1812 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Gabriel Harvey

Alexander Chalmers, in General Biographical Dictionary (1812-17) 17:209-10.



GABRIEL HARVEY, a caustic wit of the Elizabethan period, and the butt of the wits of his time, was born about 1545. His father, although a rope-maker by trade, was of a good family, and nearly related to sir Thomas Smith, the celebrated statesman. He was educated at Christ's college, Cambridge, and for some time at Pembroke hall, and took both his degrees in arts. He afterwards obtained a fellowship in Trinity-hall, and served the office of proctor in the university. Having studied civil law, he obtained his grace for a degree in that faculty, and in 1585 was admitted doctor of laws at Oxford, which he completed in the following year, and practiced as an advocate in the prerogative court of Canterbury at London. As a poet and a scholar, he had great merit. His beautiful poem, signed Hobbinol, prefixed to the Faerie Queene, bespeaks an elegant and well-turned mind; and among his works are several productions of great ingenuity and profound research. But he had too much propensity to vulgar abuse; and having once involved himself with his envious and railing contemporaries Nash and Greene, came their equal in this species of literary warfare. He afforded them, however, sufficient advantage, by having turned almanack-maker and a prophetic dealer in earthquakes and prodigies, things which most not be altogether referred to the credulity of the times, since they were as aptly ridiculed then by his opponents, as they would be now, did any man of real knowledge and abilities become so absurd as to propagate the belief in them. His highest honour was in having Spenser for his intimate friend; nor was he less esteemed by sir Philip Sidney, as appears by the interesting account Mr. Todd has given of Harvey's correspondence in his excellent Life of Spenser. For an equally curious account of Harvey's literary quarrels with Nash, &c. the reader may be referred with confidence to one of the most entertaining chapters in Mr. D'Israeli's Calamities of Authors. He is supposed to have died in 1630, aged about eighty-five. Among his works which provoked, or were written in answer to, the attacks of his contemporaries, we may enumerate, 1. Three proper and wittie letters touching the Earthquake, and our English reformed versifying, Lond. 1580, 4to. 2. Two other very commendable Letters touching artificial versifying, ibid. 1580, 4to. Harvey boasted his being the inventor of English hexameters, which very justly exposed him to ridicule. 3. Foure Letters, and certain Sonnets, touching Robert Greene and others, ibid. 1592. His unmanly treatment of Greene has been noticed with proper indignation by sir E. Brydges in his reprint of Greene's Groatsworth of Wit, and by Mr. Haselwood in his life of that poet in the Censura Literaria. 5. Pierce's Supererogation, or a new prayse of the old Asse, with an advertisement for Pap. Hatchet and Martin Marprelate, ibid. 1593, &c. This war of scurrility was at length terminated by an order of the archbishop of Canterbury, "that all Nashe's books and Dr. Harvey's bookes be taken wheresoever they be found, and that none of the said bookes he ever printed hereafter." Among his more creditable performances, Tanner has enumerated, 1. Rhetor, sive duorum dierum oratio de nature, arte et exercitatione rhetorica, Lond. 1577, 4to. 2. Ciceronianus, vel oratio post reditum habita Cantabrigiae ad suos auditores, ibid. 1577, 4to. 3. Gratulatio Valdenensiurn, lib. IV. ad Elizabetham reginam, ibid. 1578. 4. Smithus vel musarum lachrymae pro obitu honoratiss. viri Thomae Smith, ibid.