Page images

satire against some writer who had attempted to prejudice her character in a libel ; but Waller's strength lay not in this direction, his enmity is effeminate, his rage ridiculous, and his invective impotent. His darts never pierce deeper than did the needles of the Lilliputians on the nose of Gulliver ! His wounds are not mortal. This lady, the daughter of Henry, Earl of Northumberland, had married James Hay, Earl of Carlisle, a nobleman, who, in conjunction with Lord Holland, arranged the terms of Henrietta Maria's marriage at the court of France. He afterwards degenerated into

. a worthless spendthrift, and having dissipated an estate of four hundred thousand pounds, left not so much as a house, an acre, or a good action to be remembered by. His biographer acknowledges, " that he had no other

" consideration for money than for the support of his lustre, and while he could maintain that, he cared not for money, having no bowels on the point of running into debt or borrowing all he could.” Upon the death of this depraved man, (for his vices are beneath notice) Lady Carlisle became constantly attached to the service of the Court, where acquiring an extraordinary influence over the mind of Henrietta Maria, she was tempted to enter into those base intrigues, which exercised a most prejudicial influence iu widening the breach between the King and his Parliament, and which lave since left such a lasting stigma of infamy upon her reputation. Subsequent revelations have now confirmed the fact, that she acted the mean part of a spy in the palace, betraying the Court by furnishing the leading members of the opposition with intelligence of whatever designs Charles had in contemplation respecting the conduct of that unhappy dispute. She has been termed the Helen of her country, but her actions would more nearly find a parallel in those of Judas. Public rumour accused her of being the mistress of Pym, of this however we have no certain proof, although the general tenor of her conduct warrants the surmise. History has placed her perfidy beyond the reach of doubt. In the attempted arrest of the Five Members, that fatal and most culpable of all the designs which Charles ever entertained, she completely thwarted his plans by affording precise information of the projected seizure to the accused members, who were thus enabled to seek safety in the City by a previous flight, and defy the King. Charles had entrusted the secret to the queen, who, when waiting in the presence of Lady Carlisle for intelligence of the successful termination of the coup de main, confidingly exclaimed, “Rejoice ! for I hope that the King is now master in his states, and that such and such (naming the five members) are in custody.” No one who has any regard for the cause of liberty or the vindication of right, could desire Charles to have been successful in this flagrant violation of the prescriptive privileges of Parliament; yet few will be found to regard this perfidious treachery of Lady Carlisle’s, except as one of the most despicable actions of which a woman was ever guilty. Unfortunate, indeed, must have been that Princess, whose interest and whose honour were entrusted to the keeping of such a friend. In justice to Waller, we must admit that his laboured


panegyrics upon Lady Carlisle were written before this vile transaction had occurred, although it must be confessed he showed upon many occasions but little discrimination in selecting the subjects of his praise. His eulogies too frequently appear as though their principal purpose was only to obtain some reciprocal compliment in return.

In the great crisis to which the affairs of the kingdom were rapidly hastening, and which under the name of the Great Rebellion constitutes so memorable an epoch in English History, Waller was destined to perform a conspicuous though not altogether a very creditable part. His relationship to Hampden, the great champion of the popular cause, combined with the political reputation which he had acquired in the early Parliaments of this unhappy reign, naturally urged him into the heat of the tumult, and if he behaved there with less courage and discretion than befitted him, we must, to use the language of one of his biographers, refrain from condemning him with untempered severity,“ because he was not a prodigy which the world hath seldom seen, because his character included not the poet, the orator, and the hero.” It had, perhaps, been better for Waller's reputation, had he, like Atticus, have turned away from the stormy councils and the passionate strife of political life, to enjoy that learned leisure, that honestium otium in which he was far more eminently adapted to shine than amidst the troubled and agitated contentions of the tribune and the senate.

The King's adversities in Scotland having compelled him to assemble a Parliament in the month of April, 1640, Waller obtained his re-election for Amersham without difficulty. From his relationship to Hampden and his intimate connexion with the leading members of the opposition, the courtiers supposed him to be adverse to the cause of prerogative—a suspicion subsequently verified by his language in the House, although he expressed upon all occasions great reverence for the King's legitimate authority, and showed an eager desire to conciliate the enemies of Royalty by advising temperate concessions. On his Majesty's demand being read in the Commons, desiring an immediate supply before grievances were redressed, or petitions listened to, Waller in a forcible and energetic speech remonstrated with the King's advisers upon

the impolitic step they had taken in pressing such a claim, and rebuked the clergy in a tone of sarcastic irony for their disgraceful conduct in stooping to attribute a divine right to sovereign power. “The Kings of this nation,” said he,“ have always governed by Parliaments; and if we look upon the success of things since Parliaments were laid by, it resembles that of the Grecians, Ex illo fluere ac retro sublapsa referri res Danaum, especially on the subjects' part, for though the King hath got little, they have lost all." Referring to the clergy, he observed, “They gain preferment, and then 'tis no matter though they neither believe themselves, nor are believed of others; but since they are so ready to let loose the consciences of Kings, we are the more carefully to provide for our protection against this pulpit law, by declaring and

[ocr errors]

reinforcing the municipal laws of this kingdom.” In concluding his speech, he warned the courtiers and their adherents to consider the requests of the people before supplies were pressed, and then moved “That this House do first restore to the nation its fundamental and vital liberties, and then consider the supply desired.” The sentiments expressed by Waller on this occasion were manly and just, but while his opposition to the policy of the royal council appeared so vehement, he was too loyal not to wish that the King's distresses should be lightened. One of Waller’s biographers relates that King Charles sent particularly to him, to second a demand of some subsidies to pay off the army; and Sir Henry Vane objecting against first voting a supply because the King would not accept unless it came up to his proportion, Mr. Waller spoke earnestly to Sir Thomas Jermyn to save his master from so bold a falsity, for said he, “ I am but a country gentleman, and cannot pretend to know the King's mind,” but Sir Thomas durst not contradict the Secretary, and his son, the Earl of St. Albans, afterwards told Waller that his father's cowardice ruined the King.

In the Long Parliament, Waller was again chosen for Amersham, and continued to support Hampden upon all important questions with his vote. His ability in debate must have been regarded by the popular party as considerable, since he was selected to manage the prosecution of Judge Crawley, for the illegal opinion that magistrate had delivered in favour of imposing Ship-Money. The public considered the

« PreviousContinue »