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He bore Ms part in the preparations made to give a meet reception to the Invincible Armada, and was afterwards engaged in several expeditions against the Spaniards; amongst others, in that against Cadiz under the command of the Earl of Essex.
Once or twice his Court-favour suffered a partial eclipse; and there is reason to think that the Earl of Essex exerted his influence with the Queen to his disadvantage.
Tlic accession of James I., however, was fatal to all his hopes of honour or advancement. James was from the first prejudiced against him, and the ill offices of the Secretary, Cecil, made these prejudices still stronger.
He was accused of entering into correspondence with Spain, and of conspiring in a plot with Lord Cobhaui and others to destroy the King and his progeny, and to put the Lady Arabella Stuart on the throne. He was brought to trial in 1603. The trial is especially remarkable for the rude and brutal behaviour manifested towards Ralegh by the Attorney-General, Sir Edward Coke, and for the shameless way in which the evidence and arguments of the accused were suppressed or set aside. In spite of a most spirited and eloquent defence, Ralegh was found guilty, and condemned to death. The sentence was not, however, immediately carried out. Ralegh was removed to the Tower, and continued a State-prisoner for nearly thirteen years. At the end of this time he made suit to be permitted to conduct an expedition to Guiana, which, twenty years before, he had himself discovered and taken possession of in the name of the Queen of England. His application was successful; but the expedition, unhappily, proved a failure, and on his return he was again arrested and brought to the scaffold. There can be no doubt that the appointment of Ralegh to the command of the expedition was a condoning of the charges before alleged against him, and on which he had been condemned. But the mean and cowardly King was anxious to propitiate Spain, and Ralegh was the sacrifice demanded by the Spanish Ambassador, as the condition of amity and alliance. Thus perished, in 1618, one of the noblest Englishmen that "ever lived in the tide of times;" the last of that grand fellowship of Elizabethan Admirals whose prowess struck such deadly blows at the representatives and champions of Popery and Despotism.
Sir Walter Ralegh is entitled to no mean place amongst the minor poets of his age. His poetry consists of sonnets and short lyrical pieces. It is occasionally deformed by the conceits and extravagances characteristic of the time, but nevertheless abounds with elevated thought and earnest feeling. The language is correct and refined, and the verse often flows with smoothness and graceful ease.
It is, however, as a prose writer that Ralegh is most eminent, and his great work, on which his fame may well be permitted to rest, is his History of the World. The first part only was ever written, bringing the narrative down to the conquest of the Macedonian kingdom by the Romans. The design, indeed, was from the first too extensive for the opportunities and powers of a single writer, however endowed with learning or favoured with leisure; and we cannot but wonder that Ralegh, whose life was so active and so full of adventure, should ever have found time to accumulate the stores of information which are exhibited in his noble work. It is to be regretted, also, that so much of the work is taken up with Jewish records and rabbinical traditions; for it necessarily follows that a good deal of the matter is either already narrated with every advantage of style and authenticity in the books of the Old Testament, or is unworthy of being narrated at all. That part of the History, however, which refers to Greece and Rome is entitled to high praise. It does not, indeed, in its investigations and positions, come up to the standard of modern historical criticism; but it abundantly exhibits the marks of research, scholarship, large views, knowledge of human nature, and a statesman-like insight into public affairs. Indeed it is the thought and spirit which pervade it, that give its special merit to the History of the World. It is such a work as could only have been written by one who was at once scholar, soldier, politician, and man of the world. It abounds with wise and profound reflections. It is full of the gatherings of observation and "old experience." It is a treasure-house of political axioms and moral apothegms. It is bold, manly, independent, and yet elevated and reverential in tone. It begins with a devout recognition of an all-controlling Providence; and it closes with a sublime apostrophe to that "eloquent, just, and mighty Death," who is the arbiter of all earthly things.
The style, again, is worthy of the sentiments. No better, more racy, or more vigorous English is to be found. If it has not the neatness and the grace of Addison's prose, it has ten times the strength. It is Saxon, pointed, idiomatic There is just enough of the flavour of the olden time about it to give it an irregular and venerable character, like an old Gothic interior. It abounds with terse phrases and picturesque turns of expression ; and its direct and manly strain is warmed with the colours of a bright imagination. It is, in short, the style that seems most naturally to belong to the chivalrous, romantic, adventurous, and yet practical "age of Elizabeth."
Besides the History of the World, Ralegh left behind him several miscellaneous treatises in prose. Amongst these is an account of his voyage in search of Guiana, dedicated to the Lord Admiral and to Cecil; and a tract characterized by much practical wisdom, entitled, Instruction to his Son and t<^ Posterity.
THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD.
THE FLOURISHING ESTATE OF THEBES.
How Thebes and Athens Joined together against Sparta—How the Athenians made peace for themselves and others, out of which the Thebans were excluded—The battle of Leuctra, and beginning of the Theban greatness.
The Lacedaemonians were men of great resolution, and of much gravity in all their proceedings ; but one dishonourable rule they held, that lall respects withstanding the commodity of Sparta were to be neglected: the practice of which doctrine, even by the best and wisest of, them, did greatly blemish that estate; but when it was put in execution by insufficient, over-weening men, it seldom failed to bring upon them, instead of profit unjustly expected, both shame and loss. And so it befell them in these enterprises of Phoebidas upon the castle of Thebes, and Sphodrias upon the Piraeus; for howsoever Agesilaus did spoil the country about Thebes, in which he spent two summers, yet the diligence of the Thebans repaired all, who by the good success of some attempts grew stronger than they were at the first.
The Athenians likewise began to look abroad, sailing to the isle of Corcyra, where they ordered things at their pleasure, and, having in some fights at sea prevailed, began, as in the Peloponnesian war, to surround Peloponnesus with a navy; 2afflicting so the Lacedaemonians, that had not the Thebans by their insolency wearied their friends, and caused them to seek for peace, it had been very likely that the course of this war should have soon come to a good end; which, nevertheless, being prosecuted by the Thebans (who opposed at once both these two great3estates) left the city of Sparta as much dejected as the beginning found it proud and tyrannous. But the Athenians perceiving how Thebes encroached every day upon her weak neighbours, not sparing such as had been dependants upon Athens, and finding themselves, whilst engaged in such a war, unable to relieve their complaining friends, resolved to settle the affairs of Greece, by renewing that form of peace which Antalcidas had brought from the Persian. "Wherefore they sent messengers to Thebes, peremptorily signifying that it was their intent to finish the war: to which purpose they willed the Thebans to send ambassadors along with them to Sparta; who readily condescended, feariDg otherwise that they should be left out of the treaty of peace; which came to pass, being so wrought by the courageous wisdom of Epaminondas, who understood far better than his countrymen what was to be feared or hoped. In this treaty the Lacedaemonians and Athenians did soon agree; but when the Thebans offered to swear to the articles in the name of the Boeotians, Agesilaus required them to swear in their own name, and to leave the Boeotians free, whom they had lately reduced under their obedience. Whereunto Epaminondas made answer, that the city of Sparta should give example to Thebes, by setting the Laconians free; for that the signiory of Boeotia did by as good right appertain to the Thebans as that of Laconia to the Spartans. This was well and truly spoken, but was heard with no patience; for Agesilaus bearing a vehement hatred unto those of Thebes, by whom he was drawn back out of Asia into Greece, and disappointed of all the glory which he had hoped to achieve by the Persian war, did now passionately urge that point of setting the Boeotians at liberty, and finding it as obstinately refused, he dashed the name of the Thebans out of the league. At the same time Cleombrotus, the other king of Sparta, lay in Phocis, who received command from the governors of Sparta forthwith to enter upon the land of the Thebans with all his power; which he did, and was there slain at Leuctra, and with him the flower of his army. This battle of Leuctra being one of the most famous that ever were fought between the Greeks, was not so notable for any eircumstance foregoing it, or for the managing of the fight itself, as for the death of the king, and many citizens of Sparta; but especially, for that after this battle (between which and the conclusion of the general peace there passed but twenty days) the Lacedaemonians were never able to recover the strength and reputation which had formerly made them redoubted far and near; whereas, contrariwise, the Thebans, whose greatest ambition had in former times confined itself unto the little region of Boeotia, did now oegin to undertake the leading and command of many people and estates, in such wise that soon after they brought an army of threescore and ten thousand strong unto the gates of Sparta. So much do the afflictions of an hard war valiantly endured advance the affairs of the distressed, and guide them into the way of - conquest by stiffening that resolution with a manly temper, which wealth and ease had, through luxury, recklessness, and many other vices or vanities, made rusty and effeminate.
How the Athenians took upon them to maintain the peace of Greece—New troubles hence arising, Epaminondas invadeth and wasteth the territory of Lacedaemon.
The Athenians refusing to take advantage of this overthrow fallen upon their old enemies and new confederates the Lacedaemonians, did nevertheless finally give them to understand that their dominion was expired, and therefore their pride might well be laid away. For, taking upon themselves the maintenance of the peace lately concluded, which Agesilaus (perhaps of purpose to make benefit of quarrels that might arise) had left unperfect, they assembled the deputies of all the estates confederated at Athens; where the general liberty of all t6wns, as well small as great, was ratified, under the style of the Athenians and their associates. Hereupon began fresh 'garboils. The Mantineans claiming power by this decree to order their affairs at their own pleasure, did, as it were, in despite of the Spartans, who had enforced them to raise their town, re-edify it, and ally themselves with such of the Arcadians as stood worst affected to Sparta. The Arcadians, a strong nation, consisting of many cities, were distracted with factions; some desiring to hold good correspondence with the Lacedaemonians, some to weaken and keep them low, yet all pretending other ends. The Lacedaemonians durst not give 2 impeachment to the Mantineans, nor take upon them to correct their ill-willers among the Arcadians, till such time as the factions broke out into violence, and each part called in foreign help. Then was an army sent from Sparta, as it were in defence of the people of Tegea, against the Mantineans, but indeed against them both.