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children to take it with him, and made an earnest declaration of his faith in christianity. It now appeared what part of his conversation with the great could be remembered with delight. He related, that being present when the duke of Buckingham talked profanely before king Charles, he said to him, “My lord, I am a great deal older than your grace, and have, I believe, heard more arguments for atheism than ever your grace did; but I have lived long enough to see there is nothing in them; and so, I hope, your grace will.”
He died October 21, 1687, and was buried at Beaconsfield, with a monument erected by his son's executors, for which Rymer wrote the inscription, and which, I hope, is now rescued from dilapidation.
He left several children by his second wife; of whom, his daughter was married to Dr. Birch. Benjamin, the eldest son, was disinherited, and sent to New Jersey, as wanting common understanding. Edmund, the second son, inherited the estate, and represented Agmondesham in parliament, but, at last, turned quaker. William, the third son, was a merchant in London. Stephen, the fourth, was an eminent doctor of laws, and one of the commissioners for the union. There is said to have been a fifth, of whom no account has descended.
The character of Waller, both moral and intellectual, has been drawn by Clarendon, to whom he was familiarly known, with nicety, which certainly none to whom he was not known can presume to emulate. It is, therefore, inserted here, with such remarks as
others have supplied; after which, nothing remains but a critical examination of his poetry.
“Edmund Waller,” says Clarendon, “was born to a very fair estate, by the parsimony, or frugality, of a wise father and mother: and he thought it so commendable an advantage, that he resolved to improve it with his utmost care, upon which, in his nature, he was too much intent; and, in order to that, he was so much reserved and retired, that he was scarce ever heard of, till, by his address and dexterity, he had gotten a very rich wife in the city, against all the recommendation and countenance and authority of the court, which was thoroughly engaged on the behalf of Mr. Crofts, and which used to be successful, in that age, against any opposition. He had the good fortune to have an alliance and friendship with Dr. Morley, who had assisted and instructed him in the reading many good books, to which his natural parts and promptitude inclined him, especially the poets; and, at the age when other men used to give over writing verses, (for he was near thirty years when he first engaged himself in that exercise, at least that he was known to do so,) he surprised the town with two or three pieces of that kind; as if a tenth muse had been newly born to cherish drooping poetry. The doctor, at that time, brought him into that company which was most celebrated for good conversation; where he was received and esteemed with great applause and respect. He was a very pleasant discourser, in earnest and in jest, and, therefore, very grateful to all kind of com
pany, where he was not the less esteemed for being
“He had been even nursed in parliaments, where he sat when he was very young; and so, when they were resumed again, (after a long intermission,) he appeared in those assemblies with great advantage; having a graceful way of speaking, and by thinking much on several arguments, (which his temper and complexion, that had much of melancholick, inclined him to,) he seemed often to speak upon the sudden, when the occasion had only administered the opportunity of saying what he had thoroughly considered, which gave a great lustre to all he said; which yet was rather of delight than weight. There needs no more be said to extol the excellence and power of his wit, and pleasantness of his conversation, than that it was of magnitude enough to cover a world of very great faults; that is, so to cover them, that they were not taken notice of to his reproach; viz. a narrowness in his nature to the lowest degree; an abjectness and want of courage to support him in any virtuous undertaking; an insinuation and servile flattery to the height, the vainest and most imperious nature could be contented with; that it preserved and won his life from those who were most resolved to take it, and in an occasion in which he ought to have been ambitious to have lost it; and then preserved him again from the reproach and contempt that was due to him for so preserving it, and for vindicating it at such a price; that it had power to reconcile him to those whom he had most offended
and provoked; and continued to his age with that rare felicity, that his company was acceptable where his spirit was odious; and he was, at least, pitied where he was most detested.”
Such is the account of Clarendon; on which it may not be improper to make some remarks.
“He was very little known till he had obtained a rich wife in the city.”
He obtained a rich wife about the age of threeand-twenty; an age before which few men are conspicuous much to their advantage. He was known, however, in parliament and at court; and, if he spent part of his time in privacy, it is not unreasonable to suppose, that he endeavoured the improvement of his mind, as well as of his fortune.
That Clarendon might misjudge the motive of his retirement is the more probable, because he has evidently mistaken the commencement of his poetry, which he supposes him not to have attempted before thirty. As his first pieces were, perhaps, not printed, the succession of his compositions was not known; and Clarendon, who cannot be imagined to have been very studious of poetry, did not rectify his first opinion by consulting Waller's book.
Clarendon observes, that he was introduced to the wits of the age by Dr. Morley; but the writer of his life relates that he was already among them, when, hearing a noise in the street, and inquiring the cause, they found a son of Ben Jonson under an arrest. This was Morley, whom Waller set free, at the expense of one hundred pounds, took him into the
country as directer of his studies, and then procured him admission into the company of the friends of literature. Of this fact Clarendon had a nearer knowledge than the biographer, and is, therefore, more to be credited.
The account of Waller's parliamentary eloquence is seconded by Burnet, who, though he calls him “the delight of the house,” adds, that “he was only concerned to say that which should make him be applauded; he never laid the business of the house to heart, being a vain and empty, though a witty man.
Of his insinuation and flattery it is not unreasonable to believe that the truth is told. Ascham, in his elegant description of those whom, in modern language, we term wits, says, that they are “open flatterers, and privy mockers.” Waller showed a little of both, when, upon sight of the dutchess of Newcastle's verses on the Death of a Stag, he declared that he would give all his own compositions to have written them; and, being charged with the exorbitance of his adulation, answered, that “nothing was too much to be given, that a lady might be saved from the disgrace of such a vile performance.” This, however, was no very mischievous or very unusual deviation from truth: had his hypocrisy been confined to such transactions, he might have been forgiven, though not praised; for who forbears to flatter an author or a lady.
Of the laxity of his political principles, and the weakness of his resolution, he experienced the natural effect, by losing the esteem of every party. From