JOHN DONNE, an eminent English divine and poet, was born in the city of London in 1573. His father was descended from a very ancient family in Wales, and his mother was distantly related to sir Thomas More the celebrated and unfortunate lord chancellor, and to judge Rastall, whose father, one of the earliest English printers, married Elizabeth, the chancellor's sister. Ben Jonson seems to think that he inherited a poetical turn from Haywood, the epigrammatist, who was also a distant relation by the mother's side. Of his father's station in life we have no account, but he must have been a man of considerable opulence, as he bequeathed to him three thousand pounds, a large sum in those days. Young Donne received the rudiments of education at home under a private tutor, and his proficiency was such, that he was sent to the university at the early, and perhaps unprecedented age of eleven years, or according to Walton, at ten. At this time, we are told, he understood the French and Latin languages, and had in other respects so far exceeded the usual attainments of boyhood, as to be compared to Picus Mirandula, one that was "rather born, than made wise by study." He was entered of Hart-hall, now Hertford college, where at the usual time he might have taken his first degree with honour, but having been educated in the Roman catholic persuasion, he submitted to the advice of his friends who were averse to the oath usually administered on that occasion. About his fourteenth year, he was removed to Trinity college, Cambridge, where he prosecuted his studies for three years with uncommon perseverance and applause: but here likewise his religious scruples prevented his taking any degree.
In his seventeenth year, he repaired to London, and was admitted into Lincoln's-inn, with an intention to study law, but what progress he made we are not told, except that he continued to give proofs of accumulated knowledge in general science. Upon his father's death, which happened before he could have been regularly admitted into the society of Lincoln's-inn, he retired upon the fortune which his father left to him, and had nearly dissipated the whole before he made choice of any plan of life. At this time, however, he was so young and so submissive as to be under the guardianship of his mother and friends, who provided him with tutors in the mathematics, and such other branches of knowledge as formed the accomplishments of that age; and his love of learning, which was ardent and discursive, greatly facilitated their labours, and furnished his mind with such intellectual stores as gained him considerable distinction. It is not improbable, also, that his poetical attempts contributed to make him more known.
It was about the age of eighteen, that he began to study the controversy between the protestants and papists. His tutors had been instructed to take every opportunity of confirming him in popery, the religion of his family; and he confesses that his mother's persuasions had much weight. She was a woman of great piety, and her son, in all the relations of life, evinced a most affectionate heart. Amidst these allurements, however, he entered on the inquiry with much impartiality, and with the honest intention to give way to such convictions only as should be founded in established truth. He has recorded in the preface to his "Pseudo-Martyr," the struggles of his mind, which he says he overcame by frequent prayer, and an indifferent affection to both parties. The result was a firm, and, as it afterwards proved, a serious adherence to the doctrines of the reformed church.
This inquiry, which terminated probably to the grief of his surviving parent and his friends of the Romish persuasion, appears to have occupied a considerable space of time, as we hear no more of him, until he began his travels in his twenty-first year. He accompanied the earl of Essex in his expedition in 1596, when Cadiz was taken, and again in 1597, but did not return to England until he had travelled for some time in Italy, from which he meant to have penetrated into the Holy Land, and visited Jerusalem and the holy sepulchre. But the inconveniences and dangers of the road in those parts appeared so insuperable that he gave up this design, although with a reluctance to which he often used to advert. The time, however, which he had dedicated to visit the Holy Laud, he passed in Spain, and both there and in Italy, studied the language, manners, and government of the country, allusions to which are scattered throughout his poems and prose works.
Not long after his return to England, he obtained the patronage of sir Thomas Egerton, lord Ellesmere, lord chancellor of England, and the friend and predecessor of the illustrious Bacon. This nobleman appears to have been struck with his accomplishments, now heightened by the polish of foreign travel, and appointed him to be his chief secretary, as an introduction to some more important employment in the state, for which he is said to have pronounced him very fit. The conversation of Donne, at this period, was probably enriched by observation, and enlivened by that wit which sparkles so frequently in his works. The chancellor, it is certain, conceived so highly of him, as to make him an inmate in his house, and a constant guest at his table, where he had an opportunity of mixing with the most eminent characters of the age, and of obtaining that notice, which, if not abused, generally leads to preferment.
In this honourable employment, he passed five years, probably the most agreeable of his life. But a young man of a disposition inclined to gaiety, and in the enjoyment of the most elegant pleasures of society, could not be long a stranger to love. Donne's favourite object was the daughter of sir George Moor, or More, of Loxley farm in the county of Surrey, and niece to lady Ellesmere. This young lady resided in the house of the chancellor, and the lovers had consequently many opportunities to indulge the tenderness of an attachment which appears to have been mutual. Before the family, they were probably not very cautious, for in one of his elegies he speaks of spies and rivals, and her father either suspected, or from them had some intimation, of a connexion which he chose to consider as degrading, and therefore removed his daughter to his own house at Loxley. But this measure was adopted too late, as the parties, perhaps dreading the event, had been for some time privately married. This unwelcome news, when it could be no longer concealed, was imparted to sir George Moor, by Henry earl of Northumberland, a nobleman, who, notwithstanding this friendly interference, was afterwards guilty of that rigour towards his own youngest daughter, which he now wished to soften in the breast of sir George Moor. Sir George's rage, however, transported him beyond the bounds of reason. He not only insisted on Donne's being dismissed from the lord chancellor's service, but caused him to be imprisoned; and, at the same time, Samuel Brook, afterwards master of Trinity college, and his brother Christopher Brook, who were present at the marriage, the one acting as father to the lady, the other as witness.
Their imprisonment appears to have been an act of arbitrary power, for we hear of no trial being instituted, or punishment inflicted on the parties. Mr. Donne was first released, and soon procured the enlargement of his companions; and, probably at no great distance of time, sir George Moor began to relent. The excellent character of his son-in-law was so often represented to him that he could no longer resist the intended consequences of such applications, he condescended, therefore, to permit the young couple to live together, and solicited the lord chancellor to restore Mr. Donne to his former situation. This, however, the chancellor refused, and in such a manner as to show the opinion he entertained of sir George's conduct. His lordship owned that "he was unfeignedly sorry for what he had done, yet it was inconsistent with his place and credit to discharge and re-admit servants at the request of passionate petitioners." Lady Ellesmere also probably felt the severity of this remark, as her unwearied solicitations had induced the chancellor to adopt a measure which he supposed the world would regard as capricious, and inconsistent with his character.
Whatever allowance is to be made for the privileges of a parent, the conduct of sir George Moor, on this occasion, seems entitled to no indulgence. He neither felt as a father, nor acted as a wise man. His object in requesting his son-in-law to be restored to the chancellor's service, was obviously that he might be released from the expence of maintaining him and his wife; for, when disappointed in this, he refused them any assistance. This harshness reduced Mr. Donne to a situation the most distressing. His estate, the three thousand pounds before mentioned, had been nearly expended on his education and during his travels; and he had now no employment that could enable him to support a wife, accustomed to ease and respect, with even the decent necessaries of life. These sorrows, however, were considerably lessened by the friendship of sir Francis Wooley, son to lady Ellesmere by her first husband sir John Wooley of Pitford in Surrey, knt. In this gentleman's house Mr. and Mrs. Donne resided for many years, and were treated with an ease and kindness which moderated the sense of dependence, and which they repaid with attentions that appear to have gratified and secured the affection of their benevolent relation.
It has already been noticed that in his early years he had examined the state of the controversy between the popish and protestant churches, the result of which was his firm attachment to the latter. But this was not the only consequence of a course of reading in which the principles of religion were necessarily to be traced to their purer sources. He appears to have contracted a pious turn of mind, which although occasionally interrupted by the intrusions of gay life, and an intercourse with foreign nations and foreign pleasures, became habitual, and was probably increased by the distresses brought on his family in consequence of his imprudent marriage. That this was the case appears from an interesting part of his history, during his residence with sir Francis Wooley, when he was solicited to take orders. Among the friends whom his talents procured him, was the learned Dr. Morton, afterwards bishop of Durham, who first made this proposal, but with a reserve which does him much honour, and proves the truest regard for the interests of the church. The circumstance is so remarkable that no apology can be necessary for giving it in the words of his biographer:
"Dr. Morton sent to Mr. Donue, and intreated to borrow an hour of his time for a conference the next day. After their meeting, there was not many minutes passed before he spake to Mr. Donne to this purpose: 'Mr. Donne, the occasion of sending for you is to propose to you, what I have often revolved in my own thought since I saw you last, which nevertheless I will not declare but upon this Condition, that you shall not return me a present answer, but forbear three days, and bestow some part of that time in fasting and prayer, and after a serious consideration of what I shall propose, then return to me with your answer. Deny me not, Mr. Donne, for it is the effect of a true love, which I would gladly pay as a debt due for yours to me.' This request being granted, the doctor expressed himself thus: 'Mr. Donne, I know your education and abilities; I know your expectation of a state employment, and I know your fitness for it, and I know too, the many delays and contingencies that attend courtpromises; and let me tell, you, that my love, begot by our long friendship and your merits, hath prompted me to such an inquisition after your present temporal estate, as makes me no stranger to your necessities, which I know to be such as your generous spirit could not bear, if it were not supported with a pious patience: You know I have formerly persuaded you to wave your court-hopes, and enter into holy orders; which I now again persuade you to embrace, with this reason added to my former request: The king hath yesterday made me dean of Gloucester, and I am also possessed of a benefice, the profits of which are equal to those of my deanery: I will think my deanery enough for my maintenance (who am and resolve to die a single man), and will quit my benefice, and estate you in it (which the patron is willing I shall do), if God shall incline your heart to embrace this motion. Remember, Mr. Donne, no man's education or parts make him too good for this employment, which is to be an ambassador for the God of glory; that God, who, by a vile death, opened the gates of life to mankind. Make me no present answer, but remember your promise, and return to me the third day with your resolution.'
"At the hearing of this, Mr. Donne's faint breath and perplexed countenance gave a visible testimony of an inward conflict; but he performed his promise, and departed without returning an answer till the third day, and then his answer was to this effect: 'My most worthy and most dear friend, since I saw you I have been faithful to my promise, and have also meditated much of your great kindness, which hath been such as would exceed even my gratitude, but that it cannot do, and more I cannot return you; and that I do with an heart full of humility and thanks, though I may not accept of your offer: But, sir, my refusal is not for that I think myself too good for that calling, for which kings, if they think so, are not good enough; nor for that my education and learning, though not eminent, may not, being assisted with God's grace and humility, render me in some measure fit for it; but I dare make so dear a friend as you are my confessor: some irregularities of my life have been so visible to some men, that though I have, I thank God, made my peace with him by penitential resolutions against them, and by the assistance of his grace banished them my affections; yet this, which God knows to be so, is not so visible to wan, as to free me from their censures, and it may be that sacred calling from a dishonour. And besides, whereas it is determined by the best of casuists, that God's glory should be the first end, and a maintenance the second motive to embrace that calling, and though each man may propose to himself both together, yet the first may not be put last without a violation of my conscience, which he that searches the heart will judge. And truly my present condition is such, that if I ask my own conscience whether it be reconcileable to that rule, it is at this time so perplexed about it, that I can neither give myself nor you an answer. You know, sir, who says, Happy is that man whose conscience doth not accuse him for that thing which he does. To these I might add other reasons that dissuade me, but I crave your favour that may forbear to express them, and thankfully decline your offer.'"—
This transaction, which, according to the date of Dr. Morton's promotion to the deanery of Gloucester, happened in 1607, when our poet was in his thirty-fourth year, is not unimportant, as it displays that character for nice honour and integrity which distinguished Donne in all his future life, and was accompanied with an heroic generosity of feeling and action, which is perhaps rarely to be wet with, unless in men whose principles have the foundation which he appears to have now laid.
Donne and his family remained with sir Francis Wooley until the death of this excellent friend, whose last act of kindness was to effect some degree of reconciliation between sir George Moor and his son and daughter. Sir George agreed by a bond to pay Mr. Donne eight hundred pounds on a certain day, as a portion with his wife, or twenty pounds quarterly for their maintenance, until the principal sum should be discharged. With this sum, so inferior to what he once possessed, and to what he might have expected, he took a house at Mitcham for his wife and family, and lodgings for himself in London, which he of ten visited, and enjoyed the society and esteem of many persons distinguished for rank and talents. It appears, however, by his letters, that his income was far from adequate to the wants of an increasing family, of whom he frequently writes in a style of melancholy and despondence which appear to have affected his health. He still had no offer of employment, and no fixed plan of study. During his residence with sir Francis Wooley, he had read much on the civil and canon law, and probably might have excelled in any of the literary professions which offered encouragement, but he confesses that he was diverted from. them by a general desire of learning, or what he calls in one of his poems "the sacred hunger of science."
In this desultory course of reading, which improved his mind at the expence of his fortune, he spent two years at Mitcham, when sir Robert Drury insisted on his bringing his family to live with him in his spacious house in Drury-lane; and sir Robert afterwards intending to go on an embassy with lord Hay to the court of France, he persuaded Donne to accompany him. Mrs. Donne was at this time in a bad state of health, and near the end of her pregnancy; and she remonstrated against his leaving her, as she foreboded "some ill in his absence." Her affectionate husband determined on this account to abandon all thoughts of his journey, and intimated his resolution to sir Robert, who, for whatever reason, became the more solicitous for his company. This brought on a generous conflict between Donne and his wife. He urged that he could not refuse a man to whom he was so much indebted; and she complied, although with some reluctance, from a congenial sense of obligation. It was on this occasion, probably, that he addressed to his wife the verses "By our first strange and fatal interview," &c. She had formed, if this conjecture be allowed, the romantic design of accompanying him in the disguise of a page, from which, it was the purpose of these verses to dissuade her.
Mr. Donne accordingly went abroad with the embassy, and two days after their arrival at Paris had that extraordinary vision which has been minutely detailed by all his biographers. He saw, or fancied he saw, his wife pass through the room, in which he was sitting alone, with her hair hanging about her shoulders, and a dead child in her arms. This story he often repeated, and with so much confidence and anxiety, that sir Robert sent a messenger to Drury-house, who brought back intelligence, that he found Mrs. Donne very sad and sick in bed, and that after a long and dangerous labour, she had been delivered of a dead child; which event happened on the day and hour that Mr. Donne saw the vision. Walton has recorded the story on the authority of an anonymous informant, and has endeavoured to render it credible, not only by the corresponding instances of Samuel and Saul, of Bildad, and of St. Peter, but those of Julius Caesar and Brutus, St. Augustin and Monica. The whole may be safely left to the judgment of the reader.
From the dates of some of Donne's letters, it appears that he was at Paris with sir Robert Drury in 1612, and one is dated from the Spa in the same year, but at what time he returned is not certain. After his return, however, his friends became more seriously anxious to fix him in some honourable and lucrative employment at court. Before this period he had become known to king James, and was one of those learned persons with whom that sovereign delighted to converse at his table. On one of those occasions, about 1610, the conversation turned on a question respecting the obligation on Roman Catholics to take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy; and Donne appeared to so much advantage in the dispute, that his majesty requested he would commit his sentiments to writing, and bring them to him. Donne readily complied, and presented the king with the treatise, published in that year, under the title of "Pseudo-Martyr." This obtained him much reputation, and the university of Oxford conferred on him the degree of M.A. which he had previously received from Cambridge. The "Pseudo-Martyr," contains very strong arguments against the pope's supremacy, and has, been highly praised by his biographers. Warburton, however, speaks of it in less favourable terms. It must be confessed that the author has not availed himself of the writings of the judicious Hooker, and that in this, as well as in all his prose writings, are many of those far-fetched conceits, which, however agreeable to the taste of the age, have placed him at the head of a class of very indifferent poets.
At this period of our history, it was deemed expedient to select such men for high offices in the church, as promised by their abilities and zeal to vindicate the reformed religion. King James, who was no incompetent judge of such merit, though perhaps too apt to measure the talents of others by his own standard, conceived from a perusal of the "Pseudo-Martyr," that Donne would prove an ornament and bulwark to the church, and therefore not only endeavoured to persuade him to take orders, but resisted every application to exert the royal favour towards him in any other direction. When the favourite earl of Somerset requested that Mr. Donne might have the place of one of the clerks of the council, then vacant, the king replied, "I know Mr. Donne is a learned man, has the abilities of a learned divine, and will prove a powerful preacher, and my desire is to prefer him that way, and in that way I will deny you nothing for him." Such an intimation must have made a powerful impression, yet there is no reason to conclude from any part of Mr. Donne's character, that he would have been induced to enter the church merely by the persuasion of his sovereign, however flattering. To him, however, at this time, the transition was not difficult. He had relinquished the follies of youth, and had nearly outlived the remembrance of them. His studies had long inclined to theology, and his frame of mind was adapted to support the character expected from him. His old friend Dr. Morton probably embraced this opportunity to second the king's wishes, and remove Mr. Donne's personal scruples; and Dr. King, bishop of London, who had been chaplain to the chancellor when Donne was his secretary, and consequently knew his character, heard of his intention with much satisfaction. By this prelate he was ordained deacon and afterwards priest; and the king, although not uniformly punctual in his promises of patronage, immediately made him his chaplain in ordinary, and gave him hopes of higher preferment.
Those who had been the occasion of Mr. Donne' entering into orders, were anxious to see him exhibit in a new character, with the abilities which had been so much admired in the scholar, and the man of the world. But at first, we are told, he confined his public services to the churches in the vicinity of London, and it was not until his majesty required his attendance at Whitehall on an appointed day, that he appeared before all auditory capable of appreciating his talents. Their report is stated to have been highly favourable. His biographer, indeed, seems to be at a loss for words to express the pathos, dignity, and effect of his preaching, but in what he has advanced he no doubt spoke the sentiments of Donne's learned contemporaries. Still the excellence of the pulpit oratory of that age will not bear the test of modern criticism, and those who now consult Mr. Donne's sermons, if they expect gratification, must be more attentive to the matter than the manner. That he was a popular and useful preacher, is universally acknowledged, and he performed the more private duties of his function with humility, kindness, zeal, and assiduity.
The same month, which appears to have been March 1614, in which he entered into orders, and preached at Whitehall, the king happened to be entertained during one of his progresses at Cambridge, and recommended Mr. Donne to be made D.D. Walton informs us that the university gave their assent as soon as Dr. Harsnet, the vice-chancellor, made the proposal. According, however, to two letters from Mr. Chamberlain to sir Dudley Carlton, it appears that there was some opposition to the degree, in consequence of a report that Mr. Donne had obtained the reversion of the deanery of Canterbury. Even the vice-chancellor is mentioned among those who opposed him. It is not very easy to reconcile these accounts, unless by a conjecture that the opposition was withdrawn, when the report respecting the deanery of Canterbury was proved to be untrue. And there is some probability that this was the case, for that deanery became vacant in the following year, and was given to Dr. Fotherby, a man of much less fame and interest. But whatever was the cause of this temporary opposition at Cambridge, it is certain that Dr. Donne became so highly esteemed as a preacher, that within the first year of his ministry, he had the offer of fourteen different livings, all of which he declined, and all for the same reason, namely, that they were situated at a distance from London, to which, in common with all men of intellectual curiosity, he appears to have been warmly attached.
In 1617 his wife died, leaving him seven children. This affliction sunk so deep into his heart, that he retired from the world and from his friends, to indulge a sorrow which could not be restrained, and which for some time interrupted his public services. From this he was at length diverted by the gentlemen of Lincoln's-inn, who requested him to accept their lecture, and prevailed. Their high regard for him contributed to render this situation agreeable and adequate to the maintenance of his family. The connexion subsisted about two years, greatly to the satisfaction of both parties, and of the people at large, who had now frequent opportunities of hearing their favourite preacher. But on lord Hay being appointed on an embassy to Germany, Dr. Donne was requested to attend him. He was at this time in a state of health which required relaxation and change of air, and after an absence of fourteen months, he returned to his duty in Lincoln's-inn, much improved in health and spirits, and about a year after, in 1620, the king conferred upon him the deanery of St. Paul's.
This promotion, like all the leading events of his life, tended to the advancement of his character. While it amply supplied his wants, it enabled him at the same time to exhibit the heroism of a liberal and generous mind, in the case of his father-in-law, sir George Moor. This man had never acted the part of a kind and forgiving parent, although he continued to pay the annual sum agreed upon by bond, in lieu of his daughter's portion. The time was now come, when Dr. Donne could repay his harshness, by convincing him how unworthily it had been exerted. The quarter after his appointment to the deanery, when sir George came to pay him the stipulated sum, Dr. Donne refused it, and after acknowledging more kindness than he had received, added, "I know your present condition is such as not to abound, and I hope mine is such as not to need it; I will therefore receive no more from you upon that contract," which he immediately gave up.
To his deanery was now added the vicarage of St. Dunstan in the West, and another ecclesiastical endowment not specified by Walton. These according to his letters (p. 318) he owed to the friendship of Richard Sackville, earl of Dorset, and of the earl of Kent. From all this he derived the pleasing prospect of making a decent provision for his children, as well as of indulging to a greater extent his liberal and humane disposition. In 1624, he was chosen prolocutor to the convocation, on which occasion he delivered a Latin oration, which is printed in the London edition of his poems, 1719.
While in this full tide of popularity, he had the misfortune to fall under the displeasure of the king, who had been informed that in his public discourses he had meddled with some of those points respecting popery which were more usually handled by the puritans. Such an accusation might have had very serious consequences, if the king had implicitly confided in those who brought it forward. But Dr. Donne was too great a favourite to be condemned unheard, and accordingly his majesty sent for him, and represented what he had heard, and Dr. Donne so completely satisfied him as to his principles in church and state, that the king, in the hearing of his council, bestowed high praise on him, and declared that he rejoiced in the recollection that it was by his persuasion Dr. Donne had become a divine.
About four years after he received the deanery of St. Paul's, and when he had arrived at his fifty-fourth years his constitution, naturally feeble, was attacked by a disorder which had every appearance of being fatal. In this extremity he gave another proof of that tenderness of conscience, so transcendently superior to all modern notions of honour, which had always marked his character. When there was little hope of his life, he was required to renew some prebendal leases, the fines for which were very considerable, and might have enriched his family. But this he peremptorily refused, considering such a measure, in his situation, as a species of sacrilege. "I dare not," he added, "now upon my sick bed, when Almighty God bath made me useless to the service of the church, make any advantages out of it." This illness, however, he survived about five years, when his tendency to a consumption again returned, and terminated his life on the 31st day of March, 1631. He was buried in St. Paul's, where a monument was erected to his memory. His figure may yet be seen in the vaults of St. Faith's under St. Paul's. It stands erect in a window, without its niche, and deprived of the urn in which the feet were placed. His picture was drawn sometime before his death, when he dressed himself in his winding-sheet, and the figure in St. Faith's was carved from this painting by Nicholas Stone. The fragments of his tomb are on the other side of the church. Walton mentions many other paintings of him executed a different periods of his life, which are not now known.
Of his character some judgment, may be formed from the preceding sketch, taken principally from Zouch's much improved edition o Walton's Lives. His early years, there is reason to think, although disgraced by no flagrant turpitude, were not exempt from folly and dissipation. In some of his poems, we meet with the language and sentiments of men whose morals are not very strict. After his marriage, however, he appears to have become of a serious and thoughtful disposition, his mind alternately exhausted by study, or softened by affliction. His reading was very extensive, and we find allusions to almost every science in his poems, although unfortunately they only contribute to produce distorted images and wild conceits.
His prose works are numerous, but except the "Pseudo-Martyr," and a small volume of devotions, none of them were published during his life. The others are, 1. "Paradoxes, problems, essays, characters," &c. 1653, 12mo. Part of this collection was published at different times before. 2. Three volumes of "Sermons," in folio; the first printed in 1640, the second in 1649, the third in 1660. Lord Falkland styles Donne "one of the most witty and most eloquent of our modern divines." 3. "Essays in divinity," &c. 1651, 12mo. 4. "Letters to several persons of honour," 1654, 4to. Both these published by his son. There are several of Donne's letters, and others to him from the queen of Bohemia, the earl of Carlisle, archbishop Abbot, and Ben Jonson; printed in a book, entitled, "A collection of Letters made by sir Tobie Matthews, knt. 1660," 8vo. 5. "The ancient History of the Septuagint; translated from the Greek of Aristeas," 1633, in 12mo. This translation was revised and corrected by another hand, and published in 1685, 8vo. His sermons have not a little of the character of his poems. They are not, indeed, so rugged in style, but they abound with quaint allusions, which now appear ludicrous although they probably produced no such effect in his days. With this exception, they contain much good sense, much acquaintance with human nature, many striking thoughts, and some very just biblical criticism.
One of his prose writings requires more particular notice. Every admirer of his character will wish it expunged from the collection. It is entitled "Biathanatos, a Declaration of that Paradox, or Thesis, that Self-Homicide is not so naturally Sin, that it may never be otherwise." if it be asked what could induce a man of Dr. Donne's piety to write such a treatise, we may answer in his own words that "it is a book written by Jack Donne, and not by Dr. Donne." It was written in his youth, as a trial of skill on a singular topic, in which he thought proper to exercise his talent against the generally-received opinion. But if it be asked why, instead of sending one or two copies to friends with an injunction not to print it, he did not put this out of their power by destroying the manuscript, the answer is not so easy. He is even so inconsistent as to desire one of his correspondents neither to burn it, nor publish it. It was at length published by his son in 1644, who certainly did not consult the reputation of his father, and if the reports of his character be just, was not a man likely to give himself much uneasiness about that or any other consequence.
Dr. Donne's reputation as a poet, was higher in his own time than it has been since. Dryden fixed his character with his usual judgment; as "the greatest wit, though not the best poet of our nation." He says afterwards, that "he affects the metaphysics, not only in his satires, but in his amorous verses, where Nature only should reign, and perplexes the minds of the fair sex with nice speculations of philosophy, when he should engage their hearts, and entertain them with the softnesses of love." Dryden has also pronounced that if his satires were to be translated into numbers, they would yet be wanting in dignity of expression. From comparing the originals and translations in Pope's works, the reader will probably think that Pope has made them so much his own, as to throw very little light on Donne's powers. He every where elevates the expression, and in very few instances retains a whole line. Pope, in his classification of poets, places Donne at the head of a school, that school from which Dr. Johnson has given so many remarkable specimens of absurdity, in his life of Cowley, and which, following Dryden, he terms the metaphysical school. Gray, in the sketch which he sent to Mr. Warton, considers it as a third Italian school, full of conceit, begun in queen Elizabeth's reign, continued under James and Charles I. by Donne, Crashaw, Cleiveland, carried to its height by Cowley, and ending perhaps in Sprat. Donne's numbers, if they may be so called, are certainly the most rugged and uncouth of any of our poets. He appears either to have had no ear, or to have been utterly regardless of harmony. Yet Spenser preceded him, and Drummond, the first polished versifier, was his contemporary; but it must be allowed that before Drummond appeared, Donne had relinquished his pursuit of the Muses, nor would it be just to include the whole of his poetry under the general censure which has been usually passed. Dr. Warton seems to think that if he had taken pains, he might not have proved so inferior to his contemporaries; but what inducement could he have to take pains, as he published nothing, and seems not desirous of public fame? He was certainly not ignorant or unskilled in the higher attributes of style, for he wrote elegantly in Latin, and displays considerable taste in some of his smaller pieces and epigrams. At what time he wrote his poems has not been ascertained; but of a few the dates may be recovered by the corresponding events of his life. Ben Jonson affirmed that he wrote all his best pieces before he was twenty-five years of age. His satires, in which there are some strokes levelled at the reformation, must have been written very early, as he was but a young man when he renounced the errors of popery. His poems were first published in 4to, 1633, and 12mo, 1635, 1651, 1669, and 1719. His son was the editor of the early editions.
This son, JOHN DONNE, was educated at Westminster school, and removed from thence to Christ-church, Oxford, in 1622. Afterwards he travelled abroad, and took the degree of LL.D. at Padua in Italy; and June 16 was admitted to the same degree in the university of Oxford. He died in 1662, and was buried in the churchyard of St. Paul, Covent-Garden. Wood tells us, that "he was no better all his life-time than an atheistical buffoon, a banterer, and a person of over-free thoughts, yet valued by Charles II.; that he was a man of sense and parts; and that, besides some writings of his father, he published several frivolous trifles under his own name: among which is 'The humble petition of Covent-Garden against Dr. John Baber a physician,' anno 1662."