Nonfiction > G. Gregory Smith, ed. > Elizabethan Critical Essays
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G. Gregory Smith, ed.  Elizabethan Critical Essays.  1904.
 
Gabriel Harvey (c. 1545–1630)
From Foure Letters
1592
 
[The following extracts are taken from Gabriel Harvey’s Third and Fourth Letters in Fovre Letters | and certaine Sonnets: | Especially touching Robert Greene, and | other parties, by him abused: || But incidently of diuers excellent persons, | and some matters of note. || To all courteous mindes, that will vouchsafe the reading. || London | Imprinted by Iohn Wolfe, | 1592. (British Museum, C. 40. d. 14.)
  This long-drawn invective against Greene was caused by a slighting reference to Harvey’s father in A Quip for an Upstart Courtier: or A Quaint Dispute between Velvet-Breeches and Cloth-breeches. Harvey deals with this ‘Monarch of Crossbiters and very Emperor of Shifters’ in the second, third, and fourth letters, which are chiefly remarkable for their virulent abuse. In the Second Letter, addressed to Christopher Bird of Walden, in which, among other vindictive statements, he mentions Greene’s death-bed charge to Doll, he enters a plea for moderation. ‘Oratours have challenged a speciall Liberty, and Poets claimed an absolute Licence; but no Liberty without boundes, nor any Licence without limitation. Inuectiues by fauour haue bene too bolde, and Satyres by vsurpation too presumptuous: I ouerpasse Archilochus, Aristophanes, Lucian, Iulian, Aretine, and that whole venemous and viperous brood of old & new Raylers; euen Tully and Horace otherwhiles ouerreched; and I must needes say Mother Hubbard in heat of choller, forgetting the pure sanguine of her sweete Feary Queene, wilfully ouer-shott her malcontented selfe, as elsewhere I haue specified at larg, with the good leaue of vnspotted friendshipp. Examples in some ages doe exceeding much hurt. Salust and Clodius learned of Tully to frame artificiall Declamations and patheticall Inuectiues against Tully himselfe, and other worthy members of that most florishing State: if mother Hubbard, in the vaine of Chawcer, happen to tel one Canicular tale, father Elderton and his sonne Greene, in the vaine of Skelton, or Scoggin, will counterfeit an hundred dogged Fables, Libles, Calumnies, Slaunders, Lies for the whetstone, what not, & most currishly snarle & bite where they should most kindly fawne and licke. Euery priuate excesse is daungerous; but such publike enormities incredibly pernitious and insuportable: and who can tell what huge outrages might amount of such quarrellous and tumultuous causes?’]

From the Third Letter.

IT were pittie but wonderous wits (giue enemies their due) shoulde become more woonderous by comparison; conference maketh excellent things appeare more admirable: & I am so far from being a Saturnist by nature, or a Stoick by discipline, that I can easily frame a certaine pleasurable delight vnto my selfe, by ministring some matter vnto them that now are faine to make something of nothing, and wittily to plaie with their own shadowes. It goeth somewhat hard in my harsh Legend, when the father of Musicke must be mocked—not Tubulcain, as he mistearmeth him, but Tuball, whom Genesis voutsafeth honourable mention—and the Hexameter verse flouted: whereof neither Homer in Greeke, nor Virgill in Latine (how valorous Autors!), nor Alexander in conquest, nor Augustus in maiesty (how puissant Princes!) were ashamed, but accompted it the onely gallant trompet of braue and Heroicall Actes. And I wis the English is nothing too good to imitat the Greeke, or Latine, or other eloquent Languages that honour the Hexameter as the soueraigne of verses and the high Controwler of Rimes. If I neuer deserue anye better remembraunce, let mee rather be epitaphed, The Inuentour of the English Hexameter—whome learned M. Stanihurst imitated in his Virgill, and excellent Sir Phillip Sidney disdained not to follow in his Arcadia & elsewhere—then be chronicled, The greene maister of the Blacke Arte, or the founder of vgly oathes, or the father of misbegotten Infortunatus, or the Scriuener of Crosbiters, or, as one of his owne sectaries termed him, the Patriarch of shifters. Happy man I, if these two be my hainousest crimes and deadliest sinnes: To bee the Inuentour of the English Hexameter, and to bee orderlie clapt in the Fleete for the foresaide Letters; where he that sawe me sawe me at Constantinople….
  1
 
  I will not condemne or censure his [Greene’s] works, which I neuer did so much as superficially ouer-runne, but as some fewe of them occursiuly presented themselues in Stationers shops and some other houses of my acquaintaunce. But I pray God they haue not done more harme by corruption of manners then good by quickening of witte: and I would some Buyers had either more Reason to discerne, or lesse Appetite to desire such Nouels. The world is full inough of fooleries, though the humor be not feasted with such luxurious and riotous Pamphlets. Howe vnlike Tullies sweete Offices; or Isocrates pithy instructions; or Plutarches holesome Morrals; or the delicate Dialogues of Xenophon and Plato; or the sage Tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides; or the fine Comedies of the dainetiest Atticke wittes; or other excellent monumentes of antiquity, neuer sufficientlie perused! Yet the one as stale as oldest fashions; and what more freshly current for awhile then the other? Euen Guicciardines siluer Historie and Ariostos golden Cantoes grow out of request, & the Countesse of Pembrookes Arcadia is not greene inough for queasie stomackes; but they must haue Greenes Arcadia, and, I beleeue, most eagerlie longed for Greenes Faerie Queene….  2
 
  Great and small things may in some proportion be compared together: and beholde as miserable a spectacle in their kinde. Flourishing Mr. Greene is most wofully faded: and whilest I am bemoaning his ouer-pittious decay, & discoursing the vsuall successe of such ranke wittes, Loe, all on the suddaine, his sworne brother, M. Pierce Pennie-lesse (still more paltery; but what remedy? we are already ouer shoes and must now goe through), Loe his inwardest companion, that tasted of the fatall herringe, cruelly pinched with want, vexed with discredite, tormented with other mens felicitie, and ouerwhelmed with his owne misery, in a raving and franticke moode most desperately exhibiteth his supplication to the Diuell. A strange title, an od wit, and a mad hooreson I warrant him: doubtles it wil proue some dainty deuise, queintly contriued by way of humble Supplication To the high and mighty Prince of Darkenesse; not Dunsically botched-vp, but right-formally conueied, according to the stile and tenour of Tarletons president, his famous play of the seauen Deadly sinnes. Which most dea[d]ly, but most liuely, playe I might haue seene in London, and was verie gently inuited thereunto at Oxford by Tarleton himselfe. Of whome I merrily demaunding which of the seauen was his owne deadlie sinne, he bluntly aunswered after this manner, ‘By God, the sinne of other Gentlemen, Lechery.’ ‘Oh but that, M. Tarleton, is not your part vpon the stage; you are too blame that dissemble with the world & haue one part for your frends pleasure, an other for your owne.’ ‘I am somewhat of Doctor Pernes religion,’ quoth he; and abruptlie tooke his leaue. Surely it must needes bee current in matter, and autentical in forme, that had first such a learned president, and is now pleasantlie interlaced with diuers new-founde phrases of the Tauerne, and patheticallie intermixt with sundry dolefull pageants of his own ruinous & beggerlie experience. For the poore Tennement of his Purse (quoth himselfe, grammercy, good Tarleton) hath bene the Diuels Dauncing schoole, anie time this halfe yeare; and I pray God (quoth another) the poore Tennement of his Heart hath not also beene the Diuels Fencing Schoole twise as long. Particulars and Circumstances are tedious, especially in sorrowfull and forlorne causes. The summe of summes is, he tost his imagination a thousand waies, and, I beleeue, searched euery corner of his Grammer-schoole witte (for his margine is as deepelie learned as Fauste precor gelida) to see if he coulde finde anie meanes to relieue his estate; but all his thoughtes and marginal notes consorted to his conclusion that the worlde was vncharitable, and he ordained to be miserable. It were cruelty to ad affliction to affliction: what flinty Heart would not sigh, or rather melt, to heare the bewailefull moane of that sobbing and groning Muse, the daughter of most pregnant, but most wretched, Niobe?
Why ist damnation to despaire, and die,
When Life is my true happines disease?
And a little after:
Diuines and dying men may talke of Hell:
But in my Heart her seueral tormentes dwell.
And so foorth, most hideouslie, for the Text is much more dolefull then the Glosse. And who woulde not be moued with more pittifull compunction to heare the lamentable Farewell,
England, adieu! the soile that brought me foorth:
Adieu vnkinde! where Skill is nothing worth:
then to read that profound Quotation,
Hei mihi, quam paucos haec mea dicta mouent?
Which was thought Patheticall out of crie.
Forgiue him God, although he curse his Birth,
Since Miserie hath dawnted all his Mirth.
  3
  … Good sweete Oratour, be a deuine Poet indeede; and vse heauenly Eloquence indeede; and employ thy golden talent with amounting vsance indeede; and with heroicall Cantoes honour right Vertue, & braue valour indeede; as noble Sir Philip Sidney and gentle Maister Spencer haue done, with immortall Fame; and I will bestow more complements of rare amplifications vpon thee then euer any bestowed vppon them, or this Tounge euer affoorded, or any Aretinish mountaine of huge exaggerations can bring foorth. Right artificiality (whereat I once aimed to the vttermost power of my slender capacity) is not mad-brained, or ridiculous, or absurd, or blasphemous, or monstrous, but deepe conceited, but pleasurable, but delicate, but exquisite, but gratious, but admirable; not according to the fantasticall mould of Aretine or Rabelays, but according to the fine modell of Orpheus, Homer, Pindarus, & the excellentest wittes of Greece, and of the Lande that floweth with milke and hony. For what Festiuall Hymnes so diuinely dainty as the sweete Psalmes of King Dauid, royally translated by Buchanan? or what sage Gnomes so profoundly pithy as the wise Prouerbes of King Salomon, notably also translated. But how few Buchanans? Such liuely springes of streaming Eloquence & such right-Olympicall hilles of amountinge witte I cordially recommend to the deere Louers of the Muses; and namely to the professed Sonnes of the same, Edmond Spencer, Richard Stanihurst, Abraham France, Thomas Watson, Samuell Daniell, Thomas Nash, and the rest; whome I affectionately thancke for their studious endeuours, commendably employed in enriching & polishing their natiue Tongue, neuer so furnished or embellished as of late. For I dare not name the Honorabler Sonnes & Nobler Daughters of the sweetest & diuinest Muses that euer sang in English or other language, for feare of suspition of that which I abhorre; and their owne most delectable and delicious Exercises (the fine handy worke of excellent Nature and excellenter Arte combined) speake incomparably more then I am able briefly to insinuate. Gentle mindes and flourishing wittes were infinitely to blame, if they should not also for curious imitation propose vnto themselues such faire Types of refined and engraced Eloquence. The right Noouice of pregnante and aspiring conceit wil not ouerskippe any precious gemme of Inuention or any beautifull floure of Elocution that may richly adorne or gallantly bedecke the trimme garland of his budding stile. I speake generally to euery springing wit, but more specially to a few, and at this instante singularly to one, whom I salute with a hundred blessings, and entreate with as many prayers, to loue them that loue all good wittes, and hate none but the Diuell, and his incarnate Impes, notoriously professed. I protest it was not thy person that I any way disliked, but thy rash and desperate proceeding against thy well-willers; which in some had bene vnsufferable; in an youth was more excusable; in a reformed youth is pardonable, and rather matter of concordance then of aggrieuance.  4
 
From the Fourth Letter.

Pregnant Rules auail much, but visible Examples amount incredibly: Experience, the onely life of perfection, & onely perfection of life. Whatsoeuer occasion causeth me to be mistaken, as ouer-much addicted to Theory, without respect of action (for that is one of the especiallest points, which I am importuned to resolue), I neuer made account of any study, meditation, conference, or Exercise that importeth not effectual vse, & that aymeth not altogether at action, as the singuler marke, whereat euery Arte & euery vertue is to leuell. I loue Method, but honour Practise: must I shew the difference? Either Arte is obscure, or the quickest capacity dull and needeth Methode, as it were the bright Moone, to illuminate the darkesome night: but Practise is the bright Sun that shineth in the day, & the soueraigne Planet that gouerneth the world: as elsewhere I haue copiously declared. To excell, ther is no way but one: to marry studious Arte to diligent Exercise: but where they must be vnmarried, or diuorced, geue me rather Exercise without Arte then Arte without Exercise. Perfect vse worketh masteries, and disgraceth vnexperienced Arte. Examples are infinite, and dayly display themselues. A world without a Sunne; a Boddy without a Soule; Nature without Arte; Arte without Exercise—sory creatures. Singular practise the only singuler and admirable woorkeman of the world.
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  Must I dispatch the rest that is exacted? It is no fit place; and the least little wil seme too much. As in other thinges, so in Artes; formality doth well, but materiality worketh the feat. Were Artists as skillfull as Artes are powerfull, wonders might be atchieued by Arte emprooued; but they that vnderstand little write much; and they that know much write little. The vayne Peacocke with his gay coullours, and the prattling Parrat with his ignorant discourses (I am not to offend any but the Peacocke and the Parrat) haue garishly disguised the worthiest Artes, and deepely discredited the profoundest Artistes, to the pitifull defacement of the one and the shamefull preiudice of the other. Rodolph Agricola, Philip Melancthon, Ludouike Viues, Peter Ramus, and diuers excellent schollers haue earnestly complaned of Artes corrupted, and notably reformed many absurdities: but still corruption ingendreth one vermine or other, and still that pretious Trainement is miserably abused which should be the fountaine of skill, the roote of vertue, the seminary of gouernment, the foundation of all priuate and publike good.  6
  The Methodist & Discourser might be more materiall; the Theorist and Practitioner more formall: all fower more effectuall: or how cometh it to passe that much more is professed but much lesse perfourmed then in former ages? especially in the Mathematikes, and in naturall Magic, which being cunningly and extensiuely imployed (after the manner of Archimedes, Archytas, Apollonius, Regiomontanus, Bacon, Cardan, and such like industrious Philosophers, the Secretaries of Art and Nature) might wonderfully bestead the Commonwealth with many puissant engins and other commodious devises for warre and peace. In actuall Experimentes and Polymechany, nothing too profound: a superficiall slightnesse may seeme fine for sheetes, but proueth good for nothinge: as in other businesse, so in learninge, as good neuer a whit, according to the Prouerbe, as neuer the better: one perfect Mechanician worth ten vnperfect Philosophers: an ignorant man lesse shameth himselfe, lesse beguileth his frend, lesse disableth the Common-wealth, then a putatiue Artiste: a whole naturall wit more seruiceable, and more sufficient, then a Demi-scholler, who presuming on that which he hath not abateth the force of that which he hath. He must not dreame of perfection that emproueth not the perfectest Art with most perfect industrie. A snatch and away, with Neoptolemus and the common sort of studentes, may please a little, but profiteth nothing. It is the Body, not the shadow, that dispatcheth the businesse. The flower delighteth to-day, and fadeth to-morrow: the fruite edifieth and endureth: the visard, the painted sheath, and such terrible braueries, can best report their owne entertainment: the peacock and the parrat haue good leaue to prancke vppe themselues, and leysure inough to reuiue and repolish their expired workes. ‘What can last allwayes?’ quoth the neat Tayler, when his fine seames began to cracke their credite at the first drawing-on. I appeale to Poules Church-yard, whether lines be like vnto seames: and whether the Deft writer be as sure a workman as the neat Tayler. There may be a fault in the Reader, aswell as in the weauer: but euery manne contente himselfe to beare the burthen of his owne faultes; and, good sweete Autors, infourme your selues before you vndertake to instruct other …  7
  God helpe, when Ignorance and want of Experience, vsurping the chayre of scrupulous and rigorous Iudgement, will in a fantasticall Imagination, or percase in a melancholy moode, presume farther, by infinite degrees, then the learnedest men in a ciuill Common-wealth, or the sagest counsellours in a Princes Court. Our new-new writers, the Loadstones of the Presse, are wonderfully beholdinge to the Asse; in a manner the only Autor, which they alledge. The world was euer full inough of fools, but neuer so full of Asses in print; the very Elephant, a great Asse; the Camell, a huge Asse; the Beare, a monstrous Asse; the Horse, an absurd Asse; the Fox himselfe, a little Asse, or, for variety, an Ape: who not an Asse or an Ape in good plaine English, that chanceth to come in the wise Asse-makers & mighty Ape-dubbers way? They are fine men, & haue many sweete phrases: it is my simplicity that I am so slenderly acquainted with that dainty stile, the only new fashion of current Eloquence in Esse, far surpassing the stale vein of Demosthenes or Tully, Iewel or Harding, Whitgift or Cartwright, Sidney or Spencer. But I could wish Ignorance would fauour it selfe: & it were not amisse that want of Experience should be content to be a little modest or somewhat quiet: & both enforce les occasion to be termed, as they will needes notoriously proclaime themselues, as it were, with a publike ‘Oh-is,’ or a generall Nouerint vniuersi per praesentes. For if any thing indeede be a right Asse in print, it is the one; and if any thing indeede be a right Calfe in print, it is the other: Ignorance, the famousest Asse; and want of Experience, the notablest Calfe in the world.  8
 
 
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