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Raleigh By Edmund Gosse Characters: 24277

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Raleigh had been released from the Tower expressly on the understanding that he should make direct preparations for a voyage to Guiana. The object of this voyage was to enrich King James with the produce of a mine close to the banks of the Orinoco. In the reign of Elizabeth, Raleigh had stoutly contended that the natives of Guiana had ceded all sovereignty in that country to England in 1595, and that English colonists therefore had no one's leave to ask there. But times had changed, and he now no longer pretended that he had a right to the Orinoco; he was careful to insist that his expedition would infringe no privileges of Spain. He was anxious by every diplomatic subtlety to avoid failure, and for the first few months he kept extremely quiet. He had called in the 8,000l. which had been lying at interest ever since he had received it as part of the compensation for the Sherborne estates. Lady Raleigh had raised 2,500l. by the sale of some lands at Mitcham.[11] 5000l. more were brought together by various expedients, some being borrowed in Amsterdam through the famous merchant, Pieter Vanlore,' and 15,000l. were contributed by Raleigh's friends, who looked upon his enterprise much as men at the present day would regard a promising but rather hazardous investment.

His first business was to build one large ship of 440 tons in the Thames. This he named the 'Destiny,' and he received no check in fitting her up to his desire; the King paid 700 crowns, as the usual statutable bounty on shipbuilding, without objection. At the same time Raleigh built or collected six other smaller vessels, and furnished them all with ordnance. The preparation of such a fleet in the Thames could not pass unobserved by the representatives of the foreign courts, and during the last six months of 1616 Raleigh's name became the centre of a tangle of diplomatic intrigue, and one which frequently occurs in the correspondence of Sarmiento, better known afterwards as Gondomar, the Spanish ambassador, and in that of Des Marêts, the French ambassador. Mr. Edwards has remarked, with complete justice, that the last two years of Raleigh's life were simply 'a protracted death-struggle between him and Gondomar.' The latter had been in England since 1613, and had acquired a singular art in dealing with the purposes of James I. At the English Court during 1616 we find Spain watching France, and Venice watching Savoy, all of them intent on Raleigh's movements in the river. For the unravelment of these intrigues in detail, the reader must be referred to Mr. Gardiner's masterly pages.

On August 26, a royal commission was issued, by which Raleigh was made the commander of an expedition to Guiana, under express orders, more stringently expressed than usual, not to visit the dominions of any Christian prince. This was to allay the alarm of the Spanish ambassador, who from the first rumour of Raleigh's voyage had not ceased to declare that its real object was piracy, and probably the capture of the Mexican plate fleet. At the same time James I. allowed Gondomar to obtain possession of copies of certain documents which Raleigh had drawn out at the royal command describing his intended route, and these were at once forwarded to Madrid, together with such information as Gondomar had been able to glean in conversation with Raleigh. Spain instantly replied by offering him an escort to his gold mine and back, but of course Raleigh declined the proposition. He continued to assert that he had no piratical intention, and that any man might peacefully enter Guiana without asking leave of Spain.

It is doubtful whether the anecdote is true which records that Raleigh at this time applied to Bacon to know whether the terms of his commission were tantamount to a free pardon, and was told that they were. But it rests on much better testimony that Bacon asked him what he would do if the Guiana mine proved a deception. Raleigh admitted that he would then look out for the Mexican plate fleet. 'But then you will be pirates,' said Bacon; and Raleigh answered, 'Ah, who ever heard of men being pirates for millions?' There was no exaggeration in this; the Mexican fleet of that year was valued at two millions and a half. The astute Gondomar was at least half certain that this was Raleigh's real intention, and by October 12 he had persuaded James to give him still more full security that no injury should be done, at the peril of Raleigh's life, to any subject or property of the King of Spain.

The building of the 'Destiny' meanwhile proceeded, and Raleigh received many important visitors on board her. He was protected by the cordial favour of the Secretary, Sir Ralph Winwood; and if the King disliked him as much as ever, no animosity was shown. In the first days of 1617, Raleigh ventured upon a daring act of intrigue. He determined to work upon the growing sympathy of the English Court with Savoy and its tension with Spain, to strike a blow against the rich enemy of the one and ally of the other, Genoa. He proposed to Scarnafissi, the Savoyard envoy in London, that James I. should be induced to allow the Guiana expedition to steal into the Mediterranean, and seize Genoa for Savoy. Scarnafissi laid the proposal before James, and on January 12 it was discussed in the presence of Winwood. There was talk of increasing Raleigh's fleet for this purpose by the addition of a squadron of sixteen ships from the royal navy. For a fortnight the idea was discussed in secret; but on the 26th, Scarnafissi was told that the King had determined not to adopt it. Four days later Raleigh was released from the personal attendance of a keeper, and though still not pardoned, was pronounced free. On February 10, the Venetian envoy, who had been taken into Scarnafissi's counsel, announced to his Government that the King had finally determined to keep Raleigh to his original intention.

Raleigh was next assailed by secret propositions from France. Through the month of February various Frenchmen visited him on the 'Destiny,' besides the ambassador, Des Marêts. He was nearly persuaded, in defiance of James, to support the projected Huguenot rebellion by capturing St. Valéry. To find out the truth regarding his intention, Des Marêts paid at least one visit to the 'Destiny,' and on March 7 gave his Government an account of a conversation with Raleigh, in which the latter had spoken bitterly of James, and had asserted his affection for France, and desire to serve her. It is in the correspondence of Des Marêts that the names of Raleigh and Richelieu become for a moment connected; it was in February 1617 that the future Cardinal described his English contemporary as 'Ouastre Raly, grand marinier et mauvais capitaine.' In March the English Government, to allay fresh apprehensions on the part of Spain, forwarded by Gondomar most implicit assertions that Raleigh's expedition should be in no way injurious to Spain. And so it finally started after all, not bound for Mexico, or Genoa, or St. Valéry, but for the Orinoco. Up to the last, Gondomar protested, and his protestations were only put aside after a special council of March 28. Next day Raleigh rode down to Dover to go on board the 'Destiny,' which had left the Thames on the 26th.

His fleet of seven vessels was not well manned. His own account of the crews is thus worded in the Apology: 'A company of volunteers who for the most part had neither seen the sea nor the wars; who, some forty gentlemen excepted, were the very scum of the world, drunkards, blasphemers, and such others as their fathers, brothers, and friends thought it an exceeding good gain to be discharged of, with the hazard of some thirty, forty, or fifty pound.' He was himself Admiral, with his son Walter as captain of the 'Destiny;' Sir William Sentleger was on the 'Thunder;' a certain John Bailey commanded the 'Husband.' The remaining vessels were the 'Jason,' the 'Encounter,' the 'Flying Joan,' and the 'Page.' The master of the 'Destiny' was John Burwick, 'a hypocritical thief.' Various tiresome delays occurred. They waited for the 'Thunder' at the Isle of Wight; and when the rest went on to Plymouth, the 'Jason' stayed behind ignominiously in Portsmouth because her captain had no ready money to pay a distraining baker. The 'Husband' was in the same plight for twelve days more. The squadron was, however, increased by seven additional vessels, one of them commanded by Keymis, through the enforced waiting at Plymouth, where, on May 3, Raleigh issued his famous Orders to the Fleet. On June 12 the fleet sailed at last out of Plymouth Sound.

West of Scilly they fell in with a terrific storm, which scattered the ships in various directions. Some put back into Falmouth, but the 'Flying Joan' sank altogether, and the fly-boat was driven up the Bristol Channel. After nearly a fortnight of anxiety and distress, the fleet collected again in Cork Harbour, where they lay repairing and waiting for a favourable wind for more than six weeks. From the Lismore Papers, just published (Jan. 1886), we learn that Raleigh occupied this enforced leisure in getting rid of his remaining Irish leases, and in collecting as much money as he could. Sir Richard Boyle records that on July 1 Raleigh came to his house, and borrowed 100l. On August 19 the last Journal begins, and on the 20th the fleet left Cork, Raleigh having taken a share in a mine at Balligara on the morning of the same day. Nothing happened until the 31st, when, being off Cape St. Vincent, the English fleet fell in with four French vessels laden with fish and train oil for Seville. In order that they might not give notice that Raleigh was in those waters, where he certainly had no business to be, he took these vessels with him a thousand leagues to the southward, and then dismissed them with payment. His conduct towards these French boats was suspicious, and he afterwards tried to prove that they were pirates who had harried the Grand Canary. It was also Raleigh's contention, that the enmity presently shown him by Captain Bailey, of the 'Husband,' arose from Raleigh's refusal to let him make one of these French ships his prize.

On Sunday morning, September 7, the English fleet anchored off the shore of Lanzarote, the most easterly of the Canaries, having hitherto crept down the coast of Africa. These Atlantic islands were particularly open to the attacks of Algerine corsairs, and a fleet of 'Turks' had just ravaged the towns of the Madeiras. The people of Lanzarote, waking up one morning to find their roadstead full of strange vessels, took for granted that these were pirates from Algiers. One English merchant vessel was lying there at anchor, and by means of this interpreter Raleigh endeavoured to explain his peaceful intention, but without success. He had a meeting on shore with the governor of the island, 'our troops staying at equal distance with us,' and was asked the pertinent question, 'what I sought for from that miserable and barren island, peopled in effect all with Moriscos.' Raleigh asserted that all he wanted was fresh meat and wine for his crews, and these he offered to pay for.

On the 11th, finding that no provisions came, and that the inhabitants were carrying their goods up into the hills, the captains begged Raleigh to march inland and take the town; 'but,' he says, 'besides that I knew it would offend his Majesty, I am sure the poor English merchant should have been ruined, whose goods he had in his hands, and the way being mountainous and most extreme stony, I knew that I must have lost twenty good men in taking a town not worth two groats.' The Governor of Lanzarote continued to be in a craven state of anxiety, and would not hear of trading. We cannot blame him, especially when we find that less than eight months later his island was invaded by genuine Algerine bandits, his town utterly sacked, and 900 Christians taken off into Moslem slavery. After three Englishmen had been killed by the islanders, yet without taking any reprisals, Raleigh sailed away from these sandy and inhospitable shores. But in the night befo

re he left, one of his ships, the 'Husband,' had disappeared. Captain Bailey, who is believed to have been in the pay of Gondomar, had hurried back to England to give report of Raleigh's piratical attack on an island belonging to the dominion of Spain. As the great Englishman went sailing westward through the lustrous waters of the Canary archipelago, his doom was sealed, and he would have felt his execution to be a certainty, had he but known what was happening in England.

He called at Grand Canary, to complain of the Lanzarote people to the governor-general of the islands, but, for some reason which he does not state, did not land at the town of Palmas, but at a desert part, far from any village, probably west of the northern extremity of the island. The governor-general gave him no answer; but the men found a little water, and they sailed away, leaving Teneriffe to the north. On September 18 they put into the excellent port of the island of Gomera, 'the best,' he says, 'in all the Canaries, the town and castle standing on the very breach of the sea, but the billows do so tumble and overfall that it is impossible to land upon any part of the strand but by swimming, saving in a cove under steep rocks, where they can pass towards the town but one after the other.' Here, as at Lanzarote, they were taken for Algerines, and the guns on the rocks began to fire at them. Raleigh, however, immediately sent a messenger on shore to explain that they were not come to sack their town and burn their churches, as the Dutch had done in 1599, but that they were in great need of water. They presently came to an agreement that the islanders should quit their trenches round the landing-place, and that Raleigh should promise on the faith of a Christian not to land more than thirty unarmed sailors, to fill their casks at springs within pistol-shot of the wash of the sea, none of these sailors being permitted to enter any house or garden. Raleigh, therefore, sent six of his seamen, and turned his ships broadside to the town, ready to batter it with culverin if he saw one sign of treachery.

It turned out that when the Governor of Gomera knew who his visitors were, he was as pleased as possible to see them. His wife's mother had been a Stafford, and when Raleigh knew that, he sent his countrywoman a present of six embroidered handkerchiefs and six pairs of gloves, with a very handsome message. To this the lady rejoined that she regretted that her barren island contained nothing worth Raleigh's acceptance, yet sent him 'four very great loaves of sugar,' with baskets of lemons, oranges, pomegranates, figs, and most delicate grapes. During the three days that they rode off Gomera, the Governor and his English lady wrote daily to Sir Walter. In return for the fruit, deeming himself much in her debt, he sent on shore a very courteous letter, and with it two ounces of ambergriece, an ounce of the essence of amber, a great glass of fine rose-water, an excellent picture of Mary Magdalen, and a cut-work ruff. Here he expected courtesies to stay, but the lady must positively have the last word, and as the English ships were starting her servants came on board with yet a letter, accompanying a basket of delicate white manchett bread, more clusters of fruits, and twenty-four fat hens. Meanwhile, in the friendliest way, the sailors had been going to and fro, and had drawn 240 pipes of water. So cordial, indeed, was their reception, that, as a last favour, Raleigh asked the Governor for a letter to Sarmiento [Gondomar], which he got, setting forth 'how nobly we had behaved ourselves, and how justly we had dealt with the inhabitants of the islands.' Before leaving Gomera, Raleigh discharged a native barque which one of his pinnaces had captured, and paid at the valuation of the master for any prejudice that had been done him. On September 21 they sailed away from the Canaries, having much sickness on board; and that very day their first important loss occurred, in the death of the Provost Marshal of the fleet, a man called Stead.

On the 26th they reached St. Antonio, the outermost of the Cape Verde Islands, but did not land there. For eight wretched days they wandered aimlessly about in this unfriendly archipelago, trying to make up their minds to land now on Brava, now on St. Jago. Some of the ships grated on the rocks, all lost anchors and cables; one pinnace, her crew being asleep and no one on the watch, drove under the bowsprit of the 'Destiny,' struck her and sank. When they did effect a landing on Brava, they were soaked by the tropical autumnal rains of early October. Men were dying fast in all the ships. In deep dejection Raleigh gave the order to steer away for Guiana. Meanwhile Bailey had arrived in England, had seen Gondomar, and had openly given out that he left Raleigh because the admiral had been guilty of piratical acts against Spain. It does not seem that Winwood or the King took any notice of these declarations until the end of the year.

The ocean voyage was marked by an extraordinary number of deaths, among others that of Mr. Fowler, the principal refiner, whose presence at the gold mine would have been of the greatest importance. On October 13, John Talbot, who had been for eleven years Raleigh's secretary in the Tower, passed away. The log preserved in the Second Voyage is of great interest, but we dare not allow its observations to detain us. On the last of October, Raleigh was struck down by fever himself, and for twenty days lay unable to eat anything more solid than a stewed prune. He was in bed, on November 11, when they sighted Cape Orange, now the most northerly point belonging to the Empire of Brazil. On the 14th they anchored at the mouth of the Cayenne river, and Raleigh was carried from his noisome cabin into his barge; the 'Destiny' got across the bar, which was lower then than it now is, on the 17th. At Cayenne, after a day or two, Raleigh's old servant Harry turned up; he had almost forgotten his English in twenty-two years. Raleigh began to pick up strength a little on pine-apples and plantains, and presently he began to venture even upon roast peccary. He proceeded to spend the next fortnight on the Cayenne river, refreshing his weary crews, and repairing his vessels. An interesting letter to his wife that he sent home from this place, which he called 'Caliana,' confirms the Second Voyage, and adds some details. He says to Lady Raleigh: 'To tell you I might be here King of the Indians were a vanity; but my name hath still lived among them. Here they feed me with fresh meat and all that the country yields; all offer to obey me. Commend me to poor Carew my son.' His eldest son, Walter, it will be remembered, was with him.

In December the fleet coasted along South America westward, till on the 15th they stood under Trinidad. Meanwhile Raleigh had sent forward, by way of Surinam and Essequibo, the expedition which was to search for the gold mine on the Orinoco. His own health prevented his attempting this journey, but he sent Captain Keymis as commander in his stead, and with him was George Raleigh, the Admiral's nephew; young Walter also accompanied the party. On New Year's Eve Raleigh landed at a village in Trinidad, close to Port of Spain, and there he waited, on the borders of the land of pitch, all through January 1618. On the last of that month he returned to Punto Gallo on the mainland, being very anxious for news from the Orinoco. The log of the Second Voyage closes on February 13, and it is supposed that it was on the evening of that day that Captain Keymis' disastrous letter, written on January 8, reached Raleigh and informed him of the death of his son Walter. 'To a broken mind, a sick body, and weak eyes, it is a torment to write letters,' and we know he felt, as he also said, that now 'all the respects of this world had taken end in him.' Keymis had acted in keeping with what he must have supposed to be Raleigh's private wish; he had attacked the new Spanish settlement of San Thomé. In the fight young Walter Raleigh had been struck down as he was shouting 'Come on, my men! This is the only mine you will ever find.' Keymis had to announce this fact to the father, and a few days afterwards, with only a remnant of his troop, he himself fled in panic to the sea, believing that a Spanish army was upon him. The whole adventure was a miserable and ignominious failure.

The meeting between Raleigh and Keymis could not fail to be an embarrassing one. Raleigh could not but feel that all his own mistakes and faults might have been condoned if Keymis had brought one basket of ore from the fabulous mine, and he could not refrain from reproaching him. He told him he 'should be forced to leave him to his arguments, with the which if he could satisfy his Majesty and the State, I should be glad of it, though for my part he must excuse me to justify it.' After this first interview Keymis left him in great dejection, and a day or two later appeared in the Admiral's cabin with a letter which he had written to the Earl of Arundel, excusing himself. He begged Raleigh to forgive him and to read this letter. What followed, Sir Walter must tell in his own grave words:

I told him he had undone me by his obstinacy, and that I would not favour or colour in any sort his former folly. He then asked me, whether that were my resolution? I answered, that it was. He then replied in these words, 'I know then, sir, what course to take,' and went out of my cabin into his own, in which he was no sooner entered than I heard a pistol go off. I sent up, not suspecting any such thing as the killing of himself, to know who shot a pistol. Keymis himself made answer, lying on his bed, that he had shot it off, because it had long been charged; with which I was satisfied. Some half-hour after this, his boy, going into the cabin, found him dead, having a long knife thrust under his left pap into his heart, and his pistol lying by him, with which it appeared he had shot himself; but the bullet lighting upon a rib, had but broken the rib, and went no further.

Such was the wretched manner in which Raleigh and his old faithful servant parted. In his despair, the Admiral's first notion was to plunge himself into the mazes of the Orinoco, and to find the gold mine, or die in the search for it. But his men were mutinous; they openly declared that in their belief no such mine existed, and that the Spaniards were bearing down on them by land and sea. They would not go; and Raleigh, strangely weakened and humbled, asked them if they wished him to lead them against the Mexican plate fleet. He told them that he had a commission from France, and that they would be pardoned in England if they came home laden with treasure.

What exactly happened no one knows. The mutiny grew worse and worse, and on March 21, when Raleigh wrote a long letter to prepare the mind of Winwood, he was lying off St. Christopher's on his homeward voyage; not knowing of course that his best English friend had already been dead five months. Next day, he made up his mind that he dared not return to England to face his enemies, and he wrote to tell his wife that he was off to Newfoundland, 'where I mean to make clean my ships, and revictual; for I have tobacco enough to pay for it.' But he was powerless, as he confesses, to govern his crew, and no one knows how the heartbroken old man spent the next two dreadful months. His ships slunk back piecemeal to English havens, and on May 23, Captain North, who had commanded the 'Chudleigh,' had audience of the King, and told him the whole miserable story. On May 26,[12] Raleigh made his appearance, with the 'Destiny,' in the harbour of Kinsale, and on June 21 he arrived in Plymouth, penniless and dejected, for the first time in his life utterly unnerved and irresolute. On June 16 he had written an apologetic letter to the King. By some curious slip Mr. Edwards dated this letter three months too late, and its significance has therefore been overlooked. It is important as showing that Raleigh was eager to conciliate James.

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