Edmund Waller.

The poems of Edmund Waller; online

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conduct in the House was in every way
honourable to him. Day after day his voice
was raised in appeals for toleration for Dis-
senters, more particularly for the Quakers, a
body which his son Edmund afterwards
joined. He had, he said, " a sense of kind-
ness for any persons that suffer," and he
would not have the " Church of England, like
the elder brother of the Ottoman family,
strangle all the younger brothers." He strenu-
ously opposed the passing of the Act against
Conventicles. " Revenge," said he, " makes
the bee lose his sting, and so shall we if we
pass this Bill. These people (the Quakers) are
like children's tops, whip them and they stand
up, let them alone and they fall." He spoke
against the removal of the Duke of York from
the Court, reminding the House, that Absalom


left the Court, and they knew what followed ;
but the only really important matter in which
he was directly engaged was the impeachment
of Clarendon, of which he was one of the
"managers." Then, and after Monmouth's
Rebellion, he spoke with the greatest horror
of the dangers of a military despotism and
"government by Janissaries," and Macaulay
has praised the course which his great age
and reputation emboldened him to take. He
was never weary of reminding the Members of
his long experience in the House, or of quoting
precedents to them he even insisted upon
sitting on the steps, because " steps had been
seats and seats steps " in the Long Parliament
and the attitude which he assumed was occa-
sionally almost paternal : " Let us look to our
Government, Fleet, and Trade, 'tis the best
advice the oldest Parliament man among you
can give you, and so God bless you."

In spite of his age and eloquence, Waller
ever appears to have been in the inner circle
of politics after the Restoration, though he is
credited with having predicted that James II.
" would be left like a whale upon the strand."
His literary reputation, however, was at its
height, and he and Denham appear to have
occupied the position of unofficial dramatic
censors, for on March 22, 1663, Secretary Bennet
writes to Waller, directing him and Denham to
read, and give the King their opinions on "The


Cheats," a play which had been recently pro-
duced, and objected to as containing " many
things of a scandalous and offensive nature."
Nor was his fame confined to this country, La
Fontaine wrote of him with admiration, and
Corneille was flattered to hear that whenever
he published a play, Mr. Waller made a point
of translating some portion of it. But nothing
probably that Waller had written gave him
such a hold upon his contemporaries as the
charm of his manners and conversation, a
charm which Macaulay has compared to that
which must have been exercised by Bacon.
His transgressions were overlooked, and he
was again admitted to the conversation of great
ladies the house of the Dowager Countess of
Devonshire is said to have been his " chief
theatre " and so powerful were the attractions
of his wit, that Henry Savile declared that no
man in England should keep him company
without drinking, except Ned Waller. The
poet appears to have been a water-drinker, and
one wonders whether this abstemiousness
had any connection with a story which Mr.
Henshaw relates in a letter of July 16, 1670, to
Sir Robert Paston, which had also reached
Aubrey's ears. " On Thursday night," writes
Mr. Henshaw, " the Earl of St. Albans treated
the King and the Mareschal (de Bellefonde) at
supper, where Mr. Waller the poet made one,
who, when the King went away, waiting on him


down the stone steps towards the water, his feet
slipping he fell and cracked his skull, which 'tis
feared will put finis to his poetry." Some mem-
ber of the company, Aubrey says, " made him
damnable drunk at Somerset House, where at
the water-stayres, he fell downe, and had a cruel
fall. 'Twas pitty to use such a sweet swan so
inhumanely." Another correspondent of Sir
Robert Paston, Sir J. Clayton, throws some
further light on the poet's conviviality : writing
on June 8, 1669, he says, " I dined at Uxbridge,
but never in all my life did I pass my day away
with greater gusto, our company being his
Grace (the Duke of Buckingham], Mr. Waller,
Mr. Surveyor Wren, and myself, nothing but
quintessence of wit and most excellent dis-
course." The Duke appears to have been on
terms of great intimacy with Waller, for the
latter used often to wander to Cliveden to
wonder at his Grace's costly new buildings and
magnificent gardens, and he writes to his wife
from London (he lived in St. James's Street,
"next doore to the sugar loafe"), "The Duke
of Buckingham with the Lady Shrewsbury ?]
came hither last night at this tyme & carried
me to the usuall place to supper, from whence I
returned home at four aclocke this morning,
having ben earnestly entreated to supp w th them
again to-night, but such howers can not be
always kept, therfore I shall eat my 2 eggs
alone & go to bedd." A prudent determination,


which he re-echoes in a letter to the beautiful
Mrs. Myddleton, who counted him and his
friend St. Evremond among her devoted
admirers : " Your ould Servant," he writes,
" having found himself extreamely indisposed, &
knowing the cause thereof to have ben the
constant eating abroad for a whole week
together, thought an immediate Abstinence &
Retirement absolutely necessary if he meant to
continue longer in the world."

Amid all these scenes of gaiety through which
the poet moved, one naturally looks for
Sacharissa. There was no romance lingering
about their relations, she wrote of him as u Old
Waller," and he, in her presence, forgot his
wonted gallantry. They met at Lady Wharton's
house, at Woburn ; " When Mr. Waller," said
the Dowager Countess of Sunderland, " when,
I wonder, will you write such beautiful verses to
me again ! " " When, Madam," replied the
poet, '* your Ladyship is as young and as hand-
some again." "Something," says M. Taine,
" to shock a Frenchman ! "

On May 2, 1677, Waller buried his second
wife, at Beaconsfield : she is said to have been
a woman of great beauty, and he appears to
have felt her loss deeply, for he retired to his
house at Hall Barn, and wrote to Mrs. Myddle-
ton, begging her to excuse him even to St
Evremond, who had expressed an intention of
visiting him. Later he had the honour of enter-


taining there visitors more distinguished than
the French exile. " Since you writ," (Mrs.
Myddleton is again his correspondent), " I have
had the honour to receive the Dutchess (of
York} & Princess {Anne) with all their fair train,
the Lady Sunderland (probably Sacharissds
daughter-in-law) was with them who sent me
warning but a few hours before, and yett they
eate heartily & seemed well content with what
could so hastily be gotten for them."

Charles died, and James succeeded him, and
Waller still continued a favourite at Court, but
his visits to London became less frequent, and
he was more often to be found roaming about
in his woods at Eeaconsfield, though, as he
wrote to Lady Ranelagh, "he had not much joy
in walking there, where he found y e trees as
bare & withered as himselfe, but with this

That shortly they shall flourish and wax green,
But I still old and withered must be seen,
Yet if vain thoughts fall, like their leaves, away,
The nobler part improves with that decay."

He bought a small house at Coleshill, hoping
to die there, for he said, " A stagge, when he is
hunted, and neer spent, always returns home."
But this was not to be ; being alarmed at a
swelling in his leg, he went to Windsor to
consult Sir Charles Scarborough, the King's
physician, as to the cause. " I am come, Sir," he
said, " to you, as a friend as well as a physician,


to ask you what this swelling means." "Why,
Sir," answered the blunt doctor, " your blood
will run no longer." Waller repeated a line of
Virgil, and went home, to Hall Barn. He
gathered his children about him, received the
Sacrament with them, and died on Oct. 21,
1687. On Oct. 26 he was buried in Beacons-
field church- yard, by a curious piece of irony,
" in woollen according to a late Act of Parlia-
ment." When the question of enforcing the
penalties for not observing the Act which
required persons to be buried in wool had come
up in the House, Waller said, " Our Saviour
was buried in linen. 'Tis a thing against the
custom of nations, and I am against it."

No poetical reputation has suffered such
vicissitudes as that of Edmund Waller :
described, in the inscription upon his tomb,
as " inter poetas sui temporis facile princeps,"
it was still possible, in 1766, to introduce him to
the readers of the Biographia Britannica as
" the most celebrated Lyric Poet that ever
England produced," and when, in 1772,
Percival Stockdale wrote his " Life," in which
he declared that " his works gave a new era
to English poetry," his performance was con-
sidered to be of such merit that he was on the
point of receiving the commission to write
"The Lives of the Poets," which was after-
wards entrusted to Johnson.

The revolt against classicism extinguished


the reputation of Waller, as it impaired that
of men in every way greater than he, and
though in 1885 Mr. Gosse succeeded in throw-
ing a very strong light upon him, it was
scarcely a friendly office to assert that he
revolutionized English poetry. The history of
the classical couplet has yet to be written,
but the part that Waller took in its develop-
ment was , certainly not that of an inventor.
Abundant evidence has been adduced by Mr.
Churton Collins and by Dr. Henry Wood, to
show that others (Dr. Wood insists specially
upon the claims of Sandys), before his time,
were in the habit of writing distichs, confining
the sense to the couplet, as smooth and correct
as any that ever came from the pen of Waller.
That" Waller was smooth" has been generally
admitted, and smoothness was the quality at
which he particularly aimed. " When he was
a briske young sparke, and first studyed
poetry, ' Me thought,' said he, ' I never
sawe a good copie of English verses ; they
want smoothness; then I began to essay.'"
Such is Aubrey's account, but it is scarcely
in this direction that one must look for the
reason of Waller's extraordinary popularity
among his contemporaries. The volume of
his verse, having regard to the great age to
which he lived, is small, and one is half
inclined to believe the story of his having spent
a whole summer in elaborating the lines written


in the Tasso of the Duchess of York. He is
credited with having polished his poetry like
marble, but his execution is frequently careless,
and his ear was by no means exceptionally
acute. He uses the feeble expletive "so"
upwards of twenty times as a rhyme, and
occasionally he is satisfied with an assonance.
Of the " essence of poetry, invention," he was
practically destitute, but it would be ^ difficult to
find in the whole range of English Poetry any
one more uniformly successful in improving an
occasion. To many people his verses on this
or that public occasion must have come as a
relief, after the " conceited " obscurities of
Donne. He makes no great demand on the
understanding, he is singularly free from
conceits, and his classical allusions are the
most trite and ordinary. He took Edward
Fairfax for his master, and traces of his
indebtedness to the translator of Tasso are
to be found scattered up and down his
poems. His own poetical stock was exceed-
ingly small, and probably no writer has re-
peated himself so often. He himself described
his verses as " written only to please himself,
and such particular persons to whom they
were directed," and it was precisely this quality
of appropriateness which gave him his tre-
mendous vogue in his own time. The reputa-.
tion of the Court and its surroundings clung
to him, and, but for this, it would probably


have been left for some one in this century to
revive him, as the author of the lyrics by which
his reputation must stand or fall. He lived in
the most stirring period of our domestic history,
and to some of his poems, the outcome of his
relations with persons who played no unimportant
part in making it, a certain historical interest
must always attach. One would not wish to be
supposed to include in this category the famous
Panegyric. It has always been the custom to
brand Waller as the poet of a venal muse, but
it is difficult indeed to suppose that his two
poems on Cromwell were not inspired by
genuine admiration and regret. It is doubtful
if he owed to the Protector even the per-
mission to return to England, and he can
have been but poorly recompensed by the
monstrous Latin eulogies of Payne Fisher for the
storm of invective which the Royalist poets,
headed by Charles Cotton, showered upon him.
From Charles II. Waller did indeed obtain
the only favour he is known to have asked for
himself, the grant of the Provostship of Eton
College, but this grant was rendered inoperative
by the refusal of Clarendon to admit him to
the office, on the ground that he was not in
Orders. Poetical panegyric has had its day,
and one is almost tempted to say that it needed
such a man as Cromwell praised by such a
poet as Waller to justify its existence.

It may well be doubted if the insertion of one


or two of his poems in anthologies does not do
more harm than good to a man's general reputa-
tion, by a tendency to divert attention from any-
thing else he has written. Waller lives as the
author of " Go lovely rose," and the " Lines on
a Girdle," and these lyrics might almost be
chosen from English literature to serve as the
examples of the charms of simplicity and direct-
ness. It would be almost stultifying what one
has suggested to distinguish particularly other
poems of his, but it may be said that the general
level of Wallers lyrical work is distinctly high,
and there is no such disparity between these
famous pieces and the rest of his lyrics, as
exists, in the case of some other poets of the
seventeenth century, between the bulk of their
writings and what Johnson has called their
" lucky trifles."

Waller was sadly deficient in critical instinct
as applied to the writings of others. Little
attention need be paid to the commendatory
verses which good-nature prompted him to
address to such of his friends as were authors,
but his opinion of "Paradise Lost" was that it
was remarkable only for its length, and he laid
unholy hands upon " The Maid's Tragedy," and
constructed a last act in rhyme more in accord-
ance with the requirements of the morals of the
Court of Charles II. Little, from a literary point
of view, can be said in praise of his " Divine
Poems," and cynicism has not been slow to


stamp them as the outcome of ill-health and old
age. The poet used to say that "he would blot
from his works any line that did not contain
some motive to virtue," and if they are not
didactic throughout, this at least should be
remembered in his favour, that he lived through
the period of the Restoration without suffering
anything he wrote to be disfigured by the
slightest trace of obscenity.

The date of Waller's earliest poem is uncer-
tain, I am inclined to think it was written in his
seventeenth year, though it was not printed till
1645, but it is certain that when he was over
eighty years of age he composed the noble
lines, " Of the last verses in the book," lines,
surely, not unworthy of any poet in the meridian
of his powers.



To the Queene, &c ix

To my Lady Sophia ... ... ... ... xi

An Advertisement to the Reader ... ... xv

Of the danger His Majesty (being Prince) escaped

in the road at St. Andrews ... ... ... i

To the Queen, occasioned upon sight of her

Majesty's picture ... ... ... ... 8

Of His Majesty's receiving the news of the Duke

of Buckingham's death ... ... ... u

To the King, on his return from Scotland ... 12

OfSalle 13

To the King, on his navy ... ... ... ... 15

Upon His Majesty's repairing of Paul's ... ... 16

To Mr. Henry Lawes ... ... ... ... 19

The country to my Lady of Carlisle ... ... 21

The Countess of Carlisle in mourning ... ... 22

In answer to one who writ against a fair lady ... 24

Of her chamber ... ... ... ... ... 26

To Phyllis. Phyllis ! 'twas love that injured

you 27

To Mr. George Sandys 28

Upon Ben Jonson ... ... ... ... ... 29




To my Lord Northumberland, upon the death of

his Lady ... ... ... ... ... 31

To my Lord Admiral, of his late sickness and

recovery ... ... ... ... ... 33

To the Queen-Mother of France, upon her land-
ing 35

Upon the death of my Lady Rich ... ... 37

Thyrsis, Galatea ... ... ... ... ... 40

On my Lady Dorothy Sidney's picture ... ... 43

To Vandyck ... ... ... ... ... 44

At Penshurst. Had Sacharissa lived when

mortals made ... ... ... ... ... 46

To my Lord of Leicester ... ... ... ... 47

Of the lady who can sleep when she pleases ... 49

Of the misreport of her being painted ... ... 50

Of her passing through a crowd of people ... 51

The story of Phoebus and Daphne, applied ... 52

Fabula Phoebi et Daphnes... ... ... ... 53

Song. Say lovely dream! ... ... ... 53

To the servant of a fair lady ... ... ... 55

To a very young lady ... ... ... ... 57

ToAmoret. Fair ! that you may truly know ... 58

On the friendship betwixt two ladies ... ... 60

On her coming to London ... ... ... 62

At Penshurst. While in the park I sing, the

listening deer ... ... ... ... ... 64

The battle of the Summer Islands ... ... 66

When he was at sea ... ... ... ... 75

To my Lord of Falkland ... ... ... ... 75



Of the Queen 77

The apology of Sleep, for not approaching the
lady who can do anything but sleep when

she pleaseth ... ... ... So

Puerperium 82

ToAmoret. Amortt! the Milky Way 83

To Phyllis. Phyllis ! why should we delay ... 84

A la malade ... ... ... ... 85

Of Love 87

For drinking of healths ... ... ... ... 89

Of my Lady Isabella, playing on the lute ... 90

Of Mrs. Arden ... ... ... 91

Of the marriage of the dwarfs ... ... ... 92

Love's farewell ... ... ... ... ... 93

From a child ... ... ... ... ... 94

On a girdle... ... ... ... ... ... 95

The fall 96

Of Sylvia ... 97

The bud 98

On the discovery of a lady's painting 99

Of loving at first sight ... ... ... ... 100

The self-banished ... ... ... ... ... 101

To a friend, of the different success of their

loves 102

To Zelinda 103

To a lady singing a song of his composing ... 105

To the mutable fair ... ... 106

To a lady, from whom he received a silver pen .. 109

On the head of a stag no

b 2



The miser's speech. In a masque ... ... in

To Chloris. Chloris ! since first our calm of

peace ... ... ... ... ... ... 112

To a lady in a garden ... ... ... ... 113

Chloris and Hylas. Made to a saraband ... 114

In answer of Sir John Suckling's verses ... 116

An apology for having loved before ... ... 120

On a brede of divers colours, woven by four

ladies ... ... ... ... ... ... 121

To Chloris. Chloris! what's eminent we know 122

Song. Stay, Phabus ! stay ... ... ... 123

Song. Peace, babbling Muse ! ... ... ... 124

To Flavia ... ... ... ... ... ... 125

Song. Behold the brand of beauty tossed I ... 126

While I listen to thy voice ... ... ... 127

Go lovely rose ! ... ... ... ... ... 128

Under a lady's picture ... ... ... ... 129

Written in my Lady Speke's singing-book ... 129

Of a lady who writ in praise of Mira ... ... 130

To one married to an old man ... ... ... 130

An epigram on a painted lady with ill teeth ... 131

On Mr. John Fletcher's plays ... ... ... 131

Verses to Dr. George Rogers ... ... ... 133

To my Lady Morton, on New Year's Day, 1650 134
To Sir William Davenant, upon his two first

books of Gondibert ... ... ... ... 136

A Panegyric to my Lord Protector ... ... 138

To my worthy friend Mr. Wase, the translator of

Gratius ... ... ... .. ... 146



Ad Comitem Monumetensem de Bentivoglio suo 148
To his worthy friend, Master Evelyn, upon his

translation of Lucretius ... ... ... 149

Of a war with Spain, and a fight at sea ... ... 151

To his worthy friend, Sir Thomas Higgons, upon

his translation of " The Venetian Triumph" 156
Part of the fourth book of Virgil, translated ... 157
Upon the late storm, and of the death of His

Highness ensuing the same ... ... ... 162

To the King, upon His Majesty's happy return ... 163
On SL James's Park, as lately improved by His

Majesty 168

To the Queen, upon Her Majesty's birthday after

her happy recovery from a dangerous sickness 173
To a fair lady, playing with a snake ... ... 175

Instructions to a painter ... ... ... ... 176

Upon Her Majesty's new buildings at Somerset

House 189

Epitaph to be written under the Latin inscription

upon the tomb of the only son of the Lord

Andover ... ... ... ... ... 191

To Mr. Killigrew 192

Epigram upon the golden medal 193

The night-piece ... ... ... ... ... 193

On the picture of a fair youth, taken after he was

dead 195

Of a tree cut in paper 196

To a lady, from whom he received the foregoing

copy 197



Of English verse ... ... ... ... ... 197

To the Duchess, when he presented this book to

Her Royal Highness ... ... ... ... 199

To the Duchess of Orleans, when she was taking

leave of the Court at Dover ... ... ... 200

To a friend of the author ... ... ... ... 201

Of Her Royal Highness, mother to the Prince of

Orange... ... ... ... ... ... 202

On the statue of King Charles I. at Charing

Cross ... ... ... ... ... ... 203

Epitaph on Colonel Charles Cavendish ... ... 203

The triple combat ... ... ... ... ... 205

Upon our late loss of the Duke of Cambridge .. 207
Of the Lady Mary ... ... ... ... ... 208

To the Prince of Orange, 1677 ... ... ... 210

On the Duke of Monmouth's expedition, 1679 2I2
Upon the Earl of Roscommon's translation of

Horace... ... ... ... ... ... 214

These verses were writ in the Tasso of Her Royal

Highness ... ... ... ... ... 216

Of an elegy made by Mrs. Wharton on the Earl

of Rochester 217

To Mr. Creech, on his translation of Lucretius... 218
Sung by Mrs. Knight, to Her Majesty, on her

birthday ... ... ... ... ... 220

Written on a card that Her Majesty tore at ombre 220
Translated out of Spanish... ... ... ... 221

Of Her Majesty, on New Year's Day, 1683 ... 221
Of tea, commended by Her Majesty ... ... 222



Prologue for the lady-actors ... ... ... 223

Prologue to " The Maid's Tragedy " 224

Epilogue to " The Maid's Tragedy" ... ... 226

Epilogue to "The Maid's Tragedy," designed

upon the first alteration of the play... ... 227

On the invasion and defeat of the Turks, 1683 ... 228
A presage of the ruin of the Turkish Empire ... 231
To His Majesty, upon his motto, Beati Pacifici... 234

Epitaph on Sir George Speke 235

Epitaph on Henry Dunch, Esq. ... ... ... 237

Song. Chloris ! farewell, I now must go ... 238

To Mr. Granville 239

Long and short life... ... ... ... ... 240

Translated out of French ... ... ... ... 240

Some verses of an imperfect copy... ... ... 241

Pride 242

Epitaph on the Lady Sedley ... ... ... 242

Epitaph unfinished... ... ... ... ... 244

Upon a lady's fishing with an angle ... ... 244

On Mrs. Higgons ... ... ... ... ... 246

Of Divine Love ... ... ... ... ... 247

Of Divine Poesy ... ... ... ... ... 259

Of the paraphrase on the Lord's Prayer... ... 264

Some reflections of his upon the several petitions

in the same Prayer ... ... ... ... 265

On the Fear of God 267

Of the last verses in the book ... ... ... 272



If your Ma 1 * had lived in those Tymes
which sacrifiz'd to the Sun and Moone and of
eatch glorious Creatoure made a new Dyety,
as the admiration of your sacrad persone had
supply'd them with a more excusable Idolatry,
So could no incense have been more worthie
your Altar then the odore of his Ma ties
Heroyck deeds. And though the court and
universities have no other mater of theer song,
yet if your Ma tie please to listen what Echo the
country returnes to so loud a praise, Wee shall
likwayes teach the woods to sound your royall
name, And tell how great a portion of our
present hapines is owing to those Divyne

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Online LibraryEdmund WallerThe poems of Edmund Waller; → online text (page 4 of 21)