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Born at Coleshill, in Hertfordshire - Educated at Eton and Cambridge
Returned to Parliament -- His first Poetry — Marries a rich Heiress Sacharissa — His second Marriage - Is a Member of the Long Parliament --- Cromwell and Hampden — Publishes his Poems - His Plot in favour of Charles I. — His Life in danger — Escapes with a heavy Fine -- Lives in France - Is allowed to return - His Panegyric on Cromwell — His Poem on Charles II. - His Life at the Restoration — Death and Burial at Beaconsfield, in Buckinghamshire — Works and Character.
EDMUND WALLER was born on the 3rd of March, 1605,' at Coleshill, 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.3
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 Eton, 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 I., where he heard a very
i Baptized the 9th. See Clutterbuck's ' Herts,' i. 349. The father made his will 21st December, 1615, leaving his wife his executrix, and five hundred pounds a-piece to his younger sons Griffith and Stephen on their coming of age. A codicil bequeaths a like sum to a newly-born son, of the name of John. Robert Waller died in 1616, and his will was proved by Anne Waller, his widow.
? Of Groombridge and Speldhurst, near Tunbridge Wells. Richard Waller of Groombridge took the Duke of Orleans prisoner at the battle of Agincourt, and had the Duke in custody at Groombridge for twenty-four years.
3 Waller was not the nephew of Hampden. He was first cousin to Hampden, and also first cousin to Cromwell.
remarkable conversation, which the writer of the Life prefixed to his Works, who seems to have been well informed of facts, though he may sometimes err 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 something 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 bishop, I have no skill to judge of parliamentary cases.' The King answered, “No putoffs, 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 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 because she has so much wit. “Why then,' says the King, . do you not 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 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
4 To the eighth edition, Tonson, 1711, 8vo. The writer (Atterbury, it is said, Warton on Pope, ii. 366, ed. 1782) knew Dr. Birch, the poet's son-in-law.
• Atterbury, Preface to Waller's Poems,' 1690. Atterbury meditated an edition of Waller, and has left an admirable imitation of him in his best manner. Another edition was contemplated by Keck, who bought the Chandos Portrait of Shakespeare from Mrs. Barry. Keck died in 1719, and in 1729 Fenton edited Waller in a 4to, volume, for old Jacob Tonson.
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 arrival, in Waller's twentieth year. He is apparently mistaken ; for the mention of the nation's 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 (Aug. 1628] 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, show that time was taken for revision and improvement. It is not known that they were published till they appeared long afterwards with other poems.
6 Many besides myself have heard our famous Waller own that he derived the harmony of his numbers from the Godfrey of Bulloigne, which was turned into English by Mr. Fairfax.-DRYDEN: Preface to Fables, 1700.
7 Fenton is right. Johnson has confounded two poems, "To the Queen, occasioned upon sight of Her Majesty's Picture,' and the one Of the Queen.' It is in the latter that the allusion to her frequent pregnancy occurs.
& The earliest volume of verse published by Waller is his 'Poems,' 12mo. 1645. His first printed poem is Upon Ben Jonson, part of the “Jonsonns Virbius,' 4to., 1638.