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JOHN TUPLING, 320 Strand. 1855.



To him, who with his wide knowledge is
always able, and in his generous kindliness
is always willing, to help and encourage his
less-experienced fellow-labourers in the fields
of English Literature,



this Edition of Donne's Essays is respectfully
dedicated, by



g Oi






JOHN DONNE, the writer of .the Essays

contained in this volume, lived in an age
more fruitful in great men and stirring events
than the world has perhaps ever seen, from
the times of Pericles to the days of Queen

He was born in 1573 the year after the
massacre of St. Bartholomew; he died iia 1631,
the year after the battle of Liitzen. where
Gustavus Adolphus fell.

In his childhood Camoens fetched his last
sigh in Portugal, the poet who had laid the
only firm foundation for his country's literature,
condemned to die in penury, hardly finding for
his very corpse its last garment a shroud. In
his boyhood, Sir Philip Sidney wrote the Ar-
cadia, and he was still in his teens when that
gallant hero put away the cup of water from
his own parched lips to slake the thirst of the
bleeding trooper lying by his side.

It was in his youth too, that Raleigh and
Drake sailed out to meet the " Invincible
Armada/' when Queen Elizabeth showed herself


worthy to be a queen of England, undaunted
in the sight of danger which might have made,
and which did make, many a stout heart throb.

Before he reached man's estate, he had tra-
velled over many of the countries of Europe
and become proficient in their languages, and
it is far from improbable that he heard Galileo
lecture at Pisa, while Cervantes was grimly
offering his Don Quixotte to his reluctant
countrymen, and poor Tasso moaning over his
sorrows in a madhouse.

While Hooker was sending forth the Eccle-
siastical Polity book by book while Spenser
was writing the Faery Queen while Shake-
speare was meeting Beaumont and Fletcher at
the Mermaid or playing Ghost in his own
Hamlet, Donne was courting the muses, se-
curing for himself some fame as a poet, and
lashing in his Satires the follies and vices of
his day.

When, after a long period of religious warfare
in France, the Edict of Nantes was published
he was Secretary to the Chancellor of England,
and in the year that Tycho Brahe the last stout
champion for the Ptolemaic system died, he
committed what one has called " the great error
of his life " he married !

A courtier when the gunpowder plot was
discovered, a polemic for the first time in the
year that the Moors were expelled from Spain,
and Ravaillac's dagger smote Henry IV to the


heart ; he lived to see the publication of the
Novum Organum and the Petition of rights, and
he died the year after Kepler, not long after
Cromwell had made his first speech in Parlia-
ment Pym and Hampden as they listened
doubtless wondering, while Richard Baxter was
a schoolboy, and John Milton and Jeremy
Taylor were at Cambridge, and Richelieu was
uttering his memorable prophecy about Conde's
future greatness, and watching the warrior
schooling of the young Turenne !

Rubens and Teniers, Poussin and Salvator,
Velasquez and Murillo, were all his contempo-
raries it is pretended that Vandyke painted his
portrait. Elizabeth of Bohemia, " the queen of
hearts," Ben Jonson and Bishop Andrewes
were among his correspondents, and Selden,
Bishop Hall, George Herbert and Lord Bacon
his most intimate friends.

Though descended from an old and honoura-
ble Welsh family, Donne's father was a merchant
and ironmonger in London, who amassed a
considerable fortune by successful speculations
in trade his mother was a daughter of John
Hey wood the epigrammatist ; she was a woman
of some celebrity for her fanatical devotion to
the Romish religion, and is spoken of as ff a
noted Jesuit " who brought herself in her later
life to great poverty and complete dependence
upon her son, by her profuse largesses to those
of her own persuasion.


By the early death of her husband Mrs.
Donne was left a widow in 1575, with six
children, four daughters and two sons, of whom
John was the elder. The education of her
young family was watched over very anxiously
by their pious mother, and Donne has left on
record an affectionate testimony to the blessings
which he derived from her constant superin-
tendence and scrupulous discharge of her ma-
ternal responsibility. The boys however were
brought up at home, the risk of their being
proselytized by "the men of new learning " being
too great for a zealous Romanist to allow her
sons to be exposed to in those days. The name
of the tutor who had the honour of watch-
ing over Donne's earliest studies has not come
down to us ; it is probable that he was one
of the many Jesuit emissaries who were har-
boured in wealthy families, ill-affected towards
the principles of the Reformation, and was
most likely a Romish priest who acted as
chaplain to the family, and confessor and spi-
ritual adviser to a small circle of sympathising

The first notice that has reached us of Donne's
early life is, when he together with his brother
Henry entered at Hart Hall, Oxford, on the
23d of October, 1584; he was then in his 12th
year an age at which few, even then, became
members of the Universities, though instances
are not wanting to prove that his case was not
so extraordinary as has been supposed.


His entry is the only record that remains
of his stay at Oxford ; it would seem that he
remained there but a very short time, and that
his rapid development showed itself in other
ways besides his early proficiency in his studies ;
for, by some youthful efforts at verse, which
were discovered after his death, and published
by his son, it appears that in 1587, he was in 1587
the army of Prince Maurice in the Low Coun-
tries, and present at the attempt on Bois-le-
Duc and the important engagement outside its
walls, which took place on the 13th of June in
that year. It is in vain to attempt any ex-
planation of the probable circumstances under
which he joined the forces of Prince Maurice ;
it was no rare thing for boys, even of his age,
to be introduced to the soldier's life, and indeed
his friend Sir Robert Drury affords a remark-
able instance, he having received the honour of
knighthood for his bravery at the siege of Rouen,
when he was only fourteen years old; but the
fact of his being engaged on the protestant
side is much more inexplicable, and the tenor
of the Epigrams in which he celebrates his
share in the campaign, shows that he was not
deficient in sympathy with those among whom
he found himself.

It would seem that shortly afterwards, he
spent some years in travelling through France,
Spain and Italy, and his biographer assures us
that he meditated a journey to the Holv Land,

b 2


but that circumstances prevented the carrying
out of this plan. If it be true that his absence
from England was prolonged for a term of five
years, it is most likely that he began his wan-
derings in 1586 and that it was on his return
in 1591, the portrait of him in his sword and
doublet was painted, from which Marshall
executed one of his most successful engravings.

Donne had now arrived at his nineteenth year
if life be measured by the number of years
men pass on earth, he was still very young,
but in practical wisdom and experience he was
mature enough : travelling two hundred and
fifty years ago was a much more serious
business than our continental tourists dream of
in these days, it was often attended with con-
siderable hardships and even serious dangers;
the Englishman who, being professedly a mem-
ber of the Reformed Church, ventured to push
his curiosity to the length of exploring Spain
and Southern Italy, was not unlikely to meet
with a lifelong imprisonment, or a worse fate, as
his reward ; and instances are neither few nor
rare, of this having actually occurred to some
hardy adventurers who presumed too far upon
their cunning or good fortune.

Thus when Donne reached home at last he
had undergone no contemptible discipline.
Naturally precocious he had already experienced
the schooling of privation, and learnt the need of
self-reliance, and he had now to consider his


plans for the future, and to decide on the course
of life which he intended to pursue.

Though far from poor he was not rich
enough to be idle ; his tastes, and probably the
circle of friends among whom he lived, would
make him revolt against embarking in trade as
his father had done before him ; he was too old,
and had left the university too long, to make
the prospect of academical distinction very
promising, and with the consciousness of great
powers and an ardent and restless temperament,
his ambition led him to hope for court favour, if
only his ready wit, united as it was to a personal
appearance of unusual beauty, could procure for
him some notice from those in power.

But while doubtful what course to adopt, and
unsettled about his worldly plans, it appears
that his mind was perplexed and distressed by
serious, and in his case peculiarly painful
religious difficulties. His mother's prejudices,
tending as they did towards Romish ascetism,
had not become weaker during the absence of
her son abroad, and the loss of four of her six
children could scarcely tend to make her re-
ligion less gloomy, or her zeal for her own creed
less stern and tenacious ; meanwhile, a nearer
view of .Romanism abroad does not seem to have
inspired Donne with any increased veneration
for it, and the question of conforming to the
Church established, or of allying himself to
that Recusant faction, was presented to him,
day by day, in his very home.


For him it was no unimportant question, and
no easy one to solve. Arrayed against him were
his early prejudices, so firmly rooted, so hard to
be resisted, so impossible utterly to ignore ; there
were all the lessons of his childhood, impressed
so carefully, so fondly ; there was filial affection
urging him to obey this bereaved mother, now
left alone in the world with her only son to
comfort her ; and besides her pure and holy
example to throw into the scale, there was the
additional weight which daily intercourse with
the best and most learned of the Romish dis-
putants then in England would give, who would
spare no exertions to confirm in young Donne
those impressions and convictions of his boyish
years ; all contributed to make the chances of
his uniting himself with the Reformers rather
than with the Ultramontanists small indeed :
But the piercing logic, from which the subtlest
fallacy could hope for no escape, the keen and
commanding intellect which could be content
with no superficial inquiry, and the clear calm
searching gaze which looked for the light of
truth and would not stay its seeking till that
light shone out through all the mists and dark-
ness, were too strong for any opposing tenden-
cies to overcome, and after patiently studying
the question, as it stood between the doctrines
of the Church of England and the claims of the
Church of Rome, and " proceeding with humility
and diffidence in himself and by frequent prayers


and equal and indifferent affections" and so,
applying himself to that controversy with zeal,
labour and severe application, apparently for
some years, he came to the conclusion at length,
that the Church of Rome had no claim on his
obedience, and indeed that here in England it
was a schismatical body.

While pursuing this inquiry he was a student 1593
in Lincoln' s Inn, of which he was admitted a
member on the 6th of May, 1592. His cham-
bers were shared by his friend Christopher
Brooke, a brother poet, who, because he
happened to be a Cambridge man, has given
occasion for the story of Donne having at one
time belonged to that University, for which
however there is no foundation. Donne has told
us himself that he never had any serious inten-
tion of taking to the bar as a profession, and
that while at Lincoln' s Inn, though he applied
himself to the study of the law, he was not
neglectful at the same time of the study of theo-
logy. During his leisure hours he amused him-
self with occasional exercise of composition, in
prose and verse, mere trifles for the most part
clever sallies flowing out from an exuberant wit,
the prose nervous and dexterous, the verse
occasionally rugged, but both one and the other
characterized by a vigour and grasp of mind
which in so young a man is truly wonderful ; and
though open to the charge of being occasionally
obscure (though this is true only of the poems)


yet, the very faults are those of a man who has
more power than he knows how to manage,
certainly not those of one who is aiming at an
originality which he does not possess.

1593 It was at this time that he wrote his Satires,
the earliest efforts at this branch of poetry
written in oiir language ; they are valuable not
only for their poetical merit, which earned for
them the warm praise of Suckling, Ben Jonson
and Dryden, and even induced Mr. Pope to
" versify" (!) them but they are historically
interesting, as picturing the habits and tone of
feeling among the upper classes, and especially
the frequenters of the court, in the latter part of
Queen Elizabeth's reign. They procured him
at once considerable celebrity, and introduced
him to the notice of men of influence and power ;
and when in June 1596, Robert Earl of Essex
embarked in the famous expedition to Cadiz,
and almost all the high born and chivalrous
youth of England gathered round his standard,
anxious to take part in an adventure, which it
was hoped and expected would be able to give
a deadly blow to the maritime power of Spain,
Donne was among the volunteers, fashion and
love of adventure drawing him abroad.

1596 Among his companions in the fleet which
sailed under Lord Essex, and possibly in the
same ship with himself, was a son of Sir Thomas
Egerton, (who had been appointed Lord Keeper
of the great Seal in the month before the


armament left England,) and a step-son, Mr.
Francis Woolley of Pyrford in Surrey, who was
afterwards knighted by James I. It is likely
that Donne, who was about the same age as these
young men, may have become intimate with
them during the voyage and attracted them to
himself by his versatile talents and conversational
powers, for on his return in 1597, he was almost
immediately appointed secretary to the Lord
Keeper, in which situation he continued for
upwards of four years.

The circumstances of his being deprived of his
post were too romantic not to have obtained
some notoriety, even among those who know
little else about his history.

The duties of his office necessarily threw him
into society with which the circumstances of
his low birth did not entitle him to mix;
between him and them, there was a great
gulf fixed ; the aristocracy of birth and wealth
was content to recognize the aristocracy of
genius up to a certain point, but there was
a point beyond which it scorned all thought
of confessing an equality the " Lords of
wit " must be Lords of the land, or occasions
would be sure to come when they would be
rejected as no Lords at all. Donne might be
welcome at the tables of the nobility, and
find in them oftentimes warm and faithful
friends, but to forget that they were above him,
and to ignore the distinctions of class, which


existed in their stern reality, though they might
not be apparent always this would be to court
and to gain certain humiliation and ruin.

But the young secretary was a poet, with
a poet's nature and a poet's heart enthu-
siastic, tender, passionate never at a loss fo-
a brilliant answer high spirited and eloquent
with the experience of the soldier and the
traveller, and the accomplishments of a courtier
and a scholar. What wonder that he should for-
get he was not something more, and that among
those who lavished upon him their praise and
admiration, there should be one, who should
kindle in him a flame too strong for all the
dictates of prudence to extinguish, and that he
should have found his passion not unrequited by
her who was its cause ?

And thus it was. Those glorious eyes, bright
enough in Lambert's portrait, were only too
bright for the peace of mind of a niece of the
Lord Chancellor's (a daughter of Sir George
More of Losely) they awoke a deep and fond
regard, they told of an affection at least a^
vehement and overpowering. The passion of the
lovers, once confessed to themselves and each
other, could not fail to take its course ; it did
not stop at sighs, and tears, and plighted vows,
and stolen meetings though we hear of all
these too but ended at last in a clandestine

In Queen Elizabeth's days, the fact of a man


who was at all connected with the higher ranks
of Society and moved in the circle which sur-
rounded the court, marrying for love only, was
sufficient to provoke her majesty's displeasure
and often to bring down stern rebuke and
punishment ; but, when this man was a trades-
man's son who had presumed to love the niece
of the Lord Chancellor of England, and not only
to love, but to woo and win her without leave or
license from queen or subject, the offence became
one of enormous magnitude, and the moral guilt
of so audacious an action was regarded with an
exaggerated horror. No sooner was the affair
discovered, than Donne, and all who had been
present at the marriage, were imprisoned by a
mere tyrannical exercise of arbitrary power ; his
wife was taken from him, and for a time pre-
vented even from receiving her husband's letters;
he was represented as unworthy to continue as
secretary to the Chancellor and ignominiously
dismissed from that situation ; and when at last,
after some weeks of confinement, he was re-
leased he only gained possession of his bride
by an action at law, and won her to himself that
she might become the comforter and en-
courager of a disgraced and ruined man.

More than one evidence exists of the im-
portance attached to this passage in Donne's
history Manningham in his Note Book chro-
nicles the fact, and appropriates the well known
witticism of Donne's being undone. Many


years after we find him, in his Poems, bitterly
sighing over the malice, which could not let
the remembrance of bygone errors die, and
one of his letters expressly says, that a report
of the circumstances of his marriage had reached
the ears of the king, and stood very seriously
in the way of his advancement.

Experience, cold and severe, ever at war
with romance, assures us that these love
matches, where great sacrifices are made on
either side or both, often end unhappily
after all, and that a passion which has burnt
too strongly for discretion to control at first,
is apt to exhaust itself by its own vehemence
at last; it is gratifying to find that it was
not so in this instance. Donne loved his wife
with a deep and noble affection which never
flagged, his letters abound with tender allu-
sions to her, he never remembered how much
his love had cost himself, nor ever allowed
himself to forget how much it had brought
upon her, and when at the age of forty-three,
he was left a widower with six young children,
he gave his young family an assurance that he
would never marry again a promise which,
though doubtless made in the first emotion
of grief, was nevertheless faithfully and re-
ligiously adhered to.

1601 I have been unable to discover the exact
time and place of the celebration of the mar-
riage ; Donne, in giving an account of it to


his father-in-law, when the disclosure could
not be avoided, says simply that it took place
" about three weeks before Christmas" 1601;
but his letter is cautiously worded, and he
studiously avoids giving any particulars, which
might implicate others. The secret was not
divulged till the following February ; when
it did come out the rage of the incensed
father knew no bounds. Although some
powerful friends interested themselves warmly
to avert the expected punishment, among
whom Henry Earl of Northumberland was
the most active, Sir George More was deaf to
reason, and would hear of nothing but revenge.
He never rested till he had procured Donne's
dismissal from a post of honour and emolu-
ment, in which he might have maintained his
young wife in comfort and respectability ; and
thus deprived of all means of livelihood, when
he needed it most, and hopeless of any other
state employment, during the reign of Queen
Elizabeth at least his position was most
painful and difficult. His misfortunes how-
ever only served to show him the sincerity of
those professions of attachment which had
been made him when his worldly circumstances
were brighter. His young friend, Mr. Francis
Woolley, at once offered him an asylum in
his house at Pyrford, and he, gladly accepting
the offer, took up his abode there with his
wife, and continued to make it his home for
at least two years.


In March, 1603, Queen Elizabeth died, and
on the 10th of August of that year, James I,
in one of his progresses, paid a visit to
Mr. Woolley at Pyrford, and next day went
on from thence to Sir George More, at Losely.
It is probable that on one of these occasions,
he commended himself to the notice of the
king, for his hopes of gaining some post at
court once more revived. Still he remained
nearly a year before he left Pyrford after this ;
and two letters have been preserved, which
were addressed to him while the Parliament was
sitting in the summer of 1604, which urged his
speedy return to London, if he expected to
obtain any state employment. He appears to
have taken the advice, and probably found a
home at Peckham with his brother-in-law, Sir
Thomas Grymes, for the register shows that
one of his children was baptized at Camberwell,
on the 9th of May, 1605. 1

His stay at Camberwell does not seem to
have been a very long one, and he soon removed
from thence, and took a house at Mitcham for
his wife and children, while he himself had
lodgings in London (in the Strand), which
was usually his place of abode while the court
was in town. Some of his most interesting
letters date from this period, and let us into
a more familiar knowledge of his character and

1 Unfortunately the earliest entry in the Register of Pyr-
ford is of the date of 1665.


habits than we could have gained from any
other less trustworthy source. They show him
to have been at this time deeply engaged in
study watching for and reading the new
books on the controversies of the day as they
were published, analysing and commenting
upon the Romish polemics, net entrapped by
their sophistry nor blind to the occasional
mistakes of their opponents, now and then
borrowing such works as he needed, and oc-
casionally writing some poem or satirical trifle,
in the interval of sterner studies. Besides his
own books, he had at this time under his
charge a considerable collection belonging
to Sir Henry Goodere, which he tells us
made his study a "very pretty library," and
amongst others on whose stores he occasionally
drew, it is interesting to find the names of
Bishops Morton and Andrewes. These letters
mention too his late hours, when reading they
represent him with his " gamesome children"
playing round him, and his wife sitting by his
side as he wrote, but they tell too of sad poverty
and occasional despondency which, while he
confesses, he yet tells us he strove to conceal
from her who was content, if only she might
be a sharer in his disappointments and his joy.

All this while he was making great and
persevering efforts to obtain some situation
where his acknowledged powers might be turned
to some account. He was certainly in constant


attendance on the nobility, and frequently came
under the notice of the king. James, with that
discriminating sagacity for which he has seldom
received due credit from the historian, saw
that if Donne was to serve his country to any
great profit, it was not as a layman but as a
divine that he ought to be seeking employment.
How soon he intimated his wish that Donne
should take holy orders does not appear, but as

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Online LibraryJohn DonneEssays in divinity → online text (page 1 of 15)