Randolph, Thomas (1605-1635) (DNB00)

RANDOLPH, THOMAS (1605–1635), poet and dramatist, was second son of William Randolph of Hamsey, near Lewes, Sussex, and afterwards of Little Houghton, Northamptonshire, by his first wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Smith of Newnham-cum-Badby, near Daventry, Northamptonshire. His father was steward to Edward, lord Zouch. Thomas was born at Newnham-cum-Badby in the house of his mother's father; a drawing of it appears in Baker's ‘Northamptonshire’ (i. 261). He was baptised on 15 June 1605. He showed literary leanings as a child, and at the age of nine or ten wrote in verse the ‘History of the Incarnation of our Saviour,’ the autograph copy of which was preserved in Anthony à Wood's day. He was educated at Westminster as a king's scholar, and was elected in 1623 to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he matriculated on 8 July 1624. James Duport [q. v.], who was his junior by a year, was an admiring friend at both school and college, and subsequently commemorated his literary powers (Musæ Subsecivæ, 1696, pp. 469–70). Randolph graduated B.A. in January 1627–8, and was admitted a minor fellow 22 Sept. 1629, and major fellow 23 March 1631–2. He proceeded M.A. in 1632, and was shortly afterwards incorporated in the same degree at Oxford.

While an undergraduate Randolph was fired with the ambition of making the acquaintance of Ben Jonson and other leaders of London literary society. According to a contemporary anecdote of somewhat doubtful authenticity, he shyly made his way on a visit to London into the room in the Devil Tavern, near Temple Bar, where Ben Jonson was entertaining his friends. The party noticed his entrance, and challenged him ‘to call for his quart of sack.’ But he had spent all his money, and in an improvised stanza confessed that he could only drink with them at their expense. Ben Jonson is said to have sympathised with him in his embarrassment, and to have ‘ever after called him his son.’ He acknowledged Jonson's kindness in a charming ‘gratulatory to Master Ben Johnson for his adopting of him to be his son,’ and gave further expression to his admiration for his master in two other poems, entitled respectively ‘An Answer to Master Ben Jonson's Ode to persuade him not to leave the Stage’ and in ‘An Eclogue to Master Jonson.’ After he had taken his degree in 1628, his visits to London grew more frequent, and his literary patrons or friends soon included, besides Jonson, Thomas Bancroft, James Shirley the dramatist, Owen Feltham, Sir Aston Cokain, and Sir Kenelm Digby. But until 1632 his time was mainly spent in Cambridge. According to his own account, while he ‘contented liv'd by Cham's fair stream,’ he was a diligent student of Aristotle (Poems, ed. Hazlitt, 609–10). But he became famous in the university for his ingenuity as a writer of English and Latin verse, and was especially energetic in organising dramatic performances by the students of pieces of his own composition. In 1630 he produced his first publication, ‘Aristippus, or the Joviall Philosopher. Presented in a priuate Shew. To which is added the Conceited Pedler’ (London, for Robert Allot, 1630, 4to; other editions, 1631 and 1635). ‘Aristippus,’ which is in prose interspersed with verse, is a witty satire in dramatic form on university education, and a rollicking defence of tippling. The phrase in one of Randolph's verses—‘blithe, buxom, and debonair’—was borrowed by Milton in his ‘L'Allegro.’ ‘The Conceited Pedler’ is a monologue which would not have discredited Autolycus. In 1632 there was acted with great success before Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria, at Cambridge, by the students of Randolph's college (Trinity), the ‘Jealous Lovers,’ an admirable comedy, loosely following classical models (cf. Masson, Milton, i. 251–4). When published at the Cambridge University press in the same year, it was respectfully dedicated to Thomas Comber, vice-chancellor of the university and master of Trinity. To the book Randolph prefixed verses addressed to his friends Sir Kenelm Digby, Sir Christopher (afterwards Viscount) Hatton, Anthony Stafford, and others, while Edward Hide, Duport, Francis Meres, and his brother Robert were among those who complimented him on his success as a playwright. The piece, which is in blank verse, is Randolph's most ambitious effort. Other literary works which he produced under academic influences were Latin poems in the university collections celebrating the birth of Princess Mary in 1631, and Charles I's return from Scotland in 1633. A mock-heroic ‘oratio prævaricatoria,’ delivered before the senate in 1632, was first printed in Mr. Hazlitt's collected edition of his works.

After 1632 Randolph indulged with increasing ardour in the dissipations of London literary life. In two poems he recounted the loss of a finger in an affray which followed a festive meeting (cf. Ashmole MS. 38, No. 34, for a bantering reply by Mr. Hemmings to one of the poems). Thomas Bancroft lamented that ‘he drank too greedily of the Muse's spring.’ Creditors harassed him, and his health failed. He was attacked by smallpox, and, after staying with his father in 1634 at Little Houghton, Northamptonshire, he paid a visit to his friend William Stafford of Blatherwick. There he died in March 1634–5, within three months of his thirtieth birthday, and on the 17th he was buried in the vault of the Stafford family, in an aisle adjoining the parish church. Subsequently his friend Sir Christopher, lord Hatton, erected a marble monument in the church to his memory, with an English inscription in verse by Peter Hausted.

In 1638 appeared a posthumous volume, ‘Poems, with the Muses' Looking-Glasse and Amyntas’ (Oxford, by Leonard Lichfield, for Francis Bowman, 4to). A copy of it, bound with Milton's newly issued ‘Comus,’ was forwarded to Sir Henry Wotton by Milton's and Wotton's ‘common friend Mr. R.,’ who is variously identified with Randolph's brother Robert, the editor, or with Francis Rous, the Bodleian librarian. Wotton, in a letter to Milton, complimenting him on ‘Comus’ (printed in Milton's ‘Poems,’ 1643), assigns the binding up of Randolph's ‘Poems’ with ‘Comus’ to a bookseller's hope that the accessory (i.e. ‘Comus’) ‘might help out the principal.’ To the volume were prefixed an elegy in English and some verses in Latin by Randolph's brother Robert, as well as elegies by Edmund Gayton, Owen Feltham, and the poet's brother-in-law, Richard West. The poems include translations from Horace and Claudian, and a few Latin verses on Bacon's death, on his friend Shirley's ‘Grateful Servant,’ and the like; but the majority are original and in English. Separate title-pages introduce ‘The Muses' Looking Glasse’ and ‘Amyntas.’ ‘The Muses' Looking Glasse by T. R.’ resembled in general design the earlier ‘Aristippus.’ Sir Aston Cokain, in commendatory verses, called it ‘the Entertainment,’ and it doubtless was acted at Cambridge. In the opening scene in the Blackfriars Theatre two puritans, who are strongly prejudiced against the theatre, are accosted by a third character, Roscius, and the latter undertakes to convert them from the view that plays can only serve an immoral purpose. There follow a disconnected series of witty and effective dialogues between characters representing various vices and virtues; the dialogues seek to show that practicable virtue is a mean between two extremes. In the contrasted portrayal of men's humours Ben Jonson's influence is plainly discernible. The piece was long popular. Jeremy Collier wrote a preface for a new edition of 1706. Some scenes were acted at Covent Garden on 14 March 1748 and 9 March 1749, when Mrs. Ward and Ryan appeared in the cast (GENEST, iv. 250–1, 280). The ‘Mirrour,’ an altered version, was published in 1758.

‘Amyntas, or the Fatal Dowry,’ a ‘Pastoral acted before the King and Queen at Whitehall,’ is adapted from the poems of Guarini and Tasso.

The ‘Poems,’ with their appendices and some additions, including ‘The Jealous Lovers,’ reappeared in 1640, again at Oxford. A title-page, with a bust of Randolph, was engraved by William Marshall. A third edition is dated London, 1643; a fourth, which adds the ‘Aristippus’ and ‘The Conceited Pedler,’ London, 1652; a fifth, ‘with several additions corrected and amended,’ at Oxford in 1664; and a sixth (misprinted the ‘fifth’) at Oxford in 1668.

All the pieces named were reissued by Mr. W. C. Hazlitt in 1875, together with a few other short poems, and another play traditionally assigned to Randolph, viz. ‘Πλουτοφθαλμία Πλουτογαμία, a pleasant comedie entituled Hey for Honesty, Down with Knavery. Translated out of Aristophanes his Plutus by Tho. Randolph. Augmented and published by F. J[aques?],’ London, 1651, 4to. This is a very free adaptation of Aristophanes, and contains so many allusions to events subsequent to Randolph's death as to render his responsibility for it improbable. Charles Lamb included selections from it in his ‘Specimens.’ Mr. Hazlitt is doubtless accurate in assigning to Randolph two poems printed together in 1642 as by ‘Thomas Randall,’ viz. ‘Commendation of a Pot of good Ale,’ and ‘The Battle between the Norfolk Cock and Cock of Wisbech.’

Mr. Hazlitt did not include a witty but indelicate Latin comedy called ‘Cornelianum Dolium, comedia lepidissima, auctore T. R. ingeniosissimo hujus ævi Heliconio’ (London, 1638, 12mo), which is traditionally assigned to Randolph. There is a curious frontispiece by William Marshall. Mr. Crossley more probably attributed it to Richard Brathwaite (Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. xii. 341–342). Another claimant to the authorship is Thomas Riley of Trinity College, Cambridge, a friend of Randolph, to whom the latter inscribes a poem before ‘The Jealous Lovers;’ but even if Riley's claim be admitted, it is quite possible that Brathwaite had some share in it as editor. On 29 June 1660 a comedy by ‘Thomas Randall,’ called ‘The Prodigal Scholar,’ was licensed for publication by the Stationers' Company, but nothing further is known of it.

Randolph achieved a wide reputation in his own day, and was classed by his contemporaries among ‘the most pregnant wits of his age.’ Fertile in imagination, he could on occasion express himself with rare power and beauty. But his promise, as might be expected from his irregular life and premature death, was greater than his performance. Phillips, in his ‘Theatrum Poetarum,’ 1675, wrote: ‘The quick conceit and clear poetic fancy discovered in his extant poems seems to promise something extraordinary from him, had not his indulgence to the too liberal converse with the multitude of his applauders drawn him to such an immoderate way of living as, in all probability, shortened his days.’

The younger brother, Robert (1613–1671), who edited the ‘Poems,’ was also educated at Westminster as a king's scholar, and was elected in 1629 to Christ Church, Oxford, where he matriculated on 24 Feb. 1631–2, aged 19. He graduated B.A. on 1 June 1633, and M.A. (as Randall) on 3 May 1636. Wood describes him as ‘an eminent poet.’ He took holy orders, and was vicar successively of Barnetby and of Donnington. He was buried in Donnington church on 7 July 1671 (Wood, Fasti, i. 430; Foster, Alumni Oxon.; Welsh, Alumni Westmonast. p. 901).

[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, i. 564–7; Hunter's MS. Chorus Vatum, 24487, ff. 300–4; Baker's Northamptonshire, ii. 280; Academy, 23 April 1892; Madan's Oxford Press, ‘1468’ to 1640, pp. 209, 222; Retrospective Review, vi. 61; Fleay's Biogr. Chron. ii. 164 sq.; Hazlitt's Introduction to his edition of Randolph's Works.]

S. L.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.231
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