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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 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 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 on 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 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 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 the 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 accept
He obtained a rich wife about the age of threeand-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 he 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, 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 expense of one hundred pounds, took him into the country as director of his studies, and then procured him admission into the company of the friends of literature. Of this fact, Clarendon had a nearer knowledge than the biographer, and is therefore more to be credited.
The account of Waller's parliamentary eloquence is seconded by Burnet, who, though he calls him "the delight of the House," adds, that "he was only concerned to say that which should make him be applauded, he never laid the business of the House to heart, being a vain and empty, though a witty man."
Of his insinuation and flattery it is not unreasonable to believe that the truth is told. Ascham, in his elegant description of those whom in modern language we term wits, says, that they are open flatterers, and privy mockers. Waller showed a little of both, when, upon sight of the Dutchess of Newcastle's verses on the death of a Stag, he declared that he would give all his own compositions to have written them, and being charged with the exorbitance of his adulation, answered, that "nothing was too much to be given, that a lady might be saved from the disgrace of such a vile performance." This, however, was no very mischievous or very unusual deviation from truth: had his hypocrisy been confined to such transactions, he might have been forgiven, though not praised; for who forbears to flatter an author or a lady?
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 recal; and from Charles the Second, who delighted in nis company, he obtained only the pardon of his relation Hampden, and the safety of Hampden's
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 connexion 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 ne
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 draft 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 splendour, and was the only Englishman, except the Lord St. Albans, 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 economist. He seems to have deviated from the common practice; to have been a hoarder in his first years, and a squanderer in his last.
cerning 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."
The characters, by which Waller intended to distinguish his writing, are sprightliness and dignity; in his smallest pieces, he endeavours to be gay; in the larger to be great. Of his airy and light productions, the chief source is gallantry, that attentive reverence of female excellence which has descended to us from the Gothic ages. As his poems are commonly occasional, and his addresses personal, he was not so liberally supplied with grand as with soft images; for beauty is more easily found than magnanimity.
The delicacy which he cultivated, restrains him to a certain nicety and caution, even when he writes upon the slightest matter. He has, therefore, in his whole volume, nothing bur. lesque, and seldom any thing ludicrous or familiar. He seems always to do his best; though his subjects are often unworthy of his care.
It is not easy to think without some contempt on an author, who is growing illustrious in his own opinion by verses, at one time, "To a Lady who can do any thing but sleep when she pleases;" at another, "To a Lady who can sleep when she pleases;" now, "To a Lady, on her passing through a crowd of people;" then, "On a braid of divers colours woven by four Ladies;" "On a tree cut in paper;" or, "To a Lady from whom he received the copy of verses on the paper-tree, which for many years had been missing."
Genius now and then produces a lucky trifle. We still read the Dove of Anacreon, and Sparrow of Catullus; and a writer naturally pleases himself with a performance which owes nothing to the subject. But compositions merely pretty have the fate of other pretty things, and are quitted in time for something useful; they are flowers fragrant and fair, but of short dura. tion; or they are blossoms to be valued only as they foretel fruits.
Among Waller's little poems are some, which their excellency ought to secure from oblivion ; as, "To Amoret," comparing the different modes of regard with which he looks on her and Sacharissa; and the verses "On Love," that begin, Anger in hasty words or blows.
In others he is not equally successful; sometimes his thoughts are deficient, and sometimes his expression.
The numbers are not always musical; as,
Fair Venus, in thy soft arms
The god of rage confine;
For thy whispers are the charms
What though he frown, and to tumult do incline ; Which only can divert his fierce design.
Thou the flame
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 con- With that snow which unmelted lies on thine.
Kindled in his breast canst tame
He seldom, indeed, fetches an amorous sentiment from the depths of science; his thoughts are for the most part easily understood, and his images such as the superficies of nature readily supplies; he has a just claim to popularity, because he writes to common degrees of knowledge; and is free at least from philosophical pedantry, unless perhaps the end of a Song to the Sun may be excepted, in which he is too much a Copernican. To which may be added the simile of the palm in the verses "On her passing through a crowd ;" and a line in a more serious poem on the Restoration, about vipers and treacle, which can only be understood by those who happen to know the composition of the Theriaca.
His thoughts are sometimes hyperbolical, and his images unnatural :
-The plants admire,
No less than those of old did Orpheus' lyre:
In another place:
While in the park I sing, the listening deer
The sun in figures such as these Joys with the moon to play :
To the sweet strains they advance, Which do result from their own spheres ; As this nymph's dance
Moves with the numbers which she hears.
Sometimes a thought, which might perhaps fill a distich, is expanded and attenuated till it grows weak and almost evanescent :
Chloris! since first our calm of peace
Was frighted hence, this good we find,
Her fruit, and state, while no wind blows,
With treasure from her yielding boughs.
His images are not always distinct; as, in the following passage, he confounds Love as a person with Love as a passion :
Some other nymphs, with colours faint,
The coldest breast, the rudest tame.
His sallies of casual flattery are sometimes elegant and happy, as that in return for the Silver Pen; and sometimes empty and trifling, as that upon the Card torn by the Queen. There are a few lines written in the Dutchess's Tasso, which he
More deaf than trees, and prouder than the heaven! is said by Fenton to have kept a summer under
"On the Head of a Stag:"
O fertile head! which every year
Sometimes, having succeeded in the first part, ne makes a feeble conclusion. In the Song of Sacharissa's and Amoret's friendship, the two last stanzas ought to have been omitted.
correction. It happened to Waller, as to others, that his success was not always in proportion to his labour.
Of these petty compositions, neither the beauties nor the faults deserve much attention. The amorous verses have this to recommend them, that they are less hyperbolical than those of some other poets. Waller is not always at the last gasp; he does not die of a frown, nor live upon a smile. There is however, too much love, and too many trifles. Little things are made too important; and the empire of Beauty is represented as exerting its influence farther than can be allowed by the multiplicity of human passions, and the variety of human wants. Such books therefore, may be considered as showing the world under a false appearance,
His images of gallantry are not always in the and, so far as they obtain credit from the young highest degree delicate :
Then shall my love this doubt displace, And gain such trust that I may come And banquet sometimes on thy face,
But make my constant meals at home.
Some applications may be thought too remote and unconsequential; as in the verses on the Lady dancing:
and unexperienced, as misleading expectation, and misguiding practice.
Of his nobler and more weighty performances the greater part is panegyrical: for of praise he was very lavish, as is observed by his imitator Lord Lansdowne :
No satyr stalks within the hallow'd ground,
In the first poem, on the danger of the Prince on the coast of Spain, there is a puerile and ridiculous mention of Arion at the beginning; and the last paragraph, on the Cable, is in part ridiculously mean, and in part ridiculously tumid. The poem, however, is such as may be justly praised, without much allowance for the state of our poetry and language at that time.
The two next poems are upon the King's behaviour at the death of Buckingham, and upon his Navy.
with lines more vigorous and striking than Waller is accustomed to produce. The succeeding parts are variegated with better passages and worse. There is something too far-fetched in the comparison of the Spaniards drawing the English on, by saluting St. Lucar with cannon, to lambs awakening the lion by bleating. The fate of the Marquis and his lady, who were burnt in their ship, would have moved more, had the Poet not made him die like the phoenix, because he had spices about him, nor expressed their af
He has, in the first, used the pagan deities fection and their end by a conceit at once false with great propriety :
'Twas want of such a precedent as this
Made the old heathens frame their gods amiss.
In the poem on the Navy, those lines are very noble which suppose the king's power secure against a second deluge; so noble, that it were almost criminal to remark the mistake of centre for surface, or to say that the empire of the sea would be worth little if it were not that the waters terminate in land.
The poem upon Sallee has forcible sentiments; but the conclusion is feeble. That on the Repairs of St. Paul's has something vulgar and obvious; such as the mention of Amphion: and something violent and harsh: as,
So all our minds with his conspire to grace
Of the two last couplets, the first is extravagant, and the second mean.
His praise of the Queen is too much exaggerated; and the thought, that she "saves lovers by cutting off hope, as gang renes are cured by loping the limb," presents nothing to the mind but disgust and horror.
Of" The Battle of the Summer Islands," it seems not easy to say whether it is intended to raise terror or merriment. The beginning is too splendid for jest, and the conclusion too light for seriousness. The versification is studied, the scenes are diligently displayed, and the images artfully amplified; but, as it ends neither in joy nor sorrow, it will scarcely be read a second time.
The "Panegyric" upon Cromwell has obtained from the public avery liberal dividend of praise, which however cannot be said to have been un'ustly lavished; for such a series of verses had rarely appeared before in the English language. Of the lines, some are grand, some are graceful, and all are musical. There is now and then a feeble verse, or a trifling thought; but its great fault is the choice of its hero.
and vulgar :
Alive, in equal flames of love they burn'd,
The verses to Charles, on his return, were doubtless intended to counterbalance the " Panegyric" on Cromwell. If it has been thought inferior to that with which it is naturally compared, the cause of its deficience has been already remarked.
The remaining pieces it is not necessary to examine singly. They must be supposed to have faults and beauties of the same kind with the rest. The sacred poems, however, deserve particular regard; they were the work of Waller's declining life, of those hours in which he looked upon the fame and the folly of the time past with the sentiments which his great predecessor Petrarch bequeathed to posterity, upon his review of that love and poetry which have given him immortality.
That natural jealousy which makes every man unwilling to allow much excellence in another, always produces a disposition to believe that the mind grows old with the body; and that he, whom we are now forced to confess superior, is hastening daily to a level with ourselves. By delighting to think this of the living, we learn to think it of the dead; and Fenton, with all his kindness for Waller, has the luck to mark the exact time when his genius passed the zenith, which he places at his fifty-fifth year.
This is to allot the mind but a small porIntellectual decay is doubtless not uncommon; but it seems not to be universal. Newton was in his eighty-fifth year improving his chronology, a few days before his death; and Waller appears not, in my opinion, to have lost at eighty-two any part of his poetical
His sacred poems do not please like some of · his other works; but before the fatal fifty-five, had he written on the same subjects, his success would hardly have been better.
It has been the frequent lamentation of good men, that verse has been too little applied to the purposes of worship, and many attempts have been made to animate devotion by pious poetry. That they have very seldom attained The poem of" The War with Spain" begins their end is sufficiently known, and it may not
be improper to inquire why they have mis
Let no pious ear be offended if I advance, in opposition to many authorities, that poetical devotion cannot often please. The doctrines of religion may, indeed, be defended in a didactic poem; and he, who has the happy power of arguing in verse, will not lose it because his subject is sacred. A poet may describe the beauty and the grandeur of Nature, the flowers of the Spring, and the harvests of Autumn, the vicissitudes of the tide, and the revolutions of the sky, and praise the Maker for his works, in lines which no reader shall lay aside. The subject of the disputation is not piety, but the motives to piety; that of the description is not God, but the works of God.
Contemplative piety, or the intercourse between God and the human soul, cannot be poetical. Man, admitted to implore the mercy of his Creator, and plead the merits of his Redeemer, is already in a higher state than poetry can confer.
The essence of poetry is invention; such invention as, by producing something unexpected, surprises and delights. The topics of devotion are few, and being few are universally known; but few as they are, they can be made no more; they can receive no grace from novelty of sentiment, and very little from novelty of expres
Poetry pleases by exhibiting an idea more grateful to the mind than things themselves afford. This effect proceeds from the display of those parts of nature which attract, and the concealment of those which repel, the imagination but religion must be shown as it is; suppression and addition equally corrupt it; and such as it is, it is known already.
From poetry the reader justly expects, and from good poetry always obtains, the enlargement of his comprehension and elevation of his fancy; but this is rarely to be hoped by Christians from metrical devotion. Whatever is great, desirable, or tremendous, is comprised in the name of the Supreme Being. Omnipotence cannot be exalted; Infinity cannot be amplified; Perfection cannot be improved.
The employments of pious meditation are faith, thanksgiving, repentance, and supplication.
Faith, invariably uniform, cannot be invested by fancy with decorations. Thanksgiving, the most joyful of all holy effusions, yet addressed to a Being without passions, is confined to a few modes, and is to be felt rather than expressed. Repentance, trembling in the presence of the Judge, is not at leisure for cadences and epithets. Supplication of man to man may diffuse itself through many topics of persuasion; but supplication to God can only cry for mercy.
Of sentiments purely religious, it will be
found that the most simple expression is the most sublime. Poetry loses its lustre and its power, because it is applied to the decoration of something more excellent than itself. All that pious verse can do is to help the memory, and delight the ear, and for these purposes it may be very useful; but it supplies nothing to the mind. The ideas of Christian theology are too simple for eloquence, too sacred for fiction, and too majestic for ornament: to recommend them by tropes and figures, is to magnify by a concave mirror the sidereal hemisphere.
As much of Waller's reputation was owing to the softness and smoothness of his numbers, it is proper to consider those minute particulars to which a versifier must attend.
He certainly very much excelled in smoothness most of the writers who were living when his poetry commenced. The poets of Elizabeth had attained an art of modulation, which was afterwards neglected or forgotten. Fairfax was acknowledged by him as his model; and he might have studied with advantage the poem of Davies,* which, though merely philosophical, yet seldom leaves the ear ungratified.
But he was rather smooth than strong: of the full resounding line, which Pope attributes to Dryden, he has given very few examples. The critical decision has given the praise of strength to Denham, and of sweetness to Waller.
His excellence of versification has some abatements. He uses the expletive do very frequently; and, though he lived to see it almost universally ejected, was not more careful to avoid it in his last compositions than in his first. Praise had given him confidence; and finding the world satisfied, he satisfied himself.
His rhymes are sometimes weak words: so is found to make the rhyme twice in ten lines, and occurs often as a rhyme through his book.
His double rhymes, in heroic verse, have been censured by Mrs. Phillips, who was his rival in the translation of Corneille's "Pompey;” and more faults might be found, were not the inquiry below attention.
He sometimes uses the obsolete termination of verbs, as waxeth, affecteth; and sometimes retains the final syllable of the preterite, as amazed, supposed, of which I know not whether it is not to the detriment of our language that we have totally rejected them.
Of triplets he is sparing; but he did not wholly forbear them; of an Alexandrine he has given no example.
The general character of his poetry is elegance and gayety. He is never pathetic, and very rarely sublime. He seems neither to have
* Sir John Davies, entitled, "Nosce teipsum. This oracle expounded in two Elegies: 1. Of Humane Knowledge; II. Of the Soule of Man and the Immortalitie thereof, 1599."-R.