The republication of the theological works of Dr. Donne appeared to me highly desirable on my first reading the eighty sermons in 1831. On the appearance of Mr. Coleridge's Table Talk, in which he expresses very strongly his wish to the same effect, my desire was ripened into a plan of editing a selection from the sermons. I was fully sensible of my inadequacy, especially in antiquarian learning, to the task of giving a complete edition of Donne, as old authors are now edited: but I was willing to have enlarged opportunities of studying what appeared to me to be one of the earliest and best expositions of the divinity of our English church; and desirous that my first literary labour should be one likely to confer a benefit upon that Church, and upon English literature in general. With this view I made application to several publishers; but it was not till the spring of 1837 that I found one who was willing to undertake the work. It was then proposed, that a selection from the Sermons should be made, which should not exceed four octavo volumes. On this plan the edition was begun; and before it was altered, and a complete republication resolved on, Sermons X. and XI. of the folio eighty Sermons, had been marked for omission, and the numbers had proceeded from the IXth; so that from that Sermon to the LXIInd, where those two are inserted, the Sermons in our edition are numbered two short of those in the folio eighty Sermons. I had also, while a selection was contemplated, taken the liberty of omitting one or two passages containing allusions, common at the time when they were delivered, but likely to offend modern readers, and to be laid to my charge as the professed selector. Upon the change of plan, however, although it was too late to remedy the omissions which had been made, I adhered scrupulously to the text of my author. So that, except in those instances, (which are no more than above-mentioned,) the reader has these Sermons in their original unmutilated fonn.
Circumstances arising from the great difficulty of obtaining the second and third folio volumes of Sermons, have occasioned the filling up of Vol. III. of this edition with the Devotions, to the interruption of the Sermons.
The Letters will be found valuable both from their intrinsic merit, and from their use in illustrating the life and times of their Author. This latter service is however considerably diminished, by many of them being, in the old edition, published without dates.
From the Poems I have pruned, some may be disposed to think, too unsparingly. It was my object to publish as many as might well consist with the other parts of the work which I was editing; and to avoid as much as possible the strange jumble of subjects and chronological arrangement, which appears in the old edition: where Hymns and Love-elegies, purity and licentiousness, the works of repentant age and unbridled youth, are recklessly placed in company. This misrepresentation (for such it is) of the genius of a great man I have endeavoured to rectify; and as the last class of Poems did not accord with the nature of the present work, I have omitted them altogether. I could wish that the whole Poems were well edited, (the Satires especially would repay the labour,) but it seemed to me that the character of this book being theological, the Poems Avhich were to be inserted should be of the same stamp. The other works of Donne, not published here, are—
1. Pseudo-martyr; that those which are of the Roman
religion in this kingdom, may and ought to take the oath of allegiance. 4to. 1610.
2. Biathanatos; a declaration of that paradox or thesis,
that self-homicide is not so naturally sin, that it may never be otherwise. (On this, see Letter LVL, Vol. VI. p. 372.)
3. Essays in Divinity, before he entered into holy orders.
4. Ignatius his Conclave; or his Inthronisation in a late
Election in Hell; wherein many things are mingled by way of satyr; concerning the disposition of Jesuits; the creation of a new hell; the establishing of a church in the room. There is also added an Apology for Jesuits. All dedicated to the two adversary angels, which are protectors of the papal consistory, and of the college of Sorbon. 12mo. 1653.
5. Paradoxes, Problems, Essays, Characters; to which is
added a book of Epigrams, written in Latin, but translated into English, by J. Maine, D.D. 12mo. 1652.
The pleasing duty remains, of expressing my thanks to those who have encouraged and assisted me in preparing this work for the press. The first place among these is due to the Rev. J. T. Stainforth, of Camberwell, who, having in his possession the second and third folio volumes of Donne's Sermons, and having heard of the long and fruitless search for them, in which my publisher and myself had been engaged, most generously presented them to me for the purpose of reprinting. The reader will better be able to appreciate this gentleman's generosity, when he is reminded that for this use nothing less is required, than the cutting up and destruction of the original volume.
To Frederick Holbrooke, Esq., of Parkhurst, in Kent, we are indebted for the use of his picture, by Vandyke, to form the beautiful engraving which is prefixed to this volume.
I received from G. Steinman Steinman, F.S.A., some notices of the children of Donne, which appear in p. xxvii.
I am also indebted to Henry Nelson Coleridge, Esq., for his permission to reprint the valuable notes of the late Mr. Coleridge on some of the former Sermons*.
The present volumes may be considered as an experiment, how far the present English public are desirous to retrieve the treasures of divinity and eloquence contained in the writers immediately following the Reformation. Should they be favourably received, I should rejoice to follow a pursuit so congenial to my calling and studies, as the editing others of a similar kind.
* On examining these notes for the purpose of preparing them for the press, it was found that the putting them in the form of regular comments would impair much of their freshness and character. They belong to Coleridge, and will not bear to be detached from a book in which he is the leading subject. The Editor strongly recommends their study to all readers of Donne.
LIFE OF DR. DONNE.
It is not my intention, while Walton's Life of Donne is in the hands of so many, to follow in his footsteps, much less to attempt to supersede his work; hut simply, as Editor of the following Sermons, to put the reader in possession, in a concise form, of the principal particulars respecting their author, which he will find it desirable to know. iThis Memoir will therefore pass lightly over matters of mere antiquarian interest, dwelling more upon the individual than upon the accidents by which he was attended, and being more of a critical than a strictly biographical nature.
John Donne was born in London in 1573. He was educated first by a private tutor at home, then at Hart Hall, in Oxford, and finally at Trinity College, Cambridge. He took no degree at either University, his parents having brought him up in the Romish church, and being averse to his taking the necessary oaths. At the age of seventeen, he was admitted of Lincoln's Inn, where he studied the law1, and at the same time advanced, under able masters, in the other branches of learning. The bent of his mind was soon shown in a decided preference of theological study. He had grown up amongst conflicting opinions; and the faith of his most intimate college friends had been opposed to his domestic lessons, and to the influence of his present tutors, who, we are told, were
1 The reader may see the fruits of Donne's legal studies scattered throughout the Sermons. I would especially refer him to vol. vr., p. 79. seq., Sermon Cli., for a fine exposition of the nature of all law.
instructed to confirm him in Romish doctrines. It was natural therefore, at his time of life, that he should wish to he informed of the state of the controversy between the two churches. With this view he studied diligently, and (as it appears) candidly, the principal writers on either side. The result of this examination was, that he became convinced of the reasonableness of the course which the reformed churches had pursued, and attached himself to that established in this country. In pronouncing upon this his decision, while we allow on the one hand that the bias of external things was in favour of the reformed doctrines, and suppose all that influence which will be exercised by such a preponderance, even on a candid inquirer, we must remember, first, that at that time he had no design of taking orders; and principally, that to such a mind as his, the glories of the Roman church, her external conformity to one great idea, her skilful use of the weapons of scholastic reasoning, and her approval of that ascetic sanctity of which the seeds were even now sown in himself, must have formed powerful recommendations in her favour. The spirit with which the search was undertaken may be best described in his own words, in the Preface to his Pseudo-martyr.
"They who have descended so low as to take knowledge of me, and to admit me into their consideration, know well that I used no inordinate haste, nor precipitation in binding my conscience to any local religion. I had a longer work to do than many other men; for I was first to blot out certain impressions of the Roman religion, and to wrestle both against the examples and against the reasons, by which some hold was taken; and some anticipations early laid upon my conscience, both by persons who by nature had a power and superiority over my will, and others who, by their learning and good life seemed to me justly to claim an interest for the guiding and rectifying of mine understanding in these matters. And although I apprehend well enough, that this irresolution not only retarded my fortune, but also bred some scandal, and endangered my spiritual reputation, by laying me open to many misinterpretations; yet all these respects did not transport me to any violent and sudden determination, till I had, to the measure of my poor wit and judgment, surnamed and digested the whole body of divinity, controverted between ours and the Roman church. In which search and disquisition, that God, which awakened me then, and hath never forsaken me in that industry, as ho is the author of that purpose, so is he the witness of this protestation; that I behaved myself and proceeded therein with humility and diffidence in myself; and by that, which by his grace, I took to be the ordinary means, which is frequent prayer, and equal and indifferent affections."
In the year 1596, Donne accompanied the Earl of Essex on his Spanish expedition, and afterwards on that to the Azores, in the following year. He remained some time abroad, principally in Italy and Spain, having been disappointed of a scheme of visiting the Holy Land. When he returned home is uncertain; but it appears by a passage in his sermons8 that he was in England at the
8 "Consider the tears of Richmond this night, and the joys of London, at this place, at this time, in the morning; and wc shall find prophecy even in that saying of the poet, Node pluit tota, Showers of rain all night, of weeping for our sovereign; and we would not be comforted, because she was not; and yet, redeunt spectacula mane, the same hearts, the same eyes, the same hands, were all directed upon recognitions and acclamations of her successor, in the morning." Sermon Cliii., on the Anniversary of the King's Accession; voL VI., p. 136.
death of Elizabeth, in March 1603. About that same time he was appointed secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton, lord keeper, who was afterwards made chancellor, under the title of Lord Ellesmere, by James I. In this situation he was on the high road to State preferment, beingmuch esteemed by those in power, and pronounced a fit person for advancement; had not his marriage, which was rather unfortunately brought about, than itself unfortunate, placed an insurmountable obstacle in the way of his prospects. It took place in 1603 or 1604; at which time, or soon after, his father-in-law, Sir George Moore, resenting the step which he had taken, procured his dismissal from Lord Ellesmere's services, and his committal to prison. He does not appear to have remained there long; but his dismissal and a lawsuit, in which he was involved to gain possession of his wife, had materially reduced his means of subsistence. The kindness of a relation (Sir Francis Woolley, of Pilford in Surrey) sustained himself and his rising family, until a reconciliation could be effected with his father-in-law; who consented to give him an allowance, not sufficient however to enable him to live in comfort. We find him at this time bitterly complaining in his letters of the straitness of his circumstances. After the death of Sir Francis, Donne resided with his family at Micham in Surrey; and now it appears that the tide of his affairs began to take a favourable turn, many of the nobility and persons about court visiting and corresponding with him.
During his residence with his relation and at Micham, he applied himself to the study of the civil and canon law; and his declining a proposal made to him by Dr. Morton, afterwards Bishop of Durham, of entering holy orders, seems to show that he had marked out for himself a course of civil employment. To this time must be referred some applications for vacant places, found in Ins letters.
From Micham, after the year 1607, he removed with his family to the house of his friend and patron, Sir Robert Drury, in Drury Lane. There he had apartments assigned him, and rapidly advanced in intercourse and favour with the chief men of the time, being frequently at court, and having engaged the notice of the king as a man of wit and learning.
Before the year 16103, Donne accompanied Lord Hay and his friend, Sir Robert Drury, on an embassy to Henry IV. at Paris. There an incident happened to him which would not be worth mentioning, were it not that his biographers do not notice attendant circumstances which serve to throw light upon it. He had left his wife near her confinement, and had been nearly deterred from his journey by her saying, that she had a foreboding of ill in his absence. In one of his letters from Paris (Letter XXIX. of the present collection) he writes in extreme anxiety, complaining of his not having heard from England, and being ignorant "whether he were diminished by the loss of a wife, or increased by the birth of a child." What wonder if such a mind, in such a state, should figure to itself the appearance related in Walton; which appearance after all was most likely not a little shaped and modified by the event when known? The coincidence of time, even though it were fully established,
3 The year of Henry the Fourth's assassination. That Donne made two visits to Paris, seems not to have been seen by "Walton, or Dr. Zouch, his editor. It is evident from the letter written from Paris, during the regency of Mary de Medicis, in which he speaks of his having noted the young king's disposition, when he was there before in his father's life-time. See Letter Xlvii.
is not inexplicable, considering the state in which Mrs. Donne had been left, and the careful notice which would have been taken by her absent husband. There is also a consideration which has never been sufficiently entered into; how far the prevalent belief of these ages in many supernatural occurrences may have actually influenced the imagination of mankind, and endowed it with greater powers of calling up visible (though not material) objects, than it now generally possesses.
On his return he seems to have further advanced in favour with the king and court. During a controversy at table respecting the much-disputed points of supremacy and allegiance, James was so pleased with the arguments used by Donne, that he laid his commands on him to collect them into a Treatise for publication. This he did, under the title of Pseudo-martyr; "wherein out of certain propositions and gradations this conclusion is evicted, that those which are of the Roman religion in this kingdom, may and ought to take the oath of allegiance4." This was published in 1610; and the king on perusal of it, having before promised him employment, pressed him to enter into holy orders: to which, after a delay of two or three years, spent chiefly in the study of theology, he consented5. He was immediately made chaplain to the
4 This has boon pronounced the most valuable of his prose works; which may have been true, while vols. II. and III. of his Sermons were scarce, and perhaps unknown, and while the question treated in it was yet in agitation. The whole aspect of the subject is now so changed, that Pseudo-martyr has become of little interest. I have not republished it, there being so much more valuable matter in hand, and our book having far exceeded its originally intended size.
* During this time he again visited Paris; but on what errand, and in what company, does not, appear. The fact is beyond doubt from various letters, and one especially (Letter Xlvii.) in which he relates various occurrences at the court of the Queen Regent, Mary de Medicis, and speaks of a former visit during King Henry the Fourth's life.
king; and declined various offers of benefices, from a wish to settle in London. About the same time he "was admitted Doctor of divinity at Cambridge; not, however, without some reluctance on the part of the University, at the king's preferring him "before so many more worthy and ancient divines."
On his return from Cambridge he sustained a severe affliction in the loss of his wife, who died August 15, 1617, leaving seven of twelve children living. He gave himself up for some time to grief; and on his resuming his clerical duties, selected a situation and a subject expressive of the spirit of the time and the man, but somewhat at variance with the privacy of modern mourning. He preached his first sermon after the event in St. Clement Dane's church, where his wife lay buried, and on the text "I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of his wrath." Lam. iii. 1.
The preachership of Lincoln's Inn was soon after offered to him and accepted: where he remained, occasionally preaching at court, and in other places on special occasions, till the spring of 1619, when he was appointed to accompany the same Lord Hay, (who had since been created Earl of Doncaster,) on an embassy to the Prince Palatine, who had married the Princess Elizabeth6. He returned in the following year: and in the next, 1621, was appointed by the king to the Deanery of St. Paul's; and about the same time the Vicarage of St. Dunstan's in the West, the advowson of which had been given him before
6 See Hume, chapter Xlviii., years 1610, 1620. Donne's judgment of the strife which engendered the thirty years' war is given in his Sermon of valediction, at his going into Germany; he says he is going to "those kingdoms, where ambition on one side, and a necessary defence from unjust persecution on the other side, hath drawn many swords." Sermon Cxlviii.
by the Earl of Dorset, came to him by the death of Dr. White. Other smaller pieces of preferment are mentioned as having fallen to him; so that from a state which had been one of anxious penury, he was raised to comparative affluence, and enabled, as he afterwards expressed it, to be useful to his father-in-law, Sir George Moore, to his other friends, and to the poor.
At the next meeting of parliament he was chosen prolocutor to convocation; and was frequently appointed to preach before the king, and on various public occasions.
On one of these, he was suspected of favouring in his sermon the then much prevailing sentiments of puritanism, especially the notion that the king was inclining towards popery. This cast him for a while under the royal displeasure; which, however, an interview and explanation dispelled. (See Letter Lxxv., vol. vi., p. 392.)
Three years after his accepting the deanery he had a dangerous illness, during which his Devotions were composed. From this he recovered so as to be able to resume his duties: but the shock appears to have enfeebled beyond restoration a frame never strong, and several times (as appears by his letters) shaken by severe sickness. He continued to decline till the summer of 1630, when at the house of his daughter, Mrs. Harvey, at Abrey-hatch in Essex, he was seized with the attack, which terminated in his death, March 31, 1631.
He continued preaching till a very short time before this his last illness. The last sermon in this collection was preached February 12, 1630, and was said by those who heard it to have been his own funeral sermon; so like death was his appearance, and so solemn the subject which he had chosen.
Having given this short, and for the most part already well known summary of the principal events of Donne's life, I now come to the more legitimate task of an editor, viz.—a critical notice of his works.
As a preacher, in which light he will be principally viewed by the reader of these volumes, he was most highly valued by his illustrious contemporaries. It was an age of flattery; but the encomiums which I have collected below7 will bear with them the evidence of
7 Walton, a frequent hearer of Donne, thus characterises his preaching:—" A preacher in earnest, weeping sometimes for his auditory, sometimes with them; always preaching to himself like an angel from a cloud, but in none; carrying some, as St. Paul was, to heaven in holy raptures, and enticing others by a sacred art and courtship to amend their lives; here picturing a vice so as to make it ugly to those that practised it; and a virtue, so as to make it beloved even by those that loved it not; and all this with a most particular grace and an inexpressible addition of comeliness."—Life of Donne. Ed. Zouch.
Mr. Chudleigh, one of the contributors of Elegies on Donne's death, has the following lines:—
"He kept his love, but not his object. Wit
He did not banish, but transplanted it;
Taught it both time and place, and brought it home
To piety, which jt doth best become.
For say, had ever pleasure such a dress?
Have you seen crimes so shaped, or loveliness
Such as his lips did clothe religion in?
Had not reproof a beauty passing sin ?"—Id. ibid.
In a Latin Poem, by Darnelly, the following description of his eloquence occurs:—
Audivi, et stupui, quoties orator in asde
Paulina stetit, et nura gravitate levantes
Corda oculosque viros tenuit: dum Nestoris ille
Fudit verba; omni quanto mage dulcia melle!
Nunc habet attonitos, pandit mysteria plebi
Non concessa prius, nondum intellecta; revolvunt
Mirantes, tacitique arrectis auribus astant.
Mutatis mox ille modo formaque loquendi
Tristia pertractat; fatumque, et flebile mortis
Tempus, et in cineres redeunt quod corpora primos.
Turn gemitum cunctos dare, tunc lugere videres,
VOL. I. b
genuineness and real feeling. His royal master, no mean judge of ability, except in his own ease, first foresaw his eminence in preaching, and ever afterwards valued himself on that discernment.
Donne is a rare instance of powers first tried, and then consecrated. Having studied, not by compulsion, but by choice, the whole body of divinity, and matured his judgment on controverted points, in the fulness of
Forsitan a lacrimis aliquis non temperat, atquc ■
Ex oculis largum stillat rorem."
In an Elegy by Mr. R. B.—
"Methinks I see him in the pulpit standing,
Not ears, nor eyes, but all men's hearts commanding,
When we that heard him, to ourselves did feign
Golden Chrysostom was alive again;
And never were we wearied, till we saw
His hour (and but an hour) to end did draw."
In another by Mr. Mayne of Christ Church :—
"Thou with thy words could'st charm thine audience,
That at thy sermons, ear was all our sense;
Yet have I seen thee in the pulpit stand,
Where we might take notes, from.thy look, and hand;
And from thy speaking action bear away
More sermon, than some teachers use to say.
Such was thy carriage, and thy gesture such,
As could divide the heart, and conscience touch.
Thy motion did confute, and we might see
An error vanquished by delivery.
Not like our sons of zeal, who to reform
Their hearers, fiercely at the pulpit storm,
And beat the cushion into worse estate
Than if they did conclude it reprobate,
Who can out-pray the glass, then lay about
Till all predestination be run out;
And from the point such tedious uses draw,
Their repetitions would make Gospel, law.
No, in such temper would thy sermons flow,
So well did doctrine, and thy language show,
And had that holy fear, as, hearing thee,
The court would mend, and a good Christian be."
age and mental strength he commenced his clerical labours. Hence we never find in him poverty of thought, but are rather sensible (as generally in reading the most eminent of human "writings, and always in the Scriptures) that the store has been but sparingly dealt out, and that much more remained, if he would have said it. Having shone as a wit in an age of wit, and an age when wit was not confined to ludicrous associations, but extended to a higher skill of point and antithesis, and cunning interweaving of choice words, he gained his hearers by flattering their discernment; and served up to the English Solomon and his court, dark sentences, which, in these days, when we have levelled our diction for convenience, and use language as a mere machine, require some thoughtful unravelling before their meaning is detected. That he should have gained among the moderns the reputation of obscurity is no wonder; for, on the one hand, the language of one age will always be strange to those who live in, and are entirely of, another of a totally different character; and again, this intricacy of words frequently accompanies subtle trains of thought and argument, which it requires some exertion to follow. But it must be remembered that obscurity is a subjective term, that is, having its place in the estimation of him who judges, and not necessarily in the language judged of; and is therefore never to be imputed to an author without personal examination of his writings. And I am satisfied that such an examination of the sermons of Donne would result in his being cleared from this charge. A man is obscure, either from his thoughts being confused and ill-arranged; or from his language being inadequate to express his meaning; or because he affects obscurity. Neither of these three was the fault of Donne. Precision and definiteness of thought, and studied arrangement of the steps of an argument, are to be found in all his sermons; and it is always more evident what he is proving, than whether his premises legitimately belong to that conclusion. "Whereunto all this tendeth" is a note which never need be placed in his margin, as far as the immediate subject is concerned. Again, his power over the English language, one rarely surpassed in its capabilities of ministering to thought, was only equalled by one or two of his great contemporaries. And the affectation of obscurity, (the resource of weakness and ignorance, and the greatest of crimes in a literary, much more in an ecclesiastical writer,) can hardly be laid to the charge of one so single-hearted in his zeal, and so far above such a meanness, both from his learning and genius. His faults in this matter are the faults of his time, somewhat increased by a mind naturally fond of subtilty and laborious thought. And even the real difficulties of his style will soon give way and become familiar to the reader, who is capable of discovering and appreciating the treasures which it contains.
But it is not in diction, or genius, or power of thought, that we must look for the crowning excellence of these Sermons. We find in them, what we feel to be wanting in most of the great preachers of that and the succeeding age, a distinct and clear exposition of the doctrines of redemption, as declared in the Scriptures, and believed by the Church in England. This too is set forth, without any dread of that poisonous maxim, "the further from Rome, the nearer the truth:" to the working of which we owe most of the dissent from, and the ignorance in, the present English church. That these remarks are not to be taken without exception; that Donne does fall, upon comparatively minor points, into very many puerilities and superstitions; that the implicit following of the Fathers is, in divinity, his besetting fault, and often interferes with his lucid declarations of the truth, no impartial reader of his sermons can deny8. Still when all these have been amply allowed for—all the obnoxious or trifling passages struck out—I think every reader will be equally convinced, that there is left unimpaired a genuine body of orthodox divinity (in the best sense of the words) not to be found, perhaps, in any other English theologian.
In his expositions of Scripture he follows chiefly the close and verbal method of the day: which though it frequently leads him to make too much of an indifferent word, never allows the passing over of an important one; and the want of which is, perhaps, more to be regretted in modern divinity, than its use despised in ancient. His
8 I have selected a few passages which, may enable the reader shortly to exemplify the above remarks:—
For an exposition of the doctrine of redemption free and universal, by the assumption of the human nature by Christ, see vol. r., p. 566, line 36.
On the Church, and the Scripture, see vol. I., p. 418, I. 33; vol. iv.,
. p. 176, 1. 20. On the Sacraments—Baptism, see vol. I., p. 583, 1. 12.
Baptism and the Lord's Supper, see the whole of Ser. 78, vol. in., p. 414.
The sacrificial nature of the Lord's Supper, vol. vI., p. 39,1. 21, seq.
The real presence, in ditto, vol. in., p. 327, 1. 13—22; vol. I., p. 479,1. 5—10. Prayer for the dead entered into, Ser. 77, vol. in. His judgment of the Roman Church, Ser. 99, vol. iv., p. 295,1. 4. Confession to the priest, Ser. 66, vol. in., p. 563,1. 22, seq. Estimation of the fathers by the Roman Church, vol. m., p. 309,
1. 18, seq. Prayer to saints; vol. in., p. 320, 1. 7
For an instance of puerility and superstition, see vol. j., p. 456,1. 12.
arrangements are often artificial and fanciful; but always easily retained, and instructive to the Scripture student. It has been observed of him, that he has the faculty of making whatever he touches upon to appear important. It should, perhaps, rather have been said, that he resolves all minor matters into more important ones, and by constantly fixing the attention of his hearer on the great objects of Christian faith, and bringing every doctrine and opinion to bear upon them in greater or less degree, invests every subject with a dignity which does not belong to it, considered apart.
In illustration by simile or allusion, Donne shows the true marks of great genius. The reader of the following Sermons will find sentences and passages which he will be surprised he never before had read, and will think of ever after. In depth and grandeur these far surpass (in my judgment) the strings of beautiful expressions to be found in Jeremy Taylor; they are the recreations of a loftier mind; and while Taylor's similes are exquisite in their melody of sound, and happy in external description, Donne enters into the inner soul of art, and gives his reader more satisfactory and permanent delight9.
9 I have subjoined one or two specimens as a foretaste to the reader. Speaking of eternity, he says:—" A day that hath no pridie, nor postridie; yesterday doth not usher it in, nor to-morrow shall not drive it out. Methusalem, with all his hundreds of years, was but a mushroom of a night's growth, to this day; all the four monarchies, with all their thousands of years, and all the powerful kings, and all the beautiful queens of this world, were but as a bed of flowers, some gathered at six, some at seven, some at eight, all in one morning, in respect of this day." Vol. in., p. 326.
"Our flesh, though glorified, cannot make us see God better, nor clearer, than the soul above hath done, all the time, from our death to our resurrection. But as an indulgent father, or a tender mother, when they go to see the king in any solemnity, or any other thing of observation and curiosity, delights to carry their child, which is flesh of their
Sir Thomas Browne is, perhaps, the writer whose style will be most forcibly recalled to the mind of the reader by many parts of these Sermons; but here again Donne has immeasurably the advantage. While the one is ever guessing at truth, the other is pouring it forth from the fulness of his heart. While the one in his personal confessions keeps aloof and pities mankind, the other is of them, and feels with them.
Donne's epistolary writings are models in their kind. Laboured compliments, and studied antitheses have seldom been so ably or pleasingly strung together; or playfulness and earnest, pathos and humour, more happily blended.
His poems were mostly written in his youth; his satires, according to one of the panegyrics on him, before he was twenty. It has been remarked, that the juvenile poems of truly great men are generally distinguished by laborious condensation of thought; and the remark is amply borne out in this instance. This labour of compression on his part has tended to make his lines harsh and unpleasing; and the corresponding effort required on the reader's part to follow him, renders most persons insensible to his real
flesh, and bone of their bone, with them, and though the child cannot comprehend it as well as they, they are as glad that the child sees it, as that they see it themselves;—such a gladness shall my soul have, that this flesh (which she will no longer call her prison, nor her tempter, but her friend, her companion, her wife), that this flesh, that is, I, in the re-union and redintegration of both parts, shall see God: for then one principal clause in her rejoicing, and acclamation, shall be, that this flesh is her flesh; in my flesh shall I see God." Vol. iv., p. 239.
"O what a Leviathan is sin, how vast, how immense a body! and then what a spawner, how numerous! Between these two, the denying of sins which we have done, and the bragging of sins which we have not done, what a space, what a compass is there, for millions of millions of sins!" Vol. iv., p. 370.
merits. That he had and could turn to account a fine musical ear, is amply proved by some of his remaining pieces10. Why Dr. Johnson should have called him a metaphysical poet, is difficult to conceive. What "wittily associating the most discordant images" has to do with metaphysics is not very clear; and Johnson, perhaps, little thought that the title which he was giving to one of the most apparently laboured of poets, belonged of all others to his immortal contemporary, who is recorded "never to have blotted a line". A greater man than Dr. Johnson, even Dryden, has said in his dedication of Juvenal to the Earl of Dorset, that Donne "affects the metaphysics;" probably meaning no more than that scholastic learning and divinity are constantly to be found showing themselves in his poems.
The personal character of Donne is generally represented to us to have undergone a great change, between his youth and the time when he entered holy orders. This representation is countenanced by the uniform tenor of deep penitence with which he speaks in his Sermons of his former life; and by the licentiousness of some of his poetical pieces. It would be wrong, however, to infer moral depravity solely from the latter circumstance, as this strain was in keeping with the prevalent taste of the times; and the object addressed in the Love-poems of the day, and the circumstances introduced, were often both equally imaginary. That his manners were the manners of the court and the society in which he lived, is the most reasonable and the most charitable sentence;
10 See especially the piece, "Come live with me and be my love;" that written to his wife on parting from her to go into France, (vol. vI., p. 554,) and the opening of his Epithalamion on the marriage of the Princess Elizabeth.
and the reader who values what is truly valuable, will rather consider the holiness and purity of his more mature years, than any reproach which report or his writings may have fixed on his youth; and with the charity which "rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth," will look rather on these Sermons and Devotions, in which he has built himself and the church a lasting memorial, than on the few scattered leaves, which betray after all, perhaps, no more than simplicity and fearlessness of natural disposition; and that he showed what others have concealed. Mankind are always more apt to judge mildly of one whose heart is open; and to sympathise where confidence is given. And we find, I think, that those writers with whose lives, and trials, and changes of opinion we are acquainted, and who speak to us not from the forbidding height of apathy, but as men giving and requiring sympathy, have always stood, other things being equal, highest in the public esteem. With no writer is this more the case than with Donne. Every Sermon is the voice of the same man; in every solemn appeal, every serious direction for self-searching and reflection, we see the footsteps of the same Providence, whose ways having been manifested to the preacher in his own experience, are by him imparted to the hearer. Egotism is a word which has obtained a bad name; but it must not be forgotten that it has a good sense; and that in this sense every truly great man is an egotist. For it is by intimate moral and critical acquaintance with himself that he becomes powerful over the thoughts and feelings of our kind in general; and, as the greatest of public speakers says in his Funeral Oration, That the praises of others are only tolerable up to a point of excellence, which the hearer thinks he could have equalled11, so it may be generally said of the productions of the greatest minds, that they are most valued, and take most hold of the universal heart of mankind, when the man uttering them is shown to have been what all might have been, and to have felt what all have felt18.
I own I have indulged a hope, that these Sermons will become standard volumes in the English Divinity Library. For myself, what I have acquired from them has been invaluable; and I can only wish that they may give as much instruction and delight to the reader, as I have received in editing them.
Dec. 22, 1838.
11 Thucydides, book n., chap. 35.
14 It may be interesting to the reader to know that the marble figure of Donne in his shroud, which formed part of his monument in old St. Paul's, is the only relic which has been preserved whole from the ravages of the fire, and is now to be seen in the crypt.
The following particulars respecting Dr. Donne's children, are taken from two Letters in the GentlemarCs Magazine, for 1835, communicated by G. Steinmau Steinman, F.S.A.
The doctor had twelve children, of whom six died during their father's life. Of these, however, only one is found recorded in the registers, namely, Lettice, buried in St, Giles', Camberwell, Jan. 9, 1626.
His eldest son, John Donne, was born in 1604. He is mentioned in his father's will (which is dated Dec. 13, 1630, and was proved April 5, 1631) with his brother and four sisters. He was educated at Westminster, and sent to Christ Church in Oxford. But he completed his studies at Padua, where he received the degree of L.L.D. and was afterwards admitted ad eundem, at Oxford.
He edited several of his father's works, and wrote dedications in the affected style of the time, but possessing no merit. He was also the author of some poetical trifles. He died in the winter of 1662, and was buried near the dial at the west-end of the churchyard of St. Paul's, Covent Garden. It is uncertain whether he was married; but in the marriage register at Camberwell, we find "John Donne was married to Mary Staples, 27th March, 1627."
Anthony a Wood has given a severe character of him, saying, That he proved no better all his life than an atheistical buffoon, a banterer, and a person of over-free thoughts: yet valued by Charles II. He adds, "That there is no doubt he was a man of sense and parts."
His second son, George Donne, was baptized at Camberwell, May 9, 1605. He is described in his father's funeral certificate as Captain and Serjeant-major of all the forces in the island of St. Christopher. He was married and had a daughter, Margaret, baptized at Cambenvell, March 22, 1637-8. In some of Dr. Donne's Letters he makes anxious inquiry for this son, who was then on his travels, and had not lately been heard of. (See vol. vi., p. 396, letter Lxxix.)
His eldest daughter, Constance, mentioned in the Letter, (vol. vi., p. 388,) married first, at Camberwell, December 3, 1623, Edward Alleyne, Esq. founder of Dulwich College; and secondly, (June 24, 1630,) Samuel Harvey, Esq. of Abrey Hatch, Essex, where her father died.
Bridget, the second daughter, unmarried at her father's death, married Thomas Gardiner, Esq. of Peckham.
Margaret, the third daughter, also unmarried at Dr. Donne's death, married Sir William Bowles; and lies buried in the porch of Chiselhurst church, Kent.
Of Elizabeth, the youngest daughter, nothing is known.