The almost universal adulation given Edmund Waller in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries—an adulation which, often as not, attached to his reform of poetry—has been commonly accepted with little question of the grounds on which it is based. In this essay Alexander Ward Allison presents for the first time a specific analysis of the changes from Jacobean modes which Waller made, suggesting in the course of his analysis that the seventeenth century saw not a dissociation of sensibility, but rather a new fusion, of which Waller is a type.
By a careful and detailed reading of the poems, Mr. Allison shows how Waller, writing in the genre of occasional verse, replaced the rational, ethical, direct Jacobean mode with a tone of geniality and personal detachment supported by an easy association of ideas and images. The same examination reveals how Waller elevated his diction and how, under the influence of Fairfax, he continued the “sweet” tradition of Spenser in his smoothly modulated metric.
That to neoclassical poets Waller constituted a paragon is evident from their sometimes excessive praise; that he is one indeed is demonstrated by Allison with a style which enjoys an Augustan nicety.