Pettie to Lyly to Greene

In the process of tracking the author’s voice from its earliest appearance in the poems of de Vere to its final evolution as Shakespeare, one of the lesser known appearances is in the tales published in the book known familiarly as Pettie’s Petite Pallace, a collection much like the translations published a decade earlier in Painter’s Pallace of Pleasure, the pamphlets published a few years later as by Robert Greene, but most notably, the novels published shortly after as by John Lyly.

The chief significance of Pettie’s Pallace is its similarity to Lyly’s Euphues.  Since the book bearing his name came first, Pettie can’t be accused of plagiarism; that must fall to Lyly, who (it’s said) took Pettie’s style and raised it to the level where it resides in literary history to this day, the first self-conscious effort at high style in English.  Lyly apparently having abandoned it, Greene picked it up where Lyly left off, turning it over time in a less self-conscious, more modern direction.

Obscure and puzzling

In his Introduction to the 1938 edition of the Pallace, editor Herman Hartman gives us what facts he finds, but leaves us to draw our own conclusions as to their meaning, the only peek at his personal, non-collegial views, two modest adjectives: “obscure” and “puzzling.”  Those who love and study English literature delight in understatement; even so, Hartman’s choice of terms seems more than a little disingenuous, for to call Pettie’s career “obscure” and the history of his book “puzzling” is a bit like describing the H.M.S. Titanic in detail, ending with “ sadly she ran afoul of an iceberg on her maiden voyage.”

Hartman kindly gives us the facts about Pettie’s life as he has gleaned them from the contemporary records, but he’s darned if he’s going to dwell on the fact that, book or no book, Pettie doesn’t really have a literary career.  In almost every respect George Pettie appears to have been a well-educated son of Oxfordshire gentry who died in his early forties after a modest military career.  Two swallows don’t make a summer, and two small books don’t make a career, even if one did go into six editions in forty years.   There are a lot of “puzzling” writing careers during this period, a lot of “obscure” authors.  It should seem odd that for an era that saw one of the most amazing supernovae of great literature in history, that most of the works that contributed to this development were apparently written as parlor exercises by men who had more important things to do the rest of the time, or so they, and their biographers, claim.

Not the least puzzling career is that of Pettie’s euphuistic successor, John Lyly, who, following his smash hits with Euphues and several years of working with Paul’s Boys in some capacity (literary history says author), retired at the age of 26 or 27, never to publish again.  Pettie is also tied to Lyly’s successor, Robert Greene, through similar replications of style, theme, characterization, etc. but also through the use of the motto omne tulit punctum qui miscuit utile dulci (“what wins most points is the mingling of utility with sweetness”) first used in 1576 on the title page of Pettie’s Petite Pallace, then by Greene on the title pages of all of his pamphlets from the first in 1583.  Not until 1589 did Greene change the motto he apparently stole from Pettie, along with everything else.

Pettie and Oxford

Long story short, we believe all three of these, Pettie, Lyly, and Greene, were the successive voices of Edward de Vere as he experimented with the ornate style known now as euphuism, perfected it, wearied of it, and finally, as Shakespeare, satirized it.  Thus all the “puzzling” and “obscure” aspects of the history surrounding these works are vanquished at a stroke of Ockham’s simplifying razor.  All three, Pettie, Lyly, and Greene were fronts for an earl who could not be known as the author of popular tales.

Still, one has to prove these things.  Connections between Lyly and Oxford are easy, as Lyly was his secretary during the years his name appeared on the novels and Court plays (as was also Anthony Munday, whose name is on the euphuistic novel, Zelauto, dedicated to Oxford, that immediately followed the publication of Lyly’s Euphues).  The connections with Greene and Pettie are more obscure, but there are a few.   By means of the connection between Lyly (Paul’s Boys/Blackfriars,/Oxford University/ Rainolds/euphuism) and the Earl of Oxford (poet/playwright/Ld Great Chamberlain), we can connect Pettie (Oxford University/Rainolds/euphuism) to de Vere by inference, thus also strengthening the likelihood that the “Richard Vere,” placed by Anthony à Wood, at Christ College Oxford under Canon Thomas Bernard, was actually Edward, beginning the first lap of his long career of hiding behind a different name.

All but a few of the titles mentioned by Hartman as sources for the tales in Pettie’s Pallace can be found in either Sir Thomas Smith’s library, or William Cecil’s, or both, and so were available to Oxford during his learning years, while others are connected with his publishing ventures later.  Pettie’s one other work, a translation of Stephano Guazzo’s Civil Conversatione, published in 1581, was dedicated to Lady Norris, the Queen’s companion.  Oxford had a distant connection to the Norris family through the marriage of the 12th Earl to a Norris daughter.  Among the military leaders produced by the Norris family over the years, her son Sir John Norris, “the most acclaimed English soldier of his day,” was Oxford’s near contemporary, while in 1599, Oxford’s daughter Bridget would marry Sir John’s brother Francis.  If, as claimed by the author and the publisher, Pettie’s tales had originated in someone’s drawing room as off the cuff entertainment, surely that was the Norris drawing room while the parties entertained were her sons and their friends.

Rather than go into further detail, I’ve put up slightly edited versions of the front material from the 1938 edition of Petite Pallace: editor Herman Hartman’s Introduction, with much about the book and its place in literary history.  Most of the time I can only direct readers to the sources whence cometh my outrageous suggestions, but in this case the material is so illustrative of the style and content of most of the works from this era that I can’t resist providing it, along with some comments of my own [in brackets], plus Pettie’s “Letter to the Gentlewomen” from the original edition and the preface by the famously mysterious R.B., who would continue to play a part in publishing works of imaginative literature until at least 1595.

Herman Hartman’s Introduction to Pettie’s Petite Pallace (1938)
Pettie’s Letter to the Gentlewomen (1576)
R.B.’s letter to Pettie (1576)

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