Born: c. 1545
Birthplace: Saffron Walden, Essex, England
Location of death: Saffron Walden, Essex, England
Cause of death: unspecified
Race or Ethnicity: White
Executive summary: Literary opponent of Robert Greene
English writer, eldest son of a ropemaker of Saffron-Walden, Essex, was born about 1545. He matriculated at Christs College, Cambridge, in 1566, and in 1570 was elected fellow of Pembroke Hall. Here he formed a lasting friendship with Edmund Spenser, and it has been suggested that he may have been the poet's tutor. Harvey was a scholar of considerable weight, who has perhaps been judged too exclusively from the brilliant invectives directed against him by Thomas Nashe. Henry Morley, writing in the Fortnightly Review (March 1869), brought evidence from Harvey's Latin writings which shows that he was distinguished by quite other qualities than the pedantry and conceit usually associated with his name. He desired to be "epitaphed as the Inventour of the English Hexameter", and was the prime mover in the literary clique that desired to impose on English verse the Latin rules of quantity. In a "gallant, familiar letter" to M. Immerito (Edmund Spenser) he says that Sir Edward Dyer and Sir 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 the 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? 0 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 presented a fair 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 eh! what news do you hear of that good Gabriel Huffe-Snuffe, / Known to the world for a foole, and clapt in the Fleete for a Runner?" Harvey exercised great influence over Spenser for a short time. and the friendship lasted even though Spenser's genius refused to be bound by the laws of the new prosody. Harvey is the Hobbinoll of his friend's Shepheards 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. But Harvey's genuine friendship for Spenser shows the best side of a disposition uncompromising and quarrelsome towards the world in general. In 1573 ill-will 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 about 1576, and in 1578, On the occasion of Queen Elizabeth I's visit to Sir Thomas Smith at Audley End, 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 Harvey's career. In 1583 he became junior proctor of the university, and in 1585 he 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 the Earl of Leicester, to whom he introduced Spenser, and this connection may account for his friendship with Sir Philip 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 practicing at the bar in London. Gabriel's brother, Richard, had taken part in the Marprelate controversy, and had given offense 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.
His extant Latin works are: Ciceronianus (1577); G. Harveii rhetor, sive 2 dierum oratio de natura, arte et exercitatione rhetorica (1577); Smithus, vel Musarum lachrymae (1578), in honor of Sir Thomas Smith; and G. Harveii gratulationum Valdensium libri quatuour (sic), written on the occasion of the queen's visit to Audley End (1578). The Letter-Book of Gabriel Harvey, AD, 1573-80 (1884), 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 Gabriel Harvey. After Greene's death Harvey published Foure Letters and certaine Sonnets (1592), in which in a spirit of righteous superiority he laid bare with spiteful fullness the miserable details of Greene's later years. Thomas Nashe, who in power of invective and merciless wit was far superior to Harvey, took upon himself to avenge Greene's memory, and at the same time settle 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 Christes Teares over Jerusalem (1593) Nashe made a full apology to Harvey, who refused to be appeased, and resumed what had become a very scurrilous controversy in a New Letter of Notable Contents (1593). Nashe thereupon withdrew his apology in a new edition (1594) of Christes Teares, and 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 retorted in The Trimming of Thomas Nashe Gentleman, by the high-tituled patron Don Richardo de Medico campo... (1597).
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