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S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.

Sir Walter Raleigh

  • [Written also Ralegh. Born in Devonshire, England, 1552; studied at Oxford; enjoyed the favor of Queen Elizabeth; obtained a royal patent to colonize and govern territory in North America; settled Virginia, 1585–87; accused of complicity in Lord Cobham’s conspiracy, 1602; confined in the Tower thirteen years; conducted a fleet to Guiana, 1617; beheaded on his former sentence, October, 1618.]
  • By seizing the Isthmus of Darien you will wrest the keys of the world from Spain.

  • The advice Raleigh gave Queen Elizabeth shows his appreciation of the value of the isthmus from a military and commercial point of view.
  • When asked by the queen, wearied by his importunities, when he would cease to be a beggar, he replied, “When, madam, you cease to be a benefactress.” It was a more courtly answer than that of Sir Edward Ratcliffe, who had been a suitor for some grants which had been promised, but which he had never received. He was asked by the queen one day what a man thought of when he thought of nothing: “Madam, he thinks of a woman’s promises,” was the bitter reply. “Anger,” said Lord Bacon, “makes dull men witty, but keeps them poor.”
  • The tradition that Raleigh won the queen’s favor by the sacrifice of his mantle is unsupported: but there is no doubt that his ambition found expression in the line scratched on a pane of glass, “Fain would I climb, yet fear I to fall;” to which Elizabeth replied, “If thy heart fails thee, climb not at all.”—FULLER: Worthies. She was thinking perhaps of the aut non tentaris, aut perfice, of Ovid.
  • The world itself is but a large prison, out of which some are daily led to execution.

  • When returning to prison from his trial, where he had encountered the brutality of Coke, who called him a traitor; to which Raleigh replied, “I am no traitor. Whether I live or die, I can stand as true a subject as ever the king had.”
  • Raleigh’s humor at his execution reminds one of Sir Thomas More. To a servant who asked him how he liked a cup of sack he had just given him, he replied, “I will answer you as did the fellow who drank of Sir Giles’s bowl, as he went to Tyburn: ‘’Tis a good drink if a man might but tarry by it.’”
  • To his wife, who obtained the favor of disposing of his body after execution, he said, “It is well, Bess, that thou mayst have the disposing of that dead, of which thou didst not always have the disposing when it was alive.”
  • He dryly remarked to a friend who promised to be present at the execution, “I do not know if you will get a place: for my part, I am sure of one.”
  • Kissing the axe, he said, “This gives me no fear. It is a sharp and fair medicine to cure me of all my troubles.”
  • The executioner asked him on which side he preferred to lay his head on the block. “So the heart be right,” replied Raleigh, “it is no matter which way the head lies;” and, when the executioner hesitated at the last moment, “What dost thou fear?” asked Raleigh: “strike, man! strike!”