THE SPANISH ARMADA. 241
England's best defense then, as ever, was in her fleet; and after warping laboriously out of Plymouth harbor against the wind, the lord admiral stood westward under easy sail, keeping an anxious look-out for the Armada, the approach of which was soon announced by Cornish fisher-boats and signals from the Cornish cliffs.
The England of our own days is so strong, and the Spain of our own days is so feeble, that it is not easy, without some reflection and care, to comprehend the full extent of the peril which England then ran from the power and the ambition of Spain, or to appreciate the importance of that crisis in the history of the world. We had then no Indian or colonial empire, save the feeble germs of our North American Settlements, which Raleigh and Gilbert had recently planted. Scotland was a separate kingdom; and Ireland was then even a greater source of weakness and a worse nest of rebellion than she has been in after times, Queen Elizabeth had found at her accession an encumbered revenue, a divided people, and an unsuccessful foreign war, in which the last remnant of our possessions in France had been lost; she had also a formidable pretender to her crown, whose interests were favored by all the Roman Catholic powers; and even some of her subjects were warped by religious bigotry to deny her title, and to look on her as a heretical usurper. It is true that during the years of her reign which had passed away before the attempted invasion of 1588, she had revived the commercial prosperity, the national spirit, and the national loyalty of England. But her resources to cope with the colossal power of Philip II. still seemed most scanty; and she had not a single foreign ally, except the Dutch, who were themselves struggling hard, and, as it seemed, hopelessly, to maintain their revolt against Spain.
On the other hand, Philip II. was absolute master of an empire so superior to the other states of the world in extent, in resources, and especially in military and naval forces, as to make the project of enlarging that empire into a universal monarchy
the tidings of the Armada's approach, and the arming of the English nation, are magnificently described. The progress of the fire-signals is depicted in lines which are worthy of comparison with the renowned passage in the Agamemnon, which describes the transmission of the beacon-light announcing the fall of Troy from Mount Ida to Argos.