GEORGE PUTTENHAM, an English poet and poetical critic, flourished in the reign of queen Elizabeth. Very little is known of his life, and for that little we are indebted to Mr. Haslewood, whose researches, equally accurate and judicious, have so frequently contributed to illustrate the history of old English poetry. By Ames, Puttenham was called Webster, but his late editor has brought sufficient proof that his name was George. He appears to have been born some time between 1529 and 1535. As his education was liberal, it may be presumed that his parents were not of the lowest class. He was educated at Oxford, but in what college, how long he resided, or whether he took a degree, remains unascertained. Wood had made none of these discoveries when he wrote his Athenae. His career at court might commence at the age of eighteen, when he sought to gain the attention of the youthful king Edward VI. by an Eclogue, entitled "Elpine." He made one or two tours on the continent, and proved himself neither an idle nor inattentive observer. He visited successively the courts of France, Spain, and Italy, and was at the Spa nearly about the year 1570. It is not improbable that he had a diplomatic appointment under Henry earl of Arundel, an old courtier, who, with the queen's licence, visited Italy; as he describes himself a beholder of the feast given by the duchess of Parma, to this nobleman, at the court of Brussels. His return was probably early after the above period, but nothing can be stated with certainty. It may however be inferred from his numerous adulatory verses addressed to queen Elizabeth, before the time of publishing his Art of Poesie, that be must have been a courtier of long standing, and was then one of her gentlemen pensioners.
Of all his numerous pieces, the Art of Poesie, and the Partheniades, are the only ones known to exist, and it seems unaccountable that not a single poem by this author found a place in those miscellaneous and fashionable repositories, the Paradise of Dainty Devices, or England's Helicon. His own volume however proves the neglect of the age, for of many poems noticed as the avowed productions of some of our best writers, we have no other knowledge than the scraps there incidentally preserved. His Partheniades, lately reprinted, were presented to queen Elizabeth, as a new year's gift, probably on Jan. 1, 1579; his Art of English Poesie was published in 1589. From this last work it appears that he was a candid but sententious critic. What his observations want in argument is compensated by the soundness of his judgment; and his conclusions, notwithstanding their brevity, are just and pertinent. He did not hastily scan his author to indulge in an untimely sneer; and his opinions were adopted by contemporary writers, and have not been dissented from by moderns. Mr. Gilchrist, in the Censura Literaria has drawn an able and comprehensive character of this work, as "on many accounts one of the most curious and entertaining, and intrinsically one of the most valuable books of the age of Elizabeth." In 1811, Mr. Haslewood reprinted this valuable work with his usual accuracy, and in a very elegant form, prefixing some account of the author, of which we have availed ourselves in the present sketch.