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Next (like Aurora) Spenser rose,
Denham also wrote a translation of “ Cato Major,” and a metrical version of the Psalms.
We turn from the poems to the poet. Sir John Denham was the son of Sir John Denham, Chief Baron of the Exchequer in Ireland, who married the daughter of the Irish baron of Mellofont, Sir Garret More. He was born in Dublin in 1615. When he was two years old, his father was made Baron of the English Exchequer, and the family removed to England. In 1631, young Denham was entered a gentleman commoner of Trinity College, Oxford, where “he was looked upon,” says Wood, “as a slow, dreaming young man, and more addicted to gaming than study; they (his companions) could never imagine he could ever enrich the world with the issue of his brain, as he afterwards did.” After taking his degree he entered Lincoln's Inn, where the dice-box divided his attention with the desk. “He was much rooked by gamesters, and fell acquainted with that unsanctified crew to his ruin.” Wood relates that at this time, his father, receiving certain intimation of the follies which enfeebled Denham's life, addressed to him a letter of strong but affectionate remonstrance; and that the son, with unworthy duplicity, composed and printed an “ Essay against Gaming," which, being forwarded to the Chief Baron, completely lulled his suspicions. The anecdote seems hardly credible ; an astute and veteran lawyer would hardly be deceived by so simple an artifice. Aubrey relates another story, which
seems to have greater pretensions to authenticity. Den-ham, he says, was generally temperate in drinking; but “one time, when he was a student of Lincoln's Inn, having been away at the tavern with his comrades, late at night a frolic came into his head, to get a plasterer's brush and a pot of ink, and blot out all the signs between Temple Bar and Charing Cross, which made a strange confusion the next day, as it was in June time; but it happened that they were discovered, and it cost him and them some moneys. This,” adds Aubrey, “I had from R. Estcourt, Esquire, who carried the ink-pot.”
The death of his father soon afterwards placed him in enjoyment of a considerable fortune, which enabled him to make a conspicuous figure among the wits and gentlemen of the Court. The success of his tragedy of “The Sophy” increased his reputation; upon which a seal was set by the publication of “ Cooper's Hill.” In the civil troubles which then convulsed the land, Denham espoused the loyal cause with grave enthusiasm, and was entrusted with several missions of delicacy and importance. In 1648 (it is said) he conveyed the young Duke of York to France, when he shared the seclusion of the royal family. In 1650, the exiled king sent him on an embassy to the King of Poland; and in 1652 appointed him Surveyor of His Majesty's Buildings—an office which, at that time, was equally without emoluments and without duties. Returning to England at the Restoration, he received both honours and rewards, and made one of the brilliant circle which Charles II. loved to assemble round him. Unfortunately he was weak enough to be beguiled by the charms of the fair Miss Brooke, whose beauty had attracted the attention of the Duke of York. As soon
as she had secured a position by becoming Lady Denham,* she scrupled not to encourage the suit of her royal lover, who, according to Pepys, followed her up and down the presence chamber “like a dog.” Writing in 1667, he says:-- "The Duke of York is wholly given up to his new mistress, my Lady Denham; going at noon-day with all his gentlemen to visit her in Scotland Yard; she declaring she will not be his mistress, as Mrs. Price, to go up and down the Privy Stairs."
His beautiful wife's infidelity seems to have afflicted Sir John Denham with mental disorder. “ He became crazed for a time," says old Anthony Wood, “and so, consequently, contemptible among vain fops." Aubrey says:-" This madness first appeared when he went from London to see the famous free-stone quarries in 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; but it pleased God that he was cured of this distemper, and wrote excellent verses, particularly on the death of Abraham Cowley, afterwards.” From a letter preserved among the correspondence of Sir William Temple, we gather that his insanity was of a very mild form (1667): “Poor Sir John Denham is fallen to the ladies also. He is at many of the meetings, at dinners talks more than ever be 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 thought wittier than ever he was. He seems to have few extravagances besides that of telliny stories of himself, which he is always inclined too.” Heavens! if a man is to be declared insane, because he tells stories of himself, our asylums would cease to have room for their inmates.
* Miss Brooke was his second wife ; his first was a Miss Cotton, of Gloucestershire, by whom he had issue one son and two daughters.
At this date Denham was a widower, having lost his lovely wife on the 7th of January, 1667. The report spread abroad that she had been poisoned, and as he was supposed to have sacrificed her to his jealousy, “the populace of his neighbourhood threatened to tear him in pieces” as soon as he ventured abroad. The suspicion is improbable, however, and her death was more likely due to the ignorance of the physicians of the age. Sir John recovered his faculties towards the close of the year, wrote the Elegy on Cowley, and a few months afterwards closed his chequered career—dying at Whitehall, in March, 1668. A resting-place was provided for him in Westminster Abbey, near the graves of the two poets whom he had warmly admired, Chaucer and Cowley.
In 1678, the year in which Andrew Marvell died—ten years after the death of Denham-the grave closed over the ashes of a thoughtful poet and a ripe scholar, Thomas Stanley. He was born at Cumberlow, in Herts, in 1625, and was the son of Sir Thomas Stanley, the author of several poems, who was knighted by Charles I. The younger Stanley had the advantage of being educated by Fairfax, the accomplished translator of Tasso, and attained a wide and profound knowledge of Latin and Greek, French and Italian. At Cambridge his reputation for scholarship stood very high, and he carried off the degree of M.A. when only in his seventeenth year (1641). After a tour on the Continent he returned to England,
and in the Middle Temple, London, settled down to the pursuit of his legal and literary studies, apparently undisturbed by the din of civil war, or by the great political changes which were giving a new direction to English history. That they did not greatly affect the social fabric, however, is evident from the fact that, only a few weeks after the execution of Charles I., Stanley published a volume of poems, as one might do in the most ordinary times. In 1655 he issued the first part of his great “ History of Philosophy, containing the Lives, Opinions, Actions, and Discoveries of the Philosophers of every Sect,” which was completed in 1660. “It is, in a great measure, confined to biography, and comprehends no name later than Carucales. Most is derived from Diogenes Laertius; but an analysis of the Platonic philosophy is given from Alcinous, and the author has compiled one of the Peripatetic system from Aristotle himself. The doctrine of the Stoics is also elaborately deduced from various sources. Stanley, on the whole, brought a good deal from an almost untrodden field; but he is merely an historian, and never a critic of philosopy." * Latin translations of it were published at Amsterdam, in 1690, and at Leipzig, in 1711.
Stanley raised still higher the fame of English scholarship by his celebrated edition of Æschylus, with Latin translations and copious notes in 1663. That he owed a great deal to Casaubon, Dorat, and Scaliger may be admitted, without making any substantial deduction from the credit due to him for patient and persevering erudition. His Æschylus must always remain “ a great monument of critical learning.”
* Hallam, “Literature of Europe,” iv., 63.