EDMUND WALLER, an eminent English poet, was born March 3, at Colshill in Hertfordshire. His father was Robert WaIler, esq. of Agmondesham, in Buckinghamshire, whose family was originally a branch of the Wallers of Penshurst in Kent; and his mother was the daughter of John Hampden, of Hampden in the same county, and sister to the celebrated patriot Hampden. His father died while he was yet an infant, but left him a yearly income of three thousand live 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. His political and poetical life began nearly together. In his eighteenth year he wrote a poem that appears first in his works, on the prince's escape at St. Andero; a piece which shewed 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. He had already formed such a system of metrical harmony as he never afterwards much needed, or much endeavoured, to improve.
The next poem is supposed by Fenton to be the address "To the Queen" on her arrival; but this is doubtful, and we have no date of any other poetical production before that which the murder of the duke of Buckingham occasioned. 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, shew 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 expence 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 chiidbed, and left him a widower of about live 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; and describes her as a sublime predominating beauty, of lofty charms, and imperious influence; but she, it is said, rejected his addresses with disdain. She married, in 1639, the earl of Sunderland, who died at Newbury in the royal 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. From the verses written at Penshurst, it has been collected that he diverted his rejection by Sacharissa 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. Aubrey gives us a report that some time between the age of twenty-three and thirty, "he grew mad," but did not remain long in this unhappy state; and he seems to think that the above disappointment might have been the cause. It is remarkable that Clarendon insinuates something of this kind as having happened to him, when taken up for the plot hereafter to be mentioned. The historian's words are, "After Waller had, with incredible dissimulation, acted such a remorse of conscience, his trial was put off out of Christian compassion, till he might recover his understanding." Neither of these perhaps is decisive as to the fact, but the coincidence is striking.
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 panegyric on the Queen mother; the two poems to the earl of Northumberland; and perhaps others, of which the time cannot be discovered. 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 his wife was won by his poetry; nor is any thing told of her, but that she brought him many children. He doubtless, says Johnson, 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 domestic 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, however, his biographers have recorded that she gave him five sons and eight daughters, and Aubrey says that she was beautiful and very prudent.
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 of liberty of speech and conduct which wealth ought always to produce. Being considered as the kinsman of Hampden, he was therefore supposed by the courtiers not to favour them; and when the parliament was called in 1640, it appeared that his political character had not been mistaken. The king's demand of a supply produced from him a speech full of complaints of national grievances, and very vehement; but while the great position, that grievances ought to be redressed before supplies are granted, is agreeable enough to law and reason, Waller, if his biographer may he credited, was not 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 Jermym, 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 Sr. Alban's, afterwards told Mr. Waller, that his father's cowardice ruined the king."
In the Long Parliament, which met Nov. 3, 1640, Waller represented Agmondesham the third time; and was considered by time 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 shews 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, particularly injured. 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 with great coolness, reason, and firmness; and it is to be lamented that lie did not 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 parliament; "but spoke," says Clarendon, "with great sharpness and freedom, which, now there was no danger of being out-voted, 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 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, another of the commissioners, imputes this kind compliment to the king's knowledge of the plot, in which Waller appears afterwards to have been engaged against the parliament. Fenton, with equal probability, believes that this attempt to promote the royal cause arose from his sensibility of the king's tenderness. Of Waller's conduct at Oxford we have no account. The attempt, just mentioned, 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 had 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 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 endangered.
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 public declarations, and to weaken their power 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 the same time another design was formed by sir Nicholas Crispe, an opulent merchant in the city, who gave and procured the king in his exigencies an hundred thousand pounds, and when he was driven from the royal exchange, raised a regiment and commanded it. His object appears to have been to raise a military force, but his design and Waller's appeal to have been totally distinct.
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 terrific 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 he delivered into the hands of the cavaliers. They perhaps yet knew little themselves, beyond some general and indistinct notices. "But Waller," says CIarendon," was so confounded with fear and apprehension, that he confessed whatever he had said, heard, 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 that he had ever, upon any occasion, entertained with them: that such and such ladies of great honour, to whom, upon the credit of his wit and great reputation, he had been admitted, had spoken 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 the king.
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 having obtained from the king a commission of array, of which Clarendon never knew how it was discovered. Tomkyns 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 his 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 Clareisdon, 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 good were not seized. Waller, however, 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 which is extant in Fenton's edition of his works; but this had very 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 had 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, 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 intreaty, 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 Aubigny, who, upon this occasion, was committed to custody; but who, in reality, when she delivered the commission of array, knew not what it was. The parliament then proceeded against the conspirators, and Tomkyns and Chaloner were hanged.
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," says Clarendon, whom we have already quoted on this point, "though confessedly 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 country. Of his behaviour in this part of his life, Johnson justly says, it is not necessary to direct the reader's opinion.
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 wile's jewels, and being thus reduced, 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 his fortune lie lived at Halllbarn, 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. This daughter was Mrs. Price, who is said to have betrayed her brother.
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 enthusiastic 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 conversation. He repaid the Protector for his favours, in 1654, by the famous panegyric, which has been always considered as the first of his poetical productions. His choice of encomiastic topics is very judicious; for he considers Cromwell in his exaltation, without inquiring how he attained it; there is consequently, says Johnson, 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 governor, 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. In the poem on the war with Spain are some passages a 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. The poem on the death of the Protector seems to have been dictated by real veneration for his memory, for he 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 II. It is not possible, says Johnson, to read without some contempt and indignation, poems of the same author ascribing the highest degree of power and piety to Charles I. then transferring the same power and piety to Oliver Cromwell; now inviting Oliver to take the crown, and then congratulating Charles II. 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. The "Congratulation," however, was considered as inferior 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 truth." The Congratulation is, indeed, not inferior 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 heroic 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 in 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 Waller." The praise given him by St. Evremond is a proof of his reputation; for it was only by his reputation that he could be known, as a writer, to a man who, though he lived a great part of a long life upon an English pension, never condescended to understand the language of the nation that maintained him. In parliament, Burnet says, Waller "was the delight of the house, and though old, said the liveliest things of any among them." His name as a speaker often occurs in Grey's "Debates," but Dr. Johnson, who examined them, says he found no extracts that could be more quoted an exhibiting sallies of gaiety than cogency of argument. He was, however, of such consideration, that his remarks were circulated and recorded; nor did he suffer his reputation to die gradually away, which might easily happen in a long life; but renewed his claim, to poetical distinction, occasions were offered, either by public events, or private incidents; and contenting himself with the influence of his muse, or loving quiet better than influence, he never accepted any office of magistracy. He was not, however, without some attention to his fortune; for he asked from the king (in 1665) the provostship of Eton college and obtained it; but Claendon 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 author of his life in the "Biographia Britannica" imputes the violence and acrimony with which Waller joined Buckingham's faction in the prosecution of Clarendon. If this be true, the motive was illiberal and dishonest, and shewed that more than sixty years had not been able to teach him morality. His accusation of Clarendon 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 for the provostship of Eton, 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 another (Dr. Cradock) was chosen. It is not known whether he asked any thing more, but he continued obsequious to the court through the rest of Charles's reign.
At the accession of king James, in 1685, he was, in his eightieth year, chosen member for Saltash, in Cornwall, and wrote a "Presage of the downfall of the Turkish Empire," which he presented to the king on his birth-day. James treated him with kindness and familiarity, of which instances are given by Fenton. One day, taking him into his 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 that was, 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 chuse a wise one?" When the king knew that he was about to marry his daughter to Dr. Birch, a clergyman, be ordered a French gentleman to tell him that "the king wondered be could think of marrying his daughter to a failing church." "The king," said Waller, "does me great honour, in taking notice of my domestic affairs; but I have lived long enough to observe that this falling church has got a trick of rising again." He took notice to his friends of the king's conduct; and said that "he would be left like a whale upon the strand." Whether he was privy to any of the transactions which ended in the revolution, is not known. His heir joined the prince of Orange.
Having now attained an age beyond which the laws of nature seldom suffer life to be extended, otherwise than by a future state, he seems to have turned his mind upon preparation for the decisive hour, and therefore consecrated his poetry to devotion. It is pleasing to discover that his piety was without weakness; that his intellectual powers continued vigorous; and that the lines which he composed when he, for age, could neither read nor write, are not inferior to the effusions of his youth. Towards the decline of life, he bought a small house, with a little 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 swelled, and went to Windsor, where sir Charles Scarborough then attended the king, requesting 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 inscriptions on four sides. 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, educated at New college, Oxford, was an able civilian, and died Feb. 22, 1707, while the articles for the union of the British kingdoms, which he had contributed to frame and improve, were under parliamentary consideration. There is said to have been a fifth, but we have no account of him. Waller's descendants still reside at Beaconsfield, in the greatest affluence.
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. "Edmund Waller," says that excellent historian, "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 the utmost care, upon which in his nature he was too much intent; and, in order to that, he was so much reserved and retired, that he was scarcely ever heard of till by 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 of age when he first engaged himself in that exercise, at least that he was known to do so), he surprized 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 upon several arguments (which his temper and complection, that had much of melancholic, inclined him to) he seemed often to speak upon the sudden, when the occasion had only administered the opportunity of saying what he had thoroughly considered, which gave a great lustre to all he said, which yet was rather of delight than weight. There needs no more be said to extol the excellence and power of his wit, and pleasantness of his conversation, than that it was of magnitude enough to cover a 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 insinuating 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 on 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 old age with that rare felicity, that his company was acceptable when 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, says Dr. Johnson, to make some remarks. "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 be 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 also, 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 expence of £100 took him into the country as director of his studies, and then procured him admission into the company of the friends of literature. But of this fact, says Johnson, Clarendon had a nearer knowledge than the biographer, and is therefore more to be credited.
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 connection with Hampden, for whose sake he prosecuted Crawley with great bitterness; and the invective which he pronounced on that occasion was so popular, that twenty thousand copies are said by his biographer to have been sold in one day. It is confessed that his faults still left him many friends, at least many companions. His convivial power of pleasing is universally acknowledged; but those who conversed with him intimately, found him not only passionate, especially in his old age, but resentful; so that the interposition of friends was sometimes necessary. His wit and his poetry naturally connected him with the polite writers of his time: he was joined with lord Buckhurst in the translation of Corneille's Pompey; and is said to have added his help to that of Cowley in the original draught of the Rehearsal.
The care of his fortune, which Clarendon imputes to him in a degree little less than criminal, was either not constant or not successful; for, having inherited a patrimony of three thousand five hundred pounds a year in the time of James the First, and augmented it at least by one wealthy marriage, he left, about the time of the revolution, an income of not more than twelve or thirteen hundred; which, when the different value of money is reckoned, will be found perhaps not more than a fourth part of what he once possessed. Of this diminution, part was the consequence of the gifts which he was forced to scatter, and the fine which he was condemned to pay at the detection of his plot; and if his estate, as is related in his Life, was sequestered, he had probably contracted debts when he lived in exile; for we are told, that at Paris he lived in splendor, and was the only Englishman, except the lord St. Alban's, that kept a table. His unlucky plot compelled him to sell a thousand a year; of the waste of the rest there is no account, except that he is confessed by his biographer to have been a bad oeconomist. He seems to have deviated from the common practice; to have been a boarder 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." For his merit as a poet, we may refer with confidence to Johnson, whose life of Waller we have generally followed in the preceding sketch, and on which he appears to have bestowed more than usual pains, and is in his facts more than usually accurate. English versification, it is universally allowed, is greatly indebted to Waller, and he is every where elegant and gay. To his contemporaries he must have appeared more rich in invention, than modern critics are disposed to allow, because, as Johnson observes, they have found his novelties in later books, and do not know or inquire who produced them first. Dr. Warton thinks it remarkable that Waller never mentions Milton, whose Comus, and smaller poems, preceded his own; and he accounts for this by Milton's poetry being unsuitable to the French taste on which Waller was formed.
From Aubrey, quoted in the preceding notes, we may select a few more particulars of Waller. Speaking of his plot, he says, "He had much ado then to save his life; and in order to it, sold his estate, in Bedfordshire, about £1300 per ann. to Dr. Wright, M.D. for £10,000 (much under value) which was procured in twenty-fours time, or else he had been hanged. With this money he bribed the House, which was the first time a House of Commons was ever bribed." "His intellectuals are very good yet (1680), but he growes feeble. He is somewhat above a middle stature, thin body, not at all robust fine thin skin, his face somewhat of an olivaster: his hayre frized, of a brownish colour; full eie, popping out and workinge, ovall faced, his forehead high and full of wrinkles. His head but small, braine very hott, and apt to be cholerique. "Quanto doctius, eo iracundior." CIC. He is somewhat magisteriall, and hath received a great mastership of the English language. He is of admirable elocution, and graceful, and exceeding ready." —"Notwithstanding his great witt and maisteresse in rhetorique, &c. he will oftentimes be guilty of mispelling in English. He writes a lamentable hand, as had as the scratching of a hen."