CRITICISMS PART 4
OXFORD'S LITERARY REPUTATION
This article by A is divided into 10 sections:
A Device and a Conceit
Praise for the Patron
Lists of Elizabethan Poets that Exclude Oxford
Here are some excerpts:
A handful of his poems appeared in print throughout the last decades of the
Sixteenth Century. Other poems of his circulated in manuscript. Poems by other
poets were occasionally misattributed to him, which suggests that he had
sufficient reputation as a poet to be thought capable of writing such verses....
According to the Frontline tv show "The Shakespeare Mystery," literary critics of
the period called de Vere one of the greatest Elizabethan poets and 'the best for
comedy.' If he did write great comedies and great poems, what happened to
them? ....In looking over these Oxfordian accounts, I notice that the same few
names come up again and again: William Webbe, George Puttenham, Francis
Meres, and Henry Peacham. I intend to demonstrate that the judgements of
these men about Oxford's writing are consistent with both the quantity and quality
of Oxford's known work, and do not justify assigning him the works of
Shakespeare....The evidence will show that while Oxford did indeed have some
slight reputation as a poet, nobody ever considered him a great poet, nobody who
was familiar with the works of Spenser or Sidney or Daniel or Shakespeare
thought Oxford was a better poet than any of these men.
In addition, Oxfordians remind us of the flattering remarks about Oxford made by
writers who had sought or gained his patronage, such as Gabriel Harvey, Edmund
Spenser, John Lyly, and others, and so it is important to consider their statements.
Finally, we should see whether Oxford's name appears on other lists of the best
poets of his time. We should then be able to see whether Oxford's reputation in his
own time was so great as to persuade us that his contemporaries believed he
wrote the works we know today as Shakespeare's.
My comments are:
To gain a better perspective on the problem we face here, let's project ourselves
forward almost 400 years to the 24th century. By then there will have been many
wars, nations will rise and fall in power; the planet earth is now a very different
place. The Arctic ocean has thawed out completely. Antarctica is now a dry land
continent. Temperatures range from 160 degrees F. by day to 100 degrees F at
night in the former temperate zones. Water levels have risen. Many 21st century
ports and lowlands no longer exist. Much of Florida, Prince Edward Island,
eastern England and the Netherlands are gone. Most of the US central plains
area has become a desert. The dominance of the US has come
and gone, as has that of China and India. Africa is now the unified superpower.
Automobiles and planes no longer exist. The light barrier has been broken. There
are colonies on the Moon and on Mars. Food is now artificially created. Books
have been superceded and no longer exist.
Some antiquarians have searched out the remnants of the past. The English
language has evolved so much since the 21st c. that for those who still can speak
it, the ancient works, such few remnants as still exist, are difficult to transcribe into
modern 24th c. language. Here are brief extracts from a paper regarding the
current 24th c. controversy as to whether Samuel Clemens was 'Mark Twain' or
Mark Twain was a person's real name. The paper is translated for us to read now:
It was said in the 20th c. that Clemens' newspaper articles appeared in print in the
last decades of the 19th c. He apparently also gave popular lectures, for which
there is now no evidence. Literary critics of the period called Mark Twain one of the
great influences in late 19th c. literature and the best for humour in his time. If
Samuel Clemens did write newspaper articles, where are they? If he gave many
popular lectures over many years, what happened to them? I intend to
demonstrate that the quality and quantity of Clemens known work doesn't justify
assigning him the works of Mark Twain.
There is a remnant of an article called Archimedes, published in the Australian
"Standard" in 1887 using the name "Twark Main", This may be by Clemens
imitating Mark Twain as the style and content are similar. I suggest there is
reasonable evidence that Clemens was not Mark Twain, and in fact was copying
him. There is fragmentary evidence that Clemens worked as a printer's assistant,
and published articles in newspapers under various pseudonyms, such as "Josh."
He seems always to have been involved in the printing business and even formed
his own printing firm "Charles L. Webster Company," which later became bankrupt.
Mark Twain, however, stayed with the Mississippi area and became a river pilot.
He was well known for the various books as they were then called, published in his
name. We know that Mark Twain was born and raised in Missouri near the
Mississippi river, in the then 'southern United States.' We are told he joined the
militia there before the civil war. He was a writer of books, and such then well
known writers as Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner said in particular his
Huckleberry Finn was a major influence on 20th c. American fiction.
Samuel Clemens was a northerner, working in the printing business in New York,
Philadelphia, and Cincinnati. He wrote for his brother's newspapers. Clemens'
brother was appointed territorial secretary and they apparently went together to
Carson City, Nevada. Clemens seems to have tried his hand at silver and gold
prospecting, and went to San Francisco. He was an editor and part owner of the
Buffalo Express and moved to Hartford Connecticut. All this bespeaks a
northerner, and clearly Hemingway and Faulkner thought Mark Twain was a real
person and not a pseydonym as some have suggested.
All this sounds quite reasonable and convincing. It probably would convince many
in the 24th century. But in the 21st century we know that this scholar is quite
mistaken, and Mark Twain was indeed the pseudonym of Samuel Clemens.
In this section A says in effect
1. Webbe mentions Spenser as the greatest poet
...one, who if not only, yet in my judgement principally deserveth the title of the
rightest English Poet, that ever I read: that is, the Author of the Shepheardes
The Shepherd's Calendar was written by Edmund Spenser. A2 makes no attempt
to search out the qualification 'rightest' and what it means.
2. A quotes Webbe on the 'divers works' of 12 other listed poets
and many others, but to speak of their several gifts, and abundant skill shewed
forth by them in many pretty and learned works, would make my discourse much
3. A quotes Webbe as follows:
I may not omit the deserved commendation of many honourable and noble Lords,
and Gentlemen, in her Majesty's Court, which in the rare devices of Poetry, have
been and yet are most excellent skillful, among whom, the right honourable Earle
of Oxford may challenge to himself the title of the most excellent among the rest.
A then picks this reference apart, saying 'rare devices in Poetry' is an obvious
reference to the title of the 1575 Paradise of Dainty Devices, and that it contains
8 of Oxford's poems. (He was 25 when it was published.) A2 continues
the praise of Oxford is trebly qualified
1. he's not called 'most excellent' but one who might 'challenge' for the title
2. the skill is not in poetry but in the 'rare devices' of poetry
3. the title... is limited to best among the courtiers.
I suggest Webbe would be surprised to read this. Webbe said Spenser was 'the
rightest English Poet' and mentions his rare gift of Poetry. This was generally
accepted in Spenser's lifetime. Shakespeare (sonnet 86) refers to another poet
with 'the proud full sail of his great verse' contrasted with his own 'saucy bark,
inferior far to his' (sonnet 80), in a maritime metaphor. The judgement of history
is different though, as it usually is. Shakespeare is placed above Spenser now,
Mozart above Salieri, Chopin over Listz, and J. S.Bach above Vivaldi.
'rightest English Poet' means something. For example, it could mean the most
patriotic poet in England. I'm not suggesting that it does, but merely pointing out
the qualification, whatever it was, was there for a purpose. Webbe cleverly uses
'challenge' for Oxford because he was a successful challenger in Court jousts;
'rare devices in poetry' I suggest because the courtier poets were highly
intelligent as well as artistic and added that capacity to their writing; the title was
limited to best among courtiers because these were not professional writers as
poets. but wrote in a dilettante way as educated men when they were primarily
involved in running their estates, duties for the court and Queen, and so on. Try
as he might, none of this argument by A2 detracts from de Vere as a candidate for
A continues by saying Webbe doesn't mention Shakespeare because his work A
Discourse of English Poetry was published in 1586; he only refers to printed works
before then, and that's why he omits Sidney whose printed works appeared later.
Based on the evidence, there is certainly no reason to believe that Webbe
considered Oxford a great poet.
We can grant him his point, but it means little, if it's based on de Vere's 8 poems
published when he was 25 years old. What is remarkable, I suggest, is that de
Vere received as much praise from Webbe as he did, at so early a stage in his
life: best among his own group of various ages in life.
The most important evidence for Oxford's literary reputation is George
Puttenham's Arte of English Poesie (1589)...
A quotes Puttenham, and here are some excerpts
...first in degree is the Queen our Sovereign Lady, whose learned, delicate, noble
Muse, easily surmounteth all the rest... of her most humble vassals.
A concludes, probably correctly, that this is
the sort of fawning that the Queen generally received and expected
A adds up the number of times each poet is referred to by Puttenham, and
Gascoigne, Gower and Surrey = 10-19 each with Chaucer and Wyatt over 20.
Puttenham mentions Oxford 3 times. This places him 13th on A's list. A continues
He includes him in a list of Elizabethan poets he refers to Oxford's having written
a comedy or interlude, and he quotes one of his poems. The list of Elizabethan
poets in which Oxford's name occurs includes
Edward, Earl of Oxford, Thomas, Lord of Buckhurst, when he was young, Henry
Lord Paget, Sir Philip Sidney, Sir Walter Raleigh, Master Edward Dyer, Master
Fulke Greville, Gascoigne, Breton, Turberville, and a great many other learned
gentlemen...who have deserved no little commendation.
As A correctly points out, this listing is in order of social rank, so that Puttenham
doesn't give us his ranking by merit here. A informs us that Puttenham had access
to manuscripts as well as printed works. which is why Sidney is included. A
He seems completely unaware of the existence of public theaters, but is only
concerned with performances before the monarch.
I suggest Puttenham was probably well aware of the theatre world, but it was
beneath social recognition. No person of quality would be involved in it. The
mayor and council of London wanted the theatres outside the city or closed, and
actors without service to noble patrons were deemed to be vagabonds.
A quotes Puttenham again
That for Tragedy, the Lord of Buckhurst, and Master Edward Ferrys for such
doings as I have seen of theirs do deserve the highest price: th' Earl of Oxford and
Master Edwardes of her Majestey's Chapel for Comedy and Interlude.
We know of no play of any kind written by Oxford...
This is undoubtedly true of any plays attributed to him or having his name on
them, but it seems very probable that they are all around us, dismissed by
scholars as old plays of little merit, such as the Famous Victories play, which
happened to be quite popular in its day. A points out that nothing at all has
survived of Paget's work, and "Edward Ferrys" is probably George Ferrers. It is in
this dim and distant world that de Vere, while stated by contemporaries to have
been a writer of comedies, has nothing to show us for it.
We discussed Meres' Palladis Tamia: Wits Treasury briefly in chapter 7 and in
more detail in chapter 21. A remarks
Meres seems to have had both Webbe and Puttenham before him as he wrote this
A shows that Meres repeats exactly the sequence of earlier poets given by
Puttenham and even repeats a complete phrase verbatim. This certainly looks like
plagiarism. A shows that Meres only mentions Oxford for comedy, including him
in one list which includes many others, and once out of the 70 English poets he
discusses. The 16th century English poets mentioned repeatedly are Spenser,
Sidney, Daniel, Drayton, Shakespeare, Warner, Chapman, and Watson. Thus,
Meres does not seem to have considered Oxford a great poet, certainly not in a
class with these men.
A quotes Meres list for tragedy. The list includes first a list of Greek and then Latin
... so are these our best for Tragedy the Lord Buckhurst, Doctor Leg of
Cambridge, Dr. Edes of Oxforde, Master Edward Feris, the Author of the Mirror for
Magistrates, Marlow, Peele, Watson, Kid, Shakespeare, Drayton, Chapman,
Decker, and Benjamin Johnson....
In chapter 22 we discussed Thomas Sackville's Gorboduc and also his
involvement in A Mirror for Magistrates for which he wrote the Introduction and
had planned the whole work but became too busy to get back to it due to
diplomatic work for the Queen. Meres treats Buckhurst (Sackville) and the Mirror
as though they were quite separate, which they are not, and this may in part
explain why Oxford is listed separately from Shakespeare.
If there is a great playwright in Meres's judgement. his name is not Oxford but
I see no problem with accepting that conclusion. But it tells us nothing about who
Peacham's 1622 work 'The Compleat Gentleman Fashioning him absolute in the
most necessary & commendable Qualities concerning Minde or Bodie' is a
courtesy book... the one chapter Peacham devotes to poetry ... moves to a survey
of English poetry from the time of Chaucer. The reference to Oxford appears in the
last paragraph of the chapter:
In the time of our late Queen Elizabeth, which was truly a golden Age (for such a
world of refined wits, and excellent spirits it produced, whose like are hardly to be
hoped for, in any succeeding Age) aboue others, who honored Poesie with their
pens and practice (to omit her Majesty, who had a singular gift herein) were
Edward Earl of Oxford, the Lord Buckhurst, Henry Lord Paget, our Phoenix, the
noble Sir Philip Sidney, M. Edward Dyer, M. Edmund Spencer, M. Samuel Daniel,
with sundry others whom (together with those admirable wits, yet living, and so
well known) not out of Envy, but to avoid tediousnesse I overpass. Thus much of
A tells us that Peacham's work is based on the list from Puttenham
,,,the first four names on Peacham's list are the same names and in the same
order as on Puttenham's list, and the reason for not listing every poet (not for envy
but to avoid tediousness) is also the same.
A points out that Peacham refers to 'the Lord Buckhurst' which was correct when
Puttenham wrote, but Buckhurst was named the Earl of Dorset in 1604, similarly
Master Edward Dyer was the appropriate title in Puttenham's time, but Dyer was
knighted in 1596.
It seems from this evidence that Peacham was indeed mirroring Puttenham, which
means his 1622 book is not independent evidence we can add to Puttenham and
Meres. Oxfordians, though, A tells us, have pointed out that while Oxford is
mentioned in Peacham's list, Shakespeare is not. I deduce from what A says that
the truth of the matter is no one really knows why Shakespeare is not included.
A DEVICE AND A CONCEIT
Oxford is mentioned in references to a pair of other works that have not come
down to us: a 'device' of which he was a 'presenter' in 1579, and a 'pleasant
conceit' said to have dated from about 1580... Our source for the first work (The
Shrovetide Device) is a letter from Gilbert Talbot to his father the Earl of
Shrewsbury early in 1579:
... such shows as were showed before Her Majesty this Shrovetide at night. The
chieftest was a device presented by the persons of the Earl of Oxford, the Earl of
Surrey, the Lords Thomas Howard and Windsor. The device was prettier than it
happened to have been performed...
his description clearly identifies the device not as a play but as a court masque.
A then tells us that
George Gascoigne published 'A device of a Maske' that he had been
commissioned to write...in 1572. ... What is of interest to us here (besides
Gascoigne's use of the word 'device') is the division of labor between the
presenters, the author, and the actor.
The presenters had the original idea for a masque and they procured fine clothes
to wear, but in order to justify the spectacle they hired Gascoigne to write the
verses and a professional actor to speak them. Gascoigne tells us that the actor
brought in a boy (presumably from his company) to 'pronounce the device.'
... I can find no reference anywhere to any nobleman's ever speaking a line in any
court masque during the reigns of Elizabeth and James. The lines were spoken
and the songs were sung by professional actors.
The "presenters" appeared in costume as the actors spoke lines about the
characters or qualities that were being presented, then the 'presenters' danced
and the members of the court audience were brought into the dance.
A masque that has points in common with the Shrovetide device is Samuel
Daniel's 'Vision of the Twelve Goddesses,' which was 'presented by the Queen's
most excellent Majesty and her ladies' on January 8, 1604. Queen Anne herself
'presented' Pallas, and eleven other ladies of the court 'presented' other
goddesses, but none of them spoke any lines, and there was never any attempt
at acting. The spectators were meant to forget that they were seeing the queen
herself 'presenting' Pallas. The queen and the ladies appeared in marvelous
costumes, presenting gifts (as Oxford seems to have in the Shrovetide device),
and participated in a dance, but all the lines were spoken by actors.
Based on what we know about other masques, we can reasonably say that Oxford
was a 'presenter' probably wore a costume and danced, but never uttered a line.
A continues by saying there is no reason to believe Oxford wrote it. One might
add there is no reason to believe he didn't. Talbot in his letter doesn't say who
wrote it, so we just don't know. My guess would be that since de Vere was a
'presenter,' and a poet and writer of comedies, he probably had a hand in writing
it, or wrote the whole thing. We just don't know.
A tells us
In the 1730s... Francis Peck announced his intention to publish a number of
manuscript items including 'A pleasant Conceit of Vere Earl of Oxford,
discontented at the Rising of a mean Gentleman in the English Court, circa
MDLXXX (1580). Peck's description does not match any work by Oxford's (sic)
that has survived under his name. The work may not have been by Oxford at all.
It is described as 'of' not 'by' Oxford...
I think A is clutching at straws here in an attempt to deny anything at all to de
... Since Peck never published the work, and the manuscript of it has not survived,
we may never know what it was...
which is true enough. I think the evidence that de Vere was a 'presenter' in one
device and apparently the author of a 'pleasant conceit' at least shows he was
involved in this kind of entertainment at the court. We have no idea how often or
whether these were subsequently worked up into playlets and later still into plays.
LISTS OF ELIZABETHAN POETS THAT EXCLUDE OXFORD
Since A has apparently obtained all his evidence from a book about Spenser, it's
skewed to start with. The conclusion at the end of it all is to say that Oxford was
not a great poet. I think we can with some reservations agree. Using works
published by de Vere under his own name, this is a reasonably accurate
statement, as de Vere's identified output is mostly before 1576. The rest appears
to be before 1581 in which case it was written while he was still in his twenties.
PRAISE FOR THE PATRON
A tells us
what is so surprising about the dedications to Oxford is that while they are full of
flattery and praise, their authors do not praise Oxford's skill as a poet.
A refers to dedications by Thomas Bedingfield, Anthony Munday, John Lyly and
Thomas Greene as examples of this.
A doesn't seem to realize that etiquette would prevent any such reference. If you
were fortunate enough to have a noble patron, and Oxford was one of, if not the,
best to have, you would not dream of mentioning in a dedication to the patron that
he also happened to be a writer. This would be totally unacceptable. Why?
Because it would be equating him with the level of a writer when he was being
addressed as a noble patron of the arts.
A mentions Spenser's praise for Oxford's high birth and kindness to poets. Then
Both Lord Buckhurst and Raleigh ... are highly praised by Spenser for their fine
poetry. Thus, to judge by Spenser's dedicatory sonnets to the Faerie Queene,
Oxford's reputation as a poet was not worth mentioning compared to Buckhurst's
or Raleigh's ...
Spenser includes a number of eminent persons in his dedications preceding the
Faerie Queene. A long letter and Sonnet to his patron Ralegh is followed by
Commendatory Poems and Sonnets to Persons of Rank.
Seven commendatory poems then follow, The first is without a subscript. The
others have the following subscripts:
W.R., Hobynoll, R.S., H.B., W.L., Ignoto,
Next follow the sonnets to persons of rank:
To the right honourable Sir Christopher Hatton, Lord High chancelor of England
To the most honourable and excellent Lo. the Earle of Essex, Great Maister of the
Horse to her Highnesse, and knight of the Noble order of the Garter &c.
To the right Honourable the Earle of Oxenford Lord High Chamberlayne of
To the right honourable the Earle of Northumberland
To the right Honourable the Earle of Ormond and Ossory
To the right honourable the Lo. Ch. Howard, Lo. high Admiral of England. knight
of the noble order of the Garter, and one of her Maiesties priuie Counsel. &c.
To the most renowned and valiant Lord, the Lord Grey of Wilton, knight of the
Noble order of the Garter, &c.
To the right noble and valorous knight Sir Walter Raleigh. Lo. Warden of the
Stanneryes, and lief[t]enaunt of Cornwaile.
To the most vertuous, and beautiful Lady, the Lady Carew.
To all the gratious and beautifull Ladies in the Court.
To the right honourable the Lo. Burleigh, Lo. high Threasurer of England.
To the right honourable the Lord of Hunsdon, high Chamberlaine to her Majesty.
To the right honourable the Lord of Buckhurst, one of her Maiesties priuie
To the right honourable Sir Fr. Walsingham, knight, principall Secretary to her
Maiesty, and of her honourable Priuy Counsell.
To the right noble LORD and most valiaunt Captaine Sir John Norris knight, Lord
President of Mounster.
To the right honourable and most vertuous Lady, the Countesse of Pe[m]broke,
To the right honourable the Earle of Cumberland.
It seems to me that Spenser has chosen to weave his sonnet in each case
around a particularly notable attribute of that person. De Vere was well known for
doing all he could financially and otherwise to encourage and support writers.
Here's part of what he says about de Vere
...the loue, which thou dost beare
To th'Heliconian ymps, and they to thee,
They vnto thee, and thou to them most deare: ...
Here's part of what he says about Ralegh
To thee that art the summers Nightingale,
Thy soveraine Goddesses most deare delight, ...
My rimes I know vnsaurory and sowre,
To taste the streames, that like a golden showre
Flow from thy fruitful head, ...
When so thee list thy lofty Muse to raise: ...
and to Sackville
In vain I thinke right honourable Lord,
By this rude rime to memorize thy name;
Whose learned Muse hath writ her owne record,
In golden verse, worthy of immortal fame: ...
It's probably true that Spenser thought more highly of Sackville - a flawless writer
of tragedy; - and Ralegh, a complex personality with tremendous versatility in
talent, including fine poetry; - than of de Vere, perhaps known mainly for his
comedies, but this is not meant to belittle de Vere's particular talent, as A seems
A then quotes Gabriel Harvey. Here's how he introduces the quote:
Spenser's friend Gabriel Harvey never dedicated a work to Oxford, but he did once
refer to his literary efforts in a Latin poem addressed to the Earl in 1578 that
savors of a bid for patronage:
Your British numbers have been widely sung, while your Epistle testifies how much
you exceed in letters, being more courtly than Castiglione himself, more polished,
I have seen your many Latin things, and more English are extant; of French and
Italian muses, the manners of many peoples, their arts and laws you have drunk
deeply. Not in vain was Sturmius known to you., nor so many Frenchmen and
polished Italians, nor Germans. But, O celebrated one, put away your feeble pen,
your bloodless books, your impractical writings! (Jameson 4.3.5-15)
Although this is a favorite passage among Oxfordians (who invariably quote the
highly inaccurate translation by B.M. Ward), it hardly reflects great credit on their
man's literary reputation. Harvey is telling him to stop writing and become a soldier
instead. Harvey does not call Oxford a great writer, but rather one who has
wielded a 'feeble pen.' The most interesting element is his reference to having
seen other 'Latin things' by Oxford. Harvey doesn't say whether they were any
good, but in any event they have not survived. The one work of Oxford's he
praises at all is his Latin Epistle to John Cheke's Latin translation of Castiglione.
Of Oxford's English poetry, Harvey says only that 'they have been widely sung'
and he suggests that Oxford's writings are highly derivative of French and Italian
To be fair about this, let's look at what A describes as the 'highly inaccurate
translation by B. M. Ward.' Unlike A, whose small quotation begins and ends as
shown above, Ward has a section headed Gabriel Harvey which begins:
In July 1578 the Queen paid another visit to Cambridge University. She was
accompanied by the whole Court, among whom were Lord Burghley, the Earls of
Leicester and Oxford, Sir Christopher Hatton, who had recently been knighted and
appointed Vice-Chamberlain of the Household, and Philip Sidney. It was on this
occasion that Gabriel Harvey met the Court at Audley End and presented the
Queen and her courtiers with a series of Latin verses he had written in their
honour. The portion addressed to Lord Oxford was entitled:
An heroic address to the [Earl of Oxford], concerning the combined utility and
dignity of military affairs and of warlike exercises.
Harvey's tribute to Lord Oxford's learning and scholarship, and the statement that
"I have seen many Latin verses of thine, yea, even more English verses are
extant," is important as showing us how far the Earl had progressed along the
path of literature:
Ward then quotes Harvey (in translation from the Latin verses):
This is my welcome; this is how I have decided to bid All Hail! to thee and to the
Thy splendid fame, great Earl, demands even more than in the case of others the
services of a poet possessing lofty eloquence. Thy merit doth not creep along the
ground, nor can it be confined within the limits of a song. It is a wonder which
reaches as far as the heavenly orbs.
O great-hearted one, strong in thy mind and thy fiery will, thou wilt conquer thyself,
thou wilt conquer others; thy glory will spread out in all directions beyond the Arctic
Ocean; and England will put thee to the test and prove thee to be a native-born
Achilles. Do thou but go forward boldly and without hesitation. Mars will obey thee,
Hermes will be thy messenger, Pallas striking her shield with her spear shaft will
attend thee, thine own breast and courageous heart will instruct thee, For a long
time past Phoebus Apollo has cultivated thy mind in the arts. English poetical
measures have ben sung by thee long enough. Let that Courtly Epistle - more
polished even than the writings of Castiglione himself - witness how greatly thou
dost excel in letters. I have seen many Latin verses of thine, yea, even more
English verses are extant; thou hast drunk deep draughts not only of the Muses
of France and Italy, but hast learned the manners of many men, and the arts of
foreign countries. It was not for nothing that Sturmius himself was visited by thee;
neither in France, Italy, nor Germany are any such cultivated and polished men.
O thou hero worthy of renown, throw away the insignificant pen, throw away
bloodless books, and writings that serve no useful purpose; now must the sword
be brought into play, now is the time for thee to sharpen the spear and to handle
great engines of war. On all sides men are talking of camps and of deadly
weapons; war and the Furies are everywhere, and Bellona reigns supreme.
Here B. M. Ward interjects
Gabriel Harvey was no false prophet. The Spanish menace had begun in earnest.
Protestantism and England were standing on the threshold of the great struggle
that lasted to the end of Elizabeth's reign.
My own comment is that these were perilous times in the shifting fortunes of
religious influence on politics. In 1575 Elizabeth had declined the sovereignty of
the (Protestant) Netherlands; in 1577, the year before Gabriel Harvey's speech,
Catholic Don Juan had issued the 'Perpetual Edict' to settle the Dutch war, but it
was refused by Protestant William of Orange. That same year the 6th War of
Religion erupted in France. In 1578 Protestant preachers were expelled from
Vienna. In 1579 there was the union of Utrecht of the 7 Northern Provinces, but
the southern Netherlands recognized Philip 2nd, who conquered Portugal the next
year. That same year (1580) the 7th War of Religion ended in France, but the
year after that the Northern Netherlands renounced allegiance to Spain. Elizabeth
was in marriage negotiations with Francis, the Duke of Anjou (the French king's
brother). Gabriel Harvey, an astute political observer, was telling de Vere, in
effect, these are troublous times, you've made your mark in literature, now it's
time to put that aside and prepare your nation for war, think of your championship
days at the joust 'now is the time for thee to sharpen the spear': (spears were
blunted for tournament jousts). Harvey continued in his encomium to de Vere (as
quoted by Ward)
Now may all martial influences support thy eager mind, driving out the cares of
Peace. Pull Hannibal up short at the gates of Britain. Defended though he is by a
mighty host, let Don John of Austria come on only to be driven home again. Fate
is unknown to man, nor are the counsels of the Thunderer fully determined. And
what if suddenly a most powerful enemy should invade our borders? If the Turk
should be arming his savage hosts against us? What though the terrible war
trumpet is even now sounding its blast? Thou wilt see it all, even at this very
moment thou art fiercely longing for the fray. I feel it. Our whole country knows it.
In thy breast is noble blood, Courage animates thy brow, Mars lives in thy tongue,
Minerva strengthens thy right hand, Bellona reigns in thy body, within thee burns
the fire of Mars. Thine eyes flash fire, thy countenance shakes a spear; who would
not swear that Achilles had come to life again?
My comment: Gabriel Harvey held a fellowship at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. He had
earlier been a student at Christ's College there, where he met de Vere who
bestowed Angels upon me... and otherwise vouchsafed me many gracious
The Elizabethan Angel was a gold coin worth about 6/8d to 10/-, (a third to half
of £1.) Bellona was the Roman goddess of War.
What is interesting here is that A omits the background to the speech, fortunately
provided by Ward. The translation used by A says 'Latin things' rather than 'Latin
verses' and ends 'put away your feeble pen, your bloodless books, your
impractical writings.' I suggest you go back to the quotation of A's excerpt from the
speech and reread also A's conclusion from it.
My 9 years of schoolboy Latin are many decades behind me, but at least I have
the merits of impartiality, common sense, a Latin grammar textbook and two Latin
dictionaries. Fortunately my indefatigable researcher has found at one of the local
universities a microfiche with Gabriel Harvey's Gratulationes Valdinenses in the
original Latin verses. Let's just take one example and see for ourselves what it
...:vidi tua plura Latina:
Anglica plura exstant:...
A, following Jamieson translates this :
I have seen your many Latin things, and more English are extant
B. M. Ward translates this as
I have seen many Latin verses of thine, yea, even more English verses are extant
The ancient Roman language, Latin, evolved over about 1,200 years. In its period
of Roman greatness it became a very succinct way of expression. You can see the
7 Latin words have become 12 for A/Jamieson, and 15 for Ward. English has
been developing for almost 1,000 years. Its main attribute I would say is its
flexibility. It includes many Latin-origin words and many Anglo-Saxon-origin words.
If we look at those 7 Latin words, they are not totally unfamiliar to speakers of
English. We have 'video,' as in video games, and the Latin ''vidi' means 'I saw.'
(Remember Julius Caesar's famous phrase "Veni, vidi, vici." : "I came, I saw, I
'Tua' from 'tuus,' has become thy/thine/thee, now replaced by you/yours.
'Plura' is where our word 'plural' comes from, = many,
and 'Latina' is self evident, a plural for Latin, and to do with Latin.
One of the ways the Romans achieved their brevity in language was by linking
words through using similar endings, and here we have five of seven words
ending in 'a.' The Romans omitted the obvious. Gabriel Harvey's poem to de Vere
has a very lengthy sentence - it goes on and on, with colons, semi-colons and
commas, dividing the numerous phrases. Once he's mentioned what he's talking
about it's not repeated, no matter how long the sentence. We can understand
what he's talking about: de Vere's poetry/writing/literary work.
What Gabriel Harvey is saying in this Latin phrase is that he's seen what de Vere
has written in 'plura Latina.' So there's more than one literary effort by de Vere in
Latin. - actually many - and more again exist in English. We know his word
Anglica means English: even today the eastern part of England north of the
Thames river and east of London is called 'East Anglia.' 'Plura' we've already
met, and 'exstant' has scarcely altered to our word today: 'extant', meaning 'still
existing' especially of a document or other writing.
As Harvey is writing in Latin (and was speaking it when he delivered the address
to the Court) he doesn't re-define what he's talking about. We're to deduce that
from what went before in his long sentence. In Latin, why repeat oneself?
A literal translation of the first line would be something like
I saw your many Latin (writings, understood).
A/Jamieson say 'Latin things.'
I suggest that's a poor translation. The Latin word for 'things' happens to be 'res'.
And Harvey isn't talking about 'things' here - the word doesn't appear that I can
find in his long sentence.
Ward has 'verses' which is better, I think, but there's of course a Latin word for
verse, 'versus' and I can't see where Harvey uses that either. I suggest it's de
Vere's literary output, understood.
Since I wrote this, someone experienced in understanding Elizabethan Latin has
suggested that in this context the meaning of the Latin 'exstant' may be 'to stand
apart' or 'above,' which I think would be high praise for de Vere's writings in
English, and consonant with the rest of his eulogizing comments. I suppose a
comparable modern English phrase might be 'without parallel.'
Now you can see why I've gone to all this trouble over what these two scholarly
translators have done with the Latin, because A expects the 'intelligent layman'
to rely on him for a true explanation of the facts. Instead, he's twisted the truth
through Jamieson, a student using Harvey's work for his doctoral translation
thesis. As a result, A gives the impression that Harvey is being derogatory about
de Vere's literary output when in fact he's giving him unmitigated praise. I don't
like criticizing other people, I much prefer to go my own way and let them be, but
I believe I should draw to your attention just what is going on here.
To make it even more biased A ends the quotation with 'your impractical writings.'
But the next sentence, or I should say phrase, in this never ending sentence of
... :nunc gladys opus est:
'Nunc' means 'now'; 'gladys' is 'gladius,' a sword (our word gladiator is related);
'opus' still survives today, for example in referring to a musical composition or
group of compositions; and 'est' means 'is.' A literal translation of the phrase might
Now is sword work.
The whole point of Harvey's poem to de Vere is to tell him that he's already a
successful writer in English and Latin; now he must pick up the sword and lead
the way in helping to defend his country from outside attack. Harvey goes on to
develop this theme. It so happens the word translated as 'bloodless' is 'exangues'
a variant of 'exsanguis' (from which comes our word sanguine = blood red). The
Latin word not only means 'lacking blood' or 'bloodless,' in a literary context it can
mean 'feeble.' So I think it quite likely that Harvey meant to contrast both the
books (reading) and the pen (writing) as feeble with the now necessary sword.
Harvey is not telling the Queen, de Vere, and the Court that de Vere has a feeble
pen. He says the books and pen are feeble in comparison with the sword.
A omits the sword phrase altogether. Ward translates these four Latin words as
... ', now must the sword be brought into play,'
By failing to provide the background for these Latin verses by Gabriel Harvey, A
makes it appear that Harvey is belittling de Vere, when quite the opposite is the
case. I believe it should be evident to anyone who knows the circumstances under
which Gabriel Harvey delivered his Latin verses, before the whole Court, in the
presence of the Queen and de Vere, at Cambridge, with many notables and
officials present, in 1578 when de Vere was at the height of his popularity and
favouritism at Court, clearly Harvey would never have dared to refer to de Vere's
'feeble pen' and 'impractical writings.' Further, it's quite plain from the tenor of the
speech that Harvey meant no such thing, but quite the reverse. He's saying to de
Vere, the Court jousting champion, 'O hero of renown, throw away the insignificant
pen' because war with Spain was looming ahead. And how prescient he was.
Before the end of the Queen's reign Spain had launched three attempts to destroy
English sea power and conquer the country. Harvey was identifying de Vere with
the fighting background of his ancestors, (and living cousins the 'fighting Veres'),
telling him he could be as capable in war, where he would be needed now, as he
was as a literary figure.
In my opinion what we have here from A is petty, deceitful scholarship. This is a
long way from the proud announcement contained in A's Introduction (chapter 26):
'our aim is to provide context where needed, expose misinformation passed off by
Oxfordians as fact, and in general show the non specialist reader why professional
Shakespeare scholars have so little regard for Oxfordian claims.'
Because I believe he has betrayed the trust the 'intelligent non-specialist' has put
in him, two consequences follow:
First, there appear to be two authors involved in A. We'll have to divide them now,
because A1 appears to be resourceful and diligent although strident and forceful
beyond the evidence he produces, but has never exhibited evidence of outright
deceit. But the writer of the lengthy article "Oxford's Literary Reputation" which
is being quoted and discussed here we'll refer to as A2.
Secondly. I believe the writer A2 has destroyed his credibility. We cannot, I
suggest, now trust what he has to say where we are unable first to test
independently the evidence A2 provides. This is not a happy situation.
A2 has the temerity to continue
If Harvey had admired Oxford's poetry, this was certainly the time to say so, but
there is no suggestion here that he considered Oxford a great poet or that Oxford's
poetic output was substantial, or that Oxford wrote plays.
This, in my opinion, is not the point. None of us, I think, would suggest that de
Vere was a great poet. The problem is rather, how did this fine minor poet
metamorphose himself into a great dramatist? Hopefully, once Stratfordian
scholars realize that their candidate for Shakespeare is a non-starter, they will turn
their considerable talents to identifying just how this transformation of de Vere
As you who have read this work already know, I believe part of the answer is that
de Vere surrounded himself with competent poets and dramatists from his earliest
days. Thomas Churchyard, Anthony Munday, and particularly John Lyly, must
have had a very significant influence in his development. But such an analysis is
beyond the scope of this work. Our purpose here was first to verify Shaxper's
candidacy, which proved untenable, and next to identify the real poet/dramatist.
De Vere proved to be the best candidate, but is here being tested against adverse
criticism. So far, we have found nothing to stop him in his tracks, and 'I bore the
canopy' put an end to the pretensions of Shaxper. A2's references to Gabriel
Harvey do him no credit in my view, and fail completely to advance his cause
against de Vere.
We'll conclude our review of Criticisms in the next chapter.
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