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Printed by

Ballantyne, Hanson 6" Co.




The Right Honourable and Right Reverend M andell,
Lord Bishop of London, D.D.

My Dear Lord Bishops

By a strange coincidence, I was already deeply concerned
in composing these volumes^ when you^ unaware of the
fact, urged upon me the preparation of a Life and Letters
of Donne as a work which, above all others dealing with
Elizabethan and Jacobean Literature, now required to be
performed. This was a most encouraging incident to me,
and a fortunate omen. To offer you the completed work,
however modestly and imperfectly wrought, is no more than
common gratitude.

Tet even had this happy accident not occurred, I do not
know to whom I could have of-ered my volumes so appropriately
as to yourself. Not only would Donne, were he now alive,
have you for his diocesan, but I conceive that since the death
of John King in 1621, there has been no Bishop of London so
capable of sympathising with Donne in all his fluctuations as
you are. He trembled under Laud, your severe predecessor;
and certainly not to Laud would any friend of Donne^s have


dared to dedicate a life which unveils the early frailties and
the constitutional faults of the seraphical Dean of St. PauVs.
But I have no fear that you will not be of the crweroi Of
you it may be said^ as Steele {we know) said of Hoadly :

" Virtue with so much ease on Bangor sits,
All faults he pardons, though he none commits."

As a poet, as a divine, as a metaphysician, as a humanist,
and not least as a fragile and exquisite human being, Donne
is certain of your sympathy.

More reasons for this dedication are needless, and yet I
will add the gratification which it gives me to testify thus to
our long personal friendship, and to my constant admiration
of your genius and character.

Believe me to be.

My dear Lord Bishop,

Tours very faithfully,



The work which I have here attempted to perform has
been the occupation of many years, although it is but lately
that I have had an opportunity of devoting myself to it
consecutively. There may be one or two indulgent readers
who recollect that so long ago as 1880 I announced, and
then withdrew, a proposal to write the Life of Donne. It
is more than I deserve, that, in these days of antiquarian
and biographical activity, what is perhaps the most im-
posing task left to the student of Elizabethan and Jacobean
literature should still be left hitherto unattempted. There
is no lack of interest in the subject ; there is no lack of
material for the biographer ; and yet this is the first time
that a full life of Donne has been essayed.

The causes of this apparent neglect are not difficult
to discover. In the first place, the exquisite eulogy of
Izaak Walton is a little masterpiece of narration which no
one of any judgment would hastily disturb. It has taken
its place among our classics, and the attempt to patch it
up and correct it, as often as it has been ventured upon,
has merely led to critical disaster. The real Life of Donne
must not be, what modern editors have made it, a more
or less elaborate tinkering of Walton. In the second place,
the material for a biography of Donne very largely consists
of a collection of letters, printed in 1651, in a state of such
confusion, such errors of the press, such an absence of dates
in the majority of cases, such mistakes as to dates in the
minority, that no biographer has hitherto ventured to
unravel the knotted and twisted web. No one can have
examined, even superficially, the Letters of 1651 — which,
even in these days of reprinting, remain in their single
original issue — without perceiving that some intrepidity



and a great deal of patience are needed to make them tell
a consecutive and intelligible tale.

Walton's famous study appeared in its original form
in 1640. What we read now is a recension of 1659,
greatly expanded, corrected, and, in some degree, diverted
from its original purpose. It is not sufficiently remembered
that the original title of the narrative was : " The Life and
Death of Dr. Donne, late Dean of St. Paul's, London."
The words "and Death" disappeared from the enlarged
edition, but it is well that we should bear them in mind.
They indicate Walton's attitude in approaching his theme,
the central feature of which was the dignified and even
slightly scenic decease of the Dean, in the midst of pious
and admiring friends. The keynote of Donne's life, in
Walton's mind, was its preparation for his death ; and so
he hurries over the circumstances of forty years in a very
few pages, that he may concentrate our attention on some
forty months. In the days of Walton, of course, what
we now call conscientious biography was unknown. The
object of the author was not solely or mainly to tell in
exact sequence the events of a career, but to paint a portrait
in which all that was rugged or unseemly should be melted
into a dignified gloom. He had to consider the morality
of the reader ; he dared not neglect the hortatory or the
educational attitude. It is said that the late George
Richmond, R.A., on being accused of not telling the truth
in his delicate portraiture, replied with heat : "I do tell
the truth, but I tell it in love." The ideal of the seven-
teenth-century biography was to tell the truth in love.

When Walton's " Lives " began to regain the great
position which they are now never likely to lose, it was
perceived that they were too rose-coloured and too inexact
for scientific uses. In 1796 they were edited by Dr. Thomas
Zouch, who returned to the task of annotation several times
during his long Iife(i737-i8i5). The researches of Zouch,
who was a useful and industrious antiquary, cleared away
various obstructions in the text of Walton, but it did not
dawn upon Zouch, as it has scarcely been evident to any
later editor, that the discrepancies in the narrative were so


many and so important, as to be beyond the power of an
annotator to remove. Meanwhile, in 1805, the Clarendon
Press at Oxford issued an unannotated text, in two volumes.
Zouch's text was re-issued in 1807, with a few additional
notes ; this has remained the foundation of all subse-
quent reprints of the " Lives," and mistakes of his are re-
produced in the very latest issue which has left the press.
One modern edition, however, is independent of Zouch, or
rather substantially extends his labours. It is that which
was published without a date (but I believe in July 1852),
and without an editor's name (but under the care of Henry
Kent Causton), in a cheap and obscure form as the open-
ing volume of a projected " Contemplative Man's Library
for the Thinking Few." Thinkers proved to be few indeed,
and this modest little volumie has become extremely rare.
It contains, however, with a great deal that is inexact and
fortuitous, genuine and valuable contributions to our know-
ledge of Donne.

Serious attention to the bibliography of the Poems of
Donne was first called by Sir John Simeon in the treatise,
founded on a rather late MS., which he printed for the
Philobiblion Society in 1856. In 1872, the late Dr. A. B.
Grosart exemplified the neglect which was still paid to the
Dean of St. Paul's, by prefacing his edition of the Poetical
Works, in two volumes, with the words, " I do not hide
from myself that it needs courage to edit and print the
poetry of Dr. John Donne in our day." His own issue,
though not the happiest of his adventures, increased our
knowledge of the poet, and tended to explode any prejudice
existing against him. Twenty years more passed, however,
without producing a really masterly text of Donne's poems.
Dr. Brinsley Nicholson had long intended to prepare one,
when he died in 1891. The responsibility was transferred
to Mr. E. K. Chambers, who produced in 1896 an edition
of Donne's poetical works in two volumes, which for all
practical purposes leaves nothing to be desired. Donne
as a poet is not likely ever to be better edited than by
Mr. E. K. Chambers, although in later editions he will
probably revise some of his conjectures.


The prose works remain in a very different condition.
It is as painful as it is unbecoming to speak ill of one's
predecessors, but I strive in vain to find a palliating word
to say for what Henry Alford, afterwards Dean of Canter-
bury, issued as the "Works of John Donne, D.D.," in
six volumes, in 1839. Alford was very young, was un-
accustomed to the work he undertook, and had formed no
standard of editorial excellence. I have been told that in
later life he bitterly lamented the publication of this edition.
If so, we must share his mortification ; these pretended
Works contain neither the Pseudo-Martyr^ nor Biatha-
natos^ nor Ignatius his Conclave^ nor the Miscellanies^ all
of which remain unreprinted to the present day. Alford
professed to give the poems, but " pruned, some may be
disposed to think, unsparingly." He promised the bonne
houche of " valuable notes by the late Mr. S. T. Coleridge,"
which did not appear. But, worse than all this, Alford
was so little acquainted with the difficulties of press-reading
and collation, that his text absolutely swarms with errors.
His notes are few, but they are almost always glaringly
inaccurate. In short, this edition of the Works of Donne,
which is the only one which has ever been attempted, is
(it is distressing to have to say) no better than so much
paper wasted.

The first man, indeed, who really saw that what was
wanted was not a patched-up revision of Donne but a totally
new Life, was Dr. Augustus Jessopp. More than fifty
years ago, when he was an undergraduate at Cambridge,
he began to make collections illustrative of the character
and writings of Donne. He could find no publisher to
undertake such an enterprise, which the production of
Alford seemed to render impossible — an excellent example
of the way in which a bad book may spoil the market for
a good one. In 1855 Dr. Jessopp brought out a reprint
of the Essays in Divinity, with copious and learned notes,
which were little valued by the reviewers of forty years ago,
but which now prove how eminently well Dr. Jessopp was
fitted to illuminate the theological characteristics of the
great Dean of St. Paul's. After that, until 1 897, the general


public had no means of knowing how persistent was Dr.
Jessopp's interest in everything connected with Donne,
except through his excellent article in the "Dictionary of
National Biography."

Many years have passed since, by a mere accident, I
discovered how lively was still the enthusiasm felt for the
Dean by our admirable historian of East Anglia. I,
also, had been making collections for the biography, and
my first impulse was to place them unreservedly in Dr.
Jessopp's hands. To this day, echoing the famous tirade
of Young to Pope, I find myself saying —

" O had he press'd his theme, pursu'd the track, . . .
O had he, mounted on his wing of fire,
Soar'd where I sink, and sung immortal [Donne],
How it had bless'd mankind, and rescu'd me ! "

He claimed, however, that I should join him in the
delightful labour. We soon found, however, a great diffi-
culty in the road of our collaboration. In his own words.
Dr. Jessopp " has never been able to feel much enthusiasm
for Donne as a poet," whereas to me, even to his last
seraphical hour in his bedchamber at St. Paul's, Donne is
quintessentially a poet. This difference of view offered so
great a drawback to conjoint study that, although, for some
years, we continued to speak of our united work, it made
no practical progress. I had, indeed, well-nigh abandoned
the idea of completing my share of the undertaking.

Suddenly, in 1897, in terms of unexampled generosity,
and in a mode which left me helpless to resist, Dr. Jessopp
transferred the whole responsibility to my shoulders. My
first intimation of his change of mind was received by
reading the preface to a charming little life of Donne as
a Theologian which he contributed to Mr. Beeching's series
of *' Leaders of Religion." In this he repeated his indiffer-
ence to the poetry of Donne, and he declared that it was
from me only that any adequate and elaborate biography
of Donne was to be looked for. These printed words — in
which sympathy and generosity, for once, I fear, may have
betrayed my ardent friend to some error of judgment — were



accompanied by a private letter, in which he placed all his
material at my disposal, and offered me the inestimable
advantage of his revision. This was a summons which it
would have been churlish to disobey, and I immediately
threw myself into a task which has been no holiday effort,
and which I conclude at last with a thousand apprehen-
sions. My severest and most learned critic, however, is
silenced by his own declaration; however imperfect my
work may prove. Dr. Jessopp cannot blame that of which
he is the " onlie begetter."

The materials on which this life is founded must now
be stated. Izaak Walton is, of course, the basis ; the two
versions or recensions of his narrative have been very closely
examined, with a view to appreciating their spirit as well
as their letter. It becomes obvious that Walton's personal
knowledge of Donne was confined to the very close of his
career. For some months (as I conjecture), in 1629 and
1630, he contrived to enjoy the Dean's intimacy, and beyond
question to take notes of his conversation. We do not begin
to understand what the early part of Walton's " Life of
Donne " is until it occurs to us that it is largely Donne's
own report of the incidents of his career. Replying to the
enthusiastic curiosity of Walton, Donne would recount events
the exact sequence of which had escaped his memory, would
pass over in silence facts which seemed immaterial, and
errors which he regretted, and would place his conduct
in a light distinctly edifying to his listener. In short,
without being in the least degree conscious that he was
doing so, Donne would give a picture of his own life which
was neither quite accurate nor perfectly candid. Whatever
the great Dean said, Walton joyfully accepted ; it would
take too long to illustrate here, what the judicious reader
will well understand, the necessity of treating Walton's
narrative with the utmost sensitiveness, as a thread to be
held tightly at some points and at others to be thrown
resolutely away, in our progress through the labyrinth of
Donne's career.

I would venture to deprecate the multiplication of
annotated editions of Walton's " Life of Donne." They


are disrespectful to Walton, and they merely darken counsel
with regard to Donne's career. Walton's treatment of the
central years of his subject's life is a tangle quite inextric-
able by any number of notes. The " Life " is an exquisite
work, which must stand alone, on the score of its sweet
amenity and the beauty of its style. I yield to no one in
my admiration of it, and I share to the full the opinion
of Mr. Austin Dobson (expressed in an unpublished poem
from which I have the indiscretion to quote) when he
speaks of

" old Izaak's phrase
That glows with energy of praise,
Old Izaak's ambling un-pretence
That flames with untaught eloquence."

And the general impression the " Life of Donne " gives
is, no doubt, as faithful as it is beautiful. As a compen-
dium of dry consecutive facts about the career of the poet,
however, it is absolutely misleading.

The correspondence of Donne, which is now for the
first time collected, has been my main source of additional
information. We are very richly supplied with letters
from Donne, who seems to have enjoyed a wide reputation
as a writer of epistles, and many of whose letters were kept,
not on account of their intrinsic interest, but as models of
epistolary deportment. Of these, one hundred and twenty-
nine were published by John Donne the younger in 1651,
and are now for the first time reprinted.^ These letters,
as has already been remarked, offer an extreme perplexity.
No more tantalising set of documents can be imagined.
They are printed with complete disregard to chronology ;
only twenty-two of the whole number are fully dated, and
of these several are found to be dated wrongly ; even the
names of the persons to whom the letters are addressed are
not always supplied, nor always correctly. These conditions
make the Letters of 1651 far more difficult to deal with
than any original MSS. are likely to be, for we have no
data to go upon but what the careless original editor has

^ The so-called second edition of 1654 is nothing but old sheets bound up with
a new title-page, and Alford's attempt I take into no account.


chosen to give us, and we can never appeal to the author
himself. In the few occasions where the originals of these
letters have been preserved, the discrepancies between MS.
and printed text are rather startling.

This neglected mass of correspondence is, notwith-
standing, of extreme value. In the present work I have
attempted no less arduous a task than to break up this
inert mass of dateless letters, and re-arrange its component
parts in consecutive illustration of the narrative. In this
I have received inestimable help from Dr. Jessopp ; it would
be more just, indeed, to say that it is I who have supple-
mented his unpublished labours. If, however, in this huge
enterprise, which is simply beset with pitfalls, I have fallen
into error, I would take upon myself the full responsibility.

This re-arrangement and dating of the Letters of 165 1
is the portion of the work which has given Dr. Jessopp and
myself the most extended labour. Even now, we are not
entirely at one with regard to the value of certain indica-
tions of internal evidence. It will, nevertheless, be denied by
no candid reader that the determination to force Donne's
correspondence to illustrate his biography had become a
necessary one ; and even if the minute critic does not always
agree with the order selected here, there is a large majority
of instances in which it is impossible that he should not
admit its correctness and value. For the practical purposes
of biography these Letters of 165 1 have hitherto been almost
of as little service as though they had never been printed.

Another neglected source of information about Donne
is the little volume entitled A Collection of Letters made by
Sr. Tobie Mathews, Kt., and printed in 1660. Tobie
Matthew (or Mathews), whose name frequently recurs in
the following pages, was an acquaintance, although never
a friend of Donne. He made a collection of holographs,
which fell into the hands of John Donne the younger.
The latter published them with a dedication to Lucy,
Countess of Carlisle, the aged widow of his father's friend,
James Hay, Viscount Doncaster and Earl of Carlisle, who
had died nearly a quarter of a century before. Into this
collection he shredded or flung some thirty letters written


by his father, but not included (with one or two exceptions)
in the Letters of 1651. But if that publication was irre-
gular, the Tobie Matthew collection is absolutely chaotic.
The editor says of it, " it begins wheresoever you open it,
and it ends wheresoever you see." A large number of the
Donne letters have neither address nor signature, and are
discoverable purely by internal evidence. Nevertheless,
these are among the most valuable, because the most per-
sonal, which I have been able to discover. The volume of
1660 has never been reprinted or described. Besides the
letters by Donne, it contains no small mass of highly
important correspondence addressed to him.

Materials hitherto unpublished have been secured from
the Domestic State Papers, the Manuscript Departments
of the British Museum and the Bodleian Libraries, the
Registers of Lincoln's Inn, the Registers of Wills at
Somerset House, and the Library of Dulwich College.
Various sources, such as the University Library at Cam-
bridge, Sion College Library, and the Registers of St.
Dunstan's-in-the-West, have been searched with no or dis-
appointingly slight results, Mr. Horatio F. Brown has
been so kind as to search the archives at Venice for me, but
unhappily without success. Several very important letters
have been copied from the collections of private owners,
who were kind enough to permit them to be transcribed.

In printing Donne's letters, I have modernised the
spelling, which has no philological value, and is often so
eccentric as to annoy and repel the general reader. I do
not think that "to join with you to move his Lordship to
withdraw it " is made more luminous by printing it, " to
joyne w'^ yo'"" to moue hys Lp to w'^drawe ytt." In the
same spirit, I have ventured throughout to give the dates
in new style, as seems to me the only rational thing to do
in the course of a modern narrative ; and in this I have on
my side the example of most of our reputed historians.

It is a great disappointment to me that so very little

is still known about the incidents of Donne's early life.

I am inclined to fear that we never shall discover anything

precise about the wandering years of his youth. But even

VOL. I. h


here we know quite as much about Donne as about Shake-
speare or Spenser. From 1600 onwards until the death
of his wife in 1617, that is to say, through the entire
central portion of his life, our knowledge of his emotions
and movements becomes so precise, in the light of the
documents published in these volumes, that we may now
claim to follow Donne's career more minutely than that of
any other Elizabethan or Jacobean man of letters, except,
perhaps. Bacon.

My object has not been confined to the collection of
all the documents which I could find which illustrated the
biography of Donne. I have desired, also, to present a
portrait of him as a man and an author. As, therefore,
his prose works are rare, and in most cases are inaccessible
to the general reader, I have dwelt on their characteristics
as well as on those of the poems. In short, what I have
essayed to present, is a biographical and critical monograph
on Donne in his full complexity.

It will be observed that I have not attempted to anno-
tate the Letters, which would be a labour quite apart from
my present object ; but wherever names are quoted as
those of men and women with whom Donne was brought
into personal relations, I have endeavoured to say enough
about them to render each reference of this kind intelligible.
The amplification of this sort of information might be
extended much further, but I have forced myself to recollect
that my subject is a biography of Donne, and not the Life
and Times of James I. Hence I have avoided being led
aside into a consideration of the historical points raised in
the news-letters.

Already so much has been said, and will be repeated,
of my debt to Dr. Jessopp, that I may be silent regarding
it here. I have to thank the Bishop of London for kind
encouragement and some valuable suggestions. The
Rev. William Hunt has most generously placed at my
service his great knowledge of ecclesiastical history, and
has read the proofs to their constant advantage. I have
to thank Lord Kenyon for opening to me his remarkable
ecclesiastical library at Gredington, and thus enabling me


to enrich the chapter which deals with the recusant con-
troversy. Suggestive ideas regarding the biographical value
of the Poems I owe to the Hon. Maurice Baring. 1 am
indebted to Mr. James Fitzmaurice-Kelly, the learned his-

Online LibraryEdmund GosseThe life and letters of John Donne, Dean of St. Paul's .. (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 26)