Sir Walter Raleigh: His Family and Private Life

Sir Walter Raleigh: His Family and Private Life

Sir Walter Raleigh: His Family and Private Life

Sir Walter Raleigh: His Family and Private Life

Excerpt

Sir Walter Ralegh has not ceased to compel the imagination of the English public, indeed of English-speaking people across the world, in America as much as in Britain. But the curious thing is that there is no satisfactory modern biography of him. The best are still two Victorian works: Edwards Life (Macmillan, 1868) which, though published almost a century ago, is admirable for its steady good judgment and still indispensable, for it contains the Letters; and Stebbing Biography (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1899), excellent for its intelligence and perception. But time has rendered these works inadequate: so much more material has come to light since Edwards wrote, while Stebbing is oddly full of misprints and small errors.

The numerous literary biographies that have appeared, and still appear, are useless to the serious student of the period or of Ralegh -- worse than useless in that they perpetuate old mistakes already cleared up by scholars. Their authors for the most part have no idea that Ralegh is the most difficult of all the Elizabethans to get right -- the most enigmatical or at least selfcontradictory, a combination of qualities calculated both to attract and repel. For the most part, beglamoured, they romanticise him and see everything through his eyes: everything he did was right, his opponents always wrong. This is very ingenuous and the truth was far otherwise. Then, too, the subject is surrounded by pitfalls, both of technical historical scholarship and of political, as well as personal, interpretation. Only a seasoned Elizabethan scholar can hope to get Ralegh right.

My aim has not been to add yet another to the tale of fulllength, repetitive biographies, but to do something, I hope, more original and something new: to place him, and make him more intelligible, in the perspective of his family and the still more remarkable family into which he married, the Throckmortons. The whole accent of this book, then, is on the personal and the family background -- I have had my say in other books on Ralegh's maritime and colonial ventures -- and what better perspective is there for the understanding of a man? For many years I have ruminated about him without feeling satisfied that . . .

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