« AnteriorContinua »
the lampoon, to have had great success, and is said to have been played thirty nights together. This however it is reasonable to doubt, as so long a continuance of one play upon the stage is a very wide deviation from the practice of that time; when the ardour for theatrical entertainments was not yet diffused through the whole people, and the audience, consisting nearly of the same persons, could be drawn together only by variety.
The Orphan was exhibited in 1680. This is one of the few plays that keep possession of the stage, and has pleased for almost a century, through all the vicissitudes of dramatic fashion. Of this play nothing new can easily be said. It is a domestic tragedy drawn from middle life. Its whole power is upon the affections; for it is not written with much comprehension of thought, or elegance of expression. But if the heart is interested, many other beauties may be wanting, yet not be missed.
The same year produced The History and Fall of Caius Marius; much of which is borrowed from the Romeo and Juliet of Shakspeare.
In 1683 was published the first, and next year the second, parts of The Soldier's Fortune, two comedies now forgotten; and 1685, his last and greatest dramatic work, Venice Preserved, a tragedy, which still continues to be one of the favourites of the public, notwithstanding the want of morality in the original design, and the despicable seenes of vile comedy with which he has diversified his tragic action. By comparing this with his Orphan, it will appear that his images were by time become stronger, and his language more energetic. The striking passages are in every mouth; and the public seems to judge rightly of the faults and excellencies of this play, that it is the work of a man not attentive to decency, nor zealous for virtue ; but of one who conceived forcibly, and drew originally, by consulting nature in his own breast,
Together with those plays, he wrote the poems which are in the present collection, and translated from the French the History of the Triumvirate.
All this was performed before he was thirty-four years old; for he died April 14, 1685, in a manner which I am
unwilling to mention. Having been compelled by his necessities to contract debts, and hunted, as is supposed, by the terriers of the law, he retired to a public-house on Tower-hill, where he is said to have died of want; or, as it is related by one of his biographers, by swallowing, after a long fast, a piece of bread which charity had supplied. He went out, as is reported, almost naked, in the rage of hunger, and, finding a gentleman in a neighbouring coffeehouse, asked him for a shilling. The gentleman gave him a guinea; and Otway going away, bought a roll, and was choaked with the first mouthful. All this, I hope, is not true; and there is this ground of better hope, that Pope, who lived near enough to be well informed, relates in Spence's memorials, that he died of a fever, caught by violent pursuit of a thief, that had robbed one of his friends. But, that indigence, and its concomitants, sorrow and despondency, pressed hard upon him, has never been denied, whatever immediate cause might bring him to the grave.
Of the poems which the present collection admits, the longest is the Poet's Complaint of his Muse, part of which I do not understand; and in that which is less obscure I find little to commend. The language is often gross, and the numbers are harsh. Otway had not much cultivated versification, nor much replenished his mind with general knowledge. His principal power was in moving the passions, to which Dryden,* in his latter years, left an illustrious testimony. He appears, by some of his verses, to have been a zealous royalist; and had what was in those times the common reward of loyalty-he lived and died neglected.
* In his preface to Fresnor's Ait e Painting.
EDMUND WALLER was born on the 3d of March, 1605, at Colshill in Hertfordshire. His father was Robert Waller, esquire, of Agmondesham in Buckinghamshire, whose family was originally a branch of the Kentish Wallers; and his mother was the daughter of John Hampden, of Hampden, in the same county, and sister to Hampden, the zealot of rebellion.
His father died while he was yet an infant, but left him a yearly income of three thousand five hundred pounds; which, rating together the value of money and the customs of life, we may reckon more than equivalent to ten thou. sand at the present time.
He was educated, by the care of his mother, at Eton; and removed afterwards to King's college in Cambridge. He was sent to parliament in his eighteenth, if not in his sixteenth year, and frequented the court of James the first, where he heard a very remarkable conversation, which the writer of the life prefixed to his works, who seems to have been well informed of facts, though he may sometimes err in chronology, has delivered as indubitably certain:
“ He found dr. Andrews, bishop of Winchester, and dr. Neale, bishop of Durham, standing behind his majesty's chair; and there happened something extraordinary” (continues this writer)" in the conversation those prelates had with the king, on which mr. Waller did often reflect. His majesty asked the bishops, “ My lords, cannot I take my subjects money when I want it, without all this formality of parliament?” The bishop of Durham readily answered, “God forbid, sir, but you should: you are the breath of our nostrils.” Whereupon the king turned and said to the bishop of Winchester, “Well, my lord, what say you?" “Sir," replied the bishop, “I have no skill to judge of par liamentary cases.” The king answered, “No put-offs, my lord; answer me presently.” “ Then, sir," said he, “]
think it is lawful for you to take my brother Neale's money; for he offers it.” Mr. Waller said, the company was pleased with this answer, and the wit of it seemed to affect the king ; for a certain lord coming in soon after, his majesty cried out, “Oh, my lord, they say you lig with my lady.”
No, sir,” says his lordship in confusion,“ but I like her company, because she has so much wit.” “Why, then,” says the king, “ do you not lig with my lord of Winchester there?”
Waller's political and poetical life began nearly together. In his eighteenth year, he wrote the poem that appears first in his works, on the prince's escape at St. Andero; a piece which justifies the observation made by one of his editors, that he attained, by a felicity like instinct, a style which perhaps will never be obsolete; and that, to judge only by the wording, we could not know what was wrote at twenty, and what at fourscore." His versification was, in his first essay, such as it appears in his last performance. By the perusal of Fairfax's translation of Tasso, to which, as Dryden relates,* he confessed himself indebted for the smoothness of his numbers, and by his own nicety of observation, he had already formed such a system of metrical harmony as he never afterwards much needed, or much endeavoured, to improve. Denham corrected his numbers by experience, and gained ground gradually upon the ruggedness of his age; but what was acquired by Denham was inherited by Waller.
The next poem, of which the subject seems to fix the time, is supposed by mr. Fenton to be the address to the queen, which he considers as congratulating her arrival, in Waller's twentieth year. He is apparently mistaken; for the mention of the nation's obligations to her frequent pregnancy proves that it was written when she had brought many children. We have therefore no date of any other poetical production before that which the murder of the duke of Buckingham occasioned; the steadiness with which the king received the news in the chapel deserved indeed lo be rescued from oblivion.
Neither of these pieces, that seem to carry their own dates, could have been the sudden effusion of fancy. In the verses on the prince's escape, the prediction of his marriage with the princess of France must have been written after the event; in the other, the promises of the king's kindness to the descendants of Buckingham, which could not be properly praised till it had appeared by its effects, shew that time was taken for revision and improvement. It is not known that they were published till they appeared long afterwards with other poems.
Waller was not one of those idolaters of praise who cultivate their minds at the expence of their fortunes. Rich as he was by inheritance, he took care early to grow richer, by marrying mrs. Banks, a great heiress in the city, whom the interest of the court was employed to obtain for mr. Crofts. Having brought him a son, who died young, and a daughter, who was afterwards married to mr. Dormer of Oxfordshire, she died in childbed, and left him a widower of about five-and-twenty, gay and wealthy, to please himself with another marriage.
Being too young to resist beauty, and probably too vain to think himself resistible, he fixed his heart, perhaps half fondly and half ambitiously, upon the lady Dorothea Sid. ney, eldest daughter of the earl of Leicester, whom he courted by all the poetry in which Sacharissa is celebrated ; the name is derived from the Latin appellation of sugar, and implies, if it means any thing, a spiritless mildness, and dull good-nature, such as excites rather tenderness" than esteem, and such as, though always treated with kindness, is never honoured or admired.
Yet he describes Sacharissa as a sublime predominating beauty, of lofty charms, and imperious influence, on whom he looks with amazement, rather than fondness, whose chains he wishes, though in vain, to break, and whose presence is wine that inflames to madness.
His acquaintance with this high-born dame gave wit no opportunity of boasting its influence; she was not be subdued by the powers of verse, but rejected his addresses, it is said, with disdain, and drove him away to solace his disappointment with Amoret or Phillis. She married, in