Raleigh—"The History of the World"
S OON after the fight with the Revenge, the King of Spain made ready more ships to attack England. Raleigh then persuaded Queen Elizabeth that it would be well to be before hand with the Spaniards and attack their ships at Panama. So to this end a fleet was gathered together. But the Queen sent only two ships, various gentlemen provided others, and Raleigh spent every penny of his own that he could gather in fitting out the remainder. He was himself chosen Admiral of the Fleet. So at length he started on an expedition after his own heart.
But he had not gone far, when a swift messenger was sent to him ordering him to return. Unwillingly he obeyed, and when he reached home he was at once sent to the Tower a prisoner. This time the Queen was really angry with him; in her eyes Raleigh's crime was a deep one, for he had fallen in love with one of her own maids of honor, Mistress Elizabeth Throgmorton, and the Queen had discovered it. Elizabeth allowed none of her favorites to love any one but herself, so she punished Raleigh by sending him to the Tower.
Mistress Throgmorton was also made a prisoner. After a time, however, both prisoners were set free, though they were banished from court. They married and went to live at Sherborne where Raleigh busied himself improving his beautiful house and laying out the garden. For though set free Raleigh was still in disgrace. But we may believe that he found some recompense for his Queen's anger in his wife's love.
In his wife Raleigh found a
We cannot follow Raleigh through all his restless life, it was so full and varied that the story of it would fill a long book. He loved fighting and adventure, he loved books too, and soon we find him back in London meeting Ben Jonson and Shakespeare, and all the great writers of the age at the Mermaid Club. For Raleigh knew all the great men of his day, among them Sir Robert Bruce Cotton of whom you heard in connection with the adventures of the Beowulf Manuscript.
But soon, in spite of his love for his wife, in spite of his interest in his beautiful home, in spite of his many friends, Raleigh's restless spirit again drove him to the sea, and he set out on a voyage of discovery and adventure. This time he sailed to Guiana in South America, in search of Eldorado, the fabled city of gold. And this time he was not called back by the Queen, but although he reached South America and sailed up the Orinoco and the Caroni he "returned a beggar and withered" without having found the fabled city. Yet his belief in it was as strong as ever. He had not found the fabled city but he believed it was to be found, and when he came home he wrote an account of his journey because some of his enemies said that he had never been to Guiana at all but had been hiding in Cornwall all the time. In this book he said that he was ready again to "lie hard, to fare worse, to be subjected to perils, to diseases, to ill savours, to be parched and withered" if in the end he might succeed.
Raleigh was ready to set off again at once to discover more of Guiana. But instead he joined the Fleet and went to fight the Spanish, who were once more threatening England, and of all enemies Raleigh considered the Spaniards the greatest.
Once again the English won a splendid victory over Spain. Before
the town of Cadiz eight English ships captured or destroyed
thirty Spanish great and little. They took the town of Cadiz and
razed its fortifications to the ground. Raleigh bore himself
well in this fight, so well, indeed, that even his rival, Essex,
was bound to confess "that which he did in the
And now after five years' banishment from the Queen's favor, Raleigh was once more received at court. But we cannot follow all the ups and downs of his court life, for we are told "Sir Walter Raleigh was in and out at court, so often that he was commonly called the tennis ball of fortune." And so the years went on. Raleigh became a Member of Parliament, and was made Governor of Jersey. He fought and traveled, attended to his estates in Ireland, to his business in Cornwall, to his governorship in Jersey. He led a stirring, busy life, fulfilling his many duties, fighting his enemies, until in 1603 the great Queen, whose smile or frown had meant so much to him, died.
Then soon after the new king came to the throne, it was seen that
Raleigh's day at court was indeed at an end. For James had been
told that Sir Walter was among those
who were unwilling to
receive him as king. Therefore he was little disposed to look
graciously on the handsome daring
One by one Raleigh's posts of honor were taken from him. He was accused of treason and once more found himself a prisoner in the Tower. He was tried, and in spite of the fact that nothing was proved against him, he was condemned to die. The sentence was changed, however, to imprisonment for life.
Raleigh was not left quite lonely in the Tower. His wife and
children, whom he dearly loved, were allowed to come to live
beside him. The governor was kind to him and allowed his
renowned prisoner to use his garden. And there in a little
And it was for this boy friend that Raleigh began the book by which we know him best, his History of the World. Never has such a great work been attempted by a captive. To write the history of even one country must mean much labor, much reading, much thought. To write a history of the world still more. And I have told you about Raleigh because with him begins an interest in history beyond the bounds of our own island. Before him our historians had only written of England.
It gives us some idea of the large courage of Raleigh's mind when we remember that he was over fifty when he began this tremendous piece of work for the sake of a boy he loved. Raleigh labored at this book for seven years or more. He was allowed to have his own books in prison. Sir Robert Cotton lent him others, and learned friends came to talk over his book with him and help him. And so the pile of written sheets grew. But the book was never finished, for long before the first volume was ready the brave young prince for whom it was written died.
To Raleigh, this was the cruellest blow fate ever dealt him, for with the death of Prince Henry died his hope of freedom. In spite of his long imprisonment, Raleigh had never lost hope of one day regaining his freedom. Prince Henry just before his death had wrung an unwilling promise from the King his father that Raleigh should be set free. But when the Prince died the King forgot his promise.
"O eloquent, just and mighty death!" Raleigh says in the last
lines of his book, "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 stretching greatness, all
the pride, cruelty, and ambition of man, and covered it all over
with these two narrow words
"Lastly, whereas this book by the title it hath, calls itself, the first part of The General History of the World, implying a second and third volume, which I also intended and have hewn out, besides many other discouragements, persuading my silence, it hath pleased God to take that glorious prince out of the world, to whom they were directed; whose unspeakable and never enough lamented loss hath taught me to say with Job, my heart is turned to mourning and my organ into the voice of them that weep."
Raleigh begins his great book with the Creation and brings it
down to the third Macedonian war, which ended in
Raleigh feels it much safer to write "of the elder times." But even so, he says there may be people who will think "that in speaking of the past I point at the present," and that under the names of those long dead he is showing the vices of people who are alive. "But this I cannot help though innocent," he says.
Raleigh's fears were not without ground and at one time his history was forbidden by King James "for being too saucy in censuring princes. He took it much to heart, for he thought he had won his spurs and pleased the King extraordinarily." He had hoped to please the King and win freedom again, but his hopes were shattered.
At last, however, the door of his prison was opened. It was a golden key that opened it. For Raleigh promised, if he were set free, to seek once more the fabled Golden City, and this time he swore to find it and bring home treasure untold to his master the King.
So once more the imprisoned
A year later Raleigh returned. But he returned without his son,
with hopes broken, fortune lost. Many fights and storms had he
endured, many hardships suffered, but he had not found the Golden
City. His money was spent, his ships shattered, his men in
mutiny, and hardest of all to bear, his young son Walter lay dead
in far Guiana, slain in a fight with Spaniards. How Raleigh
grieved we learn from his letter to his wife, "I was loath to
write," he says, "because I knew not how to comfort you; and, God
knows, I never knew what sorrow meant till
Raleigh came home a sad and ruined man, and had the pity of the King been as easily aroused as his fear of the Spaniards he had surely been allowed to live out the rest of his life in peaceful quiet. But James, who shuddered at the sight of a drawn sword, feared the Spaniards and had patched up an imaginary peace with them. And now when the Spanish Ambassador rushed into the King's Chamber crying "Pirates! Pirates!" Raleigh's fate was sealed.
Raleigh had broken the peace in land belonging to "our dear brother the King of Spain" said James, therefore he must die.
Thus once again, Raleigh found himself lodged in the Tower. But so clearly did he show that he had broken no peace where no peace was, that it was found impossible to put him to death because of what he had done in Guiana. He was condemned to death, therefore, on the old charge of treason passed upon him nearly fifteen years before. He met death bravely and smiling. Clad in splendid clothes such as he loved, he mounted the scaffold and made his farewell speech to those around.
" 'Tis a sharp medicine, but it is a sound cure for all diseases," he said smiling to the Sheriff as he felt the edge of the ax. Then he laid his head upon the block.
"Thus," says the first writer of Raleigh's life, "have we seen how Sir Walter Raleigh who had been one of the greatest scourges of Spain, was made a sacrifice to it."
"So may we say to the memory of this worthy knight," says Fuller,
" 'Repose yourself in this our Catalogue under what topic you
please, statesman, seaman, soldier, learned writer or what not.'
His worth unlocks our cabinets and proves both room and welcome
Books To Read
Westward Ho! by Charles Kingsley may be read in illustration of this chapter.