Sir John Denham

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Denham, Sir John, a poet and writer, was born in Dublin in 1615. He was early removed to London (upon his father being appointed an English instead of an Irish judge), and receiving his preliminary education there, entered Oxford in 1631. At Oxford he acquired the character of "a dreamy young man, more given to dice and cards than to study." Habits of gaming followed him through early life, and after his father's death in 1638 he squandered most of his patrimony. In 1642 he delighted the literary world with his tragedy of The Sophy, and he was made Sheriff of Surrey, and Governor of Farham Castle. The poet Waller says, "He broke out like the Irish rebellion, three score thousand strong, when nobody was aware, or in the least suspected."

While in attendance on the King at Oxford, in 1643, he published his well-known poem of Cooper's Hill. Being devotedly attached to Charles I., he was entrusted with several missions for the Stuarts, and resided a considerable time on the Continent, and suffered the loss of most of his estates. After the Restoration he received an appointment under Government, and was created a Knight of the Bath. He died in March 1668, and was buried in Westminster Abbey, near Chaucer, Spencer, and Cowley. Dr. Johnson wrote of him : "Denham is deservedly considered as one of the fathers of English poetry... 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 retrospections or incidental meditation. 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."


198. Johnson's English Poets: Edited by Alexander Chalmers. 21 vols. London, 1810.

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