Page images

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 anthority, 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 nursed in parliaments, where he sat when he was very young; and so, when they were resurned 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 bad 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 ihan 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 reproacb; viz. a narrowness in his nature to the lowest degree; an abjectness and want of courage to support him in any virtuous undertaking; an insinuating 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 on an occasion in which he ought to have been ambitious to have lost it;' and then preserved him again from the reproach and 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 old age with that rare felicity, that his company was acceptable when his spirit was odious; and he was at least pitied, where he was most detested.”

Such is the account of Clarendon ; on which it may not be improper, says Dr. Johnson, to make some remarks, “ He was very little known till he had obtained rich wife in the city." He obtained a rich wife about the age of tbree-and-twenty; an age, before which few men are con, spicuous 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 bim 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 also, 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 expence of 1001. took him into the country as director of his studies, and then procured him admission into the company of the friends of literature. But of this fact, says Johnson, Clarendon had a nearer knowledge than the biographer, and is therefore more to be credited.

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 recall ; and from Charles the Second, who delighted in his company, be obtained only the pardon of his relation Hampden, and the safety of Hampden's son. 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 connection 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 necessary. 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 draught 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, haring 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 gists 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 splendor, and was the only Englishman, except the lord St. Alban's, 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 æconomist. He seems to have deviated from the common practice; to have been a hoarder in his first years, and a squanderer in his last.

Of his course of studies, or choice of books, nothing is known inore than that he professed himself unable to read Chapman's translation of Homer without rapture. His opinion concerning 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." For his merit as a poet, we may refer with confidence to Johnson, whose life of Waller we have generally followed in the preceding sketch, and on which he appears to have bestowed more than usual pains, and is in bis facts more than usually accurate. English versification, it is universally allowed, is greatly indebted to. Waller, and he is every where elegant and gay. To his contemporaries he must have appeared more rich in invention, than modern critics are disposed to allow, because, as Johnson observes, they have found his novelties in later books, and do not know or inquire who produced them first. Dr. Warton thinks it remarkable that Waller never mentions Milton, whose Comus, and smaller poems, preceded his own; and be accounts for this by Milton's poetry being unsuitable to the French taste on which Waller was formed *.

From Aubrey, quoted in the preceding notes, we may select a few more particulars of Waller. Speaking of his plot, he says, “ He had much ado then to save his life; and in order to it, sold his estate, in Bedfordshire, about 1300l. per ann. to Dr. Wright, M. D. for 10,0001. (much under value) which was procured in twenty-fours time, or else he had been hanged. With this money he bribed the House, which was the first time a House of Commons was ever bribed.“ His intellectuals are very good yet (1680), but he growes feeble. He is somewhat above a middle stature, thin body, not at all robust : fine thin skin, his face somewhat of an olivaster : his hayre frized, of a brownish colour; full eie, popping out and workinge, ovall faced, his forehead high and full of wrinkles. His head but small, braine very hott, and apt to be cholerique. Quanto doctius, eo iracundior. Cic. He is somewhat magisteriall, and hath received a great mastership of the EngJish language. He is of admirable elocution, and graceful, and exceeding ready.”—“ Notwithstanding his great witt and maisteresse in rhetorique, &c. he will oftentimes be guilty of mispelling in English. He writes a lamentable hand, as bad as the scratching of a hen."}

* Some light is thrown on this sub- " Mr. Waller has praised Chaucer, ject by bishop Atterbury, who was the and borrowed a fine al usion to prince editor of the edition of Waller's Poems Arthur's Shield, and the name of Cloprinted in 1690, and speaks thus in riana, from Spenser ; but he was not the preface :

much conversant in or bebolding to “Waller commends no poet of bis either. Milton's Poem came not forth times that was in any degree a rival till Mr. Waller was above sixty years to bim, neither Denham, uor Cowley, old, and, as I suppose, he had no taste nor Dryden, nor Fairfax himself, to for his manner of writing. 'whose versification he owes so much, “ There are but few things in Waller and upon whose turn of verse be that shew his acquaintance with the founded his own. Sir John Suckling Latin; fewer still that would make one he writes against, and seems pleased think him acquainted with the Greek in exposing the many false thoughts poets. Somewhat of the Mytbology there are in his copy of verses “ Against he knew; but that might be no deeper Fruition ;” and, besides, he well

knew than Ovid's Metamorphoses.' Some the advantage he had of sir John ; par. allusions to several parts of the Æneid, ticularly in that sort of rerse and man- the story of it I mean, for as to the ner of writing. He has copies in praise language he has copied little of it. of the translator of Gratius, Mr. Wase Had he been a perfect master of Vir. (I think), sir William Davevant, Mr. gil, bis Latiu phrase would have crept Sandys, and Mr. Evelyn : he knew every where into Waller's English ; as their reputation would not hurt his own. we see it does in Dryden's writings Ben Jonson and Fletcher he commends (who yet was far from being a perfect in good earnest ; their dramatic works master of binn). As for his cloud-com. gave bim no pain; that sort of writing pelling, and two or three more comhe never pretended to. Denham's high pound words, I believe he went not to compliment to Waller in bis “ Cooper's the original for then, but to some Hill deserved some return,

translation, perhaps Chapman's.".

WALLER (SIR William), an eminent parliamentary general, was born in 1597. He was descended, as well as the preceding poet, from the ancient family of the Wallers of Spendhurst, in the county of Kent; and received at Magdalen-ball and Hart-hall, Oxford, his first education, which he afterwards completed at Paris. He began his military career in the service of the confederate princes against the emperor, in wbich he acquired the reputation of a good soldier, and upon his return home, was distinguished with the honour of knighthood. He was three times married ; first to Jane, daughter and heiress of sir Richard Reynell, of Ford in Devonshire, by whom he had one daughter, Margaret, married to sir William Courtenay of Powderham castle, ancestor of the present lord viscount Courtenay ; secondly, to the lady Anne Finch, daughter of the first earl of Winchelsea, by whom he had one son, William, who was afterwards an active magistrate for the county of Middlesex, and a strenuous opposer of all the measures of king Charles the Second's government; and

Fenton's Life.-Johnson's Poets.- Biog. Brit.-Letters by Eminent Persons.—Burnet's own Times. -Clarendon's Life and History.--Noble's Memoirs of Cromwell, vol. II. p. 66.

« PreviousContinue »