網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

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 enquiring the cause, they found a son of Ben Johnson under an arrest. This was Morley, whom Waller set free at the expence of one hundred pounds, took him into the country as a director 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 fatterers and privy mockers. Waller shewed a little of both, when, upon sight of the Duchess 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 Cromwell he had only his recall; and from Charles the Second, who delighted in his company, he obtained only the pardon of his relation Hampden, and the safety of Hampden's son. As far as conjecture can be made from the whole of his writing, and his conduct, he was habitually and deliberately a friend to monarchy. His deviation towards democracy proceeded from his connection with Hampden, for whose sake he prosecuted Crawley with great bitterness; and the invective which he pronounced on that occasion was so popular, that twenty thousand copies are said by his biographer to have been sold in one day. It is confessed that his faults still left him many friends, at least many companions. His convivial power of pleasing is universally acknowledged; but those who conversed with him intimately, found him not only passion

ate, especially in his old age, but resentful; so that the interposition of friends was sometimes necessary. - His His wit and his poetry naturally connected him with the polite writers of his time: he was joined with Lord Buckhurst in the translation of Cors neille's Pompey; and is said to have added his help to that of Cowley in the original draught of the Rehearsal. - r

The care of his fortune, which Clarendon imputes to him in a degree little less than criminai, was either not constant or not successful; for, having inherited a patrimony of three thousand five hundred pounds a year in the time of James the First, and augmented it at least by one wealthy marriage, he left, about the time of the Revolution, an income of not more than twelve or thirteen hundred; which, when the different value of money is reckoned, will be found perhaps not more than a fourth part of what he once possessed.

Of this diminution, part was the consequence of the gifts which he was forced to scatter, and the fine which he was condemned to pay at the detection of his plot; and if his estate, as is related in his Life, was sequestered, he had probably contracted debts when he lived in exile; for we are told, that at Paris he lived in splendor, and was the only Englishman, except the Lord St. Albans, that kept a table.

His unlucky plot compelled him to sell a thousand a year; of the waste of the rest there is no account, except that he is confessed by his biographer to have been a bad coconomist. He seems to have deviated from the consoon practice; to have been a hoarder in his first years, and a squanderer in his last.

Of his course of studies, or choice of books, nothing is more known than

that he professed himself unable to read Chapman's translation of Homer

without rapture. His opinion concerning the duty of a poet is contained in his declaration, that “he would blot from his works any line that did not * contain some motive to virtue.”

THE characters, by which Waller intended to distinguish his writings, are spriteliness and dignity; in his smaller pieces, he endeavours to be gay; in the larger to be great. Of his airy and light productions, the chief source is gallantry, that attentive reverence of female excellence, which has descended to us from the Gothic ages. As his poems are commonly occasional, and his addresses personal, he was not so liberally supplied with grand as

with soft images; for beauty is more easily found than magnanimity. The delicacy, which he cultivated, restrains him to a certain nicety and caution, even when he writes upon the slightest matter. He has, therefore, in his whole volume, nothing buriesque, and seldom any thing ludicrous or familiar. He seems always to do his best: though his subjects are often unworthy of his care. It is not easy to think without some contempt on an author, who is growing illustrious in his own opinion by verses, at one time, “To a Lady, who can do any thing, but sleep, when she pleases.” At another, “To a Lady, who can sleep, when she pleases.” Now, “To a “Lady, on her passing through a crowd of people.” Then, “On a braid “of divers colours woven by four Ladies:” “On a tree cut in paper:” or, “ To

[ocr errors]

“To a Lady, from whom he received the copy of verses on the paper-tree, “which, for many years, had been missing.” Genius now and then produces a lucky trifle. We still read the Dove of Anacreon, and Sparrow of Catullus; and a writer naturally pleases himself with a performance, which owes nothing to the subject. But compositions merely pretty have the fate of other pretty things, and are quitted in time for something useful; they are flowers fragrant and fair, but of short duration; or they are blossoms to be valued only as they foretel fruits. Among Waller's little poems are some, which their excellency ought to secure from oblivion; as, 7% Amoret, comparing the different modes of regard with which he looks on her and Sacharissa; and the verses On Love, that begin, Anger in hasty words or blows. In others he is not equally successful; sometimes his thoughts are deficient, and sometimes his expression. The numbers are not always musical ; as, Fair Venus, in thy soft arms The god of rage confine ; For thy whispers are the charms ...Which only can divert his fierce design. . . What though he frown, and to tumult do incline; Thou the flame Kindled in his breast canst tame With that snow which unmelted lies on thine. He seldom indeed fetches an amorous sentiment from the depths of science; his thoughts are for the most part easily understood, and his images such as the superficies of nature readily supplies; he has a just claim to popularity, because he writes to common degrees of knowledge, and is free at least from philosophical pedantry, unless perhaps the end of a song to the Sun may be excepted, in which he is too much a Copernican. To which may be added the simile of the Palm in the verses on her passing through a crowd; and a line in a more serious poem on the Restauration, about vipers and treacle, which can only be understood by those who happen to know the composition of the Theriaca. His thoughts are sometimes hyperbolical, and his images unnatural: The plants admire, No less than those of old did Orpheus' lyre; If she sit down, with tops all tow'rds her bow'd ; They round about her into arbours crowd:

Or if she walks, in even ranks they stand,
Like some wall marshal'd and obsequious band.

In another place;

While in the park I sing, the listening deer
Attend my passion, and forget to fear:
When to the beeches I report my flame,
They bow their heads, as if they felt the same,
To gods appealing, when I reach their bowers,
With loud complaints they answer me in showers.
To thee a wild and cruel soul is given,
More deaf than trees, and prouder than the heaven! On

O fertile head! which every year
Could such a erop of wonder bear !
The teeming earth did never bring
So soon, so hard, so htge a thing:
Which might it never have been cast,
Each year's growth added to the last,
These lofty branches had supply'd
The Earth's bold son's prodigious pride:
Heaven with these engines had been scal’d,
When mountains heap'd on mountains fail’d.

Sometimes having succeeded in the first part, he makes a feeble conclution. In the song of “Sacharissa's and Amoret's Friendship,” the two hit stanzas ought to have been omitted.

His images of gallantry are not always in the highest degree delicate.

Then shall my love this doubt displace,
And gain such trust that I may come

And banquet sometimes on thy face,
But make my constant meals at home.

. Some applications may be thought too remote and unconsequential: as in the verses on the Lady dancing.

The sun in figures such as these,
Joye with the moon to play: "

To the sweet strains they advance,
Which do result from their own spheres:

As this nymph's dance
Moves with the numbers which she hears.

Sometimes a thought, which might perhaps fill a distich, is expanded *d attenuated till it grows weak and almost evanescent.

Chloris since first our calm of peace
Was frighted hence, this good we find,
Your favours with your fears increase,
And growing mischiefs make you kind.
So the fair tree, which still preserves
Her fruit, and state, while no wind blows,
In storms from that uprightness swerves;
And the glad earth about her strows
With treasure from her yielding boughs.

His images are not always distinct; as, in the following passage, he confounds Love as a person with love as a passion:

Some other nymphs, with colours faint,
And pencil slow may Cupid point,
And a weak heart in time destroy;
She has a stamp, and prints the Boy:
Can, with a single look, inflame
The coldest breast, the rudest tame.

His sallies of casual flattery are sometimes elegant and happy, as that in */or the Silver Pen; and sometimes empty and trifling, as that upon the the Card torn by the Queen. There are a few lines written in the Dutchess', Tasso, which he is said by Fenton to have kept a summer under correction. It happened to Waller, as to others, that his success was not always in proportion to his labour. Of these petty compositions, neither the beauties nor the faults deserve much attention. The amorous verses have this to recommend them, that they are less hyperbolical than those of some other poets. Waller is not always at the last gasp; he does not die of a frown, nor live upon a smile. There is, however, too much love, and too many trifles. Little things are made too important; and the Empire of Beauty is represented as exerting its influence further than can be allowed by the multiplicity of human passions, and the variety of human wants. Such books, therefore, may be considered as shewing the world under a false appearance, and, so far as they obtain credit from the young and unexperienced, as misleading expectation, and misguiding practice. Of his nobler and more weighty performances, the greater part is pane

gyrical; for of praise he was very lavish, as is observed by his imitator, Lord Lansdowne.

No satyr stalks within the hallow'd ground, But queens and heroines, kings and gods abound; Glory and arms and love are all the sound. In the first poem, on the danger of the Prince on the coast of Spain, there is a puerile and ridiculous mention of Arion at the beginning; and the last paragraph, on the Calle, is in part ridiculously mean, and in part ridiculously tumid. The poem, however, is such as may be justly praised, without much allowance for the state of our poetry and language at that time. The two next poems are upon the King's behaviour at the death of Buckingham, and upon his Wavy. He has, in the first, used the pagan deities with great propriety: 'Twas want of such a precedent as this Made the old heathens frame their gods amiss. In the poem on the Navy, those lines are very noble, which suppose the King's power secure against a second Deluge; so noble, that it were almost criminal to remark the mistake of centre for surface, or to say that the empite of the sea would be worth little if it were not that the waters terminate in land. - The poem upon Sallee has forcible sentiments; but the conclusion is feeble. That on the Repairs of St. Paul's has something vulgar and obvious; such as the mention of Anphion; and something violent and harsh, as So all our minds with his conspire to grace The Gentiles' great apostle, and deface

Those state-obscuring sheds, that like a chain - Seein'd to confine, and setter him again:

• Which

« 上一頁繼續 »