« PreviousContinue »
note were then suddenly removed from the world without suspicions of poison being raised, no importance can be attached to the imputation. The Duchess of York was also charged with the same offence. This, however, could only be the mere rumour of idle gossips about the Court.
That public attention was directed to the possibility of such a crime having been committed is certain, for Grammont in his Memoirs observes, “as no one entertained any doubt but that Sir John poisoned her, the populace of his neighbourhood had a design of tearing him to pieces as soon as he should come abroad again. But he shut himself up to bewail her death until their fury was appeased by a magnificent funeral, at which he distributed four times as much burned wine as had ever been drank at any burial in England before.” If such slight evidence of innocence satisfied the public, the conjectures about his guilt must have been exceedingly vague and indefinite.
During the remainder of this year he appears to have been a lunatic either real or feigned. Lord Lisle, in a letter to Sir William Temple, dated September 26th, 1667, says, “ Poor Sir John Denham is fallen to the ladies also. He is at many of the meetings, at dinners talks more than ever he did, and is extremely pleased with those that seem willing to hear him, and from that obligation exceedingly praises the Duchess of Monmouth and my Lady Cavendish. If he had not the name of being mad, I believe in most companies he would be considered wittier than ever he was. He seems to have few extravagancies besides that of telling
stories of himself, which he is always inclined to. Some of his acquaintance say, that extreme vanity was the cause of his madness, as well as the effect of it.”
Butler, the author of “Hudibras,” probably jealous of the knight's court favour, wrote a lampoon upon his recovery from lunacy. “I know not,” says Dr. Johnson, "whether the malignant lines were then made public, nor what provocation incited Butler to do what no provocation could excuse.” The satire conveyed in these lines is ironically severe, and appears to hint at malversations in Sir John's official conduct
“ Besides you never overreached the king
One farthing all the while in reckoning,
; By thrifty management to no small sum." If Denham was for a period deprived of reason, the verses upou Cowley sufficiently prove that he recovered the full use of his intellectual powers before his death. This distinguished scholar he was not however long destined to survive, for on the 10th of March, 1668, he was buried by his side in Westminster Abbey, where their remains still lie.
Denham may be properly considered as one of those writers who assisted materially in teaching the art of correct versification. In composing the heroic verse, it was customary with many of his predecessors to carry the sense from line to line, more frequently making their periods halt in the middle of a couplet than at its conclusion. This defect he was one of the first to per
ceive and remedy; for after the publication of “Cooper's Hill” but few instances will be found of this ungraceful and in harmonious method of versification. In point of perspicuity and clearness of expression, he excelled many contemporaries who were far superior to him in originality and imaginative power. He affected to use neither the wretched conceits of Donne, nor the unintelligible analogies of Cowley, but delivered his ideas in a language at once forcible and nervous, yet easy to be understood. His metre is remarkable for its regularity and ease, occasionally displaying an elevation of style, when the dignity of his subject demands it. The cadences of his versification are arranged with skill, being varied, melodious, and pleasing to the ear; almost every couplet indicating that he was gifted with that peculiar knowledge of harmony which is ever one of the first essentials in the art of poetry. His comparison of the style he desired to attain, with the river he described, points out exactly the correct principles he studied to establish, as well as the offensive errors he endeavoured to avoid.
“Oh could I flow like thee, and make thy stream
Strong without rage, without o'erflowing full.” “Cooper's Hill" is the most ambitious, and by far the best, of Denham's works. Independent of its intrinsic value as a poem, it may claim the honour of having formed one of the original models for that didactic species of descriptive poetry, which has since been so largely imitated. Instead of wasting their powers upon some fantastic comparison, which leaves the reader puzzled to discover what analogy it bears to the subject before him, the writers of this school walked boldly forth into the field of nature, and having painted the scenes they beheld, proceeded to draw some useful moral from the materials presented to their view,
• Cooper's Hill" appears to be the first specimen of a successful attempt to heighten the charms of some particular locality, by superadding to a description of the natural beauties of its scenery, such philosophical reflections as might be supposed to pass through the mind of the spectator from witnessing incidental events, or from taking a retrospective glance at the historical associations connected with the spot. Poems of this kind are naturally of a discursive character, the mind of the writer wandering from subject to subject like the bee from flower to flower, yet, when the scenes are skilfully changed without the thread of the narrative being too abruptly broken, this variety produces an effect far from displeasing.
The scene of “ Cooper's Hill” is laid in the neighbourhood of Windsor, where ascending an eminence, known by that designation, the poet passes in review the various features of interest that present themselves. The Castle, the distant tower of St. Paul's, the Thames, the ruins of a neighbouring abbey, and an episode upon a stag hunt, furnish the materials from which the poem is constructed. Perhaps one of its noblest
passages is that in which the river is personified and represented as the patron of commerce and the benefactor of the human race. The comparison between the indifference of the herd to the dying stag, and that desertion of friends which a statesman too often discovers when
passing from power to adversity, is elegant and pathetic.
“ The herd unkindly wise,
To his friends' pity or pursuere' scorn.” The poem is not, however, without its defects. The desire to moralise is too frequently indulged in, and many of the digressions diverge too widely from the subject. Occasionally, a vulgar image is obtruded. Nevertheless, considering the era in which it was written, and comparing it with the prosaic efforts of his contemporaries, the author has not, perhaps, been praised far above his deserts.
The art of translation stands much indebted to the genius of Denham, for having discarded the absurd practice his predecessors adopted of following their models line for line and word for word; he took a more comprehensive grasp of his subject and produced a nobler version than theirs, yet equally truthful to the sense and spirit of the original. The eulogium he passed on Fanshawe miglit be applied to himself“ A new and noble
True to bis sense, but truer to his fame.” To sum up the claims of Denham we may say in the language of Dr. Johnson, that“ He is one of the writers that improved our taste and advanced our language, and whom we ought therefore to read with gratitude; though having done much he left much to do.”