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Sir John Denham (1614 or 1615 – 10 March 1669) was a Anglo-Irish poet and courtier. Son of the Chief Baron of Exchequer in Ireland, he was born in Dublin, and educated at Trinity College, Oxford and at Lincoln's Inn in London.
- Actions o' th' last age are like almanacks o' th' last year.
- The Sophy: A Tragedy (1642), Act I, scene ii
- Ambition is like love, impatient
Both of delays and rivals.
- The Sophy: A Tragedy, Act I, scene ii
- Such is our pride, our folly, or our fate,
That few but such as cannot write, translate.
- To Sir Richard Fanshaw, Upon his Translation of Pastor Fido (1648), line 1
- Nor ought a genius less than his that writ
- To Sir Richard Fanshaw, Upon his Translation of Pastor Fido, line 9
- That servile path thou nobly dost decline
Of tracing word by word, and line by line;
A new and nobler way thou dost pursue
To make translations, and translators too;
They but preserve the ashes, thou the flame,
True to his sense, but truer to his fame.
- To Sir Richard Fanshaw, Upon his Translation of Pastor Fido, line 15
- I conceive it is a vulgar error in translating poets, to affect being fidus interpres... [for] poetry is of so subtile a spirit, that in the pouring out of one language into another, it will all evaporate; and if a new spirit be not added in the transfusion, there will remain nothing but a caput mortuum, there being certain graces and happinesses peculiar to every language, which give life and energy to the words... therefore if Virgil must needs speak English, it were fit he should speak not only as a man of this nation, but as man of this age.
- The Destruction of Troy (1656), Preface
- Though with those streams he no resemblance hold,
Whose foam is amber and their gravel gold;
His genuine and less guilty wealth t' explore,
Search not his bottom, but survey his shore.
- Cooper's Hill, Line 165
- Oh, could I flow like thee, and make thy stream
My great example, as it is my theme!
Though deep, yet clear; though gentle, yet not dull;
Strong without rage; without o'erflowing, full.
- Cooper's Hill, Line 189
- But whither am I strayed? I need not raise
Trophies to thee from other men's dispraise;
Nor is thy fame on lesser ruins built;
Nor needs thy juster title the foul guilt
Of Eastern kings, who, to secure their reign,
Must have their brothers, sons, and kindred slain.
- On Mr. John Fletcher's Works. Compare: "Poets are sultans, if they had their will; For every author would his brother kill", Roger Boyle, 1st Earl of Orrery, Prologues (republished in Dramatic Works, 1739); "Should such a man, too fond to rule alone, Bear, like the Turk, no brother near the throne", Alexander Pope, Prologue to the Satires, line 197
Of Prudence (1668)
- Wisdom's first progress is to take a view
What's decent or indecent, false or true.
- line 1
- Wisdom of what herself approves makes choice,
Nor is led captive by the common voice.
Clear-sighted Reason Wisdom's judgment leads,
And Sense, her vassal, in her footsteps treads.
That thou to Truth the perfect way may'st know,
To thee all her specific forms I'll show:
He that the way to honesty will learn,
First what's to be avoided must discern.
Thyself from flatt'ring self-conceit defend,
Nor what thou dost not know to know pretend.
Some secrets deep in abstruse darkness lie:
To search them thou wilt need a piercing eye.
Not rashly therefore to such things assent,
Which, undeceived, thou after may'st repent;
Study and time in these must thee instruct,
And others' old experience may conduct.
Wisdom herself her ear doth often lend
To counsel offer'd by a faithful friend.
- line 11
- Books should to one of these four ends conduce,
For wisdom, piety, delight, or use.
- line 83
- Search not to find how other men offend,
But by that glass thy own offences mend;
Still seek to learn, yet care not much from whom,
(So it be learning) or from whence it come.
Of thy own actions, others' judgments learn;
Often by small, great matters we discern:
Youth what man's age is like to be doth show;
We may our ends by our beginnings know.
- line 225
- Let not the pleasing many thee delight,
First judge if those whom thou dost please judge right.
- line 229
- Search not to find what lies too deeply hid,
Nor to know things whose knowledge is forbid;
Nor climb on pyramids, which thy head turn round
Standing, and whence no safe descent is found.
- line 231
- We're ne'er like angels till our passion dies.
- Not by Denham, as often stated, but by Thomas Dekker. It is in his The Honest Whore Part 2, Act I, scene 2.
Quotes about Denham
- In the time of the civill warres, George Withers, the poet, begged Sir John Denham's estate at Egham of the Parliament, in whose cause he was a captaine 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 majestie not to hang him, for that whilest G. W. lived he should not be the worst poet in England.
- Anecdote recounted in Brief Lives (1669 - 1696), by John Aubrey, Vol. I (1898), edited by Andrew Clark, p. 221