1824 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. John Donne

Bryan Waller Procter, in Effigies Poeticae, or, the Portraits of the British Poets (1824) 23.



From an original Picture in the possession of the Rev. Dr. Barrett.

DONNE'S face is shaped like a triangle: but he has an eager eye and a singular countenance. His face seems as full of conceits as his verses, but it wants the sentiment which the latter possess. There is scarcely a poet in our language who has so thoroughly mixed up the good and the bad together. He utters often deep-felt things, finely modulated lines, and casts out imaginative ideas, almost all of which duly expire in cold metaphors and harsh phrases; as if he delighted in surprising us by his ingenuity, instead of aiming to afford us unmingled pleasure. One of his poems, beginning with those two beautiful lines,

I long to talk with some old lover's ghost,

Who died before the God of love was born—

runs off immediately into quaint, idle, fantastic expression; and others seem made, like a rebus or a charade, to tempt the patience of the reader, or to exercise his talent for unravelling difficulties. Donne was successively a law student, a man of letters, a man of the town, and lastly, (by King James's "command") a divine and theologian; and we have accordingly a little of each in his verses. He has the character of having been as eminent a preacher as poet; but we are not competent to speak upon this subject, having never invaded his theological writings. He wrote satires, odes, epithalamions, and divine poems. He celebrated Bishop Valentine, who "marries, every year," "The lyric lark, and the grave whispering dove;" and, in short, ran through most of the varieties of rhyme. Old Isaac Walton wrote his life, and Cowley was his imitator.