Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 47.djvu/208

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.


Queries, 1st ser. iv. 353), a remarkable proof of Ralegh's resigned temper in the presence of death, and a poem of somewhat lascivious tone, beginning ‘Nature that wash'd her hands in milk,’ which was first printed in full, from Harleian MS. 6917, f. 48, in Mr. Bullen's ‘Speculum Amantis,’ p. 76. The masterly concluding stanza (‘O cruel Time, which takes on trust’) of this last lyric was printed as a separate poem in the ‘Remaines.’ Among the books of his friend which Ralegh graced with prefatory verses were Gascoigne's ‘Steele Glas,’ 1576; Sir Arthur Gorges's ‘Pharsalia,’ 1614; and William Lithgow's ‘Pilgrims' Farewell,’ 1618. Many quotations from the classics are translated metrically in the ‘History of the World.’ Ralegh's poems were collected by Sir S. Egerton Brydges in 1814, but the best collection is that by Dr. Hannah, 1885.

Somewhat similar difficulties to those that attach to the identification of Ralegh's poetry beset his prose works. David Lloyd, in his ‘Statesmen of England,’ 1665, states that Hampden before the civil wars had transcribed at his cost 3,452 sheets of Ralegh's writings. The works remaining in manuscript or published under his name do not account for so bulky a mass. That much is lost is known. The missing works apparently include a ‘Treatise of the West Indies’ (cf. Discovery of Guiana, Ded.), a ‘Description of the River Amazon’ (Wood), a ‘Treatise of Mines and the Trial of Minerals,’ and, according to Ben Jonson, a ‘Life of Queen Elizabeth’ (Conversations with Drummond).

Only three prose works by Ralegh were published in his lifetime. The earliest was ‘A Report of the Truth of the Fight about the Isles of Azores,’ London (for William Ponsonby), 1591, anon. (reprinted under Ralegh's name by Hakluyt in 1595, and separately by Mr. Arber in 1871). It was followed by the ‘Discovery of the Empyre of Guiana’ (London, by Robert Robinson), of which two editions appeared in 1596 (copies of both are in the British Museum); this was reprinted in Hakluyt, iii. (1598), and immediately translated into Dutch (Amsterdam, 1605) and into Latin (Nuremberg, 1599, and also in Hulsius's ‘Collection’). The best edition is that published by the Hakluyt Society (1848), with introduction by Sir R. H. Schomburgk.

The last work that Ralegh printed was his ‘History of the World.’ Begun for the benefit of Prince Henry, who died before its completion, it was executed while Ralegh was in the Tower, between, it is said, 1607 and 1614. During his imprisonment he extended his learning in all directions, but he did not know Hebrew, and when he could find no Latin translation of a Hebrew work, which he deemed it needful to consult, he borrowed ‘the interpretation’ of some learned friend. He thus derived occasional aid from Robert Burhill [q. v.], John Hoskins (1566–1638) [q. v.], and Harriot; but there is no good reason to doubt that most of the 660 authors which he cited were known to him at first hand. Ben Jonson, who regarded Ralegh as his ‘father’ in literature, claims to have revised the ‘History’ before it went to press, and to have written ‘a piece of the Punic War;’ but even if Jonson's testimony be accepted, it does not justify Algernon Sidney's comment, in his ‘Discourses on Government,’ that Ralegh was ‘so well assisted that an ordinary man with the same helps might have performed the same thing.’ In this view Isaac D'Israeli unwarrantably followed Sidney. But the insinuation that Ralegh borrowed his plumage rests on no just foundation.

Ralegh's labours, which began with the creation, only reached to 130 B.C., the date of the conversion of Macedonia into a Roman province. He traced the rise and fall of the three great empires of Babylon, Assyria, and Macedon, and dealt exhaustively with the most flourishing periods of Jewish, Greek, and Roman history. As originally designed the work was to fill three volumes, and the published volume, consisting of five books, is called ‘The First Part.’ But Ralegh relinquished his task without doing more than amass a few notes for a continuation. In a desultory fashion he collected materials for an English section, and asked Sir Robert Cotton for works on British antiquities and ‘any old French history wherein our nation is mentioned.’ But the report that he completed a second volume, which he burnt, may be safely rejected. Winstanley, in his ‘English Worthies,’ 1660, who is copied by Aubrey, says that the publisher, Walter Burre, told Ralegh that the first part had failed to sell, whereupon Ralegh flung a second completed part into the fire. Another apocryphal anecdote (related in Robert Heron's ‘Letters on Literature,’ 1785, p. 213, and accepted by Carlyle) assigns the same act to Ralegh's despair of arriving at historic truth, after hearing a friend casually describe an incident that both had witnessed in terms that proved that it took in his friend's eyes a wholly different aspect from that which it took in his own.

The work had so far advanced by 15 April 1611 as to warrant the publisher, Walter Burre, in securing on that date a license for publication. ‘Sir Walter Rawleighe’ is mentioned as the author in the ‘Stationers'