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Raleigh's participation in it was never established by satisfactory evidence. He was committed to prison at Winchester, and kept there for some time in daily expectation of his death; but was afterwards reprieved, sent to the Tower, and condemned, on a vague charge of high treason, to fifteen years' imprisonment, and deprived of his estates. His memorable trial violated all the customary forms of legal procedure, as well as the rules of natural justice.
After being sixteen years confined, the king released bim, and sent him on a commission to the gold mines of Guiana. This expedition turned out unfortunately, and led to his unjust execution. James basely took advantage of the circumstance, and availing himself of the malicious charges formerly brought against Raleigh, sacrificed this great man to an iniquitous conspiracy. On the 29th of October, 1618, he perished on a scaffold in Old Palace Yard, London, in the sixty-sixth year of his age. His conduct, during the last trying moments of his life, exhibited a rare combination of firmness and resignation. The particulars of his execution are described with a painful minuteness by Tytler in his interesting life of that great man; but we take the following account of the memorable event from “The Retrospective Review.” It is recorded of him that “ he entreated the spectators, that if any disability of voice or dejection of countenance should appear in him, they would impute it to the disorder of the body (he was suffering from the ague), rather than to any dismayedness of mind. He confessed his grievous offences, and begged the prayers of all who heard him. Having fingered the axe, he said, smiling, to the sheriff, . This is a sharp medicine, but it is a sound cure for all diseases.' The executioner knelt down and asked his forgiveness, which Raleigh, laying his hand upon his shoulder, granted. Then being asked which way he would lay himself on the block, he answered, “So the heart be right, it is no matter which way the head lies.' After a little pause, he lifted up his hand, and his head was struck off at two blows, his body never shrinking nor moving.”
Sir Walter Raleigh, regarded as an author, was one of the first of his age. His works comprehend almost every department of literature,-history in all its branches (military, naval, civil, and political), morals, politics, geography, and poetry. In poetical composition he was not so distinguished as in prose, though he has left behind him undoubted proofs of his taste and feeling as a poet. Many valuable selections have been made at various times from his essays. His excellent advice to his son on the choice of a wife, his eloquent denunciation against the vice of drunkenness, and his two beautiful letters to his wife, the one written after his condemnation, have been often quoted by critics as models of powerful writing. As a specimen of this
manly, simple, and affecting production, we select two short passages :-“Love God, and begin betimes to repose yourself on him; and therein shall
you find true and lasting riches, and endless comfort. For the rest, when you have travelled and wearied your thoughts over all sorts of worldly cogitations, you shall but sit down by sorrow in the end. Teach your son also to love and fear God while he is yet young, that the fear of God may grow up with him, and then God will be a husband to you, and a father to him,-a husband and a father that cannot be taken from you.
“ The everlasting, powerful, infinite, and omnipotent God, who is goodness itself, the true life and true light, keep thee and thine, have mercy on me, and teach me to forgive my persecutors and accusers, and send us to meet in his glorious kingdom. My dear wife, farewell! Bless my poor boy; pray for me, and let my good God hold you both in his arms! Written with the dying hand of some time thy husband, but now, alas! overthrown.”
During his protracted imprisonment, he wrote the greatest and most classical of his works, the “ History of the World,” which was published in 1614. All the English historical productions that had previously appeared, are considered inferior to this learned and invaluable production. Mr. Tytler has spoken of it as “laborious, without being heavy; learned, without being dry; acute and ingenious, without degenerating into the
subtle but trivial distinctions of the schoolmen. Its narrative is clear and spirited, and the matter collected from the most authentic sources. The opinions of the author on state policy, on the causes of great events, on the different forms of government, on naval or military tactics, on agriculture, commerce, manufactures, and other sources of national greatness, are not the mere echo of other minds, but the results of experience, drawn from the study of a long life spent in constant action and vicissitudes, in various climates and countries, and from personal labour in offices of high trust and responsibility. But perhaps its most striking feature is the sweet tone of philosophic melancholy which pervades the whole. Written in prison during the quiet evening of a tempestuous life, we feel, in its perusal, that we are the companions of a superior mind, nursed in contemplation, and chastened and improved by sorrow, in which the bitter recollection of injury and the asperity of resentinent have passed away, leaving only the heavenly lesson, that all is vanity."
Some of the opponents of the accomplished and unfortunate Raleigh, did not scruple to affirm that he was an atheist; and Hume, the celebrated historian, writes as if he believed this groundless charge. Upon the religious views and poetical claims of this distinguished man Willmott makes the following remarks :—“Mr. Tytler seems to have proved, in his recent Life of Raleigh, that the charge of irreligion, so frequently urged against him, does not apply to his maturer years. The afflictions of his manhood appear to have obliterated the vain and sceptical feelings of his youth, and to have impressed his mind with a just and lively sense of the Divine Power. During his long imprisonment, rendered still more melancholy by the uncertainty of its issue, he composed one or two touching hymns that testify the sincerity of his heart, and the piety of his feelings. Probably, the last words ever traced by his pen were the lines written in his Bible, on the evening preceding his execution, in which he renewed his expression of confidence in the mercy and intercession of our Saviour.”
We shall enrich this notice of one of the most remarkable and illustrious men of the age that his genius adorned, with an extract from an eloquent essay on his character and works, published in the second volume of * The Retrospective Review," and with a sketch of him from the pen of Tytler :"Sir Walter Raleigh, in a life of adventure and peril, became learned in the ways of the world. Possessing a keen ånd penetrating mind,
He was a deep observer, and he look'd
Quite through the deeds of men. Nature made him acute, misfortune cautious, and experience wise; but his wisdom rather resulted from distrust than confidence. His wariness was warranted by the events of his life; and it is no wonder that his feelings retired into the centre of his own heart, as the Power which expands in the sunshine of a fair day, closes its bosom at nightfall, when the air breathes cold and chill. Hence, his wisdom is rather calculated to teach us how to eschew evil, than to sail placidly into the haven of felicity.”. After alluding to the leading faults in the character of Raleigh, to the “alloy of littleness, of temporizing and evasive cunning, which occasionally infused itself into his lofty nature," the reviewer concludes in the following words "Surely there is something to be learned from a man like this: admiral, philosopher, statesman, historian, and poet all in one; first in some, distinguished in all; who bold and adventurous in discovery, whether moral or geographical, untamed in war and indefatigable in literature, as inexhaustible in ideas as in exploits,-after having brought a new world to light, wrote the history of the old in a prison.”
Tytler's portrait of Raleigh's character is not less just and striking :-“Sir Walter Raleigh belongs to that class of great men, who may be said rather to fashion or create than to reflect the character of their age. His individual story is indissolubly linked with the annals of his country; and he who reads of the danger and the glory of England during the reign of Elizabeth ; of the humiliation of Spain, the independence of Holland, the discovery and wonders of the New World, and the progress of our naval and commercial prosperity, must meet with his name in every part of
the record. If required to describe in a few words the most prominent features in his mind, I would say they were his universality and originality. A warrior, both by sea and land,—a statesman, a navigator, and discoverer of new countries; an accomplished conrtier, a scholar, and eloquent writer; a sweet and true poet, and a munificent patron of letters,—there is scarcely one of the aspects in which we view him where he does not shine with a remarkable brightness. In some of the pursuits indeed in which he attained distinction, he has been excelled by other eminent men of his time; but where do we find such a combination as in Raleigh? They were satisfied with the glory of being great in one department; he aimed at an almost universal excellence. They wisely concentrated their efforts on the cultivation of a single insulated branch of human knowledge; his discursive and vigorous mind was not contented till it had made an inroad and achieved a triumph in them all; and it may be certainly affirmed, that upon every thing which he undertook he has left that stamp of power and originality which belougs to the man of genius.”
Birch and Oldy’s “ Life and Works of Sir Walter Raleigh ;" the “ State Trials;" Hume's “ History of England;" Hallam's "Constitutional History,"and several of the Cyclopedias, may be referred to for more copious information. Amongst the most valuable articles in our periodical journals, on the life and writings of Sir Walter Raleigh, is an elaborate essay in No. 143 of “The Edinburgh Review,” in which the principal publications of his biographers, and several recent works, connected with the remarkable era in which he lived, are critically examined. The author of this interesting disquisition has not indulged in that excessive praise, which is a defect in the majority of the biographical memoirs of Raleigh. We have space only for a few remarks on the circumstances that have rendered his history so attractive, and on the defects in his moral character. With this extract we close our analysis of his life :-" The name of Sir Walter Raleigh is unquestionably one of the most renowned and attractive, and in some respects the most remarkable, in English story.