1787 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Walter Raleigh

Henry Headley, in Select Beauties of Ancient English Poetry (1787) 1:lxii-lxiii.



Sir Walter Raleigh, A Votary of whom the Muses cannot but be proud. The poetry he has left is sufficient to discover that, had he made it a serious pursuit, he would have equally excelled in that, as he has done in other departments of learning. The complexion of Raleigh's mind was diversified by a variety of elevated, and almost contradictory features: as an historian, a navigator, a soldier, and a politician, he ranks with the first characters of his age and country; and his life furnishes the most unequivocal proof that, amid the distraction of an active and adventurous life, leisure may always be found for the cultivation of letters. It is highly to his credit that he was the friend and the patron of Spenser, who seems to have had a great opinion of his poetical abilities, and, in a sonnet sent to him with his Fairy Queen, styles him, with great beauty, "the summer's nightingale." He alludes to, and compliments him again, book III. cant. I stanz. 4 and 5, and not improbably, under the name of Colin, Daphnaida, vol. V. p. 157, Hug. edit. Sp. [Author's note: In his Colin Clout he likewise says of him, speaking of poetry, "Himself as skilful in that art as any."] On the other hand, the following lines, which are said of Spenser, will serve to convince us how highly he stood in Rawleigh's estimation:

Of me no lines are lov'd, nor letters are of price,
Of all which speak our English tongue, but those of thy device.
To Spenser.

Raleigh was born at East Budeleigh, in Devonshire; entered a Commoner of Oriel College, Oxon; and studied at the Middle Temple, once a necessary part of an elegant education. He fell a sacrifice to a mean prince, and a packed jury, anno. 1618, and mounted the scaffold with the same unconcern with which others would have ascended a throne. It may be safely asserted of him, that his fame has not exceeded his virtue.