Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Painter, William
PAINTER, WILLIAM (1540?–1594), author, is said to have sprung from a Kentish family, but he is described in the Cambridge University register in 1554 as a native of Middlesex, and may possibly have been son of William Painter, citizen and woolcomber, of London, who applied about 1543 for the freedom of the city. He matriculated as a sizar from St. John's College, Cambridge, in November 1554. On the 30th of the same month he was admitted both clockkeeper of the college and a scholar on the Lady Margaret's foundation. In 1556 he received a scholarship on the Beresford foundation, but he seems to have left the university without a degree. Before 1560 he became headmaster of the school at Sevenoaks, despite the regulations which required ‘the grammar master’ to be a bachelor of arts in some university. With the post went a house and a salary of 50l. a year. On 25 April 1560 he was ordained deacon by Grindal, bishop of London. In February 1560–1 he left Sevenoaks to assume the office of clerk of the ordnance in the Tower of London. That office he retained till his death, residing near the Tower; and he managed to acquire a substantial private fortune by borrowing freely from the public funds under his control. He purchased two manors in the parish of Gillingham, Kent, viz., East-Court and Twidall. In 1586 his proceedings excited the suspicions of the government, and he and two colleagues were ordered to refund to the treasury a sum of 7,075l. Painter confessed that he owed the queen 1,079l. 17s. 3d. In 1587 he was reported to have made false entries in his accounts in collusion with Ambrose Dudley, earl of Warwick [q. v.], master of the ordnance. In 1591 Painter's son Anthony confessed to irregularities committed by his father and himself at the ordnance office; but when Painter's offences were more specifically defined as the sale of war material for his own profit in 1575 and 1576, he denied the truth of the ‘slanderous informations.’ Painter made a nuncupative will 14 Feb. 1593–4, and died immediately afterwards. He was buried in London. He had married Dorothy Bonham of Cowling, who died at Gillingham, 19 Oct. 1617, aged 80. By her he had four daughters, besides his son Anthony. The son, who is usually described as ‘of Gillingham,’ married Catherine, daughter of Robert Harris, master in chancery, and was father of William Painter, who obtained, before 1625, a reversionary grant of the office of master of the revels (Collier, Annals of the Stage, i. 419). A Richard Painter (b. 1615), son of Richard Painter of Tunbridge, Kent, is said to be descended from the author. He graduated from St. John's College, Oxford (B.A. 1636 and M.A. 1640), and contributed to the Oxford collections of verse in 1638 and 1642.
Painter is remembered as the author of ‘The Palace of Pleasure,’ a valuable collection of one hundred stories or novels, translated from the Latin, Greek, French, and Italian. ‘The Cytie of Cyvelite, translated into Englesshe by william paynter,’ was entered on the ‘Stationers' Registers’ by the publisher, William Jones, in 1562. But whether, as is commonly assumed, this entry refers to Painter's ‘Palace,’ or to some other work by him which is no longer extant, is open to question. In 1566 William Jones took out a new license for the ‘printing of serten historyes collected oute of dyvers ryghte good and profitable authours by William Paynter.’ There is no doubt that the work noticed thus was the first volume of ‘The Palace of Pleasure,’ which was published in 1566, and was described on the title-page as ‘beautified, adorned, and well furnished with pleasaunt Histories and excellent Nouells, selected out of diuers good and commendable Authors’ (London, by Henry Denham for Richard Tottell and William Jones). It was dedicated to Painter's official superior, the Earl of Warwick, and a woodcut of Warwick's crest, the bear and ragged staff, appears on the title-page. Sixty novels were included. A second volume, containing thirty-four stories, was issued in the following year, 1567, with a dedication to Sir George Howard, and an apology at the close for the temporary omission, owing to the unexpected size of the book, ‘of sundry novels of merry devise.’ The first volume was reissued without alteration in 1569. The whole work was republished, by Thomas Marshe, in 1575, ‘eftsones perused, corrected, and augmented,’ with seven new stories. The second volume is undated. This is the definitive edition, and was reprinted, with a biography of Painter, by Joseph Haslewood, in 1813 (3 vols.), and again by Mr. Joseph Jacobs in 1890 (3 vols.)
Painter's reading was exceptionally wide, and he practically first made the Italian novelists known to English readers. The sources of his book may be classified thus: three stories (i. 6, 7, ii. 1) are derived from Herodotus; three from Ælian (i. 8–10); three from Plutarch (i. 27–8, ii. 3); thirteen from Aulus Gellius (i. 14–26); six from Livy (i. 1–4, ii. 6, 8); one from Tacitus (ii. 14); three from Quintus Curtius (i. 12–13, ii. 2). Among Italian writers no less than twenty-six come from Bandello, either directly or through the French translations of Belleforest or Boaistuau du Launay (i. 11, 40–6, ii. 4–5, 7, 9–10, 21–30, 32–3, 35). Sixteen come from Boccaccio (i. 30–9, ii. 16–20, 31); two each from Cinthio's ‘Ecatomithi’ (ii. 11, 15) and from Ser Giovanni Fiorentino's ‘Pecorone’ (i. 5, 48); one each from Pedro di Messia's ‘Selva di varie Lezzioni’ (i. 29), Straparola (i. 49), Masuccio's ‘Novellino,’ through the French ‘Comptes du Monde Avantureux’ (i. 66); Guevara's ‘Letters’ (ii. 12); and ‘Pausanias and Manitius’ (ii. 13). Sixteen are from Queen Margaret's ‘Heptameron’ (i. 50–65). The second edition included (ii. 34) a translation from the Latin of Nicholas Moffan's (or à Moffa's) account of the death of the Sultan Solyman, which Painter completed in 1557.
The work was very widely read by Elizabethan Englishmen. It largely inspired Roger Ascham's spirited description of the moral dangers likely to spring from the dissemination of Italian literature in English translations (Scholemaster, ed. Arber, pp. 77–85). Many imitators of Painter sought to dispute with him his claims to popular favour (cf. Fenton, Certaine Tragicall Discourses, 1567; Fortescue, Foreste, 1571). A very obvious plagiarism was George Pettie's ‘Petite Palace of Pettie his Pleasure,’ 1576. George Turberville [q. v.] and George Whetstone [q. v.] also followed closely in Painter's footsteps. But it is as the mine whence the Elizabethan dramatists drew the plots of their plays or poems that Painter's work presents itself in the most interesting aspect. Shakespeare's ‘Rape of Lucrece,’ ‘Coriolanus,’ ‘Timon of Athens,’ ‘All's well that ends well,’ and ‘Romeo and Juliet’ all owe something to Painter, and the influence of his book may be traced in Wilmot's ‘Tancred and Gismund;’ in George Peele's ‘Mahomet and Hyren the Fair Greek;’ in Webster's ‘Appius and Virginia,’ ‘Duchess of Malfi,’ and ‘Insatiate Countess;’ in the ‘Widow’ by Ben Jonson, Fletcher, and Middleton; in Beaumont and Fletcher's ‘Triumph of Death;’ Fletcher's ‘Maid of the Mill;’ Shirley's ‘Love's Cruelty;’ Marston's ‘Dutch Courtesan’ and ‘Sophonisba;’ and in Massinger's ‘Picture.’
Painter also freely translated into English, with many original additions, William Fulke's ‘Antiprognosticon’ (1560). He has been credited with a similar attack on astrology, entitled ‘Foure Great Lyers … Written by W. P.,’ London, by Robert Waldegrave, n.d., and with a broadside in verse (of which a copy belongs to the Society of Antiquaries) entitled ‘A moorning diti upon the deceas of the high and mighti Prins Henry, Earl of Arundel,’ London, 1579. This piece is signed ‘Guil. P. G.,’ which is interpreted as ‘Gulielmus Painter, Gent.’
A fine signature of Painter is appended, with those of Philip Sidney and John Powell, to an acknowledgment of the receipt of ammunition by Sir Thomas Leighton, governor of the island of Guernsey. It is dated 8 June 1585, and is now in the Record Office.[Hunter's manuscript Chorus Vatum, in Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 24490, ff. 200 sq.; Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr. ii. 538–9; Collier's Extracts from the Stationers' Registers, i. 66, 121, 165, ii. 105–7; Collier's Bibliographical Account, i. 18, ii. 86–7; Haslewood's Introduction to his reprint of the ‘Palace of Pleasure;’ Mr. J. Jacobs's prefatory matter in his reprint.]