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Waller, Edmund

Waller, Edmund (1606–87). Poet. Waller mixed poetry and politics. Born in Buckinghamshire of a very wealthy family, he went to Eton and King's College, Cambridge. He was returned to Parliament for Ilchester in 1624 when he was no more than 17 and was in the Short and Long Parliaments in 1640. Related to both Hampden and Cromwell, he was outspoken in 1642 for negotiations with the king and acquired the reputation of a bold royalist. But when ‘Waller's plot’ to seize London for the king was unmasked in 1643, he made an abject apology and confession to Parliament, which saved his life while leaving his brother-in-law to be hanged. Waller paid a crippling fine, spent seven years in France, and then made his peace with Cromwell, on whom he wrote a famous panegyric. Nevertheless, he rescued his political career at the Restoration, served in Parliament 1661–79 and again in 1685, held office as a commissioner of trade and plantations, spoke frequently, and reminisced cheerfully. He seems to have had a genuine belief in religious toleration. Much of Waller's poetry was pleasant social verse, but occasionally he hit a deeper note with ‘Go, lovely rose’ and ‘Of the Last Verse in the Book’. Johnson, in his Lives of the Poets, devoted much space to Waller, praising his elegance and gaiety: ‘he is never pathetick and very rarely sublime.’

J. A. Cannon

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Waller, Edmund

Edmund Waller, 1606–87, English poet. He studied at Eton and Cambridge and became a prominent speaker in Parliament at a young age. He married twice (1631 and 1644), but his early poems are addressed to "Sacharissa," Lady Dorothy Sidney, who refused to marry him. Although at first an antiroyalist, he later supported Charles I against Parliament and conceived "Waller's plot" (1643) to secure the city of London for the king. The plot was discovered, and Waller was fined and banished. He was pardoned in 1651 and after the Restoration was again in Parliament, where he served until his death. His verse is noted for its smoothness and polish, but aside from a few amatory poems his importance rests on his contributions in style, most notably the development of the heroic couplet. The first collection of his works appeared in 1645 and immediately went through several editions. His best-known lyrics are "Go, Lovely Rose" and "On a Girdle."

See his poems ed. by G. T. Drury (1893, repr. 1968); A. W. Allison, Toward an Augustan Poetic (1962).

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