Edmund Waller.

The poems of Edmund Waller; online

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pardon, if you consent not to the imprecations
of the deserted, which just Heaven no doubt
will hear. May my Lady Dorothy, if we may
yet call her so, suffer as much and have the like
passion for this young Lord, whom she has pre-
ferred to the rest of mankind, as others have
had for her ; and may this love, before the year
go about, make her taste of the first curse im-
posed on womankind, the pains of becoming a
mother. May her first born be none of her own
sex, nor so like her, but that he may resemble
her Lord as much as herself. May she that
always affected silence and retiredness, have the
house filled with the noise and number of her
children, and hereafter of her grand-children,
and then may she arrive at that great curse so
much declined by fair ladies, old age : may she
live to be very old, and yet seem young, be told
so by her glass, and have no aches to inform
her of the truth : and when she shall appear to
be mortal, may her Lord not mourn for her, but
go hand in hand with her to that place where
we are told there is neither marrying nor giving
in marriage, that being there divorced we may
all have an equal interest in her again. My
revenge being immortal, I wish all this may also
befall their posterity to the world's end, and

To you, Madam, I wish all good things, and
that this loss may in good time be happily
supplied with a more constant bed-fellow of the


opposite sex. Madam, I humbly kiss your
hand, and beg pardon for this trouble, from
" Your Ladyship's most humble Servant,
"E. Waller."

Thus ends the Sacharissa episode in Waller's
life, and if one is disposed to take offence at
the manner in which he applied to himself the
story of Phoebus and Daphne, and the conceit
of his declaration that

"' what he sung in his immortal strain,
Though unsuccessful was not sung in vain,"

it can only be said that so far at least his
remarkable confidence has been justified. How-
ever genuine his passion for Lady Dorothy, we
may be sure that his vanity would prevent him
from suffering to any serious extent for her loss,
and the story of his voyage and shipwreck on
the Bermudas may be dismissed, resting as it
does on nothing but the vaguest tradition. There
is on p. 75 a poem headed " When he was at
sea," but it is probable that Waller was no more
responsible for the title of this, than he was for
those of many other sets of verses which
appeared among his poems after his death.

The year 1640 saw Waller again returned to
Parliament as member for Amersham : an
account of the circumstances under which the
House met on April 13 belongs rather to the
history of England than to a brief review of the
life of any individual. Though it fully deserved
its title of " Short," during the few weeks that


this Parliament sat Waller gave unmistakable
signs of the nature of his political creed. He
was at heart a courtier, and if his relationship
to John Hampden caused him, for a time, to
throw in his lot with the popular party, he never
forgot to speak of the King in terms of exag-
gerated respect : of innovations of any sort he
had a natural horror, and the immediate pros-
pect of a serious change in the constitution of
Church or State was enough to throw him into
the arms of those who opposed it.

On April 22 he made his first great speech
in the House, upon the question of Supply,
characterized by Johnson as " one of those noisy
speeches which disaffection and discontent
regularly dictate ; a speech filled with hyper-
bolical complaints of imaginary grievances."
The reality of the grievances of which Waller
complained is hardly open to discussion, and
upon the tone of his speech one may well differ
even with Dr. Johnson. Their presence in that
House, says the poet, after such a long inter-
mission of parliaments, is sufficient evidence of
his Majesty's occasions for money : let them
give the lie to those who would have dissuaded
him from calling them together, and let them
prove to him that no new way of government is
so ready or so safe for the advancement of his
affairs as that ancient and constitutional way,
by Parliaments. They must do their best even
at that stage to comply with his Majesty's


desires, in the face of the dangers that threaten
them, but they have a duty to those whom they
represent the rights of liberty and of property
are sacred if these be not restored to the
people, no evils that threaten can have any
terrors for them, they are undone already. The
King will surely restore these rights, for what
they have suffered they have suffered at the
hands of his ministers, else how comes it that
there was never king better beloved and never
people more dissatisfied with the ways of levy-
ing money ? The King must be told the truth,
more particularly concerning those ecclesiastics
who would persuade him that his monarchy is
absolute, a form of government unheard of in
this nation. They all know the dangers of
innovations, though to the better, why should
so good a king be exposed to the trouble and
hazard of them, no, let him restore to his people
their fundamental liberties and the property of
their goods, and he will see that the House will
make more than ordinary haste to satisfy his
demands. Further evidence of Waller's con-
ciliatory attitude is afforded by the story which
the writer ofhis "Life" (171 1) tells in connection
with this Parliament. The King, it appears,
had sent to Waller to ask him to second in the
House his demand for supplies, and though the
poet was unable to do this, he strongly remon-
strated with Sir Thomas Jermyn, the Comp-
troller of the Household, for allowing to pass


uncontradicted a statement of Sir Henry Vane,
that the King would accept no vote that did not
come up to his demand : " I " said the poet, "am
but a country gentleman, and cannot pretend to
know the King's mind." Sir Thomas, however,
was silent, and years afterwards, his son, the
Earl of St. Albans, told Waller that his father's
cowardice had ruined the King. This Parlia-
ment was dissolved May 5, and with that
which followed we enter upon the most
momentous period of Waller's life. In the
Long Parliament, which met Nov. 3, 1640,
Waller was returned for St. Ives. He obtained
this seat through the resignation of Lord Lisle,
who preferred to sit for Yarmouth, in the Isle
of Wight, for which he had also been elected.
In the attack on the Earl of Strafford which
followed the meeting of Parliament, Waller
abandoned the party of Pym and his adherents.
It being alleged that the Earl had attempted to
subvert " the fundamental laws of the realm,"
Waller characteristically asked in the House,
what these " fundamental laws " were, and was
told by Maynard, for his pains, that if he did
not know, he had no business to sit there.

According to his own account of the Earl of
Strafford's case, given many years aftenvards,
a state of terror prevailed among the members,
" a fellow upon a barrell in Westminster Hall
proclaimed all traitors that gave votes for him "
he himself was one that did, and he was in


consequence obliged to pass himself off on the
mob as Sir Arthur Hazelrigg.

In the debate upon the Ecclesiastical
Petitions, Feb. 1641, Waller drew tighter the
bonds which united him to such men as
Falkland and Hyde.

His speech upon the Abolition of Episcopacy
has been praised by Johnson as cool, firm, and
reasonable, though in reality the spirit of it is
absolutely consistent with that which imbued
his previous speech upon the question of
Supply. He was not an opponent of ship-
money because he wished to substitute the
power of the people for the prerogative of the
King, but because it was an irregular method of
raising money, an innovation : similarly, he did
not oppose the abolition of episcopacy because
he thought his action would be agreeable either
to Bishops or to King, but because he saw in the
blow aimed at the former an attempt to alter
the constitution of the Church, in fine, another
innovation. Doubtless, he said, this and that
poor man has suffered at the hands of the
Bishops, but may you not soon be presented
with thousands of instances of poor men who
have received hard measure from their land-
lords ? Scripture, it is said, points out another
form of church-government : I will not dispute
it in this place, but I am confident that when-
ever an equal division of lands and goods shall
be desired, there will be as many places in


Scripture found out, which seem to favour that,
as there are now alleged against the Prelacy or
preferment in the Church. We have already
curbed the power of the Bishops, let us not by
acceding to this petition for the abolition of
their office lead the people to think that if they
but ask in troops we must deny them nothing.
Let our answer be nolumus mutare. Neither
his action in the matter of the impeachment of
Strafford, nor his speech on behalf of epis-
copacy, deprived Waller of the confidence
of the popular leaders, and he was chosen to
carry up to the House of Lords the articles of
impeachment against Sir Francis Crawley, whose
judgment and extra-judicial opinions upon the
question of ship-money had rendered him
particularly obnoxious to the Commons. It
was probably thought that his relationship to
Hampden would add a bitterness to his natural
eloquence, and he appears to have realized the
expectations of the most exacting. His speech,
in presenting the charge, was delivered at a
conference of both Houses in the Painted
Chamber, July 6, 1641. It is unnecessary even
to summarize it ; Waller had joined in the groans
which greeted the judgment in the Exchequer,
and the position he took up with regard to
ship-money was that of every opponent of the
tax since its institution. His oration had
evidently been most carefully prepared, but the
scriptural and classical quotations and illustra-


tions, numerous even for Waller, give it a tone
altogether too academic for the occasion, and
deprive it of any appearance of natural indigna-
tion in the speaker : it was, however, immensely
popular among the poet's contemporaries,
and twenty thousand copies of it are said to
have been sold in one day. Waller's speeches
in the House during the months that immedi-
ately followed his attack upon Crawley have not
been preserved, but the following extract from a
letter (dated Oct. 29, 1641) from Sir Edward
Nicholas to the King leaves no doubt as to their
tendency. " I may not forbeare," the Secretary
writes, " to let yo r Ma' ie know, that the Lo r :
Falkland, S r Jo. Strangwishe, M Waller, M r
Ed. Hide and M r Holborne and diverse others
stood as Champions in maynten'nce of yo
Prerogative, and shewed for it unaunswerable
reason and undenyable p e sidents, whereof yo
Ma tie shall doe well to take some notice (as yo
Ma tie shall thinke best) for their encouragem't."
Upon the letter Charles has written, " I
comande you to doe it in my name telling
them that I will doe it myselfe at my return."

Before the end of the year Waller was in-
volved in a direct conflict with Pym. The
incident took place on the 5th of November,
upon the occasion of settling the instructions
for the committee on the subject of requesting
the assistance of Scotland in suppressing the
Irish Rebellion. Pym proposed to add a


declaration that "howsoever we had engaged
ourselves for the assistance of Ireland, yet
unless the King would remove his evil coun-
sellors and take such counsellors as might be
npproved of by Parliament, we should account
ourselves absolved from this engagement."
This, Waller said, was but little removed from
the advice that the Earl of Strafibrd had given
the King, that if Parliament did not relieve
him, he was absolved from all rules of govern-
ment Pym took exception to the comparison.
Waller was ordered to withdraw, and the matter
having been debated in his absence, he was
called in and told by the Speaker that " the
House holds it fit that in his place he should
acknowledge his offence given by his words both
to the House in general and to Mr. Pym in
particular : which he did ingenuously and ex-
pressed his sorrow for it."

It is apparently to this period that Clarendon's
first mention of Waller relates. The Chancellor,
for whatever reason, was no friend to the poet,
and his testimony has coloured the accounts of
later biographers. " When," he says, " the rup-
tures grew so great between the King and the
two Houses, that very many of the members
withdrew from those Councils, he, among the
rest, with equal dislike absented himself ; but
at the time the Standard was set up, (Aug. 25,
1642) having intimacy and friendship with some
persons now of nearness about the King, with


the King's approbation he returned again to
London." This is distinctly contradicted by
Waller's own statement, communicated by his
son-in-law, Dr. Birch, to the writer of his " Life "
(1711), and in any case it cannot be correct as
to date, for he was certainly in his place in the
House on July Qth, opposing the proposition that
Parliament should raise an army of 10,000 men.
He is said to have sent the King a thousand
broad pieces when he raised his Standard at
Nottingham. Clarendon gives him credit for
subsequently speaking in the House " upon all
occasions with great sharpness and freedom;"
indeed, when some of the members declared
that they were not allowed to express their
sentiments freely, they were told that that was
an idle allegation, " when all men knew what
liberty Mr. Waller took, and spoke every day
with impunity against the sense and proceedings
of the House." In spite of his open declaration
of his sentiments, it has been charged against
Waller that he chose to sit and act the dis-
honourable part of a spy on behalf of the King,
instead of taking active service in the field.
The fact is, Waller had no real aptitude for
politics, and no very deep political convictions :
he found in the House of Commons a convenient
theatre for the display of his remarkable
eloquence, and his advocacy of the King's
interests was well in accord with the selfish
promptings of a rich man who has everything


to lose and nothing to gain by innovation : he
was " impatient," as he afterwards said " of the
inconvenience of the war," he looked upon things
with " a carnal eye " ; and he considered that
nothing would so surely conduce to his personal
comfort as an arrangement between the parties.
When, therefore, on Oct. 29, the Lords proposed
to negotiate with the King, one is not surprised
to find his voice raised two days later in urgent
appeal to the Commons to join them. The
year 1643 opened with every prospect of the
realization of his hopes. In January the desire
of the City for peace had been manifested by
petitions and clamorous assemblies, and on
Feb. I Charles accorded a gracious reception
to the Commissioners appointed by the House
to treat with him.

When Waller, who was one of them, came,
last of all in order of precedence, to kiss his
hand, the King said to him, " Mr. Waller,
though you are the last, yet you are not the
worst, nor the least in our favour." Deep signi-
ficance has been attached to these words : it
has been suggested, on the one hand, that they
betrayed a knowledge on the part of the King
that Waller was already plotting some secret
design on his behalf ; on the other, that this
" affectionate reproof" so wrought upon the poet
that he was thereupon led to engage himself.
Injudicious as it was, upon any view of it, I see
no reason to suppose that this speech was any


more than an acknowledgment, possibly that
promised in the indorsement on Nicholas's
letter, of open services in the House of Com-
mons. It is impossible now to ascertain the
date of the inception of " Waller's Plot," but it is
significant that the Commission of Array, of
which so much was afterwards made, is dated
March 16, nearly a month before the recall of
the Commissioners from Oxford, and that both
Tomkins and Chaloner, in their dying
speeches, declared that they had taken part in
the conspiracy at the instigation of Waller.

An attempt has been made to distinguish the
enterprise which bears the poet's name from
another design, said to have been set on foot
about the same time by Sir Nicholas Crispe.
Waller's object, it has been said, was to render
the continuance of the war impossible by raising
up in the City a peace-party strong enough to
defy the House and to refuse to pay the weekly
assessments, while Crispe intended nothing less
than the capture of London by force of arms.
No doubt, the dissatisfaction which many felt
at the failure of the petition for peace and the
continuance of the weekly impositions, afforded
favourable ground to build upon (it was said
that the King's friends had fomented the dis-
content by urging the citizens to carry their
grievances to the Committee at Haberdashers'
Hall, well knowing they would get no relief),
and perhaps some of the conspirators, Waller


among them, expected, or rather hoped, that
their object would be attained without blood-
shed ; but however varied their hopes and ex-
pectations as to the issue, there can be no doubt
that there was but one design, the securing of
the City of London, and that that received its
inspiration from the advisers of the King at
Oxford ; even Waller himself, at the Bar of the
House, did not attempt to deny that he knew of
the proposal to resort to arms, he only said he
" disallowed and rejected it." Though he was
probably speaking the truth when he said he
"made not this business but found it" he was
not a man of sufficiently determined and inde-
pendent character to have originated such an
enterprise he was undoubtedly at the head of
operations in London. He procured Nathaniel
Tomkins, Clerk of the Queen's Counsel, who
had married his sister Cecilia, and Richard
Chaloner, a wealthy linen-draper, to take the
necessary steps among the citizens, while he
himself undertook to forward the project among
the members of the two Houses. Hassell,
one of the King's messengers, and Alexander
Hampden were to take advantage of those
occasions when they came up from Oxford
with "gracious messages" from Charles to the
Parliament, to carry back wilh them to Lord
Falkland news of the progress of the enter-

Hassell appears to have been "horsed" by


Waller, and in the intervals of his service to
have lain at the poet's house at Beaconsfield.
It fell to the lot of Chaloner, Tomkins, and
others whom they had engaged, to make lists
of the inhabitants of the various parishes,
marking them according to their dispositions,
as Right-men, Roundheads, and Neuters.
Tomkins appears to have ascertained the feel-
ing in his own parish, St. Andrew's, Holborn,
by introducing an Irish bishop as lecturer,
and then calling meetings at his house for the
pretended purpose of gathering subscriptions to
reward him.

These lists, when completed, were taken to
Waller, who was then living in the neighbour-
hood of his brother-in-law, at the lower end of
Holborn, near Hatton House. It was obvious
that nothing could be done without the sinews
of war, and accordingly Hassell was despatched
to Oxford, and returned with an authority, dated
May 2, addressed to Chaloner, to receive sub-
scriptions of money and plate on behalf of
the King, who bound himself to repay them,
On May 19, Alexander Hampden arrived,
ostensibly to demand from the Parliament
an answer to the King's message of April 12,
and in his company came Lady Daubigny,
bringing with her the Commission of Array,
dated March 16, and having attached to it the
Great Seal. It is said to have been handed to
her by Charles himself, with the intimation that


it was something that greatly concerned his
service, of which she would be relieved upon
her arrival in London. According to one ac-
count, she concealed it, during the journey, in
her hair, according to another, in the crown of
a beaver hat. It was directed to Sir Nicholas
Crispe, among others, and a former servant of
his, one Blinkhorne, a clerk in the Custom
House, fetched it from Lady Daubigny, and
delivered it to Chaloner. At various times
during the progress of the plot Waller had
assured the citizens that they would have the
co-operation of many members of both Houses,
but he excused himself from giving their names
on the plea of an oath he had taken, not to
reveal them till the time of action. The con-
spirators proposed to rise, if possible, when the
outworks were guarded by such of the trained
bands as contained the greatest proportion of
men friendly to themselves, to seize upon the
defences of the City, the magazines, and the
Tower, from which they intended to liberate the
Earl of Bath, and make him their general. The
King, having been warned of the day, and, if
possible, of the hour of the rising, was to be
within fifteen miles with a force of three
thousand men, which was to be admitted as
soon as any part of the defences was in the
hands of his friends. His two children
were to be secured, and also the Lord
Mayor, Lord Saye, Lord Wharton, Pym,



Strode, and other members of the House of

On Friday, May 26, there was a meeting of
the conspirators at Waller's house, when
Chaloner flatly told him that the citizens had
done their part, and that until they were assured
of the co-operation of the Lords, of whom he
had spoken, either by a meeting with them or
by writing under their hands, they would
proceed no farther in the business. Waller
hastened to reassure him, and submitted to him
a series of questions, which he had, so he said,
just received from one of those very Lords he
afterwards said he had them from Conway, and
they are just such as his military instincts would
have been likely to dictate. The citizens went
off with the list of questions and returned to
Waller, the next morning, with their answers.

It appears from these that the conspirators
calculated upon having a majority of three to
one against them within the walls, but a
similar majority in their favour outside : but one
third of their whole force would be fully armed,
the remainder with halberds and such weapons
as they could lay their hands on : they had
ascertained the situations of the magazines, but
doubted of their ability to capture the Tower :
they intended to distinguish themselves by
wearing pieces of white tape or ribbon, and the
watch-word was to be " The India ship is in
the Downs " : the time at which the attempt


should be made, and the rendezvous, they left to
be determined by the Lords, who were also to
fix upon a place, Blackheath and Banstead
were suggested, to which they could retreat
if necessary. Waller drew up a declara-
tion, which began, " We, the Knights, Gentle-
men, Citizens, Burgesses and Commons of
England," and went on to assert that " the cause
of their taking up arms was to maintain the
true reformed Protestant Religion against all
Papists and Sectaries, the Laws of the Land,
Privilege of Parliament, and Liberty of the
Subject, and to oppose all illegal Taxations,
Assessments, and the like." This was to be
printed and posted, or otherwise distributed upon
the night of the rising. Matters were considered
to be in such a satisfactory state, that Hassell
was again despatched in the afternoon of May
29 with a message to Falkland, who returned a
verbal answer, begging them to hasten the
execution of their enterprise. Hassell appears
to have rarely carried any written communica-
tions, but on this occasion he had a few lines
of instruction in Latin, which are said to have
been sewn in his saddle by Mrs. Tomkins's
maid. On the night of Tuesday, May 30,
Waller, after speaking with great confidence
in the House, returned home with his brother-
in-law in high glee " By God ! " he cried,
" if we can bring to pass this business,
we will have anything ! * Before morning,


he and the other conspirators were under

Various causes seem to have combined to
arouse the suspicions of the popular leaders.
An imprudent letter, possibly brought by
Hampden, from the Earl of Dover to his wife,
warning her to leave London, had fallen into
the hands of the Committee, and several days

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Online LibraryEdmund WallerThe poems of Edmund Waller; → online text (page 2 of 21)