1713 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir John Denham

Henry Felton, in Dissertation on Reading the Classics (1713; 1715) 260-64.



Sir John Denham is famed for his Coopers-Hill, and Windsor is more honoured in being the Subject of his Prospect, than the Hill is in being the Subject of his Poem. For Windsor is only the Ornament of his Hill, but his Poem is the Ornament of Windsor.

I cannot help inserting into the Body of this Book that Character which I think Sir John Denham so highly deserveth, for his excellent Version of the Psalms: They are so admirable in our old Prose Translation, that I despair of ever seeing them equalled in Verse; but Sir John, by a noble Simplicity of Style, by a Clearness and Easiness of Expression, by an Exactness and Harmony of Numbers, hath made them so delightful to the Ear, and so pleasing to the Readers that as a meer Poetical Work, it must be read with all the Satisfaction which Pieces perfect in their kind can give us: But this is vastly raised, when we consider the Subject Matter various as the several Occasions, and devout Passions of the Psalmists, and observe the Translator varying his Style, and every where forming himself to the Spirit of the Original, sometimes in humble Acknowledgments of a repenting Sinner, sometimes in the chearful Voice of Praise and Thanksgiving: In some Psalms delivering Divine Precepts with all the Plainness, Simplicity, and Majesty of Verse; in others, celebrating the Goodness and Providence of God throughout the World: In some recounting the great Things God had done for his People in an Historical, but a Great and Solemn Narration of the Wonders, the Mercies, and Deliverances vouchsafed unto them: In others displaying the Works of Creations the Might and Majesty, of the Creator, His Wisdom, Justice, and Goodness in the sublimest Strains, above the Reach of all mortal Eloquence. The Dignity of the Original is duly regarded in all the Parts of this Translation, and the Divine Spirit is best preserved, in being the least mixed with any humane Conceits. In his other Pieces this Honourable Bard rose above most others, in an Age that most abounded with good Poets; but much more in this Translations by which he hath not only raised his Fame, but himself, to Heaven.