1882 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Walter Raleigh

Epes Sargent, in Harper's Cyclopaedia of British and American Poetry (1882) 14.



Raleigh (born 1552, beheaded 1618) was nearly of the same age with Spenser. There are forty short poems on miscellaneous subjects attributed, with tolerable certainty, to Raleigh. The Nymph's Reply, sometimes placed among these, will be found in this volume under Marlowe. So small a quantity of verse cannot be regarded as adequately representing Raleigh's genius and power of literature. His life was one of the busiest and fullest of results on record. From his youth he was a sailor, a warrior, and a courtier; but he was also a student. Aubrey relates that "he studied most of his sea-voyages, when he carried always a trunk of books along with him, and had nothing to divert him." From the same source we learn that the companions of his youth "were boisterous blades, but generally those that had wit." The famous Mermaid Club, frequented by Shakspeare, Ben Jonson, and the other wits of the day, was founded by Raleigh; who, through his whole life, had a strong sympathy with literature and learning. His verses are vigorous and original, "full of splendid courage and a proud impetuosity." It is, however, in his prose writings that we must look for the best evidence of his genius.