John Denham (poet)

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Sir John Denham (1615 - 10 March 1669), poet, son of the Chief Baron of Exchequer in Ireland, was born in Dublin, and educated at Trinity College, Oxford and at Lincoln's Inn in London.

He began his literary career with a tragedy, The Sophy (1641), which seldom rises above mediocrity. His poem, Cooper's Hill (1642), is the work by which he is remembered. It is the first example in English of a poem devoted to local description (describing the Thames scenery round his home at Egham in Surrey). Denham wrote many versions of this poem, reflecting the political and cultural upheavals of the British Civil War. Denham received extravagant praise from Dr Samuel Johnson; but the place now assigned him is a much more humble one. His verse is smooth, clear, and agreeable, and occasionally a thought is expressed with remarkable terseness and force.

In his earlier years Denham suffered for his Royalism (during the English Civil War, he was high sheriff of Surrey and governor of Farnham Castle), but after the Restoration enjoyed prosperity. He, however, made an unhappy marriage, and his last years were clouded by insanity. He was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Although he initially trained as a lawyer, after the Restoration he succeeded (pre-Restoration) Inigo Jones as King's Surveyor (a post also sometimes called Surveyor of the King's Works). However, it is likely the 1661 appointment was more for reasons of his earlier political services than for any aptitude as an architect: there is no evidence that he personally designed any buildings, although he seems to have been a comptetent administrator. Christopher Wren was appointed Denham's deputy and succeeded him as King's Surveyor upon his death in 1669).

  • This article incorporates public domain text from: Cousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London, J.M. Dent & sons; New York, E.P. Dutton.
  • H.M. Colvin, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600-1840 (1997) ISBN 0-300-07207-4
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