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Sir Walter Raleigh and His Time


Dartmoor hills to hunt the deer with hound and horn, amid the wooded
gorges of Holne, or over the dreary do wns of Hartland Warren, and the
cloud-capt thickets of Cator’s Beam, and looking down from thence
upon the far blue southern sea, wondering when he shall sail thereon,
to fight the Spaniard, and discover, like Columbus, some fairy-land
of gold and gems.
For before this boy’s mind, as before all intense English minds of
that day, rise, from the first, three fixed ideas, which yet are but
one–the Pope, the Spaniard, and America.
The two first are the sworn and internecine enemies (whether they
pretend a formal peace or not) of Law and Freedom, Bible and Queen,
and all that makes an Englishman’s life dear to him. Are they not
the incarnations of Antichrist? Their Moloch sacrifices flame
through all lands. The earth groans bec ause of them, and refuses to
cover the blood of her slain. And America is the new world of
boundless wonder and beauty, wealth and fertility, to which these two
evil powers arrogate an exclusive and divine right; and God has
delivered it into their hands; and they have done evil therein with
all their might, till the story of their greed and cruelty rings
through all earth and heaven. Is this the will of God? Will he not
avenge for these things, as surely as he is the Lord who executet h
justice and judgment in the earth?
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These are the young boy’s thoughts. These were his thoughts for
sixty-six eventful years. In whatsoever else he wavered, he never
wavered in that creed. He learnt it in his boyhood, while he read
’Fox’s Martyrs’ beside his mother’s knee. He learnt it as a lad,
when he saw his neighbours Hawkins and Drake changed by Spanish
tyranny and treachery from peaceful merchantmen into fierce scourges
of God. He learnt it scholastically, from fathers and divines, as an
Oxford scholar, in days when Oxford was a Protestant indeed, in whom
there was no guile. He learnt it when he went over, at seventeen
years old, with his gallant kinsman Henry Champernoun, and his band
of a hundred gentlemen volunteers, to flesh his maiden sword in
behalf of the pers ecuted French Protestants. He learnt it as he
listened to the shrieks of the San Bartholomew; he learnt it as he
watched the dragonnades, the tortures, the massacres of the
Netherlands, and fought manfully under Norris in behalf of those
victims of ’the Pope and Spain.’ He preached it in far stronger and
wiser words than I can express it for him, in that noble tract of
1591, on Sir Richard Grenville’s death at the Azores–a Tyrtaean
trumpet-blast such as has seldom rung in human ears; he discussed it
like a cool statesman in his pamphlet of 1596, on ’A War with Spain.’
He sacrificed for it the last hopes of his old age, the wreck of his
fortunes, his just recovered liberty; and he died with the old God’s
battle-cry upon his lips, when it awoke no response from the hearts
of a coward, profligate, and unbelieving generation. This is the
background, the keynote of the man’s whole life. If we lose the
recollection of it, and content ourselves by slurring it over in the
last pages of his biography with some half-sneer about his putting,
like the rest of Elizabeth’s old admirals, ’the Spaniard, the Pope,
and the Devil’ in the same category, then we shall understand very
little about Raleigh; though, of course, we shall save ourselves the
trouble of pronouncing as to whether the Spaniard and the Pope were
really in the same category as the devil; or, indeed, which might be
equally puzzling to a good many historians of the last century and a
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