, he appeals, whether he be an asse or no?"

Harvey had said, "Thomas Nash, from the top of his wit looking down upon simple creatures, calleth Gabriel Harvey a dunce, a foole, an ideot, a dolt, a goose cap, an asse, and so forth; for some of the residue is not to be spoken but with his owne mannerly mouth; but he should have shewed particularlie which wordes in my letters were the wordes of a dunce; which sentences the sentences of a foole, which arguments the arguments of an ideot; which opinions the opinions of a dolt; which judgments the judgments of a goose-cap; which conclusions the conclusions of an asse."

Thus Harvey reasons, till he becomes unreasonable; one would have imagined that the literary satires of our English Lucian had been voluminous enough, without the mathematical demonstration. The barterers seem to have put poor Harvey nearly out of his wits, he and his friends felt their blows too profoundly; they were much too thin-skinned, and the solemn air of Harvey in his graver moments at their menaces is extremely ludicrous. They frequently called him Gabrielissime Gabriel, which quintessence of himself seems to have mightily affected him. They threatened to confute his letters till eternity — which seems to have put him in despair. The following passage, descriptive of Gabriel's distresses, may excite a smile.

"This grand confuter of my letters says, 'Gabriel, if there be any wit or industrie in thee, now I will dare it to the uttermost; write of what thou wilt, in what language thou wilt, and I will confute it, and answere it. Take Truth's part, and I will proouve truth to be no truth, marching out of thy dung-voiding mouth.' He will never leave me as long as he is able to lift a pen, ad infinitum; if I reply, he has a rejoinder; and for my brief triplication, he is provided with a quadruplication, and so he mangles my sentences, hacks my arguments, wrenches my words, chops and changes my phrases, even to the disjoyning and dislocation of my whole meaning."

Poor Harvey! he knew not that there was nothing real in ridicule, no end to its merry malice!

Harvey's taste for hexameter verses, which he so unnaturally forced into our language, is admirably ridiculed. Harvey had shown his taste for these metres by a variety of poems, to whose subjects Nash thus sarcastically alludes:—

"It had grown with him into such a dictionary custom, that no may-pole in the street, ne wethercocke on anie church-steeple, no arbour, no lawrell, ne yewe-tree, he would overskip, without hayling in this manner. After supper, it he chancst to play at cards with a queen of harts in his hands, he would run upon men's and women's hearts all the night."

And he happily introduces here one of the miserable hexameter conceits of Harvey—

Stout hart and sweet hart, yet stoutest hart to be stooped.

Harvey's Encomium Lauri thus ridiculously commences,

What might I call this tree? A lawrell? O bonny lawrell,

Needes to thy bowes will I bow this knee, and vayle my bonetto;

which Nash most happily burlesques by describing Harvey under a yew-tree at Trinity-hall, composing verses on the weathercock of Allhallows in Cambridge:—

O thou wether-cocke that stands on the top of Allhallows,

Come thy wales down, if thou darst, for thy crowne, and take the wall on us.

"The hexameter verse (says Nash) I graunt to be a gentleman of an auncient house (so is many an English beggar), yet this clyme of our's hee cannot thrive in; our speech is too craggy for him to set his plough in; hee goes twitching and hopping in our language, like a man running upon quagmires, up the hill in one syllable and down the dale in another, retaining no part of that stately smooth gate which he vaunts himself with amongst the Greeks and Latins."

The most humorous part in this Scribleriad, is a ludicrous narrative of Harvey's expedition to the metropolis, for the sole purpose of writing his Pierce's Supererogation, pitted against Nash's Pierce's Pennilesse. The facetious Nash describes the torpor and pertinacity of his genius, by telling us he had kept Harvey at work—

"For seaven and thirtie weekes space while he lay at his printer's, Wolfe, never stirring out of doors, or being churched all that while — and that in the deadest season that might bee, hee lying in the ragingest furie of the last plague where there dyde above 1600 a weeke in London, ink-squittring and saracenically printing against mee. Three quarters of a year thus immured hee remained, with his spirits yearning empassionment, and agonised fury, thirst of revenge, neglecting soul and bodies health to compasse it — sweating and dealing upon it most intensively."

The narrative proceeds with the many perils which Harvey's printer encountered, by expense of diet, and printing for this bright genius and his friends, whose works "would rust and iron-spot paper to have their names breathed over it," and that Wolfe designed "to get a privilege betimes, forbidding of all others to sell waste-paper but himselfe." The climax of the narrative, after many misfortunes, ends with Harvey being arrested by the printer, and confined to Newgate, where his sword is taken from him, to his perpetual disgrace. So much did Gabriel endure for having written a book against Tom Nash!

But Harvey might deny some of these ludicrous facts. — Will he deny? cries Nash — and here he has woven every tale the most watchful malice could collect, varnished for their full effect. Then he adds

"You see I have brought the doctor out of request at court and it shall cost me a fall, but I will get him howted out of the Universitie too, ere I give him over." He tells us Harvey was brought on the stage at Trinity-college, in "the exquisite comedie of Pedantius," where, under "the finical fine school-master, the just manner of his phrase, they stufft his mouth with; and the whole buffianisme throughout his bookes, they bolstered out his part with — even to the carrying of his gowne, his nice gate in his pantofles, or the affected accent of his speech — Let him deny that there was a shewe made at Clare-hall of him and his brothers, called Tarrarantantara turba tumultuosa Trigonum Tri-Harveyorum Tri-harmonia, and another shewe of the little minnow his brother, at Peter-house called Duns furens, Dick Harvey in a frensie." The sequel is thus told: — "Whereupon Dick came and broke the college glass windows, and Dr. Perne caused him to be set in the stockes till the shewe was ended."

This "Duns furens, Dick Harvey in a frensie;" was not only the brother of one who ranked high in society and literature, but himself a learned professor. Nash brings him down to "Pigmey Dick, that lookes like a pound of goldsmith's candles, who had like to commit folly last year with a milkmaid, as a friend of his very soberly informed me. Little and little-wittied Dick, that hath vowed to live and die in defence of Brutus and his Trojans." An Herculean feat of this "Duns furens," Nash tells us, was his setting Aristotle with his heels upwards on the school gates at Cambridge, and putting asses ears on his head, which Tom here records in perpetuam rei memoriam. But Wood, our grave and keen literary antiquary, observes—

"To let pass other matters these vain men (the wits) report of Richard Harvey, his works show him quite another person than what they make him to be."

Nash then forms a ludicrous contrast between "witless Gabriel and ruflling Richard." The astronomer Richard was continually baiting the great bear in the firmament, and in his lectures set up atheistical questions, which Nash maliciously adds, "as I am afraid the earth would swallow me if I should but rehearse." And at his close, Nash bitterly regrets he has no more room; "else I should make Gabriel a fugitive out of England, being the ravenousest sloven that ever lapt porridge in noblemen's houses, where he has had already, out of two, his mittimus of Ye may be gone! for he was a sower of seditious paradoxes amongst kitchen-boys." Nash seems to have considered himself as terrible as an Archilochus, whose satires were so fatal as to induce the satirised, after having read them, to hang themselves.

How ill poor Harvey passed through these wit-duels, and how profoundly the wounds inflicted on him and his brothers were felt, appears by his own confessions. In his Foure Letters, after some curious observations on invectives and satires, from those of Archilochus, Lucian, and Aretine, to Skelton and Scoggin, and "the whole venomous and viperous brood of old and new raylers," he proceeds to blame even his beloved friend the gentle Spenser, for the severity of his Mother Hubbard's Tale, a satire on the court. "I must needes say, Mother Hubbard in heat of choller, forgetting the pure sanguine of her Sweete Feary Queene, artfully overshott her malcontent-selfe; as elsewhere I have specified at large, with the good leave of unspotted friendship. — Sallust and Clodius learned of Tully to frame artificiall declamations and patheticall invectives against Tully himselfe, if Mother Hubbard, in the vaine of Chawcer, happen to tel one canicular tale, father Elderton and his son Greene, in the vaine of Skelton or Scoggin, will counterfeit an hundred dogged fables, libels, slaunders, lies, for the whetstone. But many will sooner lose their lives than the least jot of reputation. What mortal feudes, what cruel bloodshed, have been committed for the point of honour and some few courtly ceremonies."

The incidents so plentifully narrated in this Lucianic biography, the very nature of this species of satire throws into doubt, yet they still seem shadowed out from some truths; but the truths who can unravel from the fictions? And thus a narrative is consigned to posterity which involves illustrious characters in an inextricable network of calumny and genius.

Writers of this class alienate themselves from human kind they break the golden bond which holds them to society, and they live among us like a polished banditti. In these copious extracts, I have not noticed the more criminal insinuations against the Harveys; I have left the grosser slanders untouched. My object has been only to trace the effects of ridicule, and to detect its artifices by which the most dignified characters may be deeply injured at the pleasure of a Ridiculer. The wild mirth of ridicule, aggravating and taunting real imperfections, and fastening imaginary ones on the victim in idle sport or ill-humour, strikes at the most brittle thing in the world, a man's good reputation, for delicate matters which are not under the protection of the law, but in which so much of personal happiness is concerned.