1782 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. John Donne

Joseph Warton, in Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope (1782) 2:353-55.



POPE succeeded in giving harmony to a writer, more rough and rugged than even any of his age, and who profited so little by the example Spencer had set, of a most musical and mellifluous versification; far beyond the versification of Fairfax, who is so frequently mentioned as the great improver of the harmony of our language. The satires of Hall, written in very smooth and pleasing numbers, preceded those of Donne many years; for his Virgidemiarum were published, in six books, in the year 1597; in which he calls himself the very first English satirist. This however was not true in fact; for Sir Thomas Wyatt, of Allington Castle in Kent, the friend and favourite of Henry VIII. and, as was suggested, of Ann Boleyn, was our first writer of satire worth notice. But it was not in his numbers only that Donne was reprehensible. He abounds in false thoughts, far-sought sentiments, in forced unnatural conceits. He was the corrupter of Cowley. Dryden was the first who called him a metaphysical poet. He had a considerable share of learning; and, though he entered late into orders, yet was esteemed a good divine. James I. was so earnest to prefer him in the church, that he even refused the Earl of Somerset, his favourite, the request he earnestly made, of giving Donne an office in the council.