Donne, John, Dd
Donne, John, D.D.
dean of St. Paul's, was born in London in 1573. He received the instructions of a private tutor at home until 1584, when he entered Hart College, Oxford, from whence he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1587. He took no degree at either university, as his parents had brought him up in the Roman Church, and were unwilling for him to take the necessary oaths. At the age of seventeen he commenced the study of law at Lincoln's Inn, advancing, at the same time, in liberal education under the care of able masters. After examining the question of religion thoroughly, he decided in favor of Protestantism. At this time, and for years after, he had no design of entering the ministry; he therefore sought civil employment, and upon several occasions accompanied expeditions and embassies abroad. From his youth ha exhibited powers of no ordinary character. Before he was twenty he wrote his satires, which, Hume admits, "flashed with wit and ingenuity," though he speaks of "coarseness of expression." While yet a young man he wrote the most of his poems, some of which were of a licentious nature, leading us to infer that his life at this time was impure; this conclusion is strengthened by the utterances of deep penitence in many of his sermons. When about thirty years of age he was involved in a difficulty with his father-in-law, Sir George Moore, which resulted in his committal to prison for a short time. A lawsuit for the possession of his wife followed, and so impoverished him that he was compelled to depend upon his relatives. He now applied himself to the study of the civil and canon law, the fruit of which may be seen in some of his discourses. An invitation to enter the ministry, extended by Dr. Morton, afterwards bishop of Durham, was declined. He soon began to attract the notice of the chief men of the day, and, being frequently at court, that of the king, who regarded him as a man of wit and learning. In 1610 the king was so well pleased with his remarks on supremacy and allegiance, made one day at table, that he commanded him, to embody the arguments in a formal treatise. He complied, and in the same year published his Pseudo- martyr, in which he showed that Roman Catholics ought to take the oath of allegiance. On perusing it, the king insisted that he should enter into orders, which, after two or three years spent in the study of theology, he did. He was immediately appointed chaplain to James I, and soon after was admitted D.D. at Cambridge. For a while, in 1617, he suspended his clerical functions, from grief at the loss of his wife. Soon after resuming them he was appointed to the deanery of St. Paul's. Preferments now came, so that he was soon raised from a condition of anxious penury to one of comparative affluence, in which he forgot not his friends and the poor. He also helped his father-in-law. He died March 31, 1631. Donne's epistolary writings are models in their kind. Some of his poems are very fine. But his sermons constitute his great title to enduring reputation. With a style somewhat like that of Sir Thomas Browne, he combined a power of illustration, an artistic skill, and a "capability of administering to thought" equalled by but one or two of his great contemporaries. His sermons are remarkable for subtle trains of thought and of argument. His published works are,
1. Pseudo-martyr (1610, 4to): —
2. Essays in Divinity (1651, 12mo): —
3. Ignatius, his Conclave; a Satyr, with an Apology for the Jesuits (1653, 12mo): —
4. Paradoxes, Essays, Characters, to which is aided a Book of Epigrams, in Latin, translated by J. Maine, D.D. (1652, 12mo): —
5. The Works of John Donne, D.D. (1839, 6 volumes, 8vo).
This is the best edition of his sermons. It is compiled from the old folio of 1640, and contains, in addition to the sermons, Devotions, Letters, and Poems. Besides the above is an essay entitled Biathanatos, a declaration that suicide may not always be sin. This was published fourteen years after his death, and contrary to his wishes, expressed in a letter to the earl of Ankerum, in which he says, "It is a book written by Jack Donne, and not by Dr. Donne." See Walton, Life of Donne; Alford's Life of Donne, in Donne's Works, volume 6, and Preface to same, volume 1 (edit. of 1839); Hume, History of England, volume 4, 524; Coleridge, Works (New York edit.), 5:73 sq.