The History of Richard Raynal, Solitary
by Robert Hugh Benson
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* * * * *

I thought, too, at this time of many other things, such as you may suppose—of Master Richard's little cell in the country which would never see him again (for I did not know at this time what the King intended of his grace), and of the beasts that awaited him so lamentably, and then of this great room hung all over with royalty whither it had pleased God that his darling should come to die. I looked, too, very often upon Master Richard as he lay before me, upon his clean pallour, paler than I had ever seen it, and his slender fingers roughened by the spade, and his strong arm, and his smiling lips, and his closed eyes that looked within upon what I was not worthy to see, and I wondered often what it was that he was saying to our Lord and the blessed, and what they were saying to him, and I prayed that my name might be mentioned amongst them, lest I should be a castaway after all that I had heard and seen.

When it was dark (for I dared not kindle the candles) the King came in again, and as he came in Master Richard spoke my name, and moved his hand towards me on the coverlet.

How Master Richard went to God

Transivimus per ignem et aquam: et eduxisti nos in refrigerium.

We have passed through fire and water: and Thou hast brought us out into a refreshment.—Ps. lxv. 12.


The King presently kissed Master Richard's hand and asked his pardon and his prayers, saying that he had known nothing of what went forward during those two days, until the crying of Jesus' name by Master Richard before the cardinal, but blaming his own craven heart, as he called it.

And when Master Richard had spoken awhile, he asked the King to go out, for that he had much to say to me in secret.

So the King went out very softly, and set other guards at the doors, and we two sat there a long while.

* * * * *

I was astonished at Master Richard's strength and courage, for he had spoken aloud to the King, but when the King was gone out, he spoke in a lower voice, holding my hand. It was very dark, for he would have no lights, and I could see no more of him but a little of his hair, and the pallour of his face beneath it, until the morn came and the end came.

* * * * *

He told me first of what he had done, and what had been done to him since a week ago, when we had kissed one another at the lych-gate—all as I have told it to you. He talked quietly, as I have said, but he laughed a little now and again, and once or twice his voice trembled with tears as he related our Lord's loving-kindness to him. (I have never known any man who loved Jesu Christ more than this man loved Him.)

I asked him a few questions, and he answered them, but the effect of all that he said was what I have written down here, and sometimes I have his very words as he spoke them.

At last he came to the end of what he had to say, and began to tell me of the Night of the Soul, and here he talked in a very low voice so that I could scarcely hear what he said, and of what he said I did not understand one half, [I am thankful that Sir John recognized his own limitations.] for it was full of mysteries such as other contemplative souls alone would recognise—for all contemplatives, as you know, relate the same things to one another which they have seen and heard, and the words that each uses the other understands, but other men do not; for they speak of things that they have seen indeed, but for which there are no proper human words, so that they have to do the best that they can.

He told me that the state that I have described to you continued until he came before my lord cardinal, so that although he saw men's faces and heard their words they were no more to him than shadows and whisperings; for since (as it appeared to him) he had lost God by his own fault there was no longer anything by which he might communicate with man.

Yet all this while there was the conflict of which I have spoken. There was that in him, which we name the Will, which continued tense and strong, striving against despair. Neither his mind nor his heart could help him in that Night; his mind informed him that he had sinned deadly by presumption, his heart found nowhere God to love; and all that, though he told himself that God was loveable, and adorable, and that he could not fall into hell save by his own purpose and intention.

Yet, in spite of all, and when all had failed him, his will strove against despair (which is the antichrist of humility [A curious phrase, and, I think, rather a good one. I suspect it was originally Master Richard's.]), though he did not recognise until afterwards that he was striving, for he thought himself lost, as I have said.

Then a little after noon, at the time when I saw his image at the door of his cell, stretching himself as if after labour or sleep, he had his release.

Now this is the one matter of which he did not tell me fully, nor would he answer when I asked him except by the words, "Secretum meum mihi." ["My secret is mine."] But this I know, that he saw our Lord.

And this I know, too, that with that sight his understanding came back to him, and he perceived for himself that Charity was all. He perceived, also, that he had been striving, and amiss. He had striven to bear his own sins, and for those few hours our Lord had permitted him to bear the weight. He who bears heaven and earth upon His shoulders, and who bore the burden of the sins of the world in the garden and upon the rood, had allowed this sweet soul to feel the weight of his own few little sins for those few hours.

When he saw that he made haste to cast them off again upon Him who alone can carry them and live, and to cry upon His Name; and he understood in that moment, he said, as never before, something of that passion and of the meaning of those five wounds that he had adored so long in ignorance.

But what it was that he saw, and how it was that our Lord shewed Himself, whether on the rood, or as a child with the world in His hands, or as crowned with sharp-thorned roses, or who was with Him, if any were; I do not know. It was then that he said "Secretum mihi." And when Master Richard had said that, he added "Vere languores nostros ipse tulit; et dolores nostros ipse portavit." ["Surely He hath borne our infirmities, and carried our sorrows" (Is. liii. 4.)]

* * * * *

He lay silent a good while after that, and I did not speak to him. When he spoke again, it was to bring to my mind the masses that were to be said, and then he spoke of the Quinte Essence, and said that it was to be mine if I wished for it; and all other things of his were to be mine to do as I pleased with them, for he had no kin in the world.

And after he had spoken of these things the King came in timidly from the parlour, and stood by the door; I could see the pallour of his face against the hangings.

"Come in, my lord King," said Master Richard very faintly. "I have done what was to be done, and there now is nothing but to make an end."

The King knelt down at the further side of the bed.

"Is it the priest you want, Master Hermit?" he asked.

"Sir John will read the prayers presently," said Master Richard.

I heard the King swallow in his throat before he spoke again.

"And you will remember us all," he said, "before God's Majesty, and in particular my poor soul in its passion."

"How could I forget that?" asked Master Richard, and by his voice I knew that he laughed merrily to himself.

I asked him whether he would have lights.

"No, my father," he said, "there will be light enough."

* * * * *

It would be an hour later, I should suppose, after Master Blytchett was come back, when he put out his hand again, and I knew that he wished for the prayers.

Now there was only starlight, for he would have no candles, and the moon was not yet risen. So I went across to the parlour door, and as I went through I could see that the chamber was full of persons all silent, but it was too dark to see who they were. I asked one for a candle, and presently one was brought, and I saw that my lord cardinal was there, and ... and ... [The names are omitted as usual. This discreet scribe is very tiresome.] and many others. It was such a death-bed as a king might have.

So I read the appointed prayers, kneeling on my knees in the doorway, and I was answered by those behind me.

When I had done that, I stood up to go back, and my lord cardinal caught me by the sleeve.

"For the love of Jesu," he said, "ask if we may come in."

I went back and leaned over Master Richard, taking his hand in my own.

"My lord and the rest desire to come in, my son," I said. "If they may come, press my hand."

He pressed my hand, and I spoke in a low voice, bidding them to come in.

So they came in noiselessly, one after another; I could see their faces moving, but no more—my lord cardinal and the great nobles and the grooms and the rest—till the room was half full of them.

The door was put to behind them, but I could see the line of light that shewed it, where the candle burned in the parlour beyond; and I could hear the sound of their breathing and the rustle once and again of their feet upon the rushes.

Then I knelt down, when the others had knelt, and waited for the agony to begin, when I should begin the last commendation.

My children, I have prayed by many death-beds, but I have never seen one like this.

The curtains were wide, and the windows, behind me, that he might have breath to send out his spirit; and without, as I saw when I turned to kneel, the heavens were bright with stars. This was all the light that was in the room; it was no more than dark twilight, and I could see no more of him than what I saw before, the glimmer of his face upon the pillow and his long hair beside it. His fingers were in mine, but they were very cold by now.

But he had said that there would be light enough, and so there was.

It may have been half an hour afterwards that the room began to lighten softly, as the sky brightened at moonrise, and I could see a little more plainly. His eyes were closed, and he seemed to be breathing very softly through his lips.

Then the moon rose, and the light lay upon the floor at my side. Then a little after it was upon the fringes of the coverlet, and it crept up moment by moment across the leopards and lilies that were broidered in gold and blue.

At last it lay half across the bed, and I could see the King's face very pale and melancholy upon the other side, and Master Blytchett a little behind him.

And presently it reached Master Richard's hand and my own that lay together, but my arm was so numbed that I could feel nothing in it; I could see only that his fingers were in mine.

So the light crept up his arm to the shoulder, and when it reached his face we saw that he was gone to his reward.

Of his Burying

Quam dilecta tabernacula tua: Domine virtutum.

How lovely are Thy tabernacles: O Lord of Hosts.—Ps. lxxxiii. 1.


It was upon the next day that we took Master Richard's body down again to the country, and there was such an attendant company as I should not have thought that all London held.

The King had ordered a great plenty of tapers and hangings and a herse such as is used....

[The MS. ends abruptly at the foot of the page.]


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