- Paperback: 656 pages
- Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; 2 Reprint edition (October 1, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0805076980
- ISBN-13: 978-0805076981
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.6 x 9.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 16 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,249,556 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Sir Walter Raleigh: Being a True and Vivid Account of the Life and Times of the Explorer, Soldier, Scholar, Poet, and Courtier--The Controversial Hero of the Elizabethan Age Paperback – September 9, 2004
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"Splendid." -The Wall Street Journal
"A stirring account of an intriguing character." -The Sunday Times
"Outstanding biography . . . A Book of the Year." -Literary Review
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Raleigh is today mostly remembered for the story of placing his cloak in a muddy puddle so Queen Elizabeth could walk across without getting her clothes dirty. But like so many in those days when merit, constant deadly risk and hard, constant work created a path to rise in the world, he was a polymath: poet, diplomat, warrior, sailor, courtier, and family man. Trevelyan brings all those characteristics of Raleigh, and more, to life.
Almost all of what we see of Elizabethan times is through the lens of Elizabeth herself, or through the lens of viewing Shakespeare. Both Elizabeth and Shakespeare appear here (Shakespeare only a few times and on the edges), but they are not the main focus. Instead, the main focus is on people less grand, and that focus makes Raleigh’s story even more interesting. All sorts of characters are here. Raleigh’s half-brother Humphrey Gilbert, who led butchery in Ireland, claimed Newfoundland for the Crown, and foundered in his ship in a storm, shortly after exclaiming “We are as near to Heaven by sea as by land!” The putative sorcerer John Dee of Mortlake. Francis Bacon. Pocahontas. Edmund Spenser. Robert Devereaux, second earl of Essex, executed by Elizabeth for a pathetic rebellion. Christopher Marlowe. And many more.
A considerable portion of the book is taken up with Raleigh’s voyages to the Americas, in particular to what is now Venezuela and Guyana, searching for gold. Nowadays we associate South and Central America with Spanish colonialism, but the British vied in some parts of South America with the Spanish, though without lasting effect. Raleigh was also largely responsible for the disappeared colony at Roanoke, Virginia and participated in a number of other schemes. Americans typically learn about these events through the prism of the colonists themselves, rather than the organizers, so these sections of the book may be of particular interest to Americans.
Altogether, an excellent read.
But this is a small complaint: In the end, we are left with an extremely well-rounded picture of the man, with his many faults, great daring, immense learning, who fought his way up from the lower ranks of society to be one of the men, at least in England and America, deemed one of history's true greats. It is hard to envision a better and more carefully written biography of Raleigh, barring the discovery of new documents, which may well happen. It's really quite amazing to learn how many documents, previously thought lost, have been discovered in the past 50 years, such as a will of Raleigh's discovered in a privy in the 1950s.
I do have one major complaint: To any lover of literature, to which Trevelyan makes no claim, this book cannot but be a disappointment. Raleigh's poems are printed incomplete, with whole stanzas ripped out for no apparent reason. It's almost enough to make one weep to see how the soaring poem "The Lie" is butchered here.
So, my advice is to have a copy of Raleigh's poems close at hand whilst reading the book. They are too much a part of the man to leave them in the state Trevelyan heedlessly does.
I HAVE JUST BEGUN THIS BOOK AND NOW AFTER PAYING FOR IT I CAN'T TRUST ANYTHING THAT IT SAYS IS ACTUALLY FACTUAL!
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