1820 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. John Donne

Anonymous, "The Hive: Anecdote of John Donne" European Magazine 77 (May 1820) 405.



When Dr. Donne, afterwards Dean of St. Paul's, took possession of the first living he ever had, he walked into the church-yard, where the sexton was digging a grave, and throwing up a skull, the doctor took it up to contemplate thereon, and found a small sprig or headless nail sticking out of the temple, which he drew out secretly, and wrapped it up in the corner of his handkerchief. He then demanded of the grave-digger, whether he knew whose skull that was? He said he did very well, declaring it was a man's who kept a brandy shop; an honest, drunken fellow, who one night having taken two quarts of that comfortable creature, was found dead in his bed next morning. "Had he a wife?" — "Yes." "What character does she bear?" — "A very good one: only the neighbours reflect on her, because she married the day after her husband was buried." This was enough for the doctor, who, under the pretence of visiting his parishioners, called on her: he asked her several questions, and, amongst others, what sickness her husband died of? She giving him the same account, he suddenly opened the handkerchief, and cried in an authoritative voice — "Woman, do you know this nail?" She was struck with horror at the unexpected demand, and instantly owned the fact.