Edmund Waller  (1606-1687)

      Edmund Waller was born March 3, 1606 in Coleshill, Hertfordshire (now in Buckinghamshire), the eldest son of a wealthy landowner. He was educated at Eton and King's College, Cambridge. He was elected to Parliament at the young age of 16, and became a noted orator, said by John Aubrey to have possessed "a great mastership of the English Language"1.
      On 5 July 1631, Waller married Anne Banks, a London heiress, but she died after three years of marriage. Waller is then said to have courted Lady Dorothy Sidney, in the guise of "Sacharissa", and Lady Sophia Murray, in the guise of "Amoret", both with no luck. In 1644 Waller married again, a Mary Bracey (or Breaux).
      During the troubled 1640s, Waller tried to maintain a moderate course between the King and his opponents. In 1643 he devised a plot to to oust the Parliamentary rebels, "Roundheads", and to secure London for the King. When the plot, known as "Waller's Plot", was discovered in May, Waller was arrested and brought before the Parliament. Waller confessed and pleaded for mercy, but his freedom lay in bribes and betrayal of his co-conspirators—Waller was fined heavily (£10,000) and exiled. Waller lived in Paris, travelling occasionally in Italy and Switzerland, until 1652 when he was allowed to return. He returned to Parliament and was returned to royal favor at the Restoration. Waller died in his bed, aged 82, 21 October 1687.
      Waller was a celebrated poet and wit in his lifetime, and many of his poems had long circulated in manuscript before the 1645 publication of his Poems. The first fully authorized edition was that of 1664. In 1655 appeared the "Panegyrick to my Lord Protector", celebrating Cromwell, and in 1660 "To the King, Upon His Majesty's Happy Return", celebrating the restoration of King Charles II. To Samuel Johnson this writing of panegyrics to both Cromwell and Charles evinced moral vacuity. Upon Charles' observation that Cromwell's was the better poem, Waller supposedly answered: "Sir, we poets never succeed so well in writing truth as in fiction."1 Waller's later works include Divine Poems (1685) and The Second Part of Mr. Waller's Poems, posthumously published in 1690.
      Waller, a member of the Royal Society, brought refinement to the heroic couplet, which led to the symmetrical patterning of the Augustan heroic couplet. It is no surprise that Waller's poetry was highly esteemed in the eighteenth century. Dryden wrote that Waller "first made writing easily an art." Alexander Pope acknowledged Waller as a master, and the Biographia Britannica (1766) called him "the most celebrated lyric poet that ever England produced."1 Waller's reputation and readership has since steadily declined, and he is known today mostly for his lyrics "Go, Lovely Rose", and "On a Girdle."

  1. The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English. Ian Ousby, Ed.
    Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1998.