ePub 版


TOWARDS the close of the year 1558, about 281 years ago, a little more than nine times the period which has been commonly assigned as the term of a generation, and only four times the three score years and ten which have been Divinely allotted to the life of man, a Virgin Princess ascended the throne of England. Inheriting, together with the throne itself, a full measure of that haughty and overbearing spirit which characterized the Royal race from which she sprang, she could not brook the idea of any partition of her power, or any control over her person. She seemed resolved that that race should end with her, and that the crown which it had so nobly won on Bosworth Field should seek a new channel of succession, rather than it should be deprived, in her person and through any accident of her sex, of one jot or tittle of that high prerogative, which it had now enjoyed for nearly a century.

She seemed to prefer, not only to hold, herself, a barren sceptreno heir of her's succeeding-but even to let that sceptre fall into the hands of the issue of a hated,

persecuted, and finally murdered rival, rather than risk the certainty of wielding it herself, with that free and unembarrassed arm which befitted a daughter of the Tudors.

Accordingly, no sooner had she grasped it, and seated herself securely upon the throne of her Fathers, than she declared to her suppliant Commons—who doubtless presumed that they could approach a Queen of almost six-and-twenty, with no more agreeable petition, than that she would graciously condescend to select for herself an help meet for her in the management of the mighty interests which had just been intrusted to her — that England was her husband ; that she had wedded it with the marriage ring upon her finger, placed there by herself with that design on the very morning of her coronation; that while a private person she had always declined a matrimonial engagement, regarding it even then as an incumbrance, but that much more did she persist in this opinion now that a great Kingdom had been committed to her charge; and that, for one, she wished no higher character or fairer remembrance of her should be transmitted to posterity, when she should pay the last debt to Nature, than to have this inscription engraved on her tombstone— Here lies Elizabeth, who lived and died a Maiden Queen.'

In the purpose thus emphatically declared at her accession, the Queen of whom I speak persevered to her decease. Scorning the proverbial privilege

of her sex to change their minds at will upon such a subject, and resisting the importunities of a thousand suitors, she realized that vision of a Midsummer Night's Dream, which was so exquisitely unfolded to her by the immortal Dramatist of her day :

I saw

Flying between the cold moon and the earth
Cupid all-armed: a certain aim he took
At a fair Vestal, throned by the West,
And loosed his love-shaft smartly from his bow
As it should pierce a hundred thousand hearts ;-
But I might see young Cupid's fiery shaft
Quenched in the chaste beams of the watery moon;
And the imperial votress passed on,
In maiden meditation, fancy-free.'

But Elizabeth was not quite content to wait for a tombstone, on which to inscribe this purpose and its fulfillment. Proclaimed, as it annually was, through the whole length and breadth of the Old World, from almost every corner of which proposals of a character to shake and change it, were continually poured in upon her, she resolved to engrave it once and for ever upon the New World also, where as yet there was no civilized suitor to teaze her with his pretensions, whose very existence had been discovered less than a century before by Christopher Columbus, and the Northern Continent of which had been brought within the reach of her own prerogative by the subsequent discovery of Sebastian Cabot. To that whole Continent she gave the name of Virginia; and at her death,

after a reign of five-and-forty years, that whole Continent, through all its yet unmeasured latitudes and longitudes, from the confines of Labrador to the Mexican Gulf, was known by no other title, than that which thus marked it as the dominion of a Maiden Queen.

But it was that Queen's dominion only in name. Four times, indeed, she had essayed to people it and plant her banners there. But in vain. Sir Humphrey Gilbert, to whom the first patent for this purpose was granted, being compelled to return prematurely to England by the disasters he had experienced on the coast of Newfoundland, was lost in a storm on the homeward passage, and all that survived of his gallant enterprise, was that sublime exclamation, as he sat in the stern of his sinking bark— It is as near to Heaven by sea as by land.'—By the resolute and undaunted efforts of his illustrious brother-in-law, Sir Walter Raleigh, however, three separate companies of Colonists were afterwards conducted to the more Southern parts of the Continent, and each in succession commenced a settlement at Roanoake Bay. But two of them perished on the spot, without leaving behind them even so much as the means of ascertaining whether they had owed their destruction to force or to famine ;-while the third, which, indeed, was the first in order, within a year from its departure, returned in disgust to its native land. And the whole result of Virginia Colonization and Virginia Commerce, upon which such unbounded

hopes of glory and of gain had been hung by Raleigh and cherished by the Queen, had hitherto consisted in the introduction into England, by this last named band of emigrants returning home in despair, of a few hundreds of tobacco, and in Queen Elizabeth herself becoming one of Raleigh's pupils in that most maidenly and most Queenly accomplishment-smoking a pipe. Not one subject did Elizabeth leave at her death in that wide spread Continent, which she had thus destined to the honor of perpetuating the memory of her haughty and ambitious virginity.

Within a year or two past, a second Maiden Queen has ascended the throne which the first exchanged for a grave in 1603. And when she casts her eye back, as she can scarcely fail frequently to do, to the days of her illustrious protocompares


sceptre which Elizabeth so boldly swayed for nearly half a century with that which trembles in her girlish hand, she may console herself with the reflection, that if the strength and potency of her own are greatly inferior, its reach and sweep are, practically at least, vastly more extended. She sees the immediate successor to Elizabeth, uniting the crowns of England and Scotland, and preparing the way for that perfect consolidation of the two Countries which another Century was destined to complete. Ireland, too, she finds no longer held by the tenure of an almost annual conquest, but included in the bonds of the same great Union. While beyond

type, and

« 上一頁繼續 »