By Herman Hartman, editor of the 1938 edition
[lightly edited with my comments in brackets]
It was Anthony á Wood, Pettie’s own grand-nephew, who first consigned A Petite Pallace of Pettie his Pleasure to its particular limbo. Noting with some condescension that its author “became excellent for his passionate penning of amorous stories” in a “neat style,” that “for the respect I bear to the name of the author (he having been uncle to my Mother Maria la Petite) I will keep it; but “tis so far now from being excellent or fine that it is more fit to be read by a schoolboy, or rustical amoratto, than by a gentleman of mode or language.”
Autres temps, autres moeurs. Wood can scarcely be expected to have foreseen the time when, for several good reasons, scholars would exhume the Petite Pallace. For the book is a valuable index to certain once-fashionable mid-Elizabethan tastes, and its blend of ingenuous matter with a rococo manner has for the modern reader a quaintness all its own. Moreover, it has an indisputable place, not merely among curiosa, in the evolution of English prose. “No one reading the Petite Pleasure,” wrote a student of Lyly thirty years ago,” can doubt that Pettie was the real creator of euphuism in its fullest development, and that Lyly was only an imitator.”
Pettie’s claims as inventor or innovator may easily be overstated, but the facts remain unchallenged: that his book antedates Euphues by several years; that at least six editions by 1613 attest its popularity; and that if he did not actually play the sedulous ape, Lyly found the Petite Pallace a “schematic” prose pattern, encrusted with proverbs to be had for the pilfering. [Such pilfering! Lyly from Pettie, then Greene from Lyly.]
By its popularity Euphues was to give its name––perhaps misleadingly––to the courtly fashion of mannered writing which Pettie earlier exhibits in its full development. But neither Pettie nor Lyly, nor lesser euphuists earlier than they, may be charged with the invention or creation of the vogue. The specific mannerisms which in sum comprise euphuism were present in subordinate functions in many classical and medieval prototypes. It was deliberate overemphasis upon them that induced the fashionable, pseudo-aristocratic style. [No “pseudo” about it; it was the fashion at Court, one that Pettie’s book fostered and that Lyly’s took to its acme.]
Yet euphuism in its time was as inevitable as the exploits of Hawkins and Drake. English prose was struggling for self-expression; it required exercises and adventures in the sound and arrangement of words to shape the new instrument. The results were laboured, baroque and puerile. But without such extravagances in its making, the medium of the Authorized Version of the King James Bible could not have been achieved. [Nor could Shakespeare.]
Wood’s biographical sketch of George Pettie may be supplemented with but a few details. His grandfather, John le Petite (vel Pety, vel Pettie), came of old Oxfordshire stock, and married Alice “sister to John Sparhauke, Gent.” of Tetsworth parish. Pettie’s father was the elder of their two sons, John, to whom arms were granted by Clarentius Cook. Pettie’s mother was Mary Charnell, of Snareston, Leicestershire, who bore six children. . . . George Pettie, born c. 1548, was the fourth son. Anthony á Wood’s mother––by Thomas Wood’s second marriage, in 1621––was Mary Pettie, or Maria la Petite, the daughter of George’s next oldest brother, Robert . . . . Thus George Pettie was the fourth son and child of “a gentle and ancient family” of Oxfordshire, whose members through several generations “intermarried with members of many of the most ancient houses in this part” (Tetsworth and Stoke Talmage)––market towns of small parishes within a dozen miles of the university.
Of Pettie’s childhood nothing is recorded. He became in 1564 a scholar at Christ Church, where, along with a Richard Vere and Richard Rowlaund, he had for tutor Canon Thomas Barnard, former chaplain to Archbishop Cranmer, then Vicar of Pyrton. At Oxford, Wood testifies, Pettie formed a close friendship––although they were graduated seven years apart––with William Gager, the Latin dramatist . . . .
In the years following Oxford, Pettie “travelled beyond the seas” as a soldier, his services carrying him to France, Flanders, Holland, Zeeland, and most of the low countries. Whatever the precise nature of his exploits––and we may judge from his contempt for the types that he was no “fresh-water soldier” or “carpet knight”––he had at twenty-eight a reputation for extemporaneous discourses whose “witty & pithy pleasantness” beguiled “his own and certain of his friend’s private occasions.” [A reputation based solely on this book.]
So that in 1576 a certain “R.B.,” transgressing the bounds of friendship (unless, as is conceivable, he acted with Pettie’s connivance), caused to be published for “gentlewomen readers” those same youthful discourses as A Petite Pallace of Pettie his pleasure, a title devised by R.B., who acknowledged his debt to Painter. Within the next five years Pettie, seemingly against his wishes, had “already wonne such fame, as he which fired the Temple of Diana.” And by 1613 the Petite Pallace was to reach its sixth––possibly its seventh––edition.
Meanwhile, in 1581 was issued Pettie’s translation . . . of Guazzo’s Civile Conversation, Books I-III. “I thought,” wrote Pettie in his preface, after branding his Petite Pallace as a light, trifling work, “it stood me upon, to purchase to myself some better fame by some better work, and to countervail my former vanities, with some formal gravities.” [Where have we heard this before? “If your Honour seem but pleased, I account myself highly praised, and vow to take advantage of all idle hours till I have honoured you with some graver labour.”]
In the stories of the Petite Pallace, Pettie confessed, the author’s own friends were “darkly figured forth.” Is there, in the dedication of the Civile Conversation to Lady Norris, a possible clue to the type of society in which Pettie moved, at whose repasts his euphuistic tales, full of wise saws and modern instances, were welcome?
Marjorie Williams, daughter of Baron Williams of Thame, Lord President of Wales, had married (?1545) Henry Norris, late sheriff of Oxfordshire and Berkshire . . . was appointed Ambassador to France 1566-’70, and in 1572 was created Baron Norris of Ryecote, near Thame. . . . All six of the Norris sons became in their time distinguished soldiers, “learned and worthy Captains” of the very sort Pettie manifestly revered and emulated. [One of whom would marry Bridget Vere, Oxford’s daughter, in 1599.] His dedication, moreover, is no mere suit for patronage: “. . . much more must it make me dutifully affectioned to your Ladyship, who am neither stranger to you, nor unacquainted with your noble and virtuous disposition . . . .”
In the Norris household had Pettie the occasional role of a neighbourly dinner-guest and welcome raconteur? The tales of his Petite Pallace were designed not as stories for publication but as discourses for private pleasure, “for that divers discourses touch nearly divers of my near friends . . . only they whom they touch, can understand whom they touch.” [It’s unlikely that George Pettie was familiar with the Norris household, or with her Captain sons.] All that is known of Pettie’s subsequent career can be quickly told. He had become a “captain and a man of note” by the time of his death, at forty-one, late in July 1589, at Plymouth. “He was buried,” Wood concludes, “as I have been told, in the great Church there (St. Andrews).”
. . . .
The bibliographical account of the Petite Pallace is in many respects as puzzling and obscure as Pettie’s own career. From his lodging in Holborn on 12 July 1576, Pettie sent the manuscript of his twelve “Tradicall trifles” to one R.B., who, after hearing them sundry times in sundry companies, had earnestly importuned the author for written copies. By 6 August the book entitled A petite Pallace of Pettie his pleasure was licensed to Richard Watkins [four months after Oxford’s return from Italy]; and, presumably within the same year, the quarto appeared, undated, bearing the simple colophon “Printed at London by R.W.”
Not Pettie but R.B. had christened the discourses after Painter’s hundred and one eclectic tales of ten years before, although Pettie of course knew the popular Pallace of Pleasure and drew upon it for a dozen allusions among his exempla. R.B. also, it is clear, had run the risk of Pettie’s avowed displeasure by committing the tales to a printer. [We’re not still taking this kind of thing seriously, are we?] And he it was who rather unctuously commended their “witty & pithy pleasantness” to “the gentle Gentlewomen Readers.” [Just as Lyly would two years later and Greene would the following decade.]
The printer Watkins, who received the manuscript from a “special friend” intermediary between R.B. and himself, discreetly excised certain offensive matter––with the hope that he had not “gelded” too much––[this of course for the benefit of the Court community that knew the originals because they had read these tales in manuscript] and supplied the summary arguments, asking pardon of both Pettie and “R.B.,” neither of whom he knew, [––nor do we believe this for a minute!] for any oversights or errors. In this roundabout fashion the Petite Pallace came to be printed, the author protesting perhaps too much that his ornately devised tales were no more than oral discourses.
Among several possible identifications of the mysterious “R.B.” only one seems probable: the author of A new tragicall comedie of Apius and Virginia, a rather nondescript classical interlude whose kinship of subject (originating in Livy) and style of casuistry alone urge some connection. On the other hand, the tradition, begun by Hazlitt, of regarding “R.B.” as the reversed intitals of Barnabe Riche is tantalizing: Riche was also a forth-right euphuist and a captain who had served in the Low Countries, and his Farewell to the Militarie profession (1581) is dedicated “To the right courteous gentlewomen, both of England and Ireland.” [Shakespeare would “plagiarize” Riche’s Farewell for the plot of Twelfth Night.]
In 1576, however, Riche was the author of but one book, a Dialogue betwene Mercury and an English souldier; and both Greenes Newes out of Heaven and Hell (1593) and The Irish Hubbub (1617) bear his “B.R.” not reversed. Other evidence is wanting. But whoever “R.B.” may have been––patron, friend, fellow-soldier, well-wisher, or pest––we owe it to his “faithless enterprise” that Pettie’s curious discourses finally found their way, through a “special friend” of Watkins, into print. [If you believe this you’ll believe anything.]
Lyly’s and Greene’s debts to the Petite Pallace are discussed elsewhere. One curious example, however, of Pettie’s “influence” has recently come to light in “The Most Excellent Historie of Lysimachus and Varrona, daugher to Syllanus, Duke of Hypata in Thessalia” (By I.H.R. London. Printed by Thomas Creed. 1604). This ecclectic little volume, “Wherein are contained the effects of Fortune, the Wonders of affection, and the conquests of incertaine Time,” brazenly approbriates nearly all the “Sinorix and Camma” tale and two-thirds of “Gemanicaus and Agrippina’––verbatim except for the character’s names. [We can see what a mare’s nest is this business of assigning precedence of source to these early works.]
Within a decade the Petite Pallace ran into four editions, yet the book fails of mention in the standard works of Elizabethan cirticism; one looks in vain for even damaging allusions to Pettie in the writings of Lodge, Harvey, Webbe, Nashe, Sidney, Carew, and Meres. Not until 1660, in Le Prince d’Amour, by “the Wits of the Age,” is notice found of Pettie’s tales; under “Offences inquirable by the Jury” we find:
- #14. If any man suspect his Mistris upon any Kindness, by kiss, dance, looks, or cogy given to her friend, this is Jealousie finable.
- #15. If any man deprave the books of Ovid de Arte amandi, Euphues and his England, Petite Pallace, or other laudable discourses of Love; this is loss of his Mistris favor for half a year.
After this reference, which inevitably prefigures the kinship of Pettie with Rambouillet and Mlle. de Scudery, there follow only Wood’s perfunctory notice of his great-uncle’s “neat style”––and the Petite Pallace drops from view until the eve of the twentieeth century, when students of euphuism found reason to excavate.
In its subject matter the Petite Pallace, unlike Painter’s famous miscellany, is almost entirely humanistic. Of Pettie’s twelve tales, five derive ultimately from Ovid, two each from Livy and Hyginus, and one from Tacitus. Of the others, the first of the lot, “Sinorix and Camma,” was available in Plutarch, Hoby’s version of The Courtier, and Guevara’s Diall; the last, “Alexius,” was based upon a widely known medieval saint’s legend.
Pettie, however, designedly uses the classical framework as mere excuse for debates, soliloquies, colloquies, and tirades––all the pros and cons of love, courtship, marriage, and fidelity. His narration, his manipulation of “plot,” suffers accordingly, not so much from his want of skill as from his blithe unconcern. [Love that phrase! Shakespeare had the same insoucient attitude towards his his knowledge of astronomy and the law.] He has other fish to fry. Not the dramatis personae of Ovid or Livy, but his own friends are his loquacious puppets; not the fortunes of war or the whirlagigs of time are his subject, but love casuistry––questioni d’amore in the Italian fashion, with––principally––classical exempla galore.
The narration and dramatic action of Pettie’s “Tragical trifles” count for little. The tales themselves were familiar to school-boys; they served Pettie merely as exempla bearing the authority of the classics and capable of modern parallels. As such they were ready and ample carryalls for three stables of Renaissance literature, especially dear to English readers of mid-Elizabethan times: amatory debates (and Pettie could afford to dub Aristotle, on the subject of women, “an ass sotted with overmuch study”); exempla from “authoritative” sources; and, finally, proverbs, apophthegms, sententiae, and the like.
In the first of these, the amatory debate, the Renaisance found one of its chief sources of diversion and instruction, and a pastime rivalled, in prolixity at least, only in the salons of seventeenth century France. Pettie’s “problems,” that is, the questioni d’amore of Boccaccio, Bembo, Castiglione, Parabosco, Straparola––the list seems inexhaustible. Under various guises the Petite Pallace reinterates the stock problems: wit versus beauty in women, the relative constancy of male and female, laws of love as opposed to laws of man and marriage, lust and cruelty set over against mischief and murder, the evils of vanity and covetousness, the rewards of chastity, the free choice of a mate, the fruits of jealousy––these and their kind in Scuderian plenty.
- Therefore, Gentlewomen, I leave it to your judgements to give sentence, whether be more worthy reprehension, he or she . . . .
- I shall not need here (gentlewomen) to exhort you to take the death of your husbands when you shall be married . . .
- I am here, gentlewomen, to admonish you not to suffer yourselves to be carried away with covetousness . . . .
- Now I would hear your judgements to whom you think this lamentable end of these lovers ought to be imputed . . .
––for each tale its concluding formula, its postulates for argument, or its pointed moral. And the gentlewomen, one must conclude, who indulged in this post-prandial pastime were but learning in the approved Italianate fashion (their own being as yet only a crude aristocracy) how to become––gentlewomen. Not until Shakespeare was this surfeit of casuistry and the “taffeta phrases, silken terms precise” which it engendered marked for doom, leaving Euphues, as designed, to be shut in milady’s casket, and the Petite Pallace for its “rustical amorattos.” [This by the one who first developed it, then wearied of it, then finally put it to further use by satirizing it.]
Exempla, on the other hand, were a sort of ubiquitous pollen of humanism. “He that mindeth to persuade,” wrote Wilson in his Arte of Rhetorique, “must needs be well stored with examples . . . . And therefore much are they to be commended, which search chronicles of all ages, and compare the state of our elders with this present time. . . . If there be any old tale or strange histories, well and wittily applied to some man living, all men love to hear it of life.”
The rhetorician’s precepts found a ready exemplar in Pettie, whose tales are riddled with old favourites, and some new ones as well: from Homer, Virgil, Ovid, and Plutrarch [All Oxford’s tutor’s favorites}; from Solomon, the Vulgate, and English Biblical lore [Smith had Solomon’s Proverbs in Hebrew and French]; from Painter’s assortment of tales [one of Oxford’s first essays in publishing], from courtesy books and novelle––from whatever was grist for his mill. How mock-heroic they sound to modern ears!
Did Alcyone, seeing the dead carcas of her husband Ceix cast on shore, willingly cast herself into the sea to accompany his death, and shall I see my sweet Synnatus slain and not drink of the same cup? Did true Thisbe gore her gorgeous body with the same sword wherewith princely Pyramus had pricked himself to the heart, and are not my hands strong enough to do the like? Did Julietta die upon the corpse of her Romeo and shall my body remain on earth, Synnatus being buried? No gentle Death, come with thy direfull dart and pierce my painful heart.
Along with the exempla Pettie ornamented his tales with some two hundred proverbs, maxims, and their like. Once more it is the rhetorician’s precept, that of “amplification” with “such sentences as are commonly spoken.” And Wilson furnishes the clue to Pettie’s chief source: “But what need I heap all these together,” he asks, “seeing Heywood’s Proverbs are in print, where plenty are to be had: whose pains in that behalf, are worthy immortal praise.” Indeed, to Heywood’s early collection may be traced directly a host of Pettie’s pithy sayings––to Heywood, and to Erasmus, through whose Adagia and Similia [Smith had the Adagia plus nine more volumes of Erasmus] so much of the wisdom of the ancients was decanted for the Renaissance.
Add to these the names of Ovid, Cicero, and Horace; Publilius Syrus; Guazzo (whom he may have begun translating, in French version, before 1576); the Vulgate, as well as an early English bible, especially Paul’s Epistles––and the “sources” of Pettie’s sapience are well accounted for. [All found in Smith’s theology section including Paul’s letters in Greek.] In an age when plagiarism was not yet a word, much less a term of reproach, Pettie, like his contemporaries, incorporated and adapted as he chose, with perhaps an enchiridion for the purpose. [Not that a handbook was needed when the original texts had been drummed in in childhood.]
“I protest for my part,” says Magnocavalli in the Civile Conversation (Pettie’s version), “(as occasion shall serve) to let you hear proverbs, which very (true) artificers have in their mouth(s), and comptes (accounts), which are used to be told by the fireside, both for that I naturally live by such food, and also to give you occasion to do the like.” Pettie not only notes merely “seized occasions” he frequently creates them, leaving the Petite Pallace a labyrinth of proverbial lore whose mazes Lyly was the first to thread for his own advantage. [As we keep saying: Pettie ’76-’80 to Lyly ’78-’81 to Greene ’83-’92 to Shakespeare ’93.]
In substance the Petite Pallace is manifestly a blend of familiar themes with conventional devices and rhetorical adornments. Not his matter but his manner gives Pettie his distinction today, and that manner begins with the title itself.
- “And shall I so much debase the height of my estate as to match in marriage with so mean a mate?”
- “. . . he reaped the right reward of his doting desire, for there only grafts of grief must needs grow, where such raw conceit doth set, and such rash consent doth sow”;
––in passage after passage, line after line, the “comely colours” of the first relentless euphuist are displayed. “Seeing we allow,” Pettie pleaded with “R.B,” “of new fashions in cutting of beards, in long-waisted doublets, in little short hose, in great caps, in low hats, and almost in all things, it is as much reason we should allow of new fashions in phrases and words.” As much reason indeed, and for precisely the same would-be fashionable purposes during the decade and more of the fashion’s survival.
“Young Euphues,” wrote Gabriel Harvey, “hatched the eggs that his elder friends laid.” And it becomes increasingly plain with each new study that euphuism has no specific “source,” that the prose mannerisms, the refinements whose sum constitutes the formula popularized by Lyly, were present in kind, if not in degree, in widely scattered antecedents. “But Master John Lyly,” as Webbe wrote in his Discourse (1586), “hath deserved most high commendations, as he which hath stepped one step further therein then any either before or since he first began the witty discourse of his Euphues.” It was of course that “one step further” by Pettie and Lyly especially that carried English prose seven leagues distant from decency and common sense. [And seven leagues into the riches of Shakespeare and every great English poet since.]
But there seems to be no limit to the diversity of earlier patterns proposed; successive studies point tellingly to Cicero and Isocrates, Guevara’s Diall and North’s translation (of Plutarch), Berner’s Froissart (1524), Anglo-Saxon and early English literature, the Bible and liturgical and homiletic literature, Ascham’s Schoolmaster; [written to instruct William Cecil on how to educate a nobleman just when he was dealing with the education of Edward de Vere] classic oratory, alto estile, complimentary addresses, the Queen’s own mannerisms––one and all show the symptoms of euphuism. The inheritance may easily be tranced from Greece and Rome through the medieval Latin of the Church fathers, from the sophists through the rhetoricians, with but one conclusion: the presence in nearly all tongues for various purposes and in various stages of development, of somewhat the same vogue. [And almost every one to be found in Smith’s library.]
Euphuism is more than a style based merely upon antithesis and alliteration (which latter device Mrs. Battle called as pitiful an ambition in authorship––and as much of a solecism––as flushes at cards); it is a demonstrable system of syllabic, verbal, phrasal, and clausal balance and correspondence, a system of schemata in which the medieval rhetoricians and their early sixteenth-century followers gave instruction, from Donatus and Priscian through Susenbrotus, Talaeus, Wilson and Rainold [Pettie’s fellow student at Oxford and possibly also Oxford’s.] (Richard Sherrye’s Treatise of Schemes and Tropes, for example, was issued in 1555).
Thus the medium of Pettie and Lyly––Harvey first used the term euphuism in 1592 during its slow demise––was but the apotheosis of word––and sentence––designs long familiar in subordinate functions to past literatures. “C’est lui [Pettie] qui emplooy d’une maniere continuelle et exagerée les procèdes dont les écrivains anterieurs n’avaint fait qu’un usage moderne.” The elements, whether medieval or classical, are ornaments, which have been carefully analysed and exemplified by Lyly’s editors. Pettie lends himself quite readily to the same sort of clincal examination, which may here be serviceable. [See Pettie’s Rhetorical flourishes]
In the mutations of English prose style the excesses of euphuism were at the time inescapable. Equivalents of the fashion occured in other literatures, French, German, Italian, and Spanish; and its counterparts may be seen in other aspects of mid-Elizabethan life and manners. During its vogue there were no sumptuary laws to govern prose style, just as, in poetry, there seemed no curb for Petrarchism.
Moreover, like the false Arcadianism which supplanted it, euphuism was a deliberate, self-conscious effort to loose the bonds of the mother tongue. Its audience––“whom by my will,” wrote Pettie’s sponsor [R.B.], “I would have only Gentlewomen”––was still a crude, ambitious aristocracy of the parvenu among nations, given to Italianate posturings; yet behind the verbal exploits of the euphuists was the ready subsidy of nationalistic pride. And modern prose––whether critical cant labels it nervous, crisp, or kinaesthetic––owes the antique courtly schematic fashion a debt for its lessons in excess as well as for certain of its cadences and sonorities.
In the chronology of euphuism Pettie’s place is secure. But in additon to that primacy his Petite Pallace has its peculiar little claim to passing notice in any survey of the development of the English short story. For Pettie confessedly refurbished classical tales as allegories cloaking contemporary friends; their identities cannot be unmasked, but it was a new use to which such extempore Ovidian discourses were being put. As stories, of course, the dozen tales are woefully below the standards set by the novelle and their translators. As a narrator Pettie lacks every qualification of his craft: in intricacy of plot, suspense, singleness of aim, bold characterization, focus, “local colour,” irony––in the essentials of a good story well told the Petite Pallace simply misses the mark.
Yet this remains to be said––that among the rhetorical disputes, questioni d’amore, exhortations, proverbs and exempla which make up his “pretie histories” the figure of Pettie moves not without occasional grace. With all its stale casuistry [stale now perhaps but certainly not at the time], self-propagating maxims, and plethora of “comely colours” the Petite Pallace has passages of sage reflection, some memorable aphorisms, a certain saltiness in native phrasing, [a constant in the voice we seek] and its quota, however derivative, of amatory counsel and worldly prudence [another constant]. Not all his proverbs are traceable to Heywood and Erasmus; not all his cogitations are characteristicly neo-Platonic or Ovidian.
The first complete euphuist, then, was an Oxford-bred soldier––“such as I am, whose profession should chiefly be arms)” [certainly Oxford’s view of himself at age 26]––who at the age of twenty-eight [Pettie was born in 1548] had made a reputation of a novel kind, as a re-teller of tales investing his friends with classic guise, with practices endorsed by heroes and heroines of the golden age. “Tragical trifles” Pettie called them, to entertain fashionable gentlewomen––in a decade when love casuistry was not merely an Italianate courtly vogue but a grave national pastime, fostered by the possibiliities of Elizabeth’s marriage and an heir to the throne.
That the tales appeared in print was, apparently, no fault of the author’s, but through “R.B.’s” faithless––perhaps mercenary––enterprise, Pettie regarded the Petite Pallace as a trifling work, “some fruits of my former folly,” which brought him unwanted and unbecoming acclaim. These may be the accents of false modesty [rather the scent of red herring]; yet in turning to his translation of Guazzo he hoped, so he declared in the Preface, “to countervail former Vanity with some formal gravity.” [Now where have we heard that before?]