Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Pettie, George

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PETTIE, GEORGE (1548–1589), writer of romances, was younger son of John Le Petite or Pettie of Tetsworth and Stoke Talmage, Oxfordshire, by his wife Mary, daughter of William Charnell of Snareston, Leicestershire. He became a scholar of Christ Church, Oxford, in 1564, and graduated B.A. on 29 March 1569. According to Wood, William Gager [q. v.] of Christ Church, his junior by eight or nine years, was his ‘dear friend,’ and each encouraged the other's literary predilections. Pettie travelled beyond the seas, and apparently had some military experience. On returning home he devoted his leisure to literature.

The popularity bestowed on ‘The Palace of Pleasure’ (1566–7) of William Painter [q. v.] encouraged Pettie to attempt a similar venture. His work appeared under the title of ‘A Petite Pallace of Pettie his Pleasure, contayning many pretie Hystories by him, set foorth in comely Colours, and most delightfully discoursed.’ It had been licensed for the press to Richard Watkins on 6 Aug. 1576, and was published soon afterwards, without date. The publisher Watkins, rather than Pettie, was, it appears, responsible for the title, which is a barefaced plagiarism of that of Painter's volumes. Pettie, in his preface, says he mainly wrote for gentlewomen, and deprecated all comparison with the ‘Palace of Pleasure.’ The printer adds a note, stating that he knew nothing of the author or of the author's friend who offered him the manuscript. In an ensuing ‘Letter of G[eorge] P[ettie] to R. B., concerning this Woorke,’ dated from ‘Holborn, 12 July,’ the author apologises for modernising the classical tales —‘amourous stories’ Wood calls them—with which he mainly deals. R. B. are, it has been suggested, the reversed initials of Barnaby Rich [q. v.] The stories, twelve in number, are entitled, respectively ‘Sinorix and Camma,’ ‘Tereus and Progne,’ ‘Germanicus and Agrippina,’ ‘Amphiaraus and Eriphile,’ ‘Icilius and Virginia,’ ‘Admetus and Alcest,’ ‘Scilla and Minos,’ ‘Curiatius and Horatia,’ ‘Cephalus and Procris,’ ‘Minos and Pasiphæ,’ ‘Pigmalions freinde and his Image,’ and ‘Alexius.’ The book was at once popular, and two other editions, set up from new type without the prefatory matter, appeared in the same year. Other editions appeared in 1580 and 1598 by James Roberts, and in 1608 and 1613 by George Eld.

Pettie also translated the first three books of Guazzo's ‘Civile Conversation,’ through the French. Richard Watkins obtained a license for the publication on 27 Feb. 1580–1. The first edition appeared in that year with a dedication addressed from Pettie's lodging near St. Paul's, London, on 6 Feb. 1581, to Marjorie, wife of Sir Henry Norris, baron Norris of Rycote [q. v.] The work is in prose, with a few verses interspersed. A second issue by Thomas East was dated 1586, and included a fourth book of Guazzo, begun by Pettie, but completed from the Italian by Bartholomew Young.

Pettie died, writes Wood, in July 1589, ‘in the prime of his years, at Plymouth, being then a captain and a man of note.’ He was buried in ‘the great Church’ at Plymouth. Lands at Aston-Rowant, Kingston, and Tetsworth, which his father had given him, he left to his brother Christopher. Another brother, Robert, was father of Mary Pettie, who was mother of Anthony à Wood. Wood, who was thus grandnephew of George Pettie, says that Pettie ‘was as much commended for his neat style as any of his time,’ but of the ‘Petite Pallace’ Wood wrote that it was in his day ‘so far from being excellent or fine that it is more fit to be read by a schoolboy or a rustical amorata than by a gent. of mode and learning.’ Wood only kept a copy in his library for the respect of kindred that he ‘bore to the name of the author.’

[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, i. 552; Wood's Life and Times, ed. Clark (Oxford Hist. Soc.), i. 32–7; Lee's Thame, p. 216; Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Hunter's manuscript Chorus Vatum in Addit. MS. 24488, f. 58; Ritson's English Poets; Collier's Stationers' Registers, 1570–87, pp. 20, 139; Warton's Hist. of Engl. Poetry, iv. 336–7; Park's British Bibliographer, ii. 392.]

S. L.