Ralph Robinson

Ralph Robinson

Ralph Robinson (1520-1577) was a Renaissance scholar and man of letters. He was educated at Stamford School, Lincolnshire and the University of Cambridge.

His was the first English translation of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, originally written in Latin in 1516. It was originally published in 1551 with a second (revised) edition published in 1556. At school he was a contemporary of William Cecil later Lord Burghley, Lord High Treasurer of England and chief adviser to Queen Elizabeth I, and the Foreword of his translation, which is dedicated to Burghley, alludes to their schooldays together.

Below is a short extract:

Of Lawes Not Made According to Equitie

It chaunced on a certayne daye, when I sate at his table, there was also a certayne laye man cunnynge in the lawes of youre realme. Who ... began diligently and earnestly to prayse that strayte and rygorous justice, which at that tyme was there executed upon fellones, who, as he sayde, were for the moste parte xx. hanged together upon one gallowes. And, seyng so fewe escaped punyshement, he sayde he coulde not chuse, but greatly wonder and marvel, howe and by what evil lucke it shold so come to passe, that theves nevertheles were in every place so ryffe and so rancke.

Naye, Syr, quod I ... marvel nothinge hereat: for this punyshement of theves passeth the limites of justice, and is also very hurtefull to the weale publique. For it is to extreame and cruel a punishment for thefte, and yet not sufficient to refrayne and withhold men from thefte. For simple thefte is not so great an offense, that it owght to be punished with death. Neither ther is any punishment so horrible, that it can kepe them from stealynge, which have no other craft, wherby to get their living. Therefore in this poynte, not you onlye, but also the most part of the world, be like evyll scholemaisters, which be readyer to beate, then to teach their scholers. For great and horrible punishmentes be appointed for theves, whereas much rather provision should have ben made, that there were some meanes, whereby they myght get their livynge, so that no man shoulde be dryven to this extreme necessitie, firste to steale, and then to dye.

Yes (quod he) this matter is wel ynough provided for already. There be handy craftes, there is husbandrye to gette their livynge by, if they would not willingly be nought.

Nay, quod I, you shall not skape so: for first of all, I wyll speake nothynge of them, that come home out of the warres, maymed and lame ... and by reason of weakenesse and lamenesse be not hable to occupye their olde craftes, and be to aged to lerne new: of them I wyll speake nothing, forasmuch as warres have their ordinarie recourse. But let us considre those thinges that chaunce daily before our eyes. First there is a great number of gentelmen, which can not be content to live idle themselves, lyke dorres, of that whiche other have laboured for: their tenauntes I meane, whom they polle and shave to the quicke, by reisyng their rentes (for this only poynte of frugalitie do they use, men els through their lavasse and prodigall spendynge, hable to brynge theymselfes to verye beggerye) these gentlemen, I say, do not only live in idlenesse themselves, but also carrye about with them at their tailes a great flocke or traine of idle and loyterynge servyngmen, which never learned any craft wherby to gette their livynges. These men as sone as their mayster is dead, or be sicke themselfes, be incontinent thrust out of dores. For gentlemen hadde rather keepe idle persones, then sicke men, and many times the dead mans heyre is not hable to mainteine so great a house, and kepe so many serving men as his father dyd. Then in the meane season they that be thus destitute of service, either starve for honger, or manfullye playe the theves. For what would you have them to do? When they have wandred abrode so longe, untyl they have worne thredebare their apparell, and also appaired their helth, then gentlemen because of their pale and sickely faces, and patched cotes, will not take them into service. And husbandmen dare not set them a worke, knowynge wel ynough that he is nothing mete to do trewe and faythful service to a poore man wyth a spade and a mattoke for small wages and hard fare, whyche beynge deyntely and tenderly pampered up in ydilnes and pleasure, was wont with a sworde and a buckler by hys syde to jette through the strete with a bragginge loke, and to thynke hym selfe to good to be anye mans mate.

Naye, by saynt Mary, sir (quod the lawier) not so. For this kinde of men muste we make moste of. For in them as men of stowter stomackes, bolder spirites, and manlyer courages then handycraftes men and plowemen be, doth consiste the whole powre, strength and puissance of oure army, when we muste fight in battayle.

Forsothe, sir, as well you myghte saye (quod I) that for warres sake you muste cheryshe theves. For suerly you shall never lacke theves, whyles you have them. No, nor theves be not the most false and faynt harted soldiers, nor souldiours be not the cowardleste theves: so wel thees ii. craftes agree together. But this faulte, though it be much used amonge you, yet is it not peculiar to you only, but common also almoste to all nations.

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