1687 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Randolph

William Winstanley, Lives of the Most Famous English Poets (1687) 142-44.



This Famous Poet was born at Houghton in Northampton-shire, and was first bred in Westminster-School, then Fellow in Trinity-Colledge in Cambridge; He was one of such a pregnant Wit, that the Muses may seem not only to have smiled, but to have been tickled at his Nativity, such the festivity of his Poems, of all sorts. Yet was he also sententiously grave, as may appear by many of his Writings, not only in his Necessary Precepts, but also in several other of his Poems; take on instance in the conclusion of his Commendatory Verses to Mr. Felltham, on his excellent Book of Resolves.

'Mongst thy Resolves, put my Resolves in too,
Resolve who will, this I resolve to do,
That should my Errors chuse anothers line
Whereby to write, I mean to live by thine.

His extraordinary indulgence to the too liberal converse with the multitude of his applauders, drew him to such an immoderate way of living, that he was seldom out of Gentlemens company, and as it often happens that in drinking high quarrels arise, so there chanced some words to pass betwixt Mr. Randolph and another Gentleman, which grew to be so high, that the Gentleman drawing his Sword, and striking at Mr. Randolph, cut off his little finger, whereupon, in an extemporary humour, he instantly made these Verses:

Arithmetick nine digits and no more
Admits of, then I have all my store;
But what mischance hath tane from my Left-hand,
It seems did only for a cypher stand,
Hence, when I scan my Verse if I do miss,
I will impute the fault only to this
A fingers loss, I speak it not in sport,
Will make a Verse a foot too short.

That he was of a free generous disposition, not regarding at all the Riches of the World, may be seen in the first Poem of his Book, speaking of the inestimable content he enjoyed in the Muses, to those of his friends which dehorted him from Poetry.

Go sordid earth, and hope not to bewitch
My high born Soul, which flies a nobler pitch;
Thou canst not tempt her with adulterate show,
She bears no appetite that flags so low, &c.

His Poems publish'd after his death, and usher'd into the World by the best Wits of those times, passed the Test with general applause, and have gone through several Impressions; To praise one, were in some sort to dispraise the other, being indeed all praise-worthy. His Cambridge Duns facetiously pleasing, as also his Parley with his Empty Purse, in their kind not out-done by any. He was by Ben. Johnson adopted for his Son, and that as is said upon this occasion.

Mr. Randolph having been at London so long as that he might truly have had a parley with his Empty Purse, was resolved to go see Ben. Johnson with his associates, which as he heard at a set-time kept a Club together at the Devil-Tavern near Temple-Bar; accordingly at the time appointed he went thither, but being unknown to them, and wanting Money, which to an ingenious spirit is the most daunting thing in the World, he peep'd in the Room where they were, which being espied by Ben. Johnson, and seeing him in a Scholars thred-bare habit, John Bo-peep, says he, come in, which accordingly he did, when immediately they began to rime upon the meanness of his Clothes, asking him, If he could not make a Verse? and withal to call for his Quart of Sack; there being four of them, he immediately thus replied,

I John Bo-peep, to you four sheep,
With each one to his good fleece,
If that you are willing to give me five shilling,
'Tis fifteen pence a piece.

By Jesus, quoth Ben. Johnson, (his usual Oath) I believe this is my Son Randolph, which being made known to them, he was kindly entertained into their company, and Ben. Johnson ever after called him Son.

He wrote besides his Poems, the Muses Looking-glass, Jealous Lovers, and Hey for Honesty, down with Knavery, Comedies; Amintas, a Pastoral, and Aristippus, an Interlude.