Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Tofte, Robert

TOFTE, ROBERT (d. 1620), poet and translator, was, as he invariably described himself, a ‘gentleman’ who travelled in France and Italy, and was in Naples in 1593. Nothing more, however, is known of his antecedents, prior to the publication of his first work, ‘Laura. The Toyes of a Traueller. Or, The Feast of Fancie … By R. T. Gentleman,’ printed at London by Valentine Sims in 1597, 8vo. This little volume is dedicated to the Lady Lucy Percy, and consists of a collection of short poems ‘most parte conceiued in Italie, and some of them brought foorth in England,’ but it contains also more than thirty sonnets which are stated in ‘A Frends iust excuse’ appended to the work by ‘R.B.’ to be by another hand. Two copies only are known: one is in the British Museum; the other, formerly in the Isham collection, is now in the library at Britwell Court. 'Laura' was followed by ‘Alba. The Months Minde of a Melancholy Louer, diuided into three parts. By R. T. Gentleman,’ printed at London by Felix Kingston for Matthew Lownes in 1598, 8vo. It is dedicated to Mistress Anne Herne, but the ‘Laura’ and ‘Alba’ of Tofte’s muse appears to have been a lady of the name Caryll. The chief interest of ‘Alba,’ which is greatly superior to ‘Laura,’ lies in the reference to Shakespeare’s comedy of ‘Love’s Labour Lost,’ which occurs in the third part:

Loves Labor Lost, I once did see a Play
Ycleped so, so called to my paine,
Which I to heare to my small Ioy did stay,
Giuing attendance on my froward Dame,
My misgiuing mine presaging to me Ill,
Yet was I drawne to see it gainst my Will.

The only perfect copy extant is in the library of Mr. Alfred H. Huth: a second copy, wanting ‘Certaine Diuine Poems,’ and the translation of a letter from the Duke d’Epernon to Henry III, king of France, which follow the poem, is at Britwell Court. ‘Some Account of Tofte’s Alba, 1598’ was printed by J.O. Halliwell-Phillipps in 1865, and the text itself was reprinted, with an introduction and notes, by Dr. Grosart in 1880.

The only other original poem by Tofte which has been preserved is ‘The Fruits of Jealousie: or, A Loue (but not louing) Letter,’ appended to his translation of Varchi’s ‘Blazon of Jealousie,’ 1615.

The earliest of Tofte’s translations from the Italian was ‘Two Tales Translated out of Ariosto. The one in dispraise of Men, the other in disgrace of Women,’ printed at London by Valentine Sims in 1597. The only copy known is at Britwell. The next in date was ‘Orland Inamorato. The three first Bookes of that famous noble Gentleman and learned Poet Mathew Maria Boiardo … Done into English Heroicall Verse by R. T. Gentleman,’ printed at London by Valentine Sims in 1598. Copies are in the British Museum and the Bodleian Library. In 1599 appeared, almost entirely in prose, ‘Of Mariage and Wiuing. An excellent, pleasant, and Philosophicall Controuersie, betweene the famous Tassi now liuing, the one Hercules the Philospher, the other Torquato the Poet. Done into English by R.T. Gentleman.’ In this work ‘The Declamation … against Marriage or wedding of a Wife’ is by Ercole Tasso, the ‘Defence’ by Torquato Tasso. Copies are in the British Museum and in the Huth and Britwell collections. Mothing more from Tofte’s pen appeared until 1608, in which year was published ‘Aristo’s Satyres, in seuen famous Discourses … In English by Garuis Markham.’ The ascription of the work to Gervase Marhkam appears to have been a fraud on the part of the publisher, Roger Jackson, for Tofte in an address to the reader contained in the ‘Blazon of Jealousie’ says, ‘I had thought for they better contentment to haue inserted (at the end of this Booke) the disasterous fall of three noble Romane Gentlemen, ouerthrowne thorow Iealousie in the Loues; but the same was, with Ariosto’s Satyres (translated by mee out of Italian into English Verse, and Notes vpon the same) Printed without my consent or knowledge, in another mans name.’ The claim was not disputed, and, moreover, the book was reissued by the same publisher in 1611, without any name of translator, as ‘Ariostos Seuen Planets Gouerning Italie.’ Copies of both issues are in the British Museum, the Bodleian Library, and at Britwell. ‘Honours Academie. Or the Famous Pastorall of the faire Shepheardesse, Julietta,’ translated from the French of Nicolas de Montreux, and printed in 1610, and Benedetto Varchi’s ‘Blazon of Jealousie,’ translated from the Italian, with ‘special’ notes, and printed in 1615, complete the list of Tofte’s works. Copies of the two last named are in the British Museum and at Britwell.

Tofte was known familiarly among his friends as ‘Robin Redbreast,’ and his works contain frequent allusions to the name. His versification, although facile, is very unequal, but his translations are not deficient in spirit or in fidelity. He died in the house of a Mrs. Goodall in Holborn, near Barnard’s Inn, London, in January 1620, and was buried on 24 Jan. in the church of St. Andrew, Holborn.

[Grosart’s Introduction to his reprint of Tofte’s Alba, 1880; John Payne Collier’s Bibliographical Catalogue, 1870, ii. 437.]

R. E. G.