1866 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Tofte

John Payne Collier, "Alba" in Bibliographical and Critical Account of the Rarest Books (1866) 4:159-60.



Attention has been directed to this production, chiefly on account of its mention of Love's Labour's Lost; by name, as "a play" which the writer had seen performed, and the title which he found consistent with his own condition as "a melancholy Lover," disappointed by the rejection of his suit:—

Loves Labour lost I once did see, a play
Ycleped so, so called to my paine.

He goes on to complain that what seemed "jest" to others was "earnest" to him, but he praises the "cunning wise" in which "each Actor plaid his part." If he had told us also how the parts were distributed, he would have much increased our obligation, for it is not known by whom a single character was supported.

Tofte was a voluminous translator, chiefly from the Italian, and, as in the previous article, dates some of his poems from Rome, Mantua, &c., and one from Burnham, in Buckinghamshire. However, the lady to whom he was devoted lived at Warrington, and her name, he again tells us, was Carill: this is biographically interesting, but the fact has hitherto been passed over, perhaps on account of the extreme scarcity of Tofte's volumes: he says of the place:—

War in that town Love, lord like, keepeth still,
Yet she ore him triumphs with chastest will:

and as to the lady's name he observes,

Then constant Care, not comfort I do crave,
And (might I chuse) I Care with L would have.

This sort of word-play does not say much for the merit of the many separate love-poems; but, perhaps, as much as they deserve. The dedication of the volume is "to the no lesse excellent then honorablie descended Gentlewoman, Mistresse Anne Herne," to whom, in 1610, Tofte addressed his Honour's Academie. She was the wife of Sir Edward Herne, Kt. of the Bath. Tofte's friends, R. Day, Ignoto, J. M., and R. A., presented him with compassionate and commendatory verses to his Alba (the poetical appellation of Miss Carill), and from them we again learn that by his familiars he was known as "Robin Redbreast," a nickname which Queen Elizabeth had given to her spoilt favorite, Robert Earl of Essex.