« PreviousContinue »
At might be hope that the favour of his master and esteem of the public would now make him happy. But human felicity is short and uncertain ; a second mar. riage brought upon him so much disquiet, as for a time disordered his understand. ing: and Butler lampooned him for his lunacy. I know not whether the malignant lines were then made public, 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. “ Den. ham and Waller," says Prior, “improved our versification, and Dryden perfected it.” He has given specimens of various composition, descriptive, ludicrous, didactic and sublime.
He appears to have had, in common with almost all mankind, the ambition of be. ing upon proper occasion 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 exhilirating 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 shows 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 raiso
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.
In Grammont's Memoirs many circumstances are related, both of his marriage and his frensy very little favourable to his character. R.
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,
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 me. ditation.
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:
O could I flow like thee, and make thy stream
The lines are in themselves not perfect; for most of the words, thus artfully os. posed, are to be understood simply on one side of the comparison, and metaphori. cally on the other; and if there be any language that does not express intellectaal 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
* By Garth, in his Poem on Claremont; and by Pope, in his Windsor Forest. H.
80 perspicatiously 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 accu. rately 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 pe. culiar to itself, and must be numbered among those felicities which cannot be pro. duced at will by wit and labour, but must arise unexpectedly in some hour propiti. ous to poetry.
He appears to have been one of the first that understood the necessity of emanci. pating 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 perúsal 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. sions 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
To him no author was unknown,
Horace's wit, and Virgil's state,
As one of Denham's principal claims to the regard of posterity arises rom his im. provement of our numbers, his versification ought to be considered. It will allord 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
From this kind of concatenated metre he afterwards refrained, and taught his fol. lowers the art of concluding their sense in couplets; which has perhaps been with ra. ther 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 forborn them.
His rhimes are such as secm 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 thea the reader is shifted off with what he can get;
O how transform'd!
And again :
From thence a thousand lesser poets sprung
Sometimes the weight of rhime is laid upon a word too feeble to sustain it:
Troy confounded falls
He is not very careful to vary the ends of his verses; in one passage the word die rhymes three couplets in six.
Most of these petty faults are in his first productions, where he was less skilful, or at least less dextrous in the use of words; and though they had been more frequent, they could only have lessened the grace, not the strength of his composition. 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