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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 Alight 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 supo posed to have been with-held 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 Restauration 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 sone 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 piery 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 teftimony 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 dependance.
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 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 gerius, 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 of that reign. In a time when fancy and gaiety were the most powerful recommendations to regard, it is not likely that Waller was foro gotten. 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 fértility 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 the 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 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 provoseship of Eaton 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 shewed 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 en
ragement couragement 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 more is not known; it is certain that he obtained nothing, though he continued obsequious to the court through the rest of Charles's reign.
At the accession of king James (in 1685) he was chosen for parliament, being then fourscore, at Saltash in Cornwall, and wrote a Presage of the Downfall of the Turkish Empire, which he presented to the King on his birth-day. It is remarked, by bis 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 celebrate.
When the King knew that he was about to marry his daughter to Dr. Birch, a clergyman, he ordered a French gentleman to tell him, that “the “ King wondered he could think of marrying his daughter to a falling s church.” “ The King,” says 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 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 preparations 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, VOL.I.
Towards the decline of life, he bought a small house, with a little land, at Colshill; 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 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 be“ lieve, heard more arguments for atheism than ever your grace did ; but “ I have lived long enough to see there is nothing in them; and 30, 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 sair 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 5 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 s himself in that exercise, at least, that he was known to do so), he sur“ prised 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 con“ versation; 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 inter“ mission), he appeared in those assemblies with great advantage; having “a graceful way of speaking, and by thinking much on several argu“ments (which his temper and complexion, that had much of melan“ cholic, 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 conver“ sation, 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 under« taking; 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 most resolved to take it, and in an occasion " in which he ought to have been ambitious to have lost it; and then pre“ served him again, from the reproach, and contempt that was due to him, w 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 pro“ voked; 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 niay not be improper 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 mighit misjudge the motive of his retirement is the more probable, because he has evidently mistaken the commencement of his