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Not so much moved with these reasons of ours, or pleased with our rhymes, as wearied with our importunity, he bas at last given us leave to assure the reader that the Poems which have been so long and so ill set forth under his name, are here to be found as he first writ them; as also to add some others which have since been composed by him : and though his advice to the contrary might have discouraged us, yet observing how often they have been reprinted, what price they have borne, and how earnestly they have been always inquired after, but especially of late, (making good that of Horace,
Meliora dies, ut vina, poemata reddit. Lib. ii. ep. 1.
some verses being, like some wines, recommended to our taste by time and age') we have adventured upon this new and well-corrected edition, which, for our own sakes as well as thine, we hope will succeed better than he apprehended.
Vivitu ingenio, cætera mortis erunt.
TO THE SECOND PART OF THESE POEMS, IN 1690.
The reader needs be told no more in commendation ese Poems, than that they are Mr. Waller's; a name that carries every thing in it that is either great or graceful in poetry. He was, indeed, the parent of English verse, and the first that showed us our tongue had beauty and numbers in it. Our language owes more to him than the French does to Cardinal Richelieu and the whole Academy. A poet cannot think of him without being in the same rapture Lucretius is in, when Epicurus comes in his way.
Tu pater, et rerum inventor ; to patria nobis
Lib. iii. ver. 9.
The tongue came into his hands like a rough diamond: he polished it first, and to that degree, that all artists since him have admired the workmanship, without pretending to mend it. Suckling and Carew, I must confess, wrote some few things smoothly enough; but as all they did in this kind was not very considerable, so it was a little later than the earliest pieces of Mr. Waller. He undoubtedly stands first in the list of refiners, and,
or aught I know, last too ; for I question whether in Charles II.'s reign English did not come to its
full perfection, and whether it has not bad its | Augustan age as well as the Latin. It seems to be | already mixed with foreign languages as far as its
purity will bear; and, as chemists say of their menstruums, to be quite sated with the infusion : but posterity will best judge of this. In the mean time, it is a surprising reflection, that between what Spenser wrote last, and Waller first, there should not be much above twenty years distance; and yet the one's language, like the money of that time, is as current now as ever; whilst the other's words are like old coins, one must go to an antiquary to understand their true meaning and value. Such advances may a great genius make, when it undertakes any thing in earnest!
Some painters will hit the chief lines and masterstrokes of a face so truly, that through all the differences of age the picture shall still bear a resemblance. This art was Mr. Walter's: he sought out in this flowing tongue of ours, what parts would last, and be of standing use and ornament; and this he did so successfully, that his language is now as fresh as it was at first setting out. Were we to judge barely by the wording, we could not know what was wrote at twenty, and what at fourscore. He complains, indeed, of a tide of words that comes in upon the English poet, and overflows whatever he builds; but this was less his case than any man's that ever wrote; and the mischief of it is, this very complaint will last long enough to confute itself; for though English be mouldering stone, as he tells
us there, yet he has certainly picked the best out of a bad quarry.
We are no less beholden to him for the new turn of verse which he brought in, and the improvement he made in our numbers. Before his time men rhymed indeed, and that was all: as for the harmony of measure, and that dance of words which good ears are so much pleased with, they knew nothing of it. Their poetry then was made up almost entirely of monosyllables, which, when they come together in any cluster, are certainly the most harsh, untunable things in the world. If any man doubts of this, let him read ten lines in Donne, and he will be quickly convinced. Besides, their verses ran all into one another, and hung together, throughout a whole copy, like the hooked atoms that compose a body in Des Cartes. There was no distinction of parts, no regular stops, nothing for the ear to rest upon; but as soon as the copy began, down it went like a larum, incessantly, and the reader was sure to be out of breath before be got to the end of it: so that really verse, in those days, was but downright prose tagged with rhymes. Mr. Waller removed all these faults, brought in more polysyllables and smoother measures, bound up his thoughts better, and in a cadence more agreeable to the nature of the verse he wrote in; so that wherever the natural stops of that were, he contrived the little breakings of his sense so as to fall in with them : and, for that reason, since the stress of our verse lies commonly upon the last syllable, you will hardly ever find him using a word of no force there. I would say, if I were not
afraid the reader would think me too nice, that he commonly closes with verbs, in which we know the life of language consists.
Among other improvements we may reckon that of his rhymes, which are always good, and very often the better for being new. He had a fine ear, and knew how quickly that sense was cloyed by the same round of chiming words still returning upon it. It is a decided case by the great master of writing', Quæ sunt ampla, et pulchra, diu placere possunt; quæ lepida et concinna, (amongst which rhyme must, whether it will or no, take its place) cito salietate afficiunt aurium sensum fastidiosissi
This he understood very well; and therefore, to take off the danger of a surfeit that way, strove to please by variety and new sounds. Had he carried this observation, among others, as far as it would go, it must, methinks, have shown him the incurable fault of this jingling kind of poetry, and have led his later judgment to blank verse: but be continued an obstinate lover of rhyme to the very last: it was a mistress that never appeared unhandsome in his eyes, and was courted by him long after Sacharissa was forsaken. He had raised it, and brought it to that perfection we now enjoy it in; and the poet's temper (which has always a little vanity in it) would not suffer him ever to slight a thing he had taken so much pains to adorn. My Lord Roscommon was more impartial ; no man ever rhymed truer and evener than he; yet he is so just as to confess that it is but a trifle, and to wish the tyrant dethroned, and blank verse
» Ad Herennium, lib. iv.