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DENH A M.
Born at Dublin - Educated at Oxford and Lincoln's Inn – Addicted to
Gaming - Becomes unexpectedly a Poet — Sides with Charles I.Writes Cooper's Hill' - Employed by Charles I. - Made Knight of the Bath and Surveyor of the Works — His two Wives — Becomes Insane-Death and Burial in Westminster Abbey-Character and Works.
Of Sir John Denham very little is known but what is related of him by Wood, or by himself.
He was born at Dublin in 1615; the only son of Sir John Denham, of Little Horsely in Essex, then chief baron of the Eschequer in Ireland, and of Eleanor, daughter of Sir Garret More, baron of Mellefont.'
Two years afterwards, his father, being made [July 1617] one of the barons of the Exchequer in England, brought him away from his native country, and educated him in London.
In 1631 he was sent to [Trinity College] Oxford, where he was considered “as a dreaming young man, given more to cards and dice than study,” and therefore gave no prognostics of his future eminence—nor was suspected to conceal, under sluggishness and laxity, a genius born to improve the literature of his country.
When he was, three years afterwards, removed to Lincoln's Inn, he prosecuted the common law with sufficient appearance of application, yet did not lose his propensity to cards and dice; but was very often plundered by gamesters.
Being severely reproved for this folly, he professed, and perhaps believed, himself reclaimed; and, to testify the sin
| She was his second wife. His first wife was the widow of Richard Kellefet of Egham, chief groom in Queen Elizabeth's “ removing gardrobe of beddes' and 'yeoman of Her Majesty's standing gardrobe at Richmond.'
cerity of his repentance, wrote and published • An Essay upon Gaming.'?
He seems to have divided his studies between law and poetry; for, in 1636, he translated the second book of the Æneid.
Two years after, his father died, and then, notwithstanding his resolutions and professions, he returned again to the vice of gaming, and lost several thousand pounds that had been left him.
In 1642 he published The Sophy. This seems to have given him his first hold of the public attention ; for Waller remarked, “that he broke out like the Irish rebellion three score thousand strong when nobody was aware, or in the least suspected it ” _an observation which could have had no propriety had his poetical abilities been known before.
He was after that pricked for sheriff of Surrey, and made  governor of Farnham Castle for the King ; but he soon resigned that charge, and retreated to Oxford, where, in 1643, he published “Cooper's Hill's
This poem had such reputation as to excite the common artifice by which envy degrades excellence. A report was spread that the performance was not his own, but that he had bought it of a vicar for forty pounds. The same attempt was made to rob Addison of his · Cato,' and Pope of his • Essay on Criticism.'
In 1647 the distresses of the royal family required him to
2 The Anatomy of Play, written by a worthy and learned Gent. Dedicated to his father, to show his detestation of it. London, 1645, sm. 8vo.
He would game extremely; when he had played away all his money he would play away his father's wrought caps with gold.-AUBREY's Lives.
3 His father died 6th January, 1638-9, having made his will in March, 1637, wherein he commends “his son John Denham, Esq., his wife and child to the blessing of Almighty God." His estate he left “wholly and freely" to his son. He is buried at Egham, in Surrey, where his monument with his effigy in a winding-sheet is still to be seen.
4 So Aubrey. Dryden in his Preface to Walsh's Dialogue (1691) refers to the remark as said of Waller's appearance “by the wits of the last age."
5 There is an edition of Cooper's Hill' in 4to., dated London, 1642. The first genuine edition is that in 4to., 1655. Cooper's Hill written in the year 1640. Now printed from a perfect copy and a corrected impression by John Denham, Esq.' London, Moseley, 1655.
engage in more dangerous employments. He was entrusted by the Queen with a message to the King; and, by whatever means, so far softened the ferocity of Hugh Peters, that by his intercession admission was procured. Of the King's condescension he has given an account in the dedication of his works.?
He was afterwards employed in carrying on the King's correspondence, and, as he says, discharged this office with great safety to the royalists; and being accidentally discovered by the adverse party's knowledge of Mr. Cowley's hand, he escaped, happily both for himself and his friends.
He was yet engaged in a greater undertaking. In April 1648 he conveyed James the Duke of York from London into France, and delivered him there to the Queen and Prince of Wales. This year he published his translation of ‘Cato Major.'
He now resided in France, as one of the followers of the exiled King; and, to divert the melancholy of their condition, was sometimes enjoined by his master to write occasional verses, one of which amusements was probably his ode or song upon the Embassy to Poland, by which he and Lord Crofts procured a contribution of ten thousand pounds from the Scotch that wandered over that kingdom. Poland was at that time very much frequented by itinerant traders, who, in a country of very little commerce and of great extent, where every man resided on his own estate, contributed very much to the accommodation of life, by bringing to every man's house those little necessaries which it was very inconvenient to want, and very troublesome to fetch. I have formerly read, without much reflection, of the multitude of Scotchmen that travelled with their wares in Poland ; and that their numbers were not small, the success of this negotiation gives sufficient evidence. 8
6 In the time of the Civil Wars George Withers, the poet, begged' Sir John Denham's estate of the Parliament, in whose cause he was a captain of horse. It [happened] that G. W. was taken prisoner, and was in danger of his life, having written severely against the King, &c. Sir John Denham went to the King, and desired his Majesty not to hang him, for that whilst G. W. lived he should not be the worst poet in England.-AUBREY's Lives.
7 To Charles II., in 8vo., 1668. 8 See Arthur Wilson's • James I.,' fol., 1653, p. 34; Lord Bacon's Speech of General Naturalisation;' and 'Notes and Queries,' vii. 600.
About this time what estate the war and the gamesters had left him was sold by order of the Parliament; and when, in 1652, he returned to England, he was entertained by the Earl of Pembroke.
Of the next years of his life there is no account. At the Restoration he obtained that which many missed, the reward of his loyalty, being made surveyor of the King's buildings, lo and dignified with the order of the Bath. He seems now to have learned some attention to money; for Wood says that he got by this place seven thousand pounds."
After the Restoration he wrote the poem on · Prudence and Justice,' and perhaps some of his other pieces; and as he appears, whenever any serious question comes before him, to have been a man of piety, he consecrated his poetical powers to religion, and made a metrical version of the Psalms of David. In this attempt he has failed; but in sacred poetry who has succeeded ?
It might be hoped that the favour of his master and esteem of the public would now make him happy. But human felicity
9 A'o 1652 he returned into England, and being in some straights, was kindly entertained by the Earl of Pembroke at Wilton, where I had the honour to contract an acquaintance with him. He was, as I remember, a year with my Lord of Pembroke at Wilton and London; he had then sold all the lands his father had left him.-AUBREY's Lives.
10 Patent dated 13th June, 1660.
11 He (Charles I.) granted him the reversion of the surveyor of his buildings after the decease of Mr. Inigo Jones, which place, after the restoration of King Charles II., he enjoyed to his death, and got 70001., as Sir Christopher Wren told me of, to his own knowledge. Sir Christopher Wren was his deputie.AUBREY's Lives.
Some of Denham's books of accounts as surveyor are among the Harleian MSS. in the British Museum. Butler accuses him of falsifying his returns.
Beside, you never overreach'd the King
By thrifty management to no small sum.
is short and uncertain ; a second marriage 12 brought upon him so much disquiet as for a time disordered his understanding ; 13 and Butler lampooned him for his lunacy. I know not whether the malignant lines were thensmade public, nor what provocation incited Butler to do that which no provocation can excuse.
His frenzy lasted not long ; 14 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 sur
12 His first wife was the daughter and heire of — Cotton, of — in Gloucestershire, by whom he had 5001. per annum, one son and two daughters. His son did not patrem sapere. He was of Wadham College in Dr. Wilkins's time; he died sine prole. One of his daughters is married to — Morley of Sussex, Esq., the other ....-AUBREY's Lives.
1634, June 25. John Denham, gent., and Ann Cotton, by licence from Sir Edmund Scott's office.—Marriage Register of St. Bride's, Fleet-street.
13 He was married in Westminster Abbey, on the 25th of May, 1665, to Margaret Brooke, daughter of Sir William Brooke, K.B., and niece of Digby Earl of Bristol. She had been the mistress of the Duke of York (afterwards James II.), and continued her guilty connexion after her marriage to Denham.
10th June, 1666.-He (Pearse the surgeon) tells me further how the Duke of York is wholly given up to his new mistress, my Lady Denham, going at noon-day with all his gentlemen with him to visit her in Scotland Yard (where Denham lived as surveyor]; she declaring she will not be his mistress, as Mrs. Price, to go up and down the Privy Stairs, but will be owned publicly, and so she is. Mr. Brouncker, it seems, was the pimp to bring it about, and my Lady Castlemaine, who designs thereby to fortify herself by the Duke, there being a falling out the other day between the King and her.-—PEPYS.
Lady Denham died, 6th January, 1666-7, not without suspicion of poison administered by her husband. Her body, as we learn from a letter of Lord Orrery's, was opened at her own desire, " and no sign of poison found.” (Orrery State Papers, fol., 1742, p. 219.) Butler, in his bitter panegyric, is silent on the supposed share the poet was said by some to have had in the hurried and mysterious death of his wife: and his silence is much in Denham's favour. There is a fine portrait of Lady Denham by Lely at Hampton Court.
14 He has unintentionally described his own state at this time in a couplet on Cowley's death:
As rigid husbands jealous are
“ Sir John's distemper of madness first appeared when he went from London to see the famous free-stone quarries at Portland, in Dorset. When he came within a mile of it [he] turned back to London again, and would not see it; he went to Hounslow and demanded rents of lands he had sold many years before-went to the King and told him he was the Holy Ghost.”— AUBREY's Lives.