1753 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Randolph

Anonymous, in Cibber-Shiels, Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) 1:226-29.



THOMAS RANDOLPH, a Poet of no mean genius, was born at Newnham, near Daintry in Northamptonshire, the 15th of June, 1605, he was son of William Randolph of Hams, near Lewes in Sussex, was educated at Westminster school, and went from thence to Trinity College in Cambridge, 1603, of which he became a fellow; he commenced Master of Arts, and in this degree was incorporated at Oxon, became famous (says Wood) for his ingenuity, being the adopted son of Ben Johnson, and accounted one of the most pregnant wits of his age. The quickness of his parts was discovered early; when he was about nine or ten years old he wrote the History of the Incarnation of Our Saviour in verse, which is preserved in manuscript under his own hand writing. Randolph receives from Langbaine the highest encomium. He tells his readers that they need expect no discoveries of thefts, for this author had no occasion to practise plagiary, having a large a fund of wit of his own, that he needed not to borrow from others. Were a foreigner to form a notion of the merit of the English poets from reading Langbaine, they would be in raptures with Randolph and Durfey, and others of their class, while Dryden, and the first-rate wits, would be quite neglected: Langbaine is so far generous, that he does all he can to draw obscure men into light, but then he cannot be acquitted of envy, for endeavouring to shade the lustre of those whose genius has broke through obscurity without his means, and he does no service to his country while he confines his panegyric to mean versifiers, whom no body can read without a certain degree of contempt.

Our author had done nothing in life it seems worth preserving, or at least that cotemporary historians thought so, for there is little to be learned concerning him. Wood says he was like other poets, much addicted to libertine indulgence, and by being too free with his constitution in the company of his admirers, and running into fashionable excesses, he was the means of shortening his own days. He died at little Haughton in Northamptonshire, and was buried in an isle adjoining to the church in that place, on the 17th of March, 1634. He had soon after a monument of white marble wreathed about with laurel, erected over his grave at the charge of lord Hatton of Kirby. Perhaps the greatest merit which this author has to plead, is his attachment to Ben Johnson, and admiration of him: Silius Italicus performed an annual visit to Virgil's tomb, and that circumstance reflects more honour upon him in the eyes of Virgil's admirers, than all the works of that author. Langbaine has preserved a monument of Randolph's friendship for Ben Johnson, in an ode he addressed to him, occasioned by Mr. Felltham's severe attack upon him, which is particularized in the life of Ben; from this ode we shall quote a stanza or two, before I give an account of his dramatic compositions.

Ben, do not leave the stage,
'Cause 'tis a loathsome age;
For pride, and impudence will grow too bold,
When they shall hear it told,
They frighted thee; stand high as is thy cause,
Their hiss is thy applause.
Most just were thy disdain,
Had they approved thy vein:
So thou for them, and they for thee were born,
They to incense, and thou too much to scorn.

Wilt thou engross thy store
Of wheat, and pour no more,
Because their bacon brains have such a taste
As more delight in mast?
No! set them forth a board of dainties, full
As thy best muse can cull;
Whilst they the while do pine,
And thirst 'midst all their wine,
What greater plague can hell itself devize,
Than to be willing thus to tantalize?

The reader may observe that the stanzas are reasonably smooth, and mark him a tolerable versifier. I shall now give some account of his plays.

1. Amyntas, or the Impossible Dowry, a Pastoral acted before the King and Queen at Whitehall.

2. Aristippus, or the Jovial Philosopher; presented in a private shew, to which is added the Conceited Pedlar.

3. Jealous Lovers, a Comedy, presented to their Majesties at Carrbridge, by the students of Trinity College. This play Langbaine thinks the best of Randolph's, as appears by an epilogue written by Mrs. Behn, and printed in her collection of poems, published in 8vo, 1681; it was revised and printed by the author in his life-time, being ushered into the world with copies of verses by some of the best wits, both of Oxford and Cambridge.

4. Muses Looking Glass, a Comedy, which by the author was first called the Entertainment; as appears from Sir Aston Cokaine's Works, who writ an encomium on it, and Mr. Richard West said of it,

Who looks within this clearer glass say,
At once he writ an ethic tract and play.

All these dramatic pieces and poems were published in 1668; he translated likewise the second Epod of Horace, several pieces out of Claudian, and likewise a dramatic piece from Aristophanes, which he calls Hey for Honesty, Down with Knavery, a pleasant comedy printed in 4to. London 1651. A gentleman of St. John's College, writes thus in honour of our author;

Immortal Ben is dead, and as that ball,
On Ida toss'd so in his crown, by all
The infantry of wit. Vain priests! that chair
Is only fit for his true son and heir.
Reach here thy laurel: Randolph, 'tis thy praise:
Thy naked skull shall well become the bays.
See, Daphne courts thy ghost; and spite of fate,
Thy poems shall be Poet Laureate.