Lives of the Poets, Vol. 1
Part 4 out of 10
It is scarcely possible, in the regularity and composure of the present
time, to image the tumult of absurdity, and clamour of contradiction,
which perplexed doctrine, disordered practice, and disturbed both publick
and private quiet, in that age when subordination was broken, and awe was
hissed away; when any unsettled innovator, who could hatch a half-formed
notion, produced it to the publick; when every man might become a
preacher, and almost every preacher could collect a congregation.
The wisdom of the nation is very reasonably supposed to reside in the
parliament. What can be concluded of the lower classes of the people,
when in one of the parliaments, summoned by Cromwell, it was seriously
proposed, that all the records in the Tower should be burnt, that all
memory of things past should be effaced, and that the whole system of
life should commence anew?
We have never been witnesses of animosities excited by the use of minced
pies and plumporridge; nor seen with what abhorrence those, who could eat
them at all other times of the year, would shrink from them in December.
An old puritan who was alive in my childhood, being, at one of the feasts
of the church, invited by a neighbour to partake his cheer, told him,
that if he would treat him at an alehouse with beer brewed for all times
and seasons he should accept his kindness, but would have none of his
superstitious meats or drinks.
One of the puritanical tenets was the illegality of all games of chance;
and he that reads Gataker upon Lots, may see how much learning and reason
one of the first scholars of his age thought necessary to prove, that it
was no crime to throw a die, or play at cards, or to hide a shilling for
Astrology, however, against which so much of the satire is directed, was
not more the folly of the puritans than of others. It had, in that time,
a very extensive dominion. Its predictions raised hopes and fears in
minds, which ought to have rejected it with contempt. In hazardous
undertakings, care was taken to begin under the influence of a propitious
planet; and, when the king was prisoner in Carisbrook castle, an
astrologer was consulted what hour would be found most favourable to an
What effect this poem had upon the publick, whether it shamed imposture,
or reclaimed credulity, is not easily determined. Cheats can seldom
stand long against laughter. It is certain, that the credit of planetary
intelligence wore fast away; though some men of knowledge, and Dryden
among them, continued to believe that conjunctions and oppositions had a
great part in the distribution of good or evil, and in the government of
Poetical action ought to be probable upon certain suppositions, and such
probability as burlesque requires is here violated only by one incident.
Nothing can show more plainly the necessity of doing something, and the
difficulty of finding something to do, than that Butler was reduced to
transfer to his hero, the flagellation of Sancho, not the most agreeable
fiction of Cervantes; very suitable, indeed, to the manners of that age
and nation, which ascribed wonderful efficacy to voluntary penances; but
so remote from the practice and opinions of the Hudibrastick time, that
judgment and imagination are alike offended.
The diction of this poem is grossly familiar, and the numbers purposely
neglected, except in a few places where the thoughts, by their native
excellence, secure themselves from violation, being such as mean language
cannot express. The mode of versification has been blamed by Dryden, who
regrets that the heroick measure was not rather chosen. To the critical
sentence of Dryden, the highest reverence would be due, were not his
decisions often precipitate, and his opinions immature. When he wished to
change the measure, he probably would have been willing to change more.
If he intended that, when the numbers were heroick, the diction should
still remain vulgar, he planned a very heterogeneous and unnatural
composition. If he preferred a general stateliness both of sound and
words, he can be only understood to wish that Butler had undertaken a
The measure is quick, sprightly, and colloquial, suitable to the
vulgarity of the words, and the levity of the sentiments. But such
numbers and such diction can gain regard, only when they are used by a
writer, whose vigour of fancy and copiousness of knowledge, entitle him
to contempt of ornaments, and who, in confidence of the novelty and
justness of his conceptions, can afford to throw metaphors and epithets
away. To another that conveys common thoughts in careless versification,
it will only be said, "Pauper videri Cinna vult, et est pauper." The
meaning and diction will be worthy of each other, and criticism may
justly doom them to perish together.
Nor even though another Butler should arise, would another Hudibras
obtain the same regard. Burlesque consists in a disproportion between the
style and the sentiments, or between the adventitious sentiments and
the fundamental subject. It, therefore, like all bodies compounded of
heterogeneous parts, contains in it a principle of corruption. All
disproportion is unnatural; and from what is unnatural, we can derive
only the pleasure which novelty produces. We admire it awhile as a
strange thing; but, when it is no longer strange, we perceive its
deformity. It is a kind of artifice, which by frequent repetition detects
itself; and the reader, learning in time what he is to expect, lays down
his book, as the spectator turns away from a second exhibition of those
tricks, of which the only use is to show that they can be played.
* * * * *
We extract from the second volume of Aubrey's Letters, p. 263, the
following lines, entitled
No jesuite ever took in hand,
To plant a church in barren land;
Or ever thought it worth his while
A Swede or Russe to reconcile.
For where there is not store of wealth,
Souls are not worth the chardge of health.
Spain and America had designes
To sell their gospell for their wines,
For had the Mexicans been poore,
No Spaniard twice had landed on their shore.
'Twas gold the catholick religion planted,
Which, had they wanted gold, they still had wanted. ED.
[Footnote 63: These are the words of the author of the short account of
Butler, prefixed to Hudibras, which Dr. Johnson, notwithstanding what he
says above, seems to have supposed was written by Mv. Longneville, the
father; but the contrary is to be inferred from a subsequent passage,
wherein the author laments that he had neither such an acquaintance nor
interest with Mr. Longneville, as to procure from him the golden remains
of Butler there mentioned. He was, probably, led into the mistake by
a note in the Biog. Brit. p. 1077, signifying, that the son of
this gentleman was living in 1736.
Of this friend and generous patron of Butler, Mr. William Longneville, I
find an account, written by a person who was well acquainted with him, to
this effect, viz. that he was a conveyancing lawyer, and a bencher of the
inner temple, and had raised himself from a low beginning, to very
great eminence in that profession; that he was eloquent and learned, of
spotless integrity; that he supported an aged father, who had ruined his
fortunes by extravagance, and by his industry and application, reedified
a ruined family; that he supported Butler, who, but for him, must
literally have starved; and received from him, as a recompense, the
papers called his Remains. Life of the lord-keeper Guildford, p. 289.
These have since been given to the public by Mr. Thyer, of Manchester:
and the originals are now in the hands of the Rev. Dr. Farmer, master of
Emanuel college, Cambridge. H.]
[Footnote 64: In a note in the Biographia Britannica, p. 1075, he is
said, on the authority of the younger Mr. Longueville, to have lived for
some years in Rose street, Covent garden, and also that he died there;
the latter of these particulars is rendered highly probable, by his being
interred in the cemetery of that parish.]
[Footnote 65: They were collected into one, and published in 12mo. 1732.
[Footnote 66: The seventeenth. N.]
John Wilmot, afterwards earl of Rochester, the son of Henry, earl of
Rochester, better known by the title of lord Wilmot, so often mentioned
in Clarendon's History, was born April 10, 1647, at Ditchley, in
Oxfordshire. After a grammatical education at the school of Burford, he
entered a nobleman into Wadham college in 1659, only twelve years old;
and, in 1661, at fourteen, was, with some other persons of high rank,
made master of arts by lord Clarendon in person.
He travelled afterwards into France and Italy; and, at his return,
devoted himself to the court. In 1665 he went to sea with Sandwich, and
distinguished himself at Bergen by uncommon intrepidity; and the next
summer served again on board sir Edward Spragge, who, in the heat of the
engagement, having a message of reproof to send to one of his captains,
could find no man ready to carry it but Wilmot, who, in an open boat,
went and returned amidst the storm of shot.
But his reputation for bravery was not lasting: he was reproached with
slinking away in street quarrels, and leaving his companions to shift, as
they could, without him; and Sheffield, duke of Buckingham, has left a
story of his refusal to fight him.
He had very early an inclination to intemperance, which he totally
subdued in his travels; but, when he became a courtier, he unhappily
addicted himself to dissolute and vitious company, by which his
principles were corrupted, and his manners depraved. He lost all sense
of religious restraint; and, finding it not convenient to admit the
authority of laws, which he was resolved not to obey, sheltered his
wickedness behind infidelity.
As he excelled in that noisy and licentious merriment which wine incites,
his companions eagerly encouraged him in excess, and he willingly
indulged it; till, as he confessed to Dr. Burnet, he was for five years
together continually drunk, or so much inflamed by frequent ebriety, as
in no interval to be master of himself.
In this state he played many frolicks, which it is not for his honour
that we should remember, and which are not now distinctly known. He
often pursued low amours in mean disguises, and always acted with great
exactness and dexterity the characters which he assumed.
He once erected a stage on Tower hill, and harangued the populace as a
mountebank; and, having made physick part of his study, is said to have
practised it successfully.
He was so much in favour with king Charles, that he was made one of the
gentlemen of the bedchamber, and comptroller of Woodstock park.
Having an active and inquisitive mind, he never, except in his paroxysms
of intemperance, was wholly negligent of study: he read what is
considered as polite learning so much, that he is mentioned by Wood as
the greatest scholar of all the nobility. Sometimes he retired into the
country, and amused himself with writing libels, in which he did not
pretend to confine himself to truth.
His favourite author in French was Boileau, and in English Cowley.
Thus in a course of drunken gaiety, and gross sensuality, with intervals
of study, perhaps, yet more criminal, with an avowed contempt of all
decency and order, a total disregard of every moral, and a resolute
denial of every religious obligation, he lived worthless and useless, and
blazed out his youth and his health in lavish voluptuousness, till, at
the age of one-and-thirty, he had exhausted the fund of life, and reduced
himself to a state of weakness and decay.
At this time he was led to an acquaintance with Dr. Burnet, to whom he
laid open, with great freedom, the tenour of his opinions, and the
course of his life, and from whom he received such conviction of the
reasonableness of moral duty, and the truth of Christianity, as produced
a total change both of his manners and opinions. The account of those
salutary conferences is given by Burnet in a book entitled, Some Passages
of the Life and Death of John, Earl of Rochester, which the critick ought
to read for its elegance, the philosopher for its arguments, and the
saint for its piety. It were an injury to the reader to offer him an
He died July 26, 1680, before he had completed his thirty-fourth year;
and was so worn away by a long illness, that life went out without a
Lord Rochester was eminent for the vigour of his colloquial wit, and
remarkable for many wild pranks and sallies of extravagance. The glare of
his general character diffused itself upon his writings; the compositions
of a man whose name was heard so often, were certain of attention, and
from many readers certain of applause. This blaze of reputation is not
yet quite extinguished; and his poetry still retains some splendour
beyond that which genius has bestowed.
Wood and Burnet give us reason to believe, that much was imputed to him
which he did not write. I know not by whom the original collection was
made, or by what authority its genuineness was ascertained. The
first edition was published in the year of his death, with an air of
concealment, professing, in the titlepage, to be printed at Antwerp.
Of some of the pieces, however, there is no doubt: the Imitation of
Horace's Satire, the Verses to lord Mulgrave, Satire against Man, the
Verses upon Nothing, and, perhaps, some others, are, I believe, genuine;
and, perhaps, most of those which the late collection exhibits.
As he cannot be supposed to have found leisure for any course of
continued study, his pieces are commonly short, such as one fit of
resolution would produce.
His songs have no particular character; they tell, like other songs,
in smooth and easy language, of scorn and kindness, dismission and
desertion, absence and inconstancy, with the commonplaces of artificial
courtship. They are commonly smooth and easy; but have little nature, and
His Imitation of Horace on Lucilius is not inelegant or unhappy. In the
reign of Charles the second began that adaptation, which has since been
very frequent, of ancient poetry to present times; and, perhaps, few will
be found where the parallelism is better preserved than in this. The
versification is, indeed, sometimes careless, but it is sometimes
vigorous and weighty.
The strongest effort of his muse is his poem upon Nothing. He is not the
first who has chosen this barren topick for the boast of his fertility.
There is a poem called Nihil in Latin, by Passerat, a poet and critick of
the sixteenth century, in France; who, in his own epitaph, expresses his
zeal for good poetry thus:
Molliter ossa quiescent
Sint modo carminibus non onerata malis.
His works are not common, and, therefore, I shall subjoin his verses.
In examining this performance, Nothing must be considered as having not
only a negative, but a kind of positive signification; as I need not fear
thieves, I have _nothing_, and _nothing_ is a very powerful protector. In
the first part of the sentence it is taken negatively; in the second it
is taken positively, as an agent. In one of Boileau's lines it was a
question, whether he should use "à rien faire," or "à ne rien faire;"
and the first was preferred, because it gave "rien" a sense in some sort
positive. _Nothing_ can be a subject only in its positive sense, and such
a sense is given it in the first line:
_Nothing_, thou elder brother ev'n to shade.
In this line, I know not whether he does not allude to a curious book, De
Umbra, by Wowerus, which, having told the qualities of _shade_, concludes
with a poem, in which are these lines:
Jam primum terram validis circumspice claustris
Suspensam totam, decus admirabile mundi,
Terrasque, tractusque maris, camposque liquentes
Aeris, et vasti laqueata palatia coeli----
Omnibus UMBRA prior.
The positive sense is generally preserved, with great skill, through
the whole poem; though, sometimes, in a subordinate sense, the negative
_nothing_ is injudiciously mingled. Passerat confounds the two senses.
Another of his most vigorous pieces is his lampoon on sir Car Scroop,
who, in a poem called the Praise of Satire, had some lines like
He who can push into a midnight fray
His brave companion, and then run away,
Leaving him to be murder'd in the street,
Then put it off with some buffoon conceit;
Him, thus dishonour'd, for a wit you own,
And court him as top fiddler of the town.
This was meant of Rochester, whose "buffoon conceit" was, I suppose, a
saying often mentioned, that "every man would be a coward, if he durst;"
and drew from him those furious verses; to which Scroop made, in reply,
an epigram, ending with these lines:
Thou canst hurt no man's fame with thy ill word;
Thy pen is full as harmless as thy sword.
Of the Satire against Man, Rochester can only claim what remains, when
all Boileau's part is taken away.
In all his works there is sprightliness and vigour, and every where may
be found tokens of a mind, which study might have carried to excellence.
What more can be expected from a life spent in ostentatious contempt of
regularity, and ended, before the abilities of many other men began to be
Poema Cl. V. JOANNIS PASSERATII,
Regii in Academia Parisiensi Professoris.
Ad ornatissimum virum ERRICUM MEMMIUM.
Janus adest, festae poscunt sua dona kalendae,
Munus abest festis quod possim offerre kalendis:
Siccine Castalius nobis exaruit humor?
Usque adeo ingenii nostri est exhausta facultas,
Immunem ut videat redeuntis janitor anni?
Quod nusquam est, potius nova per vestigia quaeram.
Ecce autem, partes dum sese versat in omnes,
Invenit mea musa NIHIL; ne despice munus:
Nam NIHIL est gemmis, NIHIL est pretiosius auro.
Hue animum, hue, igitur, vultus adverte benignos:
Res nova narratur quae nulli audita priorum;
Ausonii et Graii dixerunt caetera vates,
Ausoniae indictum NIHIL est, graecaeque, Camoenae,
E coelo quacunque Ceres sua prospicit arva,
Aut genitor liquidis orbem complectitur ulnis
Oceanus, NIHIL interitus et originis expers.
Immortale NIHIL, NIHIL omni parte beatum.
Quod si hinc majestas et vis divina probatur,
Num quid honore deûm, num quid dignabimur aris?
Conspectu lucis NIHIL est jucundius almae,
Vere NIHIL, NIHIL irriguo formosius horto,
Floridius pratis, Zephyri clementius aura;
In bello sanctum NIHIL est, Martisque tumultu:
Justum in pace NIHIL, NIHIL est in foedere tutum.
Felix cui NIHIL est, (fuerant haec vota Tibullo)
Non timet insidias; fures, incendia temnit;
Sollicitas sequitur nullo sub judice lites.
Ille ipse invictis qui subjicit omnia fatis,
Zenonis sapiens, NIHIL admiratur et optat.
Socraticique gregis fuit ista scientia quondam,
Scire NIHIL, studio cui nunc incumbitur uni.
Nec quicquam in ludo mavult didicisse juventus,
Ad magnas quia ducit opes, et culmen honorum.
Nosce NIHIL, nosces fertur quod Pythagoreae
Grano haerere fabae, cui vox adjuncta negantis.
Multi, Mercurio freti duce, viscera terrae
Pura liquefaciunt simul, et patrimonia miscent,
Arcano instantes operi, et carbonibus atris,
Qui tandem exhausti damnis, fractique labore,
Inveniunt, atque inventum NIHIL usque requirunt.
Hoc dimetiri non ulla decempeda possit:
Nec numeret Libycae numerum qui callet arenae.
Et Phoebo ignotum NIHIL est, NIHIL altius astris:
Tuque, tibi licet eximium sit mentis acumen,
Omnem in naturam penetrans, et in abdita rerum,
Pace tua, Memmi, NIHIL ignorare videris.
Sole tamen NIHIL est, et puro clarius igne.
Tange NIHIL, dicesque NIHIL sine corpore tangi.
Cerne NIHIL, cerni dices NIHIL absque colore.
Surdum audit loquiturque NIHIL sine voce, volatque
Absque ope pennarum, et graditur sine cruribus ullis.
Absque loco motuque NIHIL per inane vagatur.
Humano generi utilius NIHIL arte medendi;
Ne rhombos igitur, neu Thessala murmura tentet
Idalia vacuum trajectus arundine pectus,
Neu legat Idaeo Dictaeum in vertice gramen.
Vulneribus saevi NIHIL auxiliatur amoris.
Vexerit et quemvis trans moestas portitor undas,
Ad superos imo NIHIL hunc revocabit ab orco.
Inferni NIHIL inflectit praecordia regis,
Parcarumque colos, et inexorabile pensum.
Obruta Phlegraeis campis Titania pubes
Fulmineo sensit NIHIL esse potentius ictu.
Porrigitur magni NIHIL extra moenia mundi.
Diique NIHIL metuunt. Quid longo carmine plura
Commemorem? Virtute NIHIL praestantius ipsa,
Splendidius NIHIL est. NIHIL est Jove denique majus.
Sed tempus finem argutis imponere nugis:
Ne tibi si multa laudem mea carmina charta,
De NIHILO NIHILI pariant fastidia versus.
[Footnote 67: Dr. Johnson has made no mention of Valentinian, altered
from Beaumont and Fletcher, which was published after his death by a
friend, who describes him in the preface, not only as being one of the
greatest geniuses, but one of the most virtuous men that ever existed.
[Footnote 68: I quote from memory. Dr. J.] [Footnote 69: The late George
Steevens, esq. made the selection of Rochester's poems which appears in
Dr. Johnson's edition; but Mr. Malone observes, that the same task had
been performed, in the early part of the last century, by Jacob Tonson.
Wentworth Dillon, earl of Roscommon, was the son of James Dillon and
Elizabeth Wentworth, sister to the earl of Strafford. He was born in
Ireland, during the lieutenancy of Strafford, who, being both his
uncle and his godfather, gave him his own surname. His father, the
third earl of Roscommon, had been converted by Usher to the protestant
religion; and when the popish rebellion broke out, Strafford,
thinking the family in great danger from the fury of the Irish, sent for
his godson, and placed him at his own seat in Yorkshire, where he was
instructed in Latin; which he learned so as to write it with purity and
elegance, though he was never able to retain the rules of grammar.
Such is the account given by Mr. Fenton, from whose notes on Waller most
of this account must be borrowed, though I know not whether all that he
relates is certain. The instructer whom he assigns to Roscommon is one
Dr. Hall, by whom he cannot mean the famous Hall, then an old man and a
When the storm broke out upon Strafford, his house was a shelter no
longer; and Dillon, by the advice of Usher, was sent to Caen, where the
protestants had then an university, and continued his studies under
Young Dillon, who was sent to study under Bochart, and who is represented
as having already made great proficiency in literature, could not be more
than nine years old. Strafford went to govern Ireland in 1633, and
was put to death eight years afterwards. That he was sent to Caen, is
certain: that he was a great scholar, may be doubted. At Caen he is said
to have had some preternatural intelligence of his father's death.
"The lord Roscommon, being a boy of ten years of age, at Caen in
Normandy, one day was, as it were, madly extravagant in playing, leaping,
getting over the tables, boards, &c. He was wont to be sober enough;
they said, God grant this bodes no ill luck to him! In the heat of this
extravagant fit, he cries out, 'My father is dead.' A fortnight after,
news came from Ireland that his father was dead. This account I had from
Mr. Knolles, who was his governour, and then with him,--since secretary
to the earl of Strafford; and I have heard his lordship's relations
confirm the same." Aubrey's Miscellany.
The present age is very little inclined to favour any accounts of this
kind, nor will the name of Aubrey much recommend it to credit: it ought
not, however, to be omitted, because better evidence of a fact cannot
easily be found, than is here offered; and it must be by preserving such
relations that we may, at last, judge how much they are to be regarded.
If we stay to examine this account, we shall see difficulties on both
sides: here is the relation of a fact given by a man who had no interest
to deceive, and who could not be deceived himself; and here is, on the
other hand, a miracle which produces no effect; the order of nature is
interrupted to discover not a future, but only a distant event, the
knowledge of which is of no use to him to whom it is revealed. Between
these difficulties, what way shall be found? Is reason or testimony to be
rejected? I believe, what Osborne says of an appearance of sanctity may
be applied to such impulses or anticipations as this: "Do not wholly
slight them, because they may be true; but do not easily trust them,
because they may be false."
The state both of England and Ireland was, at this time, such, that he
who was absent from either country had very little temptation to return;
and, therefore, Roscommon, when he left Caen, travelled into Italy, and
amused himself with its antiquities, and, particularly, with medals, in
which he acquired uncommon skill. At the restoration, with the other
friends of monarchy, he came to England, was made captain of the band of
pensioners, and learned so much of the dissoluteness of the court, that
he addicted himself immoderately to gaming, by which he was engaged in
frequent quarrels, and which, undoubtedly, brought upon him its usual
concomitants, extravagance and distress.
After some time, a dispute about part of his estate forced him into
Ireland, where he was made, by the duke of Ormond, captain of the guards,
and met with an adventure thus related by Fenton:
"He was at Dublin, as much as ever, distempered with the same fatal
affection for play, which engaged him in one adventure, that well
deserves to be related. As he returned to his lodgings from a
gaming-table, he was attacked, in the dark, by three ruffians, who were
employed to assassinate him. The earl defended himself with so much
resolution, that he despatched one of the aggressors; whilst a gentleman,
accidentally passing that way, interposed, and disarmed another; the
third secured himself by flight. This generous assistant was a disbanded
officer, of a good family and fair reputation; who, by what we call the
partiality of fortune, to avoid censuring the iniquities of the times,
wanted even a plain suit of clothes to make a decent appearance at the
castle. But his lordship, on this occasion, presenting him to the duke of
Ormond, with great importunity prevailed with his grace, that he might
resign his post of captain of the guards to his friend; which, for
about three years, the gentleman enjoyed, and, upon his death, the duke
returned the commission to his generous benefactor."
When he had finished his business, he returned to London; was made master
of the horse to the dutchess of York; and married the lady Frances,
daughter of the earl of Burlington, and widow of colonel Courteney.
He now busied his mind with literary projects, and formed the plan of a
society for refining our language and fixing its standard;
"in imitation," says Fenton, "of those learned and polite societies with
which he had been acquainted abroad." In this design his friend Dryden is
said to have assisted him.
The same design, it is well known, was revived by Dr. Swift, in the
ministry of Oxford; but it has never since been publickly mentioned,
though, at that time, great expectations were formed, by some, of its
establishment and its effects. Such a society might, perhaps, without
much difficulty, be collected; but that it would produce what is expected
from it, may be doubted.
The Italian academy seems to have obtained its end. The language was
refined, and so fixed that it has changed but little. The French academy
thought they had refined their language, and, doubtless, thought rightly;
but the event has not shown that they fixed it; for the French of the
present time is very different from that of the last century.
In this country an academy could be expected to do but little. If an
academician's place were profitable, it would be given by interest; if
attendance were gratuitous, it would be rarely paid, and no man would
endure the least disgust. Unanimity is impossible, and debate would
separate the assembly.
But suppose the philological decree made and promulgated, what would be
its authority? In absolute governments, there is, sometimes, a general
reverence paid to all that has the sanction of power, and the countenance
of greatness. How little this is the state of our country needs not to be
told. We live in an age in which it is a kind of publick sport to refuse
all respect that cannot be enforced. The edicts of an English academy
would, probably, be read by many, only that they might be sure to disobey
That our language is in perpetual danger of corruption cannot be denied;
but what prevention can be found? The present manners of the nation would
deride authority; and, therefore, nothing is left but that every writer
should criticise himself. All hopes of new literary institutions were
quickly suppressed by the contentious turbulence of king James's reign;
and Roscommon, foreseeing that some violent concussion of the state was
at hand, purposed to retire to Rome, alleging, that "it was best to sit
near the chimney when the chamber smoked;" a sentence, of which the
application seems not very clear.
His departure was delayed by the gout; and he was so impatient either of
hinderance or of pain, that he submitted himself to a French empirick,
who is said to have repelled the disease into his bowels.
At the moment in which he expired, he uttered, with an energy of voice,
that expressed the most fervent devotion, two lines of his own version of
My God, my father, and my friend,
Do not forsake me in my end.
He died in 1684; and was buried, with great pomp, in Westminster Abbey.
His poetical character is given by Mr. Fenton:
"In his writings," says Fenton, "we view the image of a mind which was
naturally serious and solid; richly furnished and adorned with all the
ornaments of learning, unaffectedly disposed in the most regular and
elegant order. His imagination might have probably been more fruitful
and sprightly, if his judgment had been less severe. But that severity,
delivered in a masculine, clear, succinct style, contributed to make
him so eminent in the didactical manner, that no man, with justice, can
affirm, he was ever equalled by any of our nation, without confessing,
at the same time, that he is inferiour to none. In some other kinds of
writing his genius seems to have wanted fire to attain the point of
perfection; but who can attain it?"
From this account of the riches of his mind, who would not imagine that
they had been displayed in large volumes and numerous performances? Who
would not, after the perusal of this character, be surprised to find
that all the proofs of this genius, and knowledge, and judgment, are
not sufficient to form a single book, or to appear otherwise than in
conjunction with the works of some other writer of the same petty
size? But thus it is that characters are written: we know somewhat,
and we imagine the rest. The observation, that his imagination would,
probably, have been more fruitful and sprightly, if his judgment had been
less severe, may be answered, by a remarker somewhat inclined to cavil,
by a contrary supposition, that his judgment would, probably, have been
less severe, if his imagination had been more fruitful. It is ridiculous
to oppose judgment to imagination; for it does not appear that men have
necessarily less of one, as they have more of the other.
We must allow of Roscommon, what Fenton has not mentioned so distinctly
as he ought, and what is yet very much to his honour, that he is,
perhaps, the only correct writer in verse, before Addison; and that, if
there are not so many or so great beauties in his compositions as in
those of some contemporaries, there are, at least, fewer faults. Nor is
this his highest praise; for Mr. Pope has celebrated him, as the only
moral writer of king Charles's reign:
Unhappy Dryden! in all Charles's days,
Roscommon only boasts unspotted lays.
His great work is his Essay on Translated Verse; of which Dryden writes
thus, in the preface to his Miscellanies:
"It was my lord Roscommon's Essay on Translated Verse," says Dryden,
"which made me uneasy, till I tried whether or no I was capable of
following his rules, and of reducing the speculation into practice. For
many a fair precept in poetry is like a seeming demonstration in
mathematicks, very specious in the diagram, but failing in the mechanick
operation. I think I have generally observed his instructions: I am sure
my reason is sufficiently convinced both of their truth and usefulness;
which, in other words, is to confess no less a vanity than to pretend
that I have, at least, in some places, made examples to his rules."
This declaration of Dryden will, I am afraid, be found little more than
one of those cursory civilities which one author pays to another; for
when the sum of lord Roscommon's precepts is collected, it will not
be easy to discover how they can qualify their reader for a better
performance of translation than might have been attained by his own
He that can abstract his mind from the elegance of the poetry, and
confine it to the sense of the precepts, will find no other direction
than that the author should be suitable to the translator's genius; that
he should be such as may deserve a translation; that he who intends to
translate him should endeavour to understand him; that perspicuity should
be studied, and unusual and uncouth names sparingly inserted; and
that the style of the original should be copied in its elevation and
depression. These are the rules that are celebrated as so definite and
important; and for the delivery of which to mankind so much honour has
been paid. Roscommon has, indeed, deserved his praises, had they been
given with discernment, and bestowed not on the rules themselves, but the
art with which they are introduced, and the decorations with which they
The essay, though generally excellent, is not without its faults. The
story of the quack, borrowed from Boileau, was not worth the importation;
he has confounded the British and Saxon mythology:
I grant that from some mossy idol oak,
In double rhymes, our Thor and Woden spoke.
The oak, as, I think, Gildon has observed, belonged to the British
druids, and Thor and Woden were Saxon deities. Of the "double rhymes,"
which he so liberally supposes, he certainly had no knowledge.
His interposition of a long paragraph of blank verses is unwarrantably
licentious. Latin poets might as well have introduced a series of
iambicks among their heroicks.
His next work is the translation of the Art of Poetry; which has
received, in my opinion, not less praise than it deserves. Blank verse,
left merely to its numbers, has little operation either on the ear or
mind: it can hardly support itself without bold figures and striking
images. A poem, frigidly didactick, without rhyme, is so near to prose,
that the reader only scorns it for pretending to be verse.
Having disentangled himself from the difficulties of rhyme, he may justly
be expected to give the sense of Horace with great exactness, and to
suppress no subtilty of sentiment, for the difficulty of expressing it.
This demand, however, his translation will not satisfy; what he found
obscure, I do not know that he has ever cleared.
Among his smaller works, the eclogue of Virgil and the Dies Irae are
well translated; though the best line in the Dies Irae is borrowed from
Dryden. In return, succeeding poets have borrowed from Roscommon.
In the verses on the Lap-dog, the pronouns _thou_ and _you_ are
offensively confounded; and the turn at the end is from Waller.
His versions of the two odes of Horace are made with great liberty, which
is not recompensed by much elegance or vigour.
His political verses are sprightly, and, when they were written, must
have been very popular.
Of the scene of Guarini, and the prologue to Pompey, Mrs. Phillips, in
her letters to sir Charles Cotterel, has given the history.
"Lord Roscommon," says she, "is certainly one of the most promising young
noblemen in Ireland. He has paraphrased a psalm admirably; and a scene
of Pastor Fido, very finely, in some places much better than sir Richard
Fanshaw. This was undertaken merely in compliment to me, who happened to
say, that it was the best scene in Italian, and the worst in English. He
was only two hours about it." It begins thus:
Dear happy groves, and you, the dark retreat
Of silent horrour, Rest's eternal seat.
From these lines, which are since somewhat mended, it appears that he did
not think a work of two hours fit to endure the eye of criticism, without
When Mrs. Phillips was in Ireland, some ladies that had seen her
translation of Pompey, resolved to bring it on the stage at Dublin; and,
to promote their design, lord Roscommon gave them a prologue, and
sir Edward Deering, an epilogue; "which," says she, "are the best
performances of those kinds I ever saw." If this is not criticism, it
is, at least, gratitude. The thought of bringing Caesar and Pompey into
Ireland, the only country over which Caesar never had any power, is
Of Roscommon's works, the judgment of the publick seems to be right. He
is elegant, but not great; he never labours after exquisite beauties,
and he seldom falls into gross faults. His versification is smooth, but
rarely vigorous; and his rhymes are remarkably exact. He improved
taste, if he did not enlarge knowledge, and may be numbered among the
benefactors to English literature.
[Footnote 70: The Biographia Britannica says, probably about the year
1632; but this is inconsistent with the date of Stratford's viceroyalty
in the following page. C.]
[Footnote 71: It was his grandfather, sir Robert Dillon, second earl of
Roscommon, who was converted from popery; and his conversion is recited
in the patent of sir James, the first earl of Roscommon, as one of the
grounds of his creation. M.]
[Footnote 72: He was married to lady Frances Boyle in April, 1662. By
this lady he had no issue. He married secondly, 10th November, 1674,
Isabella, daughter of Matthew Boynton, of Barmston, in Yorkshire. M.]
[Footnote 73: They were published, together with those of Duke, in an
octavo volume, in 1717. The editor, whoever he was, professes to have
taken great care to procure and insert all of his lordship's poems that
are truly genuine. The truth of this assertion is flatly denied by the
author of an account of Mr. John Pomfret, prefixed to his Remains; who
asserts, that the Prospect of Death was written by that person, many
years after lord Roscommon's decease; as also, that the paraphrase of the
Prayer of Jeremy was written by a gentleman of the name of Southcourt,
living in the year 1724. H.]
[Footnote 74: This life was originally written by Dr. Johnson, in the
Gentleman's Magazine for May, 1748. It then had notes, which are now
incorporated with the text. C.]
Of Thomas Otway, one of the first names in the English drama, little is
known; nor is there any part of that little which his biographer can take
pleasure in relating.
He was born at Trottin, in Sussex, March 3, 1651, the son of Mr. Humphry
Otway, rector of Woolbeding. From Winchester school, where he was
educated, he was entered, in 1669, a commoner of Christ church; but left
the university without a degree, whether for want of money, or from
impatience of academical restraint, or mere eagerness to mingle with the
world, is not known.
It seems likely that he was in hope of being busy and conspicuous; for he
went to London, and commenced player; but found himself unable to gain
any reputation on the stage.
This kind of inability he shared with Shakespeare and Jonson, as he
shared likewise some of their excellencies. It seems reasonable to expect
that a great dramatick poet should, without difficulty, become a great
actor; that he who can feel, should express; that he who can excite
passion, should exhibit, with great readiness, its external modes: but
since experience has fully proved, that of those powers, whatever be
their affinity, one may be possessed in a great degree by him who has
very little of the other; it must be allowed that they depend upon
different faculties, or on different use of the same faculty; that the
actor must have a pliancy of mien, a flexibility of countenance, and a
variety of tones, which the poet may be easily supposed to want; or that
the attention of the poet and the player has been differently employed;
the one has been considering thought, and the other action; one has
watched the heart, and the other contemplated the face.
Though he could not gain much notice as a player, he felt in himself
such powers as might qualify for a dramatick author; and, in 1675, his
twenty-fifth year, produced Alcibiades, a tragedy; whether from the
Alcibiade of Palaprat, I have not means to inquire. Langbaine, the great
detecter of plagiarism, is silent.
In 1677, he published Titus and Berenice, translated from Rapin, with the
Cheats of Scapin, from Molière; and, in 1678, Friendship in Fashion,
a comedy, which, whatever might be its first reception, was, upon its
revival at Drury lane, in 1749, hissed off the stage for immorality and
Want of morals, or of decency, did not, in those days, exclude any man
from the company of the wealthy and the gay, if he brought with him any
powers of entertainment; and Otway is said to have been, at this time,
a favourite companion of the dissolute wits. But, as he who desires no
virtue in his companion, has no virtue in himself, those whom Otway
frequented had no purpose of doing more for him than to pay his
reckoning. They desired only to drink and laugh: their fondness was
without benevolence, and their familiarity without friendship. "Men of
wit," says one of Otway's biographers, "received, at that time, no favour
from the great, but to share their riots; from which they were dismissed
again to their own narrow circumstances. Thus they languished in poverty,
without the support of eminence."
Some exception, however, must be made. The earl of Plymouth, one of king
Charles's natural sons, procured for him a cornet's commission in some
troops then sent into Flanders. But Otway did not prosper in his military
character; for he soon left his commission behind him, whatever was the
reason, and came back to London in extreme indigence, which Rochester
mentions with merciless insolence, in the Session of the Poets:
Tom Otway came next, Tom Shadwell's dear zany,
And swears for heroicks he writes best of any;
Don Carlos his pockets so amply had fill'd,
That his mange was quite cur'd, and his lice were all kill'd:
But Apollo had seen his face on the stage,
And prudently did not think fit to engage
The scum of a playhouse, for the prop of an age.
Don Carlos, from which he is represented as having received so much
benefit, was played in 1675. It appears, by the lampoon, to have had
great success, and is said to have been played thirty nights together.
This, however, it is reasonable to doubt, as so long a continuance
of one play upon the stage is a very wide deviation from the practice
of that time; when the ardour for theatrical entertainments was not yet
diffused through the whole people, and the audience, consisting nearly of
the same persons, could be drawn together only by variety.
The Orphan was exhibited in 1680. This is one of the few plays that keep
possession of the stage, and has pleased for almost a century, through
all the vicissitudes of dramatick fashion. Of this play nothing new can
easily be said. It is a domestick tragedy drawn from middle life. Its
whole power is upon the affections; for it is not written with much
comprehension of thought, or elegance of expression. But if the heart is
interested, many other beauties may be wanting, yet not be missed.
The same year produced the History and Fall of Caius Marius; much of
which is borrowed from the Romeo and Juliet of Shakespeare.
In 1683 was published the first, and next year the second, parts
of the Soldier's Fortune, two comedies now forgotten; and, in 1685
his last and greatest dramatick work, Venice Preserved, a tragedy,
which still continues to be one of the favourites of the publick,
notwithstanding the want of morality in the original design, and the
despicable scenes of vile comedy with which he has diversified his
tragick action. By comparing this with his Orphan, it will appear
that his images were by time become stronger, and his language more
energetick. The striking passages are in every mouth; and the publick
seems to judge rightly of the faults and excellencies of this play, that
it is the work of a man not attentive to decency, nor zealous for virtue;
but of one who conceived forcibly, and drew originally, by consulting
nature in his own breast.
Together with those plays he wrote the poems which are in the present
collection, and translated from the French the History of the
All this was performed before he was thirty-four years old; for he died
April 14, 1685, in a manner which I am unwilling to mention. Having
been compelled by his necessities to contract debts, and hunted, as is
supposed, by the terriers of the law, he retired to a publick house on
Tower hill, where he is said to have died of want; or, as it is related
by one of his biographers, by swallowing, after a long fast, a piece of
bread which charity had supplied. He went out, as is reported, almost
naked, in the rage of hunger, and, finding a gentleman in a neighbouring
coffee-house, asked him for a shilling. The gentleman gave him a guinea;
and Otway, going away, bought a roll, and was choked with the first
mouthful. All this, I hope, is not true; and there is this ground of
better hope, that Pope, who lived near enough to be well informed,
relates in Spence's Memorials, that he died of a fever, caught by
violent pursuit of a thief that had robbed one of his friends. But that
indigence, and its concomitants, sorrow and despondency, pressed hard
upon him, has never been denied, whatever immediate cause might bring him
to the grave.
Of the poems which the present collection admits, the longest is the
Poet's Complaint of his Muse, part of which I do not understand; and in
that which is less obscure, I find little to commend. The language is
often gross, and the numbers are harsh. Otway had not much cultivated
versification, nor much replenished his mind with general knowledge. His
principal power was in moving the passions, to which Dryden, in his
latter years, left an illustrious testimony. He appears, by some of his
verses, to have been a zealous royalist, and had what was in those times
the common reward of loyalty; he lived and died neglected.
[Footnote 75: In Roscius Anglicanus, by Downes, the prompter, p. 34,
we learn, that it was the character of the king in Mrs. Behn's Forced
Marriage, or the Jealous Bridegroom, which Mr. Otway attempted to
perform, and failed in. This event appears to have happened in the year
[Footnote 76: This doubt is, indeed, very reasonable. I know not where it
is said that Don Carlos was acted thirty nights together. Wherever it is
said, it is untrue. Downes, who is perfectly good authority on this point,
informs us, that it was performed ten days successively. M.]
[Footnote 77: 1681.]
[Footnote 78: 1684.]
[Footnote 79: 1682.]
[Footnote 80: The "despicable scenes of vile comedy" can be no bar
to its being a favourite of the publick, as they are always omitted in
the representation. J.B.]
[Footnote 81: In his preface to Fresnoy's Art of Painting. Dr.J.]
Edmund Waller was born on the third of March, 1605, at Coleshill in
Hertfordshire. His father was Robert Waller, esq. of Agmondesham, in
Buckinghamshire, whose family was originally a branch of the Kentish
Wallers; and his mother was the daughter of John Hampden, of Hampden in
the same county, and sister to Hampden, the zealot of rebellion.
His father died while he was yet an infant, but left him a yearly income
of three thousand five hundred pounds; which, rating together the value
of money and the customs of life, we may reckon more than equivalent to
ten thousand at the present time.
He was educated, by the care of his mother, at Eton; and removed
afterwards to King's college, in Cambridge. He was sent to parliament in
his eighteenth, if not in his sixteenth year, and frequented the court of
James the first, where he heard a very remarkable conversation, which the
writer of the life prefixed to his works, who seems to have been well
informed of facts, though he may sometimes err in chronology, has
delivered as indubitably certain:
"He found Dr. Andrews, bishop of Winchester, and Dr. Neale, bishop of
Durham, standing behind his majesty's chair; and there happened something
extraordinary," continues this writer, "in the conversation those
prelates had with the king, on which Mr. Waller did often reflect. His
majesty asked the bishops: 'My lords, cannot I take my subjects' money,
when I want it, without all this formality of parliament?' The bishop of
Durham readily answered, 'God forbid, sir, but you should: you are the
breath of our nostrils.' Whereupon the king turned and said to the bishop
of Winchester, 'Well, my lord, what say you?' 'Sir,' replied the bishop,
'I have no skill to judge of parliamentary cases.' The king answered, 'No
put-offs, my lord; answer me presently.' 'Then, sir,' said he, 'think it
is lawful for you to take my brother Neale's money; for he offers it.'
Mr. Waller said, the company was pleased with this answer, and the wit of
it seemed to affect the king; for, a certain lord coming in soon after,
his majesty cried out, 'Oh, my lord, they say you lig with my lady.' 'No,
sir,' says his lordship, in confusion;' but I like her company, because
she has so much wit.' 'Why then,' says the king, 'do you not lig with my
lord of Winchester there?'"
Waller's political and poetical life began nearly together. In his
eighteenth year he wrote the poem that appears first in his works, on the
Prince's Escape at St. Andero; a piece which justifies the observation,
made by one of his editors, that he attained, by a felicity like
instinct, a style which, perhaps, will never be obsolete; and that, "were
we to judge only by the wording, we could not know what was wrote at
twenty, and what at fourscore." His versification was, in his first
essay, such as it appears in his last performance. By the perusal of
Fairfax's translation of Tasso, to which, as Dryden relates, he
confessed himself indebted for the smoothness of his numbers, and by
his own nicety of observation, he had already formed such a system
of metrical harmony, as he never afterwards much needed, or much
endeavoured, to improve. Denham corrected his numbers by experience, and
gained ground gradually upon the ruggedness of his age; but what was
acquired by Denham was inherited by Waller.
The next poem, of which the subject seems to fix the time, is supposed,
by Mr. Fenton, to be the Address to the Queen, which he considers as
congratulating her arrival, in Waller's twentieth year. He is apparently
mistaken; for the mention of the nation's obligations to her frequent
pregnancy, proves that it was written, when she had brought many
children. We have, therefore, no date of any other poetical production
before that which the murder of the duke of Buckingham occasioned: the
steadiness with which the king received the news in the chapel, deserved,
indeed, to be rescued from oblivion.
Neither of these pieces, that seem to carry their own dates, could have
been the sudden effusion of fancy. In the verses on the prince's escape,
the prediction of his marriage with the princess of France must have
been written after the event; in the other, the promises of the king's
kindness to the descendants of Buckingham, which could not be properly
praised, till it had appeared by its effects, show that time was taken
for revision and improvement. It is not known that they were published
till they appeared, long afterwards, with other poems.
Waller was not one of those idolaters of praise who cultivate their minds
at the expense of their fortunes. Rich as he was by inheritance, he took
care early to grow richer, by marrying Mrs. Banks, a great heiress in
the city, whom the interest of the court was employed to obtain for Mr.
Crofts. Having brought him a son, who died young, and a daughter, who was
afterwards married to Mr. Dormer, of Oxfordshire, she died in childbed,
and left him a widower of about five-and-twenty, gay and wealthy, to
please himself with another marriage.
Being too young to resist beauty, and probably too vain to think himself
resistible, he fixed his heart, perhaps half fondly and half ambitiously,
upon the lady Dorothea Sidney, eldest daughter of the earl of Leicester,
whom he courted by all the poetry in which Sacharissa is celebrated; the
name is derived from the Latin appellation of sugar, and implies, if it
means any thing, a spiritless mildness, and dull good-nature, such as
excites rather tenderness than esteem, and such as, though always treated
with kindness, is never honoured or admired.
Yet he describes Sacharissa as a sublime predominating beauty, of lofty
charms, and imperious influence, on whom he looks with amazement rather
than fondness, whose chains he wishes, though in vain, to break, and
whose presence is "wine that inflames to madness." His acquaintance with
this high-born dame gave wit no opportunity of boasting its influence;
she was not to be subdued by the powers of verse, but rejected his
addresses, it is said, with disdain, and drove him away to solace his
disappointment with Amoret or Phillis. She married, in 1639, the earl of
Sunderland, who died at Newbury, in the king's cause; and, in her old
age, meeting somewhere with Waller, asked him, when he would again write
such verses upon her; "when you are as young, madam," said he, "and as
handsome, as you were then."
In this part of his life it was that he was known to Clarendon, among the
rest of the men who were eminent in that age for genius and literature;
but known so little to his advantage, that they who read his character
will not much condemn Sacharissa, that she did not descend from her rank
to his embraces, nor think every excellence comprised in wit.
The lady was, indeed, inexorable; but his uncommon qualifications,
though they had no power upon her, recommended him to the scholars and
statesmen; and, undoubtedly, many beauties of that time, however they
might receive his love, were proud of his praises. Who they were, whom he
dignifies with poetical names, cannot now be known. Amoret, according to
Mr. Fenton, was the lady Sophia Murray. Perhaps, by traditions, preserved
in families, more may be discovered.
From the verses written at Penshurst, it has been collected that he
diverted his disappointment by a voyage; and his biographers, from his
poem on the Whales, think it not improbable that he visited the Bermudas;
but it seems much more likely, that he should amuse himself with forming
an imaginary scene, than that so important an incident, as a visit to
America, should have been left floating in conjectural probability.
From his twenty-eighth to his thirty-fifth year, he wrote his pieces on
the reduction of Sallee; on the reparation of St. Paul's; to the King on
his Navy; the panegyrick on the Queen Mother; the two poems to the earl
of Northumberland; and perhaps others, of which the time cannot be
When he had lost all hopes of Sacharissa, he looked round him for an
easier conquest, and gained a lady of the family of Bresse, or Breaux.
The time of his marriage is not exactly known. It has not been discovered
that this wife was won by his poetry; nor is any thing told of her, but
that she brought him many children. He, doubtless, praised some whom he
would have been afraid to marry, and, perhaps, married one whom he would
have been ashamed to praise. Many qualities contribute to domestick
happiness, upon which poetry has no colours to bestow; and many airs and
sallies may delight imagination, which he who flatters them never can
approve. There are charms made only for distant admiration. No spectacle
is nobler than a blaze.
Of this wife, his biographers have recorded that she gave him five sons
and eight daughters.
During the long interval of parliament, he is represented as living among
those with whom it was most honourable to converse, and enjoying an
exuberant fortune with that independence and liberty of speech and
conduct which wealth ought always to produce. He was, however, considered
as the kinsman of Hampden, and was, therefore, supposed by the courtiers
not to favour them.
When the parliament was called in 1640, it appeared that Waller's
political character had not been mistaken. The king's demand of a supply
produced one of those noisy speeches which disaffection and discontent
regularly dictate; a speech filled with hyperbolical complaints of
imaginary grievances: "They," says he, "who think themselves already
undone, can never apprehend themselves in danger; and they who have
nothing left can never give freely." Political truth is equally in danger
from the praises of courtiers, and the exclamations of patriots.
He then proceeds to rail at the clergy, being sure, at that time, of a
favourable audience. His topick is such as will always serve its purpose;
an accusation of acting and preaching only for preferment; and he exhorts
the commons "carefully to provide _for their_ protection against pulpit
It always gratifies curiosity to trace a sentiment. Waller has, in this
speech, quoted Hooker in one passage; and in another has copied him,
without quoting. "Religion," says Waller, "ought to be the first thing in
our purpose and desires; but that which is first in dignity is not always
to precede in order of time; for well-being supposes a being; and the
first impediment which men naturally endeavour to remove, is the want of
those things without which they cannot subsist. God first assigned
unto Adam maintenance of life, and gave him a title to the rest of the
creatures, before he appointed a law to observe."
"God first assigned Adam," says Hooker, "maintenance of life, and then
appointed him a law to observe. True it is, that the kingdom of God
must be the first thing in our purpose and desires; but, inasmuch as a
righteous life presupposeth life, inasmuch as to live virtuously it
is impossible, except we live; therefore the first impediment which
naturally we endeavour to remove is penury, and want of things without
which we cannot live." Book i. Sect. 9.
The speech is vehement; but the great position, that grievances ought to
be redressed, before supplies are granted, is agreeable enough to law and
reason: nor was Waller, if his biographer may be credited, such an enemy
to the king, as not to wish his distresses lightened; for he relates,
"that the king sent particularly to Waller, to second his demand of some
subsidies to pay off the army; and sir Henry Vane objecting against first
voting a supply, because the king would not accept, unless it came up
to his proportion, Mr. Waller spoke earnestly to sir Thomas Jermyn,
comptroller of the household, to save his master from the effects of so
bold a falsity; 'for' he said, 'I am but a country gentleman, and cannot
pretend to know the king's mind:' but sir Thomas durst not contradict
the secretary; and his son, the earl of St. Alban's, afterwards told Mr.
Waller, that his father's cowardice ruined the king."
In the long parliament, which, unhappily for the nation, met Nov. 3,
1640, Waller represented Agmondesham the third time; and was considered,
by the discontented party, as a man sufficiently trusty and acrimonious
to be employed in managing the prosecution of judge Crawley, for his
opinion in favour of ship-money; and his speech shows that he did not
disappoint their expectations. He was, probably, the more ardent, as his
uncle Hampden had been particularly engaged in the dispute, and, by
a sentence, which seems generally to be thought unconstitutional,
He was not, however, a bigot to his party, nor adopted all their
opinions. When the great question, whether episcopacy ought to be
abolished, was debated, he spoke against the innovation so coolly, so
reasonably, and so firmly, that it is not without great injury to his
name that his speech, which was as follows, has been hitherto omitted in
"There is no doubt but the sense of what this nation hath suffered from
the present bishops hath produced these complaints; and the apprehensions
men have of suffering the like, in time to come, make so many desire the
taking away of episcopacy: but I conceive it is possible that we may not,
now, take a right measure of the minds of the people by their petitions;
for, when they subscribed them, the bishops were armed with a dangerous
commission of making new canons, imposing new oaths, and the like; but
now we have disarmed them of that power. These petitioners lately did
look upon episcopacy, as a beast armed with horns and claws; but now that
we have cut and pared them (and may, if we see cause, yet reduce it into
narrower bounds,) it may, perhaps, be more agreeable. Howsoever, if they
be still in passion, it becomes us soberly to consider the right use and
antiquity thereof; and not to comply further with a general desire, than
may stand with a general good.
"We have already showed, that episcopacy, and the evils thereof, are
mingled like water and oil; we have also, in part, severed them; but, I
believe, you will find, that our laws and the present government of
the church are mingled like wine and water; so inseparable, that the
abrogation of, at least, a hundred of our laws is desired in these
petitions. I have often heard a noble answer of the lords, commended in
this house, to a proposition of like nature, but of less consequence;
they gave no other reason of their refusal but this, 'Nolumus mutare
leges Angliae:' it was the bishops who so answered then; and it would
become the dignity and wisdom of this house to answer the people now with
a 'Nolumus mutare.'
"I see some are moved with a number of hands against the bishops;
which, I confess, rather inclines me to their defence; for I look upon
episcopacy as a counterscarp, or outwork; which, if it be taken by this
assault of the people, and, withal, this mystery once revealed, 'That we
must deny them nothing, when they ask it thus in troops,' we may, in the
next place, have as hard a task to defend our property, as we have lately
had to recover it from the prerogative. If, by multiplying hands and
petitions, they prevail for an equality in things ecclesiastical, the
next demand, perhaps, may be 'Lex Agraria,' the like equality in things
"The Roman story tells us, that when the people began to flock about the
senate, and were more curious to direct and know what was done, than to
obey, that commonwealth soon came to ruin; their 'Legem rogare' grew
quickly to be a 'Legem ferre;' and after, when their legions had found
that they could make a dictator, they never suffered the senate to have a
voice any more in such election.
"If these great innovations proceed, I shall expect a flat and level in
learning too, as well as in church-preferments: 'Honos alit artes.' And
though it be true, that grave and pious men do study for learning-sake,
and embrace virtue for itself; yet it is as true that youth, which is the
season when learning is gotten, is not without ambition, nor will
ever take pains to excel in any thing, when there is not some hope of
excelling others in reward and dignity.
"There are two reasons chiefly alleged against our church-government.
"First, Scripture, which, as some men think, points out another form.
"Second, The abuses of the present superiours.
"For scripture, I will not dispute it in this place; but I am confident
that, whenever an equal division of lands and goods shall be desired,
there will be as many places in scripture found out, which seem to favour
that, as there are now alleged against the prelacy or preferment in the
church. And, as for abuses, where you are now in the remonstrance told
what this and that poor man hath suffered by the bishops, you may be
presented with a thousand instances of poor men that have received hard
measure from their landlords; and of worldly goods abused, to the injury
of others, and disadvantage of the owners.
"And, therefore, Mr. Speaker, my humble motion is, that we may settle
men's minds herein; and, by a question, declare our resolution, 'to
reform,' that is, 'not to abolish, episcopacy.'"
It cannot but be wished that he, who could speak in this manner, had been
able to act with spirit and uniformity.
When the commons began to set the royal authority at open defiance,
Waller is said to have withdrawn from the house, and to have returned
with the king's permission; and, when the king set up his standard, he
sent him a thousand broad-pieces. He continued, however, to sit in
the rebellious conventicle; but "spoke," says Clarendon, "with great
sharpness and freedom, which, now there was no danger of being outvoted,
was not restrained; and, therefore, used as an argument against those who
were gone, upon pretence that they were not suffered to deliver their
opinion freely in the house, which could not be believed, when all men
knew what liberty Mr. Waller took, and spoke every day with impunity
against the sense and proceedings of the house."
Waller, as he continued to sit, was one of the commissioners nominated
by the parliament to treat with the king at Oxford; and, when they were
presented, the king said to him, "Though you are the last, you are not
the lowest, nor the least in my favour." Whitlock, who, being another of
the commissioners, was witness of this kindness, imputes it to the king's
knowledge of the plot, in which Waller appeared afterwards to have been
engaged against the parliament. Fenton, with equal probability, believes
that his attempt to promote the royal cause arose from his sensibility of
the king's tenderness. Whitlock says nothing of his behaviour at Oxford:
he was sent with several others to add pomp to the commission, but was
not one of those to whom the trust of treating was imparted.
The engagement, known by the name of Waller's plot, was soon afterwards
discovered. Waller had a brother-in-law, Tomkyns, who was clerk of the
queen's council, and, at the same time, had a very numerous acquaintance,
and great influence, in the city. Waller and he, conversing with great
confidence, told both their own secrets and those of their friends; and,
surveying the wide extent of their conversation, imagined that they
found, in the majority of all ranks, great disapprobation of the violence
of the commons, and unwillingness to continue the war. They knew that
many favoured the king, whose fear concealed their loyalty; and many
desired peace, though they durst not oppose the clamour for war; and they
imagined that, if those who had these good intentions could be informed
of their own strength, and enabled by intelligence to act together, they
might overpower the fury of sedition, by refusing to comply with the
ordinance for the twentieth part, and the other taxes levied for the
support of the rebel army, and by uniting great numbers in a petition for
peace. They proceeded with great caution. Three only met in one place,
and no man was allowed to impart the plot to more than two others; so
that, if any should be suspected or seized, more than three could not be
Lord Conway joined in the design, and, Clarendon imagines, incidentally
mingled, as he was a soldier, some martial hopes or projects, which,
however, were only mentioned, the main design being to bring the loyal
inhabitants to the knowledge of each other; for which purpose there was
to be appointed one in every district, to distinguish the friends of the
king, the adherents to the parliament, and the neutrals. How far
they proceeded does not appear; the result of their inquiry, as Pym
declared, was, that within the walls, for one that was for the
royalists, there were three against them; but that without the walls, for
one that was against them, there were five for them. Whether this was
said from knowledge or guess, was, perhaps, never inquired.
It is the opinion of Clarendon, that in Waller's plan no violence or
sanguinary resistance was comprised; that he intended only to abate the
confidence of the rebels by publick declarations, and to weaken their
powers by an opposition to new supplies. This, in calmer times, and
more than this, is done without fear; but such was the acrimony of the
commons, that no method of obstructing them was safe.
About this time, another design was formed by sir Nicholas Crispe, a man
of loyalty that deserves perpetual remembrance: when he was a merchant
in the city, he gave and procured the king, in his exigencies, a hundred
thousand pounds; and, when he was driven from the exchange, raised a
regiment, and commanded it.
Sir Nicholas flattered himself with an opinion, that some provocation
would so much exasperate, or some opportunity so much encourage, the
king's friends in the city, that they would break out in open resistance,
and then would want only a lawful standard, and an authorized commander;
and extorted from the king, whose judgment too frequently yielded to
importunity, a commission of array, directed to such as he thought proper
to nominate, which was sent to London by the lady Aubigney. She knew not
what she carried, but was to deliver it on the communication of a certain
token, which sir Nicholas imparted.
This commission could be only intended to lie ready, till the time should
require it. To have attempted to raise any forces, would have been
certain destruction; it could be of use only when the forces should
appear. This was, however, an act preparatory to martial hostility.
Crispe would, undoubtedly, have put an end to the session of parliament,
had his strength been equal to his zeal: and out of the design of Crispe,
which involved very little danger, and that of Waller, which was an act
purely civil, they compounded a horrid and dreadful plot.
The discovery of Waller's design is variously related. In Clarendon's
History, it is told, that a servant of Tomkyns, lurking behind the
hangings, when his master was in conference with Waller, heard enough
to qualify him for an informer, and carried his intelligence to Pym. A
manuscript, quoted in the Life of Waller, relates, that "he was betrayed
by his sister Price, and her presbyterian chaplain, Mr. Goode, who stole
some of his papers; and, if he had not strangely dreamed the night
before, that his sister had betrayed him, and, thereupon, burnt the rest
of his papers, by the fire that was in his chimney, he had certainly lost
his life by it." The question cannot be decided. It is not unreasonable
to believe, that the men in power, receiving intelligence from the
sister, would employ the servant of Tomkyns to listen at the conference,
that they might avoid an act so offensive as that of destroying the
brother by the sister's testimony.
The plot was published in the most terrifick manner. On the 31st of
May, 1643, at a solemn fast, when they were listening to the sermon, a
messenger entered the church, and communicated his errand to Pym, who
whispered it to others that were placed near him, and then went with them
out of the church, leaving the rest in solicitude and amazement. They
immediately sent guards to proper places, and, that night, apprehended
Tomkyns and Waller; having yet traced nothing but that letters had been
intercepted, from which it appeared that the parliament and the city were
soon to be delivered into the hands of the cavaliers.
They, perhaps, yet knew little themselves, beyond some general and
indistinct notices. "But Waller," says Clarendon, "was so confounded with
fear, that he confessed whatever he had heard, said, thought, or seen;
all that he knew of himself, and all that he suspected of others, without
concealing any person of what degree or quality soever, or any discourse
which he had ever upon any occasion entertained with them; what such and
such ladies of great honour, to whom, upon the credit of his wit and
great reputation, he had been admitted, had spoke to him in their
chambers upon the proceedings in the houses, and how they had encouraged
him to oppose them; what correspondence and intercourse they had with
some ministers of state at Oxford, and how they had conveyed all
intelligence thither." He accused the earl of Portland, and lord Conway,
as cooperating in the transaction; and testified, that the earl of
Northumberland had declared himself disposed in favour of any attempt,
that might check the violence of the parliament, and reconcile them to
He, undoubtedly, confessed much which they could never have discovered,
and, perhaps, somewhat which they would wish to have been suppressed;
for it is inconvenient, in the conflict of factions, to have that
disaffection known which cannot safely be punished.
Tomkyns was seized on the same night with Waller, and appears, likewise,
to have partaken of his cowardice; for he gave notice of Crispe's
commission of array, of which Clarendon never knew how it was discovered.
Tomkyns had been sent with the token appointed, to demand it from lady
Aubigney, and had buried it in his garden, where, by his direction, it
was dug up; and thus the rebels obtained, what Clarendon confesses them
to have had, the original copy.
It can raise no wonder that they formed one plot out of these two
designs, however remote from each other, when they saw the same agent
employed in both, and found the commission of array in the hands of him,
who was employed in collecting the opinions and affections of the people.
Of the plot, thus combined, they took care to make the most. They sent
Pym among the citizens, to tell them of their imminent danger, and happy
escape; and inform them, that the design was, "to seize the lord mayor,
and all the committee of militia, and would not spare one of them." They
drew up a vow and covenant, to be taken by every member of either house,
by which he declared his detestation of all conspiracies against the
parliament, and his resolution to detect and oppose them. They then
appointed a day of thanksgiving for this wonderful delivery; which
shut out, says Clarendon, all doubts whether there had been such a
deliverance, and whether the plot was real or fictitious.
On June 11, the earl of Portland and lord Conway were committed, one to
the custody of the mayor, and the other of the sheriff; but their lands
and goods were not seized.
Waller was still to immerse himself deeper in ignominy. The earl of
Portland and lord Conway denied the charge; and there was no evidence
against them but the confession of Waller, of which, undoubtedly, many
would be inclined to question the veracity. With these doubts he was so
much terrified, that he endeavoured to persuade Portland to a declaration
like his own, by a letter extant in Fenton's edition. "But for me," says
he, "you had never known any thing of this business, which was prepared
for another; and, therefore, I cannot imagine why you should hide it
so far as to contract your own ruin by concealing it, and persisting
unreasonably to hide that truth, which without you already is, and will
every day be made more manifest. Can you imagine yourself bound in honour
to keep that secret, which is already revealed by another? or possible it
should still be a secret, which is known to one of the other sex? If you
persist to be cruel to yourself, for their sakes who deserve it not,
it will, nevertheless, be made appear, ere long, I fear, to your ruin.
Surely, if I had the happiness to wait on you, I could move you to
compassionate both yourself and me, who, desperate as my case is, am
desirous to die with the honour of being known to have declared
the truth. You have no reason to contend to hide what is already
revealed--inconsiderately to throw away yourself, for the interest of
others, to whom you are less obliged than you are aware of."
This persuasion seems to have had little effect. Portland sent, June
29, a letter to the lords, to tell them, that he "is in custody, as
he conceives, without any charge; and that, by what Mr. Waller hath
threatened him with, since he was imprisoned, he doth apprehend a very
cruel, long, and ruinous restraint:--He, therefore, prays, that he
may not find the effects of Mr. Waller's threats, by a long and close
imprisonment; but may be speedily brought to a legal trial, and then he
is confident the vanity and falsehood of those informations which have
been given against him will appear."
In consequence of this letter, the lords ordered Portland and Waller
to be confronted; when the one repeated his charge, and the other his
denial. The examination of the plot being continued, July 1, Thinn, usher
of the house of lords, deposed, that Mr. Waller having had a conference
with the lord Portland in an upper room, lord Portland said, when he came
down, "do me the favour to tell my lord Northumberland, that Mr. Waller
has extremely pressed me to save my own life and his, by throwing the
blame upon the lord Conway and the earl of Northumberland."
Waller, in his letter to Portland, tells him of the reasons which he
could urge with resistless efficacy in a personal conference; but he
overrated his own oratory; his vehemence, whether of persuasion or
entreaty, was returned with contempt.
One of his arguments with Portland is, that the plot is already known
to a woman. This woman was, doubtless, lady Aubigney, who, upon this
occasion, was committed to custody; but who, in reality, when she
delivered the commission, knew not what it was.
The parliament then proceeded against the conspirators, and committed
their trial to a council of war. Tomkyns and Chaloner were hanged near
their own doors. Tomkyns, when he came to die, said it was a "foolish
business;" and, indeed, there seems to have been no hope that it should
escape discovery; for, though never more than three met at a time, yet
a design so extensive must, by necessity, be communicated to many, who
could not be expected to be all faithful, and all prudent. Chaloner was
attended at his execution by Hugh Peters. His crime was, that he had
commission to raise money for the king; but it appears not that the money
was to be expended upon the advancement of either Crispe's or Waller's
The earl of Northumberland, being too great for prosecution, was only
once examined before the lords. The earl of Portland and lord Conway,
persisting to deny the charge, and no testimony, but Waller's, yet
appearing against them, were, after a long imprisonment, admitted to
bail. Hassel, the king's messenger, who carried the letters to Oxford,
died the night before his trial. Hampden escaped death, perhaps, by the
interest of his family; but was kept in prison to the end of his life.
They, whose names were inserted in the commission of array, were not
capitally punished, as it could not be proved that they had consented to
their own nomination; but they were considered as malignants, and their
estates were seized.
"Waller, though confessedly," says Clarendon, "the most guilty, with
incredible dissimulation, affected such a remorse of conscience, that his
trial was put off, out of christian compassion, till he might recover his
understanding." What use he made of this interval, with what liberality
and success he distributed flattery and money, and how, when he was
brought, July 4, before the house, he confessed and lamented, and
submitted and implored, may be read in the History of the Rebellion, (b.
vii.) The speech, to which Clarendon ascribes the preservation of his
"dear-bought life," is inserted in his works. The great historian,
however, seems to have been mistaken in relating that "he prevailed" in
the principal part of his supplication, "not to be tried by a council of
war;" for, according to Whitlock, he was, by expulsion from the house,
abandoned to the tribunal which he so much dreaded, and, being tried and
condemned, was reprieved by Essex; but, after a year's imprisonment,
in which time resentment grew less acrimonious, paying a fine of ten
thousand pounds, he was permitted to "recollect himself in another
Of his behaviour in this part of his life, it is not necessary to
direct the reader's opinion. "Let us not," says his last ingenious
biographer, "condemn him with untempered severity, because he was
not a prodigy which the world hath seldom seen, because his character
included not the poet, the orator, and the hero."
For the place of his exile he chose France, and stayed some time at Roan,
where his daughter Margaret was born, who was afterwards his favourite,
and his amanuensis. He then removed to Paris, where he lived with great
splendour and hospitality; and, from time to time, amused himself with
poetry, in which he sometimes speaks of the rebels, and their usurpation,
in the natural language of an honest man.
At last, it became necessary, for his support, to sell his wife's jewels;
and being reduced, as he said, at last "to the rump-jewel," he solicited,
from Cromwell, permission to return, and obtained it by the interest of
colonel Scroop, to whom his sister was married. Upon the remains of a
fortune which the danger of his life had very much diminished, he lived
at Hall Barn, a house built by himself very near to Beaconsfield, where
his mother resided. His mother, though related to Cromwell and Hampden,
was zealous for the royal cause, and, when Cromwell visited her, used
to reproach him; he, in return, would throw a napkin at her, and say he
would not dispute with his aunt; but finding, in time, that she acted for
the king, as well as talked, he made her a prisoner to her own daughter,
in her own house. If he would do any thing, he could not do less.
Cromwell, now protector, received Waller, as his kinsman, to familiar
conversation. Waller, as he used to relate, found him sufficiently versed
in ancient history; and when any of his enthusiastick friends came to
advise or consult him, could, sometimes, overhear him discoursing in the
cant of the times; but, when he returned, he would say: "Cousin Waller, I
must talk to these men in their own way;" and resumed the common style of
He repaid the protector for his favours (1654) by the famous Panegyrick,
which has been always considered as the first of his poetical
productions. His choice of encomiastick topicks is very judicious; for he
considers Cromwell in his exaltation, without inquiring how he attained
it; there is, consequently, no mention of the rebel or the regicide. All
the former part of his hero's life is veiled with shades; and nothing is
brought to view but the chief, the governour, the defender of England's
honour, and the enlarger of her dominion. The act of violence, by
which he obtained the supreme power, is lightly treated, and decently
justified. It was, certainly, to be desired, that the detestable band
should be dissolved, which had destroyed the church, murdered the king,
and filled the nation with tumult and oppression; yet Cromwell had not
the right of dissolving them, for all that he had before done could be
justified only by supposing them invested with lawful authority. But
combinations of wickedness would overwhelm the world, by the advantage
which licentious principles afford, did not those, who have long
practised perfidy, grow faithless to each other.
In the poem on the war with Spain are some passages, at least, equal
to the best parts of the Panegyrick; and, in the conclusion, the poet
ventures yet a higher flight of flattery, by recommending royalty to
Cromwell and the nation. Cromwell was very desirous, as appears from his
conversation, related by Whitlock, of adding the title to the power of
monarchy, and is supposed to have been withheld from it partly by fear of
the army, and partly by fear of the laws, which, when he should govern by
the name of king, would have restrained his authority. When, therefore, a
deputation was solemnly sent to invite him to the crown, he, after a long
conference, refused it; but is said to have fainted in his coach, when he
parted from them.
The poem on the death of the protector seems to have been dictated by
real veneration for his memory. Dryden and Sprat wrote on the same
occasion; but they were young men, struggling into notice, and hoping for
some favour from the ruling party. Waller had little to expect; he had
received nothing but his pardon from Cromwell, and was not likely to ask
any thing from those who should succeed him.
Soon afterwards, the restoration supplied him with another subject; and
he exerted his imagination, his elegance, and his melody, with equal
alacrity, for Charles the second. It is not possible to read, without
some contempt and indignation, poems of the same author, ascribing
the highest degree of "power and piety" to Charles the first, then
transferring the same "power and piety" to Oliver Cromwell; now inviting
Oliver to take the crown, and then congratulating Charles the second
on his recovered right. Neither Cromwell nor Charles could value his
testimony, as the effect of conviction, or receive his praises, as
effusions of reverence; they could consider them but as the labour of
invention, and the tribute of dependence.
Poets, indeed, profess fiction; but the legitimate end of fiction is the
conveyance of truth; and he that has flattery ready for all whom the
vicissitudes of the world happen to exalt, must be scorned, as a
prostituted mind, that may retain the glitter of wit, but has lost the
dignity of virtue.
The Congratulation was considered as inferiour in poetical merit to the
Panegyrick; and it is reported, that, when the king told Waller of the
disparity, he answered, "poets, sir, succeed better in fiction than in
The Congratulation is, indeed, not inferiour to the Panegyrick, either by
decay of genius, or for want of diligence; but because Cromwell had done
much, and Charles had done little. Cromwell wanted nothing to raise him
to heroick excellence but virtue; and virtue his poet thought himself at
liberty to supply. Charles had yet only the merit of struggling without
success, and suffering without despair. A life of escapes and indigence
could supply poetry with no splendid images.
In the first parliament, summoned by Charles the second, March 8, 1661,
Waller sat for Hastings, in Sussex, and served for different places in
all the parliaments of that 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
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
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 the 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 publick events
or private incidents; and, contenting himself with the influence of his
muse, or loving quiet better than influence, he never accepted any office
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 the 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 had 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, after hearing 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
received 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 else is not known; it is certain that he obtained
nothing, though he continued obsequious to the court through the rest of
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
Downfal of the Turkish Empire, which he presented to the king, on his
birthday. 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 familiarity, 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
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 me great honour, in taking notice of my
domestick 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 inferiour to the effusions of his youth.
Towards the decline of life, he bought a small house, with a little land,
at Coleshill; and said, "he should be glad to die, like the stag,
where he was roused." This, however, did not happen. When he was at
Beaconsfield, he found his legs grow tumid; he 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
some lines of Virgil, and went home to die.
As the disease increased upon him, he composed himself for his departure;
and, calling upon Dr. Birch to give him the holy sacrament, he desired
his children to take it with him, and made an earnest declaration of his
faith in christianity. It now appeared what part of his conversation
with the great could be remembered with delight. He 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 scarce
ever heard of, till, by his 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 his 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 melancholick, 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 world of very great faults; that is, so to
cover them, that they were not taken notice of to his reproach; viz. a
narrowness in his nature to the lowest degree; an abjectness and want of
courage to support him in any virtuous undertaking; an insinuation and
servile flattery to the height, the vainest and most imperious nature
could be contented with; that it preserved and won his life from those
who were most resolved to take it, and in an occasion in which he ought
to have been ambitious to have lost it; and then preserved him again from
the reproach and contempt that was due to him for so preserving it, and
for vindicating it at such a price; that it had power to reconcile him to
those whom he had most offended and provoked; and continued to his age
with that rare felicity, that his company was acceptable where his spirit
was odious; and he was, at least, pitied where he was most detested."
Such is the account of Clarendon; on which it may not be improper to make
"He was very little known till he had obtained a rich wife in the city."
He obtained a rich wife about the age of three-and-twenty; an age before
which few men are conspicuous much to their advantage. He was known,
however, in parliament and at court; and, if he spent part of his time
in privacy, it is not unreasonable to suppose, that he endeavoured the
improvement of his mind, as well as of his fortune.
That Clarendon might misjudge the motive of his retirement is the more
probable, because he has evidently mistaken the commencement of his
poetry, which he supposes him not to have attempted before thirty. As
his first pieces were, perhaps, not printed, the succession of his
compositions was not known; and Clarendon, who cannot be imagined to
have been very studious of poetry, did not rectify his first opinion by
consulting Waller's book.
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 heart, being a vain and empty, though a
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 hypocrisy 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 experienced 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 connexion 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
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. Albans, 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 smaller 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 Gothick 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
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. It is not easy to think without
some contempt on an author who is growing illustrious in his own opinion
by verses, at one time, to a Lady who can do any thing but sleep when she
pleases; at another, to a Lady who can sleep when she pleases; now, to a
Lady on her passing through a crowd of people; then, on a Braid of divers
colours, woven by four fair Ladies; on a tree cut in paper; or, to a
Lady, from whom he received the copy of verses on the paper tree, which
for many years had been missing.
Genius now and then produces a lucky trifle. We still read the Dove of
Anacreon, and Sparrow of Catullus; and a writer naturally pleases himself
with a performance, which owes nothing to the subject. But compositions
merely pretty have the fate of other pretty things, and are quitted in
time for something useful: they are flowers fragrant and fair, but of
short duration; or they are blossoms to be valued only as they foretell
fruits. Among Waller's little poems are some which their excellency ought
to secure from oblivion; as, to Amoret, comparing the different modes
of regard, with which he looks on her and Sacharissa; and the verses on
Love, that begin, "Anger in hasty words or blows."
In others he is not equally successful; sometimes his thoughts are
deficient, and sometimes his expression.
The numbers are not always musical; as,
Fair Venus, in thy soft arms
The god of rage confine:
For thy whispers are the charms
Which only can divert his fierce design.
What though he frown, and to tumult do incline;
Thou the flame
Kindled in his breast canst tame
With that snow which unmelted lies on thine.
He seldom, indeed, fetches an amorous sentiment from the depths of
science; his thoughts are, for the most part, easily understood, and his
images such as the superficies of nature readily supplies; he has a just
claim to popularity, because he writes to common degrees of knowledge;
and is free, at least, from philosophical pedantry, unless, perhaps,
the end of a song to the sun may be excepted, in which he is too much a
Copernican. To which may be added, the simile of the palm in the verses,
on her passing through a crowd; and a line in a more serious poem on the
Restoration, about vipers and treacle, which can only be understood by
those who happen to know the composition of the Theriaca.
His thoughts are sometimes hyperbolical, and his images unnatural:
The plants admire,
No less than those of old did Orpheus' lyre:
If she sit down, with tops all tow'rds her bow'd,
They round about her into arbours crowd:
Or if she walks, in even ranks they stand,
Like some well-marshall'd and obsequious band.
In another place:
While in the park I sing, the listening deer
Attend my passion, and forget to fear:
When to the beeches I report my flame,
They bow their heads, as if they felt the same:
To gods appealing, when I reach their bowers,
With loud complaints they answer me in showers.
To thee a wild and cruel soul is given,
More deaf than trees, and prouder than the heaven!
On the head of a stag:
O fertile head! which every year
Could such a crop of wonder bear!
The teeming earth did never bring,
So soon so hard, so huge a thing:
Which might it never have been cast,
Each year's growth added to the last,
These lofty branches had supply'd
The earth's bold sons' prodigious pride:
Heaven with these engines had been scal'd,
When mountains heap'd on mountains fail'd.
Sometimes, having succeeded in the first part, he makes a feeble
conclusion. In the song of Sacharissa's and Amoret's Friendship, the two
last stanzas ought to have been omitted.
His images of gallantry are not always in the highest degree delicate:
Then shall my love this doubt displace.
And gain such trust, that I may come
And banquet sometimes on thy face,
But make my constant meals at home.
Some applications may be thought too remote and unconsequential; as in
the verses on the Lady Dancing:
The sun in figures such as these
Joys with the moon to play:
To the sweet strains they advance,
Which do result from their own spheres;
As this nymph's dance
Moves with the numbers which she hears.
Sometimes a thought, which might, perhaps, fill a distich, is expanded
and attenuated, till it grows weak and almost evanescent:
Chloris! since first our calm of peace
Was frighted hence, this good we find,
Your favours with your fears increase,
And growing mischiefs make you kind.
So the fair tree, which still preserves
Her fruit, and state, while no wind blows,
In storms from that uprightness swerves;
And the glad earth about her strows
With treasure from her yielding boughs.
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