1589
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Arte of English Poesie.

The Arte of English Poesie. Contrived into Three Bookes: The First of Poets and Poesie, the Second of Proportion, the Third of Ornament.

George Puttenham


In Chapter XXXI, titled "Who in any Age have bene the most commended Writers in our English Poesie, and the Authors Censure given upon Them" George Puttenham surveys the English poets, with brief critical remarks. He merely mentions "that other Gentleman who wrate the late shepheardes Callender," p. 51 — prior to the publication of the Faerie Queene Spenser's identity was not generally known.

Elsewhere, Puttenham disapproves of archaisms, though he does not mention the Shepheardes Calender in that connection. His relative lack of interest in Spenser's poem may have had a political basis: Puttenham was alleged to have plotted to assassinate archbishop Grindal. Thomas Gray made a close study of this work, as appears from his posthumously published "Metrics."

Sir John Harington: "For though the poore gentleman laboreth greatly to prove, or rather to make Poetrie an art, and reciteth as you may see in the plural number, some pluralities of patterns, and parcels of his owne Poetrie, with divers pieces of Partheniads and hymnes in praise of the most praiseworthy; yet whatsoever he would prove by all these, sure in my poore opinion he doth prove nothing more plainly, then that which M. Sidney and all the learneder sort that have written of it, do pronounce, namely that it is a gift and not an art, I say he proveth it, because making himselfe and so manie others so cunning in the art, yet he sheweth himselfe so slender a gift in it" Preface to Orlando Furioso (1595) in Moulton, Library of Literary Criticism (1901-05) 1:401.

Edmund Bolton, 1618 ca.: "Q. Elizabeth's verses, those which I have seen and read, some extant in the elegant, witty and artificial Book of the Art of English Poetry, the Work (as the Fame is) of one of her Gentlemen Pensioners, Puttenham, are Princely, as her Prose" Hypercritica (1722) 236.

William Oldys: "It contains many pretty observations, examples, characters, and fragments of poetry for those times, now nowhere else to be met with" in Moulton, Library of Literary Criticism (1901-05) 1:401.

Nathan Drake: "This book, which seems to have been composed considerably anterior to its publication, was printed anonymously, and has been ascribed to Spenser and Sidney [author's note: "Mr. Wanley, in his Catalogue of the Harley Library, says he had been told, the Edm. Spencer was the author of that book, which came out anonymous." Vide Todd's Spenser, vol. i. p. clviii]. Bolton, whose Hypocritica was written in the reign of James I., though not printed until 1722, mentions Puttenham, however, as the reputed author; and a reference to Bolton's manuscript, preserved in the archives at Oxford, enabled Anthony Wood to announce this fact to the public" Shakespeare and his Times (1817; 1838) 227.

William Crowe: "He who shall peruse Puttenham, may collect from him some information concerning the state of poetry in his day; and may understand what kind of verse was censured or praised, and what degree of estimation former English poets were then held in, but he must not expect much instruction upon the art itself" "On English Versification" London Magazine 7 (January 1823) 32.

Retrospective Review: "'For eclogue and pastoral poesie,' says Puttenham, in enumerating the celebrated poets of his time, "Sir Philip Sidney and Maister Challoner, and that other gentleman [Spencer] who wrote the late Shepheardes Callender.' These eclogues were dedicated to Sir Philip Sidney, who praises them, though but slightly, in his Defence of Poesy. 'The Shepherd's Calendar,' says he, 'has much poetry in the eclogues and worth the reading, if I be not deceived'" 12 (1825) 144.

John Payne Collier rejects the identification of Puttenham's work with Spenser's lost "English Poet": "Considering the nature of its contents, and the manner in which Spenser is there made to speak of himself and of his Shepheardes Calender, there can be no doubt that Spenser's was an entirely different production: it was one of his 'works of worth' which were 'all too good to wander forth'" Poetical Works of Spenser (1862; 1875) 1:xclvii.

W. Davenport Adams: "The evidence in his favour is very clearly stated in the prolegomena to Arber's reprint, published in 1869. The first positive allusion to him seems to be contained in Bolton's Hypercritica, published in 1722, and written probably about 1620: — 'Queen Elizabeth's verses, those which I have seen and read, some extant in the elegant, witty, and artificial Book of the Arte of English Poetry (the Work as the Fame is of one of her Gentleman Pensioners, Puttenham), are Princely, as her Prose.' See Wood's Athenae Oxonienses, where he is stated to be a contemporary of Dyer" Dictionary of English Literature (1878) 505.

George Saintsbury: "At last he comes to English poetry; and though, as we might expect, he does not go behind the late fourteenth century, he shows rather more knowledge than Webbe and (not without slips here and elsewhere) far more comparative judgment. It must, however, be admitted that, engaging as his description of Sir Walter Raleigh's 'vein most lofty, insolent, and passionate,' he does not show to advantage in the patronizing glance in passing at 'that other gentleman who wrote the late Shepherd's Calendar,' contrasted with the description of the Queen our Sovereign lady,' whose Muse easily surmounteth all the rest in any kind on which it may please her Majesty to employ her pen.' But here the allowance comes in: the stoutest Tory of later days can never wholly share, though he may remotely comprehend, the curious mixture of religious, romantic, patriotic, amatory, and interested feelings with which men of the sixteenth century wrote about Gloriana" History of English Criticism (1911) 67.

Herbert E. Cory: "Puttenham, or the author of The Art of English Poesie (1589), mentions 'that other gentleman who wrote the late Shepheards Callender' among the English poets to be commended. Soon all England shared Nashe's sublime faith in the native poets" "Critics of Edmund Spenser" UCPMP (1911) 93.

Joseph Spence owned a copy of this volume; see A. N. L. Munby, Sale Catalogues of Libraries of Eminent Persons (1971-75) 2:156. In a note to Johnson's Lives of the Poets, George Birkbeck Hill reports that "In 1838 [James Russell] Lowell was studying versification in Puttenham" (1905) 1:410n.

In 1803 a copy of Puttenham's work sold for the remarkable sum of £6 10s; see Gentleman's Magazine 73 (February 1803) 136.




It appeareth by sundry records of bookes both printed and written, that many of our countreymen have painfully travelled in this part: of whose works some appeare to be but bare translations, other some matters of their owne invention and very commendable, whereof some recitall shall be made in this place, to th' intent chiefly that their names should not be defrauded of such honour as seemeth due to them for having by their thankefull studies so much beautified our English tong, as at this day it will be found our nation is in nothing inferiour to the French or Italian for copie of language, subtiltie of device, good method and proportion in any forme of poeme, but that they may compare with the most, and perchance passe a great many of them. And I will not reach aboue the time of king Edward the third, and Richard the second for any that wrote in English meeter: because before their times by reason of the late Normane conquest, which had brought into this Realme much alteration both of our langage and lawes, and there withall a certain martiall barbarousnes, whereby the study of all good learning was so much decayd, as long time after no man or very few entended to write in any laudable science: so as beyond that time there is litle or nothing worth commendation to be founde written in this arte. And those of the first age were Chaucer and Gower both of them as I suppose Knightes. After whom followed John Lydgate the monke of Bury, and that nameles, who wrote the Satyre called Piers Plowman, next him followed Harding the Chronicler, then in king Henry th' eight times Skelton, (I wot not for what great worthines) surnamed the Poet Laureat. In the latter end of the same kings raigne sprog up a new company of courtly makers, of whom Sir Thomas Wyat th' elder and Henry Earle of Surrey were the two chieftaines, who having travailed into Italie, and there tasted the sweete and stately measures and stile of the Italia Poesie as novices newly crept out of the schooles of Dante Arioste and Petrarch, they greatly pollished our rude and homely maner of vulgar Poesie, from that it had bene before, and for that cause may justly be sayd the first reformers of our English meetre and stile. In the same time or not long after was the Lord Nicholas Vaux, a man of much facilitie in vulgar makings. Afterward in king Edward the sixths time came to be in reputation for the same facultie Thomas Sternehold, who first translated into English certaine Psalmes of David, and John Heywood the Epigrammatist who for the myrth and quicknesse of his conceits more then for any good learning was in him came to be well benefited by the king. But the principall man in this profession at the same time was Maister Edward Ferrys a man of no lesse mirth and felicitie that way, but of much more skil, and magnificence in his meeter, and therefore wrate for the most part to the stage, in Tragedie and sometimes in Comedie or Enterlude, wherein he gave the king so much good recreation, as he had thereby many good rewardes. In Queenes Maries time florished above any other Doctour Phaer one that was well learned and excellently well translated into English verse Heroicall certaine bookes of Virgils Aneidos. Since him followed Maister Arthure Golding, who with no lesse commendation turned into English meetre the Metamorphoses of Ovide, and that other Doctour, who made the supplement to those bookes of Virgils Aneidos, which Maister Phaer left undone. And in her Majesties time that now is are sprong up an other crew of Courtly makers Noble men and Gentlemen of her Majesties owne servauntes, who have written excellently well as it would appeare if their doings could be found out and made publicke with the rest, of which number is first that noble Gentleman Edward Earle of Oxford. Thomas Lord of Bukhurst, when he was young, Henry Lord Paget, Sir Philip Sydney, Sir Walter Rawleigh, Master Edward Dyar, Maister Fulke Grevell, Gascon, Britton, Turberville and a great many other learned Gentlemen, whose names I do not omit for envie, but to avoyde tediousnesse, and who have deserved no little commendation. But of them all particularly this is myne opinion, that Chaucer, with Gower, Lidgat and Harding for their antiquitie ought to have the first place, and Chaucer as the most renowmed of them all, for the much learning appeareth to be in him above any of the rest. And though many of his bookes be but bare translations out of the Latin and French, yet are they wel handled, as his bookes of Troilus and Cresseid, and the Romant of the Rose, whereof he translated but one halfe, the device was John de Mehunes a French Poet, the Canterbury tales were Chaucers owne invention as I suppose, and where he sheweth more the naturall of his pleasant wit, then in any other of his workes, his similitudes comparisons and all other descriptions are such as can not be amended. His meetre Heroicall of Troilus and Cresseid is very grave and stately, keeping the staffe of seven, and the verse of ten, his other verses of the Canterbury tales be but riding ryme, neverthelesse very well becomming the matter of that pleasaunt pilgrimage in which every mans part is playd with much decency. Gower saving for his good and grave moralities, had nothing in him highly to be commended, for his verse was homely and without good measure, his wordes strained much deale out of the French writers, his ryme wrested, and in his inventions small subtillitie: the applications of his moralities are the best in him, and yet those many times very grossely bestowed, neither doth the substance of his workes sufficiently aunswere the subtilitie of his titles. Lydgat a translatour onely and no deviser of that which he wrate, but one that wrate in good verse. Harding a Poet Epick or Historicall, handled himselfe well according to the time and maner of his subject. He that wrote the Satyr of Piers Ploughman, seemed to have bene a malcontent of that time, and therefore bent himselfe wholy to taxe the disorders of that age, and specially the pride of the Romane Clergy, of whose fall he seemeth to be a very true Prophet, his verse is but loose meetre, and his termes hard and obscure, so as in them is litle pleasure to be taken. Skelton a sharpe Satirist, but with more rayling and scoffery then became a Poet Lawreat, such among the Greekes were called Pantomimi, with us Buffons, altogether applying their wits to Scurrillities and other ridiculous matters. Henry Earle of Surrey and Sir Thomas Wyat, betweene whom I finde very litle differece, I repute them (as before) for the two chief lanternes of light to all others that have since employed their pennes upon English Poesie, their conceits were loftie, their stiles stately, their conveyance cleanely, their termes proper, their meetre sweete and well proportioned, in all imitating very naturally and studiously their Maister Francis Petrarcha. The Lord Vaux his commendation lyeth chiefly in the facillitie of his meetre, and the aptnesse of his descriptions such as he taketh upon him to make, namely in sundry of his Songs, wherein he sheweth the counterfait action very lively and pleasantly. Of the later sort I thinke thus. That for Tragedie, the Lord of Buckhurst, and Maister Edward Ferrys for such doings as I have sene of theirs do deserve the hyest price: Th' Earle of Oxford and Maister Edwardes of her Majesties Chappell for Comedy and Enterlude. For Eglogue and pastorall Poesie, Sir Philip Sydney and Maifter Challenner, and that other Gentleman who wrate the late shepheardes Callender. For dittie and amourous Ode I finde Sir Walter Rawleyghs vayne most loftie, insolent, and passionate. Maister Edward Dyar, for Elegie most sweete, solempne and of high conceit. Gascon for a good meeter and for a plentifull vayne. Phaer and Golding for a learned and well corrected verse, specially in translation cleare and very faithfully answering their authours intent. Others have also written with much facillitie, but more commendably perchance if they had not written so much nor so popularly. But last in recitall and first in degree is the Queene our soveraigne Lady, whose learned, delicate, noble Muse, easily surmounteth all the rest that have written before her time or since, for sence, sweetnesse and subtillitie, be it in Ode, Elegie, Epigram, or any other kinde of poeme Heroick or Lyricke, wherein it shall please her Majestie to employ her penne, even by as much oddes as her owne excellent estate and degree exceedeth all the rest of her most humble vassalls.


[pp. 48-51]