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mansion still remains. Near the house is a remarkably large yew-tree, which at six feet from the ground measures thirty feet five inches in girth.
There is in this village a maypole, which on every May-day is decorated with boughs and garlands, surrounded by a merry crowd of dancers; one of those old-world customs-ere relaxation and merriment were banished from the face of the country, and care and toil, and utilitarianism of all kinds, usurped their places.
In the parish of Wyrardsbury is Charter Island, whereon has been erected by Mr. Harcourt an exceedingly romantic little cottage, where is preserved the stone whereon, as tradition will have it, were signed the Magna Charta and the Charta de Foresta.
Upon the level plain, called Runnymede, on the Surrey side of the river, nearly opposite Charter Island, the consent of King John to those great charters was extorted.
Akenside wrote the following inscription for a column to be placed upon this mead, in memory of the great event which perpetuates its interest in the memories of Englishmen.
INSCRIPTION FOR A COLUMN AT RUNNYMEDE.
And stern with conquest, from their tyrant king
Hard by Runnymede is
Egham, four miles distant from Windsor, and eighteen miles south-west from London. The village is of small extent, containing a neat alms-house, founded by Mr. Henry Strode, merchant, of London, for six men and six women, who must have been parishioners of Egham twerty years without having received any parochial relief.
Sir John Denham, father of the poet, Baron of the Exchequer in the reign of the first James and his successor, resided in this parish, and founded an almshouse here for six poor men and six women. In the church is a monument to the two wives of that eminent judge, one of them with an infant in her hand, and a curious monument of white marble, the lower division of it discovering an open coffin with several skeletons.
From Egham, a gentle ascent leads to the ever memorable Cooper's Hill, immortalised by the muse of Denham.
Sir John Denham was born at Dublin, in 1615, his father being then Lord Chief Baron of the Court of Exchequer in Ireland. Having attended a grammar-school in London, he was, at the age of sixteen, elected a Gentleman Commoner of Trinity College, Oxford. There he was considered as a dreaming young man, given more to dice and cards than to study: he commenced Bachelor of Arts, and removed to Lincoln's-Inn with the intention of becoming a student of the law. He applied himself, however, more to the study of the doctrine of chances than to that of the law, and purchased his experience in that favourite branch of fashionable education at the price of several thousand pounds. His father being much grieved at the folly of his favourite son, severely reproved him, upon which the latter, to testify his repentance and publish his reformation, wrote an Essay upon Gaming; but on the death of his father, two years after, he returned, despite his essay, to his fascinating folly, and dissipated several thousand pounds that had been left him.
His first attempt to acquire a literary reputation was by the publication of a tragedy called the Sophy; a production so much admired, as to cause Denham's brother bard, Waller, to observe, that “the poet had broken out like the Irish rebellion, sixty thousand strong, when nobody suspected it.”
At the commencement of the civil war he was appointed Governor of Farnham for the king, but disgusted with a military life, retired to Oxford, where he confirmed the hopes that had been entertained of his future eminence, by the publication of his master-piece, Cooper's Hill.
Of this work, Dr. Johnson observes, “that it confers upon Denham 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 retrospection or incidental meditation.
“To trace a new scheme of poetry has in itself a very high claim to praise, and its praise is yet more when it is apparently copied by Pope and Garth; after whose names little will be gained by an enumeration of smaller poets that have left scarcely a corner of the island not dignified either by rhyme or blank verse.
“Cooper's Hill, if it be maliciously inspected, will not be found without its faults. The digressions are too long, the morality too frequent, and the sentiments sometimes such as will not bear a rigorous inquiry.
“The few verses, which, since Dryden has commended them, almost every writer for a century past has imitated, are generally known:
O could I flow like thee, and make thy stream
“The lines are in themselves not perfect, for most of the words thus artfully opposed, are to be understood simply on one side of the comparison and metaphorically on the other; and if there be any language which does not express intellectual operations by material images, into that language they cannot be translated. But so much meaning is comprised in so few words; the particulars of resemblance are so perspicuously collected, and every mode of excellence separated from its adjacent fault by so nice a line of limitation; the different parts of the sentence are so accurately adjusted, and the flow of the last couplet is so smooth and sweet, that the passage, however celebrated, has not been praised above its merit. It has beauty peculiar to itself, and must be numbered among those felicities which cannot be produced at will by wit and labour, but must arise unexpectedly in some hour propitious to poetry.”
Denham was not permitted to enjoy his rising reputation in that poetic ease and vacuity of worldly care, which, had he been permitted to possess, would probably have enabled him to leave some more complete and finished example of his manly and resounding verse. He was entrusted with various delicate messages and negotiations, and was employed by the Royal family in carrying on their correspondence-a service, in those days, of no trivial delicacy and danger.
“He now resided in France, as one of the followers of the exiled king: and, to divert the melancholy of this 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 accommodations 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 the negotiation gives sufficient evidence."
He returned to England in 1652; but how he employed himself till the Restoration does not appear : all that the gaming-table had spared of his estate having been sold, he found an asylum, for a time, with the Earl of Pembroke, a distinguished royalist.
At the Restoration, he was rewarded with the office of Surveyor of the King's Buildings, and dignified with the Order of the Bath.
About this time, Sir John Denham formed a second matrimonial connexion with the eldest daughter of Sir William Brooke, and niece of Digby, Earl of Bristol. This lady had attracted the notice of the Duke of York. Evelyn, in his Diary, mentions a visit to Hampton Court, where he saw much that he laments as melancholy evidences of the profligacy of the times,
and among other circumstances the Duke of York following my Lady Denham publicly up and down the drawing-room, as he says "like a dog."
She was about to be appointed Lady of the Bedchamber to the Duchess of York, when she was seized with sudden indisposition, conjectured to have been the result of poison administered in a cup of chocolate, and expired before she had completed her twenty-first year.
The circumstances attending the death of his wife affected Denham's intellect; but whether the frenzy that assailed him was the result of distress of mind or of conscience, there are very different and opposite opinions.
Recovering, he wrote his poem on the death of Cowley, whom he was fated not long to survive ; for on the 19th of March, 1668, he was buried by his side.
But to return to the scene we are now contemplating, to which Denham gave, and from which he derived, an immortal fame.
Nowhere can be exceeded the magnificent expanse of view from the summit of the gentle hill, to whatever point of the compass we direct our eyes; far and widely extended is the various plain, meadows interspersed with corn-fields bending to the breeze; groves of the tall shady elm, and by the river side marshalled ranks of the spiral poplar : thousand hedge-rows of hawthorn, hazel, alder, through whose shade, half hidden and half shown, we catch glimpses of trim cottages, retired villages, and mansions of the great; the giant towers of imperial Windsor lift their battlemented heads like so many grim warriors, while the naiads of Thames playfully sport about their feet; in the remote distance dusky and dim as the clouds that that rest upon it, lies mighty London. Beauty, sublimity, art, nature, the near and the remote, the seen and the imagined, swell together on the enraptured soul; the mind in vain struggles to embrace the thousand associations, called up by what the eye catches in one moment. If there be any alloy in the gratification with which we behold the subject scenery of Cooper's Hill, it is only that we are unequal to the task of giving our sensations an adequate expression.
This the poet has accomplished for us, and we have no more to do than to gaze, and admire—to read and admire again. Well might the bard of Windsor Forest have exclaimed :
Bear me, oh! bear me to sequester'd scenes,