3.1.4. Harvey, Foure Letters, 1592


Gabriel Harvey, Foure Letters, and Certaine Sonnets, [Dec.] 1592 [1]

In 1592, Gabriel Harvey's enemy, Robert Greene (1558-1592) was at the height of his literary career. His prolific works enjoyed both popularity and esteem. His literary genres included song texts, poetry and prose. His prose romance: “Pandosto” served as the inspiration for A Winter's Tale. Just two months before he died he wrote A Quip for an upstart Courtier attacking Gabriel Harvey and his brothers, Richard and John caustically, calling them ignorant and boring. Unfortunately, the publication of the work coincided with the death of John Harvey, Gabriel Harvey's older brother. Gabriel Harvey was both shocked and angry. Set on revenge, the academic rhetorician hurried to London for a face to face confrontation with Greene. He arrived on 4th September 1592, only to discover that the 34 year old author had died on the previous day. (The exact cause of Greene's death will remain a mystery. Perhaps he died of the plague, as did many other Londoners at that time, or, as Gabriel Harvey loved to relate, “of a surfeit of pickle herring and rhenish wine.”) A month after Greene's death, Harvey published the so-called “butterfly pamphlet” (published as Three Letters, and certaine Sonnets in October 1592), in which he implies that Greene had pursued a questionable life style, that he was of low character and that he had lived in a state of poverty for which he only had himself to blame.

To make matters worse, the printer and author, Henry Chettle printed “Greenes Groatsworth of Wit. Bought with a million of repentance,” claiming that Greene was the sole author. The truth of the matter was that although Greene might have written the beginning of the book, the rest – “To those gentlemen that spend their wits in making plays” - was compiled of Chettle’s settling of personal scores with his enemies, hiding behind the identity of the dead man. (What betrayed Chettle was the later use of a motto that he had used in Greenes Groatsworth of Wit : “Foelicem fuisse infaustum” - “only those who have been unhappy can experience happiness.”) 

For years scholars of English literature have erroneously thought that “Robert Greene” (=Henry Chettle) was directing his comments at William Shakespeare. But the main victim of Chettle's outbursts was the actor Edward Alleyn. Chettle called him an “upstart crow”. On the subject of Edward Alleyn’s acting abilities, Chettle said that he was a false declaimer and a “buckram gentleman”, that he was “as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you” (i.e. the best of those gentlemen making plays).  Making sardonic reference to a line from 3Henry VI, I/4.: “O tiger’s heart wrapt in a womans hide,” Chettle speaks of “his tiger’s heart wrapped in a player’s hide” - much to the amusement of the reading public.

In spite of the difficulties that one encounters when reading the eccentric style of the rhetorician Gabriel Harvey in the original, it is worth the trouble.

An unabridged version of the Foure Letters can be found on Nina Green's website. http://www.oxford-shakespeare.com/Nashe/Four_Letters.pdf

It is only fair to warn the reader that Nina Green sees fit to throw hair raising theories in: e.g. Thomas Nashe was a pen name used by the Earl of Oxford.

Four Letters
And Certain Sonnets
Especially touching Robert Greene and other parties by him abused,
But incidently of divers excellent persons, and some matters of note.
To all courteous minds that will vouchsafe the reading.
Imprinted by John Wolfe


To all courteous minds that will vouchsafe the reading 

… Vile acts would in some respects rather be concealed than recorded, as the darkness of the night better fitteth the nature of some unlucky birds than the brightness of the day, and Herostratus, in a villainous bravery, affecting a most notorious & monstrous fame, was in the censure of the wisest judgements rather to be overwhelmed in the deepest pit of oblivion than to enjoy any relic or shadow of his own desperate glory. But Greene (although pitifully blasted, & how woefully faded?) still flourisheth in the memory of some green wits wedded to the wantonness of their own fancy, and enamoured upon every newfangled toy, and Pierce Penilesse (although the devil's orator by profession, and his dam's poet by practice), in such a flush of notable good-fellows cannot possibly want many to read him, enough to excuse him, a few to commend him, some to believe him, or to credit any that tickleth the right vein, and feedeth the riotous humour of their licentious vanity…

London, this 16th of September.

Your thankful debtor, G.H.


 [The First Letter] [2]


To my loving friend, Master Christopher Bird of Walden

Master Bird, in the absence of M. Demetrius [Emanuel van Meteren], I delivered your letter unto his wife, whom I found very courteous. My next business was to enquire after the famous author, who was reported to lie dangerously sick in a shoemaker's house near Dow-gate, not of the plague or the pox, as a Gentleman said, but of a surfeit of pickle herring and rhenish wine[3] or, as some suppose, of an exceeding fear. For in his extremest want he offered ten, or rather than fail, twenty shillings to the printer (a huge sum with him at that instant) to leave out the matter of the three brothers[4], with confession of his great fear to be called coram [face to face, i.e. to a duel] for those forged imputations. A conscious mind and undaunted heart seldom dwell together; he was not the first that bewrayed [revealed] and punished his own guiltiness with blushing for shame, or trembling for dread, or drooping for woe. Many can heap misery enough upon their own heads, and need no more penalty but their own contrition and the Censure of other. I would not wish a sworn enemy to be more basely valued or more vilely reputed than the common voice of the City esteemeth him that sought Fame by defamation of other, but hath utterly discredited himself and is notoriously grown a very proverb of infamy and contempt. I little delight in the rehearsal of such paltry, but who like Elderton for ballading, Greene for pamphleting, both for good-fellowship[5] and bad conditions?

… I neither name Martin-marprelate, nor shame Pap with A hatchet, nor mention any other but Elderton and Greene, two notorious mates, and the very ringleaders of the riming and scribbling crew[6]

Orators have challenged a special liberty, and poets claimed an absolute licence, but no liberty without bounds, nor any licence without limitation… I have, and who hath not, found it better to be tickled and stinged of a busy enemy: than to be coyed and lulled of an idle friend… Other cavilling [sophistical] or mote-spying Malice confoundeth itself: and I continue my accustomed simplicity to answer vanity with silence: though peradventure not without danger of inviting a new injury by entertaining an old. Patience hath trained me to pocket up more heinous indignities, and even to digest an age of Iron. They that can do little must be contented to suffer much… Howbeit I am not to prejudice my brother alive, or to smother the wrong offered to my brother deceased, or to tolerate the least defamation of my good father, whom no ill-willer could ever touch with any dishonesty, or discredit in any sort. Nothing more dear or inestimable than a man's good name, and albeit I contemn such pelting injuries vainly devised against myself, yet am I not to neglect so intolerable a wrong so notoriously published against them… They that cannot govern themselves must be ruled by other, and pay for their folly.

While I was thus, or to like effect, resolving with myself, and discoursing with some special friends, not only writing unto you, I was suddenly certified that the king of the paper stage (so the Gentleman termed Greene) had played his last part, and was gone to Tarleton[7], whereof I protest I was nothing glad, as was expected, but unfeignedly sorry, as well because I could have wished he had taken his leave with a more charitable farewell, as also because I was deprived of that remedy in law that I intended against him in the behalf of my father, whose honest reputation I was in many duties to tender. Yet to some conceited wit that could take delight to discover knaveries, or were a fit person to augment the history of Cony-catchers[8], O Lord, what a pregnant occasion were here presented to display lewd vanity in his lively colours, and to decipher the very mysteries of that base art? Petty Cozeners [deceivers] are not worth the naming.

He, they say, was the Monarch of Crossbiters, and the very Emperor of shifters. I was altogether unacquainted with the man, and never once saluted him by name, but who in London hath not heard of his dissolute and licentious living, his fond disguising of a Master of Art with ruffianly hair, unseemly apparel, and more unseemly Company, his vainglorious and Thrasonical [bragging, boastful] braving, his piperly Extemporizing and Tarletonizing, his apish counterfeiting of every ridiculous and absurd toy, his fine cozening of jugglers and finer juggling with cozeners, his villainous cogging and foisting, his monstrous swearing and horrible forswearing, his impious profaning of sacred Texts, his other scandalous and blasphemous raving, his riotous and outrageous surfeiting, his continual shifting of lodgings, his plausible mustering and banqueting of roisterly acquaintance at his first coming, his beggarly departing in every hostess' debt, his infamous resorting to the Bankside, Shoreditch, Southwark, and other filthy haunts, his obscure lurking in basest corners, his pawning of his sword, cloak and what not when money came short, his impudent pamphleting, fantastical interluding and desperate libelling when other cozening shifts failed, his employing of Ball (surnamed Cutting Ball) till he was intercepted at Tyburn, to levy a crew of his trustiest companions to guard him in danger of arrests, his keeping of the foresaid Ball's sister, a sorry ragged quean, of whom he had his base son Infortunatus Greene, his forsaking of his own wife, too honest for such a husband: particulars are infinite, his contemning of Superiors, deriding of other, and defying of all good order…

Truly I have been ashamed to hear some ascertained reports of his most woeful and rascal estate, how the wretched fellow, or shall I say the prince of beggars, laid all to gage for some few shillings, and was attended by lice, and would pitifully beg a penny-pot of Malmsey, and could not get any of his old acquaintance to comfort or visit him in his extremity but Mistress Appleby, and the mother of Infortunatus. Alas, even his fellow-writer, a proper young man, if advised in time, that was a principal guest at that fatal banquet of pickle herring[9] (I spare his name, and in some respects wish him well) came never more at him, but either would not, or happily could not, perform the duty of an affectionate and faithful friend… God help good-fellows when they cannot help themselves…

He never ennuyed me so much as I pitied him from my heart, especially when his hostess Isam, with tears in her eyes and sighs from a deeper fountain (for she loved him dearly), told me of his lamentable begging of a penny-pot of Malmsey, and, sir-reverence [with all respect], how lousy he and the mother of Infortunatus were (I would her Surgeon found her no worse than lousy), and how he was fain, poor soul, to borrow her [Isam’s] husband's shirt whiles his own was a-washing, and how his doublet and hose and sword were sold for three shillings[10], and beside the charges of his winding-sheet, which was four shillings, and the charges of his burial yesterday in the New-churchyard near Bedlam, which was six shillings and fourpence, how deeply indebted he was to her poor husband, as appeared by his own bond of ten pounds, which the good woman kindly showed me and beseeched me to read the writing beneath, which was a letter to his abandoned wife[11] in the behalf of his gentle host, not so short as persuasible in the beginning, and pitiful in the ending:

Doll, I charge thee by the love of our youth and by my soul's rest, that thou wilt see this man paid, for if he and his wife had not succoured me, I had died in the streets.   Robert Greene.                                

I rather hope of the dead as I wish to the living, that grace might finally abound where wickedness did overflow, and that Christ in his divine goodness should miraculously forgive the man, that in his devilish badness blasphemously reviled God. The dead bite not, and I am none of those that bite the dead[12]… One that wished him a better lodging than in a poor journeyman's house, and a better grave than in that Churchyard in Bedlam, hath performed a little piece of greater duty to a Laureate Poet:

Here Bedlam is, and here a poet garish,
Gaily bedecked [adorned], like fore-horse of the parish [13].

I return to my private business. Good Master Bird, commend me to my good friends, and fare you heartily well.

London, this 5 of September.


 THE THIRD LETTER  (8 and 9 of September 1592)

To every reader favourably or indifferently affected

Albeit for these twelve or thirteen years[14] no man hath been more loath or more scrupulous than myself to underlie the censure of every curious conceit or rigorous judgement that pretendeth a deep insight in the perfections of wits and styles, insomuch that even actions of silence and patience have been commenced against me, and although I still dwell in the same opinion, that nothing would be committed to a public view that is not exactly laboured both for matter and manner[15], and that importeth not some notable use to one or other effectual

purpose… have so forcibly overruled me that I have finally condescended to their passionate motion, and in an extraordinary case have respectively yielded my consent to an extraordinary course, which I would unpartially commend to the reasonable allowance of every indifferent peruser that carrieth courtesy in his tongue or honesty in his heart. For mine own injury, the more I consider, the less I estimate the same, as one born to suffer, and made to contemn, injuries. He that in his youth flattered not himself with the exceeding commendations of some greatest scholars in the world[16] cannot, at these years, either be discouraged with misreport or daunted with misfortune.

I had curiously laboured some exact and exquisite points of study and practice, and greatly misliked the preposterous and untoward courses[17] of divers good wits, ill directed; there wanted not some sharp undeserved discourtesies to exasperate my mind. Shall I touch the ulcer? It is no such mystery but it may be revealed. I was supposed not unmeet for the Oratorship of the university, which in that spring of mine age, for my Exercise and credit, I earnestly affected, but mine own modest petition, my friends' diligent labour, our high Chancellor's most honourable and extraordinary commendation, were all peltingly defeated by a sly practice of the old Fox[18] whose acts and monuments shall never die. Some like accidents of dislike, for brevity I overslip. Young blood is hot, youth hasty, ingenuity open, abuse impatient, choler stomachous, temptations busy, the Invective vein, a stirring and tickling vein, the Satirical humour a puffing and swelling humour. Conceit penneth, leisure peruseth, and Courtesy commendeth many needless discourses; Idleness, the greatest author and variablest reader in the world. Some familiar friends pricked me forward[19], and I, neither fearing danger nor suspecting ill measure (poor credulity soon beguiled), was not unwilling to content them, to delight a few other, and to avenge or satisfy myself after the manner of shrews, that cannot otherwise ease their curst hearts but by their own tongues and their neighbours' ears.

Signior Immerito[20] (for that name will be remembered) was then, and is still, my affectionate friend, and that stood equally indifferent to either part of the state Demonstrative; many communications and writings may secretly pass between such, even for an exercise of speech and style, that are not otherwise convenient to be disclosed. It was the sinister hap of those infortunate Letters to fall into the left hands of malicious enemies or undiscreet friends, who adventured to imprint in earnest that was scribbled in jest (for the moody fit was soon over), and requited their private pleasure with my public displeasure, oh, my inestimable and infinite displeasure. When there was no remedy but melancholy patience[21], and the sharpest part of those unlucky Letters had been over-read at the Council Table[22], I was advised by certain honourable and divers worshipful persons to interpret my intention in more express terms, and thereupon discoursed every particularity by way of Articles or Positions in a large apology of my dutiful and entire affection to that flourishing University, my dear mother…

It were pity but wondrous wits (give enemies their due) should become more wondrous by comparison; conference maketh excellent things appear more admirable, and I am so far from being a Saturnist by nature, or a Stoic by discipline, that I can easily frame a certain pleasurable delight unto myself by ministering some matter unto them, that now are fain to make something of nothing[23], and wittily to play with their own shadows.

If I never deserve any better remembrance, let me rather be Epitaphed The Inventor of the English Hexameter, whom learned M. Stanyhurst imitated in his Virgil, and excellent Sir Philip Sidney disdained not to follow in his Arcadia and elsewhere; than be chronicled, The green master of the Black Art[24], or the founder of ugly oaths, or the father of misbegotten Infortunatus, or the Scrivener of Crossbiters or, as one of his own sectaries termed him, the Patriarch of shifters. Happy man I, if these two be my heinousest crimes and deadliest sins, to be the Inventor of the English Hexameter, and to be orderly clapped in the Fleet for the foresaid Letters, where he that saw me, saw me at Constantinople[25]. Indeed, Sir Iames Croft (whom I never touched with the least tittle of detractions) was cunningly incensed [excited] and reincensed [excited again] against me, but at last pacified by the voluntary mediation of my honourable favourers, M. Secretary [Thomas] Wilson and Sir Walter Mildmay, unrequested by any line of my hand or any word of my mouth.

Neither did I otherwise solicit or entreat Sir Iames till I had assured notice of his better satisfaction, when I writ unto him, as became me, in respective and dutiful sort, not for fear of any danger, but for love of honourable favour… And that was all the Fleeting that ever I felt, saving that another company of special good-fellows (whereof he was none of the meanest that bravely threatened to conjure up one[26] which should massacre Martin's wit, or should be lambacked himself with ten years' provision), would needs forsooth very courtly persuade the Earl of Oxford that something in those Letters, and namely the Mirror of Tuscanismo, was palpably intended against him[27]; whose noble Lordship I protest I never meant to dishonour with the least prejudicial word of my Tongue or pen, but ever kept a mindful reckoning of many bounden duties toward The-same; since in the prime of his gallantest youth he bestowed Angels upon me in Christ's College in Cambridge[28], and otherwise vouchsafed me many gracious favours at the affectionate commendation of my Cousin, M. Thomas Smith, the son of Sir Thomas, shortly after Colonel of the Ardes in Ireland. But the noble Earl, not disposed to trouble his Iovial mind with such Saturnine paltry [rubbish][29], still continued like his magnificent self, and that Fleeting also proved, like the other, a silly bull-bear [spectre], a sorry puff of wind, a thing of nothing.

Youth is youth, and age corruptible; better an hundred Ovids were banished than the state of Augustus endangered, or a sovereign empire infected, especially in a tumultuous age and in a world of war wherein not Bacchus but Mars, not Venus but Mercury, not riot but valour, not fancy but policy, must strike the stroke. Gallant Gentlemen, bethink yourselves of the old Roman Discipline and the new Spanish industry[30], and I am not to trouble you with any other accusation of them that condemn themselves, and need no other shame or punishment but their own works…

Flourishing M. Greene is most woefully faded, and whilst I am bemoaning his over-piteous decay, and discoursing the usual success of such rank wits, lo, all on the sudden, his sworn brother, M. Pierce Penilesse [31] (still more paltry, but what remedy? we are already over-shoes, and must now go through), lo, his inwardest companion, that tasted of the fatal herring, cruelly pinched with want, vexed with discredit, tormented with other men's felicity, and overwhelmed with his own misery, in a raving and frantic mood most desperately exhibiteth his supplication to the Devil. A strange title, an odd wit, and a mad whoreson, I warrant him; doubtless it will prove some dainty devise, quaintly contrived by way of humble supplication to the high and mighty Prince of Darkness, not dunsically botched up, but right formally conveyed according to the style and tenor of Tarleton's precedent of The Seven Deadly Sins [32]

Particulars and Circumstances are tedious, especially in sorrowful and forlorn causes, the sum of sums is. He [Nashe] tossed his imagination a thousand ways, and I believe, searched every corner of his Grammar-school wit (for his margin is as deeply learned as Fauste precor gelida[33]), to see if he could find any means to relieve his estate, but all his thoughts and marginal notes consorted to his conclusion. That the world was uncharitable, and he ordained to be miserable. It were cruelty to add affliction to affliction: what flinty Heart would not sigh, or rather melt, to hear the bewailful moan of that sobbing and groaning Muse, the daughter of most-pregnant, but most-wretched Niobe?[34]

… I will not cry, Absurd, absurd, as he madly exclaimeth, Monstrous, monstrous. But who in that university can deny but Master [Richard] Harvey read the public philosophy lecture with special good liking, and, many will say, with singular commendation, when this mighty lashing gentleman (now well read in the late exploits of Untruss, and for Tarleton's amplification, A per se a was not so much as idoneus auditor civilis scientiae[35] [a proper disciple of civil science]. What he is improved since, excepting his good old Flores Poetarum, and Tarleton's surmounting Rhetoric, with a little Euphuism and Greeneness[36] enough, which were all prettily stale before he put hand to pen, I report me to the favourablest opinion of those that know his Prefaces, Rimes[37], and the very Tympany of his Tarletonizing wit, his Supplication to the Devil; O, that is the Devil and all…

Other profess other faculties, they profess the art of railing: noble, reverend, or whatsoever, all peasants and clowns, gouty devils and buckram [fine linen or cotton] Giants, Midases and golden Asses, Cormorants [insatiably greedy persons] and Drones, Dunces and hypocritical hot-spur’s[38] Earthworms and Pinch-fart Penny-fathers, that feed not their hungry purses and eager stomachs. They have terms, quoth a marvelous doer, steeped in Aqua Fortis, and gunpowder that shall rattle through the skies and make Earthquakes in such peasants' ears as shall dare to send them away with a flea in their ear (how might a man purchase the sight of those puissant [powerful] and hideous terms?)[39].

No man loather than myself to contend with desperate Malcontents[40]: or to overthwart obstinate Humourists: or to encounter Ink-horn Adventures: nor to quarrel with any sort of wrangling Companions (scolding is the language of shrews, and railing the style of Rakehells): or so much as to call busy heads by their usual and proper names (the things are paltry, and the very names savour of rascality): but there is a time when such doughty warriors must be appeased, & such wise men answered according to their wisdom. Howbeit in favour of a private and public quietness, I will thank the honest fellows the more, the less occasion they give me to interrupt better exercises: to trouble the world with trifling discourses upon pelting matters: to disease themselves: to pleasure none but the printer & idle creatures, the only busy readers of such Novelets. I would gladly be specially beholding unto them for this courtesy: and dare undertake it shall redound more to their credit to approve their desire of reconciliation by silence, than to continue the opinion of their rooted despite by stirring more coals…

Good sweet Orator, be a divine Poet indeed[41], and use heavenly Eloquence indeed, and employ thy golden talent with amounting usance indeed, and with heroical Cantos honour right Virtue & brave valour indeed: as noble Sir Philip Sidney and gentle Master Spenser have done with immortal Fame, and I will bestow more compliments of rare amplifications upon thee than ever any bestowed upon them, or this Tongue ever afforded, or any Aretinish mountain of huge exaggerations can bring forth. Right artificiality (whereat I once aimed to the uttermost power of my slender capacity) is not mad-brained, or ridiculous, or absurd, or blasphemous, or monstrous, but deep-conceited, but pleasurable, but delicate, but exquisite, but gracious, but admirable, not according to the fantastical mould of Aretine or Rabelais, but according to the fine model of Orpheus, Homer, Pindarus, and the excellentest wits of Greece, and of the land that flowed with milk and honey. For what Festival Hymns so divinely dainty as the sweet Psalms of King David, royally translated by Buchanan? or what sage Gnomes so profoundly pithy as the wise Proverbs of King Solomon, notably also translated? But how few Buchanans? Such lively springs of streaming Eloquence, & such right Olympical hills of amounting wit: I cordially recommend to the dear Lovers of the Muses: and namely to the professed Sons of the same: Edmund Spenser, Richard Stanyhurst, Abraham Fraunce, Thomas Watson, Samuel Daniel, Thomas Nashe, and the rest: whom I affectionately thank for their studious endeavours, commendably employed in enriching and polishing their native Tongue, never so furnished or embellished as of late. For I dare not name the honourabler sons and nobler daughters of the sweetest & divinest muses that ever sang in English or other language[42]: for fear of suspicion of that which I abhor: and their own most delectable and delicious Exercises (the fine handiwork of excellent Nature and excellenter Art combined[43]) speak incomparably more than I am able briefly to insinuate. Gentle minds and flourishing wits were infinitely to blame, if they should not also, for curious imitation, propose unto themselves such fair Types of refined and engraced Eloquence. The right Novice of pregnant and aspiring conceit will not overskip any precious gem of Invention, or any beautiful flower of Elocution, that may richly adorn, or gallantly bedeck, the trim garland of his budding style. I speak generally to every springing wit, but more specially to a few, and at this instant singularly to one, whom I salute with a hundred blessings, and entreat, with as many prayers, to love them that love all good wits, and hate none but the Devil and his incarnate Imps, 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 been unsufferable, in an youth was more excusable, in a reformed youth is pardonable, and rather matter of concordance than of aggrievance.

I desire not to be a black Swan, or to leave behind me any Period in the style of the Devil's Orator, or any verse in the vein of his Dam's Poet, but rather covet to be nothing in print, than anything in the stamp of needless or fruitless Contention. As I am overruled at this present, and as it standeth now, I am not to be mine own Iudge or Advocate, but am content to be sentenced by every courteous or indifferent peruser that regardeth honesty in persons, or truth in testimonies, or reason in causes. Or seeing some matters of Fame are called in question, I am not only willing, but desirous, to underlie the verdict, even of Fame herself[44], and to submit our whole credits to the voice of the people, as to the voice of Equity and the Oracle of God, to whose gracious favours he recommendeth your Courtesy, that neither flattereth the best, nor slandereth the worst, nor willfully wrongeth any, but professeth duty to his superiors, humanity to his equals, favour to his inferiors, reason to all. And by the same Rule, oweth you amends for the premises. Not speedily dispatched, but hastily bungled up, as you see.

London, this 8 and 9 of September.

The friend of his friends, and foe of none.


THE FOURTH LETTER  (11 and 12 of September 1592)

To the same favourable or indifferent Reader

Honest gentlemen (for unto such I especially write), give me leave in this slender pamphlet only to fulfil the importune requests of a few, with your small delight and mine own less contentment … I presume I cannot less satisfy any than I have satisfied myself, who, having wedded myself to private study, and devoted my mind to public quietness, took this troublesome pen in hand with such an alacrity of courage as the sorry bear goeth to the stake, & now rejoice in that which with more haste than speed is dispatched… For in many cases I take it a better Policy to use the flying Leg than the cumbersome Horn, and at this instant I should much more have pleased myself if I had still practised my former resolution to scorn the stinging of a peevish wasp, or the biting of an elvish gnat, or the quip of a mad companion, and rather to pocket up a pelting injury than to entangle myself with trifling business, or any way to accrue to the most contemptible fellowship of the scribbling crew that annoyeth this age and never more accloyed the world. Alas, he is pitifully bestead, that, in an Age of Policy and in a world of Industry[45] (wherein the greatest matters of Government and Valour seem small to aspiring capacities), is constrained to make woeful Greene and beggarly Pierce Penilesse[46] (as it were a Grasshopper and a Cricket, two pretty musicians, but silly creatures) the arguments of his style, and enforced to encounter them who only in vanity are something; in effect, nothing; in account, less than nothing, howsoever the Grasshopper, enraged, would be no less than a green Dragon[47], and the Cricket, malcontented, not so little as a Black Bell-wether, but the only Unicorn of the Muses.

Some in my case would perhaps be content for their own credit to have them notoriously so reputed, and in cunning would peradventure not stick to strain at a Gnat as it were at a Camel, but plain dealing useth no such Rhetoric; they that have Eyes can see, and they that have Ears can hear as sensibly as I … and any cost too much upon such an argument, a subject of loss to the writer, of gain to none, but duty must obey and courtesy yield, and it is the luck of some pelting Comedies to busy the stage as well as some graver Tragedies[48]. Were nothing else discoursively inserted (as some little else occasionally presented itself), what paper more currently fit for the basest mechanical uses than that which containeth the vile misdemeanours (and Truth will say) the abominable villainies of such base shifting companions, good for nothing (in the opinion of good minds) but to cast away themselves, to spoil their adherents, to prey upon their favourers, to dishonour their Patrons, to infect the Air where they breathe. Might Pierce be entreated to qualify his distempered vein and to reclaim his unbridled self, as some bold Gawains, upon milder consideration, have been glad to do (good Pierce, be good to thy good friends, and gentle to thy gentle self), I assuredly would be the first that should wrap up such memorials, not in a sheet of waste-paper, but in the winding-sheet of Oblivion, and will not stick to embalm the dead corps of a professed enemy to sweeten the living spirit of a wished friend, howsoever extremely mean or famously obscure. The gracious Law of Amnesty, a sovereign Law; but the divine Law of Charity the Law of Laws. Who cannot contemn the insolentest arrogancy, but who must not condescend to any reasonable accord? He that was never dismayed with any necessary distress, yet ever escheweth all unnecessary trouble, and he that least feareth the sword of unjust Calumny, yet most dreadeth the scabbard [sheath] of just Infamy, and would gladly avoid the lightest suspicion of that which he abhorreth. Though the painted sheath be as it is (for it needeth no other Painter to portray itself), yet never child so delighted in his rattling baby as some old Lads of the Castle have sported themselves with their rapping bauble[49]. It is the proper weapon of their profession; they have used it at-large, and will use it at pleasure, howsoever the patient heal himself at their cost. It were a work of importance to answer that weapon; I long since gave them over [=up] in the plain field, and am now become a suitor to their towardest scholars, to remember the glorious conquest of their witty Masters[50]. I would willingly please, or not displease, as I may, but no Life without self-contentment, no performance of any action without Resolution.

Were artists as skilful as arts are powerful, wonders might be achieved by art improved, but they that understand little, write much, and they that know much, write little. The vain Peacock with his gay colours, and the prattling Parrot with his ignorant discourses[51] (I am not to offend any but the Peacock and the Parrot), have garishly disguised the worthiest Arts, and deeply discredited the profoundest Artists, to the pitiful defacement of the one, and the shameful prejudice of the other… The flower delighteth today and fadeth tomorrow, the fruit edifieth and endureth; the vizard, the painted sheath, and such terrible braveries can best report their own entertainment. The peacock and the parrot have good leave to prank up themselves, and leisure enough to revive and repolish their expired works…

There be wrangling & quarreling hotspurs enough, though I be none. Ignis fatuus [ghost light] never so spritishly busy; never so many threatening Comets, never such a terrible sky of blazing and falling stars, never such lusty stirring of lively coals and dead cinders, every Martin Iunior and Puny [Junior]  Pierce a monarch in the kingdom of his own humour, every pert and crank wit, in one odd vein or other, the only man of the University, of the City, of the Realm, for a flourish or two. Who but he, in the flush of his overweening conceit? Give him his peremptory white rod [herald’s wand] in his hand, and good night all distinction of persons, and all difference of estates; his pen is his mace, his lance, his two-edged sword, his scepter, his Hercules club, and will bear a predominant sway in despite of vainglorious Titles and ambitious Degrees. Lords must take heed how they Lord-it in his presence, but he, forsooth, may play the Lord Great-Master cum gratia, & a saucy Sophister take upon him, like a mighty Tyrant, cum privilegio. God help, when Ignorance and want of Experience[52], usurping the chair of scrupulous and rigorous Iudgement, will in a fantastical Imagination, or percase in a melancholy mood, presume farther by infinite degrees than the learnedest men in a civil Commonwealth, or the sagest counsellors in a Prince's Court. Our new-new writers, the Loadstones of the Press, are wonderfully beholding to the Ass, in a manner the only Author which they allege[53]. The world was ever full enough of fools, but never so full of Asses in print; the very Elephant, a great Ass; the Camel, a huge Ass; the Bear, a monstrous Ass; the Horse, an absurd Ass; the Fox himself, a little Ass, or, for variety, an Ape. Who not an Ass or an Ape in good plain English that chanceth to come in the wise Ass-maker's & mighty Ape-dubber's way? …

They are fine men, & have many sweet phrases; it is my simplicity that I am so slenderly acquainted with that dainty style, the only new fashion of current eloquence in esse, far surpassing the stale vein of Demosthenes or Tully, Jewel or Harding, Whitgift or Cartwright, Sidney or Spenser. But I could wish Ignorance would favour itself, & it were not amiss that want of Experience should be content to be a little modest or somewhat quiet, & both enforce less occasion to be termed as they will needs notoriously proclaim themselves, as it were with a public oyez, or a general Noverint universi per praesentes. For if anything indeed be a right Ass in print, it is the one [Greene], and if anything indeed be a right Calf in print, it is the other [Nashe]: Ignorance, the famousest Ass, and want of Experience, the notablest Calf[54] in the world. Yet the one, the terrible controller, the other, the singular Reformer of the world; both, the busiest adventurers and doughtiest doers in a world. They trouble many, much; some, exceedingly; themselves, most; me, little, who can very well leave them to the jollity of their own swinge, or only pray them to stay the nimble course of their forward wisdoms till they have soberly read and heard a little.. .

I hope there neither is, nor shall be, any default committed but may in convenient time be redressed with some reasonable amends, until which time I am not to dedicate anything unto any personage of name but a mind affectionately desirous to honour the worthiest, to reverence the wisest, to commend the learnedest, to embrace the best, to appease the worst, to injury none, to render everyone the uttermost of his desert or other quality. Which mind I entirely recommend unto you all, and you all unto God, whom I beseech to accomplish that which I cannot effect, and even to work a miracle upon the deaf.

                                                                                        London, this 11 and 12 of September.

Your affectionate friend, G.H.



- Gabriel Harvey, Foure Letters, and Certaine Sonnets, London 1592

- Sir Egerton Brydges, Old English Prose Tracts, vol.II, London 1815

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

- Gabriel Harvey’s Foure Letters (1592): A Critical Edition, ed. by Janet Elizabeth Biller (unpublished doctoral dissertation. Columbia University, 1969)



[1] “[Dec.] 1592”: For the purpose of dating Three Letters and certaine Sonetts (Oct. 1592) , and Foure Letters and Certaine Sonetts (Dec. 1592) see Francis R. Johnson, The Library 1934-5, XV, pp.212-23. (Nashe called the Three Letters: Harvey’s “first butterfly pamphlet against Greene.”)

[2] [The First Letter] : The first letter was not from the pen of Gabriel Harvey but from Christopher Bird, a friend of Harvey from Saffron Walden; the addressee is Master Emmanuel Demetrius in London. Bird's letter was prompted by a desire to raise his friend's spirits after Greene's remarks. It was accompanied by a poem, which may well have been written by Harvey himself, directed against Robert Greene.

[3] “the famous author, who was reported to lie dangerously sick … not of the plague or the pox, as a Gentleman said, but of a surfeit of pickle herring and rhenish wine”: Typical Harvey, he pretends to be quoting a third (unknown) party so as to avoid accusations of libel. The ruse did not stand the test of time and Harvey's denunciation of England's first professional writer was recorded word for word in the Encyclopaedia. Thomas Nashe complained in Strange Newes (Feb. 1593): “For the lousy circumstance of his poverty before his death, and sending that miserable writ to his wife, it cannot be but thou liest, learned Gabriel. I and one of my fellows, Will. Monox (Hast thou never heard of him and his great dagger?) were in company with him a month before he died, at that fatal banquet of Rhenish wine and pickled herring (if thou wilt needs have it so), and then the inventory of his apparel came to more than three shillings (though thou sayest the contrary).” (See 3.1.5 Nashe, Strange Newes.)

[4] “he offered ten, or rather than fail, twenty shillings to the printer (a huge sum with him at that instant) to leave out the matter of the three brothers”: De facto, the items that caused the offence to Richard, John und Gabriel Harvey, were omitted from the second printing of A Quip for an Upstart Courtier or a Quaint Dispute between Velvet-Breeches and Cloth-Breeches . Tom Nashe offered the following explanation: “I am sure the printer, being of that honesty that I take him for, will not affirm it. - Marry, this I must say, there was a learned doctor of physic (to whom Greene in his sickness sent for counsel) that, having read over the book of Velvet-breeches and Clothbreeches, and laughing merrily at the three brothers’ legend, willed Greene in any case either to mitigate it, or leave it out, not for any extraordinary account he made of the fraternity of fools, but for one of them was proceeded in the same faculty of physic he professed, and willingly he would have none of that excellent calling ill spoken of. This was the cause of the altering of it, the fear of his physician’s displeasure, not any fear else.”

[5] “I little delight in the rehearsal of such paltry, but who like Elderton for ballading, Greene for pamphleting, both for good-fellowship”: William Elderton (died 1592) was a prolific English ballad-writer. Little is known of his life, though he was well known in London literary circles, except a reputation as drunkard. – Harvey took the term “good fellowship” from John Lyly.

[6] “the very ringleaders of the riming and scribbling crew”: Harvey puts John Lyly and Anthony Munday in one basket with Robert Greene and William Elderton.

[7] “was gone to Tarleton”: Dick Tarleton, the king of the London clowns, used to attack the puritan movement from the stage. He died in September 1592.

[8] “augment the history of Cony-catchers”: Harvey wishes to complete Robert Greene's story about confidence tricksters, or coney-catchers (see 3.1.5 Nashe, Strange Newes, note 32),  with a satirical portrait of Greene.

[9] “his fellow-writer, a proper young man … that was a principal guest at that fatal banquet of pickle herring”: The “fellow-writer” is Thomas Nashe, whom Harvey, on 5 September 1592 still doesn't regard as an enemy. - Greene and Nashe hatched together The Defence of Cony-Catching (1592).

[10] “sold for three shillings”: see note 3.

[11] “a letter to his abandoned wife”: see note 3.

[12] “The dead bite not, and I am none of those that bite the dead”: A very tasteless remark, particularly when considering Harvey's criticism of the deceased Robert Greene.

[13]Here Bedlam is, and here a poet garish,/ Gaily bedecked, like fore-horse of the parish”: Greene was buried in the New-church yard near Bedlam. - Thomas Nashe gives Harvey a taste of his own medicine in Strange Newes (1593): “Now do I mean to present him and Shakerley to the Queen's fool-taker for coach-horses.”

[14] “for these twelve or thirteen years”: In 1580 Gabriel Harvey published his Three proper and wittie familiar Letters, with which he had first set the cat among the pigeons. As of this time Harvey hadn't published anything.

[15] “both for matter and manner”: One of Harvey's favourite topics as it gives him the opportunity to air his knowledge on the cause of earthquakes.

Shakespeare parodiert in Loves labors lost:

FERDINAND. A letter from the magnifisent Armado.
BEROWNE. How low so ever the matter, I hope in God for high words.
LONGAVILL. A high hope for a low heaven. God grant us patience.
BEROWNE. To heare, or forbeare hearing.
LONGAVILL. To heare meekely sir, and to laugh moderatly, or to forbeare both.
BEROWNE. Well sir, be it as the stile shall give us cause to clime in the merrines.
CLOWNE. The matter is to me sir, as concerning Iaquenetta:
The manner of it is, I was taken with the manner.
BEROWNE. In what manner?
CLOWNE. In manner and forme folowing sir all those three. I was seene with her in the Manner house, sitting with her uppon the Forme, and taken following her into the Parke: which put togeather, is in manner and forme following. Now sir for the manner, It is the manner of a man to speake to a woman, for the forme in some forme.

[16] “He that in his youth flattered not himself with the exceeding commendations of some greatest scholars in the world”: One of Harvey's favourite literary devices; the art of self recommendation. - The answer of Nashe will be: “Ah, neighbourhood, neighbourhood, dead and buried art thou with Robin Hood; a poor creature here is fain to commend himself for want of friends to speak for him. Not the least, but the greatest, scholars in the WORLD have not only, but exceedingly, fed him fat in his humour of braggadocio glorioso.” (“Braggadocchio“ is a comic knight with no sense of honour in Edmund Spenser’s Faery Queene (1590). He is not evil, just a dishonourable braggart.)

[17] “the preposterous and untoward courses”: See Don Armado in Loves labors lost (1598): “that obscene & most propostrous event that draweth from  my snow-white pen the ebon coloured Incke” etc.

[18] “the old Fox”: Doctor Andrew Perne (c.1519-1589), Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University and dean of Ely, whom Harvey considered to be an enemy.

[19] “Some familiar friends pricked me forward”: See W. Shakespeare, Loves labors lost: “as my ever esteemed duety prickes me on”.

[20] “Signior Immerito”: Edmund Spenser published The Shepheardes Calender (1579) under the pseudonym “Immerito”.

[21] “When there was no remedy but melancholy patience”: Harvey reacted to Lyly’s denunziation of his mocking verses with “melancholy patience”. Shake-speare, the brunt of his mockery, parodies this special type of patience in Loves labors lost (1598): He gives Don Armado, in his letter to King Ferdinand, the following lines:“So it is besedged with sable coloured melancholy, I did commende the blacke oppressing humour to the most holsome phisicke of thy health-geving aire”.

[22] “the sharpest part of those unlucky Letters had been over-read at the Council Table”: The poem “Speculum Tuscanismi” from the Three proper and wittie familiar Letters (1580), an attack on the Earl of Oxford, was disscussed before the Privy Council.

[23] “to make something of nothing”: A reference to John Lyly’s (or Pap Hatchet’s) satirical interjection from 1589: “And one will we conjure up that … fell into the bowels of libelling, which made his ears quake for fear of clipping” and Robert Greene’s satire in A Quip For An Upstart Courtier (1592): “God's benison light upon him, was the first that invented English hexameter. But see how in these days learning is littlee steemed; for that and other Familiar Letters and proper treatises he was orderly clapped in the Fleet”.

[24] “The green master of the Black Art”: A reference to Robert Greene. The beginning of the all embracing “greeneness” which was to come.

[25] “my heinousest crimes and deadliest sins, to be the Inventor of the English Hexameter, and to be orderly clapped in the Fleet for the foresaid Letters, where he that saw me, saw me at Constantinople”: Greene claimed that Harvey was detained at the Fleet Street prison after the publication of The Mirror of Tuscanism (1580). Harvey denied such an inprisonment and accused Greene of spreading unsubstantiated rumours. – Constantinople: A place, where nobody could have seen him.

[26] “another company of special good-fellows (whereof he [Greene] was none of the meanest that bravely threatened to conjure up one”: The anti-Marprelate-company, with John Lyly as their leader and Robert Greene as their member. In Pappe with an hatchet (1589) Lyly, remembering Harveys “Speculum Tuscanismi” (1580),  wrote nine years later: “And one will we conjure up that, writing a familiar Epistle about the natural causes of an Earthquake” and “If he join with us, periisti [miserable] Martin [Marprelate], thy wit will be massacred; if the toy take him to close with thee [Martin], then have I my wish, for this ten years have I looked to lamback him”.

[27] “very courtly persuade the Earl of Oxford that something in those Letters, and namely the Mirror of Tuscanismo, was palpably intended against him”: It was John Lyly who drew the attention of his friend and employer, the Earl of Oxford, to the polemics that Harvey was saying about him in Speculum Tuscanismi.

[28] “since in the prime of his gallantest youth he bestowed Angels upon me in Christ's College in Cambridge”: 

The young Earl of Oxford supported Gabriel Harvey between 1567 an 1569. - In Strange Newes (Febr. 1593) Nashe provokes Harvey, speaking of “more angels than the Lord thou libelledst on gave thee in Christ’s College”. In Pierce’s Supererogation (Aug./Sept.1593) Harvey remembers his obligation to the mysterious „excellent Gentlewoman“:

and if I honour her Virtue, whose confirmed modesty I could never see disguised with any gloze of commendation, who can blame me for discharging some little part of a great duty? She hath, in mere gratuity, bestowed a largess upon her affectionate servant, that imputeth the same, as an excessive favour, to her hyperbolical courtesy, not to any merit in himself: but the lesser my desert, the greater her liberality, whom I cannot any way reacquite farther than the zeal of a most devoted mind may extend, as incessantly thankful as infinitely debtful.

[29] “But the noble Earl, not disposed to trouble his Iovial mind with such Saturnine paltry”: This is a reference to the theory of the four elements: Melancholy-Earth-Saturn; Phlegm-Water-Moon; Blood-Air-Jupiter; Choler-Fire-Mars. See Gabriel Harvey, Pierces Supererogation (1593): “A melancholy body is not the kindest nurse for a cheerly mind (the Iovial complexion is sovereignly beholding to nature).”

[30] “the old Roman Discipline and the new Spanish industry”: Harvey presents himself as being a believer in Roman military discipline along with Spanish ingenuity and diligence; a strange form of self praise just four years after the attack on England's shores by the Spanish Armada. Reason enough for William Shakespeare to parody Harvey with the character of Don Adriano de Armado (the mad Spaniard) in Loves labors lost.

Thus expecting thy reply, I prophane my lippes on thy foote, my eyes on thy picture,
and my hart on thy every part.
Thine in the dearest designe of industri,
Don Adriana de Armatho.

[31] “his [Robert Greene’s] sworn brother, M. Pierce Penilesse”: THE THIRD LETTER 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. Nashe’s Pierce Pennilesse his Supplication to the Devil contains an vitriolic attack on Richard Harvey. The target isn't named, but the clues in this torrent of abuse are obvious. (See 3.1.3 Commentary to Pappe with an hatchet.)

[32] “Tarleton's precedent of The Seven Deadly Sins”: The actor and clown Dick Tarleton wrote at least one play, The Seven Deadly Sins (1592); though it was enormously popular in its day, no copy has survived.

[33] “his margin is as deeply learned as Fauste precor gelida”: Cited from Mantuanus (Johannes Baptista Spagnola) whose Eclogues (1498) were part of the standard Grammar School curriculum. This was the first poem in the book so every grammar-school boy would know it. The correct line is: Fauste, precor gelida quando pecus omne sub umbra Ruminat- ‘Faustus, I pray, once all the herd is ruminating  in the cool shade.’

In Shakespeare’s Loves labors lost (1598) Nathaniel, the Curate, corrupts the quote, making  pure nonsense of it: "Facile precor gellida, quando pecas omnia sub umbra ruminat.

[34] “the daughter of most-pregnant, but most-wretched Niobe”: Meliboea, the only Niobid spared when Artemis and Apollo killed them. She was so horrified at the sight of her siblings' death that she stayed greenishly pale for the rest of her life, and for that reason she was dubbed Chloris ("the pale one").

[35] “A per se a was not so much as idoneus auditor civilis scientiae”: A per se, or A per se A; that is, a by itself. Chaucer calls Cresseide “the floure and a per se of Troie and Grece, where it is meant to imply pre-eminent excellence. - Gabriel Harvey gave Thomas Nashe the name “A per se a”, handing him a fit occasion for a brilliant riposte: “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…” (see: 3.1.5. Strange Newes.)

[36] “Euphuism and Greeneness”: The euphuism was a popular literary mannerism in the England of the 1580s, thus named after John Lyly’s successful novel Euphues, The Anatomy of Wit (1578). The euphuists used a balanced, flowery style. – We see Harvey's concepts of “Greeneness” and “greene-sickness” reflected in Shakespeare's Loves labors lost [I/2] “the complexion … of the sea-water Greene”.

[37] “I report me to the favourablest opinion of those that know his Prefaces, Rimes”: A reference to Nashe's eloquent preface to Greene’s Menaphon (1589) and to the unauthorised copy of Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella (1591), and perhaps his frivolous poem : “The Choosing of Valentines”.

[38] “buckram Giants ... and hypocritical hot-spur's”: Harvey quotes two terms from Nashe's Pierce Pennilesse (1592). Here we see a reference to the “rogues in buckram suits” and to Henry Percy, named Hotspur, in Shakespeare’s 1Henry IV (II/4).
Later, the matter is made even clearer when Harvey speaks of “some old Lads of the Castle”, an unmistakable play on Sir John Falstaff (originaly called “Sir John Oldcastle”) and his companions. See: 1Henry IV (I/2):

FALSTAFF. By the Lord, thou say'st true, lad- and is not my hostess of
  the tavern a most sweet wench?
PRINCE. As the honey of Hybla, my old lad of the castle- and is not
  a buff jerkin a most sweet robe of durance?
In Nashe's Summer's Last Will (Oct. 1592) we find an allusion to 2Henry IV, V/3 (“SILENCE. Do me right, / And dub me knight, Samingo [=Sir Mingo]”) :
The song.
Mounsier Mingo for quaffing doth surpass,
In cup, in can, or glass.
God Bacchus, do me right,
And dub me knight, Domingo.
Die “official” dating of Henry the Fourth - 1596/97 - seems like a bad joke in the light of this informations.

[39] “how might a man purchase the sight of those puissant [powerful] and hideous terms?”:
See W. Shakespeare, Loves lobors lost (1598):

BRAGGART. How hast thou purchased this experience?
BOY. By my penne of observation.
BRAGGART. But o but o.

[40] “No man loather than myself to contend with desperate Malcontents”: After he has got all of his vitriolic insults off his chest, Harvey pretends to be the ambassador of peace.

[41] “Good sweet Orator, be a divine Poet indeed”: This term is intended for Thomas Nashe, “the Devil’s Orator.” A gesture of appeasement that is half irony and half genuine desire for harmony. In Pierces Supererogation (1593) Harvey regales himself for these words: “But what a notable Ass was I that sought the wings of a mounting Pegasus, or a flying Phoenix, where I found the head & feet of a braying creature?”

[42] “For I dare not name the Honourabler Sons and Nobler Daughters of the sweetest & divinest Muses that ever sang in English or other language”: This comment is addressed primarily at the Earl of Oxford and Mary Sydney, Countesse of Pembroke. – Robert Detobel writes: “The aristocratic authors would have been glad avouch their work had this been in keeping with their station. If the “commoner" Gabriel Harvey had named them this would have constituted a serious breech of etiquette. 

[43] “the fine handiwork of excellent Nature and excellenter Art combined”: Gabriel Harvey writes in Pierces Supererogation (1593) about “the excellent Gentlewoman”: “Some of you may aim at her personage, and it is not the first time that I have termed her style the tinsel of the daintiest Muses and sweetest Graces, but I dare not Particularize her Description.” (See 3.1.6 Harvey, Pierces Supererogation, note 165.)

[44] “even of Fame herself“: Pheme (Roman equivalent: Fama) was the personification of fame and renown, her favour being notability, her wrath being scandalous rumors.

[45] “Alas, he is pitifully bestead, that, in an Age of Policy and in a world of Industry”: Once again, Harvey uses one of his favourite terms refering to himself in the third person.

[46] “beggarly Pierce Penilesse”: Currently and in the future, a synonym for the author Thomas Nashe.

[47] “green Dragon”: Again one of Harveys “greeneries”, later to be parodied in Shakespeare's Loves labors lost.

[48] “as well as some graver Tragedies”: Probably a play on Shakespeare's Henry the Fourth, a “tragedy” with elements of comedy.

[49] “some old Lads of the Castle have sported themselves with their rapping bauble”: “Their rapping bauble” is a reference to John Lyly's terminology used in 1589: “a rap with a bauble”. With that Harvey is comparing Lyly (“sometimes the fiddlestick of Oxford”) with the audacious Sir John Oldcastle =Sir John Falstaff. In Act I, Scene 2 of 1 Henry IV Prince Hal calls the Fat Knight, "my old lad of the castle" (see note 38).

[50] “I long since gave them over [=up] in the plain field, and am now become a suitor to their towardest scholars, to remember the glorious conquest of their witty Masters”: “The witty masters” are none other than the Earl of Oxford, on whom Harvey declared war in 1580, and his secretary John Lyly. The “schlolars” are Robert Greene and Thomas Nashe.

[51] “The vain Peacock with his gay colours, and the prattling Parrot with his ignorant discourses”: Robert Greene is the green peacock, and Thomas Nashe, the author of An Almond for a Parrot (1590) is the parrot.

[52] “Ignorance and want of Experience”: Shakespeare parodies in Loves labors lost (1598):

HOLOFERNES. Twice sodd simplicity, bis coctus [double baked], O thou monster ignorance, How deformed doost thou looke. 

[53] “Our new-new writers, the Loadstones of the Press, are wonderfully beholding to the Ass, in a manner the only Author which they allege”: “The Ass” here mentioned is the ass from Erasmus' satire Moriae encomium (= The Praise of Folly) the embodiment of obstinacy and stupidity.

[54] “Ignorance, the famousest Ass, and want of Experience, the notablest Calf”: In Strange Newes Thomas Nashe counters this section: “Well, for all he would have Pierce make no wars on him, he makes wars on Pierce Pennilesse, he bebeggereth him again in this epistle very bountifully; he says that lords must take heed how they lord it in his presence. / That the ass is the only author he allegeth. / That Greene is an ass in print, and he a calf in print.