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Harvey, Gabriel (c. 1550–1631) - BIOGRAPHY, MAJOR WORKS AND THEMES, CRITICAL RECEPTION

harvey’s nashe published life

Gabriel Harvey’s life spanned eight decades and breaks into two parts: the well-documented and eventful public career through the 1590s and the private era from the late 1590s until his death, a period of his life about which we know little. So often was Gabriel Harvey represented—often to his detriment—in literature during the first half of his life that versions of his life and works have often been unduly prejudiced. Coming to Harvey through the pages of literary history, we absorb with pleasure the satirical opinions of his great antagonist, Thomas Nashe,* and frequently are required to see Harvey the caricature rather than Harvey the person. Harvey himself, of course, contributed to this denigration through his thin-skinned ambition, pedantry, self-possession, and over-seriousness. Indeed, “Unhappy Harvey,” as he once signed a letter to Burghley, bears much of the responsibility for this traditional caricature, for throughout his public life he possessed an uncanny ability to make others dislike him and to act on that dislike. Yet as G. M. Young argued as far back as 1930, the traditional definition of the man—“Harvey, G: pedant: tried to make Spenser* write the Faerie Queene in hexameters”—should more properly read: “Harvey, G: acute and independent critic; saved Spenser from wasting his time on classical metres.” Harvey was an indefatigable humanist whose energy and pride led the more pragmatic of his contemporaries to exaggerate his excesses. Only by resisting the appeal of such characterizations are we likely to gain a true picture of Harvey’s life and that humanism in England he best represented.

Harvey was born, in all likelihood, in July 1550, the first of four sons of John and Ales Harvey, of Saffron-Walden, Essex. Harvey had two sisters, Alice and Marie (“Marcie”). His father was a prosperous rope maker, an occupation frequently jeered by Harvey’s antagonists later in life. John Harvey the elder sent his four sons—Gabriel, Richard, John, and Thomas—to Walden’s grammar school, which had been founded in 1525 upon the Etonian model. Everything would suggest that Harvey excelled there; Nashe writes of Harvey’s precocious reading at this time and ascribes to the young Harvey both literary pretensions and an intellectual quarrelsomeness grounded in pride.

Harvey matriculated on 28 June 1566 at Christ’s College, Cambridge. This university would prove central to the rest of his public career, as Harvey continually embraced new topics of learning (including law and medicine) and struggled (often unsuccessfully) with what seems to have been an unending supply of enemies. Having received his baccalaureate from Christ’s in 1569/70, Harvey was elected in November 1570 to a fellowship at Pembroke College and was in 1573 appointed Greek lecturer. At Cambridge, Harvey became well known for his advocacy of the methods of the controversial Peter Ramus (Pierre de la Ramée) over and against Aristotle. During this time at Cambridge he became friends with Edmund Spenser and published letters with him in 1580. Frequently misread, these letters show Harvey ultimately relying on reason and common sense in his polite attempt to dissuade Spenser, Philip Sidney,* and Edward Dyer* from writing English poetry in classical verse forms. Although Harvey himself experimented with these forms, many of his verses seem to poke fun at the very principles that the mythology of literary history would see him as advocating, as in the folowing lines of “Encomium Lauri” from his letters to Spenser:

What might I call this Tree?  A Laurel?  O bonny Laurel!
Needs to thy bows will I bow this knee, and vail my bonnetto.

Harvey’s connection at this time with Spenser and the “areopagus” of Sidney, Dyer, and others of the Leicester faction offers a clue to his Protestant, even Puritan politics, and to one source of the recurrent quarrels into which he would fall. The first of many such quarrels was occasioned by a poem in the Three Proper… Letters (1580) satirizing an Italianate Englishman, which was brought to the earl of Oxford’s attention by John Lyly* as being a personal swipe—this in the year after Sidney had been insulted by Oxford in the 1579 tennis court encounter. Harvey would later trade barbs with not only Lyly but with Robert Greene* and Nashe, all of whom—along with Oxford—represented a political, social, and religious outlook opposite to that of Harvey and the left-leaning Protestants of the Leicester circle. Where Harvey’s humanist faith in education led him to believe in self-empowerment based on reason and diligence, the Anglo-Catholic tendencies of writers like Lyly, Greene, Nashe even  Shakespeare* ensured that they saw Harvey as an overweening social climber; where Harvey championed the kingdom of knowledge and sought to be its sovereign, these writers realized the threat such a posture could pose to a state based on tradition and subordination.


This polarization of religious/cultural outlooks formed the ultimate source of Harvey’s extended quarrel with Nashe, a quarrel for which Harvey is best remembered and that came to take on primarily personal overtones. When the Marprelate controversy broke out in the last years of the 1580s, Lyly intimated in his Pap with a Hatchet (1589) that Harvey might have been responsible for the scurrilous antiepiscopal remarks published under the pseudonym Martin Marprelate. Harvey responded in “Advertisement for Pap-hatchet and Martin Mar-prelate,” written soon after Lyly’s pamphlet but not published until 1593, when it was included in Pierces Supererogation (1593). Harvey’s younger brother Richard entered the controversy in 1590, and when he criticized Nashe’s “Preface” to Greene’s Menaphon (1589), both Greene and Nashe retaliated with ad hominem attacks on Gabriel, Richard, and John Harvey. The nadir of this quarrel came with Nashe’s Have with You to Saffron-Walden, or Gabriel Harvey’s Hunt is Up (1596), a savage and witty mock biography of Harvey.


By 1599 the vogue of ad hominem writing that the Harvey–Nashe quarrel represents led the archbishop of Canterbury to issue a ban on certain satires and bawdy works; this ban also stipulated that “all Nashe’s books and Doctor Harvey’s books be taken wheresoever they may be found, and that none of their books be ever printed hereafter.” With this act of state censorship and with the bonfire that consumed some extant copies of their writings, both Nashe and Harvey began to exit the public arena. Nashe would be dead within two years, and Harvey—who had last published in 1593—appears by this time to have retired to Saffron-Walden. Having lived away from the public view for over thirty years, he died on 7 February 1631.


MAJOR WORKS AND THEMES


Harvey’s works are best thought of as including his unpublished marginalia— a voluminous amount of remarks on, responses to, summaries of, and other engagements with, what he read. Harvey often marked his books with an elaborate and idiosyncratic system of symbols (e.g., planetary and diagrammatic), cross-references, colored chalk marks, and captions. He also invented eight Latin and Greek personae through which he could both interpret texts and fashion his responses to them and the world: thus,“Angelus Furius” is angelic in action and speech, “Eutrapelus” (from the Greek for “turning well”) persuasive and ingenious with language, and “Euscopus” (“of good vision”) the sharp-sighted, rational man who sees the future as well as the past. These personae in another writer, characters for a romance or play—suggest the deep divisions within Harvey’s character and the tensions he felt in relating to the world. Harvey read much more than he wrote and wrote much more than he published, boasting in 1598 that he could, if he wished, “publish more than any Englishman hath hitherto done.” Nearly all Harvey’s publications involve specific individuals and sometimes seem overfamiliar and even self-aggrandizing in their address of persons of worth. This humanism-of-personalities is present to his earliest published work,Ode Natalitia (1575), two Latin eclogues devoted to Ramus (who had died in the St. Bartholomew’s massacre in 1572) and his influence as well as toCiceronianus (1577), a celebratory exposition of Cicero’s rhetorical philosophy. Following the death of Sir Thomas Smith, Harvey published a collection of Latin elegies eulogizing his friend and benefactor; published as Smithus; vel musarum lachrymae (Smith, or The Tears of the Muses) in 1578, this work features each of the Muses delivering a Latin verse lament. Spenser would replicate this pattern in his 1591 The Teares of the Muses . In 1578 Harvey publishedGratulationes Valdinenses (Good Wishes from Walden), a compilation of elegiac verses in Latin that he had presented to Elizabeth* on one of her progresses through Essex earlier that year. Each of the four books included in this text is dedicated to persons of worth: Elizabeth, Leicester, Burghley, Oxford, Sidney, and Hatton. Likewise, Harvey’s Three Proper wittie familiar Letters (1580), with its mix of literary criticism, poetry, and familiar remarks, brings his friendship with Spenser, recently known for the Shepheardes Calendar (1579), to the fore. In 1587 Harvey’s Latin poems mourning the death of Sidney appeared anonymously in Cantabrigiensis Lachrymae . Harvey’s quarrels with Greene and Nashe underlie his last three publications, Four Letters (1592), Pierces Supererogation (1593), and A New Letter of Notable Contents (1593). Perhaps the single exception to Harvey’s thoroughly “embodied” writing is his two early lectures published under the title of Rhetor in 1577. Among the lost works is a manuscript entitled Anticosmopolita , a long and perhaps unfinished epic poem written “in celebration of her majesty’s most prosperous, & in truth glorious government.”


CRITICAL RECEPTION


Harvey’s earliest critics were his own contemporaries—students, friends, and antagonists who often represented his larger-than-life personality in their writings. Harvey appears, for instance, as Hobbinol in Spenser’s The Shepheardes Calendar (1579), as Pedantius in the Cambridge comedy of that name (1581), and as Vanderhulke, the windy orator in Nashe’s The Unfortunate Traveler (1593); he is perhaps a source for Rombus in Sidney’s Lady of May (1578), surely contributes to Holofernes in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost (1595), and is represented in some speeches of Luxurioso in the Cambridge comedy The Return from Parnassus, Part One (1600). Since Harvey’s time the caricature, rather than the person, has come to dominate his critical reception: he is seen as the overblown antagonist of Nashe, the clear loser in an entertaining battle of wits. Recently, however, a renewed interest in the reading practices of early modern subjects has found in Harvey’s marginalia copious, if eccentric, material for study.

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