That’s not an epistle… – Thomas Nashe and Elizabethan Open Access

Following my previous post about paratexts, I have been thinking recently about Thomas Nashe’s Have with you to Saffron-Walden (1596), and the way in which that pamphlet plays with the expectation of authorisation in prefatory material.  Have with you is part of the ongoing literary feud of the 1590s between Nashe and Richard and Gabriel Harvey – a quarrel of vnflattered pictures, inkhornisme, vehement protestations, and ‘rope-rethorique’ (cf. the Harveys’ anxiety over their father’s occupation) – in which Nashe attacks Gabriel Harvey with a mean but devastating panache.

One point of irritation, for Nashe, is Harvey’s extensive use of prefatory material – what Nashe calls ‘a packet of Epistling’ (F1r).  With reference to Harvey’s Four Letters, Have with you ridicules his anxious authorising of his texts – that constant need to justify the author and his work that we see similarly in Brathwaite’s The English Gentleman (1630), as I mentioned previously.  Indeed, Harvey’s Four Letters, published the same year as Have with you to Saffron-Walden, includes a ‘To the Reader’, a flattering sonnet by his friend Edmund Spenser (‘Lifting the Good vp to high Honours seat, / And the Euill damning euermore to dy / For Life, and Death is in thy doomefull writing: / So thy renowne liues euer by endighting’), and the first letter itself is even preceded by what is basically a character reference, in which Harvey is shown to be ‘a very excellent generall Scholler’, and ‘very honest, and thankefull’ to boot.

Nashe had already ‘confuted’ the Four Letters in his work of 1592, Strange Newes, where he criticises Harvey’s exploitation of ‘Immortall’ Spenser’s name, accusing him of acting ‘in vaine-glory to have Spencer known for thy friend…’ (E1r).  With his distinctive sense of humour, Nashe tells Harvey: ‘that thou hast some interest in him, censerest him worse than his deadliest enemie would do’ (E1r).  Ouch!  Later in Strange Newes, Harvey is criticised for his snobbery:

Misery will humble the haughtiest heart in the world…he confesseth himself a sinner in vnsufficiency, yet for all that the adversitie of vniuersall obloquy hath laide a heauie hande on him, still he retaineth (like conceald land) some part of his proud mind in a beggers purse, scorneth to say Fortune my foe, or aske a good word for Gods sake of anie man.

Nashe’s choice of a popular ballad tune – Fortune my foe – proves particularly revealing when placed against his dislike of Harvey’s ‘Epistling’.  To follow on from my previous discussion of broadsheets conspicuously lacking authorising paratextual material, if Harvey’s mind is too proud for the humble street-ballad/broadside, it is no surprise that his texts are, in contrast to such cheap print, paratext-heavy.

Back in Have with you to Saffron-Walden, Nashe materialises Harvey’s paratexts into commercial goods, subtly aligning them with merchandise.  If much prefatory material in early modern books is designed to advertise and sell, it is fitting that Harvey’s epistles  appear ‘as bigge as a Packe of Woollen cloth, or a stack of salt-fish’ (F1r-v): they’re all part of the market economy, arriving in London by barge from Gravesend or delivered by carriage.  Nashe queries: ‘Carrier, did thou bring it by wayne, or on horse-backe?’  The carrier replies that he has carried the epistles by cart, but they were so heavy that it ‘cryde creake vnder them fortie times euerie furlong…’ (F1v), and he pleads that Nashe (or the readers?) should

rather make mud walls with them, mend high wayes, or damme vp quagmires with them, than thus they shuld endammage mee to my eternal vndooing…’ (F1v).

When Nashe consents and undoes the bag, though, he finds ‘nothing in it, but dogs-tripes, swines liuers, oxe galls, and sheepes gutts…’ (F1v).  By conferring on Harvey’s paratexts a material aspect, Nashe makes them into practical, physical things – capable of being eaten, stopping up floods, or making walls – quite in contrast with Harvey’s intention of proving himself a worthy and learned man with strong moral authority.  Harvey sees the paratext as abstractly legitimising his words; Nashe views it as a physical thing.

Nashe’s pamphlets are seemingly more flexible with their use of paratexts.  Many of his works make light work of the epistle, offering satirical dedications or eschewing them altogether.  In Have with you, he includes the mock ‘A Grace put up in behalfe of the Harueys’.  The critic Rayna Kalas explains that a ”grace put up’ at university was a formal appeal to the fellows of a college or another governing body for a degree, promotion, or dispensation from scholarly requirements.  Successful degrees and permissions were also called ‘graces” (67).  The inclusion of a ‘grace’ itself was a dig at Harvey’s failure to attain it, twice, at Pembroke Hall (Kalas 67).  Underneath the satirical text, more peculiarly, is left a large blank space (1/4 of the page) enclosed by type ornaments (B4v).   The space, Nashe informs us, was ‘left, that as manie as I shall perswade they are PacheroesPoldauisses, and Dringles, may set their hands to their definitiue sentence, and with the Clearke helpe to crye Amen to their eternall vnhandsoming’ (B5r): if you agree, sign here.

The reader is explicitly invited to write on the page, to engage with Nashe’s opinions, to authorise the text.  Rather than depending upon Harvey’s style of prefatory matter, the signatory space at the bottom of this mock Grace serves as a co-text, a shared textual space between the reader and the writer.  As Kalas phrases it, ‘it is not merely Nashe but a rabble of readers who comprise the central authority of this text’ (68).  Like the advertisements and title pages that were pinned up on posts throughout London – paratexts made public – the white space in the middle of Nashe’s ‘Epistle dedicatorie’ opens up the book to public spaces and all types of readers or lookers-on.  It also demands a physical engagement with the epistle.  Where the reader is later encouraged to dispose of Harvey’s epistles like rotten meat, here, the reader must engage with them by signing or perhaps even ripping the page out of the book to be used, as title-pages and frontispieces sometimes were, as stand-alone single-sheet texts: broadsides…Nashe isn’t too proud to say ‘Fortune my foe’.

It is not only Nashe’s own texts that he wishes to make public. Later in Have with you, he reduces Harvey’s works to the same level: ‘I’ll neuer goe into Powles Church-yard to enquire for anie of his workes, but…looke for them behinde the doore, or on the backe-side of a screene, (where Almanackes are set vsually) or at a barbers…’ (L3v). Comparing Harvey’s works to the broadside prints of Almanacks reduces his literary pretensions to the popular level that Nashe is so comfortable with: fighting on home turf.

In the brilliant Pierce Penniless (1592), another of Nashe’s pamphlets, the text is termed a ‘Paper-monster’ (A3r).  If we remember Christopher Hill’s term for ‘the people’ – the masses, the public – as the ‘many-headed monster’ (as discussed by this blog of the same name), then that term ‘Paper-monster’ seems equally fitting of Have with you to Saffron-Walden, a text that aligns paratexts not with the closed authority of prefatory print but with the open and un-walled paper of the public poster.


Works Cited:

Harvey, Gabriel.  Foure Letters… London: 1592.  Early English Books Online.  Web.  27 January 2013.
Kalas, Rayna.  Frame, Glass, Verse: The Technology of Poetic Invention in the English Renaissance.  Ithaca NY: Cornell UP, 2007.
Nashe, Thomas.  Strange Newes... London: 1592.  Early English Books Online.  Web.  27 January 2013.
Nashe, Thomas.  Have with you to Saffron-Walden.  London: 1596.  Early English Books Online.  27 January 2013.
Nashe, Thomas.  Pierce Penniless his supplication to the diuell…London: 1592.  Early English Books Online. Web. 27 January 2013.


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