The Spacious Days of Drake
Sir Francis Drake. By.E. F. Benson. (Bcdley.Head. 12s. 6d.) Fa/LT.:cm DRAKE was " lowe of stature, of strong limbs, broad breasted, round headed, brown hayre, full bearded, his eyes round large and clear, well favoured fayee." With a novelist's dexterity Mr. Benson touches in other features of the portrait. He had long strong fingers, a whimsical mouth, a high arched eyebrow and " a dancing vitality in the eyes which might break out at any moment into merriment or into a tantrum of hot temper." Perhaps no man save Nelson has had quite that heart of love for those who served him : the figure of Drake stands across the centuries ; stout, sturdy, magnificent in its physical strength and in its spiritual power to win the hearts of men. The glories of the Elizabethan age are summed for us—and rightly—in the name and fame of Drake.
Very brilliantly has Mr. Benson sketched that marvellous epoch in our history when the " Jezebel of the North " held court among her captains and gallants, and King Philip was a colossus overshadowing the world with (as it proved) a figure of straw. It is a fascinating, vital time full of the begin- nings of English greatness—a theme on which we might all reflect with advantage in these more doubting but not less spacious times. When he was only twenty-three, Drake went out on his first attempt to singe the beard of his Most Catholic Majesty of Spain. That venture and the next were unremunerative and Drake was treated with the basest treachery by Spanish sailors whom he had trusted. He never forgave or forgot and not a year passed of his adult prime that he did not most amply recompense himself at the expense of the galleons of Spain. He reaped an almost un- believable treasure in gold and jewels on some of these expeditions. In 1572, for instance, he set out with seventy- three youngsters on two ships, the ' Swan' (25 tons) and the Pasha ' (70 tons). Only one of this company of Devon boys was over thirty, yet eagerly, gaily, with " courage of a day that knows not death," this handful of youngsters went out in a couple of cockleshells to attack the great fleets and armies and frowning fortresses of Spain.
Drake's attack on Nombre-de-Dios was clearly inspired by the daredevil story of Gideon, which came in the only book to which he ever paid much attention. His tiny force (not fifty lads all told) was split up into two parties, each equipped with a drum and a trumpet and " firy arrows." Drake led one of these bands in a frontal attack on the market place, while John Oxenham led his boys round the city, catching the bewildered Spaniards in the rear with the same flight of fiery arrows and the same nerve-wracking drum as were advancing upon them from another quarter. The Spaniards put up a show of resistance, but their hearts failed them at the second attack and they capitulated, thinking an English army had them at its mercy. When it was all over and the city had fallen, Drake fainted. His boys saw that blood fell in his footsteps and that he had a great .gash in the leg—
throughout the tight, and even now, no word of his wound escaped him. To his devoted company, Drake's safety was the first thought. Although the King's treasury was full of jewels, they refused to break into it, but carried their leader down to the boats in spite of his protests, " for he was worthier to them thrill all the treasures of the world."
Soon, however, lie and they were to reap a huge booty from the Spaniards. But of the ships he captured, of the mule
trains grOaning under their burden of gold, of the hidalgoS with whom he parleyed, there is not space to tell. That mad and merry story has.been the delight of boys since England took a pride in her history : no one- has ever told it more vividly and vigorously. than .1r. Benson.
When the two Spanish ships that had taken the place of the abandoned Pasha' and the scuttled ' Swan ' hove anchor on the famous Sunday morning of August 4th, 1573, in Plymouth Sound, a whisper ran from pew to pew of Plymouth Church. It was .of Drake. It was of glory and gold. It was of .the beginning of England's material greatness. The congregation. stole out and flocked to the quay-side to greet their young fellow-countrymen.
England wide ran the voice of his incomparable exploits. The tale of his deeds was told in the taverns and talked of on every village-green. The wine of adventure fired many minds, for " none could drink the heady liquor without laughter and e;i5hilaration." Drake became the idol of England as he was fast becoming the terror of Spain.
It was a harvest of piracy with which the hold of his frigates gleamed, but it was good red gold none the less, and although Queen Bess had some awkward diplomatic questions to answer, her share of the booty no doubt amply consoled her for the lies she had to tell. Those were not very scrupulous times, but (one must frankly confess it) they must have been very delightful to anyone of a roving disposition.
Drake's next expedition, which encompassed the world, also led to the trial and death of Doughty, a curious and terrible incident in the life of our hero on which Mr. Benson sheds much light. There can be little doubt that Doughty was a mischief-maker and a traitor. Drake dealt harshly with him in condemning him to death, but Mr. Benson makes it clear that Drake firmly believed in sorcery : he felt Ile could never bring his little fleet safely through the perils they had to face in these treacherous seas while Doughty remained alive to practise his black arts. On the three vessels that beat their way through the stormwrack of the Straits, only one, Drake's immortal Golden Hind,' won through to the Pacific ; the Marigold ' was lost with all hands, and the Elizabeth' turned tail to England. There were vast difficulties in the voyage ; the sacrifice of one man to superstition is a little thing, if thereby great results are achieved. Rivers of blood have flowed in the cause of religion without such world- encompassing results as stand to the credit of Drake.
Northwards to Peru and Panama the dauntless adventurers sailed, capturing a host of ships, including the rich ' Cacafuego,' containing twenty-six tons of silver, eighty pounds of gold and boxes of jewels and pearls. When the least precious part of the ' Golden Hind's' ballast was silver and she was laden almost to the gunwales, Drake sought his way back to Plymouth. First he ventured into the mists of the North and sailed up the coast of Canada into the region of Alaskan blizzards ; then, 'on the advice of a Chinese pilot, he went across the Pacific and round the world to Plymouth for the first time in history. The booty he brought back from this first English voyage round the world may be computed at £2,260,000 in our money. Drake's name was now on every lip, and his exploits reverberated through the civilized world, causing alarm and admiration and hate. He was knighted, and plans were laid for the sea eagles of England to " pounce on the slow gold carp that swam from the Indies to Cadiz." Another expedition was fitted up from which Drake hoped to obtain some £4,000,000 in present currency, by ransoming the chief cities of the Spanish Main. It was not so successful as the last, however, but it broke the bank of Seville, and set the teeth of all the Jews of Europe a-chatter —the Fugger correspondents sent gloriously lugubrious reports
to Augsburg. Meanwhile the Invincible ArMada was pre- paring. Drake ran into Cadiz and burnt and wrecked its
ships, but still " the scarecrow of the world " (as the august Philip was called by our jolly Elizabethans) did not despair, for Drake was not allowed to do his work to the full, owinti to the " parsimony and vacillation " of Elizabeth. In this matter Mr. Benson' may be a little less than kind—it is a vexed question at any rate, for there was need for caution as well as for courage. When the test came, Elizabeth rose to the occasion, as the author admits, for it was she who thought to send brimstone and wild fire into the midst of the anchored Armada, and she who said those brave words which will live besides the great deeds of her subjects—" Let tyrants fear... There is need of mirth in England now. . . . I have the heart of a King, and a King of England too."
King Philip repaired the damage Drake had done and the Duke of Medina Sidonia hoisted his flag on the ' San Marino.'
The Armada appeared off Plymouth, and our fleet put out to sea in the greatest haste. The game of bowls finished at leisure is nonsense, Mr. Benson thinks, for never was there greater need. for instant sea-room to fight and . sail. Next night, while beacons burned throughout England, the future
of our " heretic island " was in the hands of eight men, whom. the Lord High Admiral of England had gathered for a council of war on the left wing of the Armada. They were Lord )-Toward of Effingham, Thomas Howard, Sheffield, Williams, hawking, Frobisher, Fenner and Drake, recently appointed
The Duke of Medina Sidonia, with his "sailing castles"
now definitely committed to the ;Channel, was -to—effect a junction with the Duke of Parnia at Dunkirk, where thmigands of broadsides were ready prepared, publishing the MB of Sixtus, whereby England was proclaimed a see of Rome. The Pope also had promised a million crowns to Philip wheri the Armada was successful, and there were (on ' Our Lady of the Rosary,' which Drake took) a number of jewelled swords for the Catholic nobility of England, and whips of cord and wire for Protestants. But Medina Sidonia felt an inkling of his doom, which- " like the moving finger on the wall, wrote strange runes on the load-coloured sea. That morning he sent off a pinnace to Dunkirk. following the one he had despatched the day before. He recognised the awkward heaviness of movement of his own ships, and bade Parma send him forty light vessels which could cope with the antic 'mobility of the English. . . He looked eastwards from his poop, high as a church, hoping to see the succouring sails, but though the day was clear, there was no sign of them. To the south lay the coast, of France ; to the north-west, calm-bound like himself. the English fleet, but should a breath of wind spring up, they would steal magically nearer, and Drake,' the terror of Spain, Would lead them. It was he, Sidonia knew, who was the inspiration of the foe, and only Drake could tell what Drake intended. His ship flitted here and there like a bat's shadow, it wheeled and blazed its ruinous broadside, and like a shadow it was gone again. Sidonia's sailors heard strange legends about him ; ships sprang up on the sea if he whittled a stick into the water. . . ."
Off the cliffs of Calais the Spaniards anchored, with the leopards of England ready to pounce in the offing. It was a moonless night, and wind and flood-tide favoured us :- "Out of the windy darkness came the terror by night. A ship on fire, with all sails spread, slipped forth from behind the English line, and as it' moved forward on the swift tide and favouring wind, the brushwood on-the-deck burned higher, and the flames licked up the mast and the sails blazed wide. ... . Seven more followed and all this fleet of fire bore full down on the anchored Armada. Every gun on the burning 'ships had been loaded and the gunners were the flames that - would presently lick the touch-holes. To remain in the path of that advancing blaze meant destruction and so swiftly was it bearing down there was no time to weigh anchor. Panic seized the entire Arinada, ship after ship cut or slipped its cables,. and amid crash and collision and in unimaginable confusion, they streamed halter skelter away."
When morning dawned, the enemy lay out in the North Sea, just where Drake would have it—" like a ripe orange shaken from its bough." The fate of the Armr;da can be left to "' every schoolboy."
Would that we could leave Drake in his hour of victory, or in the well-earned retirement of his London or Plymouth estates. But he went Wegt again and sickened of dysentery off Norribre-de-Dios. Ai he lay dying the old spirit flared up once more and he ordered Whitlocke, his page, to fetch him his armour, so that he might die in harness.
Presently he lay down, again and before sunrise he was dead. His passing is told in a few simple words, whose quality give, the keynote of this splendid history —a book indeed which will live to quicken the pulse and stir the imagination as long as Drake's drum stays in Devon. "On each side of the ` Defiance,' where Drake lay in his lead coffin, was a vessel that was dedicated to be his funeral pyre. Fuel was piled on them, and when all was ready they were set ablaze. The guns of all the fleet saluted their Admiral and On the deck of his flagship his trumpeters blared out their homage to the dead. The leaden shell slid forward and there was laid to rest the greatest of the Master Mariners of England, Who had won her the sea as her heritage."