1680 ca. ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Edmund Waller

John Aubrey, in Brief Lives, 1669-1696; ed. Clark (1898) 2:273-79.



Mr. Edmund Waller of Beconsfield, the poet, was borne at Colshill in Hertfordshire neer Agmundesham A.D. 1606, Martii die 13, hora 18, min. 16 P.M. — scilicet March after the Gunpowder plot.

This was done in Italie by an Italian;—

"Hic Mercurius in 12 monstrat felix et sublime ingenium, sed ipsi autori noxium propter [figure of a square] cum Luna. Saturnus in Medio Coeli indicat multos inimicos, quibus tamen natus praevalebit propter [delta figure] quem habet Saturnus cum Venere. Supervivet natus suae uxori; caveat tamen sibi 1655, minantur enim tunc astra morbum periculosum, quem si natus superat, poterit (naturaliter loquendo) pervenire ad annum 1669. Apparet tamen periculum ab aquis et a veneno. Videtur honorandus ab aliquo principe externo. — Complexio est frigida et humida, unde bonum erit uti cibis calidis, sed facilis digestionis propter debilitatem stomachi."

Obiit Octob. 20, 1687; sepultus at Beconsfield in the churchyard with his father and grandfathers, where are two walnutt-trees sett at the head and foot of his grandfather's grave.

Edmund Waller, esq., son and heire of < Robert Waller > by < Anne > Hamden. He was cosen-germane to Oliver Cromwell, Protector, whose mother was his mother's sister.

He was borne at Beconsfield, in Bucks, Anno Domini ... (quaere) in the fair brick house, the farthest on the left hand, as you goe to Wickham.

He had grammer learning from the information of Mr. < Gerard > Dobson, minister of Market Wickham, who taught a private schoole there, and was (he told me) a good schoolmaster, and had been bred at Eaton College schoole. I have heard Mr. Thomas Bigge, of Wickham, say (who was his schoole-fellow, and of the same forme), that he little thought then he would have been so rare a poet; he was wont to make his exercise for him.

His paternall estate, and by his first wife, was £3000 per annum. His first wife was ... (vide Heralds' Office) of Worcestershire, by whom he had ... per annum, and issue by her, son. His second wife (maried to her A.D .... ) was ... Brace; a woman beautifull and very prudent, by whom he has severall children (I thinke 10 or 12).

About 23, or between that and thirty, he grew (upon I know not what occasion) mad; but 'twas (I thinke) not long ere a he was cured: — this from Mr. Thomas Bigg.

Non tulit aethereos pectus mortale tumultus.
OVID.

Memorandum: — he was proud: to such, a check often gives that distemper.

He was passionately in love with Dorothea, the eldest daughter of the earle of Leicester, whom he haz eternized in his poems: and the earle loved him, and would have been contented that he should have had one of the youngest daughters; perhaps this might be the check.

... Waller (I thinke, Walter) was his tutor at King's College, Cambridge, who was a very learned man, and was afterwards vicar of Broad Chalke, Wilts.

A burghesse in Parliament, for Beconsfield, in king James's time, and has been of all the Parliaments since the restauration of king Charles II (1680 aetat. 74+).

One of the first refiners of our English language and poetrey. When he was a brisque young sparke, and first studyed poetry, "Methought," said he, "I never sawe a good copie of English verses; they want smoothnes; then I began to essay." I have severall times heard him say, that he cannot versify when he will; but when the fitt comes upon him, he does it easily, i.e. in plaine termes, when his Mercurius and Venus are well aspected.

He told me he was not acquainted with Ben. Johnson (who dyed about 1638), but familiarly with Lucius, lord Falkland; Sydney Godolphin, Mr. Hobbes; &c.

He was very much admired at Court before the late civill warres. 164-, he being then a member of the House of Commons, he was committed prisoner to the Tower, for the plott, with < Nathaniel > Tomkins (his cosen-germane) and < Richard > Chaloner, for firing the City of London, and delivering the Parliament, etc. to the King's partie: vide Transactions of those times. He had much adoe then to save his life, and in order to it, sold his estate in Bedfordshire, about a £1300 per annum, to Dr. Wright, M.D. for £10,000 (much under value) which was procured in 24 hours' time, or els he had been hanged (quaere E. Wyld, esq.). With which money he bribed the whole House, which was the first time a House of Commons was ever bribed. His excellent rhetoricall speech to the House (vide his speech to save his life), as also his panegyrique to Oliver, Lord Protector, he would not suffer to be inserted in the edition of his Poems since the restauration of king Charles II.

After he had obtayned his pardon of the Parliament, he went to France, where he stayed ... yeares, and was there very kindly recieved, and esteemed. Anno Domini ... he returned into England.

When king Charles II returned, he recieved Mr. Waller very kindly, and no man's conversation is more esteemed at court now then his. The dutches of Yorke (daughter to the duke of Modena) very much delights < in > his company, and hath layed her commands on him to write, which he hath dedicated to her highnes.

His intellectualls are very good yet (1680), and makes verses; but he growes feeble. He wrote verses of the Bermudas 50 yeares since, upon the information of one that had been there; walking in his fine woods, the poetique spirit came upon him.

He is of somewhat above a middle stature, thin body, not at all robust: fine thin skin, his face somewhat of an olivaster; his hayre frizzd, of a brownish colour; full eye, popping out and working: ovall faced, his forehead high and full of wrinckles. His head but small, braine very hott, and apt to be cholerique — Quanto doctior, eo iracundior. — CICERO. He is something magisteriall, and haz a great mastership of the English language. He is of admirable and gracefull elocution, and exceeding ready.

He has spent most of his time in London, especially in winter; but oftentimes in the summer he enjoyes his muse at Beconsfield, which is incomparable aire, and where are delicious walks in the woods. Now I speake of woods, I remember he told us there, that he cutt downe and grubbed-up a beech wood of his, at Beconsfield in Bucks, and without soweing, but naturally, there grew up a wood all of birch.

A.D. ... he was admitted a fellow of the Royall Societie.

He haz but a tender weake body, but was alwayes very temperate.... (quaere Samuel Butler) made him damnable drunke at Somerset-house, where, at the water-stayres, he fell downe, and had a cruell fall. 'Twas pitty to use such a sweet swan so inhumanely .

He hath a great memory, and remembers a history, etc. etc. best when read to him: he uses to make his daughters read to him. Yet, notwithstanding his great witt and mastership in rhetorique, etc. he will oftentimes be guilty of mispelling in English. He writes a lamentably < bad > hand, as bad < as > the scratching of a hen.

I have heard him say that he so much admired Mr. Thomas Hobbes' booke De Cive, when it came forth, that he was very desirous to have it donne into English, and Mr. Hobbes was most willing it should be done by Mr. Waller's hand, for that he was so great a master of our English language. Mr. Waller freely promised him to doe it, but first he would desire Mr. Hobbes to make an essaye; he (T. H.) did the first booke, and did it so extremely well, that Mr. Waller would not meddle with it , for that nobody els could doe it so well. Had he thought he could have better performed it, he would have himselfe been the translator.

Memorandum: his Speech against Ship-money which is in his booke of Poems: his Panegyrique to Oliver the Protector I have: and also to King Charles II.

He sayes that he was bred under severall ill, dull, ignorant schoolmasters, till he went to Mr. Dobson, at ... Wickham, who was a good schoolmaster, and had been an Eaten scholar.

Memorandum: — later end of Aug. 1680, he wrote verses, called "Divine Love," at the instance and request of the lady viscountesse Ranulagh.

He missed the Provostship of Eaton Colledge, (Feb.) 1680 < i.e. 0|1 >; < Zachary Cradock > haz it.

He lies buried in the church-yard (south east of the church), where his grandfather and father were buried. This burying-place < is > railed about like a pound, and about that bignesse. There is a walnut tree planted, that is, perhaps, 50 yeares old: (the walnut tree is their crest.) There are nine graves or cippi, no gravestone or inscription. They lye thus: [drawing].

From Capt. Edmund Hamden, his cousin-german, 1690: — Edmund Waller, esq., was borne in the parish of Agmundesham, in Buckinghamshire, at a place called Winchmore-hill, which was sold by his father, and which he had a very great desire to have bought again, not long before his death, but the owner would not sell it: part of the house haz been new-built, but the roome wherein he was borne is yet standing. Said he, to his cousin Hamden, A stagge, when he is hunted, and neer spent, alwayes returnes home. He dyed at 83, and his witt was as florid then as at any time of his life. He derived his poetick witt from the Hamdens; severall of them have been poets.

Whereas Rutt, that kept the ... Inne (the Crowne, I thinke) at Beconsfield, told me, many yeares since, that he had been distempered; captain Hamden affirmes it is false; but his brother was a foole, as to discourse or businesse, but was very learned. And whereas Dr. (Peter) Birch told me that he had a prodigiouse memorie; his sonnes affirme that he had no good memorie, and was never good to learne a thing by heart, but some things that pleased him he did strongly retaine.

Captain Hamden told me that the soldiers came to Beconsfield to search for money; his mother told them if they would goe along with her, she would shew them where she had buried five thousands pounds, and had them to the house of office.

Edmund Waller, esq., poet: — Mr. Christopher Wase repeating to him the bitter satyricall verses made on Sir Carre Scroop, viz.—

Thy brother murdred, and thy sister whor'd,
Thy mother too — and yet thy penne's thy sword;

Mr. Waller replyed "sur le champ" "that men write ill things well and good things ill; that satyricall writing was downehill, most easie and naturall; that at Billingsgate one might hear great heights of such witt; that the cursed earth naturally produces briars and thornes and weeds, but roses and fine flowers require cultivation."

All his writings are free from offence.

His poems are reprinted now (1682) by his owne orders and his pictures (young and old) before it, and underneath

Sed Carmina major imago.
OVID. < Trist. I. vii. 11. >

[Edmund Waller:—] he made some verses of his owne dyeing, but a fortnight, or little more, before his decease.