Page images
PDF
EPUB

supposed to want; or that the attention of the poet and the player have been differently employed; the one has been considering thought, and the other action ; one has watched the heart, and the other contemplated the face.

Though he could not gain much notice as a player, he felt in himself such powers as might qualify for a dramatick author; and, in 1675, his twentyfifth year, produced Alcibiades, a tragedy; whether from the Alcibiade of Palapart, I have not means to enquire. Langbain, the great detector of plagiarism, is silent.

In 1677 he published Titus and Berenice, translated from Rapin, with the Cheats of Scapin from Moliere ; and 1678 Friendship in Fashion, a comedy, which, whatever might be its first reception, was, upon its revival at Drurylane in 1749, hissed off the stage for immorality and obscenity.

Want of morals, or of decency, did not in those days exclude any man from the company of the wealthy and gay, if he brought with him any powers of entertainment'; and Otway is said to have been at this time a favour. ite companion of the dissolute wits. But as he who desires no virtue in his companion has no virtue in himself, those whom Otway frequented had no purpose of doing more for him than to pay his reckoning. They desired only to drink and laugh ; their fondness was without benevolence, and their familiarity without friendship. Men of wit, says one of Otway's biographers, received at that time no favour from the Great but to share their riots from which they were dismissed again to their own narrow circumstances. Thus they languished in poverty without the support of imminence.

Some exception, however, must be made. The Earl of Plymouth, one of King Charles's natural sons, procured for him a cornet's commission in some troops then sent into Flanders. But Orway did not prospar in his militarý character ; før he soon left his commission behind him, whatever was the reason, and came back to London in extreme indigence; which Rochester mentions with merciless insolence in the Session of the Poets :

Tom Otway came next, Tom Shadwell's dear zany,
And swears for heroicks he writes best of any ;
Don Carlos his pocket so amply had fill’d,
That bis mange was quite cured, and his lice were all kill'd.
But Apollo had seen his face on the stage, 2
And prudently did not think fit to engage

The scum of a play-house, for the prop of an age. Don Carlos, from which he is represented as having received so much benefit, was played in 1675. It appears, by the Lampoon, to have had great success, and is said to have been played thirty nights together. This however it is reasonable to doubt, as so long a continuance of one play upon ihe stage is a very wide deviation from the practice of that time : when the ardour for theatrical entertainments was not yet diffused through the whole people, and the audience, consisting nearly of the same persons, could be drawn together only by variety.

The Orphan was exhibited in 1680. This is one of the few plays that keep possession of the stage, and has pleased for almost a century, through all the VOLI, 2.

vicis,

vicissitudes of dramatick fashion. Of this play nothing new can easily be said. It is a domestick tragedy drawn from middle life. Its whole power is upon the afections ; for it is not written with much comprehension of thought or elegance of expression. But if the heart is interested, many other beauties may be wanting, yet not be missed.

The same year produced the History and Fall of Caius Marius, much of which is borrowed from the Romeo and Juliet of Shakspeare.

In 1683* was published the first, and next yeart the second, parts of The Soldier's Fortune two comedies now forgotten and in 16851 his last and greatest dramatick work, Venice preserved, a tragedy, which still continues to be one of the favourites of the publick, notwithstanding the want of morality in the original design, and the despicable scenes of vile comedy with which he has diversified his tragick action. By comparing this with his Orphan, it will appear that his images were by time become stronger, and his language more energetick. The striking passages are in every mouth ; and the publick seems to judge rightly of the faults and excellencies of this play, that it is the work of a man not attentive to decency, nor zealous for virtue ; but of one who conceived forcibly, and drew originally, by consulting nature in his own breast.

Together with those plays he wrote the poems which are in the present collection, and translated from the French the History of the Triumvirate.

All this was performed before he was thirty-four years old; for he died April 14, 1685, in a manner which I am unwilling to mention. Having been compelled by his necessities to contract debts, and hunted, as is supposed, by the tarriers of the law; he retired to a publick house on Tower-hill, where he is said to have died of want; or as it is related by one of his biographers, by swallowing, after a long fast, a piece of bread which charity had supplied. He went out, as is reported, almost naked, in the rage of hunger, and finding a gentleman in a neighbouring coffee-house, asked him for a shilling. The gentleman gave him a guinea ; and Otway going away bought a roll, and was choaked with the first mouthful. All this, I hope, is not true; and there is this ground of better hope, that Pope, who lived near enough to be well informed, relates in Spence's memorials, that he died of a fever caught by violent pursuit of a thief that had robbed one of his friends. But that indigence, and its concomitants, sorrow and despondency, pressed hard upon him, has never been denied, whatever immediate cause might bring him to the grave.

Of the poems which the present collection admits, the longest is the Poet's complaint of his Muse, part of which I do not understand; and in that which iz less obscure I find little to commend. The language is often gross, and the zumbers are harsh. Otway had not much cultivated versification nor much replenished his mind with general knowledge. His principal power was in inuving the passions, to which Dryden & in his latter years left an illustrious testimony. He appears by some of his verses to have been a zealous royalist; and had what was in those times the common reward of loyalty; he lived and died neglected. * 1681.

+1684. 1688 In his preface to Fresnoy's Art of Painting. Dr.

WA L L E R.

[ocr errors]

DMUND WALLER was born on the third of March, 1605, at Cols

hill in Hertfordshire. His father was Robert Waller, Esq; of Agmondesham in Buckinghamshire, whose family was originally a branch of the Kentish Wallers; and his mother was the daughter of John Hampden, of Hampden in the same county, and sister to Hampden, the zealot of rebellion.

His father died while he was yet an infant, but left him a yearly income of three thousand five 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 Eaton ; 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, where he heard a very remarkable conversation, which the writer of the Life prefixed to his Works, who seeins to have been well informed of facts, though he may sometimes eșr in chronology, has delivered as indubitably certain :

“ He found Dr. Andrews, bishop of Winchester, and Dr. Neale, bishop of « Durham, standing behind his Majesty's chair; and there happened some

thing extraordinary," continues this writer, “in the conversation, those

prelates had with the king, on which Mr. Waller did often reflect. His “ Majesty asked the bishops, “ My Lords, cannot I take my subjects money “ when I want it, without all this formality of parliament?” The bishop of “ Durham readily answered, God forbid, Sir, but you should: you are the " breath of our nostrils.' Whereupon the King turned and said to the bishop " of Winchester, “ Well, my Lord, what say you?" "Sir,' replied the bi

shop, I have no skill to judge of parliamentary cases.' The King answered, "" No put-offs, my Lord ; answer me presently." · Then, Sir,' said he, I “think it is lawful for you to take my brother Neale's money; for he offers ço it.' Mr. Waller said, the company was pleased with this answer, and the “ wit of it seemed to affect the King; for, a certain lord coming in soon after,

his Majesty cried out, “ Oh, my lord, they say you lig with my lady," “No, Sir,' says his Lordship in confusion ; ' but I like her company, be« é cause she has so much wit.' " Why then," says the King,“ do you not s lig with my Lord of Winchester there?"

Waller's political and poetical life began nearly together. In his eighteenth year he wrote the poem that appears in his works, on “the Prince's Escape & 2

at

[ocr errors]

at “St Andero :" a piece which justifies the observation made by one of his editors, 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. By the perusal of Fairfax's translation of Tasso, to which, as* Dryden relates, he confessed himself indebted for the smoothness of his numbers, and by his own nicety of observation, he had already formed such a system of metrical harmony as he never afterwards much needed, or much endeavoured to improve. Denham corrected his numbers by experience, and gained ground gradually upon the ruggedness of his age, but what was acquired by Denham was inherited by Waller.

The next poem, of which the subject seems to fix the time, is supposed by Mr. Fenton to be the Address to the Queen, which he considers as congratulating her arival, in Waller's twentieth year. He is apparently mistaken; for the mention of the nations obligations to her frequent pregnancy, proves that it was written when she had brought many children. We have therefore no date of any other poetical production before that which the murder of the Duke of Buckingham occasioned ; the steadiness with which the King received the news in the chapel, deserved indeed to be rescued from oblivion.

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 idolators 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 childbed, and left him a widower of about five and twenty, gay and wealthy, to please himself with another marriage.

Eeing too young to resist beauty, and probably too vain to think himself resistable, 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; the name is derived from the Latin appellation of sugar, and implies, if it means any thing, a spiritless mildness, and dull good-nature, such as excites rather tenderness than esteem, and such as, though always treated with kindness, is never honoured or admired.

Yet * Preface to his Fables. Ds J:

Yet he describes Sacharissa as a sublime predominating beauty, of lofty charms, and imperious influence, on whom he looks with amazement rather than fondness, whose chains he wishes, though in vain, to break, and whose presence is wine that inflames to madness.

His acquaintance with this high-born dame gave, wit no opportunity of boasting its influence; she was not to be subdued by the powers of verse, but rejected his addresses, it is said, with disdain, and drove him away to solace his disappointment with Amoret or Philis. She married in 1639 the Earl of Sunderland, who died at Newberry in the king's 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; but known so little to his advantage, that they who read his character will not much condemn Sacharissa, that she did not desend from her rạnk to his embraces, nor think every excellence comprised in wit.

The lady was, indeed, inexorable ; but his uncommon qualifications, though they had no power upon her, recommended him to the scholars and statesmen; and undoubtedly many beauties of that time, however they might receive his love, were proud of his praises. Who they were, whom he dignifies with poetical names, cannot now be known. Amoret, accordSing to Mr. Tenton, was the Lady Sophia Murray. Perhaps by traditions preserved in families more may be discovered.

From the verses written at Penshurst, it has been collected that he diverted his disappointment 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 foating in conjectural probability.

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 panegyrick 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 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

« PreviousContinue »