Willoughby is contemplating the pleasures of living in retirement when his meditations are interrupted by Lord Grey of Wilton, the son of Spenser's patron, who bears a message from Raleigh. Ralph will hear nothing of Essex-house intrigues, and when Lord Grey insults his inclination to poetry, he replies, "Thou canst not forget, that Spenser dandled thee on his knee! Thou canst not forget, with what enthusiasm thy heroic father listened to his strains! He knew well the charm, and the force of verse: he felt assured of its alliance to all the nobler impulses, that animal human actions; and esteemed rank base, and honours to be mockery, if unaccompanied by an ardent, melting heart, and refined and highly-instructed intellect" pp. 93-94.
Troubled in his mind, Willoughby resolves to undertake a voyage with George Clifford, Earl of Cumberland. As their ship sails, Ralph (anticipating Childe Harold on a similar occasion) bewails the perfidy of things, and in particular the treatment accorded poets: "Where art thou, Spenser? Thy diviner tongue | Sleeps silent in the grave: thy sounding lyre | Kept not the gripe of Poverty from thee! | For all the glory that thy copious song | Pour'd on the Great, what did they pour on thee? | A scanty sterile praise: a side-long glance, | That own'd with envious doubtful looks the worth | Of thy all-blazing Muse! and seem'd to say, | 'Song is but empty sound: and small the meed, | That empty sounds can merit!'" p. 103. Notes inform us that the victim of the "poisonous bowl" is Thomas Chatterton, while the "Fated Lyre" alludes to William Collins.
They are shipwrecked off the coast of Cornwall, and Willoughby is borne unconscious to the manor of a local squire. From thence he is forced to flee the jealous wrath of the squire's daughter Maud. Fearing robbers, Ralph dresses incognito, but as he is wandering the roads he loses his intellects and is carried to a hospital, not knowing who or where he is. Meanwhile, Essex had risen in rebellion, and listening to Ralph's ravings, "a suspicion arose in the place, that Willoughby was no other than Essex escaped in disguise, whose troubles had turned his brain" p. 118.
After a series of adventures, he is recognized and rescued by Sir John Norris, the hero celebrated by Spenser in the dedicatory sonnets. His wits restored, Willoughby entertains a distinguished group of Norris's other guests: "relieved the moralizing gravity of Samuel Daniel, and the minute prolixity of Michael Drayton, both of whom were at present visitors of this seat; and who, on the death of Spenser, succeeded, however unworthily, to some slight portion of his fame. The two pastoral poets, Nicolas Breton, and Dr. Thomas Lodge, were also here; and paid great deference to the genius of Ralph" pp. 138-39. There too he meets Lord Ormond, who carries him back to London, and Raleigh.
Willoughby is shocked by the callousness with which Raleigh contemplates Essex's execution. This occasion introduces remarks by Brydges on the character of Elizabeth and the close of her reign.
Again he resolved to bury himself in the safe obscurity, which he had now found. He had not been an original partisan of Essex: he was bound to him by no long, or deep ties: he was not an approver of his politics: he hated all intrigue, and plot; and active and feverish ambition: he did not like the greater part of Essex's advisers: he could not rely upon them: he felt assured, that if he interfered, he himself, whenever danger occurred, would he the first sacrifice.
He rambled into the Forest, and sat for hours beside the woodmen at their work. In these solitudes almost every distant sound is music. The, crashing fall of the heavy tree, when it yields to the last stroke of the axe; the echo of each blow of the Axe itself; the occasional voices of the workmen; now and then the loud burst of a song; sometimes the tongue of an hound, the reverberating hallow of a Keeper; or a few shrill notes of his horn, rouse the senses; and set the imagination into play.
When we consider what life is: when we seek, (as all seek,) next to duty, what is the most pleasant, we must pronounce pleasures of this kind, as they are the most innocent, to be among the most acute, of which our Being is capable. Why then should we go farther to search for others, that, while they are far less exquisite, are bought at the price of innumerable perils, and contingent ruin? There is nothing in courts, in rank, in high office, that when the novelty is gone, can confer much Enjoyment! Health is the first of blessings: and where is it to be found but in easy occupation in the open and uncontaminated air?
The pages of history prove the misery of lofty station. Look at the tales of sovereigns, and princes. How few have descended to the grave in peace! What numbers have come to premature and violent deaths, after long torments of body and mind!
"Why then," said Ralph, "should I abandon these haunts of silence and quiet? Why should I embark with open eyes on a tempestuous ocean, to which no duty calls me? Forgetting and forgotten, let me find a rural path to the tomb! let me forget my name; and the busy characters of my ancestors! let Poetry he my mistress; and let innocent labour in fields and forests deepen my slumbers!
He had scarcely whispered to himself these sentiments, when there issued from the narrow path of an adjoining thicket a figure very unlike the costume of the inhabitants of these sylvan domains. He looked; and recognized the person of the young Lord Grey of Wilton.
"What brings you hither, Lord Grey!" cried Ralph. "Business with you!" answered he with a smile: "I have been traversing the whole country in search of you; and have found you by the merest accident!" Ralph felt his heart sink, while his curiosity was enflamed.
Lord Grey went on: "I am sent by Raleigh on some confidential matters. He says that it is an affair of delicacy; and that no one has talents for it, but you. He speaks in the highest terms of your extraordinary abilities; and says that it may open to you the road to honours, and promotion, which you deserve!"—
The young Lord Grey had succeeded his father, the celebrated Arthur, Lord Grey of Wilton, who had been Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. In that station Raleigh, when a young man with only the command of a company, had had a quarrel with him, in which he had made his own part so good, that it had first brought him into the Queen's notice.
Raleigh had cast away the early animosity created by this circumstance; and had insinuated himself into the favour of this heir to the honours of his old Opponent. He found the juvenile Peer useful to some of the schemes he was carrying on; as he was ill-inclined to the Court, being tinged with the sour principles of the Puritan Faction.
Ralph lamented the austere and forbidding turn, which this heir to illustrious honours, venerable by so many centuries of rank and heroism, had taken: He had often reasoned with him; and endeavoured to infuse into him his father's better taste; his generous love of poetry; and his loyal heroism. He spoke to him of the deathless fame, which the Muse had given to this honoured Parent; and repeated to him Spenser's Eulogy.
TO THE MOST RENOWNED AND VALIANT LORD, THE LORD GREY OF WILTON, KNIGHT OF THE NOBLE ORDER OF THE GARTER, ETC.
Most noble Lord, the pillar of my life,
And patron of my Muse's pupillage,
Through whose large bounty, poured on me rife,
In the first season of my feeble age,
I now do live, bound yours by vassalage:
Since nothing ever may redeem, nor reeve
Out of your endless debt so sure a gage;
Vouchsafe in worth this small gift to receive,
Which in your noble hands for pledge I leave
Of all the rest, that I am tied t' account;
Rude rhymes, the which a rustic Muse did weave
In savage soil, far from Parnasso Mount;
And roughly wrought in an unlearned loom:
The which vouchsafe, dear Lord, your favourable doom.
When Lord Grey came to communicate the message from Raleigh, he found himself so embarrassed, that, as Ralph was not in a disposition to give him much encouragement, he could scarcely make himself intelligible. It was clear, that, had Ralph been inclined to take hints, he would have had much more to say. The purport was a private and confidential conference with Sir Robert Cecil, upon hints from Raleigh: of which Lord Grey had memoranda in his pocket. From the very opening of this message Ralph felt such a distaste to it, that the messenger could not bring himself to disclose more than a very small part of it. Ralph perceived that it had reference to what was going on at Essex-House; and would hear no more.
Lord Grey became furiously angry: he reproached Ralph with obstinacy; self-sufficiency; and wilful blindness to his own fortune. "My Lord?" said Ralph: "you are in possession of an ancient peerage: — I am not: but I know not that my family is much inferior to your own! — they have been less fortunate! but will you yourself venture to rely on prosperity as the test of merit? — I am to be won by kindness: but I am not to be driven! If nature has given me the talent to judge for myself, there is nothing in my apparently-desperate condition, that should take it away! I thank you for wishing to promote my interest: Entreat that you will leave to me my own manner of doing it! — And now, Lord Grey, I must bring myself, even with you by a reciprocity of advice! — A little more of the softness of what are called the blighter ornaments of the mind, would be of service to you. — You have too much of a hard resentful ambition. Beware, that you are not the victim of your own projects! Providence has given a vast diversity to the human character. All have not the same duties: nor must we judge severely of others, because they are not like ourselves. If a man of genius flatters you with an exclusive commendation of your own cast of disposition, or intellect, suspect him! he is not sincere; he is bending you, as an instrument, to his own designs! Do not play the game of the common enemy! Faction against Faction; Ancient House against Ancient House, is very bad policy!"—
"Willoughby!" exclaimed Lord Grey in surprise: "Willoughby! what can all this mean? Can I trust my own ears? Are these your sentiments? Is this your principle of action? Has not the solitude of this Forest worked wonderful changes? Ralph Willoughby — the confidential secretary of Burleigh; the friend of Essex; the companion of Raliegh! Does Ralph hate ambition? does Ralph shun the strife of parties? does Ralph fly from Faction? Miraculous conversion! all powerful influence of the charms of woods, and cottages."—
"You are only confirming the accuracy of my advice, Lord Grey," said Ralph, "by this reply! You take too narrow a view of things. Misled by your own desires, you have supposed me to have been actuated by the same feelings. I always hated Faction and Intrigue: I always hated the sort of ambition, by which you suppose me to have been stimulated! I have heard the stories of opposite Parties; but I would die rather than betray one to another, even in return for the most cruel and ungrateful treatment! Let your friend; (I hope my friend,) Raleigh, tell what he has learned from me! My heart is open; my prudence and caution are not great: but my sense of honour is a substitute for the guards!"
"Raleigh then misunderstands your character!" exclaimed Lord Grey drily. "I am sorry that my character is not more visible to an acute observer!" replied he. "I hate disguise; and would have every one see me, as I am!" — "It is clear, that Raleigh thinks you a politician!" said Lord G. — "An intriguer you mean!" cried Ralph: "but should you not rather say, that he wishes to make me one?"—
"I admit," said the other, "that he has an high confidence in his own power: and shall Ralph Willoughby be bold enough to set him at defiance?" — "Forbear this taunt, Lord Grey!" replied Ralph: "I have neither defied, nor undervalued Sir Walter Raleigh. But you would make a despot of him. It is not arrogance, to retain one's independence of mind. The career of ambition, that suits his daring genius, may not suit my humbler temper. There are men, who delight to
"Ride in the whirlwind; and direct the blast:"
but this is not congenial to my feebler spirit." — "Though Raleigh has an high opinion of your abilities," proceeded Lord G. "he has not overlooked some defect which he thinks may mar your career. He says, that you consider poetry too much of a business, rather than a mere ornament: he asserts, that this Enchanter ought to he taken as a mistress only; not as a wife: she may be dallied with; but not your constant companion."
"I certainly cannot subscribe to the sentiments:" said Ralph eagerly. "It is from this very principle, that I believe Raleigh has failed in his poetical character. Truth is as much the essence of genuine Poetry, as it is of genuine Philosophy. If it be not the expression of real feelings; or of images really presented to the mind, it may please for a time by novelty and marvel: but it will soon be forgotten. This is incontestably proved by an examination of the distinctive merit of those ancient, classical poets, whose fame has lasted longest. Art should he subordinate to the exhibition of Nature; not paramount to it. The imagination creates innumerable things, which exist not materially: but when it creates voluntarily, it always creates according to some uniform principle, by which a sympathy is found in the bosom of every reader. The monsters of the fancy, its forced and extravagant combinations, are odious to good taste."—
"Am I then to understand you" continued Lord G. with a sneer, "that you abandon all for this Syren Poetry? — or perhaps for the little blue-eyed girl of the cottage, that for the moment takes her place!"
"Leave me to myself, Lord Grey," cried Ralph angrily "I have never interfered with you."
"What am I to tell Raleigh then?"
"That I thank him for his, good opinion: — but that I am unequal to task he proposes for me."—
"I submit," said Lord Grey: "but remember, that Raleigh would be a dangerous enemy."
"Do not use threats, let us part in good humour! threats, of all things, are most abhorrent to my patience! Be candid Lord Grey! Open your mind to a greater variety of views of human affairs! cultivate the poetry you despise: it will make your blood flow in kindly currents: it will give you a resting-place in disappointment: it will set you above the things you cannot command; not in a degrading struggle with them!"—
Lord Grey turned his eyes earnestly on Ralph: a strange novelty of sentiment glowed through his whole frame: he began to suspect that he had been groveling in a wrong path: and that there was a communicable fire in Ralph, of which he had had no conception. Ralph saw that he had made an impression.
"Lord Grey!" exclaimed he; "I cannot forget the illustrious blood, from whence you are sprung! That generous stream may be chilled, or frozen for a moment! — Misfortunes may arrest it: clouds may envelop it: but its warmth will return; its noble flame will never die! Thou canst not forget, that Spenser dandled thee on his knee! Thou canst not forget, with what enthusiasm thy heroic father listened to his strains! He knew well the charm, and the force of verse: he felt assured of its alliance to all the nobler impulses, that animal human actions; and esteemed rank base, and honours to be mockery, if unaccompanied by an ardent, melting heart, and refined and highly-instructed intellect. Though riches were not showered upon him, the absence of this advantage did not make him discontented; but full of noble adventure!"
Lord Grey sighed and turned pale: a sensation of self-abasement was mingled with his pleasure at this glowing eulogy of his Father: to whom he looked up not merely with vanity, but with veneration. But it had certainly not hitherto produced the effects upon him, which Ralph wished to instil.
"Well then Willoughby," he continued: "may you be happy in the path of your own choice! And I will endeavour to take lessons from you: for I see that I cannot contend with you! I will deliver your message to Raleigh; and use my efforts to persuade him, that you yourself are the best judge of what you can undertake with success!"
They took leave. Ralph was now again left to his own contemplations. He exulted at the decisive and indignant manner, in which he had rejected the odious proposition. To be the bearer of any intelligence, by which he might be the instrument of injuring Essex with the persons in power, was the last act of baseness, of which he would have been guilty. To him the course of intrigue adopted by the Faction of Cobham Hall was quite inexplicable, when he considered the principles of action, by which he privately knew Sir Robert Cecil to be guided.
He had now leisure for musings even beyond the endurance of a mind morbidly endued with moral plaintiveness. He recollected that, in consequence of the fallen fortunes of his family, he had not even a competence to subsist upon. He farther considered, that he was in dangerous society. Left to contemplate without interruption the beauty of the simple Rosalinde, he could not trust his warm heart to avoid an alliance, that would aggravate his difficulties tenfold.
He thought, till he was sick and despondent: every thing was dark around him: he saw not a vista of hope, but in the fields of Fancy. At length it occurred to him, that his enterprising spirit might find some scope in those expeditions of Naval discovery, that were now so fashionable.
About two years past, he had formed an intimacy with the chivalrous George Clifford, Earl of Cumberland, who being one of the proudest flowers of the old nobility, had forsaken Courts of which he was the ornament, and ancient castles, and spreading territories, where he presided in the most gratifying feudal pomp, and had left all the enjoyments of domestic ease, for the perils of the ocean, and the conflicts of barbarous tribes, in search of New Worlds.
He was a man of an high enthusiasm; and an accomplished genius. He excelled in all manly exercises: he carried away the palm in tournaments: his gallantry made him a general favorite among the ladies of the Court: and he wrote amatory verses with elegance, and pathos.
The following is Spenser's testimony. It seems to have been written in the commencement of this Earl's career.
TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE, THE EARL OF CUMBERLAND.
Redoubted Lord, in whose courageous mind
The flower of Chivalry, now blooming fair,
Doth promise fruit, worthy the noble Kind,
Which of their praises have left you the heir;
To you this humble present I prepare,
For love of virtue, and of martial praise,
To which though nobly ye inclined are,
As goodly well ye shew'd in late assays,
Yet brave ensample of long passed days,
In which true honour ye may fashion'd see,
To like desire of honour may ye raise;
And fill your mind with magnanimity.
Receive it, Lord, therefore, as it was meant,
For honour of your name, and high descent.
Ralph now sought out this Earl, who was already preparing for another naval expedition. The accomplished Commander was delighted to have such a companion as Ralph; who went with him to Plymouth, where his little Fleet was assembled, laying in stores for their voyage.
On their arrival at this station, they found every thing in confusion; the vessels half equipped; half victualled; half manned; a mingled discontent running through those, who were already embarked; the captains ill-furnished; and ill-credited; and the aspect of the whole discouraging.
Lord Cumberland was one of those men, who easily yield to the alternate impressions of hope and gloom. He sunk at the clouded prospect, which met him: but then he had an elasticity of mind, which danger and discouragement by degrees stimulated. He talked with the bolder Spirits, who had resolved to join his adventure; he enflamed his imagination with the novel incidents he expected to meet with; while the stale repetition of Court parade appeared a scene, at which he revolted to return.
But though he had a large feudal territory, his means in ready money were very scanty. After a fortnight's vexatious delay, he found the difficulty of procuring all necessaries augment rather than diminish.
Meantime it was resolved that a chosen set should go forward in the best vessel. Ralph Willoughby intreated to be allowed to accompany this first adventure. He was tired of England: every path seemed shut to him; and nothing appeared to remain there, but mortification, poverty, and dereliction.
A fair wind arose: the destined Ship expanded her broad wings; and moved majestically forward upon the bosom of the swelling ocean. RaIph sat on the prow; and looked back on the lessening shore without a sigh.
White shores, now dimly seen, now shining bright
Beneath the glitter of the radiant Sun,
Lessen; ah lessen! not a sigh from me
Shall honour your ungracious, heartless smiles!
Cold as the Moon, when her pale dewy beams
Throw on the shrubs and flowers their misty light,
Is the fair splendor of your guileful rays!
Ye cherish him, who needeth not your aid:
But when misfortune comes, or clouds arise,
Then, where your smiles are wanted, how ye frown!
Wealth is your idol. Ye pretend to land,
Birth, Genius, Virtue: — when array'd in gold,
Tis true ye worship them: but tis the dress
Calls forth your reverence: if meanly clad,
Birth, Genius, Virtue, bright as heaven, may starve!
Where art thou, Spenser? Thy diviner tongue
Sleeps silent in the grave: thy sounding lyre
Kept not the gripe of Poverty from thee!
For all the glory that thy copious song
Pour'd on the Great, what did they pour on thee?
A scanty sterile praise: a side-long glance,
That own'd with envious doubtful looks the worth
Of thy all-blazing Muse! and seem'd to say,
"Song is but empty sound: and small the meed,
That empty sounds can merit!" It is thus;
Isle of the Ocean, it is thus thou deal'st
With Fancy's children! Future Centuries
Shall see thee still the same! and boys shall rise,
And fill the woods and vallies with the stream
Of their o'erwhelming music: yet in grief
Their early sun shall set; and Scorn shall grin
Upon their inspiration; and Despair
Shall drive them to the poisonous bowl; and end
Pangs not-to-be-endured in self sought death!
O drop thy veil, Futurity! O close
Mine ears to those heart-rending yells! Along
High-vaulted aisles, I hear the piercing cry
Of furious Madness! Back again the shrieks
Echo, and then redouble! Fated Lyre;
If this be thy reward, I throw thee off!
Snatch it, ye Winds! Bury it deep ye Waves,
In your profoundest beds: and let its charms,
Accursed and accursing like a fiend,
Lull me no more to such ineffable ills.
Blow fresh, thou Breeze: upon my beating temple
Play; and hang close with thy refreshing wings!
On my tumultuous breast. — Again the light
Sits on old Albion's shores. The genial beams,
Whom do they cherish? — Not an heart that beats
For my misfortunes! Not an eye, that looks
With fond regret on my departing form!
"One lingering remnant of those ancient stocks
Of feudal nobles fled! tis well! tis gain
To us: we strip the branches; tear the leaves;
And soon the last writhed Stock, tho' deep its root,
Shall wither in the ground!" — Thus speak the crowd
Of new sprung Great! Thus swelling Commerce cries
Deeming, where wealth is not all-powerful, there
Worth is defrauded of its rights, and this
The lore, the half-taught Sage affects to teach!
Gay dancing Bark, bear onward! The dim line
Of Albion's coast along the horizon marks,
Where all my hopes were wreck'd! — O far away
Bear me to scenes, in whose oblivious breast
Memory may bury her impatient woes!
It fades: the last dim speck evaporates;
And mingles with the sky! Farewell, O Land;—
Soil of my Fathers; mine, alas, no more!—
Thus mused Ralph Willoughby, as the Ship gradually bore him out of the sight of the English coast.
He felt for four days a revival of spirits from the new situation in which he was placed, and the new objects, by which he was surrounded. The fresh air of the Ocean invigorated his languid frame.
On the fifth day the seamen were observed to be particularly watchful of the sky. The weather was very changeable: sometimes sudden clouds, gathered into mountains, hung with tremendous blackness over the sea; and then, as suddenly dispersing, gave way to as clear, and beautiful a brilliance. Again a gloom would overspread the heavens; every breeze seemed to sleep; all was still; an aweful silence reigned; till at length a hollow murmur swept along the sky, and then ceased again.
Ralph spoke to the Captain. He shook his head; and intimated that a storm was brooding.
The Sun set with a fiery red; and the sailors beheld it wistfully, and with terror. Ralph retired to his hammock at the usual hour; and fell into a profound sleep. Long before midnight, he was waked by the rolling of the vessel, The wind roared frightfully among the shrouds; and a great bustle was heard upon deck. Then came a crash, as if the ship was going to pieces. He scarce had time to reflect where he was, when another crash came. The Ship had been driven among the rocks on the Cornish coast.
He had scarcely time to reach the deck, when all was lost. Another crash; and the Vessel went down. All was then confusion: Every one strove to attempt the shore; which some distant lights seemed to point out. Ralph, whether in a boat, or on an oar, he afterwards knew not, was, by some Providence, thrown upon the coast.
His senses were gone; and he recollected nothing, till he found himself on the bed of a gloomy chamber in a strange house, so weak that he could not lift himself from his position; and so full of bruises, that he could scarcely take any posture without agony.
He soon relapsed into sleep from mere debility; and when he waked again, his eyes opened upon two female attendants, who softly expressed their anxiety for his recovery. "To whom am I obliged" said he, "for this preservation, and hospitality?" The Lady smiled; (for they were evidently a lady, and her servant:) "If you feel obliged," she cried; "I am content: my name, I fear, will add nothing to the value of the service I have been happy to perform in the cause of humanity! It is to this good girl, that you owe as much, as to me. Her father found you apparently almost lifeless on the shore; but perceiving a spark of animation still about you, brought you to his cottage. Her daughter sought my assistance; and I had you conveyed hither."—
They soon observed, that Ralph's strength was not sufficient to bear a continuance of this narration. He grew pale: his senses again fled; and he sunk exhausted upon the pillow. A fortnight's assiduous attention of these kind nurses restored him to his senses, and to some slight portion of a feeble convalescence.
He had learned that the lady's name was Tretagel: and that she was the only child of a little indigenous Cornish Squire, who lived in his small half-castellated manorial house on this remote and barbarous coast. Some pains had been taken with her education; and she had assiduously cultivated a quick understanding, and warm fancy, according to the fashion of those days.
She was handsome; with dark eyes; and a clear brown complexion: but somewhat too large in her person. By some accident; probably by some papers found in his pocket; she well knew Ralph's name and was able to connect him with his father's family; of which she had heard something of the history.
Alone; nursing a romantic imagination in a desolate country, her bosom nourished towards Willoughby all the wild energies of a sudden and unmanaged passion. Ralph felt gratitude; but be could not feel love.
Maud Tretagel was one, whose affection was not to be sported with. She was vain; proud; jealous; resentful, even to madness. When Ralph hinted at the necessity of his departure, she first flew into tears; then grew gloomy; then reproachful; and at last furious.
Her maid was a much more rational Being. She made many apologies for her mistress; she said that she had been a spoiled child; that her father was the little despot of a wild neighbourhood; and that he knew no controul to his will; and had brought up his child to know no controul to hers. She entreated Ralph to bear with her humours; and to soothe her pride.
Such apologies had no tendency to reconcile Ralph to her passion. He only meditated his departure with more eagerness. When Maud Tretagel suspected this, she used every artifice to delay him. At length she expressed herself reconciled to it, on condition that he would wait till a particular day.
In the mean time she fell into a moody gloom, that almost overcame the sensibility of Ralph. Her maid was continually in tears: she started: she seemed to have something to communicate; yet not to dare to trust her voice. On the morning before that appointed for the day of his departure, she came into his apartment at a very early hour, pale, trembling, and bathed in tears. She looked around her fearfully; she bolted the door; she came to his bedside; and whispered in a faultering voice: "Mr. Willoughby! my conscience impels me at the risk of my life to impart a secret to you! You are not safe here! Depart secretly to night; or you are lost! Take the hint! betray me not! Go: haste! the shades of this very night alone can save you!" — She stole out of the room; and left Willoughby to reflect, in horrid astonishment, at the communication.
He resolved to obey the caution: for he could not doubt, where the danger lay. When the mantle of Evening came, he stole out of the House; and wandered in the only road he could find, as far as his enfeebled strength would carry him. At length he was so exhausted, that he resolved to throw himself on the road-side; and yield to his fate. Luckily the gleam of a distant light at that moment met his eye. He crawled towards it; and found it a small public-house, where he gained admittance.
His sole desire was rest; if it brought with it death, he was now indifferent to it. He had luckily preserved two or three small pieces of gold in the only remnant of his dress, that had not been torn from him. He recollected this before he closed his eyes and was consoled, that he should be able to pay for his entertainment.
He waked refreshed in the morning; and resolved to proceed on his journey. But some conversation, which he overheard, induced a suspicion that he would be way-laid. The precaution of a change of dress occurred to him; and passing a village, he entered a small shop, where he found no difficulty in procuring a common sailor's jacket. Pulling off the outward dress, with which he had been furnished at the house of the Tretagels, wrapping it in an handkerchief; and slinging it over his shoulder by a rough stick taken from the hedges, he trudged along in the disguise of one of the meanest class of society.
For a few miles he flattered himself that his strength had rapidly revived: but at last he began to grow faint: he sat down: a dimness came before his eyes; and his senses began to wander. He thought he saw the waves of the sea approaching him in mountainous height; and heard the roaring of the billows; and the groans of the sails and masts.
He rose; and endeavoured to run; but his legs failed him. A charitable peasant, seeing his feebleness and sick looks, took him in his cart; and delivered him to the hostess of the next town. He was carried, unconscious, to the hospital, that luckily existed there. The managers of this establishment could gather nothing coherent from his conversation. His mind and his tongue rambled most wildly for above a week. They suspected that he was of a condition superior to his outward appearance: but there is an ingenuity in madness, that is very delusive: and on this account they were not confident of any inferences regarding him which they could draw.
He had lucid intervals: but the reflection on his past misfortunes; and terrific prospect of the future, soon caused a relapse into a melancholy derangement. He imagined that he had committed some great crime, which it was his intense care to conceal from those that surrounded him. But he thought that every one shunned, or hated him; and he supposed that every neglect, every grave look, afforded evidence that he had been discovered.
Under a load of fancied guilt, he seemed impelled to struggle to recommend himself; and to prove that he was deserving of a better fate. He perpetually talked as if he was pleading at the bar of justice; rebutted presumptions; denied inferences; appealed to mercy; came as if stimulated by some incontroulable desire of confession, to the verge of some supposed fact of criminality; and then, by a surprising turn, urged all these admitted steps as the proofs of his innocence.
A day came, when the attendants observed about him a gloom of an extraordinary kind. It was tender and exalted. Sometimes the tears flowed freely: it was illuminated by a smile of heroic patience. He was impressed with the conviction, that he had been capitally condemned; and that the following morning he was to suffer on the block.
Rumours had spread abroad: and some curiosity regarding him had already been excited in the town. At this time the insurrection of the Earl of Essex, and his consequent imprisonment, were topics of universal conversation, and interest through the kingdom. A suspicion arose in the place, that Willoughby was no other than Essex escaped in disguise, whose troubles had turned his brain.
Their persons were not utterly unlike. They had both a deep, animated expression: but Ralph was handsomer; was better grown; had more regular features; and was made with more symmetry. All the higher classes of the inhabitants of the town flocked to see him; particularly the females.
This confirmed Ralph in the conception that he was to suffer on the following day. Many attempts were made to hold conversations with him, but he was often moody and impenetrably silent. But Beauty had so much influence over him even in this state that he never failed to answer the young women blessed with this gift, who addressed him. Every word he uttered, confirmed them in the idea that he was Lord Essex. They listened to him; they gazed upon him; they mingled their tears with his.
This extraordinary sympathy; the earnest softness with which eyes were fixed upon him; operating upon a mind already in a state of enthusiastic fervor, gave Ralph a sort of mournful eloquence, that seemed like inspiration. Images crowded upon him with a brilliance far beyond what reality could produce. Uncheck'd by the diffidence accompanying reason, he gave unlimited range to thoughts and his language. His words flowed in tides of pathos or sublimity. His principal bent seemed to be the desire to be remembered in death; to have his grave covered with the flowers of love, and to have it recorded that he died a victim to ingratitude and injustice.
What could be more calculated to confirm the suspicion that this person was Lord Essex?
A sudden thought of escape now entered the moody mind of Willoughby. He imagined himself a close prisoner and seeing a lady of an engaging countenance, who appeared peculiarly interested about him, he put a note secretly into her hands beseeching her to assist him at dawn of the next morning in escaping from captivity and death.
The girl, who, in addition to the interest she had already felt, was highly flattered by this confidence, and believed that the sufferer had good reason to suppose that he was to be betrayed to the agents of the Crown; (for she had no doubt that the person was Essex,) willingly entered into this scheme.
With the first streak of light Ralph a rose; and stealing out of the Hospital, found his appointed guide at the door.
He had need of a guide; for he was weak in bodily health; and his senses were wandering. His guide had had the precaution to bring a female servant with her. They conducted him some miles on his road: and then found the necessity of taking their leave. The conversation had been wild and unsatisfactory. Nothing had occurred, that removed the suspicions that he was no other than Lord Essex. But the danger of being proved to have been the accomplice of his flight deterred his guide from venturing farther.
Ralph now proceeded on his way: and continued many days trudging the road with such mean accommodation as chance threw upon him. He was little disturbed in his progress, being every where considered as a person innocently crazed. The rapidity and incoherency with which he continued to talk to himself was the principal sign of this malady.
One morning he waked with the slanting beams of a bright sun full on his eyes. He found himself in a large apartment, bearing the relics of ancient splendor. Round the room hung two or three old portraits painted on pannel. Over the heavy and fantastically-decorated chimney was a large shield of arms. It contained numerous quarterings. In the first, he gazed with eagerness as he beheld the united fret and cross of Willoughby!
This incident set his imagination into a new flame. He fancied that he was restored to the seat of his ancestors; that all the splendor of the Baronial House of Uffington would return; that he should take his seat in the House of Lords; be among the leaders of the English nobility: and by an union of rank and talents enjoy the sphere suited to an exalted ambition.
He rose, and rambled about the House. All was of a similar character. A spacious hall, through which every footstep echoed: long passages: a massive staircase: a vast gallery, with an hundred portraits, many of them dropping from their frames.
He had not been long in the Gallery, when he thought he heard low voices, and the tread of light footsteps. He started; and then listened. All was silent; and his fancy soon wandered to other subjects. Again the whispers arose; and a door clapped; and a grim form darted across the further end of the gallery. Ralph cried out, with wild looks, and in an aweful voice, as if he was addressing supernatural Beings: "Who comes to disturb my dominions?
"Be it a Spirit blest; or Goblin damn'd; let it come forth; and tell its purpose! I am prepared for it: I can deal with Spirits! I can ride in the air; and pierce the clouds; and lead the music of the winds!"
"It is only a maniac!" whispered a trembling voice: leave him to himself; and he will not perceive us!" — "We are not safe!" answered a sterner tongue: "death tells no tales! here is the thing that will do the job!" — He drew from his pocket a long knive stained with blood. "Put it up, Gil!" cried the first voice: "Put it up, I say! when needs must, let it do its work! here there is no occasion!"—
This came from a set of Gypsies, who were in the custom of housing themselves by night in this deserted mansion. It had been an old seat of a Western branch of the Willoughby family, who had now come to decay.
The advice of the peaceable Gypsey was correct. Ralph soon forgot what had passed; quitted the house; and proceeded on his journey.
Another week passed, during which he had advanced far on his way towards the Capital. When he beheld a mighty Castle with its numerous turrets glittering in the Sun at a distance amid a laughing scenery of delightful richness, he recognized objects familiar to the earlier days of his residence in England. But his memory was yet so flighty, that he could riot tell where he was; nor on what occasions he had beheld these objects.
He darted forward; and in a few miles found himself at the gate of a venerable mansion, over which the shield of arms arrested his notice. He gazed upon it, and then a transient ray of distinct recollection came upon him. It vanished again. "Those wheat-sheafs! Oh, how often have I seen them at old Burleigh's door! — But I have been here too! I am sure, that I have often sat in yonder baywindow; and looked upon these woodlands; and seen the golden sunbeams playing on yon Castle-towers."—
It was Stoke, near Windsor; a little before this time the residence of the Lord Keeper Hatton, then deceased: — of which Gray, the Poet, speaks in his "Long Story," as the place, where
The grave Lord Keeper led the brawls:
The Seals and Maces danced before him.
Queen Elizabeth is said to have promoted this lucky Lawyer for the gracefulness of his person; and his skill in dancing; a singular recommendation for the first judicial seat of the Kingdom.
Sir Christopher Hatton is however said to have filled this great office with ability and integrity. The Court over which he presided, did not then take the range it has since taken. It was a successor, promoted to this office before the end of the Reign, Lord Chancellor Egerton, (afterwards created Lord Ellesmere, and Viscount Brackley,) who laid the foundation of the present system of Jurisprudence, which governs that enlightened Court [Author's note: He died in 1617. He was the father of the first Earl of Bridgewater].
Spenser has honoured Sir Christopher Hatton by the first of his Dedicatory Sonnets, in these words:
TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE, SIR CHRISTOPHER HATTON, LORD HIGH CHANCELLOR OF ENGLAND, ETC.
Those prudent heads, that with their counsels wise
Whilom the pillars of th' earth did sustain,
And taught ambitious Rome to tyrannise,
And in the neck of all the world to reign,
Oft from those grave affairs were wont abstain,
With the sweet lady Muses for to play:
So Ennius; the elder Africane;
So Maro oft did Caesar's cares allay.
So you, great Lord, that with your counsel sway
The burden of this kingdom mightily,
With like delights sometimes may eke delay
The rugged brow of careful Policy:
And to these idle rhymes lend little space,
Which for their title's sake may find more grace.
Ralph had several times accompanied Burleigh on visits to Stoke [Author's note: In the cemetery of this parish was buried Gray, the Poet, whose mother spent her last years, and died, at Stoke. It is in the County of Buckingham]. He enjoyed the lively hospitality of this accomplished Courtier: and relished the days spent here more than almost any others he had passed with Burleigh. Another exalted Lawyer, of a very different character, came afterwards, (if my memory does not mislead me,) to the possession of this place by marriage. I mean the cruel and pedantic Chief Justice, Sir Edward Coke: a man of profound skill in technical Law; but of very revolting talents; and very unamiable, if not base, heart.
Ralph gained admittance into the house. All was now silence; solitude; and melancholy. He yet knew not where he was: but wandered through the rooms, muttering to himself; till a door opened; and at the further end of the apartment there met his eye a whole length portrait of Gersenda Cecil. He started back: he shrieked: he fainted.
He knew no more what became of him, till he again found himself wandering without a guide on a strange road, feverish, exhausted, despondent. Fatigue or decay of strength; or want, seemed suddenly to withdraw some of the clouds from his intellect. He had spent his last farthing; he was hungry; and thirsty, and houseless.
He sat upon a bank; his heart gave way to sorrow; and torrents of tears flowed down his cheeks. In this state a horseman, well mounted, and of a martial appearance, passing by him, seemed caught by his striking distress. He stopped; gazed; then went on a few paces; then returned.
"What ails you, my friend?" said he to Ralph. — Ralph found it difficult, to articulate an answer. "I cannot tell" answered he: "I know not where I am; nor whence I came!" — "You seem in distress!" continued the stranger. "I am indeed!" replied he. — "But how happens it? You seem to have belonged to a better condition of life!" — "I cannot tell: I cannot tell!" he paused; and beat his forehead: "oh, I recollect, that I have been ship-wrecked!"—
"Surely" exclaimed the cavalier, "I have seen you before! What is your name?"—
"Oh, I know not; I know not! I believe, that I have no name. What is in a name? A name would do me no good!" And then he sighed deeply. — "Ah; it has done me no good!"—
The stranger continued to fix his eyes intently upon him. At last he cried: "Were it not for the condition, in which I see you, I should say that your name was Willoughby! "
Ralph started. "Willoughby!" he repeated almost with a shriek: " it is some time since I have heard the sound! — it is a most unhappy one! but I begin to think myself, that that is the name!"
The stranger now perceived, that his memory was deranged: and he had no farther doubts that the person was Ralph Willoughby, with whom he had been well acquainted two or three years before.
The stranger was Sir John Norris, a celebrated Commander of this Reign, whose seat in Berkshire was near the spot, where he now found Ralph. He desired Ralph to take shelter in his house, which was not a quarter of a mile distant; and sent two of his servants to conduct him thither.
Gentle attentions; quiet; regimen, soon brought Ralph to his perfect senses; and he soon recognized in Sir John Norris an old, kind, and generous friend. He told him the history of his late misfortunes; and interested him deeply in his chequered and unfortunate lot!
Sir John Norris is one of those lucky characters, who have been immortalized by Spenser.
Spenser's roll of Dedications may be regarded as the truest mark of distinction and eminence in that very distinguished age. It is true, that there are many of rank and merit, whom he has omitted. But not one has he eulogized, who did not at that time make a very striking figure.
TO THE RIGHT NOBLE LORD, AND MOST VALIANT CAPTAIN, SIR JOHN NORRIS, KNIGHT, LORD PRESIDENT OF MUNSTER.
Who ever gave more honourable prize
To the sweet Muse, than did the martial crew,
That their brave deeds she might immortalize
In her shrill trump; and sound their praises due?
Who then ought more to favour her, than you,
Most noble Lord, the honour of this age,
And precedent of all, that arms ensue?
Whose warlike prowess, and manly courage,
Tempered with reason, and advisement sage,
Hath fill'd sad Belgic with victorious spoil;
In France and Ireland left a famous gage;
And lately shaked the Lusitanian soil.
Sith then each-where thou hast dispread thy fame,
Love him, that hath eternized your name.
There was nothing, which had more effect in restoring the soundness of Ralph's mind, and the chearfulness of his spirits, than the conversation which he found at the tables of those public characters, who could command a large establishment. Ralph excelled in conversation with men, whose minds were filled with important concerns. His faculties were invigorated by collision; and many lights thus broke upon him, that he would otherwise have missed. He had on these occasions a rapidity of language, that his pen could not have followed: and in composition the necessity of this mechanical labour would have lost many of his most brilliant effusions.
Sir John Norris, who had been more engaged in an active Profession, where the fatigues of the body leave less time for intellectual cultivation, listened to the vigour and velocity of his thoughts, and the extent and readiness of his knowlege with surprize and delight.
Ralph was enabled, without betraying any secrets, to give him a great deal of political information, at once new and useful to him.
Nor did many of the visitors at Sir John Norris's table listen with less interest to Ralph. He relieved the moralizing gravity of Samuel Daniel, and the minute prolixity of Michael Drayton, both of whom were at present visitors of this seat; and who, on the death of Spenser, succeeded, however unworthily, to some slight portion of his fame. The two pastoral poets, Nicolas Breton, and Dr. Thomas Lodge, were also here; and paid great deference to the genius of Ralph. [Author's note: "Samuel Daniel was a Moral, and Historical Poet. The most celebrated Poems of Michael Drayton are his long Topographical Poem, the Poly-Olbion; and his little spritely piece the Nymphidia. Some of Breton's short Lyrics are exquisite gems. A selection of Lodge's pieces, which were very rare, has been lately given to the public by Mr. Singer.]
But one man of high rank was also here; who had been one of Spenser's best Patrons in Ireland, where patronage was of the first importance to him. I mean the Earl of Ormond.
TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE, THE EARL OF ORMOND AND OSSORY.
Receive, most noble Lord, a simple taste
Of the wild fruit, which salvage soil hath bred:
Which, being through long wars left almost waste,
With brutish barbarism is overspread;
And in so fair a land, as may be read,
Not one Parnassus, nor one Helicon,
Left for sweet Muses to be harboured,
But where thyself hast thy brave mansion!
There indeed dwell fair Graces, many one;
And gentle Nymphs, delights of learned wits;
And in thy person, without paragon,
All goodly bounty, and true honour sits.
Such therefore, as that wasted soil doth yield,
Recieve, dear Lord, in worth the fruit of barren field.
I know not in what estimation the Ormonds hold this Sonnet. It is one of Spenser's best; and one of the most gratifying. They ought to consider it as one of the great glories of their illustrious and most ancient House, which has continued for so many centuries in Ireland, and in England among the highest ranks of nobility; and which shines with such splendor in the vivid colours of Lord Clarendon's pen.
Ralph accompanied Lord Ormond to London, where he again was thrown into the society of Raleigh. For Lord Ormond and Raleigh had had much business together in Ireland; and still kept up their connection.
Raleigh chided Ralph but chided him gently; for he was still resolved to win his confidence. Ralph's very reluctance to yield his understanding to him made the other yet more eager to vanquish it.
Lord Ormond smiled, when he saw the unexpected predominance, which Ralph held over this great and domineering genius. He observed, that it was not done by force, assumption, or insolence; that it was done without effort; or design; or even consciousness: that it arose from the force and naivete of a brilliant mind, indulgent to others; yet firm in its own convictions!—
But whatever courtesy and kindness Raleigh threw on Ralph at this time, much of its effect was lost upon him by his grief for the fate of Essex. The trial was over; and this unhappy Nobleman was condemned to death. There were those, who yet believed that mercy would be extended to him. The Queen's partiality to him was notorious. Her sorrow and pity for him betrayed themselves in the deepest melancholy.
It was said, that, contrary to the most marked characteristic of her mind and temper, she was wavering. Much now depended on the advice of those about her. The Party in Power were reported to be unfavourable to the fallen Favorite. But there were factions among them; and the Court was full of intrigue and treachery.
When Raleigh intimated opinions leaning to the policy and necessity of implacable punishment, Ralph looked so shocked, mingled with something of indignant anger, that the other percieving it, became more reserved on the subject. But Ralph was even horrified; and never afterwards had the same opinion of Raleigh.
Essex was now brought to the block. The Nation was bathed in tears; and followed the persecutors of this amiable and accomplished, yet not innocent, Peer, with curses.
I know not how such a positive act of rebellion as that of the Earl of Essex could have been forgiven. The Government, that could be lenient to such acts, could never stand. The fault was not in the punishment; but in the irritations, that gave cause to the offence. The cunning, and rascally, cold-blooded intriguers of the day, no doubt, took vantage of the irritability of Essex's imprudent temper to inflame him to acts of mad and ruinous resentment.
The Queen, when the dreadful act of justice was executed, sunk into irrecoverable despair. Her attachment to the Sufferer has excited surprize, and ridicule, and a thousand extravagant surmises. At the Queen's age, and with such a disparity of years, it is quite impossible it could have been a passion as absurd as love would have been under such circumstances. I know that there are stories of her turn for gallantry in her younger days: and I remember the tale about Lord Thomas Seymour, (the Admiral,) at Ashridge [Author's note: Since the seat of the Earls and Dukes of Bridgewater: lately rebuilt by the present Earl. It is in Hertfordshire; near Hemel-Hemsted or rather in Bucks] of which the gossipers are so fond. But I also remember what was the conduct of this illustrious Sovereign through a long and dangerous reign. I remember that she shewed that she had no private passions, which were the mistresses of her actions. Penetration; decision; grandeur, were the traits of her mind, and disposition. She was stern; but sternness was the quality, that made her ride triumphant through the political Ocean of those days, agitated by a thousand conflicting winds.
Ductility, doubt, want of self confidence, would have hurled her from the throne in a few months. The vast strength, and perpetual activity of the Catholics; the aid they received from almost every Foreign Power; the intrigues of the Queen, of Scotland, and her numerous adherents, never left a moment, that did not require talent, firmness, exertion, and magnanimity.
By the male line She was of a new race; of a name, that did not inspire awe among the old Nobility. Two of the great Houses of the Peerage were as nearly descended from The Plantagenets as herself; through the family of Brandon, who had married Mary, youngest sister of king Hen. VIII. the Stanleys and the Greys, who had carried their blood in marriage to the Seymours. [Author's note: The present Machioness of Buckingham, only child of the last Duke of Chandos, is the heir and representative of this line of Greys and Seymours.] These pretensions came in conflict with those of the throne of Scotland, descended from Margaret, Eldest sister of King Hen. VIII. Though Queen Elizabeth, as daughter of the Brother, may seem to modern readers to have unquestioned priority to these sisters, yet Henry's divorces, and his Will, as well as that of his son King Edw. VI. raised many questions in those days.
The young, accomplished, poetical, and amiable, Ferdinando Stanley, Earl of Derby, is supposed to have fallen a victim to poison, because he would not lend himself to the schemes of some of these intriguers. The unhappy destiny of the Queen of Scots must always draw deep commiseration from every feeling bosom. But it seems clear, that the throne of Elizabeth was not safe, while Mary lived. The conduct of the Duke of Norfolk; and his engagements with Mary, are a proof of this. [Author's note: Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, (son of Hen. Earl of Surry, the Poet,) suffered on the block for this conspiracy. The Dukedom of Norfolk was not restored till the Restoration of K. Charles II. The family, in the interval, bore the title of Earls of Arundel.]
I do not blame Queen Mary. Her intrigues were perhaps the natural consequence of her situation. The most doubtful part of her rival's behaviour was the reception of her into England under promises of protection, followed by making her a prisoner. An act so revolting to faith must he supposed to have arisen from State Secrets, which History has not yet revealed.
If Elizabeth possessed by nature an heart not made of melting materials, the course of trials to which it was exposed through a long and perilous life, would in the ordinary course augment its harshness. The direction of the supreme authority is too often but a choice of evils from day to day. The enjoyments that still press upon the senses; pomp; splendor; diversity; new cares; rest after fatigue; all efface momentary pain; revive animation; and freshen hope. But as old age comes on, these resources against difficulty and affliction fail. Then we see crimes, and cruelties, and harshnesses, in all their horrors.
The unhappy Queen now lost the elasticity of her great spirit. She spent the day and the night in tears and groans. She reproached those about her. There is a story of Lady Nottingham, the wife of the Lord Admiral (Howard, which as I relate from memory, I may tell imperfectly). It is said that the Queen in a moment of favour had given Essex a ring; and told him, if ever he was in disgrace, to produce to her that ring as the pledge of forgiveness. No ring had now been produced. After his death, Lady Nottingham confessed to the Queen that she had been employed as the messenger of this precious pledge; and implored forgiveness for having stopped it in its way. The Queen is reported to have said in an agony of grief at this treachery: "God may forgive you: — I never will!"