Edmund Waller.

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before the actual discovery of the plot Lord
Denbigh had told them of hints which he had
received that it would be better for him to retire
to the country. On May 23, Hampden had
asked for a pass to return to Oxford, but this,
after a conference between the two Houses on
the following day, had been refused, and he was
detained, how, it is not said, to be examined
upon some informations they had received. It
had also been predicted by one, who had it from
Hassell, that in ten days London would be in
flames : the fact that Hassell was known to be
on terms of familiarity with Waller and Tom-
kins directed attention to them, and finally the
Earl of Manchester and Lord Saye succeeded
in bribing one Roe, Tomkins's clerk, and it was
upon his information that the poet and his
friends were arrested. The Earl of Dover's
letter had been publicly read at a committee of
examination, and the substance of it reported
to the House, and this, with the arrest of
Hampden, D'Ewes thinks, ought to have put
Waller on his guard, more particularly as he


had fallen under suspicion some months pre-
viously, when some saddles, which he had
bought, were found at his house and confiscated.
It was obviously the cue of the popular party,
once they had the conspirators under lock and
key, to make as much as possible of their dis-
covery, and one qannot help suspecting that the
manner of its announcement was arranged with
an eye to effect. Wednesday, May 31, being a
Fast Day, the members were assembled, as
usual, in St. Margaret's Church, Westminster,
when the service was interrupted by the sudden
entrance of the Speaker's mace-bearer, who
summoned Pym and some of the others to follow
him at once to the House. The wildest rumours
were circulated, and the general belief was that
the Danes had landed in Kent, and, before
night, might be expected in London. Gradually
the truth leaked out, and it became known that
a plot had been discovered, that the prisons and
Laud's chamber in the Tower had been searched,
and that Waller, Tomkins, Chaloner, Hampden,
Hassell, Blinkhorne, Abbot, a scrivener, and
White, a merchant, had been arrested. A com-
mittee of the House, consisting of Pym, Sir
Gilbert Gerard, young Sir Harry Vane, the
Solicitor General, and Glyn, the Recorder of
London, was at once appointed to take such
measures as they might think best for the public
safety. The greatest reticence was maintained,
and it was not until June 6 that Pym brought


up to the House of Commons the report of the
Committee, and their recommendations, which
included the "Solemn League and Covenant."
He repeated his account of the plot to the Lords
on the following day, and again on the afternoon
of Thursday the 8th, at a Common Hall, sum-
moned by the Lord Mayor.

It is impossible to maintain that Waller
played any but an ignoble part in the trans-
actions which followed, but his conduct has
lost none of its meanness in the hands of
Lord Clarendon. Confounded, he says, with
fear and apprehension, Mr. Waller "confessed
whatever he had said, heard, thought, or seen,
all that he knew of himself, and all that he
suspected of others, without concealing any
person of what degree or quality soever, or any
discourse that he had ever upon any occasion
entertained with them : what such and such
ladies of great honour, to whom, upon the
credit of his great wit, and very good reputa-
tion, he had been admitted, had spoke to him
in their chambers of the proceedings in the
Houses ; and how they had encouraged him to
oppose them : what correspondence and inter-
course they had with some ministers of State
at Oxford ; and how they derived all intelli-
gence thither." He informed them, " that the
Earl of Portland and Lord Conway had been
particular in all the agitations which had been
with the citizens, and had given frequent advice,


and directions how they should demean them-
selves ; and that the Earl of Northumberland,
had expressed very good wishes to any attempt,
that might give a stop to the violent actions
and proceedings of the Houses, and produce a
good understanding with the King." He goes
on to say, "When the Committee were thus
furnished, they took the examination of Mr.
Tomkins," &c. Now, there is no evidence
whatever, except this statement, that the first
confession came from Waller ; on the contrary,
the accounts of those who were on the spot
rather go to show that Clarendon is as inaccu-
rate in the main charge as he most certainly is
in its details. D'Ewes says that Waller was
" drawn after much tergiversation and shuffling
to confess his own guilt," and he records,
quoting Glyn's speech in the House, that
"Mrs. Challenor said that a little after Mr.
Waller was taken there was come to her a Lady
in a hired coach and given herself a fained
name and told her she was like to come in
great danger about a writing in parchment to
which there hung a great scale, and desired her
if she had it in her custody shee would deliver
it to her, and when the said Mrs. Challenor told
her that it had been lately fetcht away in a
blacke box, shee then desired her if she could
use any possible meanes to come to her husband,
shee should go to him and tell him that Mr.
Waller had confessed nothing, and that there-


fore shee should persuade him to doe the like.
That the said Mrs. Challenor was since brought
to see the Lady Aubigny and affirmed that it
was the same Lady who came to her in the
hackney coach." The suggestion that some
members of the Upper House were privy to the
design must have come originally from some
person other than Waller, for when it was put
to him, he denied upon oath that he had com-
municated with any of the Lords upon the
subject. Some sort of inducement was no
doubt held out to him to tell all he knew, and
it is even possible that he tvas " troubled in
Conscience for his solemn professing in the
presence of God that he had not spoke with
any of the Lords concerning this designe, when
he was examined, and yet had done it," but in
any case, it was not till June 12 that he men-
tioned the names of Portland and Conway,
and, a fortnight later, that of the Earl of North-
umberland, and in his speech at the Bar of
the House he confessed that at first he had
concealed some truth, not for his own sake, but
that of others. The only ladies who were called
to account, for their share in the plot, were
Lady Daubigny and\Lady Sophia Murray, and
the evidence Waller gave against them was
incidental to his charge against the Lords.
Lady Daubigny, he said, had fallen out with
him, when she heard from Portland that he
(Waller) had told him that she had brought the


Commission of Array; and he had helped Lady
Sophia Murray to decipher a letter from Falk-
land, in which Northumberland was said to be
" right " in the business. Lady Daubigny
remained under arrest for some time, but she
was eventually allowed to cross to Holland
without having been further proceeded against,
while Lady Sophia Murry died before the end
of September : she had refused to take an oath
and be examined by the Committee, saying she
" did not mean to give an account to such fellows
as they were." On June 12, Portland and
Conway were committed to the charge of some
of the City officials, but the House of Lords
appears, from the first, to have made light of
the charge against them. On the next day
their servants were allowed to attend on them,
and before they were confronted with Waller,
on June 29, the Lords had taken the precau-
tion to discount his evidence by having them
both examined upon oath. They denied the
truth of all his allegations, and Portland
declared that at an interview, on June 21, at
the house where he was confined, Waller had
urged him to save them both, by casting the
blame upon Conway and Northumberland. No
one who has read the intercepted letter 1 which
the poet wrote to Portland can have any
reasonable doubt of the truth of his accusation,
but it was simply oath against oath, and there

1 Sandford's " Illustrations," p. 563.


the Committee were obliged to leave the matter.
During the succeeding weeks both the accused
were continually petitioning for their release, and
the Commons, having no further evidence to
offer, were at last, on July 29, obliged to leave it
to the Lords to free them or not, as they deemed
advisable. They were both admitted to bail on
July 31, and in August of the following year all
restrictions upon their movements were at
an end. Waller's allegation against North-
umberland amounted to no more than this
that he had told him of the existence of the
plot, which he said "he disliked as a thing
not feasible or like to succeed : " a speech
so characteristic of the Earl as to leave little
doubt of its truth. He, however, scoffed
at the charge, and desired to be examined
immediately, that "his innocence may the sooner
appear and he not lie under a jealousy." He
was confronted with Waller, who failed to make
good his deposition, '' soe as," D'Ewes writes,
" this noble Earle, descended by the Dukes of
Lorraine in the male line from Charlemaign the
Emperour, was noe further questioned in this
folish busines." It is easy to be righteously
indignant over Waller's conduct, and impossible
to present any adequate defence of it. This
much at least should be remembered in con-
demning him it has never, so far as I know,
been asserted, except, of course, by the persons
immediately concerned, that the information he


gave was untrue, he was not endeavouring to
" swear away " the lives of others to save his
own, nor had he the abject's craving for company
at the gallows : he struggled to deliver himself
from the jaws of death, by involving in his guilt,
men, in his opinion, as guilty as himself, who,
as they were too exalted to fall beneath the
attack of the Commons, so, might in his des-
perate hope, be the means of preserving his life
together with their own.

Whatever may be the opinions entertained as
to the " incredible dissimulation " with which
Waller " acted a remorse of conscience," a mere
recital of events is sufficient to prove that
Clarendon is in error, in saying that his trial
was " put off out of Christian compassion that
he might recover his understanding."

The commission, from the Earl of Essex, for
the trial of the prisoners by Martial Law,
reached London on June 26, but so unwilling
were the members of the House of Commons
to take part in the proceedings of the Council
of War that it was necessary for Glyn, upon the
authority of Dr. Dorislaus, the Judge Advocate
General, to assure them of its regularity. On
June 29, it was resolved that Waller should first
be brought to the Bar, though the other con-
spirators were to be tried on the following
Monday. The Court, under the presidency of
the Earl of Manchester, assembled on Friday,
June 30, when all the prisoners, with the excep-


tion of Waller, were paraded. On Monday,
July 3, Tomkins and Chaloner were brought up,
and though the former begged for some delay,
that he might prepare his defence, having only
had notice of his trial on Friday, " which was
too short a time as he conceived," the Court
" conceived the contrary," and they were both
tried and sentenced to be hanged.

Blinkhorne, White, and Abbot were also tried
and condemned within the week they appear
to have been afterwards pardoned and Hassell
and Hampden both died in prison. On July 5,
Tomkins and Chaloner were hanged before
their own doors, the former at the Holborn end
of Fetter Lane, the latter in Cornhill. It would
be doing less than justice to a brave man, how-
ever poor a figure the poet makes by contrast,
to omit to tell how Tomkins died. His de-
meanour before the Court had been defiant, and
such he maintained it to the end. With the
rope about his neck, he said that affection to a
brother-in-law and gratitude to a king, whose
bread he had eaten now above twenty-two years,
had drawn him into this foolish business ; he
was glad it had been discovered, for the ill con-
sequences it might have had : he begged them
not to trouble him, who would have pressed him
to declare anything further he knew of that or
any other plot, and then, "with much boldness
descended three steps lower on the ladder, and
so bid adieu to this world." About this time


Waller wrote a letter 1 to Arthur Goodwyn, his
neighbour and fellow-member, which showed
that he was fully alive to the dangers of his
position, and on July 4, at the Bar of the House,
he gave further proof of being in possession of
his understanding. Two of the members were
commissioned to repair to the house where he
was confined, and to see him safely conveyed
into the custody of the Serjeant, who brought
him to the Bar. ''He was all clothed," writes
D'Ewes, " in mourning as if he had been going
to execution itself, his demeanour was also com-
posed to a despairing dejectedness, and when
he came to the Bar, he kneeled down, and so
continued kneeling, until myself and some others

who stood near the Bar bade him stand up

divers of the House seeing his sad and dejected
condition whom they had formerly heard speak
in public with so much applause, could not for-
bear shedding of tears." His depositions having
been presented to him, and their contents
acknowledged to be true, he was called upon to
say what he could for himself before they pro-
ceeded to expel him the House, " whereupon,
after a low reverence made, he spake expres-
sing in his very tone and gesture the lowest
degree of a dejected spirit." Of Waller's sin-
cerity I cannot presume to judge he knew
his audience, probably to a man, and for
his speech, considered as a piece of

1 Nugent's " Hampden," ii. 419.


advocacy, no praise is too high ; indeed,
even Clarendon does not hesitate to say that it
saved his life. He is reported to have expended
as much as ,30,000 in bribery, but I can only
say that no traces of any dealing to this extent
with his estate remain among the papers in the
possession of his family, though there are to be
found draft conveyances and mortgages which
tell of the means employed to pay his fine some
months later. He was taken back to imprison-
ment, and on July 14 it was resolved that " Mr.
Edm. Waller shall be forthwith disabled for
(sic) ever sitting or serving as a member in this
House." Discussion upon the manner of his
trial was postponed from day to day, and on
Sept. 6 he was ordered to be removed to the
Tower, an order which was repeated, in more
stringent terms, on Sept. 14. On May 15 of the
following year, " the humble petition of Edm.
Waller late a member of this House" was read
in the House of Commons this was probably
a petition to be allowed to put his affairs in
order and on Aug. 29 preparations were appar-
ently being made for his trial by Court Martial,
but they were not proceeded with, and on Sept. 23
comes another petition from " Edm. Waller,
prisoner in the Tower." The poet had appar-
ently by that time received an intimation that
his life would be spared, and that he would be
punished by a fine. He " thanks the House
for enabling him to put his estate into such a


position that he may be able to pay the fine
imposed on him ; and is the more hopeful that,
in regard of the free and ingenuous confes-
sion and discoveries made upon promised
favour, the House will hold his life precious :
that ,10,000 may be accepted out of his estate ;
and if he be not worthy to serve the House and
spend his life in their glorious cause, that they
would be pleased to banish him to some other
part of the world." It was agreed, without a
division, that his petition should be granted,
and it was ordered that the vote of the House
should be communicated to the Commissioners
for Martial Law. On Nov. 4, "An Ordinance
of Lords and Commons assembled in Parlia-
ment for the Fining and Banishment of Edmond
Waller Esquire," was read and agreed to in the
House of Lords. This instrument declares
that it was formerly intended that the said
Edmond Waller should be tried by Court
Martial, but that, "upon further consideration
and mature deliberation," it has been " thought
convenient " that he should be fined ^10,000 and
banished the realm : twenty-eight days, from
the 6th of November, are given him to
remove elsewhere : no further proceedings will
be taken against him, but he is not to return
to this country upon pain of incurring such
punishment as both Houses of Parliament shall
think fit."

Thus closed this incident in Waller's life : his


conduct does not seem to have made him less
welcome among the exiles in France, and in after
years he himself did not hesitate to treat the part
he had played, as that of a martyr. The date of
his departure is uncertain, but it seems likely that
he stayed in England long enough to marry
his second wife, Mary Bracey, of the family
of that name, of Thame in Oxfordshire : he was
still a widower when he appeared at the Bar of
the House, and his eldest daughter by his second
marriage, Margaret, afterwards his amanuensis,
is known to have been born at Rouen. His son
Robert, who died young, for some time had
Hobbes for his tutor, while his daughter was
left in charge of her grandmother at Beacons-
field, whence, no doubt, supplies were sent to
maintain the poet and his family in France. Of
the details of his life on the continent we can
only catch a glimpse here and there in the
letters of himself and his friends. In August,
1645, Hobbes is writing to him at Calais : the
philosopher is staying at Rouen with Lord
Devonshire, and after telling the poet how he
has been spending his time in arguing for the
amusement of the company, he goes on to say,
" I beleeve you passe much of yours in meditat-
ing how you may to your contentment and
without blame passe the seas." He ends by
thanking him for having expressed a wish to
translate the " De Give " into English, a
project which Waller is said to have abandoned


on seeing a portion of the work translated by
the author himself.

Next year he is touring with Evelyn in Italy
and Switzerland, and in 1647 we hear of him at
St. Valery. In 1648 he writes to Evelyn from
Pont de 1'Arche, whither he had removed from
Rouen on account of the plague, announcing
the birth of a daughter, and in April of the fol-
lowing year he and his wife are at Rouen once
more. Towards the end of the year they appear
to have removed to Paris, and to have resided
there until their return to England. Waller
and Lord Jermyn, amid the general poverty of
the exiles, are said to have been the only people
able " to keep a table," though the former gave
out that he was living upon the proceeds of the
sale of his wife's jewels. He was in constant
communication with the members of the English
colony, and particularly with Evelyn: now he
consults him as to what is to be done with a
child of his whom the Popish midwife had
baptized, and now he begs him to send a coach
from Paris to St. Germains to fetch a child, to
whom Mrs. Evelyn had been godmother, "to be
buried by the Common Prayer." All this time
his mother, often in the company of Cromwell,
was watching and working on his behalf in
England. Only one of her letters to him has
survived. Addressing him as " deer ned," she
tells him his daughter is grown so handsome,
that there are already several suitors for her



hand, two of whom had been to see her (Mrs.
Waller) that week, one a knight of very good
fortune, the other Alderman Avery's eldest son.
She tells the poet what she has learned of the
''prospects" of these gentlemen, and only waits
for his reply, what will he give his daughter ?
The Alderman's son might be had, she thinks,
for ,2,000, if he intends to give so much. " I
am not in hast," she writes, " to mary hir, she is
yong enough to stay, but the danger is if she
should catch the small poxe or hir beauty should
change, it would be a great lose to hir." Then
follow details about the estate, this lease, and
that bond, and she ends, " I pray faile not to
writ a full answer to all in this letter, so praying
god to bles y & y r wife, I rest y r louing
mother Anne Waller, as ever I shall intreat
anything of y u writ me an answer as soon as
y u can of this letter for I have past my credit
they shall haue a speedy answer." What Miss
Waller's dowery was we have no means of
knowing, but she eventually married Mr. Dormer
of Oxfordshire, and was living, his widow, in

The manner of the poet's return to England
appears to be uncertain. It has hitherto been
said that he obtained permission from Cromwell,
through the intercession of Col. Scrope, who
was his brother-in-law, but on Nov. 27, 1651,
the House of Commons, after having heard read
"the humble petition of Edmond Waller," passed


a resolution revoking his sentence of banish-
ment, and ordered a pardon under the Great Seal
to be prepared for him. Evelyn took leave of
him at Paris, on Jan. 13, 1652, and in August of
the same year he is writing to the diarist from
Beaconsfield, to congratulate him on the birth
of a son. We know even less of the course of
Waller's life between the date of his return to
England and the Restoration. He probably
occupied the early days in writing his Panegyric
to Cromwell, though it did not reach the Pro-
tector till 1655, as the following letter 1 proves.

" S r i lett it not trouble you that by soe un-
happy a mistake you are (as I heare) at North-
ampton, indaed I am passionately affected with
itt. I have noe guilt upon me unlesse it bee to bee
revenged, for your soe willinglye mistakinge
mee in your verses. This action will putt you to
redeeme mee from your selfe as you haue
already from the world. Ashamed I am, Y r
freind and Seruant, Oliver P." "June 13^,1655."

It is directed " For my very lovinge friend
Edward Waller, Esq. Northampton, hast, hast."
The mistake, no doubt, arising from his being
generally known as " Ned," of calling the poet,
" Edward," was by no means unfrequent among
his contemporaries, but of the subject-matter
of this letter I have no explanation to offer.
Waller appears to have lain under some sus-

1 This letter is in Mr. Waller's possession it was communi-
cated by a relative of his to .Votes and Queries, and Series, v. a.


picion after his return ; for writing to Hobbes,
some time between 1657 and the Protector's
death, he says that he has been at his lodging to
see him to give him his opinion of the political
situation, which Lord Devonshire had requested,
" because he could write nothing safely, wch he
(Lord Devonshire) might not find in print."

In April, 1653, he lost his mother ; this, with
the exception of his appointment as one of the
Commissioners for Trade in Dec., 1655, is
the only fact affecting him which I have been
able to discover, down to the time of the death
of Cromwell.

Nothing concerning Waller is better known
than that he followed up an elegy on Cromwell
with an address of welcome to Charles II.,
except, perhaps, the famous answer, "Sir,
we poets never succeed so well in writing
truth as in fiction," by means of which
he extricated himself from the difficulty into
which the King had put him by commenting
on the inferiority of the latter poem to his
Panegyric on the Protector. One obvious
reason for this inferiority was long ago pointed
out, and even in Charles's own time it was well
summarized by the Dutch ambassador, who,
when the King complained that his masters
paid less respect to him than to the Protector,
replied, " Ah ! Sir, Oliver was quite another
man." Waller appears to have at once
entered fully into the new life of the Restora-


tion, he was graciously received by the King,
and he continued till the end of his days a
favourite at Court. In May, 1661, having been
elected for Hastings, he began a fresh Par-
liamentary career, and while he lived, " it was
no House if Waller was not there." Burnet
says of him that "he was only concerned to
say that which should make him applauded, he
never laid the business of the House to heart,
being a vain and empty, though a witty, man ;"
but, though it is true that he seldom spoke
without delivering himself of an epigram or a
more or less appropriate Latin quotation, his

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Online LibraryEdmund WallerThe poems of Edmund Waller; → online text (page 3 of 21)