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It might be hoped that the favour of his master and esteem of the publick would now make him happy. But human felicity is short and uncertain ; a second marriage brought upon him so much disquiet, as for a time disordered his understanding; and Butler lampooned him for his lunacy. I know not whether the malignant lines were then made publick, nor what provocation incited Butler to do that which no provocation can excuse.
His frenzy lasted not long * ; and he seems to have regained his full force of mind; for he wrote afterwards his excellent poem upon the death of Cowley, whom he was not long to survive ; for on the 19th of March, 1668, he was buried by his side.
DENHAM is deservedly considered as one of the fathers of English poetry. “Denham and Waller," says Prior, “ improved our versification, and Dry“ den perfected it.” He has given specimens of various compositions, descriptive, ludicrous, didactick and sublime.
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 have been well qualified.
* In Grammont's Memoirs many circumstances are related, both of his marriage and his frenzy, very little favourable to his character. R.
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
Trophies to thee from other men's dispraise; “ Nor is thy fame on lesser ruins built, “ Nor need thy juster title the foul guilt “Of eastern kings, who, to secure their reign, “ Must have their brothers, sons, and kindred, slain.”
After Denham, Orrery, in one of his prologues, “ Poets are sultans, if they had their will; “For every author would his brother kill.”
6 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 spritely and judicious character of a good translator :
“ That servile path thou nobly dost decline,
Not the effect of poetry, but pains;
* It is remarkable thạt Johnson should not have recollected, that this image is to be found in Bacon. Aristoteles, more Ottomannorum, regnare se haud tuto posse putabat, nisi fratres suos omnes contrucidâsset.
De Augment. Scient. lib. 3. * By Garth, in his “ Poem on Claremont;" and by Pope, in his “ Windsor Forest." H.
“ Cheap vulgar arts, whose narrowness affords
thou dost pursue,
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. “ Cooper's 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 enquiry
The four verses, which, since Dryden has commended them, almost every writer for a century past has imitated, are generally known:
“ O could I flow like thee, and make thy stream
Though deep, yet clear; though gentle, yet not dull; “ Strong without rage, without o'erflowing full.”
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 which does not express intellectual operations by material images, into that language they cannot be translated. But so much meaning is comprized 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 rise 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 ob
. scured 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 spriteliness 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,
“ His wisdom such, at once it did appear