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reign. In a time when fancy and gaiety were the most powerful recommendations to regard, it is not likely that Waller was forgotten. He passed his time in the company that was highest, both in rank and wit, from which even his obstinate sobriety did not exclude him. Though he drank water, he was enabled by his fertility of mind to heighten the mirth of Bacchanalian assemblies; and Mr. Saville said, that no man in England should keep him company without drinking but Ned Waller.”
The praise given him by St. Evremond is a proof of his reputation ; for it was only by his reputation that he could be known, as a writer, to a man who, though he lived a great part of a long life upon an English pension, never condescended to understand the language of the nation that maintained him.
In parliament, “ he was,” says Burnet, “ the delight of the house, and though old, said the liveliest things of any among them.” This, however, is said in his account of the year seventy-five, when Waller was only seventy. His name as a' speaker occurs often in Grey's Collections; but I have found no extracts that can be more quoted as exhibiting sallies of gaiety than cogency of argument.
He was of such consideration, that his remarks were circulated and recorded. When the duke of York's influence was high, both in Scotland and England, it drew, says Burnet, a lively reflection from Waller, the celebrated wit. He said, “the house of commons had resolved that the duke should not reign after the king's death ; but the king, in opposition to them, had resolved that he should reign even in his life." If there appear no extraordinary liveliness in this remark, yet its reception proves the speaker to have been a celebrated wit, to have had a name which men of wit were proud of mentioning.
He did not suffer his reputation to die gradually away, which may easily happen in a long life; but renewed his claim to poetical distinction from time to time, as occasions were offered, either by public events or private incidents; and contenting himself with the influence of his muse, or loving quiet better than influence, he never accepted any office of magistracy.
He was not, however, without some attention to his fortune ; for he asked from the king (in 1665) the provostship of Eton College, and obtained it; but Clarendon refused to put the seal to tlie grant, alleging, that it could be held only by a clergyman, It is known, that sir Henry Wotton qualified himself for it by deacon's orders.
To this opposition, the Biographia imputes the violence and acrimony with which Waller joined Buckingham's faction in the prosecution of Clarendon. The motive was illiberal and dishonest, and showed, that more than sixty years bad not been able to teach him morality. His accusation is such as conscience can hardly be supposed to dictate without the help of malice.“ We were to be governed by janizaries instead of parliaments, and are in danger from a worse plot than that of the fifth of November; then, if the lords and commons had been destroyed, there had been a succession; but here both had been destroyed for ever.” This is the language of a man who is glad of an opportunity to rail, and ready to sacrifice truth to interest at one time, and to anger at another.
A year after the chancellor's banishment, another vacancy gave him encouragement for another petition, which the king referred to the council, who, atler liearing the question argued by lawyers for three days, determined, that the office could be held only by a clergyman, according to the act of uniformity, since the provosts had always
teceived institution as for a parsonage from the bishops of Lincoln. The king then said, he could not break the law which he had made; and Dr. Zachary Cradock, famous for a single sermon, at most for two sermons, was chosen by the fellows.
That he asked any thing more is not known ; it is certain that he obtained nothing, though he continued obsequious to the court through the rest of Charles's reign.
At the accession of king James (in 1685) he was chosen for parliament, being then fourscore, at Saltash in Cornwall; and wrote a Presage of the Downfall of the Turkish Empire, which he presented to the king on his birth-day. It is remarked, by his commentator Fenton, that in reading Tasso he had early imbibed a veneration for the heroes of the Holy War, and a zealous enmity to the Turks, which never left him. James, however, having soon after begun what he thought a Holy War at home, made haste to put all molestation of the Turks out of his power.
James treated him with kindness and fanıiliarity, of which instances are given by the writer of his life. One day taking him into the closet, the king asked him how he liked one of the pictures : “ My eyes,” said Waller, “ are dim, and I do not know it.” The king said it was the princess of Orange. “She is," said Waller, “ like the greatest woman in the world." The king asked who was that; and was answered, queen Elizabeth. “ I wonder,” said the king, “ you should think so; but I must confess she had a wise council”—“ And, sir," said Waller, “ did you ever know a fool choose a wise one?" Such is the story, which I once heard of some other man. Pointed axioms, and acute replies, fly loose about the world, and are assigned successively to those whom it may be the fashion to celebrate.
When the king knew that he was about to marry his daughter to Dr. Birch, a clergyman, he ordered a French gentleman to tell him, that “the king wondered he could think of marrying his daughter to a falling church.”—“The king," said Waller, “ does be great bonour, in taking notice of my domestic affairs; but I have lived long enough to observe, that this falling church has got a trick of rising again."
He took notice to his friends of the king's conduct; and said, that "he would be left like a whale upon the strand.” Whether he was privy to any of the transactions which ended in the Revolution is not known. His heir joined the prince of Orange.
Having now attained an age beyond which the laws of nature seldom suffer life to be extended, otherwise than by a future state, he seems to have turned his mind upon preparation for the decisive hour, and therefore consecrated his poetry to devotion. It is pleasing to discover, that his piety was without weakness ; that his intellectual powers continued vigorous; and that the lines which he composed when he, for age, could neither read nor write, are not inferior to the effusions of his youth.
Towards the decline of life, he bought a small house with a little lanıl, at Coleshill; and said, “ he should be glad to die, like the stag, where he was roused.” This, howa erer, did not happen. When he was at Beaconsfield, he found his legs grow tumid: lie went to Windsor, where sir Charles Scarborough then attended the king, and requested him, as both a friend and a physician, to tell him, what that swelling meant, “Sir," answered Scarborough, “ your blood will run no longer." Waller repeated sowe lines of Virgil, and went home to die.
As the disease increased upon him, he composed himself for his departure; and call ing upon Dr. Birch to give him the holy sacrament, he desired his children to take it with him, and made an earnest declaration of bis faith in Christianity. It now appeared what part of his conversation with the great could be remembered with delight. Fle related, that being present when the duke of Buckingham talked profanely before king Charles, he said to him, “ My lord, I am a great deal older than your grace, and have, I believe, heard more arguments for atheism than ever your grace did; but I have lived long enough to see there is nothing in them; and so, I hope, your grace will."
He died October 21, 1687, and was buried at Beaconsfield, with a monument erected by his son's executors, for which Rymer wrote the inscription, and which I hope is now rescued from dilapidation.
He left several children by his second wife; of whom his daughter was married to Dr. Birch. Benjamin, the eldest son, was disinherited, and sent to New Jersey, as wanting common understanding. Edmund, the second son, inherited the estate, and represented Agmondesham in Parliament, but at last turned quaker. William, the third son, was a merchant in London, Stephen, the fourth, was an eminent doctor of laws, and one of the commissioners for the Union. There is said to have been a fifth, of 'whom no account has descended.
The character of Waller, both moral and intellectual, has been drawn by Clarendon, to whom he was familiarly known, with nicety, which certainly none to whom he was not known can presume to emulate. It is therefore inserted here, with such remarks as others have supplied; after which, nothing remains but a critical examination of his poetry.
“ Edmund Waller,” says Clarendon, “ was born to a very fair estate, by the parsimony or frugality of a wise father and mother : and he thought it so commendable an advantage, that he resolved to improve it with his utmost care, upon which in his nature he was too much intent; and, in order to that, he was so much reserved and retired, that he was scarcely ever heard of, till by bis address and dexterity he had gotten a very rich wife in the city, against all the recommendation and countenance and authority of the court, which was thoroughly engaged on the behalf of Mr. Crofts, and which used to be successful, in that age, against any opposition. He had the good fortune to have an alliance and friendship with Dr. Morley, who had assisted and instructed him in the reading many good books, to which bis natural parts and promptitude inclined him, especially the poets; and at the age when other men used to give over writing verses (for he was near thirty years when he first engaged himself in that exercise, at least that he was known to do so), he surprised the town with two or three pieces of that kind, as if a tenth muse had been newly born to cherish drooping poetry. The doctor at that time brought him into that company which was most celebrated for good conversation ; where he was received and esteemed with great applause and respect. He was a very pleasant discourser in earnest and in jest, and therefore very grateful to all kind of company, where he was not the less esteemed for being very rich,
“ He had been even nursed in parliaments, where he sat when he was very young; and so, when they were resumed again (after a long intermission), he appeared in those assemblies with great advantage; having a graceful way of speaking, and by thinking much on several arguments (which his temper and complexion, that had much of melancholic, inclined him to), he seemed often to speak upon the sudden, when the occasion had only administered the opportunity of saying what he had thoroughly considered, which gave a great lustre to all he said, which yet was rather of delight than weight. There needs no more be said to extol the excellence and power of his wit,
and pleasantness of his conversation, than that it was of magnitude enough to cover a
Such is the account of Clarendon ; on which it may not be improper to make some
That Clarendon might misjudge the motive of his retirement is the more probable,
Clarendon observes, that he was introduced to the wits of the age by Dr. Morley; but the writer of his Life relates, that he was already among them, when, hearing a noise in the street, and inquiring the cause, they found a son of Ben Jonson under an arrest. This was Morley, whom Waller set free at the expense of one hundred pounds, took him into the country as director of his studies, and then procured him admission into the company of the friends of literature. Of this fact Clarendon had a nearer knowledge than the biographer, and is therefore more to be credited.
The account of Waller's parliamentary eloquence is seconded by Burnet, who, though he calls him “ the delight of the house,” adds, that “ he was only concerned to say that, which should make him be applauded, he never laid the business of the house to beart, being a vain and empty, though a witty, man.”
Of his insinuation and flattery, it is not unreasonable to believe, that the truth is told. Ascham, in his elegant description of those whom in modern language we term wits, says, that they are open flatterers, and privy mockers. Waller showed a little of both, when, upon sight of the dutchess of Newcastle's verses on the death of a stag, he declared that he would give all his own compositions to have written them; and being charged with the exorbitance of his adulation, answered, that "nothing was too much to be given, that a lady might be saved from the disgrace of such a vile performance." This
, however, was no very mischievous or very unusual deviation from truth : had his bypocrisy been confined to such transactions, he might have been forgiven, though not praised; for who forbears to flatter an author or a lady?
Of the laxity of his political principles, and the weakness of his resolution, he expe
rienced the natural effect, by losing the esteem of every party. From Cromwell he had only his recall; and from Charles the Second, who delighted in his company, he obtained only the pardon of his relation Hampden, and the safety of Hampden's son.
As far as conjecture can be made from the whole of his writing, and his conduct, he was habitually and deliberately a friend to monarchy. His deviation towards democracy proceeded from his connection with Hampden, for whose sake he prosecuted Crawley with great bitterness; and the invective which he pronounced on that occasion was so popular, that twenty thousand copies are said by his biographer to have been sold in one day.
It is confessed, that his faults still left him many friends, at least many companions. His convivial power of pleasing is universally acknowledged; but those who conversed with him intimately found him not only passionate, especially in his old age, but resentful; so that the interposition of friends was sometimes necessary.
His wit and his poetry naturally connected him with the polite writers of his time : he was joined with lord Buckhurst in the translation of Corneille's Pompey; and is said to have added his help to that of Cowley in the original draught of the Rehearsal.
The care of his fortune, which Clarendon imputes to him in a degree little less than criminal, was either not constant or not successful; for, having inherited a patrimony of three thousand five hundred pounds a year in the time of James the First, and augmented it at least by one wealthy marriage, he left, about the time of the Revolution, an income of not more than twelve or thirteen hundred; which, when the different value of money is reckoned, will be found perhaps not more than a fourth part of what he once possessed.
Of this diminution, part was the consequence of the gifts, which he was forced to scatter, and the fine, which he was condemned to pay at the detection of his plot; and if his estate, as is related in his Life, was sequestered, he had probably contracted debts when he lived in exile; for we are told, that at Paris he lived in splendour, and was the only Englishman, except the lord St. Alban's, that kept a table.
His unlucky plot compelled him to sell a thousand a year; of the waste of the rest there is no account, except that he is confessed by his biographer to have been a bad economist. He seems to have deviated from the common practice; to have been a hoarder in his first years, and a squanderer in his last.
Of his course of studies, or choice of books, nothing is known more, than that he professed himself unable to read Chapman's translation of Homer without rapture. His opinion concerning the duty of a poet is contained in his declaration, that “ he would blot from his works any line, that did not contain some motive to virtue."
THE characters by which Waller intended to distinguish his writings are sprightliness and dignity; in his smallest pieces, he endeavours to be gay; in the larger, to be great. Of his airy and light productions, the chief source is gallantry, that attentive reverence of female excellence, which has descended to us from the Gothic ages. As his poems are commonly occasional, and his addresses personal, he was not so liberally supplied with grand as with soft images; for beauty is more easily found than magnanimity.
The delicacy, which he cultivated, restrains him to a certain nicety and caution, even when he writes upon the slightest matter. He has, therefore, in his whole volume, nothing burlesque, and seldom any thing ludicrous or familiar. He seems always to do his best ; though his subjects are often unworthy of his care.