1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir John Denham

Thomas Campbell, in Specimens of the British Poets (1819; 1845) 242.



SIR JOHN DENHAM was born in Dublin, where his father was chief-baron of the Irish Exchequer. On his father's accession to the same office in the English Exchequer, our poet was brought to London, and there received the elements of his learning. At Oxford he was accounted a slow, dreaming young man, and chiefly noted for his attachment to cards and dice. The same propensity followed him to Lincoln's Inn, to such a degree, that his father threatened to disinherit him. To avert this, he wrote a penitentiary Essay on Gaming; but after the death of his father he returned to the vice that most easily beset him, and irrecoverably injured his patrimony. In 1641, when his tragedy of the Sophy appeared, it was regarded as a burst of unpromised genius. In the better and bygone days of the drama, so tame a production would not perhaps have been regarded as astonishing, even from a dreaming young man. He was soon after appointed high-sheriff of Surrey, and made governor of Farnham Castle for the King: but being unskilled in military affairs, he resigned his command, and joined his majesty at Oxford, where he published his Cooper's Hill. In the civil wars he served, the royal family, by conveying their correspondence; but was at length obliged to quit the kingdom, and was sent as ambassador, by Charles II. in his exile, to the king of Poland. At the Restoration he was made surveyor of the king's buildings, and knighted with the order of the Bath; but his latter days were imbittered by a second marriage, that led to a temporary derangement of mind.