Gateway to the Classics: Display Item
Lawton B. Evans

Sir Walter Raleigh

W ALTER RALEIGH was a gallant young man of England, very bold and fond of adventure. He was an officer in Queen Elizabeth's army. One day, in London, he had an opportunity of attracting the attention of the Queen, herself. She was out for a walk in the royal park, attended by her courtiers, when the party came to a muddy place in the path over which the Queen must go. As she hesitated for a moment, there stepped from the bystanders a young man who threw his cloak down over the mud so that she might pass without soiling her shoes. When she had crossed, she called the young man to her side and offered to pay for the velvet cloak.

"The only pay I desire, your Majesty, is permission to keep the cloak; for since your Majesty's foot has pressed on it, it has become valuable indeed," was the reply of the young officer.

The Queen was pleased at the answer, and asked his name. "Walter Raleigh, most gracious lady," said he. The Queen passed on, but the next day she sent for him and made him one of the guards in the royal household.

Raleigh soon grew into favor with the Queen. Court life was very gay in the reign of Elizabeth. Raleigh was among the most brilliant and successful of all the courtiers. He had many suits of satin and velvet, he wore a hat with a band of pearls, and his shoe-buckles cost several thousand dollars. He also had a suit of silver armor, studded with diamonds. He paid for all these things himself, for he was not only a fine soldier and sailor, but was also one of the best business men of his time.

Among the cherished plans of Raleigh was one to found a colony in the New World. The Queen said he might plant a colony in America anywhere he could find a place, but that he must do so at his own expense. The Queen was as thrifty as Raleigh was adventurous.

So he fitted out two ships, and collected a lot of poor people who were willing to go anywhere, and he sent them across the ocean to plant a colony in the New World. After four months' sailing, they came to Roanoke Island, off the coast of North Carolina. Taking a look at the land, they sailed back home, and reported that the country was very beautiful, but that they would rather be in England. Raleigh named the land Virginia, in honor of the Virgin Queen; he was not quite sure where it was.

The next year another company was sent out by Raleigh. They landed on Roanoke Island and started a colony, but in a short while they grew tired and a passing ship took them also back to England. Thus the second effort was a failure.

These colonists, however, brought back to Raleigh many products of the country, among other things some tobacco, which they told Raleigh the Indians burned in their pipes, drawing the smoke through their mouths. Raleigh liked the idea of smoking, and soon began to use tobacco like the Indians. As he sat in his room one day with his pipe, blowing the smoke into the air, his servant came in with a pot of ale. He was amazed to see smoke coming out of Raleigh's mouth. "The master is on fire," he cried in alarm, and threw the ale into Raleigh's face, very much to the latter's amusement and chagrin.

One day while smoking before the Queen, Raleigh laid her a wager he could weigh the smoke coming from his pipe. The Queen accepted the bet. Raleigh thereupon weighed a small quantity of tobacco, smoked it all, and then carefully weighed the ashes. The difference between the weight of the tobacco and the weight of the ashes, he said, must be the weight of the smoke. The Queen laughingly paid the wager.

Raleigh tried to found a third colony in America, but it came to grief and was lost; he therefore gave up all his plans of colonization. He had spent large sums of money, and besides he had married one of the Queen's maids-of-honor, which so displeased Elizabeth that Raleigh lost his favored place at Court. He managed to get up an exploring party to go to South America in search of gold. Soon after his return to England, the Queen died, and James I. became King.

King James did not like Raleigh, and listened to his enemies, who were envious of his popularity. Charges were preferred against him, and he was thrown into prison. On the day of his trial, he pleaded his own cause with great eloquence. He spoke all day long, from early morning until dark, but he was condemned to death.

For some reason he was not executed for fifteen years, but was kept confined in prison, where he spent his time writing a history of the world.

He met death like a brave man, asking to be executed in the morning hours, for he had a fever at the time, and he knew that if he waited until evening the chill would come and he would shake; thus his enemies might think he trembled for fear. His request was granted. As he mounted the block, he touched the headsman's axe, saying, "It is a sharp medicine, but it will cure all ills."

He then laid his aged head upon the block, and, when the axe fell, the old courtier's troubles were over.