Page images


Joun Donne was born in London, in the year 1573. His father was an eminent merchant, descended from a very ancient family in Wales; and his mother was descended from the family of Sir Thomas More, Chancellor of England. His grandfather, by the mother's side, according to Jonson, in his “ Conversation with Drummond," was Heywood the Epigrammatist; so that, as he observes, " he was originally a poet."

He was educated at home till the eleventh year of his age, when he was sent to the University of Orford, and entered a Commoner of Hart-Hall, where, it was observed of him, as of John Picus Mirandula, that "he was rather born wise, than made fo by study."

He continued three years at Oxford, but declined taking his first degree, by the advice of his reLations, who, being of the Romißh religion, disliked the oath required to be taken upon that occafion.

He afterwards removed to Trinity College, Cambridge, and from thence, about three years after, w Lincoln's Inn, London, where he prosecuted the study of the common law, with sufficient appears ance of application and success.

He seems, however, to have divided his studies between law and poetry; for, about this time, he composed most of his love poems, and other levitics and pieces of humour, which sufficiently established his poetical reputation, and procured him the acquaintance of all those of his own age, who were most distinguished for acuteness of wit, and gaiety of temper.

His father dying when he was about nineteen years of age, and leaving him 3000 l. he relinquished the fudy of the law, and devoted himself to a diligent examination of the controversy between the Protestants and Roman Catholics, which ended in a full conviction of the truths of the reformed religion, and his conversion to Protestantism.

About the twenty-first year of his age, he resolved to gratify his defire of travelling; and in the years 1596 and 1597, he accompanied the Earl of Esex in the expedition againt Cadiz, and said some years in Spain and Italy, where he improved himself by converling with men of learning, and gained a perfe& knowledge of the Spanish and Italian languages.

Soon after his return to England, he was made fecretary to Sir Thomas Egerton, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, in whose service he continued five ycars, and who had fo high an opinion of his abi. lities, as to declare that “ he was fitter to serve a king than a fubje&.”

Jo 1602, he married privately, without the consent of her father, Anne, daughter of Sir George Moore, Chancellor of the Garter, and Lieutenant of the Tower, who then lived in the Lord Keeper's family, and was neice to his lady.

Sir George Moore resenced his marrying his daughter, without his consent, so highly, that he procured his dismission from the Lord Keeper's service, and had him committed to prison.

He foon obrained his liberty; but was obliged to be at the expence of a tedious law-suit, to recog Ver the pofleflion of his wife, which involved him in great difficulties.


His wants, however, were in a great mcasure prevented by the kindness of his relation, Sir Franicis Wooley, who entertained him and his family several years in his house, at Pilford in Surrey, and at last effected a reconciliation between him and his father-in-law, who engaged to pay him 8col. as a portion with his wife, and 201. quarterly till it was paid.

After the death of Sir Francis Wooley, he took a house for his wife and children at Mitcham in Surrey, and lodgings for himself near Whitehall, where he was much visited and caressed by the nobility, foreign ministers, and other persons of distinction.

Some time after, he removed his family to apartments in the house of his friend, Sir Robert Drury, in Drury-lane.

In 1610, he was incorporated Master of Arts at Oxford, having before taken the same degree at Cambridge.

About two years afterwards, he accompanied Sir Robert Drury to Paris; and not long after his return he entered into holy orders, by the persuasion of King James, who had a high opinion of his abilities, and often expressed great satisfa&tion in having been the niears of introducing so worthy a person into the church.

He was ordained by his friend, Dr. King, Bishop of London, who had been chaplain to the Lord Keeper Egerton, at the same time that he was his secretary. Pe was immediately after made one of the Chaplains in Ordinary to his Majefly, and, about the same time, attending the King to Cambridge, he was created Doctor in Divinity by the University, on the particular recommendation of his Majesty.

On his return from Cambridge, he had the affliction to lose his wife, wbo died on the seventh day after the birth of her twelfth child, Avgust 15. 1617. Soon after the death of his wife, he was chosen Preacher of the Society of Lincoln's Inn, and two years after, by his Majesty's appointment, attended the Earl of Doncaster in his embassy to Germany. ' In 1621, he was advanced to the Deanery of St. Paul's. Soon after, the vicarage of St. Dunstan in the West, was given to him by the Earl of Dorset, and another benefice, by the Earl of Kent.

In 1623.4, he was chosen prolocutor of the Convocation, and appointed by the King to preach several occasional fermons at Paul's cross.

In 1630, he was seized with a fever at the house of his eldest daughter, Mrs. Harvey, at Abery Hatch, in Essex, which brought on a consumption, of which he died on the 314 of March 1631, and was buried in the cathedral church of St. Paul, where a monument was created to his memory.

Some time before his death, when he was emaciated with study and sickness, he caused himself to be wrapped up in a sheet, which was gathered over his head in the manner of a shroud ; and having closed his eyes, he had his portrait taken, which was kept by his bedside as long as he lived, to remind him of mortality. Dugdale says, that the effigy on his monument in St. Paul's church was dpnc after this portrait.

Donne is better known as a poet, than as a divine ; though in the latter character he had great merit. His profe writings, which are chiefly theological, are enumerated by Walton, who has written his life, with a juft admiration of his talents and virtues, but with unnecessary prolixity and am- : plification, and in a strain of vulgar crcdulity and enthufalm, peculiar to the productions of the last century.

His “ Pseudo Martyr," in which he has cffe&ually confuted the doctrine of the papal supremacy, is the not valuable of his profe writings. His Sermons absurd too much with the pedantry.of the times in which they were written, to be at all esteemed in the present age.

His Poems, conßfting of “ Songs and Sunnets Epigrams, £lcgies, Epithalamions, Satires, Letters, Funeral Eelgies, Holy Sonnets," &ç. published at different times, were printed together in one volume Izmo. by Tonson, 1719, and reprinted by Bell, in 3 vols. 12mo. 1781, with the addition of Ele-, legies on his Death, by Jonson, Carew, King, Corbet, and other contemporary wits, a specimen of which is given in the present edition.

All his contemporaries are lavish in his praise. Prejudiced, perhaps, by the style of writing which was then fashionable, they seem to have rated his performances beyond their juft value. To

the praise of wit and fubtility his title is unquestionable. In all his pieces he displays a prodigious richness of fancy, and an elaborate minuteness of description ; but his thoughts are seldom natural, obvious, or just, and much debased by the carelessness of his versification.

Dryden has very juftly given him the character of “ the greatest wit, though not the greatest poet of our nation." In his dedication of Juvenal to the Earl of Dorset, he says: “ Donne, alene, of all our countrymen, had your talent, but was not happy enough to arrive at your versification; and were he translated into numbers and English, he would yet be wanting in the dignity of expression. You equal Donne in the variety, multiplicity, and choice of thoughts; you excel him in the manner and the words. I read you both with the same admiration, but not with the same delight. He affects the metaphysics, not only in his satires, but in his amorous verses, where nature only should Teign, and perplexes the minds of the fair sex with speculations of philosophy, where he should engage their hearts, and entertain them with the softness of love."

Pope, probably taking the hint from this passage, has shewn that Donne's satires, which abound with so much wit, assume more dignity, and appear more charming, when “ translated into numbers and English.”

Dr. Johnson, in his “ Life of Cowley," has displayed his prodigious genius and extensive learn. ing, to great advantage, in characterising the metaphysical poetry of Donne, and his imitators,

« This kind of writing, which was, I believe, borrowed from Marino and his followers, had been recommended by the example of Donne, a man of very extensive and various knowledge.

“ The metaphysical poets were men of learning, and to Thew their learning was their whole en. deavour; but, unluckily, resolving to hew it in rhyme, instead of writing poetry, they only wrote verses, and very often such verses as stood the trial of the finger better than of the ear, for the modulation was so imperfect, that they were only found to be verses by counting the fyllables.

“ In perusing the works of this race of authors, the mind is exercised either by recollection or inquiry; either something already learned is to be retrieved, or something new is to be examined. If their greatness elevates, their acuteness often surprises; if the imagination is not always gratified, at least, the powers of reflection and comparison are employed, and in the mass of materials which ingenious absurdity has thrown together, genuine wit and useful knowledge may be sometimes found, buried, perhaps, in grossness of expression, but useful to those who know their value, and such as, when they are expanded to perspicuicy, and polished to elegánce, may give luftre to works which have more propriery, though less copiousness of sentiment.”.

A üj

To the Right Honourable




Many of these Poems have, for several impreslions, have been fo ingeniously received ; but these rade wandered up and down,trusting (as well they mighe, pretenders to excellencies they so unjuftly own, who, upon the Author's reputation: neither do they now profanely rushing into Minerva’s temple, with noicomplain of any injury but what may proceed either fome airs blall the laurel which thunder cannot hurt. from the kindness of the printer, or the courtesy of In this fad condition these learned Sisters are fleet the reader; the one by adding something too much, over to beg your Lordlip's protection, who have left any {park of this facred fire mighe perith und been so certain a patron both to arts and arms; discerned; the other by putting such an estimation and who, in this general confusion, have so entirely upon the wit and fancy they find here, that they preserved your honour, that in your Lordship we are content to use it as their own; as if a man may fill read a most perfeá character of what Should dig out the stones of a royal amphitheatre England was in all her pump and greatness : so to build a stage for a country show. Amongst all that although these poems were formerly written the monsters this unlucky age has teemed with, 1 upon several occasions to several persons, they now find none so prodigious as the poets of these latter unite themselves, and are become one pyramid to times, wherein men, as if they would level under- let your Lordship’s statue upon, where you may standings too as well as estates, acknowledging no stand, like armed Apollo, the defender of the Mufes, inequality of parts and judgments

, pretend as in- encouraging the poets now alive to celebrate your differently to the chair of wit as to the pulpit, and great ads, by affording your countenance to his conceive themselves no less inspired with the spirit Puems that wanted only io noble a subjcct. of poetry than with that of religion : so it is not only the noise of drums and trumpets which have My Lord, your molt humble servant, drowned the Muse's harmony, or the fear that the church's ruin will destroy the priests likewise, that

John Donne, now frights them from this country, where they


Wuo dares say thou art dead, when he doth see 'This soul of Verse, in its first pure estate
Urburied yet this living part of thee;

Shall live, for all the world to imitate,
This part, that to thy being gives fresh flame, But not come near ; for in thy fancy's flight
And, though thou’rt Donne, yet will preserve thy Thou dost not stoop unto the vulgar light,

But hovering highly in the air of Wit,
Thy flesh (whose channels left their crimson hue, Holdit such a pitch that few can follow it ;
And whey-like ran at last in a pale blue) Admire they may. Each object that the spring
May shew thee mortal; a dead palsy niay (Or a more piercing influence) doth bring
Seise on't, and quickly turn it into clay,

T'adorn earth's face, thou sweetly didît code Which, like the Indian earth, shall rise refin'd;

trive But this great spirit thou hast left behind, To beauty's elements, and thence derive

Unspotted lilly's white; which thou didst fet For there would be more virtue in such spells Hand in hand with the vein-like violet,

Than in meridions or cross parallels.
Making them soft and warm, and by thy power Whatever was of worth in this great frame,
Coulds give bnth life and sense unto a flower. That art could comprehend or wit could name,
The cherries thou hast made to speak will be It was thy theme for beauty : thou didit sce
Sweeter unto the taste than from the tree ; Woman was this fair world's epitome.
And, spite of winter-storms, amidst the snow Thy nimble Satires, too, and ev'ry strain
Thou oft' haft made the blushing rose to grow. With nervy strength that iffu'd from thv brain,
The sea-nymphs, that the watry caverns keep, Will lose the glory of their own clear bays,
Have sent their pearls and rubies from the deep If they admit of any other's praise.
To deck thy love, and, plac'd by thee, they drew But thy diviner poems, whose clear fire
More laitré to them than where first they grew, Purges all dross away, shall by a choir
All minerals that earth's full womb doth hold Of cherubims with heav'nly notes be set :
Promiscuoully thou couldst convert to gold, (Where flesh and blood could ne'er attain to yet)
And with thy flaming raptures so refine, There purest spirits sung such sacred lays

That it was much more pure than in the mine, In panegyric hallelujahs.
The lights that gild the night, if thou didt say
They look like eyes, those did outline the day;


[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]
« EelmineJätka »