« IndietroContinua »
out success, and suffering without despair. A life of escapes and indigence could supply poetry with no splendid images.
In the first parliament, summoned by Charles the second, March 8, 1661, Waller sat for Hastings, in Sussex, and served for different places in all the parliaments of that reign. In a time when fancy and gaiety were the most powerful recommendations to regard, it is not likely that Waller was forgotten. He passed his time in the company that was highest both in rank and wit, from which even his obstinate sobriety did not exclude him. Though he drank water, he was enabled, by his fertility of mind, to heighten the mirth of Bacchanalian assemblies; and Mr. Saville said, that “no man in England should keep him company without drinking, but Ned Waller.”
The praise given him by St. Evremond is a proof of his reputation; for it was only by his reputation that he could be known, as a writer, to a man who, though he lived a great part of a long life upon an English pension, never condescended to understand the language of the nation that maintained him.
In parliament, “he was,” says Burnet, “the delight of the house, and, though old, said the liveliest things of any among them.” This, however, is said in his account of the year seventy-five, when Waller was only seventy. His name, as a speaker, occurs often in Grey's Collections; but I have found no extracts that can be more quoted, as exhibiting sallies of gaiety than cogency of argument.
He was of such consideration, that his remarks were circulated and recorded. When the duke of York's influence was high, both in Scotland and England, it drew, says Burnet, a lively reflection from Waller, the celebrated wit. He said “the house of commons had resolved that the duke should not reign after the king's death; but the king, in opposition to them, had resolved that he should reign, even in his life.” If there appear no extraordinary liveliness in this remark, yet its reception proves the speaker to have been a celebrated wit, to have had a name which the men of wit were proud of mentioning.
He did not suffer his reputation to die gradually away, which may easily happen in a long life, but renewed his claim to poetical distinction, from time to time, as occasions were offered, either by publick events or private incidents; and, contenting himself with the influence of his muse, or loving quiet better than influence, he never accepted any office of magistracy,
He was not, however, without some attention to his fortune; for he asked from the king, in 1665, the provostship of Eton college, and obtained it; but Clarendon refused to put the seal to the grant, alleging that it could be held only by a clergyman. It is known that sir Henry Wotton qualified himself for it by deacon's orders.
To this opposition the Biographia imputes the violence and acrimony with which Waller joined Buckingham's faction in the prosecution of Clarendon.
The motive was illiberal and dishonest, and showed that more than sixty years had not been able to teach him morality. His accusation is such as conscience can hardly be supposed to dictate, without the help of malice: “We were to be governed by janizaries, instead of parliaments, and are in danger from a worse plot than that of the fifth of November; then, if the lords and commons had been destroyed, there had been a succession; but here both had been destroyed for ever.” This is the language of a man who is glad of an opportunity to rail, and ready to sacrifice truth to interest, at one time, and to anger, at another.
A year after the chancellor's banishment, another vacancy gave him encouragement for another petition, which the king referred to the council, who, after hearing the question argued by lawyers for three days, determined that the office could be held only by a clergyman, according to the act of uniformity, since the provosts had always received institution, as for a parsonage, from the bishops of Lincoln. The king then said, he could not break the law which he had made; and Dr. Zachary Cradock, famous for a single sermon, at most, for two sermons, was chosen by the fellows.
That he asked any thing else is not known; it is certain that he obtained nothing, though he continued obsequious to the court through the rest of Charles's reign.
At the accession of king James, in 1685, he was chosen for parliament, being then fourscore, at Saltash, in Cornwall; and wrote a Presage of the Down
fal of the Turkish Empire, which he presented to the king, on his birthday. It is remarked, by his commentator, Fenton, that, in reading Tasso, he had early imbibed a veneration for the heroes of the holy war, and a zealous enmity to the Turks, which never left him. James, however, having soon after begun what he thought a holy war at home, made haste to put all molestation of the Turks out of his power.
James treated him with kindness and familiarity, of which instances are given by the writer of his life. One day, taking him into the closet, the king asked him how he liked one of the pictures : “My eyes, said Waller, "are dim, and I do not know it.” The king said it was the princess of Orange. “She is,” said Waller,“ like the greatest woman in the world.” The king asked who was that; and was answered, queen Elizabeth. “I wonder,” said the king, "you should think so; but I must confess she had a wise council.” “And, sir,” said Waller, "did you ever know a fool choose a wise one?” Such is the story, which I once heard of some other man. Pointed axioms, and acute replies, fly loose about the world, and are assigned, successively, to those whom it may be the fashion to celebrate.
When the king knew that he was about to marry his daughter to Dr. Birch, a clergyman, he ordered a French gentleman to tell him, that “the king wondered he could think of marrying his daughter to a falling church.” “The king,” said Waller, “does me great honour, in taking notice of my domestick affairs; but I have lived long enough
to observe that this falling church has got a trick of rising again.
He took notice to his friends of the king's conduct; and said that “he would be left like a whale upon
the strand.” Whether he was privy to any of the transactions which ended in the revolution, is not known. His heir joined the prince of Orange.
Having now attained an age beyond which the laws of nature seldom suffer life to be extended, otherwise than by a future state, he seems to have turned his mind upon preparation for the decisive hour, and, therefore, consecrated his poetry to devotion. It is pleasing to discover that his piety was without weakness; that his intellectual powers continued vigorous; and that the lines which he composed when “he, for age, could neither read nor write,” are not inferiour to the effusions of his youth.
Towards the decline of life, he bought a small house, with a little land, at Coleshill; and said, “he should be glad to die, like the stag, where he was roused.” This, however, did not happen. When he was at Beaconsfield, he found his legs grow tumid; he went to Windsor, where sir Charles Scarborough then attended the king, and requested him, as both a friend and a physician, to tell him, “What that swelling meant.” “Sir,” answered Scarborough, “your blood will run no longer.” Waller repeated some lines of Virgil, and went home to die.
As the disease increased upon him, he composed himself for his departure; and, calling upon Dr. Birch to give him the holy sacrament, he desired his