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SIR WALTER RALEIGH AND HIS TIME.*
RUTH is stranger than fiction.'
A trite remark. We all say it, again and again: but how few of us believe it! How few of us, when we read the history of heroical times and heroical men, take the story simply as it stands. On the contrary, we try to explain it away; to prove it all not to have been so very wonderful to impute accident, circumstance, mean and commonplace motives; to lower every story down to the level of our own littleness, or what we (unjustly to ourselves, and to the God who is near us all) choose to consider our level; to rationalize away all the wonders, till we make them at last impossible, and give up caring to believe them; and prove to our own melancholy satisfaction that Alexander conquered the world with a pin, in his sleep, by accident.
And yet in this mood, as in most, there is a sort of left-handed truth involved. These heroes are not so far
removed from us, after all. They were men of like passions with ourselves, with the same flesh about them, the same spirit within them, the same world
NORTH BRITISH REVIEW. No. XLV. 1. 'Life of Sir Walter Raleigh.' By P. Fraser Tytler, F.R.S. London, 1853.-2. Raleigh's Discovery of Guiana. Edited by Sir Robert Schomburgk (Hakluyt Society), 1848.-3. 'Lord Bacon and Sir Walter Raleigh.' By M. Napier. Cambridge. 1853-4. 'Raleigh's Works, with Lives by Oldys and Birch. Oxford, 1829.-5. Bishop Goodman's History of his own Times.' London, 1839.
outside, the same devil beneath, the same God above. They and their deeds were not so very wonderful. Every child who is born into the world is just as wonderful; and, for aught we know, might, mutatis mutandis, do just as wonderful deeds. If accident and circumstance helped them, the same may help us : have helped us, if we will look back down our years, far more than we have made use of.
They were men, certainly, very much of our own level: but may we not put that level somewhat too low? They were certainly not what we are; for if they had been, they would have done no more than we: but is not a man's real level not what he is, but what he can be, and therefore ought to be? No doubt they were compact of good and evil, just as we: but so was David, no man more; though a more heroical personage (save One) appears not in all human records; but may not the secret of their success have been, that, on the whole (though they found it a sore battle), they refused the evil and chose the good? is true, again, that their great deeds may be more or less explained, attributed to laws, rationalized: but is explaining always explaining away? Is it to degrade a thing to attribute it to a law? And do you do anything more by 'rationalizing' men's deeds than prove that they were rational men; men who saw certain fixed laws, and obeyed them, and succeeded thereby, according to the Baconian apophthegm, that nature is conquered by obeying her?
But what laws?
To that question, perhaps, the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews will give the best answer, where it says, that by faith were done all the truly great deeds, and by faith lived all the truly great men, who have ever appeared on earth.
There are, of course, higher and lower degrees of this faith; its object is one more or less worthy: but it is in all cases the belief in certain unseen eternal facts, by keeping true to which a man must in the long run succeed. Must; because he is more or less in harmony with heaven, and earth, and the Maker thereof, and has therefore fighting on his side a great portion of the universe; perhaps the 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 devote 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 South Devon, among the white apple-orchards and the rich water-meadows, and the red fallows and red kine, in the year of grace 1552, a boy was born, as beautiful as day, and christened Walter Raleigh. His father was a gentleman of ancient blood: none older in the laud: but, impoverished, he had settled down upon 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 knighthood 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, had chosen 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 different 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, nevertheless.
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,