Edmund Waller (1606-1687)

WALLER, who had been involved during the Civil War in a royalist plot to secure the City of London for the King, had his life spared on payment of a large fine, but was sentenced to be banished from the country. In 1651 he was allowed to return to England, and four years later he wrote and published A Panegyric to my Lord Protector. Shortly after the restoration of Charles II he published another poem, To the King, Upon His Majesty's Happy Return. When the King had read it, he told Waller that he thought it much inferior to his panegyric on Cromwell. `Sir,' replied Waller, `we poets never succeed so well in writing truth as in writing fiction.'

— See The Works of Edmund Walter, ed. Elijah Fenton (1729), p. lxvii.

About 1635 Edmund Waller fell in love with Dorothy Sidney, the daughter of the Earl of Leicester, whose family seat was Penshurst in Kent. She was the `Sacharissa' of his poems, but she married another man.

UPON the marriage of that lady to Lord Spencer, afterwards Earl of Sunderland, which was solemnized July 11, 1639, Mr. Waller wrote the following letter to Lady Lucy Sidney, her sister . . .

In this common joy at Penshurst, I know none to whom complaints may come less unseasonably than to your ladyship, the loss of a bedfellow being almost equal to that of a mistress; and therefore you ought at least to pardon, if you consent not to the imprecations of, the deserted, which just Heaven no doubt will hear. May my lady Dorothy, if we may yet call her so, suffer as much, and have the like passion for this young lord, whom she has preferred to the rest of mankind, as others have had for her; and may his love, before the year go about, make her taste of the first curse imposed upon womankind, the pains of becoming a mother. May her first bom be none of her own sex, nor so like her but that he may resemble her lord as much as herself. May she that always affected silence and retirement have the house filled with the noise and number of her children, and hereafter of her grandchildren; and then may she arrive at that great curse, so much declined by fair ladies, old age; may she live to be very old and yet seem young; be told so by her glass, and have no aches to inform her of the truth; and when she shall appear to be mortal, may her lord not mourn for her, but go hand in hand with her to that place where we are told there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage, that being there divorced we may all have an equal interest in her again! My revenge being immortal, I wish all this may befall her posterity to the world's end and afterwardsl To you, madam, I wish all good things, and that this loss may in good time be happily supplied with a more constant bedfellow of the other sex. Madam, I humbly kiss your hands, and beg pardon for this trouble, from

Your ladyship's
   most humble servant,
     E. Waller.

He lived to converse with Lady Sunderland when she was very old, but his imprecations relating to her glass did not succeed, for my lady knew she had the disease which nothing but death could cure; and in a conversation with Mr. Waller and some other company at Lady Wharton's she asked him in raillery,

`When, Mr. Waller, will you write such fine verses upon me again?'
`Oh Madam,' said he, `when your ladyship is as young again.'

—From Cibber, Lives, i. 243-244.

« NEXT » « 17th Century Anecdotes » « All Anecdotes » « Humour » « Library »