1720 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. John Donne

Giles Jacob, in Historical Account of the Lives and Writings of our most considerable English Poets (1720) 46-48.



This learned Divine, admired for his Great Wit, was born in London, in the Year 1573. He was descended from a very good Family in Wales, and had Parents capable of giving him the best of Education, which they did; for at Nine Years of Age he was sent to Hart-Hall in Oxford, having attained besides the Latin and Greek, a knowledge of the French Tongue. Here he became acquainted with that great Master of Language and Art, Sir Henry Wotton, with whom he contracted a lasting Friendship. From Oxford he was Transplanted to the University of Cambridge, where he made great Improvements in his Literature. Coming from thence to London, he was entered of the Society of Lincoln's-Inn, and applied himself to the study of the Law, but even here, he chiefly employed his time in accomplishing himself with the politer kinds of Learning. He soon Enjoyed the best Conversation in Town, to whom the acuteness of his Wit, and the natural gaiety of his Temper, soon rendered him highly acceptable: In which state of Life, he composed most of his Love-Poems. His Father Dying and leaving him a pretty handsome Fortune, he Travelled into Italy, Spain, and some Foreign Countries, where he acquired a perfection in those Languages, and returned Home with many useful Observations. Being now qualified for the greatest Employments, he was made Secretary to the Lord Elsmere, Keeper of the Great Seal; in whose Service he became enamoured with the Lady Elsmere's Niece, Daughter to Sir George Moor, Chancellor of the Garter, and Lieutenant of the Tower, who greatly opposed this Match; Yet notwithstanding they were privately Married: Which exasperated Sir George to such a degree, that he prevailed on the Lord Elsmere to Discharge him from his Service, and soon after cast him into Prison. But Mr. Donne had not been long confined before he found means, by the assistance of his Kinsman Sir Francis Woolley, to facilitate his Enlargement, and a Reconciliation between him and Sir George Moor, Ensuing, he was restored to his former Post. Now he was sought after by Men of the best Learning more than ever, and his Company very much desired by the Nobility and Foreign Embassadors, who were extremely fond of his Acquaintance. At last, at King James's Request, he applied himself to the study of Divinity, and Entered into Holy Orders: Whereupon, his Majesty first made him Preacher of Lincoln's-Inn, and he was afterwards advanced to the Deanery of St. Paul's; thus from an Eminent Poet he became a much more Eminent Divine. He Died the 31st of March 1631. and was buried in St. Paul's Church with great Solemnity, attended by many Persons of Quality.

Dr. King, Bishop of Chichester, who was his Executor, Erected a Monument to his Memory, with this Inscription.

JOHANNES DONNE, S. T. P.
Post varia Studia, quibus ab Annis tenerrimis fideliter,
Nec infeliciter, incubuit.
Instinctu & impulsu Spiritus sancti, monitu & hortatu
Regis Jacobi Ordines Sacros Amplexus
Anno sui Jesu 1614. & suae Aetatis 42.
Decantu hujus Ecclesiae, indutus 27. Novembris 1621.
Exutus morte ultimo die Martij 1631.
Hic, licet in Occiduo Cinere, aspicet Eum,
Cujus Nomen est Oriens.

A New Edition of his Poems was printed in the Year 1719. With several Elegies upon his Death, one of which Copies, signed H. K. has this Admirable Conclusion.

I do not like the Office — Nor is't fit
Thou, who didst lend our Age such Sums of Wit,
Shouldst now re-borrow from her Bankrupt Mine
That Ore to Bury Thee, which once was Thine,
Rather still leave us in thy Debt; and know
Exalted Soul, more Glory 'tis to Owe
Unto thy Hearse, what we can never Pay,
Than with Embased Coin those Rites defray.
Commit we then, Thee to thy self: Nor blame
Our drooping loves, which thus to thy own Fame
Leave thee Executor: since, but thy own,
No Pen could do thee Justice, nor Bays Crown
Thy vast Desert: Save that, we nothing can
Depute, to be thy Ashes Guardian.
So Jewellers no Art or Metal trust
To form the Diamond, but the Diamond's Dust.