Page images
PDF
EPUB

thority consult. The thing which I had to say and those intentions which have lived within me ever since I could conceive myself any thing worth to my country, I return to crave excuse, that urgent reason hath plucked from me, by an abortive and foredated discovery. And the accomplishment of them lies not but in a power above man's to promise; but that none hath by more studious ways endeavoured, and with more unwearied spirit that none shall, that I dare almost aver of myself, as far as life and free leisure will extend; and that the land had once enfranchised herself from this impertinent yoke of prelacy, under whose inquisitorious and tyrannical duncery no free and splendid wit can flourish. Neither do I think it shame to covenant with any knowing reader, that for some years yet I may go on trust with him toward the payment of what I am now indebted, as being a work not to be raised from the heat of youth or the vapours of wine; like that which flows at waste from the pen of some vulgar amorist, or the trencher-fury of a rhyming parasite; nor to be obtained by the invocation of dame memory and her syren daughters; but by devout prayer to that eternal Spirit, who can enrich with all utterance and knowledge, and sends out his seraphim with the hallowed fire of his altar, to touch and purify the lips of whom he pleases. To this must be added industrious and select reading, steady observation, insight into all seemly arts and affairs; till which in some measure be compassed, at mine own peril and cost, I refuse not to sustain this expectation from as many as are not loath to hazard so much credulity upon the best pledges that I can give them. Although it nothing content me to have disclosed thus much beforehand, but that I trust hereby to make it manifest with what small willingness I endure to interrupt the pursuit of no less hopes than these, and leave a calm and pleasing solitariness, fed cheerful and confident thoughts, to embark in a troubled sea of noises and hoarse disputes; from beholding the bright countenance of truth in the quiet and still air of delightful studies, to come into the dim reflection of hollow antiquities sold by the seeming bulk, and there be fain to club quotations with men whose learning and belief lies in marginal stuffings; who when they have, like good sumpters, laid you down their horse-load of citations and fathers at your door, with a raphsody of who and who were bishops here or there, you may take off their pack-saddles, their day's work is done, and episcopacy, as they think, stoutly vindicated. Let any gentle apprehension that can distinguish learned pains from unlearned drudgery, imagine what pleasure or profoundness can be in this, or what honour to deal against such adversaries.

Lecture the Twenty-second.

EDMUND WALLER_SAMUEL BUTLER-HENRY VAUGHAN-SIR JOHN DENHAM

WILLIAM CHAMBERLAYNE-ANDREW MARVELL.

THE
THE exalted position which Milton occupies in English Literature, has in-

duced us to afford to the history of his life, and the examination of his genius and writings, a much larger space than we shall be permitted to extend to any of his contemporaries or successors.

EDMUND WALLER, the poet whom we shall next notice, was the son of John Waller, a gentleman of large estates, and Anne, sister of the celebrated John Hampden. He was born at Coleshill, Hertfordshire, in 1605, and received his education, preparatory for the university, under the supervision of the Reverend Mr. Dobson, minister of the parish of Great Wycoinbe. He early entered King's College, Cambridge, where he remained about three years, and then left without taking his degree, being elected, when he had scarcely attained the seventeenth year of his age, to a seat in the last parliament of King James the First. His father, at his death, which occurred during the infancy of the future poet, had left him in the possession of the ample fortune of three thousand pounds a year, and through the means of his wealth, Waller found easy access to familiar intercourse with the court and the nobility of the country.

Soon after he entered parliament, and when but eighteen years of age, he published his first poem; and at the age of twenty-five he married a rich heiress of London, whom, however, he had the misfortune to lose within the following year. He then became a suitor to Lady Dorathea Sidney, eldest daughter of the Earl of Leicester; and to this proud and peerless fair one, he dedicated the better portion of his poetry, making the groves of Penshurst echo to the praises of his Sacharissa. Lady Dorathea, however, was inexorable, and bestowed her hand on the Earl of Sunderland. It is said that, meeting her many years, after, when she was far advanced in life, the lady asked him when he would again write such verses upon her. When you are as young, madam, and as handsome as you were then,' replied the ungallant poet. This incident is the more important, as it affords a key to Waller's whole character. He was easy, witty, and accomplished, but cold and selfish in the extreme; and entirely destitute of both high principle and deep feeling

In parliament Waller was either a friend or opponent of the royal party, as his own interest seemed to require, and throughout his long life the same want of principle prevailed. He, at one period of his parliamentary career, greatly distinguished himself on the popular side, and was chosen to conduct the prosecution against Judge Crawley for his opinion in favor of levying ship-money. His speech on delivering the impeachment, was printed, and twenty thousand copies of it sold in one day. Shortly afterward, however, he joined in a plot to surprise the city militia, and let the king's forces into the city of London, for which he was tried and sentenced to one year's imprisonment, and to pay a fine of ten thousand pounds. His conduct upon this occasion was mean and abject in the extreme; and at the expiration of his imprisonment, he went abroad, and resided, for some years, amid much splendor, in France.

Waller returned to England during the Protectorate, and when Cromwell died he celebrated the event in one of his most vigorous and impressive poems. The image of the commonwealth, though reared by no common hands, soon fell to pieces under Richard Cromwell, and Waller was ready with a congratulatory address to welcome Charles the Second to the crown. The royal offering was considered inferior to the panegyric on Cromwell, and the king himself, who was in the habit of admitting the poet to terms of courtly intimacy, took occasion to point out the disparity to him. “Poets, sire,' replied the witty, self-possessed Waller, always succeed better in fiction than in truth !

In the first parliament summoned by Charles the Second, Waller sat for the town of Hastings, and he served for different places in all the succeeding parliaments of that reign. At the accession of James the Second, in 1685, the venerable poet, at that time eighty years of age, was elected representative for a borough in Cornwall. The mad career of James, in seeking to subvert the national church and constitution, was foreseen by this wary

and sagacious observer : "he will be left,' said he,“ like a whale upon the strand., Feeling his long-protracted life drawing to a close, Waller purchased a small property at Coleshill, remarking that, he would be glad to die like the stag, where he was roused.' His desire was not, however, gratified, as he died at Beaconsfield, on the twenty-first of October, 1687, and was buried in the churchyard of that place, where a monument was afterward erected to his memory.

The poems of Waller have all the smoothness and polish of modern verse, and hence a high rank has been assigned to him as one of the first reformers and improvers of our versification. One cause of his refinement was, doubtless, his early and familiar intercourse with the court and nobility, and the bright conversational nature of most of his productions. He wrote for the world of fashion and taste-consigning

The noon of manhood to a myrtle shade;

and he wrote in the same strain till just before the close of his long and eventful life. The first collection of his poems was made by himself, and published in 1664. It passed through numerous editions in his lifetime ; and in 1690, a second collection was made of such pieces as he had produced in his latter years. In a poetical dedication to Lady Harley, prefixed to this edition, and written by Elijah Fenton, Waller is styled the

Maker and model of melodious verse.

This eulogium seems to embody the opinion of Waller's contemporaries, and it was afterward confirmed by Dryden and Pope, neither of whom had, however, sufficiently studied the excellent models of versification furnished by the old poets, as well as their rich poetical diction. The playfulness of his fancy, the smoothness of his numbers, his good sense, and uniform elegance, rendered him as popular with critics as with the multitude ; while his prominence as a public man would naturally increase curiosity with regard to his works. His poems are chiefly short and incidental effusions, though toward the close of his life, he produced, in six cantos, a more elaborate work, the subject of which was, Divine Love. But though such employments of his talents was graceful and becoming in advanced life, yet in this new and higher walk of the muse, he did not succeed; his fame, therefore, must ever rest on his light, airy, and fanciful performances.

In the following selections from this author, we have aimed to illustrate and sustain the preceding remarks, and to exhibit all the varieties of his style :

GO, LOVELY ROSE.
Go, lovely rose !
Tell her that wastes her time and me,
That now she knows,
When I resemble her to thee,
How sweet and fair she seems to be.

Tell her, that's young,
And shuns to have her graces spied,
That, hadst thou sprung
In deserts, where no men abide,
Thou must have uncommended died.

Small is the worth
Of beauty from the light retir'd ;
Bid her come forth,
Suffer herself to be desired,
And not blush so to be admir'd.
Then die! that she
The common fate of all things rare
May read in thee,
How small a part of time they share
That are so wondrous sweet and fair.

« PreviousContinue »