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As soon as he had mounted the scaffold, he asked leave to address the people. His speech had been carefully prepared. Every word he spoke, was, as far as we can judge, literally true; but it was not the whole truth, and it was calculated in many points to produce a false impression on his hearers. He spoke of the efforts which it had cost him to induce his men to return to England, and denied having wished to desert his comrades whilst he was lying at the mouth of the Orinoco. He then adverted to a foolish tale which had long been current against him, to the effect that at the execution of the Earl of Essex,' he had taken his place at a window in order to see him die, and had puffed tobacco at him in derision. The story, he said, was a pure fiction. “And now,” he concluded by saying, “I entreat that you all will join with me in prayer to that Great God of Heaven whom I have so grievously offended, being a man full of all vanity, who has lived a sinful life in such callings as have been most inducing to it; for I have been a soldier, a sailor, and a courtier, which are courses of wickedness and vice; that His Almighty goodness will forgive me ; that He will cast away my sins from me, and that He will receive me into everlasting life ; so I take my leave of you all, making my peace with God.”
As soon as the preparations were completed, Raleigh turned to the executioner, and asked to see the axe. “I prithee,” said he as the man held back, “let me see it ; dost thou think that I am afraid of it?" He ran his finger down the edge, saying to himself, “This is sharp medicine, but it is a sound cure for all diseases.” He then knelt down and laid his head upon the block. Some one objected that he ought to lay his face towards the east :
1 Lord Essex was Raleigh's great rival in Elizabeth's favour. He at last rase in revolt against her, and was put to death.
“What matter,” he said, “how the head lie, so the heart be right?" After he had prayed for a little while, he gave the appointed signal; seeing that the headsman was reluctant to do his duty, he called upon him to strike. In two blows the head was severed from the body. His remains were delivered to his wife, and were by her buried in St. Margaret's at Westminster.
A copy of verses written by Raleigh the night before his execution was discovered, and was soon passed from hand to hand. It was a strange medley, in which faith and confidence in God appear side by side with sarcasms upon the lawyers and the courtiers. It was perhaps at a later hour that he wrote on the fly leaf of his Bible those touching lines in which the higher part of his nature alone is visible:
“ Even such is time that takes on trust
Our youth, our joys, and all we have,
Who in the dark and silent grave,
“No matter how the head lie, so the heart be right.” Perhaps, after all, no better epitaph could be found to inscribe upon Raleigh's tomb. For him, the child of the sixteenth century, it was still possible to hold truth and falsehood lightly, without sinking into meanness. In his chase after wealth, he was never sordid or covetous. His sins had brought with them their own punishment, a punishment which did not tarry, because he was so utterly unconscious of them. Yet it was no mere blindness to his errois which made all England feel that Raleigh's death was a national dishonour. His countrymen knew that in his wildest enterprises he had always before him the thought of England's greatness, and that, in his eyes, England's greatness was indissolubly connected with the truest welfare of all other nations. They knew that his heart was right.
[Throughout the reign of Elizabeth the bulk of Englishmen
were becoming more zealously Protestant and religious. Such men came to be called “Precisians” or “ Puritans. Under James, who hated it, Puritanism spread fast; and his son, Charles the First, found in it the great obstacle to his attempts to govern England in defiance of the Parliament. The Puritans were stern and sober-minded men ; but they were of noble temper, and did much to raise the standard of English life. Mr. Kingsley has given a fine picture of a young Puritan in his sketch of Zeal-for-Truth Thoresby.]
Was there no poetry in these Puritans, because they wrote no poetry? We do not mean now the unwritten tragedy of the battle-psalm and the charge ; but simply idyllic poetry and quiet home-drama, love-poetry of the heart and the hearth, and the beauties of every-day human life? Take the most commonplace of them : was Zeal-for-Truth Thoresby, of Thoresby Rise in Deeping Fen, because his father had thought fit to give him an ugly and silly name, the less of a noble lad? Did his name prevent his being six feet high ? Were his shoulders the less broad for it, his cheeks the less ruddy for it? He wore his flaxen hair of the same length that every one now wears theirs, instead of letting it lang half-way to his waist in essenced curls ; but was he therefore the less of a true Viking's son, bold-hearted as his sea-roving ancestors who won the Danelagh by Canute's side, and settled there on Thoresby Rise, to grow wheat and breed horses, generation succeeding generation, in the old moated grange? He carried a Bible in his jack-boot : but did that prevent him, as Oliver rode past him with an approving smile on Naseby-field, thinking himself a very handsome fellow, with his mustache and imperial, and bright red coat, and cuirass well polished in spite of many a dint, as he sate his father's great black horse as gracefully and firmly as any long-locked and essenced cavalier in front of him? Or did it prevent him thinking too, for a moment, with a throb of the heart, that sweet Cousin Patience far away at home, could she but see him, might have the same opinion of him as he had of himself? Was he the worse for the thought? He was certainly not the worse for checking it the next instant, with manly shame for letting such “carnal vanities" rise in his heart, while he was “doing the Lord's work” in the teeth of death and hell : but was there no poetry in him then? No poetry in him five minutes after, as the long rapier swung round his head, redder and redder at every sweep? We are befooled by names. Call him Crusader instead of Roundhead, and he seems at once (granting him only sincerity, which he had, and that of a right awful kind) as complete a knight-errant as ever watched and prayed, ere putting on his spurs, in fantastic Gothic chapel, beneath “storied windows richly dight.” Was there no poetry in nin, either, half an hour afterwards, as he lay bleeding across the corpse of the gallant horse, waiting for his turn with the surgeon, and fumbled for the Bible in his boot, and tried to hum a psalm, and thought of Cousin Patience, and his father, and his mother, and how they would hear, at
least, that he had played the man in Israel that day, and resisted unto blood, striving against sin and the Man of Sin?
And was there no poetry in him, too, as he came wearied along Thoresby dyke, in the quiet autumn eve, home to the house of his forefathers, and saw afar off the knot of tall poplars rising over the broad misty flat, and the one great abele tossing its sheets of silver in the dying gusts, and knew that they stood before his father's door? Who can tell all the pretty child-memories which fitted across his brain at that sight, and made him forget that he was a wounded cripple ? There is the dyke where he and his brothers snared the great pike which stole the ducklingshow many years ago ? while pretty little Patience stood by trembling, and shrieked at each snap of the brute's wide jaws; and there, down that long dark lode, ruffling with crimson in the sunset breeze, he and his brothers skated home in triumph with Patience when his uncle died. What a day that was ! when, in the clear, bright winter noon, they laid the gate upon the ice, and tied the beef-bones under the four corners, and packed little Patience on it. How pretty she looked, though her eyes were red with weeping, as she peeped out from among the heap of blankets and horse-hides, and how merrily their long fenrunners whistled along the ice-lane, between the high banks of sighing reed, as they towed home their new treasure in triumph, at a pace like the race-horse's, to their dear old home among the poplar trees. And now he was going home to meet her, after a mighty victory, a deliverance from heaven, second only in his eyes to that Red-sea one. Was there no poetry in his heart at that thought? Did not the glowing sunset, and the reed-beds which it transfigured before him into sheets of golden flame, seem tokens that the glory of God was going before him in his path? Did