Sir Walter Raleigh of Youghal in the County of Cork
THE Royal Dublin Society’s small but interesting collection of portraits, in the gallery on Leinster Lawn, includes a painting by Zucchero of our old friend Sir Walter Raleigh, who bears here the full contemporary title of the superscription. It might raise some apprehension in minds not too firmly set on Elizabethan biography; for as the adage hath it of a woman in other matters, so it may be affirmed in statecraft of an Irishman, that he is usually at the bottom of it. That lofty meddler, glancing sharply from the canvas, was figuratively, indeed, an Irishman, “by these pickers and stealers,” and the rights of the grab-bag.
It is Thierry who calls the Irish the long-memoried people. It would be incredible to any one who had never heen in southern Ireland how the gossip of the peasantry to-day runs on Cromwell, and even on Dermot MacMorrough and Strongbow. No landmark passes here, as it does in the rural districts of England, into the forgetfulness of those who live under its shadow. Every event, modern and mediæval, every name, foe’s and friend’s, is handed on with the severest accuracy possible to oral tradition. Two names, at least, which have a sound gracious enough elsewhere, fare ill enough all along
By the lonely torso of Kilcolman, a young farmer, resting against his plough, will tell you that Edmund Spenser was blind and foolish, and brought his tragedy upon himself, as if he were speaking, not without sympathy, of his neighbor of yesterday. And Raleigh, — how thoroughly, despite old prejudice, they understand Raleigh on the ancient seigniory of the Desmonds, farther south! There he is, hard and proud, and he bears Cæsar’s blame, — he is ambitious. “ He had a greedy heart,” say the caubeened critics of Youghal; and they help to fix the deepest of its deep stains on this knight’s escutcheon. Little was he troubled with the passion of compassion which belonged to the younger Essex, and has kept him blameless in Munster legends, while Raleigh’s own soldier ways are yet a live reproach from Cork to Lismore. In some particulars he was not unlike the aggressive Geraldines whom he was chosen to supplant; but he had a complex habit and a slipperiness of speech which they were pleased to lack. One who would deal gently with magnificent Raleigh in his meanness can do no better than recur to a thoughtful saying of Dr. Johnson, not in Boswell, that “a man is made inconstant by too much as well as by too little thought.”
Echoes stay long in still places. Youghal, the once happy little borough, loading the near seas with her exports, and dropped from the list of customs ports in 1882, hears yet in her one street the spurred footsteps of “the gentleman with the bold face,” as an epigram of his own day described Raleigh. All through the windy lanes, the green closes, the Gothic doorways of the odd town stirs and shines his exciting memory ; wheresoever he moves the red lime light of romance is full upon him. His house is as he left it; the heights back of it, the water in front of it, full of inexpressible, melancholy beauty. Historic facts, some time to be a folk-tale, when this world has gone through sophistication back to innocence again, rise from that ground like exhalations: how Raleigh smarted under his first disgrace at court; how he smoked a wondrous weed beneath the four interlaced yew-trees yonder ; how, against the ivied town wall, he planted his Virginian potato, taking all too kindly to its adoptive soil; how often he went up the wide stair in his doublet of beaded orange and black, with one impetuous arm on Spenser’s drooping shoulder, and the other waving a manuscript immortal beyond any of his own.
“ Our Ladye’s Colledg of Yoghall ” was founded by Thomas Fitzgerald, eighth Earl of Desmond and Lord Deputy of Ireland, two days after the Christmas of 1464. Another Geraldine, as brave, undoing the gift of his ancestor, plundered and sacked the Youghal which had become his enemy’s stronghold in 1579; and of the three glorious foundations side by side on the hill, two, the church and the school, perished and long remained extinct; but the house of the warden, dating also from 1464—65, came out of the fiery trial unscathed. Richard Boyle, afterwards Earl of Cork, rebuilt the college itself for his own home, and greatly enlarged and fortified it during the civil wars under Charles I. Then it likewise fell to ruin, and in 1782 the plain, strong structure owned to-day by the best of Irish landlords, the Duke of Devonshire, was put up on its site. Two towers of defense and the Boyle arms in stone, near the rear entrance, survive to show the second period, and in a north room stands the sole memorial of the first, — a superb dark oaken chimney-piece, carved from floor to ceiling. The Franciscan abbey church, still the boast of the district, rich in fragments of an irrecoverable splendor, and set in its wild, lovely acres, among frowning walls of the thirteenth century, roped and threaded with vines aged as the stones, is but an altered version of itself, carefully as of late it has been kept. But the house of the warden, lying a little to the northeast of the lane, with its red pointed gables and huge tipping chimneys, a place drowned in odors of lime and bay, still looks exactly as in the fair old map in Pacata Hibernia. This was Raleigh’s house. When it was secularized to our layman, he hastened to say that he should love it because it was like the manor of East Budleigh, in Devon, where he was born. How winning in him were these sudden tendernesses! as when, again, from the Azores, where Sir Richard Grenville passed upon the Spaniard’s deck, he brought yellow wallflowers to the banks of the Broad of Youghal, to remind him of that heroic spirit while his own unheroic exile lasted. At the very end, too, in the same mood, did not Raleigh take occasion so to recall the fate of a young man who had overthrown him more than once, in the fierce struggle for priority ? “ I knew he was a noble gentleman. I take God to witness I shed tears for him when he died.”
The house overbrims with interest, but it is a fact which leads the life of a myth; little in all its annals is aught but guesswork and dreams. Until just before the dissolution of the monasteries we do not discover even the name of any warden, or a trace of the doings of a busy and honorable brotherhood. By the bequest of the founder, the warden, eight fellows, and eight singing-men enjoyed a common table here, a still nook for study, and a joint revenue, large for the fifteenth century, of six hundred pounds a year. Nathaniel Baxter, one of the last in office, fearing a worse fate for his charge, conveyed the revenues and property to the lord president of Munster, one of the Norris family, dear to Queen Bess for her mother’s sake. Somewhat later the lease was put in Raleigh’s hands. Though living in the warden’s house, he took no measures to save or revive the college, a stone’s throw across the beautiful churchyard. We know that the men who were “eagles in the Spanish main and vultures in Ireland ” had no anxiety whatever for the education of the “ civil English” with whom they populated the desolate island. The immigrants, who, being Protestant and amicable, might have expected handsomer treatment, must have looked with some chagrin on the destruction, ordered or permitted by our same high-handed shepherd of the ocean, of the famous Dominican friary of A. D. 1268, whose broken arches still remain. Raleigh plucked up the Irish schools, and planted the potato. It was a questionable gift, but, after that of his melodramatic presence, the best he chose to give. His appreciation of natural scenery was as curious, in its way, as his zeal for architecture. The Munster woods were remarkable not only for their grandeur, but for affording an impenetrable cover to fugitives in war time. Raleigh made money by importing English wood-cutters, who turned the dryads’ holy dwellings into pipe-staves and hogsheads, and flooded the tide with wanton spoil. Even the Kilcolman forests, “ in which all trees of honor lately stood,” were hewn to the ground, in the same wasteful spirit of thrift; and the loss, as a local observer records, is one which time has been unable to repair. But this was not of the resident poet’s doing.
The house at Youghal now belongs to Sir John Pope Hennessy, who, though he believes that Raleigh did as much as any leader of his day “ to render British government permanently difficult, if not more than difficult, in Ireland,” yet, with a chivalrous care, has filled the halls and the study with memorials of their great occupant, and has preserved many things which, by good chance, were there once in Raleigh’s keeping. The study, a dark-colored, ample snuggery, its floor worn into uneven ripples and breakers, its outlook through a deep alcove window toward the church, is that very study “ where Raleigh looked at the charts of Verrazzano before his voyage, and where he first smoked tobacco in Europe upon his return, . . . much the same as it might have been in those times. The original painting of the first governor of Virginia is there, and a contemporary engraving of Elizabeth, Queen of Virginia; the long table at which he wrote; the oak chest in which he kept his papers; the little Italian cabinet; the dark wainscoting, with fine carvings rising up from each side of the hearthstone to the ceiling; the old deeds and parchments, some with Raleigh’s seal; the original warrant, under the autograph signet of Queen Elizabeth, granting a pension to the Countess Eleanor of Desmond ; and the two bookcases of vellum-bound and oak-bound books of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.”
The most noticeable outer features of the house are the porch, the high gables and chimneys, the picturesque variety and broken lights of the frontage. On the south, the panes of the great study abut boldly upon the world of Irish greens and the cloistral, walled-in stillness of that “ extream pleasant garden,” — called such in Charles II.’s time, and keeping that character still. All the walls are five feet thick. Under the middle gable are the hall and entrance doorway; the place of the stairway, now far to the right, has been changed. Throughout there is a wainscoting of Irish oak ; the chambers are tiled ; nothing can exceed the soft, time-stained beauty of the interior. From the dining-room a subterranean passage runs to the old detached tower of St. Mary’s, and the warden’s door churchward, rusted on its immemorial hinges, is yet to be seen under the dense hanging tapestry of ivy. Raleigh, of course, knew of this passage; it is doubtful whether he, no shunner of publicity, used it. Not without his manly religiousness, even in his prosperity, he might have had his kneeling-cushion near the chancel all the Sundays while he was mayor of Youghal; but the abbey was mainly in ruins, and services, if such there were, must have been held under difficulties. No object in the restored edifice can be associated with him, save that, high in the east window, filled with Victorian glass, his crimson shield mingles with the quarterings of the Geraldines, the Boyles, the inflexible Strafford, who cordially hated the Boyles, and the one good Villiers, dead in 1605, whose “noble parts,” according to his charming epitaph in the transept,
But those whose hearts
Are married to the state.”
Something else beside the secret passage throws a pretty mystery over the warden’s house. Thirty years ago, behind the wainscoting of a chamber next to the drawing-room, part of the monks’ library, hidden at the Reformation, was found. Some of these precious books are yet preserved in a Youghal family, as we learn from Canon Hayman’s classic little local monograph. Among them is a Mantuan black-letter print of 1479, profusely adorned with colored initials ; a sort of history of the world, very different from Raleigh’s, which must have hugged itself to hear him talking politics, outside on the stair, during the long summers when it was forgotten and safe in the wall. But there is evidence, slight, to be sure, and circumstantial, that Sir Walter’s discoverer’s eye had, some time or other, tracked this contraband shelf. His own history, written long after in the Tower, and ending suddenly in the bel sérieux so often quoted, brings the chronicle only to the year 170 B. C. While he was busy with it he wrote to Sir Robert Cotton for the loan of books and manuscripts, and complained of his lack of references. Yet he was able to remember and cite, midway of his own admirable English prose, in the second book of his first part, Comestor’s Historia Scholastica, a rare volume, and one which, if he had indeed spied it where, at his own bed’s head, it had withdrawn from the rumor of changes in Christendom, he might not have seen for eighteen years.
Mr. John Cordy Jeaffreson has found that Sir Walter Raleigh was at court, under Leicester’s powerful patronage, as early as 1577. When he first set foot in Ireland, in a season of seething revolt, he was in his twenty-eighth year. Under Lord Grey de Wilton. Raleigh had a Devon “footeband of one hundrethe men,” with four shillings a day promised for his fastidious needs, and not quite four shillings more wherewith to satisfy his officers and privates ; and he was wroth that he had to pay his active carpet-baggers out of his own pocket. He was at Smerwick Castle at the never-to-be-forgotten surrender, when the six hundred natives, cheated of their amnesty, then hanged and sworded, were laid out upon the sands, women and men, “ as gallant goodly personages as eye ever beheld.” Well might Spenser, who was on the scene, insert in his great third book the sigh proper to a diary for the “ antique time ” in which “ the sword was servaunt unto righte,” —
“ When honor was the meed of victory,
And yet the vanquishèd had no despight ” !
Admiral Winter, and Lord Burghley at home, stormed like humane souls over this neatly characteristic episode of the English in Ireland ; but it stands in the London Public Record Office, in the clear royal hand, that it “ was greately to our lyking.” Captain Raleigh, who was well able to play to such a claque, pursued his little game vehemently. In 1581 he was once more in the serener air, sunning himself in the sovereign smiles of the cleverest woman even he was likely to know. By October of the next year, thanks still to Leicester, Burghley’s rival and outwitter, he had flattering prospects ; but so soon as the star of the boy Essex was up, Raleigh’s jealous and restless spirit drew him back to the island where he could not be so readily gainsaid. There he had his forty-two thousand attainted acres ; he was made mayor of Youghal in 1588 ; he had another easy and idle office as the absentee lord warden of the stannaries, the tin mines of Cornwall and Devon. A return to London, discussions with the growing Puritan party, schemes, pamphlets, poems, goldhunts, travel, colonizing, the forfeited voyage to Panama, the two months’ imprisonment, home life at Sherborne in Dorsetshire, the epic fight before Cadiz, the strengthening hate of the Essex once very dear to him, — these things took up Raleigh’s time until 1602 ; and in that year he sold the bulk of his Munster estates to a shrewd speculator. According to Richard Boyle’s own graphic account, sent in, long after, to Carew Raleigh, the purchaser, then lacking his title, behaved in a most touchingly disinterested manner throughout, in return for the transfer of all lands, benefices, advowsons, and vicarages of the New College of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Youghal ; for the salmon and trout beds, the rights of the Desmonds, hereditaments spiritual and temporal (however these five equally strange fish came to be catalogued !) ; and for the vast pasture lands which worried their possessor with the fear they would fall to the Crown, and some Scot or other would beg them ! The whole transaction is now in print, up to the interview of 1617, when Raleigh sailed on his melancholy voyage to the West Indies. The future earl would have us think that his only scruple was lest our hero should not circumvent him, and get double the value of the sale. His journal gives some excellent and valuable glimpses of Raleigh in business, prouder than Lucifer, distinguished in manner, but a trifle fretful and evasive. The successful demagogue, who was certainly a kind father and a professed waiter upon the good pleasure of Providence, died during the troublous war times of 1643. In his will he bequeathed to the Lord Primate, James Ussher, his “ best jewel, called Sir Walter Raleigh’s stone ; ” to be returned, at the archbishop’s decease, to the heir of Lismore. The present Duke of Devonshire, now, as it happens, Raleigh’s Irish successor, should have this gem of Elizabeth’s gem-loving vassal in his possession.
By 1616 we find the old wardenry subleased to Sir Lawrence Parsons, and it went by his name, in all legal documents, for over two hundred years ; passing from ownership to ownership, and graced at last with its fitting title of Sir Walter Raleigh’s House. It also bore the name of Myrtle Grove, from its myrtles, over twenty feet high : the place was “ always remarkable for luxuriant growths of myrtle, bay, arbutus, and other exotics, in the open air.” Somewhere under all the tangle of summer blossoms in this inclosure the sweet old Franciscan bells are said to lie, buried there for dread of Cromwell’s converting them into cannon, — a true ecclesiastical promotion, as he hinted with a touch of cavalier wit. The great yews, planted in a square, and forming four columns and a dense roof, are believed to have been set out by Sir Walter; but the very name of Youghal (Eo-chaille, “ forest of yew ”) would tend to bear out the theory that they are indigenous, and at least coeval with the house. They figure, moreover, in an Elizabethan print, as well-grown trees, while beneath them Raleigh enjoys his foreign luxury, and the astonished servant empties his tankard on the cloud-hid victim, on his finery and his after-dinner peace. How often that incident, familiar as it is, sets one laughing! The happy garden, with its
is the very patria of English smokers, where evermore they may have their unique vision of master and man, and another of mild-eyed Spenser, not now talking reforms of metre, but spewing over his first pipe. Spain had learned the uses of the strange plant as early as 1552 ; Raleigh’s colony arose as practitioners and propagandists in 1585; and by 1640 tobacco formed one of the chief staples of the Youghal trade. To initiate his neighbors into the mystery of smoke was a blessed device to mitigate the tedium of office in a dull town ; and whither the mayor led the worthy citizens devoutly followed. “It is doubtless the fact,” says an agreeable writer in Bolster’s Cork Magazine, “ that Raleigh initiated the lazy burgesses into all the mysteries of the beatific science he had introduced, laboriously teaching them its occult delights, and giving to their dreamless vacuity an employment thenceforth fitted to serve them in place of meat and drink and clothing. . . . There was something very germane in its effects to their peculiar faculties.” It is not to be forgotten how, in Raleigh’s own novitiate, the powers of this earth stood up against the gentle plant he fostered ; how nervous Popes thundered against it, and Switzerland and the East made the new fire-eating the surest of mortal and fatal sins; and how James I., after venting choice abuse upon a cult too ethereal for his tastes, played his trump card in cutting off the First English Smoker’s head. Raleigh was faithful. On his last morning, after making his peace with Heaven, he had breakfast and a pipe, and so, with colors flying, made his glorious exit. And, curiously enough, the word “ tobacco ” was the valedictory word of his pen, in the note touching a bygone affair which troubled his conscience, and which was given to Sir Thomas Wilson, keeper of the Tower, on the night of October 18th, in the year 1618.
The true boast of the warden’s house at Youghal, its sober and abiding charm, is its intimate association with Edmund Spenser. What Raleigh was to him, at a time when, having lost Sidney, he was thrown on the less sagacious criticism of Ludovick Bryskett and Gabriel Harvey, we can hardly overrate. The poet’s sensitive imagination must have been moved and fired from the first by the spectacle of the eager adventurer, whose life, as Dean Church truly says, was the Faerie Queene in prose. Spenser came to depend upon Raleigh, as his champion in a stupid planet, to expound his “ simple meanings,” — sometimes not so simple, after all. The two may have met in London, when the Cambridge sizar graduate, fleeing south from the trouble of his first love, gave the public the pleasant Shepherd’s Calendar, which Sidney found too archaic; they certainly met at Smerwick ; but we have no record of their friendship until the Armada year. Then, it will be remembered, Spenser’s verse specifies “a strange shepheard, who chaunced to find me out.” The poet was familiar with Ireland from 1577 until the close of his life, as secretary to Sir Henry Sidney and Lord Grey, and as chancery and council clerk. In 1588 he was still in Dublin, and there, two years before, the heavy news must have reached him of the death in battle of an older and better beloved friend than Raleigh, and far worthier of emulation, the white knight of Penshurst, “ who first his Muse did lift out of the flore.” The man of thought at Kilcolman,
Of the green alders by the Mulla’s shore,”
(where now there are no alders, and where the Mulla, otherwise the Awbeg or Awbey, is five miles away,) fell into a comforting and warm relationship with the man of action at Youghal. Visits were frequently exchanged over the highway, none of whose essential features have been altered since. From the poet’s minutely biographic pen we have the annals of much of this idyllic intercourse : how they “ piped until they both were weary,” lying near Doneraile and the Galtee hills, in a hoary wood of the Desmond, with a Desmond tower to windward. We know that Spenser reviewed with his ardent patron stanza after stanza of his lovely allegory, begun in England nine years before; and that Raleigh himself, when he “ list the lofty Muse to raise,” pulled from his silken pockets some extraordinary lyric whimper over the regal old Cynthia who had temporarily dropped his acquaintance. Sweet lines, some of them, too, for Spenser’s ear: —
Hero hath left no lamp to guide her love ! ”
But what Raleigh heard is more the world’s affair than what he declaimed, much as modest Spenser meant his large praise of “ the somer’s nightingale.” Full of headlong energy and faith, he communicated something of both to the man at his side, no less diligent in his way ; the “ wight forlore,” by his own admission, who was too down-hearted to bring his work singly before the forum of London. One November morning the allies sailed together : Spenser to settle some legal dispute with Lord Roche, Raleigh to make his peace with the magnificent minx gloriously reigning. Their chief joint business, the registration of the first three books of the Faerie Queene, was closed on December 1, 1589. The poet, as Camden says of him, semper cum paupertate conflictatus, secured promptly a grant of lands and a pension of fifty pounds annually from Elizabeth, and for Raleigh’s sake, which he fails not to record. Spenser, who stood between Essex and Raleigh, as a willing but unavailing peacemaker, loving both, made in this year also, almost beyond a doubt, the acquaintance of Shakespeare and of his Earl of Southampton, himself the attached friend of Essex; he had the solace of visiting “ Sidney’s sister, Pembroke’s mother,” and of renewing, so as with a difference, the London life which he had long foregone. Perfect success and popularity crowned him ; every writer of the time was quick in his applause. Raleigh too won his way at once, and recaptured the susceptible queen with some gallant strategy, to rule her councils henceforward on all Irish affairs, on through the dramatic crisis when Essex and the eighteenth Earl of Desmond, his two natural enemies, languished side by side in the Tower cells. He had spread his cloak in the mud a second time ; and in the flush of a restored confidence he wrote to his cousin Carew, in Ireland, that he was again “ in place to pleasure or displeasure the greatest,” and that his opinion “ was so received and believed that I can anger the best of them ! ” Abruptly and triumphantly his chapter of Irish residence here ends ; for though he weighed anchor at Cork, between the prison and the axe, on his final adventure, he never returned to Youghal and its “extream pleasant garden.” After his failure and his elder son ’s death, he wrote to his wife from the Antilles, “My brains are broken,” and came ashore to his own England, velveted and gemmed in his old proud wont, only to be betrayed and to die.
Spenser, after his fortunate visit, when nevertheless he had some disheartening glimpses of the ignoble follies of the court, sought his Mulla in the early spring of 1591. The following December he signed the dedication of Colin Clout’s Come Home Again, much of which was “ long sithens composed,” in part payment of “an infinite debt; ” for “ I am not alwaies ydle as ye thinke! ” said the dreamer to the doer. These passages across the Irish Channel were evidently not the episodes of unmitigated joy to Spenser which they were to his sailor companion. His Muse is Greek in her allusions to the sea; seldom do we get tidings of its winning aspects, but it is untiringly vilified as a creature “ horrible, hideous, roaring with hoarse crie.” Raleigh at court and the gentler Shepherd in Munster were each in love, in 1593, with an Elizabeth worthy of true hearts. Married, and busy, and living asunder, the two were little together thereafter, save in the perpetuity of well wishing and silent sympathy. Raleigh’s life, never a placid one, grew more and more crowded, more and more tangled. Likewise with Spenser, the child of peace, times went roughly at the last, and from such heartbreak as befell him he gained a softer and earlier release. Not loath for his own advancement, not slow to profit by the chances of a shifting and rebel society, he was yet, despite his appreciated circumstance, never at ease in Ireland. For he, like the other “ undertakers,” placed among scenes of utter anguish and implacable hostility, and least selfish, perhaps, of them all, had taken the responsibility which Sir John Pope Hennessy characterizes as that of “ trying to rule a people he did not know.” Sagacious as is much of his View of the Present State, it shows even in Spenser a certain hard arrogance, a lack of foresight and of Christian justice. At any rate, he suffered deeply in the Tyrone uprising. In 1599 the generous Essex had the mournful honor of laying him in Westminster Abbey, hallowed by no dust more reverend.
It has been well said of Sir Walter Raleigh that his character blossomed and fruited in prison and in enforced quiet; that nowhere else had his genius such rich and memorable play. After the really sublime day of Cadiz and the unsurpassable scene in Old Palace Yard,
he shows best in the bright and paiidess banishment, where he wrought good to all posterity in cherishing the promise of the second great English singer. We forget the cruelty, the lifelong avarice, the cheat, the holocausts of “ mere Irishry ” given to treachery, and famine, and the sword. Nay, the thing is like a panorama: all we see, or care to see, is the leafy Blackwater road, and the incomparable rider, with no winglike ruffs at his bronzed throat, turning absently toward the river as he smiles over his “ celestial thief,” saying the first line of a fast-coming sonnet,
and making an heirloom for art and for friendship as he goes. Or he stands with the poet, Molana and the tomb of Raymond le Gros at their feet, on the exquisite Rhinecrew heights, where Templars had leaned against the same pillars ages before them, watching the blue unbroken sea. But most often do we see Spenser, basking on the deep sunshiny sills brushed with boughs, look across to his dark-eyed host, whose laugh was ever readier than his own, and in that room at Youglial, full now forever of their voices, full then of books and bowls and profane incense from America, read in his calm accents a Chaucerian strophe of hospitality to Una and her Knight: —
Ne looke for entertainment where none was ;
Rest is their feast, and all thinges at their will:
The noblest mind the best contentment has.
With fayre discourse the evening so they pas,
For that olde man of pleasing wordes had store,
And well could file his tong as smooth as glas ;
He told of saints and popes, and evermore
He strowd an Ave Mary after and before ! ”
Louise Imogen Guiney .