« AnteriorContinuar »
maintaining that the King's right to Guiana was better than that of the King of Spain. But as he failed, and had come into armed conflict with the Spaniards, it was possible by sacrificing him for James to get cheap credit for good faith and amity towards the Spanish King. He actually offered to send Ralegh to Spain for execution there, but on the King of Spain preferring that punishment should be meted out in England, it became necessary to decide how this could legally be done to a man who was under sentence of death for an old offence. It fell to Bacon as Lord Chancellor to advise on this, and though he probably could not have refused the duty and retain his position, there is no evidence that he shrank from it; on the contrary, he complied with the King's desire for the extreme penalty, and he drafted the official Declaration of Ralegh's supposed crimes which was afterwards issued to the public, apparently with such little acceptance that Osborne says of it that "it rendered the condition of that proceeding worse in the world's opinion."
Now it is a remarkable fact that in connection with the latter event, poems, ostensibly by Ralegh, were written, just as they were in the case of Essex, which cannot possibly, in my opinion, be attributed to him, one of which had for its object the obtaining of Ralegh's pardon, the other of securing his fame, after his execution, with posterity. For reasons which I gave at p. 457 of my book on Spenser's Works, the second of these two poems furnishes the very strongest grounds for the belief that someone was making use of Ralegh's name for the publication of verse, for this celebrated epitaph, supposed to have been written by Ralegh himself the night before his execution, and to have been "found in his Bible in the Gate house at Westminster" is, as has recently been discovered, the last stanza of a well-written but indecent poem, being in the nature of a lament on the destruction of beauty by time and decay. The last stanza of that poem is as follows:
Oh cruell Time, which takes in trust
Our youth, our joys, our all we have,
Who in the dark and silent grave,
When we have wandered all our ways,
To serve the purpose of the Ralegh epitaph two lines have been added:
But from this earth, this grave, this dust,
My God shall raise me up I trust.
and the opening words have been altered to
It is in the first place incredible that Ralegh, who was a man of very clean mind, should have written the original poem; in the second place, even more incredible that he should have chosen a stanza of it through which to utter his last aspiration on earth, especially at that solemn hour when he had taken leave of his wife and was engaged on settling what he should say to the world the next morning on the scaffold. As I stated in my book, my view of the matter is that it represented Bacon's secret effort to do Ralegh's memory some measure of justice by way of amends for the action which he had felt obliged to take against him in his official capacity.
The other poem alluded to above which I believe to be Bacon's work is the verse petition to Queen Anne, which, according to the original title, was presented in 1618. Queen herself, who was very friendly to Ralegh, wrote to Buckingham begging him to use his influence with the king for the sparing of Ralegh's life. The poem is an exquisite piece of work, in my judgment far beyond Ralegh's poetical powers as judged by the standard of other pieces which may be confidently attributed to him, as, for example, the analogous poem which is contained in the "Cynthia" MS. (See Appendix III. and remarks therein). Here then, if I am right, we again find Bacon trying to counteract secretly his own proceedings taken publicly under pressure from the sovereign.
We come now to Othello. In my previous volume I pointed out how closely Shakespeare seems to have followed the circumstances of Ralegh's courtship and marriage in this
1 This poem will be found in Appendix III, p. 307.
play. It was the first play of Shakespeare's which appeared in the reign of James I., being performed at Whitehall on 1st November, 1604, the year after Ralegh's condemnation. The view I take of it is that it was designed in order to suggest to the mind of the sovereign and his ministers an analogy with the case of Ralegh, a man, like Othello, of simple and noble nature ensnared to his ruin by a crafty intrigue. It is immaterial that the story is different; it is the treatment with which we are concerned. The story is taken from the Italian tale of Cinthio, of which no translation in English is known to have existed. It is a bald and inferior production and the story has been practically re-created by Shakespeare. In the Italian tale Iago, the ensign, is described as " a man of handsome figure, but of the most depraved nature in the world." Out of this Shakespeare created a character which has been described by a modern translator of the story' as one of the greatest impersonations of the evil spirit that has ever been suggested to an artist's mind." Are we to suppose that this was done without a motive, and that there was nothing in the author's life to turn his thoughts in such a direction? For however much the character may have been suggested by the villainy of others, in the last resort it comes out of himself, and indeed there is no character in Shakespeare which is more evidently a product of the self-element. That being so, the evil principle which it represents must have been contained in the author's own nature, and cannot, to produce such a result, have been merely an external study.
There are two other examples belonging to this time, hardly less appalling, of this expression of the power of evil, to which I have already directed attention in my book on Spenser, one in the attack on Leicester in the anonymous book published under the name of Leicester's Commonwealth in 1584, another in the letter on the subject of Essex sent by Ralegh to Cecil probably at the end of 1599. Of the former, Queen Elizabeth said, with great justice, that the charges contained in it were "such as none but an incarnate devil himself could dream to be true"; of the latter Sir Egerton
1 J. E. Taylor, 1855.
Brydges, who collected and published some of Ralegh's poems in 1813, wrote, "This letter strikes me to be the dictation of a man apparently (I do not admit really) acute in worldly wisdom; but frightfully wicked. It exhibits an appalling picture of the course of human affairs." Both these compositions have a striking feature in common, namely, a complete detachment on the part of the author, and absence of all animus. They are works of art, in which the author was evidently amusing himself with his own performance without his feelings being engaged. But the point of view was derived from the author's own nature. For reasons which I gave in my book I believe them both to be Bacon's work, the former entirely so, the latter perhaps only partially."
It has been said of Shakespeare that all sources of feeling were open to him, and this is no doubt true, but true only because his nature, in some exceptional way, included them all. The point, however, is what determined the expression in any given direction. I think it was the impression of circumstances. Ralegh was a friend of Bacon's and his condemnation must presumably have greatly affected his mind, especially if, as in the case of Essex, he had been in any way concerned in it. In that case his instinct, as I read his character, would be to make use of his artistic powers in his service. It may be said that no one could have discerned any such intention through the disguise of Othello, but the artist himself may not have taken that view, and in any case its composition would have afforded him the relief of self-expression. Let us endeavour to follow the analogy.
Ralegh's early life, like Othello's, was passed in peril and hardships. As a soldier of fortune in France he saw terrible fighting in the civil war between the Huguenots and Catholics; afterwards he served in the Netherlands against Spain, and later in Ireland. By his own address and audacity he won the favour of the Queen when he was about thirty, and married Elizabeth Throgmorton, to whom he was deeply attached, as
1 See Edmund Spenser, etc. Ch. vii. and p. 438; and for extracts from Leicester's Commonwealth see my Gabriel Harvey and Thomas Nashe.
she was to him, about the age of forty. Of this attachment Edwards writes, "Her charms subdued Sir Walter Ralegh. The noble presence, the warlike fame, the ready tongue, the various accomplishments of such a lover, subdued in turnand subdued entirely-the Queen's fair maid of honour." The analogy of Othello and Desdemona at once presents itself:
Her father loved me; oft invited me ;
Still question'd me the story of my life,
From year to year, the battles, sieges, fortunes,
I ran it through, even from my boyish days,
Of moving accidents by flood and field,
Of hair-breadth scapes i'the imminent deadly breach;
And sold to slavery, of my redemption thence
And portance in my travels' history:
Wherein of antres vast and deserts idle,
Rough quarries, rocks and hills whose heads touch heaven,
It was my hint to speak,-such was the process;
And of the Cannibals that each other eat,
The Anthropophagi and men whose heads
Do grow beneath their shoulders. This to hear
She loved me for the dangers I had pass'd,
Even the stories which Ralegh told about the marvels of Guiana in his Discoverie, which, having given rise to strong adverse criticism, would at once have been recognised by a contemporary audience, are referred to in this narrative.
As I have suggested in my explanation of Spenser's three Elizabeths" sonnet,1 there is also a Ralegh analogy in the lines,
I fetch my life and being
1 Edmund Spenser, etc., p. 375 sq.