Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 47.djvu/209

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


Register’ (Arber, iii. 357). It was published in 1614—Camden says on 29 March. In no extant copy of either of the two editions of 1614 is the author's name given, nor do they contain a title-page; but there is a frontispiece elaborately engraved by Reinold Elstracke, which is explained in some anonymous verses (‘The Mind of the Front’) by Ben Jonson. Of the two editions of 1614, the earlier supplies a list of errata, which are corrected in the later.

The work attained an immediate popularity. Hampden, Cromwell, Bishop Hall, and Princess Elizabeth, the Electress Palatine, were among its earliest readers and admirers. James I alone condemned it. He complained that Ralegh had in his preface spoken irreverently of Henry VIII, and he believed he could detect his own features in Ralegh's portrait of Ninus, the effeminate successor of Queen Semiramis. On 22 Dec. 1614 the archbishop of Canterbury wrote asking the Stationers' Company, by direction of the king, to call in and suppress ‘all copies of the book lately published by Sir Walter Rawleigh’ (Arber, Stationers' Register, vol. v. p. lxxvii). The reference is obviously to the ‘History of the World,’ and not, as Mr. Gardiner assumed, to Ralegh's ‘Prerogative of Parliaments,’ which was not begun before May 1615. Chamberlain, the letter writer, declared, on 5 Jan. 1615–16, that the ‘History’ ‘was called in by the king's commandment for divers exceptions, but specially for being too saucy in censuring princes.’ But the inhibition was apparently not persisted in. The book was permitted to continue in circulation after the publisher had contrived to cancel the title-page (Notes and Queries, 8th ser. v. 441–2). A second edition appeared in 1617 (with a title-page bearing Ralegh's name); others, in folio, are dated 1621, 1624, 1628, 1634, 1652 (two), 1666, 1671, 1677 (with a life by John Shirley), 1678, 1687, 1736 (the ‘eleventh’). An octavo reprint appeared in 1820 at Edinburgh in 6 vols., and it fills vols. ii.–vii. of the Oxford edition of Ralegh's works of 1829. ‘Tubus Historicus, or Historical Perspective’ (1631), a summary of the fortunes of the four great ancient empires, is a bookmaker's compilation from it rather than, what it professes to be, an independent production of Ralegh's. An excerpt, entitled ‘Story of the War between the Carthaginians and their own mercenaries from Polybius,’ was issued in 1657. Avowed abridgments, by Alexander Ross (called the ‘Marrow of History’) and by Lawrence Echard, are dated respectively 1650 and 1698. A brief continuation, by Ross, from 160 B.C. to A.D. 1640 appeared in 1652.

The design and style of Ralegh's ‘History of the World’ are instinct with a magnanimity which places the book among the noblest of literary enterprises. Throughout it breathes a serious moral purpose. It illustrates the sureness with which ruin overtakes ‘great conquerors and other troublers of the world’ who neglect law, whether human or divine, and it appropriately closes with an apostrophe to death of rarely paralleled sublimity. Ralegh did not approach a study of history in a critical spirit, and his massive accumulations of facts have long been superannuated. But he showed an enlightened appreciation of the need of studying geography together with history, and of chronological accuracy. His portraits of historical personages—Queen Jezebel, Demetrius, Pyrrhus, Epaminondas—are painted to the life; and the frequent digressions in which he deals with events of his own day, or with philosophic questions of perennial interest, such as the origin of law, preserve for the work much of its original freshness. Remarks on the tactics of the armada, the capture of Fayal, the courage of Englishmen, the tenacity of Spaniards, England's relations with Ireland, emerge in the most unlikely surroundings, and are always couched in judicial and dignified language. His style, although often involved, is free from conceits.

To Ralegh is also traditionally ascribed the history of the reign of William I in Samuel Daniel's ‘History of England’ (1618). This essay closely resembles ‘An Introduction to the Breviary of the History of England with the reign of King William I, entitled the Conqueror,’ which was printed in 1693 from a manuscript belonging to Archbishop Sancroft, who believed it to be by Ralegh. The authorship is not quite certain. ‘A Discourse of Tenures which were before the Conquest,’ by Ralegh, is printed in the Oxford edition of his works.

Numerous essays by Ralegh on political themes were circulated in manuscript in his lifetime, and manuscript copies are to be found in many private and public collections. The following, which were published after his death, may be assigned to him with certainty: 1. ‘The Prerogative of Parliaments in England,’ an argument, suggested by the proceedings against St. John in the Star-chamber in April 1615, in favour of parliamentary institutions, though overlaid with so much conventional adulation of James I as to obscure its real aim; 1628, 4to (title-pages are met with variously giving the place of publication as London, Hamburg, and Middleburg), dedicated to James I and the parliament; London, 1657,