Gabriel Harvey

Gabriel Harvey (c. 1545 – 1630) was an English writer. Harvey was a notable scholar, though his reputation suffered from his quarrel with Thomas Nashe. Henry Morley, writing in the "Fortnightly Review" (March 1869), brought evidence from Harvey's Latin writings showing that he was distinguished by quite other qualities than the pedantry and conceit usually associated with his name.

Early life

The eldest son of a ropemaker from Saffron Walden, Essex, he matriculated at Christ's College, Cambridge, in 1566, and in 1570 was elected fellow of Pembroke Hall. Here he formed a lasting friendship with Edmund Spenser, who may [C.H. Cooper. "Athena cantabrigienses" ii. 258] have been his pupil.

Promotion of hexameter verse

He wanted to be "epitaphed as the Inventour of the English Hexameter," and was the prime mover in the literary clique known as the Areopagus that wanted to impose the Latin rules of quantity on English verse. In a letter to M. Immerito (Edmund Spenser) he says that Edward Dyer and Philip Sidney were helping forward "our new famous enterprise for the exchanging of Barbarous and Balductum Rymes with Artificial Verses." The document includes a tepid appreciation of Spenser's "Faerie Queene" which had been sent to him for his opinion, and he gives examples of English hexameters illustrative of the principles enunciated in the correspondence. The opening lines--"What might I call this Tree? A Laurell? O bonny Laurell Needes to thy bowes will I bow this knee, and vayle my bonetto"--afford a fair sample of the success of Harvey's metrical experiments, which were an easy mark for the wit of Thomas Nashe. "He (Harvey) 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," says Nashe in "Strange Newes", and he mimics him in the mocking couplet:

"But ah ! what news do you hear of that good Gabriel Huff-Snuff, Known to the world for a fool, and clapped in the Fleet for a rhymer?"
Harvey influenced Spenser greatly for a short time, and the friendship lasted. Harvey is the "Hobbinoll" of his friend's "The Shepheardes Calender", and into his mouth is put the beautiful song in the fourth eclogue in praise of Eliza. If he was really the author of the verses "To the Learned Shepheard," signed "Hobynoll" and prefixed to the "Faerie Queene", he was a good poet spoiled. Harvey's genuine friendship for Spenser shows the best side of his character, which appeared uncompromising and quarrelsome to the world in general. In 1573 the bad feeling against him in his college was so strong that there was a delay of three months before the fellows would agree to grant him the necessary grace for his M.A. degree.


He became reader in rhetoric in about 1576, and in 1578, on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth's visit to Sir Thomas Smith at Audley End House, he was appointed to dispute publicly before her. In the next year he wrote to Spenser complaining of the unauthorized publication of satirical verses of his which were supposed to reflect on high personages, and threatened seriously to injure his career. In 1583 he became junior proctor of the university, and in 1585 was elected master of Trinity Hall, of which he had been a fellow from 1578, but the appointment appears to have been quashed at court. He was a protégé of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, to whom he introduced Spenser, and this connection may account for his friendship with Sidney. But in spite of patronage, a second application for the mastership of Trinity Hall failed in 1598.

In 1585 he received the degree of D.C.L. from the University of Oxford, and is found practising at the bar in London. Gabriel's brother, Richard Harvey, had taken part in the Martin Marprelate controversy, and had given offence to Robert Greene by contemptuous references to him and his fellow wits. Greene retorted in his "Quip for an Upstart Courtier" with some scathing remarks on the Harveys, the worst of which were expunged in later editions, drawing attention among other things to Harvey's modest parentage. In 1599 Archbishop Whitgift made a raid on contemporary satire in general, and among other books the tracts of Harvey and Nashe were destroyed, and it was forbidden to reprint them. Harvey spent the last years of his life in retirement at his native place, dying in 1630.

"The Letter-Book of Gabriel Harvey, AD, 1573-80" (1884, ed. EJL Scott, Camden Society), contains rough drafts of the correspondence between Spenser and Harvey, letters relative to the disputes at Pembroke Hall, and an extraordinary correspondence dealing with the pursuit of his sister Mercy by a young nobleman. A copy of Quintilian (1542), in the British Museum, is extensively annotated by Harvey.

Feud with Nashe

After Greene's death Harvey published "Foure Letters and certaine Sonnets" (1592), in which in a spirit of righteous superiority he spitefully revealed the miserable details of Greene's later years. Nashe, who in power of invective and merciless wit was far superior to Harvey, avenged Greene's memory, and at the same time settled his personal account with the Harveys, in "Strange Newes" (1593). Harvey refuted the personal charges made by Nashe in "Pierce's supererogation, or a New Prayse of the Old Asse" (1593). In a religious work, "Christs Teares over Jerusalem" (1593) Nashe made a full apology to Harvey, who however resumed the controversy in a "New Letter of Notable Contents" (1593). It is evident in fact that Harvey had not seen Nashe's apology in print when he wrote the "New Letter of Notable Contents", but that he knew something along those lines was rumoured. Essentially his posture is one of deep distrust. He will not take reports of Nashe's change of heart at face value until he has the proof in his hand, in black and white: "Till a public injury be publicly confessed, and print confuted in print, I am one of St. Thomas' disciples, not over prest to believe..." This certainly sounds as if, at the time of writing "New Letter", Harvey had simply not seen a copy of "Christs Teares". The publication of "New Letter" however within a short time of Nashe's printed offer of truce allowed the latter once again to claim the high moral ground. Striking the pose of an injured innocent he dramatically withdrew his apology in a new edition (1595) of "Christes Teares". Harvey, he claimed, had hinted at wanting a reconciliation so that Nashe would make a public apology, and as soon as he did so he was made to look a fool for his pains: "Impious Gabriel Harvey, the vowed enemy to all vows and protestations, plucking on with a private slavish submission a general public reconciliation, hath with a cunning ambuscado of confiscated idle oaths, welnear betrayed me to infamy eternal (his own proper chair of torment in hell). I can say no more but the devil and he be no men of their words."

Although he threatened sweeping revenge it was nearly two years before Nashe replied to "New Letter", when hearing that Harvey had boasted of victory he produced the most biting satire of the series in "Have with you to Saffron Walden" (1596). Harvey never responded. Later a college barber and part-time humorist, Richard Lichfield of Cambridge, attacked Nashe in "The Trimming of Thomas Nashe Gentleman" (1597). He signed his work "by the high-titled patron Don Richardo de Medico campo ", a play on his name (i.e. "leech-field"). This work was formerly attributed to Harvey.

His complete works were edited by Alexander Balloch Grosart with a Memorial Introduction for the Huth Library (1884-1885). See also Isaac Disraeli, on "Literary Ridicule," in "Calamities of Authors" (ed. 1840); T Warton's "History of English Poetry" (ed. WC Hazlitt, 1871); JP Collier's "Bibliographical and Critical Account of the Rarest Books in the English Language" (1865), and the "Works of Thomas Nashe".

Latin works

*"Ciceronianus" (1577)
*"G Hezrveii rhetor, sive 2 dierum oratio de natura, arte et exercitatione rhetorica" (1577)
*"Smithus, vel Musarum lachrymae" (1578), in honour of Sir Thomas Smith
*"G. Harveil gratulationum Valdensium libri quatuour" (sic), written on the occasion of the queen's visit to Audley End (1578)


*1911|article=Gabriel Harvey|url=

Further reading

*Virginia F. Stern, "Gabriel Harvey: His Life, Marginalia, and Library". Oxford: Clarendon, 1979.
*Kendrick Prewitt, "Gabriel Harvey," "The Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 281: British Rhetoricians and Logicians, 1500-1660, Second Series", Detroit: Gale, 2003, pp. 118-129.
*Robert M. Chandler, "Gabriel Harvey's Rhetor: A Translation and Critical Edition," dissertation, University of Missouri, 1978
*Clarence A. Forbes, "Gabriel Harvey's Ciceronianus", Lincoln: University of Nebrask Press, 1945.

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