Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Harvey, Gabriel
HARVEY, GABRIEL (1550?–1631), poet, was born at Saffron Walden, the eldest son of six children. His father, John Harvey, was a master ropemaker by trade, and various circumstances indicate that he was a prosperous man. He was able to send three sons to Cambridge [see Harvey, John (d. 1592), and Richard], and Gabriel himself speaks of him as one that ‘bore the chiefest office in Walden with good credite’ (Works, ed. Grosart, i. 160), and also as one ‘whose honesty no neighbour can empeach’ (ib. 250).
Gabriel, born about 1550, entered Christ's College; he matriculated 28 June 1566 (B.A. in 1569–70), and 3 Nov. 1570 was elected a fellow of Pembroke Hall. At Pembroke he formed the acquaintance of Spenser, the poet, who was admitted as a sizar the year before Harvey obtained his fellowship, and their acquaintance ripened into an intimacy which was terminated only by Spenser's death. Harvey, by virtue of his seniority, superior position, and real scholarship, exercised over his friend's youthful genius an influence from which the latter with difficulty shook himself free. Strongly attached to classical models, the pedantic college-fellow associated himself with a literary movement which aimed at imposing on the native poetic literature a servile imitation of the Latin. Harvey himself seems to have claimed to be the father of the English hexameter, and Spenser for a time was induced altogether to abandon rhyme. The latter tried hard to admire his friend's verse, and has immortalised him in his ‘Shepheards Calendar’ under the name of Hobbinol.
For college life, involving as it did frequent and close intercourse with men of diverse views and temper, Harvey was by nature ill adapted. He was a man of arrogant and censorious spirit, far too conscious of his own considerable abilities, while but little disposed to recognise the merits and claims of others. Thomas Neville, afterwards the eminent master of Trinity College, who held a fellowship at Pembroke at the same time as Harvey, declared of him that he ‘could hardly find it in his heart to commend of any man.’ With the majority of the fellows he would appear to have been continually at war, and the ill-feeling ran so high that when the time came for him to proceed M.A. they agreed to refuse him the necessary ‘grace’ from the college. It was not until after a delay of three months that he eventually in 1573 obtained his degree, and although he was shortly after appointed college tutor his relations with the society seem to have become permanently embittered.
For a short time Harvey read rhetoric in the public schools of the university (Letter Book, p. 164), and he was at one time a candidate for the readership in that branch of study. It was probably with the view of further recommending himself for the appointment that he composed his ‘Rhetor’ and ‘Ciceronianus,’ both published in 1577. He also besought Sir Thomas Smith (d. 12 Aug. 1577), to whom he appears to have been related (Works, i. 184), to use his exertions in his behalf. He seeks the office, he affirms, not in order that he may teach rhetoric, but that he may study it himself (Letter Book, p. 179). On the other hand we learn from his preface to the ‘Rhetor’ that his addresses, delivered in earlier years, were attended by overflowing audiences. In August 1578, when his fellowship at Pembroke was on the point of lapsing, the Earl of Leicester addressed an ‘earnest request’ to the master and fellows that his friend might be allowed to continue in it one year longer. The earl's intervention appears not to have been successful, and Harvey was compelled to look about elsewhere. He would seem at this time to have been hesitating as to his choice of a profession, and he first of all sought election to a fellowship at Christ's, with a view to the ministry. Disappointed in this quarter he turned to Trinity Hall. Here he claimed relationship with the master, Henry Harvey [q. v.], who probably advocated his claims, and Harvey, having declared his readiness to embrace the profession of a civilian, was elected a fellow of that society (18 Dec. 1578). Although now pledged to the study of the law, he found time for the occasional exercise of his poetical talent, and in 1579 we find him accusing his friend Spenser of publishing some of his attempts at English verse (which he designates his ‘Verlayes’) quite contrary to his own wishes. His enemy, Thomas Nashe [q. v.], declares that Harvey sent them to press himself: ‘I durst on my credit,’ he says, ‘undertake Spenser was no way privie to the committing of them to print.’ However this may have been, it is certain that their publication involved Harvey in serious trouble. Both Sir James Croft and the Earl of Oxford were much displeased at satirical allusions, which seemed to glance at persons high in office at court, and, worst of all, Harvey was supposed by the latter to have aimed at him in his ludicrous description of the ‘Italianated Englishman’ embodied in the ‘Mirror of Tuscanismo’ (Works, ed. Grosart, i. 84). Harvey volunteered an explanation, which was apparently accepted (ib. p. 183), and his friends, Mr. Secretary Wilson and Sir Walter Mildmay, succeeded in averting any serious consequences. It was not until some time afterwards that his enemy, Nashe, asserted that Harvey had actually been sent to the Fleet for writing the verses. Harvey admits that he was mildly remonstrated with by his friend, Dr. Perne; but this, he asserts, was ‘all the Fleeting I ever got.’ That his satire was in any way aimed at the Earl of Oxford he indignantly denies, averring that he had always been conscious of his ‘many bounden duties’ to one who had been his patron ever since ‘in the prime of his gallantest youth he bestowed angels upon me in Christes Colledge in Cambridge.’
His attainments and great ability seem by this time to have been generally recognised. In 1578, on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth's visit to the Duke of Norfolk at Audley End, he composed his ‘Gratulationes Waldenses’ in her honour, and presented them to her majesty in person. At the Cambridge commencement of 1579 he was appointed one of the disputants in philosophy. Subsequently, early in 1581, he was a candidate for the office of public orator, but was defeated by Wingfield of Trinity (March 1580–1). Of the event he says: ‘Mine owne modest petition, my friendes diligent labour, our high chauncellors [i.e. Burghley's] most honourable and extraordinary commendation, were all peltingly defeated by a slye practise of the olde Foxe’ (Foure Letters, ed. Grosart, p. 179).
From May to October 1583 (not in 1582 as Brydges says) he filled the office of junior proctor, having been appointed in order to supply the vacancy created by the retirement of Leonard Chambers, who took his B.D. degree in May. There is no grace for the appointment, as Trinity Hall was allowed a first claim on the occurrence of such vacancies, in compensation for its inferior position in relation to the proctorial cycle. On the death of his relative, the master of Trinity Hall, in 1585, Harvey was elected to succeed him, and it was as master of the society that on 2 July 1585 he sought to be incorporated D.C.L. of Oxford, and was licensed to that degree on the 13th of the same month (Oxf. Univ. Reg., Oxf. Hist. Soc., ii. i. 349). According to his own account, his election to the mastership was set aside by royal mandate, although Preston, who was appointed in his place, ‘could,’ he affirms, ‘no way have requested or purchased one voice’ (Works, ed. Grosart, iii. xxvi). In 1598, on Preston's death, he was again a candidate (although no longer a fellow), and in a letter to Sir Robert Cecil entreated his mediation in order that the royal influence might now be exerted in his behalf, but his application was not successful.
An overweening estimate of his own attainments and abilities, conjoined with disappointed ambition, seems to have rendered Harvey singularly sensitive and quarrelsome; and to his contemporaries he was best known by the scurrilous paper warfare in which he became involved with the writers Nashe and Greene. Greene had been exasperated by contemptuous references made to himself and his friends in the writings of Gabriel's brother Richard [see Harvey, Richard], and he retaliated in his ‘Quippe for an upstart Courtier,’ by calling attention to the Harveys' humble parentage, and by offensive references to their father's trade as a ropemaker. The most galling of these allusions is lost to us, for it was expunged in all the extant editions of Greene's pasquinade (see Greene's Works, ed. Grosart, xi. 206). Harvey was incensed beyond measure, and in his ‘Foure Letters’ (1592) assailed Greene, whose character was sufficiently open to attack, with unsparing acrimony and vituperation. Harvey appended some English verses, including Spenser's noble sonnet addressed to himself. Even after Greene's early and pitiable end in September 1592, he did not desist from endeavouring to blacken his memory, and then it was that Nashe entered the lists against Harvey in defence of his late friend, displaying a power of sarcasm and invective, in the presence of which the haughty scholar found himself completely overmatched. In his ‘Strange News’ (1593) he addresses Harvey as ‘a filthy vain foole;’ proclaims ‘open warres’ upon both him and his brother Richard; ridicules his claim to be the first inventor of the English hexameter; and declares that he saw his name ‘cut with a knife in a wall of the Fleet’ when he went to visit a friend there. Harvey replied in his ‘Pierce's Supererogation,’ taking Nashe's criticisms on the ‘Foure Letters’ seriatim, and vindicating himself from the latter's charges. Nashe, who at this stage appears to have been becoming heartily ashamed and weary of the controversy, now sought to bring it to an end by making a formal and graceful apology in an epistle prefixed to his ‘Christes Teares over Jerusalem’ (1593), and frankly admitting Harvey's ‘aboundant schollarship, courteous well gouerned behauiour, and ripe experienst judgement.’ Even this, however, failed to appease his antagonist, and Harvey returned to the attack in his ‘New Letter of Notable Contents.’ To this Nashe rejoined in a new epistle prefixed to a new edition of ‘Christes Teares,’ in which he withdrew his former apology, and retorted on Harvey in the severest terms. In 1596, hearing that Harvey was boasting of having silenced him, he published his famous satire, ‘Have with you to Saffron Walden,’ which he dedicated by way of farce to ‘Richard Lichfield, barber of Trinity College, Cambridge;’ and to this Harvey once more rejoined in his ‘Trimming of Thomas Nashe’ (1597). The scandal had, however, now reached a climax, and in 1599 it was ordered by authority ‘that all Nashes bookes and Dr. Harvey's bookes be taken wheresoever they may be found, and that none of the same bookes be ever printed hereafter’ (Cooper, Athenæ Cant. ii. 306).
During the latter years of his life Harvey appears to have lived in retirement in his native town. The parish register gives the date of his death as 11 Feb. 1630–1. Baker says: ‘I have seen an elegy on him, composed by W. Pearson, dated Ao 1630 [–1] … By that it should seem he practised physic, and was a pretender to astrology, and so was his brother, R. H.’ (see Baker MS. in Cambr. Univ. Library, xxxvi. 98–107).
The following is a list of Harvey's principal Latin writings: 1. ‘Rhetor, sive 2. Dierum Oratio de Natura, Arte et Exercitatione Rhetorica,’ 1577. 2. ‘Ciceronianus, sive Oratio post reditum habita Cantabrigiæ ad suos auditores,’ 1577. 3. ‘Smithus, vel Musarum Lachrymæ pro Obitu honoratiss. Viri … Thomæ Smith, Esq. aur., Majestatisque Regiæ Secretarii,’ 1578. 4. ‘Χαῖρη vel Gratulationum Valdensium Libri quatuour [sic],’ 1578. His English works, as edited by Dr. Grosart in three volumes, comprise the following: 1. ‘The Story of Mercy Harvey,’ 1574–5. 2. ‘Letters to and from Edmund Spenser,’ 1579–80. 3. ‘Foure Letters and certaine Sonnets,’ 1592. 4. ‘A Letter of Notable Contents,’ &c., 1593. 5. ‘Precursor of Pierce's Supererogation , and Pierce's Supererogation, or a new Prayse of the Olde Asse,’ 1593. 6. ‘The Trimming of Thomas Nashe,’ 1597. His ‘Letter Book’ (Sloane MS. 93 in Brit. Mus.), comprising letters dated 1573–80, was edited by Mr. E. J. L. Scott for the Camden Society.
[Memorial-Introductions in Dr. Grosart's edition; Prof. G. C. Moore Smith's Introduction to his edition of the Latin Play Pedantius, Louvain, 1905; Haslewood's Essays upon English Poets and Poesy, vol. ii.; Professor Hales's Preface to Spenser's Works (Globe ser.); Brydges's Restituta, vol. iii.; Preface to Letter Book, edited by E. J. L. Scott; Baker MSS.; Nashe's Works, ed. Grosart.]