Whetstone, George (DNB00)

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WHETSTONE, GEORGE (1544?–1587?), author, was related to a wealthy family of Whetstone, which owned in the sixteenth century the manor of Walcot in the parish of Bernack, near Stamford in Lincolnshire (Wood, Athenæ, ii. 437). He seems to have been a native of London and third son of Robert Whetstone, who owned a tenement called ‘The Three Gilded Anchors’ in Westcheap, and five messuages in Gutter Lane. His mother was Margaret, sister and coheiress of Francis Bernard of Suffolk. The father, Robert Whetstone, died in 1557, leaving five sons: Robert (aged 17), Bernard, George, Francis, and John (Hunter, Illustrations of Shakespeare, i. 222). The second son, Bernard, who, like his brothers Robert and Francis, was admitted student of Gray's Inn, was father of Sir Bernard Whetstone of Woodford, Essex (Visitation of Essex, 1634, pp. 520, 617; Morant, Essex, i. 38).

The author, who was apparently born about 1544, claimed kinship with William Fleetwood, recorder of London (Promos and Cassandra, 1578, dedication). As a young man he tried his fortune at court. He seems to have haunted gambling houses and brothels, and dissipated his patrimony by reckless living. He subsequently devoted much energy to denunciations of the depravity of London, and declared that he was fraudulently deprived of his property. For three years or more he conducted a costly lawsuit against those whom he charged with robbing him of his possessions, but he gained little beyond the satisfaction of knowing that ‘foure notable couseners, the instrumentes of his greatest troubles … in the prime of their mischievous enterprises, with soudaine death and vexation, were straungelie visited’ (Rocke of Regarde, 1576, ad fin.; Touchstone for the Time, 1584, ad fin.)

When he was nearly overwhelmed by his anxieties, he left England for France. Afterwards he entered the army, apparently joining in 1572 an English regiment on active service in the Low Countries against Spain. He held an officer's commission. In Holland he seems to have made the acquaintance of George Gascoigne and Thomas Churchyard, who had passed at home through experiences resembling his own. He distinguished himself in the field and was awarded additional pay, but he returned to London in 1574 without prospects of promotion or means of support. He sought help from his kinsmen, but they proved niggardly. As a last resort he followed the example of his friends Gascoigne and Churchyard, and turned for a livelihood to literature. He read the romances of France and Italy and summarised them in English verse and prose, and he endeavoured to attract the attention of men and women of influence at court by addressing to them poetic panegyrics. He first appeared in print as author of lines ‘in praise of Gascoigne and his posies,’ which were prefixed to Gascoigne's ‘Flowers,’ 1575. In 1576 he collected his varied literary efforts into a volume which he entitled the ‘Rocke of Regard, divided into foure parts. The first, the Castle of Delight. … The second, the Garden of Unthriftinesse. … The thirde, the Arbour of Vertue. The fourth, the Ortchard of Repentance: wherein are discoursed the miseries that followe dicing, the mischiefes of quarrelling, the fall of prodigalitie …’ (London, for R. Waley, 1576, 4to). The first part is dedicated to ‘all the young gentlemen of England’ from the author's lodging in Holborn under date 15 Oct. 1576. The third part was dedicated to Jane Sibilla, daughter of Lord Grey de Wilton, and the last part to Sir Thomas Cecil. The separate pieces number sixty-eight in all; most of them are tales in verse or prose drawn from the Italian, but there are numerous occasional poems addressed to friends, and the last section narrates under fictitious names Whetstone's sufferings at the hands of his enemies (cf. Brydges, Censura Literaria, 1807, v. 1–13). An imperfect copy of the rare volume is in the British Museum. A reprint was issued by J. P. Collier in 1870.

In 1577 Whetstone invited Gascoigne to join him on a visit to his friends near Stamford, and Gascoigne died on 5 Oct. 1577, while he was Whetstone's guest. Whetstone commemorated the sad episode in a volume of verse (in six-line stanzas) under the title ‘A Remembraunce of the wel imployed life and godly end of George Gaskoigne, Esquire. The report of Geor. Whetstons, gent, an eye witnes of his godly and charitable end in this world. Imprinted at London for Edward Aggas’ [1577]. The only copy known is in the Malone collection at the Bodleian Library. It was reprinted in Chalmers's ‘English Poets,’ 1810, ii. 457–466; separately at Bristol in 1815; with Gascoigne's ‘Princely Pleasures,’ London, 1821; and in Arber's reprints of Gascoigne's works in 1868.

In 1577 some verses by Whetstone prefaced Kendall's ‘Flowres of Epigrammes.’ Next year he contributed a poem called ‘Twenty Good Precepts’ to a new edition of Edwards's ‘Paradise of Dainty Devices.’ At the same time he essayed a more ambitious form of literature. He wrote a play entitled ‘The right excellent and famous Historye of Promos and Cassandra: devided into two Commicall Discourses,’ London by R. Jhones, 1578 (a copy is in the British Museum; it was reprinted in Nichols's ‘Six Old Plays,’ 1779, and in ‘Shakespeare's Library,’ edited by Collier and Hazlitt, 1875, II. ii. 201–304). The play is in two parts, each of five acts, and is throughout in rhymed verse, with songs interspersed; the story is drawn from Giraldi Cinthio's ‘Hecatommithi,’ and closely resembles the plot of Shakespeare's ‘Measure for Measure.’ Whetstone's unwieldy play was never acted. He dedicated it, when it was printed, to his ‘worshipful friend and kinsman William Fleetwood, Recorder of London.’ Whetstone there offered interesting comments on the contemporary drama of Europe, censuring the English dramatists for basing their plots on ‘impossibilities.’

But literature proved an uncertain support, and Whetstone again sought adventures abroad. He was, as the printer explains in a note to the reader, unable to see his play of ‘Promos’ through the press, owing to his resolve to accompany Sir Humphrey Gilbert on his voyage to Newfoundland. He left Dartmouth with Gilbert's expedition on 23 Sept. 1578, and he returned to Plymouth in May 1579. The expedition proved disastrous to all concerned. In 1580 Whetstone visited Italy with a gentleman of Picardy named Dobart and another Englishman, and at Turin he challenged a Spaniard who insulted his country, but the Spaniard disappeared without fighting (The Honourable Reputation of a Soldier, 1585, epistle dedicatory).

Settling once more in England, Whetstone published in 1582 a collection of prose romances, which he named after the well-known volume by the Queen of Navarre, ‘An Heptameron of Ciuill Discourses. Containing the Christmasse Exercise of Sundrie well Courted Gentlemen and Gentlewomen. In whose behauiours the better sort may see a represētation of their own virtues. And the Inferiour may learne such Rules of Ciuil Govermēt as will rase out the Blemish of their basenesse. Wherein is Renowned the Vertues of a most honourable and brave mynded gentleman’ (London, printed by Richard Jones, 3 Feb. 1582, 4to, b. l.; Brit. Mus. and Huth Libraries). It was dedicated to Sir Christopher Hatton. Whetstone writes: ‘Whatsoever is praiseworthy in this Booke belongeth to Segnior Phyloxenus and his Courtly favourers.’ By ‘Segnior Phyloxenus’ Whetstone apparently meant Giraldi Cinthio, from whose ‘Hecatommithi’ many of the stories in the volume seem derived. The book is divided, after the manner of Italian novelists, into seven ‘days’ and one ‘night.’ In the ‘Fourth Dayes Exercise’ is given (from Cinthio) ‘The rare Historie of Promos and Cassandra reported by Isabella.’ Cinthio's tale had already furnished Whetstone with the plot of his play of the same name. His prose as well as his dramatic rendering of the tale was doubtless familiar to Shakespeare, who based on it his play of ‘Measure for Measure.’ Whetstone's prose version is reprinted in Collier and Hazlitt's ‘Shakespeare's Library,’ i. iii. 153–66, and in Cassell's National Library (1889). Richard Jones, the publisher, reissued Whetstone's ‘Heptameron’ in 1593 as ‘Aurelia, the Paragon of Pleasure and Princely Delights, by G. W., gent.’

In 1584 Whetstone abandoned imaginative literature and produced an elaborate prose treatise reprobating the vices that prevailed among the young men of London. The title ran: ‘A Mirour for Magestrates of Cyties. Representing the Ordinaunces, Policies, and Diligence of the Noble Emperour, Alexander (surnamed) Severus to suppresse and chastise the notorious Vices noorished in Rome by the superfluous nomber of Dicing-houses, Tavarns, and common Stewes: suffred and cheerished by his beastlye Predecessour, Helyogabalus’ (London, by R. Jones, 1584, 4to). A new title-page introduced ‘An addition or a Touchstone for the Time,’ which gave a very detailed account of the disreputable aspects of London life. The book was dedicated to Sir Edward Osborne, the lord mayor, and there was a subsidiary address to ‘Gentlemen of the Innes of Court.’ The book was reissued by the publisher Jones in 1586, under the new title, ‘The Enemie to Unthryftiness: publishing by Lawes, Documents, and Disciplines a Right Rule for Reformation of Pride, and other Prodigall and Riotous Disorders, in a Common wealth.’ Copies of both issues are in the British Museum. At the back of the title-page of the second issue the printer inserted a list of Whetstone's previously printed works—ten in all—together with the titles of three ‘bookes redy to be printed,’ viz. ‘A Panoplie of Devices,’ ‘The English Mirrour,’ and ‘The Image of Christian Justice.’ The first and the third of these are not otherwise known in connection with Whetstone.

In 1585 Whetstone temporarily resumed his military career, and accompanied the English forces to Holland. He was present at the battle of Zutphen, when Sir Philip Sidney received his fatal wound on 13 Sept. 1586, and his description of the disaster is in the ‘True Discourse’ of his friend Thomas Churchyard (1602). Military zeal was visible in his ‘The honorable Reputation of a Souldier. With a Morall Report, of the Vertues, Offices, and (by abuse) the Disgrace of his profession’ (London, by Richard Jones, 1585, 4to). The title-page has a fanciful woodcut of a soldier in armour. The book, which consists of anecdotes of military service drawn from classical writers, was dedicated to Sir William Russell. It was translated into Dutch, doubtless while Whetstone was in Holland, and was printed in both Dutch and English in parallel columns at Leyden in 1586; this edition has an appendix addressed to Dutch students on the pronunciation of English. The book, Whetstone tells us, was ‘a member or small parcel’ of a more ambitious political treatise which he had written some time before but had not yet published. The unpublished treatise appeared in 1586 with the fantastic title: ‘The English Myrror. A Regard wherein al estates may behold the Conquests of Envy’ (London, by J. Windet for G. Seton, b. 1. 4to; two copies in Brit. Mus.). There was a dedication to Queen Elizabeth, and an address to the ‘nobilitie of this flourishing realm.’ New title-pages introduce second and third parts, called respectively ‘Envy conquered by vertue, publishing the blessings of peace, the scourge of traitors, the glory of Queen Elizabeths peaceable victories,’ and ‘A fortresse against Envy.’ The first division of the work treats of miscellaneous incidents in foreign history, the second division treats of the reigns of the Tudors in England and supplies much interesting detail respecting recent conspiracies against Elizabeth's rule; the third division discusses the duties of rulers and the functions performed in a well-regulated state by the nobility, the clergy, the yeomanry, and officers of justice.

Meanwhile Whetstone had from time to time composed biographical elegies in verse on distinguished men of the day, pursuing the plan that he had adopted when commemorating the death of his friend Gascoigne. He boasted that several ‘worthy personages, which in my time are deceased, have had the second life of their vertues bruted by my Muse’ (English Myrror, 1586, bk. iii. ded.). In 1579 there appeared his ‘Remembrance of the woorthie and well imployed life of Sir Nich. Bacon, Lord-Keeper’ (London, 4to; dedicated to Gilbert Gerrard, attorney-general). In 1583 Whetstone issued two works of the kind, namely: ‘A Remembraunce of Sir James Dier’ (London, 4to), dedicated to Sir Thomas Bromley, lord chancellor; and ‘A Remembraunce of the Life, Death, and Vertues of … Thomas, Erle of Sussex’ (London, 4to) dedicated to Henry Radcliffe, earl of Sussex. In 1585 there followed ‘A mirror of Treue Honnour and Christian Nobilitie: exposing the life and death and devine vertues of … Francis, Earl of Bedford’ (London, 1585, 4to). Whetstone's final contribution to elegiac literature was an interesting biography in verse of Sir Philip Sidney. This was entitled ‘Sir Philip Sidney, his honourable life, his valiant death and true ‘vertues’ (1586–7, 4to); it was dedicated to Ambrose Dudley, earl of Warwick. A manuscript copy is in the Public Record Office (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1581–90, p. 387). Whetstone's poems on Bacon, Dyer, Sussex, and Sidney were privately reprinted by Sir Alexander Boswell at the Auchinleck Press in 1816 in a volume entitled ‘Frondes Caducæ.’ The poem on the Earl of Bedford was reprinted in Park's ‘Heliconia’ (vol. ii.).

In 1587 Whetstone published the latest volume that has been set to his credit. It was a prosaic statement of the offences and punishments of Anthony Babington and his fellow conspirators, narrated in the form of a conversation, in which three persons—‘Walker, a godlie devine,’ ‘Weston, a discreet gentleman,’ and ‘Wilcocks, a substantial clothier’—took part. The book bore the title, ‘The Censure of a loyall Subiect: Upon Certaine noted speach and behaviours of those fourteene notable Traitors, at the place of their executions, the xx and xxi of September last past. Wherein is handled matter of necessarye instruction for all dutifull Subjectes, especially the multitude of ignorant people’ (London, by Richarde Jones, 1587, 4to, black letter). It was dedicated to Lord Burghley, and was first issued before the execution of Mary Queen of Scots on 8 Feb. 1586–7. A reissue appeared after her execution, with a prefatory note by Whetstone's friend Thomas Churchyard, stating that Whetstone was in the country. Copies of both issues belong to Mr. Huth. The second only is in the British Museum, and of that two copies are there. This was reprinted by J. P. Collier in his ‘Illustrations of Early English Popular Literature’ in 1863 (vol i. No. 9).

Whetstone is not known to have returned to London after the appearance of the second edition of his ‘Censure of a Loyall Subiect’ in 1587, and it may be assumed that he died soon after it came from the press.

Whetstone's works are crude productions, and are interesting only to the historian of literature and the bibliographer. He achieved some reputation in his day. Webbe, in his ‘Discourse of English Poets,’ 1586 (p. 36), writes of him as a ‘gentleman [who was] worthy, if hee have [it] not already, to weare the Lawrell wreathe; [he is] a man singularly well skyled, in this faculty of Poetrie.’ Meres, in his ‘Palladis Tamia’ (1598), unintelligibly names him among those who are the most passionate poets ‘among us to bewail and bemoane the perplexities of love.’ A later critic, George Steevens, speaks of him as ‘the most quaint and contemptible writer, both in prose and verse, he ever met with’ (Berkenhout, Biogr. Literar. p. 388).

[Collier's Bibliographical Catalogue, ii. 504–511, and Poetical Decameron; Corser's Collectanea Anglo-Poetica, xi. 382–92; Brydges and Park's Heliconia, vol. ii.]

S. L.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.278
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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452 ii 6 Whetstone, George: after p. 387). insert An account of the death of Sir Philip Sidney, related on the authority of George Whetstone, an eye-witness, is to be found in Thomas Churchyard's ‘True Discours Historical of the Succeeding Governors in the Netherlands and the Civill Warres there,’ London, 1602, 4to.