“He was such a person (every way), that (as King Charles I says of the Lord Strafford) a prince would rather be afraid of, than ashamed of,” and had an “awfulness and ascendency in his aspect over other mortals;” and we are not disappointed to learn that he indulged in a splendid dress, and “notwithstanding his so great mastership in style, and his conversation with the learnedest and politest persons, yet he spake broad Devonshire to his dying day.”
Such a character as this was well suited to the time in which he lived. His age was an unusually stirring one. The discovery of America and the successful progress of the Reformation opened a field for both the intellectual and physical energies of his generation. The fathers of his age were Calvin and Knox, and Cranmer, and Pizarro, and Garcilaso; and its immediate forefathers were Luther and Raphael, and Bayard and Angelo, and Ariosto, and Copernicus, and Machiavel, and Erasmus, and Cabot, and Ximenes, and Columbus. Its device might have been an anchor, a sword, and a quill. The Pizarro laid by his sword at intervals and took to his letters. The Columbus set sail for newer worlds still, by voyages which needed not the patronage of princes. The Bayard alighted from his steed to seek adventures no less arduous than heretofore upon the ocean and in the Western world; and the Luther who had reformed religion began now to reform politics and science.
In Raleigh’s youth, however it may have concerned him, Camoens was writing a heroic poem in Portugal, and the arts still had their representative in Paul Veronese of Italy. He may have been one to welcome the works of Tasso and Montaigne to England, and when he looked about him he might have found such men as Cervantes and Sidney, men of like pursuits and not altogether dissimilar genius from himself, for his contemporaries, — a Drake to rival him on the sea, and a Hudson in western adventure; a Halley, a Galileo, and a Kepler, for his astronomers; a Bacon, a Behmen, and a Burton, for his philosophers; and a Jonson, a Spenser, and a Shakespeare, his poets for refreshment and inspiration.
But that we may know how worthy he himself was to make one of this illustrious company, and may appreciate the great activity and versatility of his genius, we will glance hastily at the various aspects of his life.
He was a proper knight, a born cavalier, who in the intervals of war betook himself still to the most vigorous arts of peace, though as if diverted from his proper aim. He makes us doubt if there is not some worthier apology for war than has been discovered, for its modes and manners were an instinct with him; and though in his writings he takes frequent occasion sincerely to condemn its folly, and show the better policy and advantage of peace, yet he speaks with the uncertain authority of a warrior still, to whom those juster wars are not simply the dire necessity he would imply.
In whatever he is engaged we seem to see a plume waving over his head, and a sword dangling at his side.