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He appears to have had, in common with almost all mankind, the ambition of being upon proper occasions a merry fellow, and in common with most of them to have been by nature, or by early habits, debarred from it. Nothing is less exhilarating than the ludicrousness of Denham ; he does not fail for want of efforts ; he is familiar, he is gross; but he is never merry, unless the “ Speech against Peace in the close Committee," be excepted. For grave burlesque, however, his imitation of Davenant shews him to be well qualified.
Of his more elevated occasional poems there is perhaps none that does not deserve commendation. In the verses to Fletcher we have an image that has since been often adopted :
But whither am I stray'd ? I need not raise
After Denham, Orrery, in one of his prologues,
Poets are sultans, if they had their will;
Should such a man too fond to rule alone,
But this is not the best of his little pieces : it is excelled by his poem to Fanshaw, and his elegy on Cowley.
His praise of Fanshaw's version of Guarini contains a very sprightly and judicious character of a good translator :
That servile path thou nobly dost decline,
Those are the labour'd birth of slavish brains,
True to his sense, but truer to his fame. The excellence of these lines is greater, as the truth which they contain was not at that time generally known.
His poem on the death of Cowley was his last, and, among his shorter works, his best performance; the numbers are musical, and the thoughts are just.
Coopers hill” is the work that confers upon him the rank and dignity of an original author. He seems to have been, at least among us, the author of a species of composition that may be denominated local poetry, of which the fundamental subject is some particular landscape, to be poetically described, with the addition of such embellishments as may be supplied by historical retrospection or incidental meditation.
To trace a new scheme of poetry has in itself a very high claim to praise, and its praise is yet more when it is apparently copied by Garth and Pope ;* after whose names little will be gained by an enumeration of smaller poets, that have left scarcely a corner of the island not dignified either by rhyme or blank verse.
“ Cooper's Hill,” if it be maliciously inspected, will not be found without its faults. The digressions are too long, the morality too frequent, and the sentiments sometimes such as will not bear a rigorous inquiry.
The four verses, which, since Dryden has commended them, almost every writer for a century past has imitated, are generally known:
* By Garth, in his “ Poem on Claremont;” and by Pope, in his “ Windsor Forest.” H.
"O could I low like thee, and make thy stream
The lines are in themselves not perfect: for most of the words, thus artfully opposed, are to be understood simply on one side of the comparison, and metaphorically on the other; and if there be any language that does not express intellectual operations by material images, into that language they cannot be translated. But so much meaning is comprised in so few words; the particulars of resemblance are so perspicaciously collected, and every mode of excellence separated from its adjacent fault by so nice a line of limitation ; the different parts of the sentence are so accurately adjusted ; and the flow of the last couplet is so smooth and sweet; that the passage, however celebrated, has not been praised above its merit. It has beauty peculiar to itself, and must be numbered among those felicities which cannot be produced at will by wit and - labour, but must arise unexpectedly in some hour propitious to poetry.
He appears to have been one of the first that understood the necessity of emancipating translation from the drudgery of counting lines and interpreting single words. How much this servile practice obscured the clearest and deformed the most beautiful parts of the ancient authors, may be discovered by a perusal of our earlier versions; some of them are the works of men well qualified, not only by critical knowledge, but by poetical genius, who yet, by a mistaken ambition of exactness, degraded at once their originals and themselves.
Denham saw the better way, but has not pursued it with great success. His versions of Virgil are not
pleasing ; but they taught Dryden to please better. His poetical imitation of Tully on “ Old Age,” has neither the clearness of prose, nor the sprightliness of poetry
The “ strength, of Denham,” which Pope so emphatically mentions, is to be found in many lines and couplets, which convey much meaning in few words, and exhibit the sentiment with more weight than bulk.
On the Thames.
Though with those streams he no resemblance hold,
Their garb, but not their clothes, did wear. As one of Denham's principal claims to the regard of posterity arises from his improvement of our numbers, his versification ought to be considered. It
will afford that pleasure which arises from the observation of a man of judgment, naturally right, forsaking bad copies by degrees, and advancing towards a better practice as he gains more confidence in himself.
In his translation of Virgil, written when he was about twenty-one years old, may be still found the old manner of continuing the sense ungracefully from
verse to verse :
Then all those
Did, and deserv'd no less, my fate to find. From this kind of concatenated metre he afterwards refrained, and taught his followers the art of concluding their sense in couplets; which has perhaps been with rather too much constancy pursued.
This passage exhibits one of those triplets which are not unfrequent in this first essay, but which it is to be supposed his maturer judgment disapproved, since in his latter works he has totally foreborne them.
His rhymes are such as seem found without difficulty, by following the sense; and are for the most part as exact at least as those of other poets, though now and then the reader is shifted off with what he
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