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Walter Raleigh

English aristocrat, writer, poet, soldier, courtier, spy, and explorer
Sir Walter Raleigh

Sir Walter Raleigh (1554 – October 29, 1618) is famed as a writer, poet, spy, and explorer. Note that many alternate spellings of his surname exist, including Rawley, Ralegh, and Rawleigh; although "Raleigh" appears most commonly today, he himself used that spelling only once. His most consistent preference was for "Ralegh".



  • Every fool knoweth that hatreds are the cinders of affection.
    • Letter to Sir Robert Cecil (May 10, 1593).
  • No man is wise or safe, but he that is honest.
    • Advice to the Earl of Rutland on his Travels (1596).
  • If all the world and love were young,
    And truth in every shepherd's tongue,
    These pretty pleasures might me move
    To live with thee and be thy Love.

    But fading flowers in every field,
    To winter floods their treasures yield;
    A honey'd tongue, a heart of gall,
    Is Fancy's spring, but Sorrow's fall.

    • The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd (1599), st. 1–2.
    • Inspired by Christopher Marlowe's The Passionate Shepherd to his Love.
  • Go, Soul, the body’s guest,
    Upon a thankless arrant:
    Fear not to touch the best;
    The truth shall be thy warrant:
    Go, since I needs must die,
    And give the world the lie.

    Say to the court, it glows.
    And shines like rotten wood;
    Say to the church, it shows
    What’s good, and doth no good:
    If church and court reply,
    Then give them both the lie.

    • The Lie (1608).
  • So when thou hast, as I
    Commanded thee, done blabbing —
    Although to give the lie
    Deserves no less than stabbing —
    Stab at thee he that will,
    No stab the soul can kill.
    • The Lie (1608).
Sir Walter Raleigh
  • [History] hath triumphed over time, which besides it nothing but eternity hath triumphed over.
    • The History of the World (1614), Preface.
  • Whosoever, in writing a modern history, shall follow truth too near the heels, it may happily strike out his teeth.
    • The History of the World (1614), Preface.
  • O eloquent, just, and mighty Death! whom none could advise, thou hast persuaded; what none hath dared, thou hast done; and whom all the world hath flattered, thou only hast cast out of the world and despised; thou hast drawn together all the far-stretched greatness, all the pride, cruelty, and ambition of man, and covered it all over with these two narrow words, Hic jacet [Here lies]!
    • The History of the World Book V, chapter 6.
  • For whosoever commands the sea commands the trade; whosoever commands the trade of the world commands the riches of the world, and consequently the world itself.
    • A Discourse of the Invention of Ships, Anchors, Compass, &c
  • Even such is time, that takes on trust
    Our youth, our joys, our all we have,
    And pays us but with earth and dust;
    Who, in the dark and silent grave,
    When we have wandered all our ways,
    Shuts up the story of our days;
    But from this earth, this grave, this dust
    My God shall raise me up, I trust!
    • His Own Epitaph, written the night before his execution (1618).
Sir Walter Raleigh
  • Our passions are most like to floods and streams;
    The shallow murmur, but the deep are dumb.
    • Sir Walter Raleigh to the Queen (published 1655). Alternately reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919) as:
      "Passions are likened best to floods and streams:
      The shallow murmur, but the deep are dumb"
      and titled The Silent Lover. Compare: "Altissima quæque flumina minimo sono labi", (translated: "The deepest rivers flow with the least sound"), Q. Curtius, vii. 4. 13. "Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep", William Shakespeare, 2 Henry VI. act iii. sc. i.
  • Cowards fear to die; but courage stout,
    Rather than live in snuff, will be put out.
    • On the snuff of a candle the night before he died; Raleigh's Remains, p. 258, ed. 1661.
  • Silence in love bewrays more woe
    Than words, though ne’er so witty:
    A beggar that is dumb, you know,
    May challenge double pity.
    • The Silent Lover, reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • Fain would I, but I dare not; I dare, and yet I may not;
    I may, although I care not, for pleasure when I play not.
    • Fain Would I, reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • Methought I saw the grave where Laura lay.
    • Verses to Edmund Spenser, reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919). Compare: "Methought I saw my late espoused saint", John Milton, Sonnet xxiii. "Methought I saw the footsteps of a throne", William Wordsworth, Sonnet.
  • Even such is time, that takes in trust
    Our youth, our joys, our all we have,
    And pays us but with age and dust;
    Who in the dark and silent grave,
    When we have wandered all our ways,
    Shuts up the story of our days.
    But from this earth, this grave, this dust,
    My God shall raise me up, I trust!
    • Written the night before his death and found in his Bible in the Gate-house at Westminster; reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • Shall I, like an hermit, dwell
    On a rock or in a cell?
    • Poem reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • If she undervalue me,
    What care I how fair she be?
    • Poem reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919). Compare: "If she be not so to me, / What care I how fair she be?", George Wither, The Shepherd's Resolution.
  • Fain would I climb, yet fear I to fall.
    • Poem written in a glass window obvious to the Queen's eye, reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919). "Her Majesty, either espying or being shown it, did under-write, 'If thy heart fails thee, climb not at all'", Thomas Fuller, Worthies of England, vol. i. p. 419.

Instructions to his Son and to Posterity (published 1632)Edit

  • Better were it to be unborn than ill-bred.
    • Chapter II.
  • Remember...that if thou marry for beauty, thou bindest thyself all thy life for that which perchance will never last nor please thee one year; and when thou hast it, it will be to thee of no price at all, for the desire dieth when it is attained, and the affection perisheth when it is satisfied.
    • Chapter II.
  • Bestow therefore thy youth so, that thou mayest have comfort to remember it when it hath forsaken thee, and not sigh and grieve at the account thereof.
    • Chapter II.
  • But it is hard to know them [flatterers] from friends, they are so obsequious, and full of protestations; for as a wolf resembles a dog, so doth a flatterer a friend.
    • Chapter III.
  • Speaking much also is a sign of vanity; for he that is lavish in words is a niggard in deeds.
    • Chapter IV.
  • Be advised what thou dost discourse of, and what thou maintainest whether touching religion, state, or vanity; for if thou err in the first, thou shalt be accounted profane; if in the second, dangerous; if in the third, indiscreet and foolish.
    • Chapter IV.
  • No man is esteemed for gay garments but by fools and women.
    • Chapter VII.
Sir Walter Raleigh

The Cabinet Council (published 1658)Edit

  • There is nothing exempt from the peril of mutation.
    • Chapter 24.
  • All histories do shew, and wise politicians do hold it necessary that, for the well-governing of every Commonweal, it behoveth man to presuppose that all men are evil, and will declare themselves so to be when occasion is offered.
    • Chapter 25 .
  • It is the nature of men, having escaped one extreme, which by force they were constrained long to endure, to run headlong into the other extreme, forgetting that virtue doth always consist in the mean.
    • Chapter 25.
  • All, or the greatest part of men that have aspired to riches or power, have attained thereunto either by force or fraud, and what they have by craft or cruelty gained, to cover the foulness of their fact, they call purchase, as a name more honest. Howsoever, he that for want of will or wit useth not those means, must rest in servitude and poverty.
    • Chapter 25.
  • He that doth not as other men do, but endeavoureth that which ought to be done, shall thereby rather incur peril than preservation; for whoso laboureth to be sincerely perfect and good shall necessarily perish, living among men that are generally evil.
    • Chapter 25.
  • Historians desiring to write the actions of men, ought to set down the simple truth, and not say anything for love or hatred; also to choose such an opportunity for writing as it may be lawful to think what they will, and write what they think, which is a rare happiness of the time.
    • Chapter 25.
  • Whoso taketh in hand to govern a multitude, either by way of liberty or principality, and cannot assure himself of those persons that are enemies to that enterprise, doth frame a state of short perseverance.
    • Chapter 25.
  • Whoso desireth to govern well and securely, it behoveth him to have a vigilant eye to the proceedings of great princes, and to consider seriously of their designs.
    • Chapter 25.
  • War begets quiet, quiet idleness, idleness disorder, disorder ruin; likewise ruin order, order virtue, virtue glory and good fortune.
    • Chapter 25.


  • What is our life? A play of passion / our mirth: the music of division/ our mother's wombs: the tiring houses be/ where we are dressed for this short comedy./Heaven the judicious sharp spectator is/ that sits and marks still/ who doth act amiss./ Our graves that hide us from the searching sun/ are like drawn curtains/ when the play is done./ Thus march we playing to our latest rest/ only we die / in earnest/, that's no jest.
    • "On the Life of Man" (1612)
  • Fain would I climb, yet fear I to fall.
    • According to Thomas Fuller's History of the Worthies of England vol. 1, p. 4 (1662) this was written by Raleigh on a window-pane, prompting Elizabeth I to add "If thy heart fails thee, climb not at all".
  • The world itself is but a larger prison, out of which some are daily selected for execution.
    • Supposed to have been said by Raleigh to his friends as he was being taken to prison, on the day before his execution (William Stebbing Sir Walter Raleigh (1891), chapter 30).
  • So the heart be right, it is no matter which way the head lies.
    • Stebbing's Sir Walter Raleigh, chapter 30, gives these as Raleigh's words on being asked by the executioner which way he wanted to lay his head on the block.
  • What dependence can I have on the alleged events of ancient history, when I find such difficulty in ascertaining the truth regarding a matter that has taken place only a few minutes ago, and almost in my own presence!

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