1827 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. John Donne

Henry Neele, in Russell Institution Lectures on English Poetry (1827); Remains (New York, 1829) 117.



Donne is another of our best ancient satirists, and was also, like Hall, a dignified prelate; having been rector of St. Dunstan's in the West, and dean of St. Paul's. He was the founder of that school in poetry which has been somewhat improperly styled the metaphysical; which attained its greatest elevation in Cowley, and may be said to have become extinct with Spratt. Donne is as full of far-fetched conceits, and recondite illustrations, or rather obscurations, as Cowley; without, however, being possessed of any thing approaching to the same genuine poetical powers. Still he is a writer of great fancy and ingenuity. His satires are more remarkable for wit, than for severity. He laughs at vice and folly; but holds them up to derision, rather than overwhelms them with punishment; and, in this respect, offers many points of contrast to his brother satirist, Hall, of whom I have just been speaking. The first points out the deformity of vice; the other exhibits its danger. One holds it up to derision; the other to execration. One exposes it to the gibes and jeers of the world; the other devotes it to the axe, the scourge, and the gibbet.