1882 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir John Denham

Epes Sargent, in Harper's Cyclopaedia of British and American Poetry (1882) 103.



Denham (1615-1668) son of the Chief-baron of Exchequer in Ireland, was born at Dublin. He was made Governor of Farnham Castle by Charles I., who told him, on seeing one of his poems, "that when men are young, and have little else to do, they may vent the overflowings of their fancy in that way; but when they are thought fit for more serious employments, if they still persisted in that course, it looked as if they minded not the way to any better." The poet stood corrected, and his Muse was dumb for a time. His marriage was an unhappy one, and his closing years were darkened by insanity, from which, however, he recovered. His principal poem is Cooper's Hill, which was highly praised for a few generations, but would hardly have escaped oblivion if produced these days; but Dryden said of it: "for the majesty of the style it is, and ever will be, the exact standard of good writing;" and Pope extolled it. We quote the well-known passage descriptive of the Thames: it is far above anything else in the poem.