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Sir Walter Raleigh and His Time


whole; for as he who breaks one commandment of the law is guilty of
the whole, because he denies the fount of all law, so he who with his
whole soul keeps one commandment of it is likely to be in harmony
with the whole, because he testifies of the fount of all law.
I shall devot e a few pages to the story of an old hero, of a man of
like passions with ourselves; of one who had the most intense and
awful sense of the unseen laws, and succeeded mightily thereby; of
one who had hard struggles with a flesh and blood which made him at
times forget those laws, and failed mightily thereby; of one whom God
so loved that He caused each slightest sin, as with David, to bring
its own punishment with it, that while the flesh was delivered over
to Satan, the man himself might be saved in the Day of the Lord; of
one, finally, of whom nine hundred and ninety-nine men out of a
thousand may say, ’I have done worse deeds than he: but I have never
done as good ones.’
In a poor farm-house among the pleasant valleys of Sout h Devon, among
the white apple-orchards and the rich water-meadows, and the red
fallows and red kine, in the year of grac e 1552, a boy was born, as
beautiful as day, and christened Walter Raleigh. His father was a
gentleman of ancient blood: few older in the land: but,
impoverished, he had settled down upo n the wreck of his estate, in
that poor farm-house. No record of him now remains; but he must have
been a man worth knowing and worth loving, or he would not have won
the wife he did. She was a Champernoun, proudest of Norman squires,
and could probably boast of having in her veins the blood of
Courtneys, Emperors of Byzant. She had been the wife of the famous
knight Sir Otho Gilbert, and lady of Compton Castle, and had borne
him three brave sons, John, Humphrey, and Adrian; all three destined
to win knight hood also in due time, and the two latter already giving
promises, which they well fulfilled, of becoming most remarkable men
of their time. And yet the fair Champernoun, at her husband’s death,
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had chos en to wed Mr. Raleigh, and share life with him in the little
farm-house at Hayes. She must have been a grand woman, if the law
holds true that great men always have great mothers; an especially
grand woman, indeed; for few can boast of having borne to two
dierent husbands such sons as she bore. No record, as far as we
know, remains of her; nor of her boy’s early years. One can imagine
them, nevert heless.
Just as he awakes to consciousness, the Smithfield fires are
extinguished. He can recollect, perhaps, hearing of the burning of
the Exeter martyrs: and he does not forget it; no one forgot or
dared forget it in those days. He is brought up in the simple and
manly, yet high-bred ways of English gentlemen in the times of ’an
old courtier of the Queen’s.’ His two elder half-brothers also,
living some thirty miles away, in the quaint and gloomy towers of
Compton Castle, amid the apple-orchards of Torbay, are men as noble
as ever formed a young lad’s taste. Humphrey and Adrian Gilbert, who
afterwards, both of them, rise to knighthood, are–what are they
not?–soldiers, scholars, Christians, discoverers and ’planters’ of
foreign lands, geographers, alchemists, miners, Platonical
philosophers; many-sided, high-minded men, not without fantastic
enthusiasm; living heroic lives, and destined, one of them, to die a
heroic death. From them Raleigh’s fancy has been fired, and his
appetite for learning quickened, while he is yet a daring boy,
fishing in the gray trout-brooks, or going up with his father to the
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