Ox, Old Ass, Gentlewoman The excellent Gentlewoman, Entelechy-Singularity, Alexander, Ox, The Old Ass, Idle Hours, St. Fame

Assembled here are all passages from Gabriel Harvey’s Pierces Supererogation (Aug./Sept. 1593) and A New Letter of Notable Contents (Oct. 1593) that relate to the key words ‘the excellent Gentlewoman’, ‘Entelechy’, ‘Singularity’, ‘Alexander’, ‘the great A’, ‘the Ox and the Ass’, ‘the Old Ass’, ‘Idle Hours’ and ‘St. Fame’. The continuous texts that appear can be read as units of meaning. This should animate the reader to come up with his or her own interpretation. These can be compared with the comments and notes at 3.1.6 (Pierces Supererogation) and 3.1.7 (A New Letter of Notable Contents) at the readers discretion.



To Harold Boom

In Pierces Supererogation and A New Letter of Notable Contents Gabriel Harvey gives stage to the mysterious “excellent Gentlewoman”, who we have interpreted as being a female  lancer or the female version of “Shake-speare”. It centres on a code word for the biggest living author of the time. Harvey starts off by giving hints but then goes on to talk about in a rather obvious way.

1.1 Pierce’s Supererogation

the excellent Gentlewoman, my Patroness, or rather Championess, in this quarrel, is meeter by nature, and fitter by nurture, to be an enchanting Angel with her white quill than a tormenting Fury with her black ink.

Her own Prologue, or Demur [delay, doubt]

O muses, may a woman poor and blind,
A Lion-dragon or a Bull-bear bind?
Is't possible for puling wench to tame
The furibundal Champion of Fame?
He brandisheth the whirlwind in his mouth,
And thunderbolteth so confounding shot;
Where such a Bombard-goblin, North or South,
With dread Pen-powder, and the conquerous pot?

Her old Comedy, newly entitled.
I knew a glorious and braving Knight,
That would be deemed a truculental [base, mercenary] wight,
Of him I scrawled a doughty Comedy.
Sir Bombarduccio was his cruel name,
But Gnasharduccio the sole bruit of Fame.


See, how He brays and fumes at me, poor lass,
That must immortalize the kill-cow Ass.

She knew what she said, that entitled Pierce the hogshead of wit; Pennilesse, the tosspot of eloquence; & Nashe, the very inventor of Asses. She it is that must broach the barrel of thy frisking conceit, and canonize the Patriarch of new writers.

One She, and two He’s, have vowed they will pump his Railing ink-horn as dry as ever was Holborn Conduit, and squeeze his Craking Quill to as empty a sponge as any in Hosier Lane… at last even impudency itself must be fain to give over in the plain field, and never yield credit to the word of that most credible Gentlewoman, if the very brazen buckler prove not finally a notorious dash-Nashe.

never yield credit to the word of that most credible Gentlewoman, if the very brazen buckler prove not finally a notorious Dash-Nashe.

thy St. Fame … (is) as savoury a Saint, by the verdict of that Gentlewoman, as the cleanly disbursing of the dirt-purse of Sir Gargantua

To spoil Pierce Pennilesse were a poor booty: and to make Thomas Nashe kiss the rod (by her favour that hath pleasurably made him a Sultan Tomumboius, & another Almannus Hercules, the great Captain of the Boys), were as sorry a victory, but only in her Bello Euboico, or in her main battle of Scolds.

the renowned Phul Bullochus. For so the Gentlewoman hath entitled him [Phul Assar] in a place or two, that hath vowed the Canonization of Nashe’s St. Fame in certain discourses of regard, already dispatched to my satisfaction, & almost accomplished to her own intention.

Lob-assar –duck [Henry Chettle], another noble king of Assyria, not forgotten by the said Gentlewoman, but remembered with such a grace as beautifieth divine wits. Kind-heart hath already offered fair for it

Had I not lately revisited the Assyrian History [the history of the Ass in literature] with the said virtuous Gentlewoman, one of the gallantest ornaments of her sex

Come, divine Poets and sweet Orators, the silver-streaming fountains of flowingest wit and shiningest art; come, Chaucer and Spenser, More and Cheke, Ascham and Astley, Sidney and Dyer; come,the dearest sister of the dearest brother, the sweetest daughter of the sweetest Muses [Mary Sidney], only One excepted, the brightest Diamond of the richest Eloquence, only One excepted, the resplendentest mirror of Feminine valour, only One excepted, the Gentlewoman of Courtesy, the Lady of Virtue, the Countess of Excellency, and the Madam of immortal Honour:

She doth him no wrong that doth him right, like Astraea, and hath styled him [Thomas Nashe] with an immortal pen, the Baw-waw of Scholars, the Tut of gentlemen, the Tee-hee of gentlewomen, the Fie of citizens, the Blurt of courtiers, the Pooh of good Letters, the Faph of good manners, the whoop-hoo of good boys in London streets.

my Discourses entitled Nashe’s St. Fame, which are already finished, and attend the Publication: as also in other Supplements thereof, especially those of the above-mentioned Gentlewoman, whom, after some advertisement, it pleased to make the Strange News of the railing Villain the cushionet of her needles and pins. Though my scribblings may fortune to continue awhile, and then have their desert according to the laudable custom (what should toys, or dalliances, live in a world of business?), yet I dare undertake with warrant, whatsoever she writeth must needs remain an immortal work, and will leave, in the activest world, an eternal memory of the silliest vermin that she should vouchsafe to grace with her beautiful and allective style, as ingenious as elegant. - Touching the manner, I take it a nice and frivolous curiosity for my person to bestow any cost upon a trifle of no importance: and am so overshadowed with the flourishing branches of that heavenly plant, that I may seem to have purposely prevented all comparison in yielding that homage to her divine wit which at my hands she hath meritoriously deserved. Albeit I protest, she was neither bewitched with entreaty, nor juggled with persuasion, nor charmed with any corruption, but only moved with the reason which the Equity of my cause, after some little communication, in her Unspotted Conscience suggested. They that long to advance their own shame (I always except a phoenix or two), may bravely enter the lists of comparison, & do her the highest honour in despite that they could possibly devise in a serviceable devotion. - She hath, in my knowledge, read the notablest Histories of the most singular women of all ages, in the Bible, in Homer, in Virgil (her three sovereign Books, the divine Archetypes of Hebrew, Greek, and Roman Valour), in Plutarch, in Polyen, in Petrarch, in Agrippa, in Tyraquel, in whom not, that have specially rendered their diligent devoir [dutiful respect] to honour the excellentest women that have lived in the world, and, commending the meanest, extolling the worthiest, imitating the rarest, and approving all, according to the proportion of their endowments, envieth none but Art in person and Virtue incorporate, the two preciousest creatures that ever flourished upon earth. Other women may yield to Penelope: Penelope to Sappho: Sappho to Arachne: Arachne to Minerva: Minerva to Iuno: Iuno to none of her sex: She to all that use her and hers well: to none of any sex that misuse her, or hers. She is neither the noblest, nor the fairest, nor the finest, nor the richest Lady, but the gentlest, and wittiest, and bravest, and invinciblest Gentlewoman that I know. Not such a wench [young woman] in Europe to unswaddle a fair Baby, or to swaddle a foul puppy. 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, according to my conceit of her beau-desert, without her licence or permission, that standeth upon masculine, not feminine, terms, and is respectively not to be dealt withal, in regard of her courage, rather than her fortune. - And what if she can also publish more works in a month than Nashe hath published in his whole life, or the pregnantest of our inspired Heliconists can equal? Could I dispose of her Recreations, and some others' Exercises, I nothing doubt but it were possible (notwithstanding the most curious curiosity of this age), to breed a new admiration in the mind of Contempt, & to restore the excellentest books into their wonted estate, even in integrum []. Let me be notoriously condemned of Partiality, and simplicity, if she fail to accomplish more in gallant performance (now she hath condescended to the spinning up of her silken task), than I ever promised before, or may seem to insinuate now. Yet she is a woman, and for some passions may challenge the general Privilege of her sex, and a special dispensation in the cause of an affectionate friend devoted to the service of her excellent desert, whom he [= Harvey] hath found no less than the Handmaid of Art, the mistress of Wit, the Gentlewoman of right Gentleness, and the Lady of right Virtue. Howbeit even those passions she hath so ordered and managed, with such a witty temper of violent, but advised, motions, full of spirit and blood, but as full of sense and judgement, that they may rather seem the marrow of reason than the froth of affection: and her hottest fury may fitly be resembled to the passing of a brave career by a Pegasus, ruled with the reins of a Minerva's bridle. Her pen is a very Pegasus indeed, and runneth like a winged horse, governed with the hand of exquisite skill. She it is that must return the mighty famous work of Supererogation with Benet and Collect.

The best is, where my Answer is, or may be deemed, Unsufficient (as it is commonly over-tame for so wild a Bullock), there She, with as Visible an Analysis as any Anatome, strippeth his Art into his doublet, his wit into his shirt, his whole matter & manner into their first Principles... I desire no other favour at the hands of Courtesy, but that Art and Wit may be her readers, & Equity my judge, to whose Unpartial Integrity I humbly appeal in the Premises, with dutiful recommendation of Nashe’s St. Fame, even to St. Fame herself, who with her own flourishing hands is shortly to erect a Maypole in honour of his Victorious Last Word. - Doubt ye not, gallant Gentlemen, he shall find the guerdon of his Valour, & the meed of his meritorious work. Though my Pen be a slugplum, look for a quill as quick as quicksilver, & pity the sorry swain that hath incurred the indignation of such a quill, and may everlastingly be a miserable Spectacle for all libelling rake-hells, that otherwise might desperately presume to venture the foil of their crank folly. The stay of the Publication resteth only at my instance, who can conceive small hope of any possible account or regard of mine own discourses, were that fair body of the sweetest Venus in Print, as it is redoubtedly armed with the complete harness of the bravest Minerva. - When his necessary defence hath sufficiently accleared him, whom it principally concerneth to acquit himself: She shall no sooner appear in person, like a new Star in Cassiopeia, but every eye of capacity will see a conspicuous difference between her and other mirrors of Eloquence:

It is in the least of her energetical lines to do it, more easily than a fine thread cracketh a jangling Bell. A pretty experiment, &, not unlike some of her strange inventions and rare devises, as forcible to move, as feat to delight.  The issue will resolve the doubtfullest mind, and I am content to refer Incredulity to the visible and palpable evidence of the Term Probatory. When either the Light of Nature and the Sun of Art must be in Eclipse : or the shining rays of her singular gifts will display themselves in their accustomed brightness, and discover the base obscuring of that mischievous Planet that, in a vile ambition, seeketh the exaltation of his fame by the depression of their credit that are able to extinguish the proudest glimpse of his Lamp. Her rare perfections can liveliest blazon themselves: and this [=my] pen is a very unsufficient Orator to express the heavenly beauties of her mind: but I never knew Virtue a more inviolable Virgin than in her excellent self, and the day is yet to come wherein I ever found her Wit a defective or Ecliptic creature. - She knoweth I flatter not her Fortune: 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. For to address a plausible discourse, or to garnish a Panegyrical Oration in her praise, as occasion may present, will appear to be a task of Civil Iustice, not any piece of Civil courtesy, when her own silver Tracts shall publish the precious valour of her golden Virtues, and decipher the inestimable worth of the Author by her divine handiwork…

There She standeth, that with the finger of Industry, and the tongue of Affability, hath achieved some stranger wonders, upon as rough and harsh fellows, as

The noddy Nashe, whom every serving-swash

With pot-jests dash, and every whip-dog lash:

(for the rime is more famous than was intended), and with the same causes emproved, why may She not directly, or violently, accomplish the same effects? or what is impossible to the persuasive and Pathetical influence of Reason, and Affection? It is a very dismal and caitiff Planet that can find in his heart to encounter those two gracious Stars with malicious aspects: which he must despitefully encounter, that will obstinately oppose his peevish rancour to her sweet Civility.

that inspired Gentlewoman.  Whose Pen is the shot of the musket, or rather a shaft of heaven, swifter than any arrow, and mightier than any hand-weapon, when Courtesy is repulsed, and hostility must enforce amity: but otherwise how graciously amiable, how divinely sweet?  Gentlemen, look upon the lovely glistering Star of the morning, and look for such an Orient Star, when She displayeth the resplendishing beams of her bright wit, and pure bounty.


1.2. A New Letter of Notable Contents

Pierce’s Supererogation (that was an arrow in my hand, or clog in your) is least beholding to the penknife: Nashe’s St. Fame hath somewhat more of the lancelet: the Reply of the excellent Gentlewoman is the fine razor [a knive used for shaving, tusk of a boar] that must shave-away every rank hair of his great courage and little wit. I was long since aweary with beating the Air, and take small pleasure in washing the Asses head, or what should I term that bootless and irksome business. But it is that heavenly Creature (for so she will approve herself) that can conjure-down the mouth of Villainy into hell-mouth, & will do it as resolutely as she can do it peremptorily, Unless a competent satisfaction be speedily tendered to my contentment. It were pity that divine handiwork should be employed but to a divine piece of service, either to gain a relenting soul, or to cast away an obstinate body. If she be prevented by a voluntary submission of the offender, to do a thing done were a superfluous labour, and to undo a man undone, an unmerciful cruelty. A thing as contrary to the shining loveliness of her mild disposition as the bitterest bitter seemeth repugnant to the sweetest sweet. - The bravest man is such a personage as I have elsewhere described: A Lion in the field, A Lamb in the town, A Jove’s Eagle in feud, an Apollo’s Swan in society, A Serpent in wit, A Dove in life, a Fury in execution, an Angel in conversation. What hath the bravest man that she hath not: excepting the Lion in the field of Mars, which she hath in the field of Minerva, whose war she wageth with a courageous mind, an invincible hand, and the cunning array of the worthy Old-man in Homer. His talk was sweet, his Order fine, and his whole menage brave: and so is hers: but for a dainty wit and a divine humanity she is such a Paragon as may compare with the excellentest of Homer’s women, and pledge the honourablest of his Goddesses [Minerva]. She is a right bird of Mercury’s winged chariot, and teacheth the liveliest cocks of the game to bestir them early, to crow gallantly, to march comely, to fight valiantly, to consort kindly, and to live in any estate honourably. No flower more flourishing than her wit:: no fruit more mature than her judgement. All her conceits are illuminate with the light of Reason: all her speeches beautified with the grace of Affability: all her writings seasoned with the salt of Discretion : all her sentences spiced with wittiness, perfumed with delight, tempered with profit : no leaven of Experience more savoury than all her platforms & actions: nothing more mellow than the whole course of her life. In her mind there appeareth a certain heavenly Logic: in her tongue & pen, a divine Rhetoric: in her behaviour, a refined Moral Philosophy: in her government, a sovereign Policy : in every part of her proceeding, a singular dexterity: & what pattern of skill or Practice more admirable than the whole?- Let it not seem incredible that shall enact & accomplish more than is signified. The manner of her wrath or disdain (yet I believe she was never froward with any, nor ever angry but with One, whom only she scorneth, & before whom she never contemned any) is somewhat like the counter-tenor of an offended Siren, or not much unlike the progress of the resplendent Sun in the Scorpion. Her favour is liker theriac for the heart than hippocras for the mouth: her disfavour like the Moon withdrawing the cheerly beams of her bounteous light in a cloud: her hatred (if she can hate, for I verily think she never hated but One) like the flashing weapon of the fiery Air. She is not lightly moved: but what she resembleth or representeth when she is moved, could I as visibly declare as she can vigorously utter, I would deem myself a piece of an Orator. And I were more than Tully’s perfect Orator if I could display her excellent perfections, whose mind is as full of rich gifts and precious Iewels as New-year’s day. Yet her goodliest ornament and greatest wonder is the sweet humility of that brave courage. - But in remembering her, I forget myself: & what a tedious Letter is here for him that maintaineth a chargeable family by following his business. Had I not found you desirous of some particularities touching Nashe’s St. Fame, & The Gentlewoman’s Reply, when you delivered unto me Pierce’s Supererogation in Print, I had dispatched ere now. But now you must lend me patience until I have disbalassed my mind. Concerning her inditing, whereof I have already given you a taste or smack in Pierce’s Supererogation : as in the harmony of her mind, so in the melody of her Verse, I seldom or never descry any note out of tune; and it is not the first time I have termed her Prose the tinsel of finest Art and sweetest nature. - What notes I find above Ela in the One: & what counterpoints of exquisite workmanship I admire in the other, it shall elsewhere appear in a dialogue intituled Pandora, or The Mirror of Singularity. Might I see the finest Art and the sweetest nature in person, I would report me to the Censure of their own sovereign mouthes, the best Iudges in their own peerless faculty. - There falleth not a sentence from her quill without sap and pith: and every Period of her style carrieth marmalade and sucket in the mouth: and every argument of her invention savoureth of most savoury reason. No chain so linked as her Conclusions: nor any Crystal so conspicuous as her Method. Her whole discourse is the cream of the milk, the comb of the honey, the juice of the grape & the marrow of the bone. The bestowing of her perfections at occasion, a dainty choice, & fine marshalling of every excellency, curiously sorted in their proper places: like the gorgeous wardrobe of Helena, or the precious Iewel-house of Cleopatra, or the cunning still-house [distillery] of Medea, or the comely distributing of the neatest and gallantest furniture in the richest Oeconomy. What needeth more? Her beginning, like the purest Oil in the crown of the runlet; her proceeding, like the sovereignest wine in the middest of the butt; her ending, like the sweetest honey in the bottom of the honey-pot. - Her intention was defensive, not offensive, and had anything been tolerable in that scurrilous and villainous declamation, assuredly she would a thousand times rather have excused the matter than accused the maker. Humanity is ever willinger to love than to hate, & so is she; Courtesy, much forwarder to commend than to dispraise, and so is she; Clemency, infinitely proner to absolve than to condemn, and so is she. For she is a personal Humanity, a mere Courtesy, and a Clemency incorporate. - She loveth not to confute that confuteth itself: & I hate to confound that confoundeth himself. She in the Court of Civility hath learned to embrace amendment with the arms of Courtesy: and I in the school of Divinity am taught to kiss repentance with the lips of Charity.



Based upon our understanding of the text, Harvey used the terms “Entelechy” and “Singularity” in clear reference to the figure of the “excellent Gentlewoman”.

Nimble Entelechy hath been a stranger in some Countries, albeit a renowned Citizen of Greece, and a free Denizen of Italy, Spain, France, and Germany, but welcome the most natural inhabitant of the world, the sail of the ship, the flight of the bow, the shot of the gun, the wing of the Eagle, the quintessence of the mind, the course of the sun, the motion of the heavens, the influence of the stars, the heat of the fire, the lightness of the Air, the swiftness of the wind, the stream of the water, the fruitfulness of the Earth, the singularity of this age: and thank thy most-vigorous self for so many precious works of divine fury and powerable consequence, respectively comparable with the richest Treasuries and bravest armories of Antiquity. Thrice happy, or rather a thousand times happy, Creature, that with most advantage of all honourable opportunities, & with the extremest possibility of his whole powers, inward, or outward, employeth the most excellent excellency of human or divine Nature.

No marvel, ô great miracle, & ô most powerful Entelechy, though thou seemest a Pilgrim to Dametas, that art the Familiar Spirit of Musidorus

Art, take heed of an eager appetite, if a little greedy devouring of singularity will so soon get the hicket [hiccup], and make thee (as it were) belch the sloven's [knave’s] Oratory, and (as a man would say), parbreak [spew, vomit] the slut's Poetry. - Pure Singularity, wrong not thy arch-excellent Self, but embrace him with both thy arms, that huggeth thee with his fine wits, and cowl [put a monk's cowl on, make a monk of] him with thy two coral bracelets, that busseth thee with his two ruby lips, and his three diamond powers, natural, animal, and vital. Precious Singularity, how canst thou choose but dote [be foolishly in love] upon his [Nashe’s] alabaster neck, whose inventive part [the inventive part of Singularity] can be no less than a sky-coloured Sapphire, like the heavenly devises of the delicious Poetess Sappho, the godmother of that azure gem; whose Rhetorical figures, sanguine and resplendishing Carbuncles, like the flamy Pyropes of the glistering Palace of the Sun; whose alluring persuasions, Amethysts; whose cutting girds, adamants; whose conquering Ergos, loadstones; whose whole conceit as greene as the greenest Iasper; whose Orient [precious, brilliant] wit, the renowned achates of King Pyrrhus, that is, the tabernacle or chancel of the Muses, Apollo sitting in the midst, and playing upon his ivory harp most enchantingly. Is it possible those powerful words of antiquity, whose mighty influence was wont to debase the miraculous operation of the most virtuous stones, herbs, and stars (Philosophy knoweth the incredible force of stones, herbs, & stars), should be to seek in a panting inspired breast, the closet of revealed mysteries, and garden of infused graces? What locks, or bars of Iron, can hold that quicksilver Mercury, whose nimble vigour disdaineth the prison, and will display itself in his likeness, maugre whatsoever impeachment of iron Vulcan, or wooden Daedalus? - I hoped to find that I lusted to see, the very singular subject of that invincible & omnipotent Eloquence, that in the worthiest age of the world, entitled heroical, put the most barbarous tyranny of men, and the most savage wildness of beasts, to silence, and areared wonderful admiration in the heart-root of obstinatest Rebellion, otherwise how untractable?

The wise Priest could not tell whether Epiphany [striking appearance] were a man-saint, or a woman-saint, or what the devil it was. Such an Epiphany to this learned man is Entelechy, the only quintessence of excellent and divine minds, as is above mentioned, showing whence they came by their heavenly and perpetual motion. What other word could express that noble and vigorous motion, quicker than quicksilver, and the lively spring, or rather the Vestal fire, of the ever-stirring Virtue of Caesar, Nescia stare loco []: a mystery, and a very Chimera, to this swad of swads, that beginneth like a Bull-bear, goeth on like a bullock, endeth like a bullfinch, and hath never a sparkle of pure Entelechy.



The names “Alexander (the Great)” and “The Great A” carry an ambivalent meaning in Harvey's work. They clearly hint at the Earl of Oxford but are also connected to the figure of the “old Ass” - in other words the scholarly ass (or “Ass in Print”).

I come not yet to the Praise of the old Ass; it is young Apuleius that feedeth upon this glory: and having enclosed these rank commons to the proper use of himself & the capricious flock, adopteth whom he listeth, without exception: as Alexander the Great had a huge intention to have all men his subjects, and all his subjects called Alexanders.

He [Harvey] summed all in a brief but material sum that called the old Ass the great A, and the est Amen of the new Supererogation.

He that would honour Alexander may crown him the great A of puissance: but Pyrrhus, Hannibal, Scipio, Pompey, Caesar, divers other mighty Conquerors, & even some modern Worthies, would disdain to have him sceptred the est Amen of Valour. What a brave and incomparable Alexander is that great A that is also the est Amen of Supererogation; a more miraculous and impossible piece of work than the doughtiest puissance, or worthiest valour, in the old or new world? Shall I say blessed, or peerless, young Apuleius, that from the swathing-bands of his infancy in Print was suckled of the sweetest nurses, lulled of the dearest grooms, cockered of the finest minions, colled [embraced] of the daintiest paramours, hugged of the enticingest darlings, and more than tenderly tendered of the most delicious Muses, the most amiable Graces, and the most powerful Virtues of the said unmatchable great A, the grand founder of Supererogation, and the sole Patron of such meritorious clients.



It is not a coincidence that Harvey likes to mention the ox in conjunction with the ass (or Tom Nashe). The rhetor alludes to Nashe's appeal for the help to the Earl of Oxford in Strange Newes (Jan. 1593).

(Happy the old father that begat, and thrice happy the sweet Muses that suckled and fostered, young Apuleius.)

I go not about to discover an Ass [Lyly / Nashe] in an Ox’s hide.

the fire-breathing Oxen and mighty Dragon which kept the most famous golden fleece, the glorious prize of brave Iason, were Asses of Colchos

The ox and the Ass are good-fellows

the world an universal Ox, and man a general Ass

Phul Assar [Nashe] himself, the famous son of the renowned Phul Bullochus [Bullcalf]. For so the Gentlewoman hath entitled him in a place or two



“The old Ass” is not, we believe, a synonym for the Earl of Oxford – but that it alludes to him in rather secret way. The “the old Ass” in fact denotes the embodiment of intelligent stupidity, that is to say the scholarly ass (or “Ass in Print”). In their satires, Erasmus of Rotterdam (1511) and Agrippa of Nettesheim (1530) erect a memorial in his honour. At the same time an allusion is made to “the old Apuleius”, i.e. the “Golden Ass”, a prominent work of Lucius Apuleius.

Pierces Supererogation or A new Praise of the Old Asse

Blame him not, or blame him gently, that would be a little loath to be dieted at the rack of the old Ass [Lyly], or to be bitten of the young dog [Nashe]. He [Harvey] is no party in the cause that pleadeth thus against Aristogiton.

I go not about to discover an Ass [Lyly / Nashe] in an Ox’s hide.

I come not yet to the Praise of the old Ass [Golden Ass]; it is young Apuleius that feedeth upon this glory, and having enclosed these rank commons to the proper use of himself & the capricious flock, adopteth whom he listeth without exception, as Alexander the Great had a huge intention to have all men his subjects, and all his subjects called Alexanders. It was strange news for some to be so assified, and a work of Supererogation for him so bountifully to vouchsafe his golden name, the appropriate cognizance of his noble style.

Divers excellent men have praised the old Ass [Golden Ass]: give the young Ass leave to praise himself

Where was Euryalus, there was Nisus; where Damon, there Pythias; where Scipio…, his indivisible companion, with whose puissant help he conquereth, wheresoever he rangeth. Nay, Homer not such an author for Alexander, nor Xenophon for Scipio, nor Virgil for Augustus… as his Author for him, the sole author of renowned victory. Marvel not that Erasmus hath penned the Encomium of Folly, or that so many singular learned men have laboured the commendation of the Ass: he it is [the Golden Ass / Oxford] that is the godfather of writers, the superintendent of the press, the muster-master of innumerable bands, the General of the great field; he and Nashe will confute the world. And where is the Eagle's quill that can sufficiently advance the first spoils of their new conquests? Whist, sorry pen, and be advised how thou presume above the highest pitch of thy possibility. He [the Ass in Print] that hath christened so many notable authors, censured so many eloquent pens, enrolled so many worthy garrisons, & encamped so many noble and reverend Lords, may be bold with me.

He [Harvey] summed all in a brief but material sum that called the old Ass [the Ass in Print / Oxford?] the great A, and the est Amen, of the new Supererogation.

Shall I say blessed, or peerless, young Apuleius, that from the swathing-bands of his infancy in Print was suckled of the sweetest nurses, lulled of the dearest grooms, cockered of the finest minions, colled [embraced] of the daintiest paramours, hugged of the enticingest darlings, and more than tenderly tendered of the most delicious Muses, the most amiable Graces, and the most powerful Virtues of the said unmatchable great A [Ass / Alexander], the grand founder of Supererogation, and the sole Patron of such meritorious clients.

young Apuleius, the heir apparent of the old Ass, the most glorious old Ass.

I writ only at idle hours, that I dedicate only to Idle Hours: or would not have made so unreasonably bold, in no needfuller Discourse, than The Praise, or Supererogation of an Ass [Nashe].



An unambiguous allusion to the dedication of Shakespeare’s epic poem Venus and Adonis (published in June 1593): “Right Honourable, I ... vow to take advantage of all idle hours, till I have honoured you with some graver labour.”

I writ only at idle hours, that I dedicate only to Idle Hours: or would not have made so unreasonably bold, in no needfuller Discourse, than The Praise, or Supererogation of an Ass.


7.  ST. FAME

Gabriel Harvey invents a patroness or championess of his enemy, calling her “St. Fame” (the antitype of of the “excellent Gentlewoman”). She is a wicked and vulgar muse, half Gorgon, half Maid Marian. A longer piece of writing prepared by Harvey carries the title “Nashe’s St. Fame”. Alluding ironically to “St. Fame”, Harvey parodies Nashe's declamation in Strange Newes: “Saint Fame for me, and thus I run upon him.”

the amends must be addressed in some other more material treatise or more formal discourse, and haply Nashe’s St. Fame may supply some defects of Pierce's Supererogation

A Preparative to certain larger discourses, entitled Nashe’s St. Fame.

Pardon me, St. Fame. What the first pang of his divine fury, but notable vanity?

St. Fame give him [Nashe] joy of his black coal, and his white chalk.

Rest you quiet, and I will not only not struggle with you for a title, but offer here to renounce the whole advantage of a late inquisition upon a clamorous denunciation of St. Fame herself, who presumed she might be as bold to play the blab [blabber] with you, as you were to play the sloven [knave, rascal] with her.

It is his St. Fame to be the infamy of learning; his reformation to be the corruption of his reader; his felicity to be the misery of youth

and St. Fame is disposed to make it holiday. She hath already put on her wispen garland over her pouting cross-cloth, and behold with what an imperial majesty she cometh riding in the ducking-chariot of her triumph. I was never so sick of the milt but I could laugh at him that would seem a merry man, & cannot for his life keep in the breath of a fumish [smoky] fool. Fie, Long Meg of Westminster would have been ashamed to disgrace her Sunday bonnet with her Saturday wit. She knew some rules of decorum, and although she were a lusty bouncing ramp, somewhat like Gallemella ([gall-mellé], or Maid Marian, yet was she not such a roinish [scabby, scurvy] rannell [hussy, jade], or such a dissolute Gillian-flirt [Gillian of Brainford], as this wainscot-faced Tomboy, that will needs be Danter's malkin, and the only hag of the press.

St. Fame, the goddess of his devotion; St. Blaze, the idol of his zeal; St. Aubrey, the lady of his love; and the young vicar of St. Fools, his ghostly father.

Thy wit already maketh buttons, but I must have St. Fame disclaim her black sanctus, and Nashe's devout supplication to God to forgive Pierce's reprobate Supplication to the Devil.

Tom Drum, reconcile thyself with a counter-supplication, or surely it is fatally done, and thy St. Fame utterly undone world without end. As savoury a saint, by the verdict of that excellent Gentlewoman, as the cleanly disbursing of the dirt-purse of Sir Gargantua

the Gentlewoman … that hath vowed the Canonization of Nashe’s St. Fame in certain discourses of regard, already dispatched to my satisfaction, & almost accomplished to her own intention.

But what approved man of learning, wisdom, or judgement ever deigned him [Aretino] any honour of importance, or commendation of note, but the young darling of St. Fame, Thomas Nashe, alias Pierce Pennilesse, the second leviathan of prose, and another behemoth of rime?

Much good may it do the puppy of  St. Fame so to confute, and so to be confuted.

Even when envy boiled his ink, malice scotched his pen, pride parched his paper, fury inflamed his heart, St. Fame raged like St. George's dragon, mark the conclusion: the weather was cold, his style frost-bitten, and his wit nipped in the head.

Touching the matter, what wanteth, or might be expected here, shall be particularly and largely recompensed, as well in my discourses entitled Nashe’s St. Fame, which are already finished, and attend the publication

with dutiful recommendation of [Harvey’s ] Nashe’s St. Fame, even to St. Fame herself, who, with her own flourishing hands is shortly to erect a maypole in honour of his victorious last word.

The woeful slave of St. Fame must either blindfold himself with insensible perversity, or behold his own notorious folly with most shameful shame.

If Nashe will felly gnash, and rudely slash,
Snip-snap a crash may lend St. Fame a gash.