Page images
PDF
EPUB

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 bis 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 thejcrown, 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 meric 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 poo thing to raise him to heroic excellence but virtue; and virtue bis 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

* Aubrey says, “He has but a ten der weake body, but was always very temperate. -- made him damnable druoke at Somerset House, where,

VOL. XXXI.

at the water-sta yres, he fell downe, and had a cruel fall." "Taas pity to use such a sweet swan so inhumanly."

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 as 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, 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 be asked from the king (in 1665) the provostship of Eton college, and obfained 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 deacou'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 proa secution of Clarendon. If this be true, the motive was illiberal and dishoiest, and shewed that more than sixty years had not been able to teach him morality. His accus sation 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 froin 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,

jur dan beroe been the

ved by layered only be the

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, 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 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

answered to tell hi questing

nger,

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 bap. pen. When be 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 deligbt.' He related, that being present when the duke of Buckinghamtalked 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 Beacousfield, with a monument erected by his son's executors, for which Rymér 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 liad contributed to frame and improve, were under parliamentary consideration. There is said to have been a fifth, but we have no account of him. Watler'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 bad 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 re.

ceived 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 norsed 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. à narrowness in his nature to the lowest degree; an abjectness and want of courage to support him in any virtuous undertaking; an insinuating and seryile flattery, to

as not the "ery grateful courser, in plause and

« PreviousContinue »