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This would I be, and would none other be,
Heal the infect of sin with oil of grace,
(1573-1631.) Izaak Walton, the biographer of Donne, says that " by his mother he was descended of the family of the famous and learned Sir Thomas More, some time Lord Chancellor of England.” Donne was also maternally related to Heywood, the epigrammatist. He was born in London, in 1573; and became a commoner of Hart Hall, Oxford, in the year 1584, being then but eleven years of age. Here he spent three years, and, at the end of that time migrated to Cambridge, which, after another period of three years,
he left “to obtain knowledge in the municipal laws,” in Lincoln's Inn; "where he had,” says Wood, “for his chamber-fellow, for some time, Mr. Christopher Brook, an eminent poet of his time.” During two years appears to have cultivated his poetical aptitude quite as much as his legal studies, which latter he relinquished in his nineteenth year. As the son of Roman Catholic parents, he had been bred in that religion; but having arrived at an age to decide for himself, and having weighed the arguments on both sides, he professed the Reformed faith. A course of foreign travel gave him a wide experience of men and manners; and on his return, being now a man of considerable and various learning, versatile in attainments and accomplishments, and being withal of an amiable and engaging disposition, he was made chief secretary to Egerton, the Lord Chancellor; and was presently admitted M.A. of the University of Oxford.
He secretly married the daughter of Sir George Moore, Lord Lieutenant of the Tower; a step which entailed upon him many years of trouble and adversity. This lady died, to the inexpressible sorrow of her husband, a few days after giving birth to her twelfth child.
At the age of forty-two, the solicitation of his friends and the hearty desire of James I. coinciding with his own mature convictions, he received ordination at the hands of his friend Dr. John King, Bishop of London, who had been Egerton's chaplain, whilst Donne acted as secretary.
“Now," says the rapturous Walton, “the English Church had gained a second St. Austin, for I think none were so like him before his conversion; none so like St. · Ambrose after it; and if his youth had the infirmities of the one, his age had the excellences of the other—the learning and holiness of both.” He was made king's chaplain in ordinary; and on the strength of his treatise “Pseudo-Martyr,” and of the royal recommendation,
received the degree of D.D. from the University of Cambridge. He succeeded Dr. Gataker as Lecturer of Lincoln's Inn; and in his fiftieth year was appointed to the deanery of St. Paul's, vacant by the promotion of Dr. Val. Carey to the see of Exeter. To this preferment was immediately added the vicarage of St. Dunstan-in-theWest, the advowson of which had long before been given to him by the Earl of Dorset. Dr. Donne died in 1631, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
His collected poems were first published by Tonson, in 1719, under the title of “Poems, Letters, and Elegies.” Ben Jonson predicted that Donne would perish as a poet for want of being understood; if he had given a more ill-natured turn to his criticism, he would have said, for want of being tolerated. Donne has been represented as " imbued to saturation with the learning of his age;" as being of a "most active and piercing intellect—an imagination, if not grasping and comprehensive, most subtle and far-darting-a fancy rich, vivid, and picturesque-a mode of expression terse, simple, and condensed—and a wit admirable, as well for its caustic severity as for its playful quickness.” We are glad to be able to eulogize him by proxy
To the above praise it may be added that Donne was ever on the stretch and strain after conceits; and that much of his rhythm is as rugged, and much of his verse as tuneless, as if he had forfeited his ears to the pillory. The “Hymn to God the Father" is in his best manner, and the author delighted to hear it sung to the organ by the choristers of St. Paul's to “a most grave and solemn tune.”
HOLY SONNETS. What if this present were the world's last night? Mark in my heart, O soul, where thou dost dwell, The picture of Christ crucified, and tell Whether his countenance can thee affright; Tears in his eyes quench the amazing light; Blood fills his frowns which from his pierced head fell; And can that tongue adjudge thee unto hell Which prayed forgiveness for his foe's fierce spite ? No, no; but as in my idolatry, I said to all my profane mistresses, Beauty, of pity, foulness only is, A sign of rigour; so I say to thee,
To wicked spirits are horrid shapes assigned
His beauteous form assumes a piteous mind. This is my play's last scene; here heavens appoint My pilgrimage's last mile; and my race Idly, yet quickly, run, hath this last pace, My span's last inch, my minute's latest point, And gluttonous death will instantly unjoint My body and my soul, and I shall sleep a space; But my ever-waking part shall see that face, Whose fear already shakes my every joint: Then, as my soul to heaven, her first seat, takes flight, And earth-born body in the earth shall dwell; So fall my sins, that all may have their right, To where they are bred, and would press me—to hell. Impute me righteous; thus purgéd of evil;
For thee I leave the world, the flesh, the devil.
Our short sleep past, we wake eternally,