1670 ca. ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Edmund Waller

Lord Clarendon, 1670 ca.; Censura Literaria 9 (1809) 344-45n.



Edmund Waller 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 was resolved to improve it by 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 part 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 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 the 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 complexion, that had much of melancholic, inclined him to) he seemed often to speak upon the sudden, when the occasion had only administered the opportunity of saying what he had thoroughly considered, which gave a great lustre to all he said; which 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; and 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.