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THE LIFE OF DONNE.
JOHN DONNE was born in London, in the year 1573. His father was an eminent merchant, defcended from a very ancient family in Wales; and his mother was defcended from the family of Sir Thomas More, Chancellor of England. His grandfather, by the mother's fide, according to Jonson, in his "Conversation with Drummond," was Heywood the Epigrammatift; fo that, as he observes, " he was originally a poet."
He was educated at home till the eleventh year of his age, when he was fent to the University of Oxford, and entered a Commoner of Hart-Hall, where, it was observed of him, as of John Picus Mirandula, that "he was rather born wife, than made so by study."
He continued three years at Oxford, but declined taking his first degree, by the advice of his relations, who, being of the Romish religion, difliked the oath required to be taken upon that occafion.
He afterwards removed to Trinity College, Cambridge, and from thence, about three years after, to Lincoln's Inn, London, where he profecuted the study of the common law, with fufficient appearance of application and success.
He seems, however, to have divided his ftudies between law and poetry; for, about this time, he compofed most of his love poems, and other levities and pieces of humour, which fufficiently eftablished his poetical reputation, and procured him the acquaintance of all thofe of his own age, who were most diftinguished for acuteness of wit, and gaiety of temper..
His father dying when he was about nineteen years of age, and leaving him 3000 1. he relinquished the study of the law, and devoted himself to a diligent examination of the controverfy between the Proteftants and Roman Catholics, which ended in a full conviction of the truths of the reformed religion, and his converfion to Proteftantism.
About the twenty-first year of his age, he refolved to gratify his defire of travelling; and in the years 1596 and 1597, he accompanied the Earl of Effex in the expedition against Cadiz, and staid fome years in Spain and Italy, where he improved himself by conversing with men of learning, and gained a perfect knowledge of the Spanish and Italian languages.
Soon after his return to England, he was made secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, in whose service he continued five years, and who had so high an opinion of his abi lities, as to declare that "he was fitter to ferve a king than a fubject.”
In 1602, he married privately, without the consent of her father, Anne, daughter of Sir George Moore, Chancellor of the Garter, and Lieutenant of the Tower, who then lived in the Lord Keeper's family, and was neice to his lady.
Sir George Moore refented his marrying his daughter, without his confent, so highly, that he procured his dismission from the Lord Keeper's fervice, and had him committed to prison.
He foon obtained his liberty; but was obliged to be at the expence of a tedious law-suit, to reco ver the poffeffion of his wife, which involved him in great difficulties.
His wants, however, were in a great measure prevented by the kindness of his relation, Sir Francis Wooley, who entertained him and his family feveral years in his house, at Pilford in Surrey, and at last effected a reconciliation between him and his father-in-law, who engaged to pay him 8col. as a portion with his wife, and 201. quarterly till it was paid.
After the death of Sir Francis Wooley, he took a house for his wife and children at Mitcham in Surrey, and lodgings for himself near Whitehall, where he was much vifited and careffed by the nobility, foreign ministers, and other perfons of diftinction.
Some time after, he removed his family to apartments in the house of his friend, Sir Robert Drury, in Drury-lane.
In 1610, he was incorporated Master of Arts at Oxford, having before taken the same degree at Cambridge.
About two years afterwards, he accompanied Sir Robert Drury to Paris; and not long after his return he entered into holy orders, by the perfuafion of King James, who had a high opinion of his abilities, and often expreffed great fatisfaction in having been the means of introducing fo worthy a perfon into the church.
He was ordained by his friend, Dr. King, Bishop of London, who had been chaplain to the Lord Keeper Egerton, at the fame time that he was his fecretary. He was immediately after made one of the Chaplains in Ordinary to his Majefly, and, about the fame time, attending the King to Cambridge, he was created Doctor in Divinity by the University, on the particular recommendation of his Majefty.
On his return from Cambridge, he had the affliction to lofe his wife, who died on the seventh day after the birth of her twelfth child, Auguft 15. 1617. Soon after the death of his wife, he was chofen Preacher of the Society of Lincoln's Inn, and two years after, by his Majefty's appointment, attended the Earl of Doncafter in his embaffy to Germany. In 1621, he was advanced to the Deanery of St. Paul's. Soon after, the vicarage of St. Dunstan in the Weft, was given to him by the Earl of Dorfet, and another benefice, by the Earl of Kent.
In 1623-4, he was chofen prolocutor of the Convocation, and appointed by the King to preach feveral occafional fermons at Paul's crofs.
In 1630, he was feized with a fever at the house of his eldest daughter, Mrs. Harvey, at Abery Hatch, in Effex, which brought on a consumption, of which he died on the 314 of March 1631, and was buried in the cathedral church of St. Paul, where a monument was erected to his memory.
Some time before his death, when he was emaciated with study and ficknefs, he caused himself to be wrapped up in a fheet, which was gathered over his head in the manner of a shroud; and having closed his eyes, he had his portrait taken, which was kept by his bedside as long as he lived, to remind him of mortality. Dugdale fays, that the effigy on his monument in St. Paul's church was dpne after this portrait.
Donne is better known as a poet, than as a divine; though in the latter character he had great merit. His profe writings, which are chiefly theological, are enumerated by Walton, who has written his life, with a juft admiration of his talents and virtues, but with unneceffary prolixity and amplification, and in a ftrain of vulgar credulity and enthusiasm, peculiar to the productions of the laft century.
His "Pfeudo Martyr," in which he has effectually confuted the doctrine of the papal fupremacy, is the most valuable of his profe writings. His Sermons abound too much with the pedantry of the times in which they were written, to be at all efteemed in the prefent age.
His Poems,confifting of "Songs and Sonnets Epigrams, Elegies, Epithalamions, Satires, Letters, Funeral Eelgies, Holy Sonnets," &c. published at different times, were printed together in one volume 12mo. by Tenfon, 1719, and reprinted by Bell, in 3 vols. 12mo. 1781, with the addition of Elelegies on his Death, by Jonfon, Carew, King, Corbet, and other contemporary wits, a fpecimen of which is given in the prefent edition.
All his contemporarics are lavish in his praife. Prejudiced, perhaps, by the ftyle of writing which was then fashionable, they feem to have rated his performances beyond their juft value. To
the praise of wit and fubtility his title is unquestionable. In all his pieces he displays a prodigious richness of fancy, and an elaborate minuteness of defcription; but his thoughts are feldom natural, obvious, or just, and much debased by the careleffnefs of his versification.
Dryden has very justly given him the character of " the greatest wit, though not the greatest poet of our nation." In his dedication of Juvenal to the Earl of Dorset, he says: "Donne, alone, of all our countrymen, had your talent, but was not happy enough to arrive at your versification; and were he translated into numbers and English, he would yet be wanting in the dignity of expreffion. You equal Donne in the variety, multiplicity, and choice of thoughts; you excel him in the manner and the words. I read you both with the fame admiration, but not with the fame delight. He affects the metaphyfics, not only in his fatires, but in his amorous verfes, where nature only fhould reign, and perplexes the minds of the fair sex with speculations of philosophy, where he should engage their hearts, and entertain them with the softness of love."
Pope, probably taking the hint from this paffage, has shewn that Donne's fatires, which abound with so much wit, affume more dignity, and appear more charming, when "tranflated into numbers and English."
Dr. Johnson, in his "Life of Cowley," has difplayed his prodigious genius and extensive learn. ing, to great advantage, in characterising the metaphyfical poetry of Donne, and his imitators. "This kind of writing, which was, I believe, borrowed from Marino and his followers, had been recommended by the example of Donne, a man of very extensive and various knowledge. "The metaphysical poets were men of learning, and to fhew their learning was their whole en deavour; but, unluckily, refolving to fhew it in rhyme, instead of writing poetry, they only wrote verses, and very often fuch verfes as stood the trial of the finger better than of the ear, for the modulation was fo imperfect, that they were only found to be verses by counting the fyllables.
"In perufing the works of this race of authors, the mind is exercised either by recollection or inquiry; either fomething already learned is to be retrieved, or something new is to be examined. If their greatness elevates, their acuteness often surprises; if the imagination is not always gratified, at least, the powers of reflection and comparison are employed, and in the mass of materials which ingenious abfurdity has thrown together, genuine wit and useful knowledge may be fometimes found, buried, perhaps, in groffness of expreffion, but useful to those who know their value, and such as, when they are expanded to perfpicuity, and polished to elegance, may give luftre to works which have more propriety, though lefs copiousness of sentiment.”
To the Right Honourable
WILLIAM LORD CRAVEN,
BARON OF HAMSTED-MARSHAṀ.
MANY of thefe Poems have, for feveral impreffions, wandered up and down, trusting (as well they might, upon the Author's reputation: neither do they now complain of any injury but what may proceed either from the kindness of the printer, or the courtesy of the reader; the one by adding fomething too much, left any fpark of this facred fire might perifh undifcerned; the other by putting fuch an eftimation upon the wit and fancy they find here, that they are content to ufe it as their own; as if a man fhould dig out the ftones of a royal amphitheatre to build a stage for a country show. Amongst all the monsters this unlucky age has teemed with, I find none fo prodigious as the poets of these latter times, wherein men, as if they would level underftandings too as well as eftates, acknowledging no inequality of parts and judgments, pretend as indifferently to the chair of wit as to the pulpit, and conceive themselves no less inspired with the fpirit of poetry than with that of religion: fo it is not only the noise of drums and trumpets which have drowned the Mufe's harmony, or the fear that the church's ruin will deftroy the priests likewife, that now frights them from this country, where they
have been fo ingenioufly received; but these rade pretenders to excellencies they so unjustly own, who, profanely rufhing into Minerva's temple, with noifome airs blaft the laurel which thunder cannot hurt. In this fad condition these learned Sifters are fled over to beg your Lordship's protection, who have been fo certain a patron both to arts and arms; and who, in this general confufion, have fo entirely preferved your honour, that in your Lordship we may ftill read a moft perfect character of what England was in all her pomp and greatness: fo that although these poems were formerly written upon feveral occafions to feveral perfons, they now unite themselves, and are become one pyramid to fet your Lordship's ftatue upon, where you may ftand, like armed Apollo, the defender of the Muses, encouraging the poets now alive to celebrate your great acts, by affording your countenance to his Poems that wanted only so noble a fubject.
My Lord, your most humble fervant,
UPON MR. J. DONNE AND HIS POEMS.
WHO dares fay thou art dead, when he doth fee
Thy flesh (whofe channels left their crimfon hue,
| This foul of Verfe, in its first pure estate
Shall live, for all the world to imitate,
To beauty's elements, and thence derive
Unfpotted lilly's white; which thou didst set
For there would be more virtue in fuch fpells
EPITAPH ON DR: DONNE,
BY DR. CORBET, BISHOP OF OXFORD.
He that would, write an epitaph for thee,
He must have language, travel, all the arts;