3.1.2. Harvey, Three Letters


Gabriel Harvey, Three proper & wittie familiar Letters: lately passed betweene two Universitie men, touching the Earthquake in April last, and our English reformed Versifying . 1580

The Earl of Leicester's return to the Queen's court (after having been banished to his estates for marrying without her consent) gave Harvey the impression that the supporters of the French marriage were in a weaker position. Convinced that his contingency was in the right, he considered this to be the perfect time to step out on to the literary platform and declare his animosity towards his old aquaintance.

In the summer of 1580, the laudable rhetor published Three Proper And Witty Familiar Letters: one containing a poem in hexameters with the tittle Speculum Tuscanismi - “Mirror of Tuscanism” which was, according to a meticulous entry in Harvey's private Letter-Book, specifically addressed to the Earl of Oxford: “Now tell me, I beseech you, if this be not a noble verse and politic lesson... in effect containing the argument of his courageous and warlike apostrophe to my Lord of Oxenforde in his fourth book Gratulationum Valdinensium.” (Letter-book of Gabriel Harvey, ed. E.J.L. Scott, 1884, p. 99.)

In a letter to Edmund Spenser (1552-1599) - with whom he maintained a very one sided correspondence - Harvey writes, he must set set open his “shop-windows”. Harvey then goes on to beg Edmund Spenser to share his opinions on a recently written “bold Satirical Libel” with him.


But seeing I must needs bewray my store, and set open my shop-windows, now I pray thee and conjure thee, by all thy amorous Regards, and Exorcisms of Love, call a Parliament of thy Sensible & Intelligible powers together, & tell me, in Tom Troth’s earnest [1], what Il secondo & famoso Poeta [2] [the second and famous poet], Messer Immerito [3], saith to this bold Satirical Libel, lately devised at the instance of a certain worshipful Hertfordshire gentleman [4] of mine old acquaintance: in Gratiam quorundam Illustrium Anglofrancitalorum, hic & ubique apud nos volitantium. Agedum vero, nosti homines, tanquam tuam ipsius cutem [5] [dedicated to some famous Anglo-franco-italians who skulks amongst our midst. Well, you know the people as well as your own skin].

Speculum Tuscanismi

Since Galateo came in [6], and Tuscanism gan usurp,
Vanity above all: Villainy next her [7], Stateliness Empress.
No man, but Minion, Stout, Lout, Plain, swain, quoth a Lording:
No words but valorous, no works but womanish only [8].
For life Magnificoe’s [9], not a beck but glorious in show,
In deed most frivolous, not a look but Tuscanish always.
His cringing side neck, Eyes glancing, Fisnamy [physiognomy] smirking,
With forefinger kiss, and brave embrace to the footward [10].
Largebelled Cod-pieced Doublet, uncod-pieced half hose,
Straight to the dock, like a shirt, and close to the breech, like a diveling.
A little Apish Hat, couched fast to the pate, like an Oyster,
French Camarick Ruffs, deep with a witness [knowledge] starched to the purpose.
Every one A per se A, his terms, and braveries in Print [11],
Delicate in speech, quaint in array: conceited in all points:
In Courtly guiles [deceits], a passing singular odd man,
For Gallants a brave Mirror, a Primrose of Honour,
A Diamond for nonce, a fellow peerless in England.
Not the like Discourser for Tongue, and head to be found out:
Not the like resolute Man, for great and serious affairs,
Not the like Lynx to spy out secrets, and privities of States [12],
Eyed like to Argus, Eared like to Midas [13], Nos'd like to Naso [14],
Wing'd like to Mercury, fittst of a Thousand for to be employ'd,
This, nay more than this doth practice of Italy in one year.
None do I name, but some do I know, that a piece of a twelvemonths
Hath so perfited [perfected] outly and inly both body, both soul,
That none for sense, and senses, half matchable with them.
A Vulture's smelling, Ape's tasting, sight of an Eagle,
A spider's touching, Hart's hearing, might of a Lion. [15]
Compounds of wisdom, wit, prowess, bounty, behavior,
All gallant Virtues, all qualities of body and soul:
O thrice ten hundred thousand times blessed and happy,
Blessed and happy Travail, Travailer most blessed and happy. [16]

Penatibus Hetruscis laribusque nostris Inquilinis.
    [To the Etruscan Penates and to our adopted Lares.]

Tell me in good sooth, doth it not too evidently appear that this English Poet [17] wanted but a good pattern before his eyes, as it might be some delicate, and choice elegant Poesy of good Master Sidney's or Master Dyer's [18] (our very Castor and Pollux for such and many greater matters) when this trim gear was in hatching: Much like some Gentlewoman, I could name in England, who by all Physic and Physiognomy too, might as well have brought forth all goodly fair children, as they have now some ill-favoured and deformed, had they at the time of their Conception had in sight the amiable and gallant beautiful Pictures of Adonis, Cupido, Ganymedes, or the like, which no doubt would have wrought such deep impression in their fantasies and imaginations, as their children, and perhaps their Children's children too, might have thanked them for, as long as they have Tongues in their heads.

Nosti manum & stylum [19] 


“I had forgot to observe unto you, out of his first four [three] familiar epistles, his ambitious stratagem to aspire, that whereas two great peers [Philip Sidney, Leicester’s favourite nephew -and the Earl of Oxford] being at jar, and their quarrel continued to bloodshed, he would needs, uncalled and when it lay not in his way, step in on the one side, which indeed was the safer side (as the fool is crafty enough to sleep in a whole skin) and hew and slash with his hexameters, but hewed and slashed he had been as small as chippings if he had not played duck friar and hid himself eight weeks in that nobleman's house for whom with his pen he thus bladed. Yet nevertheless Sir Iames a Croft, the old Controller, ferreted him out, and had him under hold in the Fleet a great while - ” (Thomas Nashe, Have With You To Saffron Walden, 1596)



- Three Proper And Witty Familiar Letters, lately passed between two university men, touching the earthquake in April last, and our English reformed versifying.With the preface of a well-willer to them both. Imprinted at London by H. Bynneman, dwelling in Thames Street near unto Baynard's Castle Anno Domini 1580

- The Works of Gabriel Harvey, ed. by Alexander B. Grosart (3 vols). Huth Library 1884–85. (Reprint, Kessinger 2007.)



[1] “in Tom Troth's earnest”: Poor Tom Troth was a clown figure, (a bit like Harlequin) along with Dick Swash (or swaggering Dick), Clim of Clough and Riot and Revel. See: George Gascoigne, Posies (1576): “And poor Tom Trooth is laughed to scorn, with garments nothing gay.”

[2]Il secondo & famoso Poeta”:  “The second and famous poet”. Harvey gives the tittle “Second Poet” to his friend Spenser. The tittle of “First Poet” he gives (what else would we expect) to himself .

[3]Messer Immerito”: Master without merit. Edmund Spenser published The Shepheardes Calender (1579) under the pseudonym "Immerito".

[4] “a certain worshipful Hertfordshire gentleman”: probably George Carey, 2nd Baron Hunsdon (1547-1603), who married Edmund Spenser's sister Elizabeth in 1574.

[5]nosti homines, tanquam tuam ipsius cutem”: “You know the people as well as your own skin”. This is a rhetorical way to raise one's own courage. These words were repeated, almost to the letter, in Loves labors lost (1598), when the Pedant gives Don Adriano de Armado a verbal lashing.

PEDANT. Novi hominum tanquam te [I know the man as well as I know you].
His humour is lofty, his discourse peremptory: his tongue filed,
his eye ambitious, his gate majesticall, and his generall behaviour vaine,
rediculous, & thrasonicall. He is too picked, so spruce, too affected,
so od as it were, too peregrinat as I may call it.
Here, Shakespeare is writing a satire on a satire. He is certainly referring to Gabriel Harvey's words (see above): “Delicate in speech, quaint in array / Not the like discourser for Tongue / Eyed like to Argus / Large belled Cod-pieced doublet / Vanity above all / In deed most frivolous, not a look but Tuscanish always. His cringing side neck, eyes glancing, fisnamy smirking, With forefinger kiss, and brave embrace to the footward.”

[6] “Since Galateo came in”: An allusion to the famous treatise on polite behavior, Il Galateo overo de’ costumi (1558) by Giovanni della Casa (1503-1556). – Harvey regards this code of behaviour as being the epitome of affectation, calling it “Tuscanism”.

[7] “Villainy next her”: see note 9.

[8] “no works but womanish only”: Again Harvey goads Oxford on account of his poor military achievements. See: 3.1.1, “Meritum petere, vile: capere, generosum [est]” – “to beg for the fruits of one's labour is contemptible, to take it by force is noble.”  The arrogant pompous critic writes in a derogatory manner about Oxford's style, calling it “womanish”.

[9] “For life Magnificoe’s”: In Loves labors lost (1598) we find:

Signeour Arme Arme commendes you:
Ther's villany abroad, this letter will tell you more.
Sir the Contempls thereof are as touching me.
A letter from the magnifisent Armado.

[10] “With forefinger kiss, and brave embrace to the footward”: Oxford (=Shake-speare) later avenges himself for this impertinence by writing a caustic caricature on Harvey (Adriano de Armado - the mad Spaniard) in Loves Labours lost.

BRAGGART [= Armado]

Sir, the King is a noble Gentleman, and my familier,
I do assure ye very good friende: for what is inwarde
betweene us, let it passe. I do beseech thee remember thy
curtesy. I beseech thee appairell thy head: and among other
importunt and most serious designes, and of great import in
deede too: but let that passe for I must tell thee it will
please his Grace (by the worlde) sometime to leane upon
my poor shoulder, and with his royall finger thus dally
with my excrement, with my mustachy: but sweete hart
let that passe.
QUEENE [=Princesse]
   Speake brave Hector, we are much delighted.
BRAGGART [= Armado]
   I do adore thy sweete Graces Slipper.
   He loves her by the foote.
   He may not by the yarde.

[11] “Every one A per se A, his terms, and braveries in Print”: In Strange Newes, twelve years later, Thomas Nashe digs up this phrase again. (See: 3.1.5. Strange Newes).
A per se a?
Passion of God, how came I by that name? My godfather Gabriel gave it me, and I must
not refuse it. Nor if you were privy whence it came would you hold it worthy to be refused, for before I had the reversion of it, he bestowed it on a nobleman, whose new fashioned apparel and ‘Tuscanish gestures, cringing sideneck, eyes’ glancing, fisnamy smirking,

The term “His braveries in print” is a reference to the publications of the Earl of Oxford.including his contributions to A Hundreth sundrie Flowres (1573) and The Paradyse of Daynty Devises (1576).

[12] “Not the like Lynx to spy out secrets, and privities of States”: This probably has something to do with the fact that in August 1579 the Earl of Leicester blamed the Earl of Oxford for Queen Elizabeth's discovery of his secret marriage to Lettice Knolly via Jean de Simier, the mediator of the wedding plans. Elizabeth was enraged over Leicester's behaviour banning him to his estates in July 1579. Leicester's absence at court weakened the position of the opposition to the “French marriage” considerably.

[13]Eared like to Midas”: Eselsohren. - Edmund Spenser mirrored the poetic earl in The Shepheardes Calendar (1579 =1580) giving him the name “Cuddie” - “the perfect pattern of a Poet.”

Cuddy (or cuddy ass) meant a donkey or a clown. (OED: “a word of the same homely status in Scotch as donkey is in English, for which written evidence begins only in the 18th c.”)

[14]Nos'd like to Naso”: In Loves labors lost (1598) we find:

Here are onely numbers ratefied, but for the elegancy,
facility, and golden cadence of poesy caret: Oviddius
Naso was the man. And why in deed Naso, but for smelling
out the odoriferous flowers of fancie?

[15]sight of an Eagle, / A spider's touching, Hart's hearing, might of a Lion”: See Gabriel Harvey, A New Letter of notable contents (1593): „such a personage, as I have elsewhere described: A Lion in the field [‘might of a lion’], a Lamb in the town [‘For gallants a brave mirror’], a Ioves Eagle in feud [‘sight of an eagle’], an Apollos Swan in society [‘Delicate in speech, quaint in array: conceited in all points’], a Serpent in wit [‘Not the like lynx to spy out secrets’], a Dove in life [‘a primrose of honour’], a Fury in execution [‘Not the like resolute man for great and serious affairs’], an Angel in conversation [‘Not the like discourser for tongue’].” (See: 3.1.7. A New Letter of Notable Contents.)

[16] “O thrice ten hundred thousand times blessed and happy, / Blessed and happy Travail, Travailer most blessed and happy”: In Loves labors lost (1598) we find:

For the rest of the Worthies?
I will play three my selfe.
Thrice worthy Gentleman.
I that there is, our Court you know is haunted
With a refined travailer of Spaine,
A man in all the worldes new fashion planted,
That hath a mint of phrases in his braine:
On who the musique of his owne vaine tongue
Doth ravish like inchannting harmony:
A man of complements whom right and wrong
Have chose as umpier [umpire] of their muteny.

[17] “this English Poet”: Gabriel Harvey. The rhetoric Doctor liked to refer to himself in the third person.

[18]Master Dyer”: Edward Dyer (1543-1607), a respected courtier who wrote rather melancholy poetry. He considered himself to be a rival of the Earl of Oxford.

[19]Nosti manum & stylum“: The hand and style you know. – In Loves labors lost we find a passage that reminds us of this phrase:

What plume of fethers is he that indited this letter?
What vaine? What Wethercock? Did you ever heare better?
I am much deceived, but I remember the stile.