1775 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. John Donne

Anonymous, in "Life of John Donne" Universal Magazine 56 (February 1775) 64-65.



Dr. Donne's works, beside Pseudo-Martyr, consisted of several miscellaneous essays and a volume of poems. Mr. Dryden has very justly given him the character of the greatest Wit, though not the greatest Poet, of our nation; and, in his address to the Earl of Dorset, prefixed to his translation of Juvenal, says, "Donne alone of all our countrymen had your talents, 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 with 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 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 softness of love." A little further Dryden asks: "Would not Donne's Satires, which abound with so much wit, appear more charming, if he had taken care of his words or of his numbers?"

Whether Mr. Pope took the hint from this question, or not, is uncertain; but he has shewn the world that Dr. Donne's Satires, when translated into numbers and English (as Mr. Dryden above expresses it) are not inferior to any thing in that kind of Poetry, even his own admirable writings.