1823 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. John Donne

Anonymous, in Retrospective Review 8 (1823) 31.



Donne was contemporary with Shakspeare, and was not unworthy to be so. He may fairly be placed, in point of talent, at the head of the minor poets of the day. Imbued, to saturation, with all the learning of his age — with a most active and piercing intellect — an imagination, if not grasping and comprehensive, most subtle and far-darting — a fancy rich, vivid, picturesque, and, at the same time, highly fantastical, — if we may so apply the term — a mode of expression singularly terse, simple, and condensed — an exquisite ear for the melody of versification — and a wit, admirable as well for its caustic severity as its playful quickness; all he wanted to make him an accomplished poet of the second order was, sensibility and taste: and both of these he possessed in a certain degree; but neither in a sufficient degree to keep them from yielding to the circumstances in which he was placed. His sensibility was by nature strong, but sluggish and deep-seated. It required to be roused and awakened by the imagination, before it would act; and this process seldom failed to communicate to the action which it created, an appearance of affectation (for it was nothing more than the appearance), which is more destructive to the effect of sentimental poetry than any thing else. We do not mind the images and illustrations of a sentiment being recondite and far-fetched; and, indeed, this has frequently a good effect; but if the sentiment itself has any appearance of being so, we doubt the truth of it immediately; and if we doubt its truth, we are disposed to give it any reception rather than a sympathetic one.