After Raleigh's departure, Willougby finds it difficult to resume work on his poem, called "Altheadora." Its design suggests the chivalric bent of Spenserian poetry: "a Female shall be born, who after a childhood of privacy, shall grow up with all imaginable charms of mind, heart, and person: and shall, if properly applied to, be ready to win and ascend the throne; restore the national manners, and character; and place the realm on the pinnacle of glory. The whole noble youth of the country, burning with ambition to obtain her favour, are stimulated by their admiration and love to the noblest achievements of prowess and generosity" pp. 230-31. The poem is to be only occasionally allegorical, less in the manner of Spenser than of Thomas Sackville's Mirrour for Magistrates.
Taking a longer walk than usual, Willoughby meets with Lady Arabella Stuart, who has, unbeknownst to Ralph, been living nearby. Raleigh had been to visit Arabella, but she could make nothing of his dark conversations. Ralph, recognizing the dangers of the situation, warns Arabella to be on her guard. Fearing espionage, he quickly retires, only to discover an allegorical letter from Raleigh waiting for him at home. He tries unsuccessfully to decode the court references. Soon afterwards, a letter from Arabella arrives, begging Willoughby to visit her and give her relief from her handlers; he refuses to come. A letter from someone in Burleigh's office next arrives, informing him that Raleigh and his accomplises have been accused of treason and committed to the Tower.
Raleigh is put on trial, and in the course of fashioning alibies, calls upon Willoughby as a witness. Willoughby is then unintentionally compromised in the eyes of Cecil and Raleigh's opponents. Raleigh is convicted, though he emerges from the trial a national hero. Willoughby returns to his cottage, only to receive warning that evidence was being collected against him. He is soon arrested and his papers searched. Willoughby is accused no only of participating in Raleigh's plots, but of seeking to wed Arabella, and of plotting to restore his family by overthrowing the government. At his trial, Ralph is undone by spies, fabricated evidence, and misconstructions of his own writings, including the design of his "Altheadora." With his fervent rhetoric, Ralph is able to move the sympathies of the spectators, but not the jurors, and he is convicted of treason and sentenced to death.
Ralph's penultimate, defiant speech anticipates the biography Brydges has in fact written: ""My pen may be suppressed ... its traces, I know, are already doomed to destruction; and the hand, that has guided it, is destined to be stopped from a continuation of its memorials by a cruel and undeserved death! It will not avail! The day will arrive, when the truth shall be told; even though it be at the distance of two hundred years! Some tender Spirit at length shall catch my flame! My mantle shall descend upon him! He shall tell, what I am not permitted to tell" p. 285.
Solitude is only good, when it can enable us to forget the world, and its passions. This perpetual irritation; this constant re-opening of the wound, at the moment it is healed, is of all things the most provoking.
While he reflected upon Raleigh's undiminished ambition, he wondered that the vanity of the objects, for which he was sacrificing so much, never seemed to occur to him. He thought, as Gray afterwards thought:
"What is, Grandeur; what is Power?
Heavier toil; superior pain!
What the bright reward we gain?
The grateful memory of the good."
Then how can Power bought at the expence of conscience recompence the price?
His musings on the propensities and destinies of human nature were now both intense and painful. If he had wanted other proof that this state of existence is but a part of our Being, he would have derived it from the inequality of our endowments corporeal and mental, and the inequality of the dispensation of good and evil with reference to the good or evil of our conduct. He might have his frailties: he was aware that dark thoughts and dark passions sometimes crossed his brain, and his heart. But without conceit or arrogance he could not but be conscious, that, taking the whole tenor of his life, even from childhood, he had been mainly directed by the most noble impulses, and most virtuous affections: that his fault, as far the world was concerned, lay in dreams of impossible goodness: that he had a poet's visions in all his hopes; and a poet's fancy in all his thoughts of others: that while others disguised the secret movements of their bosoms by false representations of virtue and refinement which they felt not, he, to avoid ridicule, concealed the pure and sublime and generous emotions, which overflowed in his heart.
In addition to other arguments in favour of the Solitude he had now embraced, he had had sufficient experience to be convinced, that all the pleasures of an Human Being, endowed with the higher order of talents, lie in speculation. It is the spiritual part of his nature alone, which is capable of satisfactory enjoyment. It is the hope; and the retrospect. The moment of possession is vanity.
"The common air, the sun; the skies:" those prospects of the material world, that delight our senses, in what is their prime joy but in the movments of the mind which they set to play? in the ideal goodness, which we associate with what we see? in the imaginary creation, which we add to what we behold and feel?
It is the poet then, who does the most for himself; and the most for others. "Shall I" said Willoughby, "desert the office of a Poet, if the gifts of my birth have enabled me to fulfil it? Visions cross me day and night! beautiful and sublime images flit across my brain! Can I forgive myself for letting them pass for ever unpursued? they reproach me! they beckon to me! they cry, 'will you not hear our songs? will you not notice our forms? will you prefer the coarse conversation of mere mortal turpitude?' — They promise to light me to a temple, where Humanity shall put on a ray of glory! where my sight, cleared of its dim obstructions, shall behold the elevated heart in the beatitude of celestial movements! where its momentary hues of brightness, its transient anticipations of immortality, shall be viewed as in a glass!
"It is an habitual emancipation from worldly desires, which alone can purify us for the heights of this employment: Rapid as the change in the shapes and colours of the clouds; quick as the passage of lightning through the reclosing darkness of night, are those nice shades of moral distinction, or spiritual shapes, with which the attention of the true poet is occupied. They elude the groveling heart, and the thought that is weighed down by too much earthly dross.
"Raleigh has clogged himself with mortal passions, and desires: and he no longer has the power to be a Poet. He is a man of business: a man of business cannot be a Poet!"
He wearied himself with these internal discussions. They sometimes fill the mind with interest and pleasure: but they often oppress it. There is — "a taedium of o'erlaboured thought," which is followed by long hours of languor and debility. There were too many minutes even in this state of calm, in which he almost felt tired of existence. Experience had given him but a comfortless view of our sojourn on this globe. Of all the causes of despondence to which we are exposed here, scarcely any, if any, are so painful, as a loss of confidence in the virtue of mankind. Doubt, anxiety, watchfulness follow even the charms of ideal visions, and fancied excellences are diminished! and unless we can believe the virtue, which our imagination presents to us, possible, our interest in it is greatly chilled.
He had drawn the outline of his Poem before Raleigh's visit. He would now have resumed it: but his spirits flagged; and he was almost inclined to commit it to the flames.
The name of this poem was Altheadora. A nation, being sunk by a bad choice of a Sovereign into corruption, vice, and pusillanimity, at a period coeval with that of the early Britons, the wise men on consultation refer to the Oracles, who foretell that ere long a Female shall be born, who after a childhood of privacy, shall grow up with all imaginable charms of mind, heart, and person: and shall, if properly applied to, be ready to win and ascend the throne; restore the national manners, and character; and place the realm on the pinnacle of glory.
The whole noble youth of the country, burning with ambition to obtain her favour, are stimulated by their admiration and love to the noblest achievements of prowess and generosity. The vicious Tyrant, whom she has dethroned, is executed amid the scorn, and insults, of a people sensible of their late degradation, and glorying in their new Sovereign.
The plan of it had this advantage over Spenser's Poem, that its Allegories were only occasional. Willoughby had always studied with intense admiration Sackville's Induction and Legend of the Duke of Buckingham; and caught more of his sombre manner, than of the easier and more diffused brilliance of the Fairy Queen. The colours of his own life broke out very visibly in many of the Fragments of the poem, which he had yet written. As Dissimulation, and low Cunning, and crooked paths of policy, were most abhorrent to the soul of the author, so the expression of these disgusts most constantly broke out in the characters he had hitherto drawn.
He laboured the character of Altheadora with the most brilliant colours. She was constantly opposed to the portrait of her predecessor, who was delineated as a pusillanimous monster, subtle, cruel, a dissolute hypocrite, desirous of guiding all by his own will and caprice: yet at the mercy of a dissembling, bad Minister, more able, more wicked, more cruel than himself!
The prose materials for this poem had already filled a large MS. but they were not digested into any order: and they were strangely mixed with matter, which had arisen from other inquiries, and was intended for the subject of other productions. In truth every thing was confounded, just in the disjointed state, in which it had risen in the writer's mind. Many of the hints for the memoirs of his Own Time were inserted in this commonplace Book. A few of the remarks on his cotemporaries were unquestionably very severe!
Willoughby had one of the kindest hearts: but his speculations on Mankind were very bitter! It was, I think, said of the gay Earl of Dorset of Charles the Second's days, by Pope, that he was
"The best good man with the worst-natured Muse."
But Lord Dorset was a Satirist. Willoughby did not deal in Satirical composition. He deemed Satire a lower species of poetry, unbecoming a mind of ardent fancy. It was to reverse the prime traits, on which the excellence of poetry ought to depend.
In the course of a week his calm had in some degree returned. He took his long daily rambles: he became acquainted
"With every alley green, and bosky bourn:"
and as the nearer scenes became familiar, he roved farther and found his strength, and power of exercise, increase with his curiosity.
He had got beyond the limits of the farthest stroll he had hitherto taken, when he reached, one morning, a hill that opened a new view of a rich land extensive country upon him. Down in the valley at the distance of two or three miles, he observed a considerable mansion embosomed in trees, that from its beautiful situation attracted his peculiar notice. He had not long kept his eyes upon it, when with his glass he imagined that he saw the figures of persons on horseback issuing from it. An open plain lay on the bed of the valley, more than a mile on the hither side of the mansion. In a little while he discerned these persons advancing at a gallop cross the plain.
He remained upon the spot: the sun was warm; yet the air was refreshing. He soon heard the steps of horses ascending the hill. As they came nearer, he perceived them to be two ladies with their attendants. They reached the spot, where he was seated. The foremost lady stopped her horse; and threw back her veil, "Sir Ralph Willoughby!" she cried: "oh, Sir Ralph Willoughby! — how came you here?" It was Lady Arabella Stuart! Her courteous and winning address; her gentle smiles; her soft voice, delighted Willoughby. He returned her salutation with respectful ardor of civility. They conversed for a quarter of an hour. She made him promise to visit her the next day at the mansion in the Valley, where she had been resident for more than a month with a Branch of the Cavendish family.
Willoughby, while returning home with slow and thoughtful footsteps, ruminated anxiously on this occurrence. He was impatient for the hour, that would again bring him into Arabella's company.
The hour came. He rose early; took his walk in the freshness of the morning; and reached the house in time to find Lady Arabella alone in the garden, before the rest of the family had quitted their chambers. The first enquiry she made was, "if he had seen Sir Walter Raleigh?" He told her; that he had lately received a visit from him. "I have seen him also!" she answered: "but he did not tell me, whence he came!" There was something mysterious in this; and one of the purposes of Raleigh's visit to him was now apparent.
Lady Arabella told him, that this interview with the great man had surprized her. It was a visit of ceremony; the conversations were general; but yet she thought she perceived an inclination to political topics, to which she give no encouragement. She said, she had no desire to enter into State or Court cabals: she desired only tranquillity, and a private life. But Raleigh smiled sometimes at some of her expressions; and she was afraid, that he had more than once misunderstood her. "This extraordinary Man," continued she, "always keeps me in a sort of awe: I cannot be at my ease with him: I always suspect, that 'more is meant than meets the ear'; it is quite different with you, Sir Ralph. I always am sure of what you intend to express. I can follow your opinions; and comprehend your reasons. You have the art of convincing me: and I part from you, not only pleased with your frankness; but better satisfied with myself!"—
Willoughby could not but be affected by this compliment, uttered with a winning simplicity and condescension. Nor did he think it on the present occasion ill placed. He suspected, that she had good reason for her incomprehensibility with regard to Raleigh. He was at least equally impressed with the fear that something dark was brooding behind the curtain of this celebrated Politician's mind. He deeply regretted any attempt to involve this innocent, guileless, and peaceful Princess in the detestable intrigues and restless dangers, of State-affairs. It had always appeared to his sentiments a defect in Raleigh's moral character, not slight, that, when he had objects warmly in view, he had too little consideration for the fate of those, whom he involved in his schemes.
On the present occasion it behoved him, however forcibly suspicions flashed upon his mind, to be circumspect and considerate before he uttered them. The charge was grave, he yet had a friendship for Raleigh, and a preponderant admiration of him, which would not allow him to utter such a conjecture in haste.
It occurred to him to endeavour to caution Lady Arabella without committing Raleigh. He told her, that men like Raleigh, who had led a life of perpetual motion, liked to know every body, and to be every where: that when they had long been engaged in the secrets of politics, they contracted habits of mystery, which they exhibited on all occasions; sometimes without meaning; and often without being aware of it. "But" he added, "this mysterious manner is sometimes not on that account less dangerous to those to whom it is practised. There are high situations, where the only safety consists in keeping entirely aloof from those engaged in public life. Interviews are always liable to miscontructions. Walls can hear: — ah, and speak! — and invent too! — The simplest, and most innocent words are capable of two meanings! If Sir Walter Raleigh's habitual manner is enigmatical, how much is the danger aggravated in such a case!"—
Lady Arabella answered: "you confirm the dread, which had seized me! I sat on thorns during all Raleigh's visit. Pure as I was from the most remote thought of any political intrigue, I knew that I was liable to the suspicions of the very servants of the house. Sir Walter Raleigh is a man of so very singular a countenance; his whole person is so striking; and his name is so much the subject of every one's tongue, that I could not doubt that his visit would form matter of conversation for all the household. But what could I do? I could not affront him. He uttered not a word, to which I could object!"—
"I admit," replied Willoughby, "that the difficulties were exactly such as you describe! I think therefore, if I may presume to blame him, that my great friend's visit was injudicious. I am not certain, Lady Arabella, that even so humble a person as I am, may not do you mischief by this interview!" — "Oh, you will not desert me, Sir Ralph!" she cried eagerly: a you have a defence in your open countenance! in the noble manner, in which all the world says, that you have declined the paths of ambition!" Willoughby sighed. "Excellent Princess!" he answered — (forgive me for this presumptuous expression!) — your goodness thinks too highly of mankind! I have indeed most sincerely declined the odious paths of ambition; but there are too many, who will not believe me! judging by their own incorrigibly-sophisticated hearts, they cannot suppose it possible that another should be actuated by simple and virtuous inclinations! They believe that my retreat is only some scheme of disguise; some plan for the purpose of carrying on secret maneuvres. Unfortunately Raleigh's visit to me, as well as to you, will confirm this suspicion. And it is on this account that my fears anticipate some imprudence even from our present conversation." — "Oh that I had not been born to this provoking and vain station!" exclaimed Lady Arabella. "Can I not have a kind adviser? Is there danger in the most virtuous conversations? Is the very consultation how to avoid offence an offence itself?"
What could Willoughby say? He felt the extreme hardship of her situation; and almost forgot his own in sympathy for hers. But delusion at the present moment would probably be eventual cruelty. It became necessary that she should be fully sensible in how critical and painful a condition she was placed. Raleigh might visit her again: some of Raleigh's most known and active adherents might visit her. He had, for Raleigh's sake, treated the former visit as importing nothing: he did not believe so! — He even doubted, if Raleigh did not suppose that he had succeeded in his object: but from Lady Arabella's conversation he now learned, that this penetrating Statesman must have grossly misconstrued any words, which seemed to give any remote or possible assent to any concurrence with him in any public matter whatever!
Of all the painful impressions which disturb the course of content with our existence here, one of the most comfortless is, as I have observed, a loss, or great diminution, of the confidence in the virtue and kindness of our fellow-beings! If we suspect that all is disguise and deceit; that all professions are empty; that each is playing his own separate game; and that there is a heartless disregard to all but selfish gratification, no moment is safe, but that which is employed in the most anxious watchfulness for personal and individual interest or defence. Language and sentiments, in themselves the most delightful, become detestable and abhorrent as signs of intended delusion. That, which we have been accustomed to consider as a proof of intellectual preeminence, becomes a proof or stultification: and talents, which are employed in intellectual pursuits abstracted from Self, are only praised, that they may continue to be led astray!
When we see every thing go wrong; when we observe the success of deception and fraud; when we have proof that innocence cannot secure safety; when we examine the characters of those, who have become prosperous in the world; and the mode by which they have become prosperous, we can not without great difficulty exclude, or weaken, this comfortless impression.
Lady Arabella deserved to be happy: but all her virtues increased her dangers, and her chances of ill success, and misfortune in the world. It is true, that the road to final happiness may be through the defiles of Misery: but what perils lurk in the way? Who is sure that he will have fortitude, or firmness, to withstand the temptations to wrong created by threats, pain, privation, calumny, persecution? Who is sure that he will be patient under insult; forbearing and cheerful under want; and kind, tender, and forgiving under oppression and ingratitude?
He would have given her with the purest sincerity advice how to conduct herself with the most prudence, if his ingenuity could have furnished him with the clearest mode: but he was bewildered by the opinions, which were conflicting in his mind. Perhaps, had Lady Arabella been entire mistress of her own actions, he would have seen a simple plan, which, though it could not have secured her inoffensive passage through life, yet would at least have had the satisfaction and glory of unimpeachable rectitude! But she was not the mistress of her own actions. She had not only the judgements and passions of the Shrewburys and Cavendishes to deal with; but she had her own heart to regulate with regard to the approaches of the Seymours. This last alone was likely to form a source of suspicion, not to be allayed.
Willoughby was not aware, Lady Arabella could still less suppose, that another suspicion had already entered the heads of Salisbury and his divan: and that they believed that Willoughby himself was mad enough to aspire to the hand of this Princess. They well knew his retreat; and they were equally acquainted with Raleigh's visit to both. Even the Seymours heard of the place of Willoughby's retirement; and grew jealous. Though desperate in fortune, he was of four-fold older nobility than the Seymours: and in intellect and acquirements still more their superior!—
Salisbury well knew the advantage of all this; though he affected to despise it: and in truth, it must be confessed, that if Willougbby had been inclined, a little assiduity and a little management might have enabled him to detach the Lady's inclinations from the present favourite.
Willoughby was more anxious to end the visit for her sake, than for his own. He was too familiar with the present state of Court espionage, not to have a dread of the evils of prolonged interviews of this kind. He rose to take his leave. Lady Arabella gave him her hand; and he kissed it. She dropped a tear, when he quitted her; and intreated him to pay her another visit.
When he reached home, he found on his table a long letter from Raleigh, who had returned to the Court. It gave a full description to him of what was going on; and was written in the strongest vigour of bursting indignation. All the bitterness of his acute talents was applied to the development of most of the characters now in possession of Power. There was no need to write their names over them: the features were sufficiently prominent to mark them out. But Raleigh added a short allegory; or Fiction, which was so obscure, that Sir Ralph in vain attempted to make out its import. He wrote down in his Common-place book the names and enigmatical words; and put against them guesses of explanation to assist him in decyphering the secret. He would not have taken so much pains, but that he suspected there was some allusion to Lady Arabella; and he felt so interested about her, that he would have spared no labour, by which he might get at intelligence to guard her against the snares he suspected were preparing for her. He knew too well she was no match for Raleigh in talents, experience, or temper.
A fortnight passed in these anxieties. He mused; and read; and rambled in the fields and woods. Lady Arabella wrote to him, that she had had very angry letters from the Court; and that the Cavendishes, with whom she was living, had altered their whole conduct to her; and had become excessively harsh; and when she complained, hinted that they were acting under orders, which they dared not disobey. She intreated him to come to her; but said, that he must do it secretly.
This necessity of secrecy made him for her sake, as well as his own, resolve to refrain from the visit. He wrote a very cautious, but gentle and kind answer; in which he intreated her to be patient, reserved, solitary, and as far from the most remote appearance of any concern with public affairs of any kind as he well knew that she was from the reality. It was utterly impossible to write such a letter without inserting some allusions purposely vague. This arose principally from a desire to guard her against Raleigh; whom yet it would have been an indelicacy, and perhaps a breach of friendship, to name.
In a few days from this time a letter was brought him, in the hand of an acquaintance, with whom he had been familiar in Burleigh's office, which filled him with astonishment and horror. It related that Raleigh, Cobham, Grey of Wilton, etc. and their accomplices, had been committed to the Tower for High Treason. The conjectures regarding the nature of the Plot were endless. One of the reports was, that it concerned to movements made for the purpose of putting Lady Arabella upon the throne.
This was in every respect a shock to Willoughby, to which at first all his fortitude gave way. He saw in it a complication of dangers and evils, which reflection did not diminish!
One of the first suggestions of his heart was to pay a visit to Raleigh in the Tower. But many objections occurred before he could put this into execution. He had several letters from friends, some real, some perhaps only calling themselves by that sacred name, warning and imploring him to weigh with the utmost prudence every step he took; to suffer no generous ebullition of indignant courage to lead him into useless appearances of any privity with those implicated in the present charges; and to hint that his ruin was meditated, if the slightest opportunity was given.
All this intelligence agreed minutely with his own suspicions. He had already seen the danger, that might hereafter arise from his accidental interviews with Lady Arabella; and from the moment he first encountered Raleigh, when he came to visit him in his retreat, he anticipated gloom and evil from it.
His prudence for once prevailed; and he went not at present to the Tower. He yielded to Lady Arabella's intreaties; and paid her one visit. She was in a perfect maze; she wept incessantly; and her senses seemed a little flighty. Nothing could he more evident to Willoughby's acute understanding, than that nothing had passed between Raleigh and Her, of the treasonable scheme of which he was accused. But she lamented in bitter words, that with whatever entire freedom from all political intrigue and all desire of public life she acted, her name was always involved in some perilous matter; that it was bandied about to serve the ambition and plots of others: and that she suffered all the evils of ambitions, without its good; and all the privations of solitude, without its tranquillity.
What comfort had Willoughby to give her? He felt too strongly that these remarks were well founded. No light penetrated his own bosom: it was all unbroken despondence! A State-system had been adopted, which scarcely left the possibility of escape to those, whom the directors of Power were desirous to sacrifice. The horrid thought crossed him, that it was intended to sacrifice the life of Lady Arabella. He guessed not why. If it was the intention to sacrifice Raleigh he less wondered at it.
"Your spirit is fled, Sir Ralph Willoughby" cried Lady Arabella: "your resources fail, when I had expected to have found a sure anchor in your advice!" All that Willoughby could answer was: "Deserve well, Lady Arabella! Keep your conscience; and your actions clear, as you have hitherto done! The rest is in the hands of Providence!"
He returned to his solitary cottage. It is perhaps only in the deepest grief that solitude is dangerous. Profound anxiety, and a kind of feverish Despondence, preyed upon his mind. Hitherto all had gone wrong with him through life. He entered into a severe self-examination. He could not charge himself with any great faults; nor with any very obvious errors. He had endeavoured to act uprightly, honourably, and generously. He had always on his conscience, and in his heart, the remembrance of the most perfect and the most comprehensive of all moral duties: the rule of "Doing, as he would be done by."
His sagacity forced upon him that, of which the conviction sunk his bosom into the most oppressive melancholy, that the most virtuous part of his conduct had been most in the way of his success in the world. It is to say one thing, when you mean another; to appear most pleased, when you are most angry: to speak but kindly, when you mean to commit the greatest injury; to appear to pay deference to the opinions of others, yet secretly to defeat them all you can; to betray and take advantage of the knowledge you thus derive; on all occasions to wear a mask; on no occasion to postpone self-interest to any other object!
These are frightful assertions; but alas, they are frightful truths! If they seem to impeach the ways of Providence, it must be recollected, that the ways of Providence are mysterious and hidden to Man's finite capacity!
With these convictions hanging with the weight of death upon his energies, he made every effort to summon up his magnanimity. He still persevered in his literary occupations. But his fancy of course took a still more sombre cast. He attempted to raise himself above all sublunary anxieties, and affections. This gave an extraordinary sublimity to some of his Fragments: but it also give them sometimes a great obscurity. They became too much detached from human interests; and travelled among the clouds with too spiritual and evanescent an ambition.
Cobham wrote him a letter, breaking out into all the wailings of an abject heart; mixed up with passages of cunning and subtlety, which added to his pain in reading it. Cobham had mistaken his point: it was intended to convince Willoughby of his entire innocence: it had the effect of making him suspect, that there really had been some tampering somewhere.
The young Lord Grey of Wilton also wrote him a letter, which made a very different impression on his feelings. This unfortunate youth recurred to the conversations with him in Whichwood Forest. He lamented that he had not been practically a better convert to Willoughby's opinions: that he had not withdrawn himself from the world; and relied upon the pleasures of nature; and the tranquillity of a private life. His youth; some excellent traits in his character; and the antiquity and lustre of the family which Lord Grey represented, made Willoughby deeply sympathise with his present ill fortune.
Reflection could, alas, give little satisfaction to him on this painful subject. All was dark and perplexed in his conjectures. He had no doubt that the charges were false in the extent to which public report carried them: but his private suspicions that Raleigh had been carrying on something of which advantage could be taken, were very harassing to him. He was sure that no power, which Salisbury could acquire over him, would be lost; and there was a hollow iniquity in the Times, which rendered all uncertain; and a trust even in innocence but a frail anchor.
The anxious period, that intervened till the Trial of these accused politicians, preyed upon Willoughby's mind; wore his health; and interrupted all the occupations that could enliven or soothe solitude.
The time of Trial at length came: every cultivated English reader is familiar with that Trial. Raleigh too inconsiderately summoned Willoughby as a witness, to prove certain alibis. In his eagerness for self-liberation, he pressed certain questions, which appeared to Willoughby entirely superfluous; while they seemed to raise an inference that he was in the confidence of the other to an extent that was utterly untrue.
Willoughby caught the eye of Salisbury; and saw how deeply this struck him. Salisbury now seemed inclined to press hard questions upon Willoughby: Raleigh fired: he saw the imprudence he had committed; and endeavoured to redeem it by another yet more inconsiderate. He seemed to be leading to an examination of the history of Willoughby's life, by way of proving that he had been of an opposite Faction; and therefore, that if he had had any treasonable schemes in agitation, Willoughby could never have been chosen as his confidante! He alluded to Essex: he put a question, that seemed to touch on the circumstances of his death! Salisbury turned so pale, and trembled so, that his emotion was visible to many spectators.
When Willoughby's examination ceased, there was a buzz through the Court. The audience were inclined to receive him with a shout of applause, if they had dared. A murmur ran through the Court: "what a gallant spirit! what a noble form! what talents and expression! how considerate! how firm, and undaunted! how worthy of his friend Raleigh's best genius! but how much gentler, and kinder, and mellower, in his looks and his thoughts!"
The murmur passed the walls of the Court. As he came into the open air, the crowd shouted: "Long live Willoughby! long live the generous Willoughby!"—
Alas, these applauses cheered not Willoughby's heart! they sunk upon it, as the prelude of death! He knew how much they would prejudice him in the minds not merely of the Judicial Tribunal, but of those, who held the helm of State! Salisbury, he was sure, had now at least, if not before, become his irreconcilable foe! It was obvious that not only this Minister, but all his colleagues present, were convinced that he was a full accomplice in all Raleigh's schemes, whatever they were.
At length the Trial closed. Raleigh, and his companions, were found guilty. Who has not heard, what was the impression which this trial made on the public opinion? "Raleigh" it is said by historians, "went into Court the most hated man in England!" He came out of it the most applauded and glorious! — His mighty spirit; his powerful talents; his self-possession; the constant ingenuity and readiness of his answers; contrasted with the just and brutal mode in which the prosecutors and the Court conducted themselves, all contributed to produce this effect!
Willoughby returned to his cottage, to meditate on what had passed. — What was meditation on this subject but madness? We may flatter ourselves, as we will: but the incumbency of immediate danger sheds a bitter into the cup even of the most innocent and exquisite enjoyments! When the breath of Heaven blew upon him in all its freshness; when the Sun smiled; and the flowers emitted their fragrance; he said, "how long shall I possess these blessings? Raleigh is debarred of them: Cobham, and young Grey are debarred of them! I have not been of their factions: but, alas, innocence will not protect me!"—
When he resorted to those creations, in which a sublime and pathetic fancy finds vent for its aerial travels, the sting of earthly injustice; the recollection of the merciless fang of corrupt power, came across him; broke the spell of enchantment; and placed prisons and scaffolds in its room!
He visited Raleigh in the Tower. He found him calm; occupied with mighty plans of study; and more illustrious in his misfortunes than in his prosperity! Perhaps the fault of Raleigh's mind was excess of daring ambition. The pressure of disappointment, the cloud of sorrow, corrected its too ardent blaze! Willoughby felt his soul comforted and elated by this sight.
A great Man struggling with the storms of Fate is a sublime spectacle! He said to himself: "then our spirit, the best part of our being, is not at the mercy of Man's injustice, or cruelty! These dreary apartments: these scowling guards; the waving sword; and the suspended axe, cannot weaken the elasticity of an heroic and cultivated mind! To me imprisonment has appeared among the most frightful of human evils. To be shut from the participation of those elements, which give a spring to our corporeal life! Hideous abuse of Man's power, to inflict this punishment for slight offences! But how much more horrible still, that it should often depend on mere accusation, supported only by the oath of a perjured individual, prompted by fraud and a desire of avaricious extortion! — Raleigh smiles at these chains! glorious proof of the power of genius: of the omnipotence of grand and aspiring intellect! Hitherto his mighty faculties have been darkened to my contemplation by many allays! He now shines in the brightness of the mellowest splendor! His heroic actions illustrate his vast knowledge: his vast knowledge dignifies and emblasons his heroic actions! I had begun to despair. Man's material part is at the mercy of wickedness and despotism! I look at Raleigh; and see that Mind can yet be triumphant!"—
When Willoughby came back to his solitude, he endeavoured to take advantage of these impressions; and to reconcile himself to whatever course Fate might have in store for him, when he received intimation from two or three quarters, that Evidence was collecting against him in the secret bureau of the State-Office; and urging him to fly the Country, while yet it was in his power.
Conscious of innocence, though fully aware that innocence was but a feeble protection, he heard this advice with disdain. He said, "I scorn to obtain my safety at the expence of affording the world seeming proofs of my guilt, when I am innocent! I have never harboured a thought of Treason! I have never entered into a single cabal! I have rejected and abhorred intrigue, much as I have seen of it! If Raleigh has dabbled in any political schemes, which are open to the punishment of the State, he knew me too well to make me privy to them! But Salisbury suspects that I have betrayed him to Raleigh. I have been put in very trying situations; but never yet under any provocation did I betray any one!"—
The warnings were too true. In a few days Willoughby was carried a prisoner to the Tower. All his papers were seized at the same time; and carried to the Secretary of State's office! He was kept in close confinement; and allowed no intercourse with Raleigh; or any other involved in political accusations.
The charges against him were partly the same as those for which Raleigh, and others, had been tried; and partly special. The latter were for secret and individual tamperings with Lady Arabella; for Foreign correspondence in aid of his schemes, re-opening the factious connection for which his father and grandfather had been exiled and attainted; for pretending some of the rights of Royal Blood by his descent from the Delapoles; and in this vein of mad ambition, even aspiring to Lady Arabella's hand!—
Some of these charges were so vague, and the whole so multiplied, that Willoughby's sagacity instantly saw, that all the advantage which the subtlety of lawyers, and the ingenuity of political malice, could suggest, was intended to be taken of every possible circumstance, that could be twisted in to a meaning, that would seem to establish his guilt! The conduct of Sir Edward Coke on Raleigh's Trial assured him that nothing which ferocious and coarse language and the inexhaustible subtlety of a head overflowing with pedantic and technical acuteness could do, would be omitted!
When copies of the indictments, (for there was more than one), were brought to him, none but a Professional head could follow their intricacies. And it so happened, that he could ill afford to pay for the best professional advice!
He prepared for his trial as well as he could. He called forth all his faculties; and his glorious fortitude. It seemed as if the prosecutors were unwilling to incur delay. A discontent was fast spreading over the nation; an opinion was every day gaining ground, that Willoughby was to be sacrificed to Salisbury's fears of his disclosure of State secrets relative to the part taken by this crooked Minister in Essex's condemnation and death; and Willoughby's name, which had been hitherto little known, was becoming an object of popular idolatry.
The Trial lasted a long October day from an early hour of the morning. The Court was so crowded by every person of any rank, who had activity or interest to procure a seat, that such an assemblage had scarcely ever been before witnessed. The eyes of all were on the prisoner. He was dressed in a black velvet suit and cloak, with a large ruff, all resembling the Spanish costume, which formed the picturesque fashion of the day! He was tall, and made with extraordinary symmetry! His large dark eyes, always thoughtful, now deeply melancholy, were lighted by the indignant fire of injured innocence. The bloom of youth had been effaced by misfortune; its gracefulness remained!
The Trial had not proceeded far when the production of Willoughby's MSS. papers discovered, on what the great reliance of a conviction was placed. The Fragments of his Epic poem; his characters of Cotemporaries; Raleigh's letters to him; and his attempted scheme to unravel the enigmatical part of Raleigh's principal letter, were all brought forward. Witnesses of every interview with Lady Arabella deposed to what they heard; and what they pretended to have heard. Her deference to him; the civil things she said to him; the advice she asked of him; were all related with many interpolations, and perversions.
That, which came on Willoughby with the most surprize was a letter purporting to be from an Emissary at a Foreign Court, addressed to him, and intercepted by the vigilance of Government! — When it was read in open Court, Willoughby could not doubt that it was a fabrication. He neither knew a person, who could have written such a letter; nor one of the dark circumstances to which the writer seemed to allude, as familiar to him whom he addressed! But these were things, which could not in their nature admit of negative proof!
There was something like a groan through the audience, when this letter was produced and read. The Court, which had at one time felt uneasy and depressed under the apparent symptoms of disdain, and disgust, which broke forth from the assembly, recovered their courage; and grew again haughty, and full of insults and menaces.
Some of the auditors were staggered; others suspected the dreadful deception: all saw the danger! Willoughby stood undaunted; but pale. He could not conceal from himself the perils, to which this ineffable act of wickedness, meditated at his life, exposed him!
The Sun went down; yet the prosecutors had not closed their case. The Trial was adjourned to another day. It was well for the audience, whose feelings had been kept on the rack till they were exhausted!
The Crown Lawyers exerted themselves with extraordinary ability and labour to establish a case of very flagrant guilt. All the prejudices that they could conjure up, they pressed forward with unsparing malignity. They entered into all the details of the disaffections and treasons of the Willoughby family. The alleged workings of the poison of the Delapole blood were not forgotten. Ralph was described to be a young man whose desperate fortunes combined with his unbounded ambition to make him dare the most rash adventures, and whose self-opinion and arrogance induced him to lead even the most able and experienced. They asserted that Raleigh did nothing without him; and that his recommendation of youth and a good person prompted Raleigh to avail himself gladly of the influence he was likely to obtain over Lady Arabella, to bend her to the treasonable designs in which she was to be made the unthinking instrument of their elevation!
Willoughby's interviews with Lady Arabella, which could not be denied; and the enigmas of Raleigh's letter to him, combined to give unfavourable inuendos to some of the bitter opinions in his sketches for the History of his Own Time; and to many of the allegories and several of the supposed allusions of his fragments for the Epic Poem of Altheadora, which supported some of the charges by something like a plausibility of Evidence! These worked up a disposition to give credit to the intercepted letter: and then the proofs seemed complete!
Willoughby's Counsel rebutted all the circumstantial part of this Evidence as they could! It unfortunately happened, that he fell into the hands of men, who were rather mere drudging lawyers, than men of genius and literature! They had little personal knowledge of him; his native character; or habits. Probably, they could not have comprehended them, if they had!
The Counsel for the Crown replied with bitterness; and they had all the advantage over those of the Prisoner in point of ability.
When Sir Ralph was called on to speak for himself, he addressed the Court with an heroic dignity; and in a strain of the most exalted eloquence. He passed over all the technical subtleties, (an omission which made a chain of the most irrefragible arguments go for nothing in the minds of the lawyers); and appealed to the unsophisticated understandings of his audience; to the sympathy of noble bosoms; to those feelings, which the bad consider as delusions, but which, when genuine, never yet misled the judgement.
His melancholy, his despondence, his indifference to life, gave him augmented force of talent. The Court sometimes rung with the deep and mellow tones of his voice; and every heart, that had sensibility, burst into agonies of tears at the frequent intermixture of pathetic appeals, into which, as if against his will, he fell, in tones so overwhelmingly guileless; so utterly beyond the suspicion of affectation, that two or three of the simplest words, two or three slight accents, pierced like lightning through the whole audience.
He explained the import of many of his MSS. He declared them to be materials for his Epic poem; and with an indignant force of explanation he gave an account of those, which were intended to form part of his Cotemporary History. He admitted that in first sketches intended for private examination he might now and then have used colours, which on more sober thought required softening. He said that truth was his first object. If History was not truth, was it nor worse than idleness? "It is the pen of the Historian, that often, though not often enough, holds a terror over inebriated Power!" said he. "My pen may be suppressed;" he went on: "its traces, I know, are already doomed to destruction; and the hand, that has guided it, is destined to be stopped from a continuation of its memorials by a cruel and undeserved death! It will not avail! The day will arrive, when the truth shall be told; even though it be at the distance of two hundred years! Some tender Spirit at length shall catch my flame! My mantle shall descend upon him! He shall tell, what I am not permitted to tell, when the mouth that stops me shall for ages have mouldered into the dust whence it sprung; and shall be only remembered in the colours which Truth shall have decreed to belong to it! — The Audience trembled for him. He perceived, that his indignation was carrying him beyond the bounds of prudence!
He had a difficult part to manage in the relation of the nature and degree of his intimacy with Raleigh. He was too generous to attempt his defence, even when the truth justified him, at Raleigh's cost. He knew not how to deal with the letter of Raleigh, because there really was a mystery in it, though he was not privy to the secret.
He now and then electrified Salisbury by generous appeals to him, which made him doubt his own deeply-rooted suspicions. But darkness, fear, and cruelty, soon resumed their ascendancy over Salisbury's heart.
At the close of this eloquent and magnanimous Defence, there was not a disinterested auditor, that doubted Willoughby's innocence! The Court was appalled; and a dreadful silence of many minutes ensued!—
The Chief Justice then began to sum up. He was embarrassed at the commencement by Willoughby's dignified and overpowering eloquence. He knew that he had an audience strongly prejudiced against him to contend with. The jargon of pedantic law and forced constructions with which he mixed up his summary of facts, was not merely dull and repulsive, but disgusting. He then launched out into an invective against what he called the abuse of abilities; against those, who instead of taking the patient course of labour to elevate themselves, chose to attempt to gratify their ambitious desires, without paying the price for this gratification! who embraced a course of adventure and political intrigue, that they might leap into power! who addressed the imagination, and the passions when they ought to appeal to reason and who supposed that a few splendid sentences of school-boy flourish would overcome proof; and make black appear white!
When he had said these things, he congratulated himself, as if he had pronounced oracular wisdom; and was surprized to find that his supposed acuteness and solid sagacity had made no impression on the Audience; and that their impatience and disgust were nearly breaking into outward and loud disapprobation!
When he came to his conclusion, he charged the Jury almost with threats, telling them that in his opinion the facts charged had been clearly proved; and if proved, that it was his duty as a Judge to tell them, that not a scintilla of doubt could be entertained, that they amounted to the crime of Treason. He conjured them not to be led away by their feelings into false mercy to a young man, because he could make a plausible speech! That they owed mercy to those, whose lives and properties were endangered by conduct so wicked and ruinous as that of Willoughby and his accomplices! That if they believed him to have talents, the severity of justice was on that very account the more demanded from them; That if they were affected by his oratory, it only made him an instrument of evil the more necessary to be got rid of!
At length the Verdict of the Jury was pronounced. They brought in the Prisoner, GUILTY. The Audience heard this Verdict with mute astonishment, or rather with a groan!
Willoughby stood firm. His countenance was pale; but dignified.
When asked, if he had any thing to say, before sentence was pronounced, he bowed. The Audience listened with breathless suspence. A word quivered on his lips. His deep and mellow voice then rose awefully on the Court.
"I submit with patience! All that speech can do, is useless. If language could prove innocence, I venture to assert that I have already proved it. But my lot is cast! I can no longer contend with the power of Man in its wantonness! I leave the Court; and the Jury to their own consciences! The day may come, when they may wish themselves as self-satisfied in that respect as I am! My Lords, in the midst of troubles and temptations I have led a life of entire political purity! — The great and prosperous Minister, whom I see yonder, and who once honoured me by the name of Friend, knows it; or ought to know it! If his heart does not tell him so, here, prisoner as I am, found guilty of a Capital Crime by a Verdict which History will record with astonishment, I venture to tell him firmly, that I pity that heart! — It is done! I am prepared for my fate! I know, there is no mercy in the breast of Man!
He stood upright and firm as a rock in the midst of the bellowing storm! The Audience burst into convulsions of tears. A stern observer perceived that Willoughby nearly overcome by this mark of sympathy. He noticed the agitations of his countenance.
The usual sentence of High Treason was now pronounced; too painful to be here repeated.
Sir Ralph was then conveyed back to the Tower, to feed upon his own dreadful reflections! — It was time to eradicate from his heart all earthly ties!
It is only when we are about to lose a blessing, that we begin to know its value. But was existence a blessing to Willoughby? To him it was surely almost all hopeless suffering. Yet it was not all suffering; even to him!
"The hues of bliss more brightly glow,
Chastised by sabler tints of woe"
[Author's note: Gray.]
What ineffable happiness had been pressed into a few of his happier moments of life! How more than doubled was the enjoyment of those moments of high intellect, and unmingled innocence and virtue; which had no after-regrets; of which the retrospect was as exquisite as the instant of their presence!
But the day approached, when a violent and unmerited death was to close this magnificent scene of things to a Being, who so exalted it by his abode upon it!
How can I write in adequate language the train of exalted sentiments and reflections, which passed in the mind of this most enlightened and sublime young Man, at this crisis of unexampled injustice and cruelty!
I am come to the close of my volume: and it has fallen upon me at a period, when my health and spirits are in a state of great depression; and when my time is not at my command.
I have beguiled some of the sufferings during the three months' confinement of a painful malady by these memorials. I go to see "the Eternal City;" the mighty relics of "the fallen Metropolis of the World!" [Author's note: "Above Baccano the postillions stopped; and pointing to a pinnacle, that appeared between two hills, exclaimed "Roma!" That pinnacle was the cross of St. Peter! The "ETERNAL CITY" rose before us! EUSTACE 1. 388.]
Spirit of Him, whom I have thus undertaken, at the distance of more than two Centuries, to consecrate to posterity, forgive me, that I thus desert thee in the agonies of Death; that I attend thee not to the scaffold; and that I shrink from the description of thy last heroic moments, more glorious than all the rest of thy glorious life! Let the reader supply my deficiency! If he surveys thy splendid character with half the admiration with which I contemplate it; and pities thy fate with only a part of my sympathy, he will satisfy thy manes!