Page images

row, the story of Raleigh, though a thousand times told? If there were no other blots on James's reign, Raleigh's death alone would render it intolerable every generous and reflecting mind."

Sir Walter Raleigh is no less distinguished as a literary character than as an experienced navigator and a valorous knight. For extent of knowledge and variety of talent, he was undoubtedly the first man of his age. The work on which his fame chiefly rests is his "History of the World," which begins with the Creation, and ends with the downfall of the Macedonian Empire, 168 B. C. Of this work Hume remarks, "it is the best model of that ancient style, which some writers would affect to revive at present;" and Professor Tytler, the Scotch historian, commends it as "rigorous, purely English, and possessing an antique richness of ornament, similar to what pleases us when we see some ancient priory or stately manor-house, and compare it with our more modern mansions. It is laborious without being heavy, learned without being dry. Its narrative is clear and spirited, and the matter collected from the most authentic sources." The following is the concluding portion of this great work, a passage which, in the opinion of Warburton, has never been equalled, except by Milton:


By this which we have already set down is seen the beginning and end of the first three monarchies of the world, whereof the founders and erectors thought that they could never have ended. That of Rome, which made the fourth, was also at this time almost at the highest. We have left it flourishing in the middle of the field, having rooted up or cut down all that kept it from the eyes and admiration of the world; but after some continuance it shall begin to lose the beauty it had; the storms of ambition shall beat her great boughs and branches one against another, her leaves shall fall off, her limbs wither, and a rabble of barbarous nations enter the field and cut her down.

Now these great kings and conquering nations have been the subject of those ancient histories which have been preserved, and yet remain among us; and withal of so many tragical poets, as, in the persons of powerful princes and other mighty men, have complained against infidelity, time, destiny, and most of all against the variable success of worldly things, and instability of fortune. To these undertakings the greatest lords of the world have been stirred up, rather by the desire of fame, which plougheth up the air, and soweth in the wind, than by the affection of bearing rule, which draweth after it so much vexation and so many cares. And certainly, as fame hath often been dangerous to the living, so it is to the dead of no use at all, because separate from knowledge. Which were it otherwise, and the extreme ill bargain of buying this lasting discourse understood by them which are dissolved,

1 Battle of Pydna.

they themselves would then rather have wished to have stolen out of the world without noise, than to be put in mind that they have purchased the report of their actions in the world by rapine, oppression, and cruelty; by giving in sport the innocent and laboring soul to the idle and insolent, and by having emptied the cities of the world of their ancient inhabitants, and filled them again with so many and so variable sorts of sorrows.

If we seek a reason of the succession and continuance of this boundless ambition in mortal men, we may add to that which hath been already said, that the kings and princes of the world have always laid before them the actions, but not the ends of those great ones which preceded them. They are always transported with the glory of the one, but they never mind the misery of the other, till they find the experience in themselves. They neglect the advice of God, while they enjoy life or hope it; but they follow the counsel of death upon his first approach. It is he that puts into man all the wisdom of the world, without speaking a word, which God, with all the words of his law, promises, or threats, doth not infuse. Death, which hateth and destroyeth man, is believed; God, which hath made him and loves him, is always deferred. It was death which opened the conscience of Charles V., made him enjoin his son Philip to restore Navarre; and King Francis I. of France, to command that justice should be done upon the murderers of the Protestants in Merindol and Cabrieres, which till then he neglected. It is therefore death alone that can suddenly make man to know himself. He tells the proud and insolent that they are but abjects, and humbles them at the instant, makes them cry, complain, and repent, yea, even to hate their forepast happiness. He takes the account of the rich and proves him a beggar, a naked beggar, which hath interest in nothing but the gravel that fills his mouth. He holds a glass before the eyes of the most beautiful, and makes them see therein their deformity and rottenness, and they acknowledge it.

O eloquent, just, and mighty Death! whom none could advise, thou hast persuaded; what none hath dared, thou hast done; and whom all the world hath flattered, thou only hast cast out of the world, and despised; thou hast drawn together all the far-stretched greatness, all the pride, cruelty, and ambition of man, and covered it over with these two narrow words-HIC JACET.

Besides his great work, Sir Walter wrote a large number of tracts and treatises upon various subjects: such as "Maxims of State, a Compendium of Government:" "The Cabinet Council, containing the Chief Arts of Empire, &c.;" on the "Invention of Ships, Anchors, Compass, &c.;" "Journal of a Second Voyage to Guiana;" a "Treatise on Mines and Minerals;" and between thirty and forty others on divers subjects. Such were the literary labors of this extraordinary man; and most truthfully has it been remarked, that as

#an historian, a navigator, a soldier, and a politician, he ranks with the first characters of his age and country; and his life furnishes the most unequivocal proof that, amid the distractions of an active and adventurous life, leisure may always be found for the cultivation of letters."

But Sir Walter Raleigh did not confine himself to prose; he courted the Muses, and he is a votary of whom the Muses cannot but be proud. The poetry he has left is but little : it is sufficient, however, to discover that, had he made it a serious pursuit, he would have equally excelled in that, as he has in other departments of learning. Spenser, who had a high opinion of his poetical abilities, styles him "the Summer's Nightingale." The following pieces richly merit any encomium :—


Quivering fears, heart-tearing Cares,

Anxious Sighs, untimely Tears,

Fly, fly to courts;

Fly to fond worldlings' sports,

Where strain'd Sardonic smiles are glosing still,
And Grief is forced to laugh against her will;

Where mirth's but mummery;

And sorrows only real be!

Fly from our country pastimes! fly,

Sad troop of human misery;
Come serene looks,

Clear as the crystal brooks,

Or the pure azured heaven, that smiles to see
The rich attendance of our poverty.

Peace and a secure mind,

Which all men seek, we only find.

Abused mortals! did you know

Where joy, heart's-ease, and comforts grow;

You'd scorn proud towers,

And seek them in these bowers,

Where winds sometimes our woods perhaps may shake,

But blustering Care could never tempest make,

Nor murmurs e'er come nigh us,
Saving of fountains that glide by us.

Here's no fantastic masque, nor dance,
But of our kids, that frisk and prance:
Nor wars are seen,

Unless upon the green

Two harmless lambs are butting one the other,

Which done, both bleating run, each to his mother;

And wounds are never found,

Save what the plough-share gives the ground.

1 "Do I pronounce Raleigh a poet? Not, perhaps, in the judgment of a severe criticism. In his better days he was too much occupied in action to have cultivated all the powers of a poet, which require solitude and perpetual meditation. He possessed not perhaps the copious, vivid, and crestive powers of Spenser, but still we can perceive in him some traits of attraction and excellence, which perhaps even Spenser wanted. If less diversified than that gifted bard, he would, I think, have been more forcible and sublime. His images would have been gigantic, and his reflections more daring."-Sir Egerton Brydges.

[blocks in formation]

Go! let the diving negro seek

For gems hid in some forlorn creek;
We all pearls scorn,

Save what the dewy morn

Congeals upon each little spire of grass,

Which careless shepherds beat down as they pass;

And gold ne'er here appears,

Save what the yellow Ceres bears.

Blest silent groves! O may ye be
For ever mirth's best nursery!
May pure contents

For ever pitch their tents

Upon these downs, these meads, these rocks, these mountains, And peace still slumber by these purling fountains!

Which we may every year

Find when we come a fishing here!


If all the world and Love were young,
And truth on every Shepherd's tongue,
These pleasures might my passion move
To live with thee, and be thy love..

But fading flowers in every field,
To winter floods their treasures yield;
A honey'd tongue-a heart of gall,
Is Fancy's spring, but Sorrow's fall.


Thy gown, thy shoes, thy beds of roses,
Thy cap, thy kirtle, and thy posies,
Are all soon wither'd, broke, forgotten,
In Folly ripe, in Reason rotten.


Thy belt of straw, and ivy-buds,
Thy coral clasps, and amber studs,
Can me with no enticements move,
To live with thee, and be thy love.

But could Youth last, could Love still breed;
Had joys no date, had Age no need;
Then those delights my mind might move
To live with thee, and be thy love.

1 See the invitation of the Shepherd by Marlow, p. 87.

Methought I saw the grave, where Laura lay,
Within that temple, where the vestal fiame
Was wont to burn; and, passing by that way,

To see that buried dust of living fame,
Whose tomb fair Love, and fairer Virtue kept:

All suddenly I saw the Faerie Queene;
At whose approach the soul of Petrarch wept,

And, from thenceforth, those Graces were not seen;
For they this Queen attended; in whose stead

Oblivion laid him down on Laura's hearse:
Hereat the hardest stones were seen to bleed,

And groans of buried ghosts the heavens did pierce:
Where Homer's spright did tremble all for grief,
And cursed the access of that celestial thief!

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

1 "A higher strain of compliment cannot well be conceived than this, which raises your idea even of that which it disparages in comparison, and makes you feel that nothing could have torn the writer from his idolatrous enthusiasm for Petrarch and his Laura's tomb, but Spenser's magic verse and diviner Faerie Queene-the one lifted above mortality, the other brought from the skies."-Hazlitt.

"I have been always singularly struck and delighted with the tone, imagery, and expression of this extraordinary sonnet. The author must at this time have been deeply read in works of poetical fancy, and highly imbued with their spirit. Milton had deeply studied this sonnet; for in his conpositions of the same class, he has evidently, more than once, the very rhythm and construction, as well as cast of thought, of this noble, though brief composition."-Sir Egerton Brydges.

2 The lady to whom Petrarch addressed so much of his beautiful poetry.

8 This poem appeared anonymously in "Davison's Poetical Rhapsody," in 1608, and has been ascribed to Sir Walter Raleigh. I have therefore given it a place here with his poems, although there is no certainty about it. Sir Egerton Brydges, always good authority in every question of English Literature, places it at the end of his edition of Raleigh's poems, and says:-"I know no author so capable of writing it as Raleigh; but, whoever was the author, it is a poem of uncommon beauty and merit, and glowing with all that moral pathos, which is one of the first charms in the compositions of genius." It is here printed as in Sir E. Brydges's edition.

« PreviousContinue »