« AnteriorContinuar »
greatest dramatick work, Venice Preserved, a tragedy, which still continues to be one of the favourites of the publick, notwithstanding the want of morality in the original design, and the despicable scenes of vile comedy with which he has diversified his tragick action * By comparing this with his “ Orphan,” it will appear that his images were by time become stronger, and his language more energetick. The striking passages are in every mouth; and the publick seems to judge rightly of the faults and excellences 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 publick 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 coffee-house, asked him for a shilling.
* The despicable scenes of vile comedy can be no bar to its being a favourite of the publick, as they are always omitted in the representation. J. B.
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 Poets 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 Fresnoy’s Art of Painting. Dr. J.
W ALL ER.
EDMUND WALLER was born on the third 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 thousand at the present time.
He was educated, by the care of his mother, at Eaton; 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 parliamentary cases.' The King answered, “No put-offs, my Lord; answer me presently. Then, Sir,' said he, “I 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 observa
tion made by one of his editors, that he attained, by a felicity like instinct, a style which perhaps will never be obsolete; and that, “ were we 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 congratu. lating 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 to be rescued from oblivion.
Neither of these pieces that seem to carry their own dates could have been the sụdden effusion of fancy. In the verses on the Prince's escape, the pre
* Preface to his Fables. Dr. J.