Buckinghamshire, Edmund Waller was the eldest child in a wealthy family. His father died when Waller was still an infant, settling an annual income in excess of £3,000 on his son for life. Waller attended Eton and King's College, Cambridge, and was elected to Parliament in his teens. His oratory skills became legendary, as the record of an early visit to King James I established his reputation. Waller enjoyed membership in the circle of Sir Lucius Falkland, a member of the Tribe of Ben. The circle, which included Ben Jonson and Thomas Carew, gathered at Falkland's home, Great Tew, for philosophical discussions.
Waller wrote his first formal poem, "The Prince's Escape at St. Andero," at age 18; it later appeared in a collection of his works. He married an heiress, and the couple had a son who died and a daughter who survived; his wife died in childbirth when Waller was 25. He then fell in love with Lady Dorothy Sidney, daughter of the earl of Leicester, who became the celebrated Sacharissa of his love poetry. Rumored to have several additional romantic involvements, Waller eventually remarried in his thirties. Not much is written of his wife; the couple may have had 13 children. Although he would lose his seat in the Civil Wars after plotting for the Royalists in 1643, living out most of a near-10-year exile in Paris, he eventually returned home at the invitation of Cromwell, a distant relative. A short time later Waller also regained his seat in Parliament and remained a member for life.
As a poet Waller was noted for his elegiac and panegyric verse, which proved quite popular in his lifetime. Praised by John Dryden and Alexander Pope, Waller remained in high esteem through most of the 18th century. However, Samuel Johnson became the first of many critics to find Waller's verse highly artificial and lacking ingenuity and sincerity. of a panegyric written to Cromwell, Johnson noted in his Lives of the Poets that Waller considered "Cromwell in his exaltation, without inquiring how he attained it; there is consequently no mention of the rebel or the regicide. . . . The act of violence by which he obtained the supreme power is lightly treated." When writing about Waller's praise of Charles II, Johnson remains clearly disgusted with Waller's change of allegiance: "It is not possible to read, without some contempt and indignation, poems of the same author, ascribing the highest degree of power and piety to Charles the First, then transferring the same power and piety to Oliver Cromwell, now inviting oliver to take the Crown, and then congratulating Charles the Second on his recovered right." He added that none of Waller's subjects could have considered his work any more than "the tribute of dependence," accusing Waller of possessing a "prostituted mind, that may retain the glitter of wit, but has lost the dignity of virtue."
Later critics found Waller's poetry interesting for its formality and purity of expression in use of the heroic couplet and "point counterpoint" format. His most widely anthologized works include "The Story of Phoe bus and Daphne Applied," "on a Girdle," and the celebrated song "Go, Lovely Rose!"
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