Sir John Denham

John Aubrey, in Brief Lives, 1669-1696; ed. Clark (1898) 1:216-21.

Sir John Denham, Knight of the Bath, was borne at Dublin in Ireland, anno Domini ....

Quaere Dr. Buzby if he was a Westminster schollar — I have forgot. Anno ... he was admitted of Trinity Colledge in Oxford, where he stayed ... His tutor there was .... I have heard Mr. Josias Howe say that he was the dreamingst young fellow; he never expected such things from him as he haz left the world. When he was there he would game extremely; when he had played away all his money he would play away his father's wrought rich gold cappes.

His father was Sir John Denham, one of the Barons of the Exchequer. He had been one of the Lords justices in Ireland: he maried Ellenor, one of the daughters of Sir Garret Moore, knight, lord baron of Mellifont, in the kingdome of Ireland, whom he maried during his service in Ireland in the place of Chief justice there.

From Trinity Colledge he, went to Lincolnes-Inne, where (as judge Wadham Windham, who was his contemporary, told me) he was as good a student as any in the house. Was not suspected to be a witt.

At last, viz. 1640, his play of The Sophy came out, which did take extremely: Mr. Edmund Waller sayd then of him, that he broke-out like the Irish Rebellion — threescore thousand strong, before any body was aware.

He was much rooked by gamesters, and fell acquainted with that unsanctified crew, to his ruine. His father had some suspition of it, and chid him severely, wherupon his son John (only child) wrot a little essay in 8vo, printed ..., Against gameing and to shew the vanities and invonveniences of it, which he presented to his father, to let him know his detestation of it. But shortly after his father's death (who left 2,000 or 1,500 in ready money, 2 houses well furnished, and much plate) the money was played away first, and next the plate was sold. I remember about 1646 he lost 200 one night at New-cutt. Anno ... (I ghesse 1642) he was high-sheriff of the countie of Surrey.

At the beginning of the civill warre he was made governor of Farnham-castle for the king, but he was but a young soldier, and did not keepe it. In 1642|3, after Edghill fight, his poeme called Cowper's Hill was printed at Oxford, in a sort of browne paper, for then they could gett no better.

1646|7 (quaere) he conveyed, or stole away, the two dukes of Yorke and Glocester from St. James's (from the tuition of the earle of Northumberland), and conveyed them into France to the Prince of Wales and Queen-mother. King Charles II sent him and the lord Culpepper envoyes to the king of Poland,...

Anno, 1652, he returned into England, and being in some straights was kindly entertayned by the earle of Pembroke at Wilton, where I had the honour to contract an acquaintance with him. Here he translated the ... booke of Vergil's Aeneis, and also burlesqu't it: quaere Mr. Christopher Wase who was then there, tutor to William, lord Herbert. He was, as I remember, a yeare with my lord of Pembroke at Wilton and London; he had then sold all the lands his father had left him.

His first wife was the daughter and heire of ... Cotton, of ... in Glocestershire, by whom he had 500 per annum, one son and two daughters. His son did not "patrem sapere." He was of Wadham College in Dr. Wilkins's time: he dyed sine prole, I thinke, there. — One of his daughters is maried to ... Morley, of Sussex, esq.; the other....

He was much beloved by King Charles the First, who much valued him for his ingenuity. He graunted him the reversion of the surveyor of his majestie's buildings, after the decease of Mr. Inigo Jones; which place, after the restauration of King Charles II he enjoyed to his death, and gott seaven thousand pounds, as Sir Christopher Wren told me of, to his owne knowledge. Sir Christopher Wren was his deputie.

Anno Domini 166.. he maried his 2d wife, < Margaret > Brookes, a very beautifull young lady; Sir John was ancient and limping. The duke of Yorke fell deepely in love with her, though (I have been morally assured) he never had carnall knowledge of her. This occasioned Sir John's distemper of madnesse in 166.., which first appeared when he went from London to see the famous free-stone quarries at Portland in Dorset, and when he came within a mile of it, turned back to London again, and did a not see it. He went to Hownslowe, and demanded rents of lands he had sold many yeares before; went to the king, and told him he was the Holy Ghost. But it pleased God that he was cured of this distemper, and writt excellent verses (particularly on the death of Mr. Abraham Cowley) afterwards. His 2d lady had no child; was poysoned by the hands of Co. of Roc. with chocolatte.

At the coronation of King Charles II he was made Knight of the Bath.

He dyed (vide A. Wood's Antiq. Oxon.) at the house of his office (which he built, as also the brick-buildings next the street in Scotland-yard), and was buried, anno Domini 1668|9 March the 23, in the south crosse aisle of Westminster Abbey, neer Sir Jeffrey Chaucer's monument, but hitherto (1680) without any memoriall for him.

Memorandum: — the parsonage-house at Egham (vulgarly called The Place) was built by baron Denham; a house very convenient, not great, but pretty, and pleasantly scituated, and in which his son, Sir John., (though he had better seates), did take most delight in. He sold it to John Thynne, esq. In this parish is a place called Cammomill-hill, from the cammomill that growes there naturally; as also west of it is Prune-well-hill (formerly part of Sir John's possessions), where was a fine tuft of trees, a clear spring, and a pleasant prospect to the east, over the levell of Middlesex and Surrey. Sir John tooke great delight in this place, and was wont to say (before the troubles) that he would build there a retiring-place to entertaine his muses; but the warres forced him to sell that as well as the rest. He sold it to Mr. ... Anstey. In this parish W. and by N. (above Runney Meade) is Cowper's Hill, from whence is a noble prospect, which is incomparably well described by that sweet swan, Sir John Denham; printed first at Oxon shortly after Edghill fight, 1642|3.

Memorandum: — he delighted much in bowles, and did bowle very well.

He was of the tallest, but a little incurvetting at his shoulders, not very robust. His haire was but thin and flaxen, with a moist curle. His gate was slow, and was rather a stalking (he had long legges), which was wont to putt me in mind of Horace, De Arte Poetica:—

Hic, dum sublimes versus ructatur, et errat
Si veluti merulis intentus decidit auceps
In puteum foveamve:—

His eie was a kind of light goose-gray, not big; but it had a strange piercingness, not as to shining and glory, but (like a Momus) when he conversed with you he look't into your very thoughts.

He was generally temperate as to drinking; but one time when he was a student of Lincolne's-Inne, having been merry at the taverne with his camerades, late at night, a frolick came into his head, to gett a playsterer's brush and a pott of inke, and blott out all the signes between Temple-barre and Charing-crosse, which made a strange confusion the next day, and 'twas in Terme time. But it happened that they were discovered, and it cost him and them some moneys. This I had from R. Estcott, esq., that carried the inke-pott.

In the time of the civill warres, George Withers, the poet, begged Sir John Denham's estate at Egham of the Parliament, in whose cause he was a captaine of horse. It < happened > that G. W. was taken prisoner, and was in danger of his life, having written severely against the king, &c. Sir John Denham went to the king, and desired his majestie not to hang him, for that whilest G. W. lived he should not be the worst poet in England.

Scripsit the Sophy: Cowper's Hill: Essay against Gameing: Poems, 8vo, printed anno Domini ...; Cato Major sive De Senectute, translated into English verse, London, printed by H. Heringman, in the New Exchange, 1669.

Memorandum: — in the verses against Gondibert, most of them are Sir John's. He was satyricall when he had a mind to it.