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From the Westminster Review."
ENGLAND'S FORGOTTEN WORTHIES.*
THE Reformation, the Antipodes, the American Continent, the Planetary system, and the Infinite deep of the Heavens have now become common and familiar facts to us. Globes and orreries are the playthings of our school-days; we inhale the spirit of Protestanism with our earliest breath of consciousness; it is all but impossible to throw back our imagination into the time when, as new grand discoveries, they stirred every mind. which they touched with awe and wonder at the revelation which God had sent down among mankind. Vast spiritual and material continents lay for the first time displayed,
1. The Observations of Sir Richard Hawkins, Knt., in his Voyage in the South Sea in 1593. Reprinted from the Edition of 1622, and Edited by R. H. Major, Esq., of the British Museum. Published by the Hakluyt Society.
2. The Discoverie of the Empire of Guiana. By Sir Walter Raleigh, Knt. Edited, with copious Explanatory Notes, and a Biographical Memoir, by Sir Robert H. Schomburgk, Phil. D., &c.
3. Narratives of Early Voyages undertaken for the Discovery of a Passage to Cathaia and India by the North-west; with Selections from the Records of the worshipful Fellowship of the Merchants of London, trading into the East Indies, and from MSS. in the Library of the British Museum, now first published, by Thomas Rundall, Esq.
VOL. XXVII. NO. I.
opening fields of thought and fields of enterprise of which none could conjecture the limit. Old routine was broken up. Men were thrown back on their own strength and their own power, unshackled to accomplish whatever they might dare. And although we do not speak of these discoveries as the cause of that enormous force of heart and intellect which accompanied them (for they were as much the effect as the cause, and one reacted on the other), yet at any rate they afforded scope and room for the play of powers which, without such scope, let them have been as transcendant as they would, must have passed away unproductive and blighted.
An earnest faith in the supernatural, an intensely real conviction of the divine and devilish forces by which the universe was guided and misguided, was the inheritance of the Elizabethan age from Catholic Christianity. The fiercest and most lawless men did then really and truly believe in the actual personal presence of God or the devil in every accident, or scene, or action. They brought to the contemplation of the new heaven and the new earth an imagination saturated with the spiritual convictions of the old era, which were not lost, but only infinitely expanded.
The planets whose vastness they now learnt to recognize were, therefore, only the more powerful for evil or for good; the tides were the breathing of Demogorgon; and the idolatrous American tribes were real worshippers of the real devil, and were assisted with the full power of his evil army.
It is a form of thought which, however in a vague and general way we may continue to use its phraseology, has become, in its detailed application to life, utterly strange to us. We congratulate ourselves on the enlargement of our understanding when we read the decisions of grave law-courts in cases of supposed witchcraft; we smile complacently over Raleigh's story of the island of the Amazons, and rejoice that we are not such as he-entangled in the cobwebs of effete and foolish superstition. The true conclusion is the opposite of the conclusion which we draw. That Raleigh and Bacon could believe what they believed, and could be what they were notwithstanding, is to us a proof that the injury which such mistakes can inflict is unspeakably insignificant and arising, as they arose, from a never-failing sense of the real awfulnes and mystery of the world, and of the life of human souls upon it, they witness to the presence in such minds of a spirit, the loss of which not the most perfect acquaintance with every law by which the whole creation moves can compensate. We wonder at the grandeur, the moral majesty, of some of Shakespeare's characters, so far beyond what the noblest among ourselves can imitate, and at first thought we attribute it to the genius of the poet who has outstripped nature in his creations: but we are misunderstanding the power and the meaning of poetry in attributing creativeness to it in any such sense; Shakespeare created, but only as the spirit of nature created around him, working in him as it worked abroad in those among whom he lived. The men whom he draws were such men as he saw and knew; the words they utter were such as he heard in the ordinary conversations in which he joined. At the Mermaid with Raleigh and with Sidney, and at a thousand un-named English firesides, he found the living originals for his Prince Hals, his Orlandos, his Antonios, his Portias, his Isabellas. The closer personal acquaintance which we can form with the English of the age of Elizabeth, the more we are satisfied that Shakespeare's great poetry is no more than the rhythmic echo of the life which it depicts.
It was, therefore, with no little interest that we heard of the formation of a society which was to employ itself, as we understood,
| in republishing in accessible form some, if not all, of the invaluable records compiled or composed by Richard Hakluyt. Books, like everything else, have their appointed deathday; the souls of them, unless they be found worthy of a second birth in a new body, perish with the paper in which they lived, and the early folio Hakluyts, not from their own want of merit, but from our neglect of them, were expiring of old age. The fivevolume quarto edition, published in 1811, so little people then cared for the exploits of their ancestors, was but of 270 copies; it was intended for no more than for curious antiquaries, or for the great libraries, where it could be consulted as a book of reference; and among a people, the greater part of whom had never heard Hakluyt's name, the editors are scarcely to be blamed if it never so much as occurred to them that general readers would ever come to care to have it within their reach.
And yet those five volumes may be called the Prose Epic of the modern English nation. They contain the heroic tales of the exploits of the great men in whom the new era was inaugurated; not mythic, like the Iliads and the Eddas, but plain broad narratives of substantial facts, which rival them in interest and grandeur. What the old epics were to the royally or nobly born, this modern epic is to the common people. We have no longer kings or princes for chief actors, to whom the heroism, like the dominion, of the world had in time past been confined. But, as it was in the days of the apostles, when a few poor fishermen from an obscure lake in Palestine assumed, under the divine mission, the spiritual authority over mankind, so, in the days of our own Elizabeth, the seamen from the banks of the Thames and the Avon, the Plym and the Dart, self-taught and selfdirected, with no impulse but what was beating in their own royal hearts, went out across the unknown seas fighting, discovering, colonizing, and graved out the channels, and at last paved them with their bones, through which the commerce and enterprise of England has flowed out over all the world. We can conceive nothing, not the songs of Homer himself, which would be read, among us at least, with more enthusiastic interest than these plain massive tales; and a people's edition of them in these days, when the writings of Ainsworth and Eugène Sue circulate in tens of thousands, would perhaps be the most blessed antidote which could be bestowed upon us. The heroes themselves were the men of the people-the Joneses,
the Smiths, the Davises, the Drakes; and no courtly pen, with the one exception of Raleigh, lent its polish or its varnish to set them off. In most cases the captain himself, or his clerk or servant, or some unknown gentleman volunteer, sat down and chronicled the voyage which he had shared, and thus inorganically arose a collection of writings which, with all their simplicity, are for nothing more striking than for the high moral beauty, warmed with natural feeling, which displays itself through all their pages. With us, the sailor is scarcely himself beyond his quarterdeck. If he is distinguished in his profession, he is professional merely; or if he is more than that, he owes it not to his work as a sailor, but to independent domestic culture. With them their profession was the school of their nature, a high moral education which most brought out what was most nobly human in them; and the wonders of earth, and air, and sea, and sky, were a real intelligible language in which they heard Almighty God speaking to them.
That such hopes of what might be accomplished by the Hakluyt Society should in some measure be disappointed, is only what might naturally be anticipated of all very sanguine expectation. Cheap editions are expensive editions to the publisher, and historical societies, from a necessity which appears to encumber all corporate English action, rarely fail to do their work expensively and infelicitously; yet, after all allowances and deductions, we cannot reconcile ourselves to the mortification of having found but one volume in the series to be even tolerably edited, and that one to be edited by a gentleman to whom England is but an adopted country-Sir Robert Schomburgk. Raleigh's "Conquest of Guiana," with Sir Robert's sketch of Raleigh's history and character, form in everything but its cost a very model of an excellent volume. For every one of the rest we are obliged to say of them, that they have left little undone to paralyze whatever interest was reviving in Hakluyt, and to consign their own volumes to the same obscurity to which time and accident were consigning the earlier editions. Very little which was really noteworthy escaped the industry of Hakluyt himself, and we looked to find reprints of the most remarkable of the stories which were to be found in his collection. They began unfortunately with proposing to continue the work where he had left it, and produce narratives hitherto unpublished of other voyages of inferior interest, or not of English origin. Better
thoughts appear to have occurred to them in the course of the work; but their evil destiny overtook them before their thoughts could get themselves executed. We opened one volume with eagerness, bearing the title of Voyages to the Northwest, in hope of finding our old friends Davis and Frobisher, and we found a vast unnecessary Editor's Preface; and instead of the voyages themselves, which with their picturesqueness and moral beauty shine among the fairest jewels in the diamond mine of Hakluyt, an analysis and digest of their results, which Milton was called in to justify in an inappropriate quotation. It is much as if they had undertaken to edit "Bacon's Essays," and had retailed what they conceived to be the substance of them in their own language; strangely failing to see that the real value of the actions or the thought of remarkable men does not lie in the material result which can be gathered from them, but in the heart and soul of those who do or utter them. Consider what Homer's Odyssey" would be, reduced into an analysis.
The editor of the "Letters of Columbus" apologizes for the rudeness of their phraseology. Columbus, he tells us, was not so great a master of the pen as of the art of navigation. We are to make excuses for him. We are put on our guard, and warned not to be offended, before we are introduced to the sublime record of sufferings under which his great soul was staggering towards the end of its earthly calamities, where the inarticulate fragments in which his thought breaks out from him, are strokes of natural art by the side of which the highest literary pathos is poor and meaningless.
And even in the subjects which they select they are pursued by the same curious fatality. Why is Drake to be best known, or to be only known, in his last voyage? Why pass over the success, and endeavor to immortalize the failure? When Drake climbed the tree in Panama, and saw both oceans, and vowed that he would sail a ship in the Pacific; when he crawled out upon the cliffs of Terra del Fuego, and leaned his head over the southernmost angle of the world; when he scored a
furrow round the globe with his keel, and received the homage of the barbarians of the antipodes in the name of the Virgin Queen; he was another man from what he had become after twenty years of court life and intrigue, and Spanish fighting, and goldhunting. There is a tragic solemnity in his end, if we take it as the last act of his career; but it is his life, not his death, which we de