"O Eloquent, Just, And Mighty Death!"

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Last Updated on May 24, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 374

Context: Sir Walter Raleigh was a true Elizabethan in the sense of his being at one time or another engaged in numerous activities associated with his age. Soldier, sailor, courtier, statesman, colonizer, scholar, patron of poets and scientists, himself a poet and historian, he was a legend in his time and for all time. Influential in his early life in building up the naval power of England, he helped to prepare his nation for the fateful conflict with Spain, the Armada of 1588. Later he turned his attention to the encouragement of English colonization of the New World. His most important prose work was The History of the World, written while he was imprisoned at the Tower of London for alleged conspiracy against James I. Sentenced to die in 1603, he was temporarily reprieved and spent his last years in captivity in the Tower until his execution, amply supplied with books by his friends. Although he originally intended to cover the full range of ancient to modern times, the work breaks off at 168 B.C. and appeared as a fragment in 1614. Though incomplete, it remained popular as a universal history well into the eighteenth century. Near the conclusion, he extols Death as the mighty instructor which forces the revelation of truth upon king and commoner alike:

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. . . It is therefore Death alone that can suddenly make man to know himself. He tells the proud and insolent that they are but abjects, and humbles them at the instant; makes them cry, complain, and repent, yea even to hate their forepast happiness. He takes the account of the rich, and proves him a beggar, a naked beggar, which hath interest in nothing but in the gravel that fills his mouth. He holds a glass before the eyes of the most beautiful, and makes them see therein their deformity and rottenness, and they acknowledge it.
O eloquent, just, and mighty Death! whom none could advise, thou hast persuaded; what non 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!

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