literature; in his sections on rhetoric and prosody he quotes freely from Quintilian and other classical writers, and bestows commendation on English poets that is often discriminating. He may fairly be regarded as the first English writer who attempted philosophical criticism of literature or claimed for the literary profession a high position in social economy. Compared with it, Webbe's ‘Discourse of English Poetry’ (1586) and Sidney's ‘Apologie for English Poesie,’ first published in 1595, are very slight performances. The ‘Arte’ at once acquired a reputation. Sir John Harington, in his preface to ‘Orlando Furioso’ (1591), and William Camden, in his ‘Remaines’ (1605), referred to it familiarly as a work of authority. Ben Jonson owned a copy, which is now in the Grenville Library at the British Museum. In 1598 Francis Meres borrowed from it the greater portion of the well-known ‘Comparative Discourse of our English Poets’ in his ‘Palladis Tamia;’ while William Vaughan, in his ‘Golden Grove’ (2nd edit. 1608), and Peacham, in his ‘Compleat Gentleman’ (1622), drew from it their comments on English poetry. But the writer's name long remained uncertain. Harington spoke of the author as ‘that unknown godfather,’ and Camden mentioned him anonymously as ‘the gentleman which proved that poets were the first politicians.’ In the second edition of Camden's ‘Remaines’ (1614) was included Richard Carew's essay on the ‘Excellency of the English Tongue.’ Carew included the name of ‘Master Puttenham’ among English writers who had successfully imitated foreign metres in English. Specimens of such imitations figure in ‘The Arte of English Poesie,’ but Carew does not mention that volume. About the same date, however, Edmund Bolton [q. v.], in his ‘Hypercritica,’ distinctly asserted that ‘The Arte of English Poesie’ was the work, ‘as the fame is, of one of the queen's gentlemen pensioners, Puttenham.’ Wood adopted this statement, which has been accepted by later writers. Of the rare original edition of ‘The Arte of English Poesie,’ two copies are in the British Museum. It was reprinted by Joseph Haslewood in his ‘Ancient Critical Essays’ (1811–16, 2 vols.), and by Dr. Edward Arber in 1869.
Although no official documents support Bolton's conjecture that one of Elizabeth's gentlemen pensioners was named Puttenham, internal evidence corroborates his statement that the author of the ‘Arte’ was one of the two sons of Robert Puttenham and a grandson of Sir George Puttenham, who owned property at Sheffield, near Basingstoke, as well as the manors of Puttenham and Long Marston on the borders of Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire. Robert Puttenham married Margery, daughter of Sir Richard Elyot [q. v.] and sister of Sir Thomas Elyot [q. v.], author of the ‘Governor.’ By her Robert Puttenham had two sons—Richard, born about 1520, and George—besides a daughter Margery, who married Sir John Throckmorton of Feckenham, Worcestershire. An epitaph on the latter is given in the ‘Arte,’ and Throckmorton is there described as ‘a deere friend’ of the writer, and ‘a man of many commendable virtues.’ Throckmorton is known to have held his brother-in-law George in low esteem (cf. Cal. State Papers, 1547–80, p. 607). There is great difficulty in determining to which of Throckmorton's two brothers-in-law—to Richard or to George Puttenham—this epitaph, with the rest of the work, should be assigned. Such evidence as is procurable points to the elder brother.
In 1535 Sir Thomas Elyot, in dedicating his ‘Education or Bringinge up of Children’ to his sister, Margery Puttenham, urges her to train up his nephews in the precepts of Plutarch. They appear to have quickly developed a marked taste for literature, but in adult life betrayed a very defective moral training. Both were guilty of gross breaches of the law.
The author of the ‘Arte’ claims to have been ‘a scholler of Oxford,’ and to have studied poetry ‘in his younger years when vanity reigned,’ but no student of the name of Puttenham figures in the Oxford University registers. The author further states that he was brought up in youth among ‘the courtiers of foreign countries … and very well observed their manner of life and conversation.’ ‘Of mine own country,’ he adds, ‘I have not made so great experience.’ He visited (he says) the courts of France, Spain, Italy, and the empire ‘with many inferior courts,’ and in Italy he was friendly with one who had travelled in the east ‘and seen the courts of the great princes of China and Tartary.’ He was present at a banquet given by the Duchess of Parma, regent of the Low Countries, in honour of the Earl of Arundel, which we know from other sources took place in 1565; and he was at Spa while François de Scépeaux, better known as Marshal de Vieilleville, was also staying there. The latter's visit to Spa has been conclusively assigned to 1569 (CROFTS). There is evidence to prove that Richard Puttenham was out of England during these and other years. His brother George is not known to have left the country.