1835 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir John Denham

Robert Southey, in Life and Works of Cowper (1835-37) 2:130-31.



That Sir John Denham began a reformation in our verse, is one of the most groundless assertions that ever obtained belief in literature. More thought and more skill had been exercised before his time in the construction of English metre, than he ever bestowed upon the subject, and by men of far greater attainments and far higher powers. To improve, indeed, either upon the versification or the diction of our great writers, was impossible; it was impossible to exceed them in the knowledge or in the practice of their art, but it was easy to avoid the more obvious faults of inferior authors; and in this he succeeded, just so far, as not to be included in "The mob of gentleman who wrote with ease;" nor consigned to oblivion with the "Persons of Quality" who contributed their vapid effusions to the miscellanies of those days. His proper place is among those of his contemporaries and successors who called themselves Wits, and have since been entitled Poets by the courtesy of England. And as Denham has no claim to the praise which has been awarded him on this ground, Waller, to whom a larger portion has been assigned, deserves it little more. No one who, in attempting to write poetry, considered it as any thing more than an amusement for leisure hours, has ever derived improvement in the art from the writings of either.