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Poetical Works of Edmund Waller and Sir John Denham   By: (1615-1669)

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It is too true, after all, that the lives of poets are not, in general, very interesting. Could we, indeed, trace the private workings of their souls, and read the pages of their mental and moral development, no biographies could be richer in instruction, and even entertainment, than those of our greater bards. The inner life of every true poet must be poetical. But in proportion to the romance of their souls' story, is often the commonplace of their outward career. There have been poets, however, whose lives are quite as readable and as instructive as their poetry, and have even shed a reflex and powerful interest on their writings. The interest of such lives has, in general, proceeded either from the extraordinary misfortunes of the bard, or from his extremely bad morals, or from his strange personal idiosyncrasy, or from his being involved in the political or religious conflicts of his age. The life of Milton, for instance, is rendered intensely interesting from his connexion with the public affairs of his critical and solemn era. The life of Johnson is made readable from his peculiar conformation of body, his bear like manners, his oddities, and his early struggles. You devour the life of Gifford, not because he was a poet, but because he was a shoemaker; and that of Byron, more on account of his vices, his peerage, and his domestic unhappiness, than for the sake of his poetry. And in Waller, too, you feel some supplemental interest, because he united what are usually thought the incompatible characters of a poet and a political plotter, and very nearly reached the altitudes of the gallows as well as those of Parnassus.

March 1605 was the date, and Coleshill, in Hertfordshire, the place, of the birth of our poet. He was of an ancient and honourable family originally from Kent, some members of which were distinguished for their wealth and others for the valour with which, at Agincourt and elsewhere, they fought the battles of their country. Robert Waller, the poet's father, inherited from Edmund, his father, the lands of Beaconsfield, in Bucks, and other territory in Hertfordshire. These had been in 1548 9 left by Francis Waller, in default of issue by his own wife, to his brothers Thomas and Edmund, but Thomas dying, Edmund inherited the whole. Robert, on receiving his estates, quitted the profession of the law, to which he had attached himself, and spent the rest of his life chiefly at Beaconsfield, employed in the manly business and healthy amusements of a country gentleman. He died in August 1616, and left a widow and a son the son, Edmund, being eleven years of age. It was at Beaconsfield. We need hardly remind our readers, that a far greater Edmund Edmund Burke spent many of his days. It was there that he composed his latest and noblest works, the "Reflections on the French Revolution," and the "Letters on a Regicide Peace;" and there he surrendered to the Creator one of the subtlest, strongest, brightest, and best of human souls. Shortly after Burke's death, the house of Beaconsfield was burnt down, and no trace of it is now, we believe, extant.

Mrs. Waller's brother, William, was the father of John Hampden. His wife, Elizabeth Cromwell, the aunt of the great Oliver, was, however, and continued to the end, a violent Royalist; and Cromwell, although he treated both her and her son with kindness, and on the terms of their relationship, was so provoked at hearing that she carried on a secret correspondence with the Stewart party, that he confined her under a very strict watch in the house of her daughter, Mrs. Price, whose husband was on the side of the Parliament. It is exceedingly probable that from the "mother's milk" of early prejudice was derived that spirit of partisanship which distinguished alike the writings and the life of the poet. It is possible, too, that contact with men so far above moral heroism and rugged mental force as Cromwell and Hampden, instead of exciting emulation, led to envy, and that his divergence from their political path sprung more from personal feeling than from principle... Continue reading book >>

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