DONNE, JOHN, was born at London in the year 1573 of respect able parents. At the early age of eleven, being esteemed a good Latin and French scholar, he was sent to the University of Oxford, and after remaining there a few years was removed to Cambridge. Although he greatly distinguished himself in his studies he took no degree, as his family being Roman Catholic had conscientious objections to his making the requisite oath. At the age of seventeen he went to Lincoln's Inn to study the law; and while here, in order to satisfy certain religious doubts, he road the controversies between the Roman Catholics and Protestants, and decided iu favour of the latter. After travelling for about a year in Spain and Italy, he became on his return secretary to Lord Elsinore, and fell in love with that nobleman's niece, the daughter of Sir George More. The lady returned his affection, and they were privately married. When this union was discovered by Sir George he was so indignant, that he induced Lord Elsinore to dismiss Donne from his service. The unfortunate secre tary was afterwards imprisoned by his father-in-law, and his wife was taken from him ; but by an expensive law-proceeding, which consumed nearly all his property, he was enabled to recover her. Sir George forgave him shortly afterwards, but absolutely refused to contribute anything towards his support, and he was forced to live with his kinsman, Sir Francis Whalley. Dr. Morton, afterwards bishop of Gloucester, advised Donne to enter into the Church, and offered him a benefice; but although in great poverty he refused the offer, thinking himself not holy enough for the priesthood. Sir Francis Whalley at last effected a complete reconciliation between Donne and Sir George, who allowed his son-in-law 8001., in quarterly sums of 20/. each, till the whole should be paid. Still he continued to be iu embarrassed circumstances, and after residing some time at Mitcham, whither he had removed for the sake of his wife's health, he lived in the house of Sir Robert Drury, at Drury Lane. He accompanied that gentleman to Paris, contrary to the solicitations of his wife, who could not bear to be parted from him, and who, as she said, felt a foreboding of some evil. While Donne was in Paris, there Is a story that he saw the apparition of hia wife enter his apartment bearing a dead child, and shortly afterwards received the intelligence that his wife had actually been delivered of a dead child at that very moment. The honest angler, Izaak Walton, who writes Donne's biography, seems inclined to believe this story. On Donne's return to England he was introduced to James I., and delighted the king by a polemla treatise against Catholicism, entitled ' Pseudo-Martyr.' James was so anxious that be should take holy orders, that Donne at length com plied, and became the king's chaplain-in-ordinary. His style of preaching is thus described by Walton "always preaching as an angel from a cloud, but not in a cloud." The University of Cambridge
made him doctor of divinity ; the benchers of Lincoln's Inn presented him with their lectureship ; and after accompanying au embassy to the Queen of Bohemia, James's daughter, he became dean of St. Paul's and vicar of St. Dunstan's, being then in the fifty-fourth year of his age. Falling into a consumption, he was unable to perform his clerical duties; but some enemy having hinted that he merely feigned illness because he was too idle to preach, he mounted his pulpit, and almost in a dying- state, preached what Walton has called his "own funeral sermon." This discourse was afterwards printed under the quaint title of 'Death's Duel.' From this time be abandoned all thoughts of life, and even had a portrait painted of himself, enveloped in a shroud, a design apparently for the shrouded effigy afterwards placed as his monument in St. Paul's cathedral : this portrait he kept in his bed-room. Shortly afterwards he died, having exalted himself (according to Walton), almost to a state of angelic beatitude.
Of the real goodness and piety of Donne there can be no doubt. But while we admire these genuine qualities, we must not be blind to the superstitions which were blended with Donne's religion, though these might be attributed partially (but not wholly) to the age. There was evidently a great deal of simplicity about him, as well as about his biographer Walton, who, enthusiastic) in his admiration, exalts a weakness as much as his hero's most brilliant qualities. However, to those who wish to see characters like Donne treated in the spirit of their own time, we cannot recommend a more delightful book than Walton's 'Life of Donne.' As a poet, Donne was one of those writers whom Johnson has (to use Wordsworth's expression) 'strangely' designated metaphysical poets; a more infelicitous expression could net well have been devised. The fact is, that 'quaint conceits' are only the deformities of Donne's poetical spirit : the LIMO himself had a rich vein of poetry, which was rarely concealed even when moat laboriously encumbered, while some of his pieces, both for thought and even melody, are absolute gems. His fault, far from being coldness, is too much erotic fervour; he allows his imagination to run loose, at least in some of his poeml written before adopting the ecclesiastical profession, into the most prurient expressions; and in some of his amatory pieces, the conceit stands as a corrective to their excessive warmth. Ilia satires, though written in a measure iocouceivably harsh, are models of strength and energy. Their merits were discovered by Pope, who (to use his own odd phrase) translated them into English, but in the process deprived them of no small portion of their strength and freahnese Donne's principal theological works, besides sermons, are the Pseudo-Martyr,' and a treatise against suicide, called ' Ilia-thanfttos.' His works, edited by the Rev. 11. Alford, wcro published in 1339 io 6 vols. See.