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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

Ralegh came back to England without an ounce of gold


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was presupposed that in such an enterprise all hostilities against the Spaniards would be avoided. When the Spanish ambassador complained of this expedition undertaken by a man who had already on one occasion been very troublesome to the Spanish colonies, the Privy Council answered that Ralegh was pledged by his instructions to do no damage to the Spaniards; and that 'if he violated them his head was there to pay for it.'[399] The King himself repeated this answer to him.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1618.]

Ralegh in fact guarded against any collision with the Spaniards on his voyage. He was said not to have taken a single Spanish vessel, and he directed his course without stopping to Guiana, the goal which he had set before himself. But the Spaniards had become powerful there, although not until after his former visit. From Caraccas they had conquered the natives, who were engaged in internal wars, and had firmly established themselves at a short distance from the coast. What was likely to happen if they opposed the forces which Ralegh landed to search for the gold mines which he had formerly seen there? Ralegh remembered full well what a danger he ran if he engaged in a struggle and fought with them: he knew that he was thereby forfeiting his life. But on the other side, was he to return without fulfilling his purpose, and to burden himself with the reproach of not having told the truth? Worst of all, was he to fail in

effecting the object which he had entertained all his life long, and not to achieve the discovery on which he staked the future glory of his name? It was perhaps the greatest moment in a life that almost always lifts itself above the ordinary level, when the thirst for discovery gained the victory over considerations of legality and the danger involved in discarding them. And well might he have hoped that not only pardon but praise would have been accorded him, if he had actually obtained possession of the gold mines, by whatever means. He commanded his men when they advanced inland to behave to the Spaniards as the Spaniards behaved to them. A collision was thus unavoidable. It took place at S. Thomas, which was destroyed, but the Spaniards nevertheless had completely the superiority: Ralegh's only son was killed; and the captain who had the charge of the expedition was so disheartened that he committed suicide. These disasters involved the utter failure of the expedition. His crews, who were naturally insubordinate, quarrelled among themselves, and on the voyage home the fleet dispersed. Ralegh came back to England without an ounce of gold, and without having effected any result whatever: he appeared in the light of an adventurer who had wantonly desired to break the peace with Spain. And when the ambassador of this power asked for full and signal satisfaction, in order to restore the good understanding which Ralegh's enterprise had at once interrupted, was it to be expected that the King should take under his protection the man who had not complied with the conditions prescribed to him, and whom for other reasons he did not love? And moreover the pulse of free generosity which befits a sovereign did not beat in the breast of King James. He consented that the old sentence of condemnation, for fifteen years suspended over Ralegh's head, should now be enforced against him. It had been pronounced against him for entering into a secret alliance with Spain; an attack on Spain led to its execution. Ralegh and the King exhibit a contrast between ambition that scorns danger on the one side, and caution that supports itself by the forms of law on the other, such as even in England has hardly ever been so sharply drawn. The King could not possibly get any good by his conduct. The position of England in the world depended upon the resistance that she offered to the preponderance of Spain in both the Indies and in Europe. The King detached himself from one of the chief interests of the nation when he allowed a felon's death to be inflicted on the man of lofty genius, who had undertaken, by an ill-advised attempt it is true, to give effect in America to this feeling of world-wide opposition. James thought that his welfare lay in maintaining the peace with Spain. But we know that at an earlier date he had entered on a course adverse to Spain, and that even now he had not entirely renounced it. What confusion must eventually follow from this divided policy!


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