'The Harvey-Nashe Quarrel'

This is based on the account of the quarrel given by R. B. McKerrow in Volume 5, 'The Works of Thomas Nashe' (1910); and on the passages on the same subject in Charles Nicholl's A Cup of News,(1984). Any factual errors are the fault of the author of this page, Rita Lamb. This page is in the public domain.

Assuming you already know who Nashe, Greene and Lyly are - and if you don't you can easily look them up - it's worth introducing their opponents, the less well-biographied Harvey Brothers. There were actually four in the family, but only three were academically-inclined, and those are the ones later involved in the quarrel.

The Three Harveys

Gabriel:-(b. c. 1551) McKerrow, a classical scholar himself, considers Harvey to have been far better-read and considerably more learned than Nashe. Intellectually formidable but socially insecure, Gabriel Harvey appears to have had a slight chip-on-the-shoulder attitude that made him unpopular with other academics. He ran into problems almost from the time he set foot on the first rung of the academic ladder, when elected a fellow of Pembroke Hall in 1570: as McKerrow says, 'He was thrown into a society to which he was as inferior socially as intellectually he was superior.' McKerrow sees Gabriel as on the whole a man of original mind and deep scholarship, but tactless, and quite lacking in self-criticism. His friendship with Spenser and Sidney shows he was valued by two of the most gifted men of his day, and the suggestion (ridiculed by Nashe but touted by some) that he was behind the Marprelate tracts indicates he was believed to be a person of strong views. He was not in the end a successful man; but he was never a nonentity, nor a fool. (For some of his sonnets, click here.)

Richard:- (b. 1560) 'Richard Harvey, though probably of much less character than his elder brother, was also a scholar of note.' He entered Cambridge at age 15 and at 21 commenced M.A. He was an upholder of Ramistic logic and interested in science, though early in 1583 he was apparently about to begin studying divinity. Around this time he published his Astrological Discourse in which he dealt with the potential effects of a rare conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, due on April 28th. His predictions caused near-panic, but when the conjunction passed off quietly Harvey became a laughing-stock. He later took holy orders; and though he wrote three other works, after 1593 he seems to have dropped out of public view. However it was in one of his works, Theological Discourse of the Lamb of God, (1590), that he attacked Nashe by name.

John:- (b. 1564) John was a physician. He died in July 1592, just as Nashe was composing an attack on his brother Richard. Though he came in for some of Nashe's abuse, he therefore took no real part in the quarrel.

The Long Roots of the Harvey-Nashe Quarrel: Where to start?

1579: In this year the Earl of Oxford nearly came to blows with Sir Philip Sidney over who would use a court for a game of tennis. They were at each other's throats. And Nashe was still a little innocent child of 12, learning his Latin grammar in West Harling...

1580: Gabriel Harvey - friend and admirer of Sir Philip, remember - published Three Proper Letters, selections from a correspondence between himself and his friend Edmund Spenser. This includes a poem called Speculum Tuscanismi, which pokes fun at a typical Italianate Englishman: The Earl of Oxford's secretary, John Lyly, drew his master's attention to this poem and encouraged him to believe he was its target. The Earl appears not to have paid much attention to the charge. Henceforth, however, there would be bad blood between Harvey and the trouble-stirring Lyly.

1589: Greene's Menaphon was published, with a self-confident preface written by Nashe in which he commented critically, even superciliously, on the literary scene of the day.

1589: The 'Martin Marprelate' pamphlet war is raging. A radical Protestant with the pen-name 'Martin Marprelate' is publishing pamphlets criticising the Anglican church. It's illegal, but his pamphlets are daring and very exciting - everyone reads him. The government hires writers to attack him in his own thrilling style, John Lyly and Thomas Nashe among them. One anonymous author of an anti-Martinist tract called Pap with a Hatchet makes a jeering reference to Gabriel Harvey and his Three Letters. In fact, the anonymous author of Pap with a Hatchet is none other than John Lyly, using the religious controversy to get in a dig at an old enemy. Harvey begins composing a reply to him, but in the meantime his brother Richard, without naming any particular person, goes ahead and publishes a sweeping attack on all the anti-Martinist pamphleteers in -

1590: Plain Perceval, (1590). Richard Harvey lambasts all the writers involved in the recent campaign against the Puritan radical 'Martin Marprelate', abusing them as 'Whip Johns and Whip Jacks, not forgetting ...the Cook Ruffian, who dressed a dish for Martin's diet...'(The ruffian who cooked a dish for Martin is the author of Pap, i.e. John Lyly - 'pap' is minced food for babies and invalids). Shortly afterwards Richard Harvey also published The Lamb of God, another commentary on the Martinist controversy in which he derisively, and by name, attacked 'one Thomas Nash' for his 'impudence' in setting himself up as a literary critic in his preface to Greene's Menaphon.
Quite why Richard was so incensed against Nashe is not clear. It may have been simply that he saw Nashe as involved in the anti-Martinist pamphleteering and hence an associate of John Lyly (whom Nashe in fact certainly knew, and always mentions with respect). Perhaps it was a case of any friend of Lyly's was an enemy of the Harveys. Besides openly attacking Nashe, Richard Harvey also made another insulting reference to the anonymous author of 'Paphatchet' (i.e. John Lyly).

1591: Almost two years go by without anyone doing anything at all.

1592:Things get suddenly busy. Around July 1592 Robert Greene publishes A Quip for an Upstart Courtier. It has a passage that, without actually naming the Harveys, unmistakably ridicules them. This offensive passage was withdrawn from the Quip right after its first publication. (According to Harvey, this was because Greene was afraid of being sued; and according to Nashe, merely to oblige a doctor who was treating Greene at the time, and who did not want any fellow-physician - John Harvey was a doctor - insulted.) In fact modern scholars suspect that the 'ropemaker' passage of the Quip that so infuriated Harvey, and which was withdrawn, was probably written not by Greene at all but by Nashe himself, who seems to have been working with Greene at the time. Nevertheless, even the expurgated Quip was popular, going through six editions in 1592.
In late July John Harvey dies at his home in King's Lynn, with his brother Gabriel at his bedside. After the funeral Gabriel returns home to Saffron Walden and there in August is sent a copy of the unexpurgated Quip, containing Greene's insults to his family. Understandably incensed, he travels up to London, mainly to handle his dead brother's estate but also intending to confront Robert Greene about the Quip. Harvey wants a public apology, or plans to take the author to court. But when he arrives very early in September he learns Greene is seriously ill. On September 3rd Greene dies before Harvey sees him. After his burial on September 4th Harvey then interviews Greene's landlady, Mistress Isam, and learns details of the dead writer's squalid and impoverished last hours. On 7th September Gabriel publishes a very short pamphlet exposing Greene's 'dissolute and licentious living', as well as the squalor of his death. (This little pamphlet was republished as the second of Harvey's Foure Letters and Certaine Sonnets, which has survived.) It also mentions a 'fellow-writer' of Greene's, present at the final debauch which caused his collapse, but it does not name him - 'I spare his name and in some respectes wish him well'. In fact, up to this point neither Gabriel Harvey nor Thomas Nashe has mentioned the other disrespectfully. (They have also never met - though when he was an undergraduate at Cambridge Nashe evidently knew Harvey by sight, as he later admits he rather admired him...)
@ 9 September 1592 : The egg hits the fan - Nashe's Pierce Penilesse reaches the bookstalls and contains an absolutely vitriolic attack on Richard Harvey. Nashe's target isn't named, but the clues in this torrent of abuse are so obvious that no-one could mistake who was meant. Richard himself never answers this assault on his character - but his big brother Gabriel steps into the ring.
December 1592:Harvey publishes Foure Letters, and certaine Sonnets.

    Letter 1 is a character reference, a letter of introduction written by a citizen of Saffron Walden to his friend in London, asking him to assist and befriend the excellent Dr. Harvey
    Letter 2, dated September 5 and mostly attacking Greene, mentions Nashe briefly but not by name; it only criticises him for not visiting Greene during his last illness. (In fact by then Nashe was probably in Croydon with the household of Archbishop Whitgift, but Harvey would not know that.)
    Letter 3 is dated September 8 and 9, and it's clear that at least by the 9th Harvey had seen Pierce Penilesse and knew that he had a new adversary to contend with. He shrugs resignedly over this second squeaking libeller: 'Flourishing M. Greene is most-wofully faded...Loe all on the suddaine his sworne brother, M. Pierce Penni-lesse, (still more paltery, but what remedy? we are already ouer shoues and must now goe through...'
    Letter 4, dated September 11 and 12, is little occupied with either Greene or Nashe but does mention 'beggarly Pierce Pennylesse' and 'Puny Pierce', assuring Nashe that if he mends his ways, Harvey will make friends.
On the whole, Harvey's attitude to Nashe in his Foure Letters is more patronising than aggressive. He presents Nashe as a misguided hothead, a wild talent which might be reclaimed - he even mentions him among a list of contemporary writers who have benefited English by their endeavours.

1593: In January Nashe registers his reply, Strange Newes. It throws Harvey's avuncular scoldings straight back in his teeth. With good strategic sense, it picks up instantly on Harvey's treatment of the dead Greene.It is very personal and furious in tone. (In McKerrow's opinion, it is more personal than Harvey's relatively mild criticism in Foure Letters had actually warranted. He speculates whether Nashe didn't simply seize on the provocation Harvey offered as a golden opportunity to publicise himself even further. Nashe knew he had a gift for comical abuse. It was his forte.)
1593: April 1593 saw Harvey embark on his response to this outpouring - Pierce's Supererogation, which appears to have been finished around August. It begins with a letter thanking literary friends for rallying round, and hinting at the future involvement of some 'excellent Gentlewoman' who has undertaken to be Harvey's 'Patroness, or rather Championesse in this quarrell', and sort out young Nashe for him. We don't know who she was. The Countess of Pembroke has been suggested, though that's highly unlikely; and it's also been speculated she didn't exist, but was a figment of Harvey's imagination. McKerrow however guesses at some 'influential lady who was for some reason an enemy to Nashe', and whose identity is now lost. According to McKerrow - and I rely on him, for I personally haven't seen a copy of Pierce's Supererogation - the work falls into three parts: an apology for dealing with a trifler like Nashe, followed by an attack on his style; a rehash of Harvey's 1589 reply to the attack in Pap with a Hatchet, not previously published; a further attack on Nashe's vocabulary and style, and more hints about the wonderful 'Gentlewoman'. Although the pamphlet was ready for the press, it was not released. There were moves afoot to settle the Harvey-Nashe quarrel.

September 1593: Nashe and Harvey seem to get their wires crossed. Around the end of that month Nashe published Christs Teares, a repentance pamphlet which he prefaced with an epistle in which he begs pardon of Harvey and expresses a hope to be reconciled with him. At roughly the same time Harvey, who had gone back to Saffron Walden, sent a letter to his printer John Wolfe, dated September 16, in which he abused Nashe again. From his remarks, he had evidently received some feeler put out by Nashe, hinting at turning over a new leaf and desiring reconciliation, but wasn't sure he trusted it. He also clearly knew Nashe was writing a work of religious tone called Christs Teares. What isn't clear is that he had actually seen it, and McKerrow thinks not. He therefore speculates Harvey did not so much contemptuously reject Nashe's open, printed apology, as never see it until too late. Because about mid-October Harvey's confused letter to his printer - 'the worst of all Harvey's writings', according to McKerrow - went straight to the press as the New Letter of Notable Contents, published along with Pierce's Supererogation. McKerrow wonders, in fact, if Harvey had written the letter for publication at all - whether it were not just a private letter to Wolfe which the enterprising publisher hastily rushed to the press while the Harvey-Nashe quarrel was still shifting units. There are hints that Harvey owed Wolfe money, so even if he no longer desired publication of his work, Harvey may not have been able to halt it. The publisher Wolfe may have decided to print what he had and make a profit while there was still a market for Harvey-Nashe abuse.

1594: early in the year a second edition of Christs Teares comes out, in which the indignant Nashe withdraws his apology and makes another baleful attack on Harvey, accusing him of treachery.

@July 1595: Nashe apparently starts an answer to Pierce's Supererogation.

@ October/November 1595: Nashe is in Cambridge, for the first time in six years. He lodges at the inn called The Dolphin and there, in the same hotel, is Dr Harvey! Mutual friends are trying to bring the two together for reconciliation. It's their first chance to meet face to face. It fails. Nashe leaves without ever meeting his adversary. He doesn't want their quarrel to end, he wants to use the anti-Harvey material he's written. In the spring, he does.

1596: Have with you to Saffron-Walden is published. It's not so much a considered reply to Pierce's Supererogation as a superconfident, contemptuous demolition of Harvey. The real man is buried under a splendid fictional creation of Nashe's own, a comic buffoon paraded through the pages for smart young men to laugh at. Nashe seems to know his own power by now, knows that he has the upper hand. McKerrow calls it 'bitter' but to me it feels heartless, like a cat teasing a mouse. There is no way Harvey can adequately reply - he has neither the range nor the armoury.

1597: The Trimming of Thomas Nash Gentleman is published. At one time this was considered possibly a work of Harvey's, though stylistically nothing like his. Now it's accepted as the work of the barber of Trinity College, the man to whom Nashe had impudently dedicated Have with you to Saffron-walden, Richard Lichfield. It largely consists of outspoken abuse of Nashe, his immorality and louche behaviour.

1599: in the preface to Nashes Lenten Stuffe Nashe lightheartedly threatens revenge on Lichfield '..stay till Ester Terme, and then, with the answere to the Trim Tram, I will make you laugh your hearts out. Take me at my woord, for I am the man that will doo it.' But he didn't. On June 1st 1599 came the order commanding 'that all Nasshes bookes and Doctor Harvyes bookes be taken wheresoeuer they maye be found and that none of theire bookes bee euer printed hereafter.'