Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 47.djvu/206

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brought back, and lodged in the Tower. He had meantime drawn up his ‘Apology’ (Works, viii. 479), which is rather a justification of his conduct than a defence against the charge. ‘To James it must have appeared tantamount to a confession of guilt; to all who knew what the facts were it stamped him as a liar convicted by his own admission’ (Gardiner, iii. 141).

Commissioners were now appointed to inquire into what had been done. With Lord-chancellor Bacon at their head, they were all men of good repute, and there is no reason to doubt that they performed their duty conscientiously; Ralegh was examined, but his statements contradicted each other, till, ‘exasperated by the audacity of his lying, they came to the conclusion that there was not a single word of truth in his assertions; that his belief in the very existence of the mine was a mere fiction invented for the purpose of imposing upon his too credulous sovereign’ (ib. p. 142); and that his lies must be taken as an admission of his guilt. James accordingly gave orders for him to be brought to trial, but was told that, as Ralegh was already under sentence of death, he could not now be legally tried. If he was to be executed, it must be on the former sentence. On 22 Oct. Ralegh was brought for the last time before the commissioners, when, in the name of his colleagues, Bacon, after pronouncing him guilty of abusing the confidence of his sovereign, told him that he was to die. On 28 Oct. he was brought before the justices of the king's bench, when he argued that the Winchester sentence was discharged by his commission for the late voyage. He was told that, ‘unless he could produce an express pardon from the king, no argument that he could use would be admissible.’ In that case, he answered, he had nothing to do but throw himself on the king's mercy; whereupon the chief justice, Sir Henry Montagu (afterwards Earl of Manchester) [q. v.], awarded execution according to law (ib. p. 148). On the following morning, 29 Oct., he was brought to the scaffold erected in Old Palace Yard. He met his death calmly and cheerfully, and of his last words many have become almost proverbial. As he laid his head on the block some one objected that it ought to be towards the east. ‘What matter,’ he answered, ‘how the head lie, so the heart be right?’ than which, says Mr. Gardiner, no better epitaph could be found for him. An official ‘Declaration’ of his demeanour and carriage was issued a few days later and was frequently reprinted. His remains were delivered to his wife, and they were buried in the chancel of St. Margaret's Church, Westminster, in spite of Lady Ralegh's wish that he should be buried at Beddington; the head she caused to be embalmed, and she kept it by her in a red leather bag as long as she lived. It seems to have passed into the possession of her son Carew, but what ultimately became of it is uncertain. A memorial window was placed in 1882 by American citizens in St. Margaret's Church, with an inscription by James Russell Lowell.

The high position Ralegh had occupied, the greatness of his downfall, the general feeling that the sentence pronounced in 1603 was unjust, and that the carrying of it into execution in 1618 was base, all contributed to exalt the popular appreciation of his character. His enemies had denounced him as proud, covetous, and unscrupulous, and much evidence is extant in support of the unfavourable judgment. But the circumstances of his death concentrated men's attention on his bold exploits against his country's enemies, and to him was long attributed an importance in affairs of state or in conduct of war which the recital of his acts fails to justify. He was regarded as the typical champion of English interests against Spanish aggression, a view which found its most concentrated expression in the popular tract ‘Sir Walter Rawleigh's Ghost, or England's Forewarner,’ by Thomas Scott (Utrecht, 1626, and frequently reissued). Physical courage, patriotism, resourcefulness may be ungrudgingly ascribed to him. But he had small regard for truth, and reckless daring was the main characteristic of his stirring adventures as politician, soldier, sailor, and traveller. Ralegh acquired, however, a less ambiguous reputation in the pacific sphere of literature, and his mental calibre cannot be fairly judged, nor his versatility fully realised, until his achievements in poetry, in history, and political philosophy have been taken into account. However impetuous and rash was he in action, he surveyed life in his writings with wisdom and insight, and recorded his observations with dignity and judicial calmness.

It is difficult to reconcile the religious tone of his writings with the reputation for infidelity which attached to Ralegh until his death, and was admitted to be justifiable by Hume. The charges brought against Ralegh and Marlowe in 1593 were repeated in general terms within four months after his execution by Archbishop Abbot, who attributed the catastrophe to his ‘questioning’ of ‘God's being and omnipotence’ (Abbot to Sir Thomas Roe, 19 Feb. 1618–19). Such a charge seems confuted on almost every page