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Chapter 21
Vaulting ambition, that o'erleaps itself,
And falls on t'other side. MACBETH.
The splendour of the approaching revels at Kenilworth was now the conversation
through all England; and everything was collected at home, or from abroad, which could
add to the gaiety or glory of the prepared reception of Elizabeth at the house of her
most distinguished favourite, Meantime Leicester appeared daily to advance in the
Queen's favour. He was perpetually by her side in council--willingly listened to in the
moments of courtly recreation--favoured with approaches even to familiar intimacy--
looked up to by all who had aught to hope at court--courted by foreign ministers with the
most flattering testimonies of respect from their sovereigns,--the ALTER EGO, as it
seemed, of the stately Elizabeth, who was now very generally supposed to be studying
the time and opportunity for associating him, by marriage, into her sovereign power.
Amid such a tide of prosperity, this minion of fortune and of the Queen's favour was
probably the most unhappy man in the realm which seemed at his devotion. He had the
Fairy King's superiority over his friends and dependants, and saw much which they
could not. The character of his mistress was intimately known to him. It was his minute
and studied acquaintance with her humours, as well as her noble faculties, which,
joined to his powerful mental qualities, and his eminent external accomplishments, had
raised him so high in her favour; and it was that very knowledge of her disposition which
led him to apprehend at every turn some sudden and overwhelming disgrace. Leicester
was like a pilot possessed of a chart which points out to him all the peculiarities of his
navigation, but which exhibits so many shoals, breakers, and reefs of rocks, that his
anxious eye reaps little more from observing them than to be convinced that his final
escape can be little else than miraculous.
In fact, Queen Elizabeth had a character strangely compounded of the strongest
masculine sense, with those foibles which are chiefly supposed proper to the female
sex. Her subjects had the full benefit of her virtues, which far predominated over her
weaknesses; but her courtiers, and those about her person, had often to sustain sudden
and embarrassing turns of caprice, and the sallies of a temper which was both jealous
and despotic. She was the nursing-mother of her people, but she was also the true
daughter of Henry VIII.; and though early sufferings and an excellent education had
repressed and modified, they had not altogether destroyed, the hereditary temper of
that "hard-ruled king." "Her mind," says her witty godson, Sir John Harrington, who had
experienced both the smiles and the frowns which he describes, "was ofttime like the
gentle air that cometh from the western point in a summer's morn--'twas sweet and
refreshing to all around her. Her speech did win all affections. And again, she could put
forth such alterations, when obedience was lacking, as left no doubting WHOSE
daughter she was. When she smiled, it was a pure sunshine, that every one did choose
to bask in, if they could; but anon came a storm from a sudden gathering of clouds, and