Sir Walter Raleigh and "The History of the World"  

 
Sir Walter Raleigh and son

Based upon a chapter in D'Israeli's "Curiosities of Literature."

by

C. M.P. from Baconiana 1903


On the bookshelves of the current Gorhambury estate where a few thousand books of Francis Bacon's personal library remain , one can find several first edtions of the oversized leather bound volumes of Rawleigh's The History of the World.. Next to these volumes can be seen several first editions of the 1623 Shakespeare First Folio.--Lawrence Gerald


In a chapter on "Literary Unions," D'Israeli states his opinion that "a union of talents differing in their qualities, might carry some important works to a more extended perfection," and that many great works, commenced by a master-genius, have remained unfinished, for want of this friendly succour. The secret history of many eminent works, he goes on to say(and we cannot doubt that he spoke with knowledge and authority), would show the advantages which may be derived from that combination of talents, differing in their nature. Having given a few examples of such co-operative works,D'Israeli launches out into a dissertation interesting to those who believe in the ubiquitous presence of Francis St. Alban{Francis Bacon} in the great literature created or inspired by him. Thus writes D'Israeli:--

"There is a large work which is still celebrated, of which the compostion has excited the astonishment even of the philosophic Hume, but whose secret history remains yet to be disclosed." (The writer does not, we observe, declare the secret to be unknown, but only undisclosed to the general reading public.) "This extraordinary volume," he continues, " is The History of the World, by Rawleigh." I shall transcribe Hume's observation, that the reader may observe the literary phenomenon. "They were struck with the extensive genius of the man, who being educated amidst naval and military enterprises,had surpassed in the pursuits of literature, even those of the most recluse and sedentary lives; and they admired his unbroken magnanimity, which at his age, and under his circumstances, could engage him to undertake and execute so great a work as his History of the World."

"Now when the truth is known, the wonderful in this mystery will disappear, except in the eloquent, the grand, and the pathetic passages interspersed in that venerable volume. We may, indeed, pardon the astonishment of our calm philosopher , when we consider the recondite matter contained in this work, and recollect the little time which this adventurous spirit(whose life was passed in fabricating his own fortune, and in perpetual enterprise) could allow to such erudite persuits. Where could Rawleigh obtain that acquaintance with the rabbins, of whose language he was probably entirely ignorant? His numerous publications, the effusions of a most active mind, though excellent in their kind, were evidently composed by one who was not abstracted in curious and remote inquires, but full of the daily business and the wisdom of human life."

It cannot fail to strike the careful reader as remarkable that, when the well-read, clever Essayist proceeds to enumerate the probable, or possible aids which Sir Walter may have obtained, and the literary characters with whom he lived in intimate friendship, Francis Bacon, indubitably the greatest philosopher, historian, and sage of his day, is not once mentioned, and this in the face of the facts that Sir Walter and Bacon were closely associated in more ways than one, that Francis visited Raleigh during his imprisonment, and, as before noted, that a kinsman of the latter was chaplain and secretary to the former.

During his imprisonment in the Tower he joined the Earl of Northumberland, the patron of the philosphers of his age, and with whom Rawleigh pursued his classical studies; and Serjeant Hoskins, a poet and a wit, and the poetical 'father' of Ben Jonson, who acknowledged that " it was Hoskins who polished him" and that Rawleigh often consulted Hoskins on his literary works, I learn from a MS." It is a pity that D'Israeli did not enable us to consult the Manuscript; but he honourably confesses that "however literary theatmosphere of the Tower proved to Rawleigh, no particle of Hebrew, and perhaps little Grecian lore, floated from a chemist and a poet. The truth is, that the collection of the materials of this history was the labour of several persons, who have not all been discovered."

It is half comic and half pitiful to see how our writer beats the bush, seemingly pointing slyly at the true author, wishing you to find him out, yet, for some cause, held back from telling what he knows. This is (as most of us know by this time) no isolated instance of the suppression of historical facts and espisodes for the sake of hiding the chief actor. We have only to consider the rest of the personages in this performance to be sure who is the missing character.

"It has been ascertained that Ben Jonson was a considerable contributer, and there was an English philosopher from whom Descartes, it is said, even by his own countrymen, borrowed largely." Now, at last we think, it is coming; "the English philosopher" from whom Descartes borrowed (or translated?)---so clearly indicated as the man behind the curtain of the dark----now at last he is to be proclaimed---Francis St.Alban!

Great is the fall. We learn that the philospher to whom Descartes was so largely indebted, and whom Anthony Wood charges with infusing his philosophical notions into History of the World is one Thomas Hariot, to whom, it indeed he was a great philosopher, the world has made but a shabby return. Probably not one ordinary reader out of a thousand ever heard of him, or dreamed that he had supplied Rawleigh with philosophical notions of any kind.

But Hume also has something to say on the subject, and D'Israeli quotes him. "If Rawleigh's pursuits surpassed even those of the most recluse and sedentary lives, as Hume observes, we must attribute this to a 'Dr. Robert Burrel, Rector of Northwald, in the county of Norfolk,' who was a great favourite of Sir Walter Rawleigh, and had been his chaplain. All, or the greatest part of the drudgery of Sir Walter's History, Criticisms, Chronology, and reading Greek and Hebrew authors, were performed by him for Sir Walter."

D'Israeli concludes comfortably that thus a simple fact, when discovered, clears up a whole mystery, and teaches us how, as Hume sagaciously detected, that knowledge was acquired "which needed a recluse and sedentary life, such as the studies and the habits of a country clergyman would have been in a learned age." Did Hume "sagaciously detect" the method by which a large portion of the sterling literature of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was composed and produced on co-operative principles, with one great center and motive and motive power, one director and organiser? Did he or any other serious investigator really believe that Francis St. Alban had nothing to do with the matter, but that Hariot was the inspiring philosopher of the mighty volume and Ben Jonson, polished by Hoskins, a considerable contributor? Ben, on our essayist's own showing, had not a high opinion of Sir Walter who, he told Drummond, "esteemed more fame than conscience. The best wits in England were employed in making his history." After giving all this information, after saying that the whole mystery has been thus simply cleared up, D'Israeli confirms our suspicions of him as "a double-meaning prophecier," saying in a foot-note that "the secret history of Rawleigh's great work had never been discovered."

It would be easy to prove from internal evidence how much of the History of the World is due to the pen of Francis St. Alban, but such collations and philological researches demand much space, and they would perhaps prove uninteresting to the majority of readers. 

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Manly P. Hall's excerpt from America's Assignment with Destiny

 

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