Willoughby finds himself unwillingly drawn into the contentions between Sir Robert Cecil and Sir Walter Raleigh. Raleigh has mysterious designs involving the naive and innocent Arabella Stuart, a relation of King James; Cecil is determined that Ralph should renounce Raleigh, which he is unwilling to do. Willoughby finds a willing pupil in Arabella, who responds warmly to his chivalrous ideas; "But how could Cecil comprehend this? When did he breathe the air of the country, but on stone terraces, and clipped funereal ever-green alleys; and strait formal gravel walks? What reading did he enjoy but a Secret State-paper?" p. 175. Cecil, who has no more comprehension of the poetical imagination than has father, grows increasingly suspicious of Ralph.
Willoughby is knighted by the new monarch, who admires Ralph's intellectual merits. But Raleigh is passed over, and grows increasingly indignant as he is cast under a cloud of suspicion. Ralph is distressed with the changes he observes at court: "he looked around him; and was astounded at the utter change, which had taken place in the whole fashion of the Court. Hitherto there had been a repulsive sort of ceremony: men could not break certain barriers: there were etiquettes, which now and then suppressed merit; and chilled pleasure: but how much oftener did they check presumption; and keep in awe vice!" p. 189.
Raleigh, Northumberland, Cobham, and Grey of Wilton, distressed at the corruption of court, form a cabal opposed to Cecil and his ambitions; Cecil applies to Ralph as a means of controlling Raleigh. Willoughby, disgusted by both parties, purchases a cottage in a remote village and resolves to put court concerns behind him. There he begins work on his memoirs, a set of moral essays, and a heroic poem. But his mind is troubled, and he has a prophetic vision of his own death at the hands of the executioner. Walking alone he encounters Raleigh, tired, ill, and requesting a lodging. Ralph grudgingly complies, but again refuses to be drawn into Raleigh's ambitious schemes, and is puzzled when Raleigh interrogates him about his neighbors.
Intrigues with the King of Scots now thickened in every quarter. The expecting Monarch, who prided himself upon his policy and wisdom, entertained separately the correspondence of every Faction; and thought himself the master-spring, who could move them all at his will. But while he thought himself the master of all, he was the dupe of all.
Ralph learned much of what was passing in the Palace of the dying Queen from his friend Sir Robert Carey, a younger son of the Lord Hunsdon, who afterwards the moment the last breath escaped from the Queen's lips stole secretly, and in defiance of orders, from the closed gates of the Court, took horse, and rode without rest to Scotland to be the first communicator of the tidings to the anxious Heir. He has given a curious account of this himself in his own Life under the name of Memoirs of the Earl of Monmouth, to which title he was afterwards raised.
He was of the Queen's blood by her mother, Anna Boleyn: and by her, his family, which were of ancient gentry in Devonshire, were raised to the Peerage.
Spenser has thus commemorated his Father.
TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE, THE LORD OF HUNSDON, HIGH CHAMBERLAIN TO HER MAJESTY.
Renowned Lord, that for your worthiness
And noble deeds have your reserved place
High in the favour of that Emperess,
The world's sole glory, and her sex's grace;
Here eke of right have you a worthy place,
Both for your nearness to that Fairy Queen,
And for your own high merit in like case;
Of which apparent proof was to be seen,
When that tumultuous rage, and fearful din
Of Northern Rebels ye did pacify;
And their disloyal power defaced clean,
The record of enduring memory.
Live, Lord, for ever in this lasting verse,
That all posterity thy honour may rehearse.
The poet has also celebrated a Lady of a name, which has been frequently confounded with this; but which, though of the same County, and of a race at least equally ancient, is totally different in its origin, and arms. I mean the name of "Carew": though generally pronounced the same as "Carey."
I cannot at present from memory exactly particularize the Lady, to whom this Sonnet is addressed: nor do I remember, whether Mr. Todd in his late Edition of Spenser has particularized her. I cannot believe her to be the Lady of genius, who was a dramatic writer, whose name, I think, was Carey. There is no allusion in Spenser's sonnet to this Lady's literary talents.
Another branch of the Careys were created by K. James I. Viscounts Falkland, of Scotland: and are memorable for having produced that beautiful character, whose portrait Lord Clarendon has laboured with so much fondness.
TO THE MOST, VIRTUOUS AND MOST BEAUTIFUL LADY, THE LADY CAREW.
Ne may I, without blot of endless blame,
You, fairest Lady, leave out of this place,
But with remembrance of your gracious name,
Wherewith that courtly girland most ye grace,
And deck the world, adorn these verses base:
Not that these few lines can in them comprise
Those glorious ornaments of heavenly grace.
Wherewith ye triumph over feeble eyes,
And in subdued hearts do tyrannize:
For thereunto doth need a golden quill,
And silver leaves, them rightly to devise:
But to make humble present of good will;
Which, when as timely means it purchase may,
In ampler wise itself will forth display.
From Sir Robert Carey's Memoirs a lively picture may be drawn of these times. The Queen was thrifty; and kept the Court poor. Its dependents lived almost entirely upon expectation. They were mistaken, if they hoped a golden harvest from the new Monarch: that was reserved for the favourites of his own nation.
From the moment that Essex was removed by the stroke of the axe, Sir Robert Cecil obtained the primary and uncounteracted influence over the Scotch King. He made some efforts to draw back Ralph Willoughby into his confidence: he was jealous of Raleigh's intimacy with him: and his cautious manner, now grown doubly cautious, and his increased care, (for Burleigh had now been some time dead, and the weight of public affairs lay on the shoulders of his son,) made him far more repugnant to the sympathy of Ralph, than he used to be.
Sir Robert had often found in Ralph a vivacity and eloquence, which were useful supplies of his own defects. Early intimacy made it less unpleasant to unbend with him than with any other. The rays of Ralph's mind often penetrated into those recesses, where Cecil could not see. The latter had thus opened to him prospects, which the nature of his own talents could not have commanded. There were certain sympathies, which he could not anticipate; and certain results of public measures, which he knew not clearly how to speculate upon.
In his conversations with Ralph he had accustomed himself to use a frankness, that his pride and reserve would not permit him to use with others. He drew Ralph into several meetings. Sometimes their conversation went on well for an hour together: then a word, a look, broke in upon it; and as if by a spell destroyed it. In truth, confidence once broken scarcely ever becomes entirely sound again.
Cecil would, if he could have ventured to be explicit, have made an effort to detach him entirely from Raleigh. But he dared not hazard even to Ralph the positive declaration that his professed friendship to Raleigh was not sincere. He was equally desirous to sift Ralph with regard to Raleigh's opinions and designs. But Ralph had accidentally been thrown into the confidence of such opposite parties, that, as his sense of honour was in the highest degree refined and active, his jealousy of a breach of faith was constantly on the alert; and as quick as lightning. Cecil therefore found that all his management availed nothing in effectuating either of the purposes, in which he was so desirous of succeeding.
Ralph now behaved with mere delicacy and principle, than worldly wisdom. He might easily have been restored to Cecil's favour. If he would but have given up Raleigh, whom Cecil little suspected how far he was from approving or loving, he might have possessed as mulch of the favour of the other, as that intriguing Statesman could give to any one.
Cecil's conversation was dark; and, whether designedly or not, perplexed: on some topics he was quite unintelligible to Ralph. He had an idea of something carrying on by Raleigh, of which Ralph knew nothing. He enquired anxiously of Ralph, if he was acquainted with the Cavendishes. Ralph told him that he knew them very slightly. The old Countess of Shrewsbury, the last wife of Earl George, to whose care Mary Queen of Scots was committed, had exalted her former husband Sir William Cavendish into vast wealth. One of her daughters had married the Earl of Lennox, the Uncle of King James, and was mother of the Lady Arabella Stuart. This unfortunate Princess was, among others, made the innocent instrument of some dark intrigues in this plotting age.
The old Countess had been one of the most singular characters of her day. Avaricious, ambitious, busy, intriguing, acute in worldly wisdom, ostentatious, splendid, imperious, she accumulated incredible wealth; set up three sons upon vast property: and enabled her second son to obtain an Earldom under the title of Devonshire; and her third to leave an estate to his son, which with his personal merits, and a Barony inherited from his mother, enabled him to acquire by creation the Dukedom of Newcastle.
The Countess married another of her daughters to her son-in-law, Gilbert the next Earl of Shrewsbury. This younger Countess was a mixture of folly and craziness: talkative, meddling, and indiscreet.
What mischief Cecil could fear from these characters it is not easy to guess. How poor Lady Arabella could be made use of, for any purposes that would endanger the State, we are at this day in the dark.
Cecil knew that Raleigh was discontented; and that he was as ambitious of honours, as he was of power. Raleigh, with Cecil, Sir Robert Sydney, and three or four others, had for some time been aspiring to a Peerage. In that reign a Peerage was very sparingly conferred. The Queen, I think, had only given it to St. John of Bletso, Buckhurst, Hunsdon, Compton, and Burleigh; in addition to a Summons to Lord Thomas Howard. The three first were her relations; and all except Burleigh who won it by laborious office, of prime quality among the ancient gentry of the Nation. Raleigh, though his race might be ancient, was certainly by descent not of this quality. It is true that he had pretensions of a much loftier kind: but these pretensions it was the fashion to reward in a different way. The personal history of these days proves, that there flourished at this time a great number of men, high in talent and virtue, who combined with them honourable descent and large estate. Yet these men never thought of a Peerage.
I do not blame Raleigh for this: I rather admire his unfettered spirit the more. His end was right, if he confined himself to legitimate means. But his desire was perhaps too intense, duly to weigh obstacles. He had prejudices, yet immovable as rocks, to contend with. Direct force, however great, could make no impression upon them. He resorted on this account to sapping and mining.
He saw, as if he was the master of its springs, the character of the expectant Monarch. He beheld all its subtleties; and all its weaknesses. He looked to the day, when he should be able to move its machinery as a puppet.
Cecil was fully aware of this: he never slept upon Raleigh's motions: he knew almost every movement; and he suspected much more than he knew; and sometimes imagined, what had not the slightest foundation. It was his present conviction that Raleigh was employing Ralph Willoughby to carry on a secret correspondence with Lady Arabella Stuart.
This he had partly inferred from a late conversation with Lord Cobham. The manner, in which this last silly Nobleman was in the habit of talking; his rambling, incoherent, contradictory, gossiping tongue; asserting and retracting; hinting, and denying, made it difficult for any one to come with clear ideas out of the labyrinth of his words. Cecil's cunning here misled him: he refined too much; and supposed design in what was wild inanity.
It has excited surprize, that Raleigh could connect himself with such a man as Lord Cobham. Raleigh may have had better reason than has been supposed. His first reason perhaps was the other's rank; and the influence he at that time possessed with the Queen. But with all this folly, often real, sometimes affected, Cobham had occasional flashes of bright ability. He was an intriguer; without restraint of conscience; and ready for whatever his desires led him to.
This eccentric combination of qualities was useful on many occasions to Raleigh. Whenever he wished any thing unsaid, all the blame of the former assertion was thrown on Cobham's unsteady tongue. His seeming openness often covered the deepest designs; and led those, who thought themselves wise into dangerous or absurd errors, when they believed themselves in possession of directing secrets.
Lady Arabella Stuart had seen little of the world. She had been principally a recluse; nursing solitary accomplishments amid books, and reflection. Her disposition was kind; and her heart tender. There had been a particular watchfulness, lest she should form an alliance with any of the great English Nobility. The Seymours, who had already allied themselves to royalty through the Greys, were supposed to be desirous of this marriage.
The younger Countess of Shrewsbury had introduced Ralph to this Heiress at one of the Shrewsbury residences. He pitied the state of restraint, in which she was brought up; and being attracted by a gentle pensive manner, and an intelligent style of conversation, he entered with interest into discussions with her, which she seemed to wish to prolong.
Had Ralph been vain, he would have been elated by the apparent favour she shewed to him. She complained of the miserable domestic feuds, to which she was a witness in the Shrewsbury family. Lady Shrewsbury's brother, Sir Charles Cavendish, and Lord Shrewsbury's brother Edward Talbot, had married sisters; (coheirs of the Lord Ogle;) yet this complicated alliance did not add to the harmony of Lord Shrewsbury with his brother, and heir presumptive, Mr. Talbot. Their dissentions were tremendous. The Cavendishes were looking to a Peerage through Arabella's influence, when James should ascend the throne.
Ralph, won by her frankness, communicated to her much of the character of the Court, and its chief actors, with which she was before unacquainted. She trembled at the thorns and precipices amid which she had lived; and among which she was yet condemned still more to live. There was a light and happiness in Ralph's manner, which conveyed to her with the utmost distinctness and vivacity the portraits of those, of whom he had occasion to speak.
She would have had his opinion of Cecil: but on this Ralph was reserved. He had the clearest view of Cecil's character himself; but a friendship recollected with regret, and not yet abandoned, made him consider it a breach of faith to open his real mind on the subject. He was doubly cautious, because he knew that Cecil was not very well inclined to the Lady Arabella.
The Capital again received Ralph in its dark air; and annoyed him with its dark political intrigues. A gloom overspread the Palace, and the City. Courtiers were hurrying in every quarter, with anxious and haggard looks; suspicious of each other; the disappointed expectants alone betrayed new hopes; and exhibited brightened countenances.
They, whose hopes were the most lively were the party, who had been disappointed of a Peerage in the Queen's last years, when they solicited it with repeated urgency: such at least of them, as were not in possession of those high offices of the State, which they had a natural care to retain; and of which the demise of the Crown might deprive them.
Ralph himself was among those whom gleams of hope sometimes visited. He had found the Queen relentless to his family: he admired her talents for Sovereignty; but the bitterness of individual suffering dimmed his views of her splendor: and brought perpetually before his reflection the unamiableness of her defects.
Yet, though he was willing to foster visions of interrupted hope, he always remembered the feeble character of her expectant successor. He was surprized at Raleigh's confidence. His deference to the experience of this vigorous-minded man made him doubt his own observations: but yet he could not utterly surrender thoughts which were perpetually returning upon him.
He had been indeed a little behind a curtain, within which Raleigh had not been admitted. He had drawn from Cecil's looks and tones, what Cecil would willingly have concealed; and had little suspicion that he had betrayed to him. But the searching power of genius pierces veils; and makes light out of darkness.
There was a calm certainty of future arrangements in all Cecil's speculations, vainly disguised, which made Ralph see, that he and the future Monarch of the English throne perfectly understood each other. If so, he said to himself, "Raleigh's fate is decided: Cecil will never 'bear such a brother near the throne' as Raleigh!"—
Had Ralph in one moment of ungenerous openness even given a hint of the defects he saw in Raleigh, he had secured the favour of Cecil; he had obtained a place in his heart, which would have done every thing but place him on an equality with himself. He half saw this: but such was his scorn of favour won by that which seemed to verge on perfidy, that he betrayed a warmth apparently uncalled for, whenever Cecil led to these topics.
Cecil deliberated long on these symptoms in the manner of Ralph. He had nothing within him, which taught him the emotions of generous indignation. The suspicion was confirmed in him, that he was Privy to some political secrets of Raleigh, too guilty to be betrayed.
He had had full intelligence of his long conversations with the Lady Arabella: but the subjects of those conversations were the fruits of imagination, not of accurate knowledge. And of what was Cecil's imagination composed? Not of matters of domestic life: not of the visions of poets; or the beautiful forms of the Creation: not of the nice shades in the conflicting characters of moral existence! — but of intrigues, and plots, and treasons! of schemes for power: of plans to supplant: of the robe of Office; and the day of ruin!—
It could not enter his thought, that a woman of Lady Arabella's birth could entertain any plans but of political exaltation. She prayed but for love; content; and safety! She envied the peasant girl, who breathed the free air in the fields and woods; the mistress of her own actions; and her own heart! — Ralph read poetry to her: her fancy listened; and her soul glowed; till she was almost spiritualized!
But how could Cecil comprehend this? When did he breathe the air of the country, but on stone terraces, and clipped funereal ever-green alleys; and strait formal gravel walks? What reading did he enjoy but a Secret State-paper? And then for content! where did he ever taste it, but in the exclusive possession of place, power, and emolument?
Ralph mentioned to him the character of Lady Arabella's mind, and disposition. Cecil smiled incredulously. Ralph persisted. Cecil thought it was an attempt to mislead him; and grew more suspicious. He said to him one day: "You have talents for business, Willoughby! I cannot conceive, how you can throw them away on the empty pursuits, on which you waste so much time! When a person can find nothing better to do, he may amuse himself by describing the charms and beauties of rural peace, and exercise his ingenuity in praising the primrose, and the violet. But you have been initiated in the mysteries of public business; you have shewn yourself fit for the management of it: this is a strange return to childishness, that I cannot reconcile to the energy, and manliness of character, which I have always observed in you! — As to the great Lady, with whose instruction you have charged yourself, I know women too well to be deceived into the supposition that they can be sincere in the love of privacy and solitude! It may answer your purpose, Ralph, to talk so to her: — it may be a mode of winding yourself into her heart! It is, my friend, the secret way you take to arrive at a Palace! It is the end only, that consecrates the road! There is nothing of pleasure in the path itself!" — Ralph reddened with anger; and then smothered it in a smile of involuntary contempt.
"Ah! Ralph!" exclaimed Cecil with half-suppressed bitterness, mingled with triumph at a supposed discovery; "ah, Ralph! Nature, I see, will out. These poetical fancies then are but flowers to cover your ambition! Will they cover the snake's head, however closely it rolls itself in the grass?"
Ralph was so utterly astonished by this harangue, that he lost his usual presence of mind; and sat silent. This unlucky silence still added to Cecil's suspicions.
The Queen grew worse. Her hour came; and Death released her from the cares of a Crown grown too heavy for her strength. All flocked towards Scotland, to pay their adorations to the rising Sun. The crowds, that attended the new Monarch to the English Capital, were like a moving population of Nobles and Gentry and Placemen. Queen Elizabeth had been very sparing even of the honour of Knighthood. James lavished it even on the most obscure aspirants.
Ralph Willoughby could not so far neglect his fortunes as to omit attending this cavalcade. The King sought out men of genius and literature. He had just conferred the honour on SIR JOHN DAVIS, the celebrated Poet and Lawyer [Author's note: Author of the celebrated mataphysical poem, Nosce Teipsum]: he almost immediately afterwards called for Ralph Willoughby; and Knighted him, almost before he guessed what the Sovereign was about to do.
Sir Ralph felt little gratification from this honour, which had been already laid on so many obscure and imbecile heads. But he was flattered by the conversation, which James chose to hold with him. The Monarch knew his literary propensities; and praised his talents and acquirements.
Sir Ralph thought that Cecil might have taken the pains to have introduced him: but Cecil was that morning absent from the Court. Indeed Cecil had much to do: for the new Monarch committed the whole weight of public affairs to him, as Willoughby had predicted would be the case
The whole system was now changed. The King was as profuse in every thing, as the Queen had been sparing. Cecil, the Lord Chancellor Egerton; Sir Robert Sydney; Sir Edward Wotton, (elder brother of Sir Henry;) Sir Francis Knowlys; Sir William Cavendish; Arundel of Wardour; and others, were raised to the Peerage.
Raleigh was omitted in this list; Raleigh, who had aspired to this honour, in the late thrifty and severe reign, when some of the others had not presumed so high.
Raleigh was indignant. He though he perceived King James's countenance grow every day more clouded towards him. He consulted with Cobham, Northumberland, and Grey of Wilton, who all thought that they perceived the same.
Raleigh now expressed to Sir Ralph Willoughby his suspicions of the new Lord Cecil. The other was impenetrably silent; but this silence did not lessen the fears, which had thus been taken up. At length Raleigh asked Willoughby in direct terms his opinion of Cecil's friendship to him. Willoughby could no longer evade. He answered: "Judging from public appearances only, cannot suppose him to he your friend!" Raleigh started; struck his forehead; and appeared in an agony. He exclaimed, as if unable to restrain the secret movement of his heart: "for what have I destroyed my peace of mind! To destroy my protector: my defence! to rid my oppressor of the only obstacle, to his cruel despotism! Down, proud heart! afflict thyself! thou deservest it!"—
His face was convulsed: he paused: and then a big tear or two rolled down his hard, war-worn face; and he was calmer. Never before had Willoughby seen the great soul of this magnanimous man subdued.
Willoughby was overcome by this unexpected sight. Expressions of anger and resentment would not have touched him. He told Raleigh to call up those gigantic talents which belonged to him. He said: "Stoop not to circumstances: rely not on favour, and management: man's favour cannot be commanded: envy and interest interrupt it: when most we want it, it always most flies us!"—
"But" said Raleigh with a softened sigh, and humility which Willoughby had, never before witnessed; "can we do without favour and management? I would do without it, if I could! You know my proud heart. I fear — you know it too well!"
"It must not he crushed! It must be passed and overlooked!" cried Willoughby. — Raleigh turned pale.
"Crushed" repeated he "Crushed! why, I have courted this ungrateful man! not attempted to crush him!" "To crush, is always wrong; and often impossible!" answered Ralph: "but neither is courting the way to succeed!" "By Heaven" exlaimed Raleigh, "you have a noble spirit! You burst with a new light upon me!" — And then he paused: and trembled — "Alas, I fear it is too late!"—
"But why depend on Cecil?" continued Ralph: "his talents are not equal to yours!" "I have depended on him too much," said Raleigh with a groan; "his mind is as crooked, as his body."—
"Depend not on him then! win by your sword! command by your genius! bend circumstances to your will! crouch not beneath them! leave courts and intrigues to themselves; and believe that all they can give is not worth a quarter of the debasing price that it costs!"
Raleigh shuddered. "Accursed, most accursed chains!" cried he in an agony: "Would that I was like thee, Willoughby!"—
Ralph was glad to terminate this painful conversation. It increased a suspicion he had long entertained, that Raleigh had in some way put himself imprudently at the mercy of Cecil. He was astonished, that with Raleigh's insight into human nature, he had not better calculated upon Cecil's character.
Raleigh had not a very kind opinion of the human heart. It must have been among strong and obvious improbabilities even in the opinion of the most benevolent estimators of human morals, that Cecil could ever voluntarily admit Raleigh into a near participation of power. Minor talents are always jealous, monopolizing, intriguing, covert, perfidious; and safe only under the weapons of artifice.
Willoughby did not yet think his own fortune at Court desperate. He gave occasional attendance there; and sometimes received smiles from the Monarch. The Earl of Southampton, who had been released from the imprisonment to which he had been condemned in the late reign for the share he had in Essex's Insurrection, remembering the partiality entertained for him by his late lamented friend, was more especially anxious to bring him under the King's favourable notice.
Cecil's behaviour to him was so capricious, that he was unwilling to expose himself to its uncertainties. Sometimes this Statesman, now growing greater every day, seemed ready even to solicit a return of Sir Ralph's familiarity and confidence: but then, when he had been seen a day in the company of Southampton or Raleigh, he grew cold, or insolent, and fierce, and taunting. Sir Ralph was not of a temper to bear these provoking changes. He returned fierceness for fierceness; and taunt for taunt. Lord Cecil, surprized to find the other neither dazzled by his new splendor, nor daunted by his new power, became alternately resentful and overawed.
At one time he recommended to the Monarch to promote this old friend: at another, he undid his own recommendation by sly hints, which he knew to he best calculated to poison the pusillanimous Sovereign's morbid mind.
His sister Gersenda Cecil had been long married to the son of a rich City Knight, whom she despised, and hated. An endeavour was made to reconcile her to her husband, by a promise to raise him, base as his birth was, to the Peerage, now become prostituted by one or two mercantile advancements of a similar sort. But Gersenda had not forgot her old predilection; and she was anxious once more to admit Sir Ralph Willoughby to her favour.
He turned with horror from these flagitious advances. It was only from the belief, long since vanished, of an unsophisticated, and honourable affection, that he could ever find any charms in her. She came full smiling to the Court, decked in her pearls and diamonds: she looked around, her for admiration: she cast a triumphant glance on Sir Ralph Willoughby! He started: "Where is it" he said to himself, "that I could have, seen her as I now see her?" The impression of the picture at Stoke was before him: but he was not aware of the circumstance. His journey from Cornwall was a blank in his mind.
With eyes and ears extraordinarily acute, he looked around him; and was astounded at the utter change, which had taken place in the whole fashion of the Court. Hitherto there had been a repulsive sort of ceremony: men could not break certain barriers: there were etiquettes, which now and then suppressed merit; and chilled pleasure: but how much oftener did they check presumption; and keep in awe vice!—
The new Monarch's Court was a Court of licentiousness and anarchy: not because he was wanting in the most exaggerated ideas of the kingly power: but because he thought that power omnipotent, and capable of conferring greatness on insignificance; and strength on inanity.
In the former reign, that part of the minor gentry, whom arrogance and conceited self-importance would have urged, if they had dared, to obtrude into higher spheres, were kept in such check, that they seldom overleapt, or attempted to overleap, the barrier. Now and then, vast wealth, aided by other fortunate circumstances, did overleap it: but it was a phoenomenon. The new Monarch had no tact on this subject; he did not know the old from the new families. The moment that Wealth was admitted to be the criterion, some of the meanest rose over many of the most illustrious Houses.
In a Commercial Country, above all others, the predominance of mere Wealth must be kept in check. The mean qualities, by which it may always be obtained; not to speak of the turpitude, by which it too generally is obtained; render this necessary.
Every thing now proceeded in a rapid course of deterioration. Fine dress, handsome persons, buffoonery: splendor to the eye; coarseness to the understanding; and coarseness in the manners; trifling; dissolute amusements; uncalculated expence! — Cecil was content to let the Court go its own way, if it but gave up to his command the reins of government. Lord Ellesmere presided with unshaken integrity and wisdom over the Law; and corrected its harshnesses by an enlightened spirit of Equity. Burkhurst, now become Earl of Dorset, had anxious and perilous work to manage the Treasury.
Raleigh, neglected, discontented, and glad to find occasion of censure, indulged in vehement harangues against a system of administration, which outraged with such ignorant blindness those great principles of State and political economy, into which his presaging genius saw so clearly long before others. He was glad to throw the blame on Cecil: but Cecil saw it with sufficient disapprobation; though not in the clear light, in which it was beheld by Raleigh. He had not the power to stop the influx of this tide of stupid wastefulness. His fault was in his reckless ambition: in retaining that power, which he could not conduct according to his own judgement.
Raleigh, Northumberland, Cobham, Grey of Wilton, and others met frequently to complain of grievances, and give vent to their spleen. Sir Ralph Willoughby reasoned with Raleigh; and endeavoured to moderate his vehemence; and to exculpate Lord Cecil from many of the faults, with which his shoulders were unjustly loaded. But Raleigh's threats of vengeance were not to he suppressed.
Lord Cecil was now created Earl of Salisbury. This made Raleigh's rage, boil afresh. "Leave the little man to himself, my illustrious friend!" said Willoughby: "it is only by contending with him, that you will be foiled! Overlook him; pass him; leave him behind: go your own great way; and the game is yours!" — Raleigh sighed; and trembled he clasped Willoughby's hand: "if I had had," (he answered,) "such an adviser as you, a few, very few years ago, I had not known this afflicting trial of my spirit!"—
"The world is yet all before you!" Sir Ralph went on in a tone of generous and noble consolation: "never yet was it in the power of one man to suppress the genius of another, but by that other's own fault!"
"Ah, fault!" replied Raleigh: "had I had but half your sublime simplicity of heart and understanding, I had been saved!"
This conversation had passed between them, when by themselves. Before others, Raleigh still kept up his dignity: and his appearance of an undaunted mind!
The Earl of Salisbury had not yet entirely abandoned Willoughby. He kept a strict eye upon all his movements: he well knew every interview between him and Raleigh: he even obtained communications of parts of their conversations. Part of the last very memorable advice given by him to Raleigh had been overheard, and repeated to this inquisitive and anxious Minister.
Salisbury deliberated in what manner to treat the subject of this intelligence. He still thought Willoughby too valuable a coadjutor to be lost! He thought the advice tended to urge Raleigh to the adventures of sea-voyages: and to this he had no objection.
Not all his full possession of power could quiet his dread of Raleigh's ascendant talents. Nor did he less dread his undaunted spirit; and his scornful disregard of slight or common obstacles. Deeply versed himself in the obliquities of human nature, always suspicious, and believing that outward appearances were not for a moment to be relied upon; he had not such confidence in the continuance of the Monarch's favour as to be sure that he was yet safe from Raleigh's direct talents.
He saw with uneasiness, grief, and a mixture of suppressed indignation and scorn, the Monarch's numerous weaknesses, foibles and faults. These would put him at the mercy of Raleigh, if Raleigh could once find a familiar approach to him. But even the King's best qualities, (for he had some endowments of mind) would increase the force of Raleigh's facility to get a mastery over his spirit. He now conceived the design of using Willoughby as a counter-balance to Raleigh. He had sufficient penetration and judgement to appreciate the full strength and brilliance of Willoughby's endowments. He had also learned that to him Raleigh himself yielded an unaccountable deference.
The interviews with Willoughby which he procured in pursuance of this scheme, were not at all satisfactory. Willoughby had lost all relics of confidence in Salisbury: he suspected that it was the other's plan to entrap him into a breach of Raleigh's confidence. This failure confirmed the suspicions, and redoubled the hatred, of both.
Willoughby was now more weary of the new Court, than he had been of the old. Raleigh would have made him a confidential member of all his discontented cabals: but they were irksome, and even disgusting to him.
He had lately received from abroad a scanty pittance of his poor share of the miserable wreck of his father Lord Uffington's fortunes. With this he resolved to retire to a cottage in the country; and bury himself in solitude for the remainder of his life. He chose his spot; and communicated to no one its position.
It was a scattered hamlet, of half a dozen houses, about a mile from the village where was placed the parish church. All the inhabitants were woodmen, except one: this last was a shepherd. Sir Ralph hired the whole cottage; and expended a small sum in adding a few conveniences to those which the humbler ranks of life required.
The first week of escape from the torment of the passions and cares by which he had been lately assailed, was Elisium to him. When the pure air of the country adds novelty to its refreshing powers; when the silence of all around sits with the charm of peace upon the bosom; when the beauty of every form of Nature, opposed to the vapid, factitious, nauseating combinations of man in congregated habitations, bursts upon the delighted senses; when the heart breathes freely again, and the blood runs in kindly currents through the veins; how the soul exults at its liberation! how the mind glows at its recovered existence! how joyful is every thought, except that, which regrets the time that has been lost.
A little garden surrounded his small dwelling. He began to till it with his own hands. Vegetation was in its first burst: the young leaves shone in the dew of the most brilliant emerald: the first simple flowers of the Spring opened with exquisite perfumes upon the humble beds.
He said to himself: "at how moderate price; and how free from the counterbalances of vice and temptation, is to be had all of real enjoyment that life can give! It is accursed ambition, that leads us astray: that sin, which must have been the inheritance of Adam's Fall! Air; exercise; light labour; rest; free thoughts; the scenery of this beautiful face of things; the change of seasons; the succession of day and night; the dawn; the meridian; the twilight; all, when undebased by man's passions and crimes, confer unalloyed enjoyment! There are moments when I look back on the long line of my illustrious ancestors with satisfaction! But when I consider that to this descent I may attribute the impulse by which I have been carried into that career of perilous and sophisticated society, which has been my torment and my ruin, how strongly am I disposed to wish that my birth had been obscure; and that my lot had fallen in the abodes of humble and contented competence!
"If we believe that man is exalted in proportion to the intellectual part of his enjoyment, why do we seek those haunts where it is most fettered and oppressed? Are Courts the places where Fancy expands her wings; and visions of ideal pleasure visit us? Are crowded masses of corrupt and irritated Man, where all the fury of the greater, and all the turpitude of the petty passions, are in frightful conflict, are these the spots, where the Mind can elevate, or invigorate her exertions? I have been contending with those, whose defects were their sure means of success; whose stupidity was their protection; and whose baseness was their guide! What have I gained? I have lost the time, that would have led to excellence in the path, for which Nature fitted me. I have been employed, at the cost of care, suffering, danger, in a line where I have gained nothing: but have been loaded with insult, disgrace, and bitterness! "It is past! — the dream is vanished! But alas, it is not as if it had never been! I feel too painfully that it has left its traces behind it! I cannot efface from my memory a thousand galling looks and words and observations! The glow of which my imagination creates, is clouded by the obtrusive presence of the sable figures, which my experience has encountered! My philanthropy is chilled; my hope is palsied: I say to myself, 'these pictures, how beautiful they are! but, alas, how my heart sinks, at the reflection that they are not true!'—
"Why does Providence confer upon us a Being so full of inconsistencies! Why are our visions so beautiful; why is our conduct so imperfect, so sensual, so base? Why do we delight to contemplate the rural peasant so innocent, so simple, so contented, and so, happy! and why are we destined to find him so coarse, so sensual, so stupid, and so heartless?"
Willoughby soon became sensible that solitude had its evils. A wounded mind cannot always be safely left to its own reflections. The pain of intensity is sometimes more dangerous than the pain of interruption. He could only find relief in the variety of his mental occupations. He commenced the outline of a long Heroic Poem; he began a set of Moral Essays; and he formed the plan, and made the first attempt, of a Memoir of his Own Time. In the last he resolved to draw sketches of character with a frank but candid hand; yet so much to the life as to preclude their appearance, before the public in his own days. He never lived to finish these Memoirs.
Sometimes he found his intellectual tasks occupy too much of his time and care; and exercise under the open sky, which could alone obtain for him a continuation of enjoyment in his present dwelling, became neglected, or postponed.
Some uneasiness arose at a suspicion that his retreat had been traced. There was brought to him a most mysterious, anonymous letter, to which at first he could in no part affix any distinct meaning. The writing was of a disguised hand. Willoughby repeatedly examined it, because he thought the forms of some of the letters were familiar to him. At last he recollected some Manuscript in his possession, which it, seemed to resemble. It was a letter of the illustrious, but unhappy, Sir Francis Bacon.
This enlightened lawyer, and wonderful genius, was a first cousin of the Earl of Salisbury; to whom he yet owed little favour; and nothing of his elevation. He had indeed been a partizan of Essex; against whom, with a grievous reproach to our fallen natures, he pleaded with earnestness at his fatal Trial.
I must not attempt the character of Bacon. It has been the subject of a thousand pens. Willoughby admired his gigantic talents; and lamented with dejection of heart his numerous weaknesses.
He shuddered, when he reflected upon the letter he had now received. Sometimes he imagined it to contain dark advice; and that it warned him against implicating himself in dangerous designs by a Party, that seemed to point at Raleigh, as their chief. Sometimes he suspected it to be a trap to furnish evidence against him on a future occasion. It was his prevalent opinion, that it was a snare laid for him by Salisbury.
He employed four excruciating hours of a beautiful morning in deliberating on this mysterious subject. When reflection could nor longer avail him; when his mind became a chaos of perplexities, he threw the letter in indignation into his drawer; seized his hat; and walked and ran with an hurried and almost breathless pace, till he was exhausted. He had passed he knew not whither; he was in the depth of a thick and apparently interminable wood, when the song of a melodious human voice sounded from a distance. His heart was cheered; he paced slowly; and recovered his breath.
At length, at a distant point of the long vista before him, a small break let in the light of the sky. He hastened to it. The opening was on the brow of a hill, which commanded a glimpse of the blue Ocean; and on the cliffs, which overhung it, of a mighty Castle raising its massy towers in the dim air.
He stopped: "O beautiful and majestic scenes of Nature!" he exclaimed: "Ye are the only balm for the tumults of the heart! Vile intrigues! horrible conspiracies of man, that disfigure you; and let loose the demons of Malice and Fury to lay waste the enchanting charms of this material globe! Blow upon, me, ye winds! exalt my ear, ye zephyrs to listen to the harmony of the spheres!"—
He ran along the brow: descended the valley; and mounting another hill, beheld the blue sea more gloriously: and the white cliffs of rival France glittering dimly in the faint horizon.
He now vowed an eternal farewell to the world: and resolved most earnestly never again to quit the grandeur of nature in her Solitude for the restless and wicked abodes of Man!
It was not till Night closed round him, that he returned to his cottage. He had brought a few books with him. He took up the Poems of a Friend; and his eye was attracted by the following:
SONNET ON SOLITUDE
To sit, and listen, while the lulling wind
Sounds its lugubrious tones along the sky:
To hear each battlement with mournful cry
Give back the shrill lament, appals the mind,
Which is not to sublimer thoughts assign'd:
But he, who fancies he is lifted high,
A prelude of celestial strains to try,
Can joy in these soul-moving murmurs find!
A mental Being it does ill beseem
To shun reflection; and to live in crowds,
Lest thoughts, like ghosts, should trouble and affright!
Yet are men wont this solitude to deem
An evil, which the light of life enshrouds;
And covers day with sadness, and with night!
It is vain! We may fly to the deepest solitudes: but our Fate pursues us! We are many of us born to misfortune and misery, for causes inscrutable to our limited faculties! for faults not our own! from destinies, which virtue cannot overcome!
Willoughby passed a most agitated night! Frightful dreams succeeded each other. He waked: he strove to break their train: when he closed his eyes again, new horrors of gigantic form rose in troops upon his fancy. He imagined he was dragged to the scaffold; fiends tied his hand, and held him to the block: the cruel axe fell: his head was severed from his body: it rolled in its gore, when the form of his Father burst upon the Stage; and caught it in his mantle. He shrieked so loud, that the peasant, who waited on him, came into his room. The big drops stood upon his face. He trembled in every limb. He could no longer trust himself to sleep.
He rose: He procured a candle: he took a book; and endeavoured to read. The stillness of Night was now oppressive to his appalled heart. He endeavoured to soothe his mind by a resort to the Muse: and made the rash attempt to charm away his horror by describing it.
FRAGMENT. TO LIGHT.
It was a night
Of Horror. The blest Moon
Refused her influence boon;
And birds and beasts stood motionless with fright.
Black as a pall while Darkness hung
Unmingled with a ray
Of arrowy grey,
A breath-exhausting weight on Nature's form she flung.
Thou thrice-blest Beam!
Whether in gold unshorn,
Or with the dawn of Morn,
Or silvery from the Moon thy radiance stream;
Or from the Star, that vapours veil,
Faint coruscations break
The gloomy flake;
I bend th' adoring knee, thy gifts of life to hail!
He now found himself so much exhausted that he could not continue this sort of mental occupation.
He watched the dawn of light: and when the morning came, found comfort in its protection. While the dews were yet heavy upon the ground, and enveloped the new sprung vegetation, he went forth to breathe the freshness, and wade through the retiring vapours. He took his way along the principal lane that led to the hamlet. At the distance of a quarter of a mile, the lane emerged upon a down: the mists yet threw all around him into invisibility: the bell of the sheep was heard almost close to him, when not a glimpse of them was to be seen: every sound travelled through this grey veil as if it was conveyed by it with greater distinctness. The interrupted voices of the early villagers; the tinkle of the harness of the team going to their work; the first screak of the plough; the cheer of the woodmen in the salute of their first meeting; the whirl of the village bucket at its earliest labour; — every rural sound, now came with a sort of musical clearness on Willoughby's ear.
At length he heard the tread of a horse or rather two horses, moving with an activity unlike the sluggish pace of the cattle of husbandmen. At first he supposed them to be sportsmen. The sounds rapidly approached: in an instant a voice saluted him. It was Sir Walter Raleigh! "So, I have found you out, Willoughby!" said he. "I am come for a day, or two, to partake of your solitude! I should have been with you last night: but I lost my way! I spent three hours, till the dawn, under a lone shed, in the valley, on the other side of yonder hill!"—
Willoughby had never before beheld Raleigh with so much repugnance: He returned his salute so coldly, that he was afraid that Raleigh perceived it. He was sure that this deep man did not come for nothing: that he had some secret object, not unimportant: He said with an affectation of gaiety: "Really, Sir Walter, I thought that I had found a retreat, which even you could not penetrate!" — "Well" answered Raleigh; affecting good humour in return — "the reception must be welcome, in proportion to the difficulty of the task!"—
"And where," he continued; "is this seductive spot of ease and quiet and content? If it is not near, I must yet lay up my bones under the trunk of the stunted tree that we are approaching: for I assure you, I am very weary with my night's journey!—"
"The fogs are dispersing," replied Willoughby; "and you will soon see the smoke of the hamlet under the brow of yonder wood!" — Raleigh's countenance revived: for he had looked pale and exhausted.
When they reached Willoughby's abode, his visitor, after a slight refreshment, surrendered himself to a profound sleep of several hours. Meantime the mind of Willoughby was perplexed by conjectures. He was irritated, chagrined, and overcome with gloom at this intrusion. It had followed a most feverish, and presageful night. He said to himself: "here is an end of my dream of rural obscurity and safety! I had better commit myself to the mercy of the tide; and let it carry me where it will!"
Raleigh waked. It was an anxious day: the conversation was guarded on both sides. Raleigh's affected ease; his praises of the quiet around him; his equivocal commendations of Willoughby's taste for solitude; his dark and intricate and profoundly-laboured arguments, all betrayed that something was behind, different from that which was upon the surface.
Lord Cobham had a brother, engaged in the same politics with himself. Willoughby had always avoided him. Of this man Raleigh now talked with so much earnestness; and so many commendations; that the other suspected he had some purpose in this attempt to alter his opinion of him.
It was impossible for a man of vigorous ability to be long in Raleigh's company without being charmed; even against his will. His views were so grand; his knowledge so extensive and so ready; his decisions so acute and so firm; his language so striking, and so original; and his illustrations so happy, that he kept the attention chained; and while he gave every faculty its share of employ, allowed the listener no leisure to recover from the repetition of their effects.
There were in the Court at this time certain mysterious movements, that kept Salisbury in the most painful anxiety. The Catholics were grievously disappointed at the System adopted by the new Monarch. His pusillanimity, which had separately given encouragement to every Faction had raised the hopes of this powerful Body to a fearful height. The plot, which was to have exploded under the conduct of Guy Fawkes, was extensively spread; and many families in the country, of no mean quality, were supposed to be connected with it.
Raleigh seemed anxious to dwell upon the working of these dangerous elements; and sometimes entered into details which Willoughby was little desirous to hear. In the evening, exhausted at last with the tale of a succession of intrigues far beyond even what he had ever hitherto suspected, he said fretfully: "if I could before waver in my resolution of retirement, all I have now heard would irrevocably confirm me!"—
Raleigh perceived that he had gone too far. But this was not the time to redeem it. Rest was necessary for both; and they retired to their beds.
In the morning Raleigh took advantage of Willoughby's want of an horse; and rode out by himself, under pretence of exploring the country: He was absent till twilight; and on his return pretended that he had again mistaken his road. There was however so much self-complacence in his manner, that his host was sure something had occurred which had given him satisfaction. There is a fever in minds accustomed to action beyond the middle age, which cannot be allayed. Rest is death to them; they require violence of motion; or they stop.
No two men of talent well-inclined to each other could have carried on conversations more uneasy and oblique than those, which now took place between the host and his guest for the remainder of this, and the following day. Each would have penetrated into the other's purposes, if he could. Willoughby had not a clue to what Raleigh was about. In this solitary spot he saw no path for the intrigues of ambition. He believed that Raleigh's pastoral taste had ceased with his youth!—
Raleigh enquired with some curiosity about his neighbours. He seemed incredulous when the other assured him, that he knew of none: and smiled, as if with a doubting contempt, when he added that such knowledge would have been no recommendation to his choice.
On all subjects of active life Willoughby expressed his abhorrence in terms so resolute, that the other, as often as he touched on the subject, was necessitated again to abandon it. On the fourth day Raleigh departed; apparently as little himself satisfied as he left his host. Willoughby now gave himself up to the most anxious musings. He lamented that he had ever been acquainted with Raleigh. All his resolutions for the plans of his future life, to which he had brought himself peacefully and convincingly, after many temporary doubts and scruples, were disturbed. To continue this retirement without enjoying the good of it, was quite folly. If he could not be secure from intrusions of this sort, he failed in his first object.