Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 26 January 2022

Donne, Johnfree


Donne, Johnfree

  • David Colclough

John Donne (1572–1631)

by Isaac Oliver, 1616

The Royal Collection © 2004 HM Queen Elizabeth II

Donne, John (1572–1631), poet and Church of England clergyman, was born between 24 January and 19 June 1572 at his father's house in Bread Street, London, the third of six known children of John Donne (c.1535–1576), warden of the Ironmongers' Company, and Elizabeth Heywood (c.1543–1631), youngest daughter of John Heywood the epigrammatist and playwright. Donne claimed kinship through his father with the Dwn family of Kidwelly in Carmarthenshire, using its arms on his earliest portrait, painted in 1591, as well as on one of his seals and on his monument (the arms are azure, a wolf salient, with a crest of snakes bound in a sheaf), but there is no evidence extant concerning his father's family to support this claim. Donne's ancestors on his mother's side included John Rastell (his maternal great-grandfather), who was married to Elizabeth, daughter of Sir John More and sister of Sir Thomas More. Through his connection with the More and the Heywood families Donne was thus associated with many men and women who had remained true to the Roman Catholic faith and had suffered as a result—a fact that he was at pains to emphasize in his early work Pseudo-Martyr (1610). Two of his uncles, Ellis and Jasper Heywood (the translator of Seneca), ended their days as Jesuits (Jasper was the head of the Jesuit mission in England from 1581 to 1583), and Donne and his siblings were brought up as Roman Catholics. In 1576, when Donne was four, his father died; by July his mother had married John Syminges, a prominent physician who had trained at Oxford and Bologna and had several times been president of the Royal College of Physicians. Some time after the marriage Donne's family moved to Syminges's house in Trinity Lane, moving again in 1583 to a house in the parish of St Bartholomew-the-Less.

Oxford and the inns of court

Donne was educated privately, although there is no evidence to support the popular claim that he was taught by Jesuits. On 23 October 1584, at the age of twelve, he matriculated with his brother Henry, who was a year younger than him, from Hart Hall, Oxford. It seems that the boys entered the university relatively young (and gave their ages as a year younger than they actually were) in order to avoid subscribing to the queen's religious supremacy and to the Thirty-Nine Articles—a subscription demanded of all students over sixteen. Little is known of Donne's time at Oxford, though Izaak Walton claims that he was a distinguished student, and that it was there that his long friendship with Sir Henry Wotton began (Walton, 23, 106). After Donne left Oxford without taking a degree, Walton claims that he spent some time at Cambridge; there is no evidence for this in the university records, but as R. C. Bald points out, these are imperfect for this period (Walton, 24; Bald, 46). It has recently been argued that Donne left Oxford in October 1584 for a period of exile and education among fellow Catholics on the continent (Flynn, 131–46); even if Donne did attend Cambridge after Oxford, it would have to have been for less than three years, and uncertainty remains over his movements between 1589 and 1591. It seems most likely that he travelled abroad during this period, and it is quite possible that Walton's description of his travels in the late 1590s should be redated to the earlier period (Walton, 26). If Donne was travelling on the continent at this time, he probably followed the typical itinerary for a contemporary tour, visiting France, the Low Countries, and Germany en route for Italy (see Bald, 52, on Donne's likely visit to Germany). During this time, Donne's stepfather John Syminges died in 1588 (he was buried in the church of St Bartholomew-the-Less on 15 July), and his mother married Richard Rainsford, probably in 1590 and certainly before 7 February 1591. In 1591 the earliest known portrait of Donne was produced: it was a miniature, possibly by Nicholas Hilliard, but now the image survives only in William Marshall's engraving of it for the frontispiece of the 1633 Poems. It shows him in a dark doublet, with head bared, wearing an earring in the shape of a cross and with his hand on the hilt of a sword, and bears the motto (Antes muerto que mudado'Sooner dead than changed') as well as the Dwn crest described above.

The next clear sight of Donne from the official records is on his admission to Lincoln's Inn on 6 May 1592, after at least a year's preliminary study at Thavies Inn. Edward Loftus and Christopher Brooke, who was to remain a close friend of Donne's, stood surety for him on his admission. It was at Lincoln's Inn that Donne also met Christopher Brooke's younger brother Samuel, their cousin John, and Rowland Woodward. Although Donne was never called to the bar, nor practised the law professionally, its language and modes of thought remained crucial to him throughout his life, and lend much of his writing its distinctive character. His Satires and the poems later collected as Songs and Sonets are not just immersed in the social world of the inns, but use the words and the distinctions of the law to conduct their business of social comment and love. Later writings, including the Holy Sonnets, are equally dependent upon Donne's thorough knowledge of common and canon law, and it should not be forgotten that Donne certainly used his legal knowledge in his professional life. It was in demand while he was secretary to the lord keeper, Sir Thomas Egerton; in 1603–4 he prepared a legal opinion for Sir Robert Cotton on Valdesius's De dignitate regum regnorumque Hispaniae; his first major published work, Pseudo-Martyr, is a highly professional legal exposition and defence of the oath of allegiance, and he engages in tangled questions of civil and canon law in several other works, notably Ignatius his Conclave and the Essays in Divinity. It may have been during his time at Lincoln's Inn that, as Walton claims, Donne began 'seriously to survey, and consider the Body of Divinity, as it was then controverted betwixt the Reformed and the Roman Church' (Walton, 25–6), and to undertake a systematic reading and annotation of Cardinal Bellarmine's Disputationes; certainly his later work shows that he was well acquainted with the Roman Catholic controversialist's works.

When Donne moved from Thavies Inn to Lincoln's Inn he probably left behind him his younger brother Henry. In May 1593 a priest, William Harrington, was found in Henry Donne's chambers by the pursuivant Richard Young. Both were arrested and committed to the Clink, then moved to Newgate, where Henry died of the plague. Harrington was hanged, drawn, and quartered in February 1594. In the same year as Henry's death, Donne attained his majority, and in June 1593 he had received his inheritance from the chamber of the city of London.

It is difficult to date Donne's poems, most of which remained in manuscript until after his death, but it seems clear that while at Lincoln's Inn he composed verse letters to friends—such as Christopher and Samuel Brooke, Rowland and Thomas Woodward (the Westmoreland MS, one of the principal manuscripts of Donne's poems, is in Rowland's hand), Everard Guilpin, Beaupré Bell, and an unidentified Mr. I. (or J.) L.—the first two Satires, nearly all of the Elegies, the Epithalamion Made at Lincoln's Inn, and some of the Songs and Sonets. The verse letters especially show Donne experimenting with tone and form as he exchanges compliments in the world of humanist friendship, but the Elegies and Satires are remarkably assured. The speakers of the Elegies are rakish young men-about-town, addressing mistresses in tones of amorous and adulterous complicity (and revealing the widespread influence of Marlowe's translations of Ovid's Amores). They assume a tone of almost arrogant disregard for social mores and conventions, and yet here, as in much of his writing, Donne's voice, and his speakers, are as vulnerable as they are powerful. Elegy 2 is a persuasion to his mistress to undress that deploys the languages of religion as well as exploration and conquest in its travels over her clothing and body, but its conclusion shows that it is the poet who is naked, waiting.

The Satires, like the Elegies, are the product of, and shot through with, the social life of late sixteenth-century London; their attitudes, though, are rather different. Their speakers are urbane observers, outsiders, watching with anxious disapproval the hunt for place and promotion at court and in the courts, drawn in despite themselves (like the personae of Horace's satires, to which they are heavily indebted) to the corrupting conversation of the bore or malcontent, and finding themselves tainted by it. In the first two Satires there is also found a scepticism towards both learning and public life, the contemplative and the active paths, that is characteristic of the period and that informs much of Donne's work in both verse and prose. In these early poems the immediacy of voice that is so typical of Donne's writing is fully present. Satires 1 and 2 begin with a brusque imperative ('Away thou fondling motley humourist') and a weary epistolary salutation ('Sir; (though I thank God for it) I do hate / Perfectly all this town …') respectively; and this creation of a vital, speaking voice is one of the most striking features of Donne's poetic oeuvre, sustained by lengthy qualifying parentheses, interruption, colloquialism, and the careful disruption of metrical order. This last quality earned Donne the disapproval of the more formally orthodox Ben Jonson, who declared in his conversations with William Drummond that 'Donne, for not keeping of accent, deserved hanging' (I. Donaldson, ed., Ben Jonson, 1985, 596).

Soldier, secretary, and husband: 1596–1609

The last mention of Donne in the Lincoln's Inn records occurs at the end of 1594. He would certainly have ended his association with the inn by early 1596, when he was among the mass of young gentlemen who offered their services to the earl of Essex for his and Lord Howard of Effingham's expedition against Spain. The fleet set sail for Cadiz on 3 June, launching its successful attack on the harbour on the 21st; returning in triumph, the leaders of the expedition soon planned another assault, and Donne also joined this expedition, which set out in July 1597. Within a week, however, the fleet had returned in disarray after the events recorded in Donne's poem 'The Storm'; embarking again a little later, the fleets were once more separated by bad weather, and Essex's squadron set off for the Azores, where they waited for Ralegh's (in which Donne was probably sailing)—Donne describes the postponement of the rendezvous by a period of calm weather in 'The Calm'. The voyage was dogged by disorganization and ultimately achieved little: the Spanish fleet got safely into port at Angra, and only a few late ships were taken; finally, the English returned home in yet another bout of bad weather, reaching port by the end of October.

On his return to England, Donne sought civil employment, and with help from Thomas and John Egerton, whom he may have known at Lincoln's Inn and who sailed with him on the islands expedition of 1597, he was appointed secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton, lord keeper of the great seal since 1596. On his appointment Donne would have joined Egerton's substantial household at York House in the Strand and assisted his employer in the wide range of business that occupied him, from the courts of chancery, high commission, and Star Chamber to the privy council. Egerton was determined to reform legal procedures from a state of confusion and over-complexity; Donne's Satire 5 describes this morass and praises Egerton's attempts 'to know and weed out this enormous sin'. Donne would have spent time at court as well as in the courts during this time, where political discussion was dominated by the debates over the campaign in Ireland. When the earl of Essex was sent there in April 1599, two of Donne's friends accompanied him: Sir Henry Wotton, who was Essex's secretary, and Sir Thomas Egerton the younger. To the former Donne sent a verse letter asking why he had heard nothing from him ('H.W. in Hiber. belligeranti'); the latter was wounded in a skirmish and died on 23 August aged twenty-five. At the solemn funeral held in Chester Cathedral, Donne had the honour of bearing the dead man's sword before his coffin.

As a student at Oxford and the inns, Donne was a Roman Catholic. By 1597, however, he had sailed on an expedition against Catholic Spain and was employed by Egerton, a major public figure, if one with a recusant past. By 1601 he was a member of parliament. All of these would have been extremely difficult had he still been attached to the Roman Catholic church (although Flynn suggests that he retained important links with recusant families for a considerable time). The date of Donne's 'conversion' to the Church of England has been the subject of much scholarly debate, but is impossible precisely to determine (Bald, 69, argues that he may have received some form of instruction from Anthony Rudd, dean of Gloucester, after Henry Donne's death). Indeed, it is probably unhelpful to conceive of it as an event, rather than as a long process. The best that can be said is that by 1600 or so Donne considered it possible that he could successfully seek advancement in areas that would be closed to a known Catholic, and that in 1601 he was married in a Church of England ceremony (if an unorthodox one). Seven years later he was writing anti-Catholic polemic, and using his own upbringing in the Roman Catholic church to lend greater force to his criticisms of that church.

In the aftermath of the Essex rebellion in February 1601 Donne may have helped the lord keeper in the long business of examining witnesses and preparing for the trial; in the autumn of the same year he was returned as one of the members of parliament for Brackley, Northamptonshire, a seat in Egerton's gift. Parliament sat from 27 October to 19 December, and there is no evidence that Donne sat on any committees or took part in any debates. During the period of his employment by Egerton, Donne's friendship with Henry Wotton was sustained by correspondence in verse and prose (the verse epistle 'Sir, more then kisses, letters mingle souls' can be tentatively dated to 1597 or 1598), and among his other friends were Sir Henry Goodyer, Robert Cotton, and the essayist Sir William Cornwallis. In 1601 Donne began his Menippean epic, 'The Progress of the Soul', or 'Metempsychosis' (the preface is dated 16 August 1601). This ambitious poem aimed to trace the migration of the soul of the apple eaten by Eve 'to this time when she is he, whose life you shall find in the end of this book', but only a portion of the first canto was completed. Jonson claimed that the soul was intended to end up 'in the body of Calvin' (I. Donaldson, ed., Ben Jonson, 1985, 598), but Donne indicates in stanzas six and seven that the soul is now 'amongst us' in England,

and moves that hand, and tongue, and brow,Which, as the Moone the sea, moves us.

Faced with this problem, critics have suggested Queen Elizabeth and Robert Cecil as final homes for the soul. At about this time Donne was also writing his prose Paradoxes.

During his time as Egerton's secretary, Donne met Ann More (1584–1617), the niece of Lady Egerton and the daughter of Sir George More of Loseley Park, near Guildford in Surrey. She was brought up for some time at York House (Sir George More had for his part undertaken the education of Lady Egerton's son, Francis Wolley), and while she was there she and Donne were secretly engaged. In December 1601, when Ann was about seventeen and Donne twenty-nine, they were married in a clandestine service: Donne's friends Christopher and Samuel Brooke were in attendance, Christopher giving the bride away and Samuel, now ordained, performing the ceremony. Soon Ann returned to Loseley, and it was almost two months before Donne broke the news of their marriage to her father, using Henry Percy, ninth earl of Northumberland, as the messenger for his letter of 2 February. Sir George was horrified, and immediately demanded Donne's dismissal from Egerton's service and arrest: along with the Brooke brothers he was committed to prison, and the lord keeper gave in to More's request. But soon Donne was released from the Fleet, and it was clear that the marriage would be proved valid (indeed, Donne himself initiated a suit in the court of audience of Canterbury to test its validity): Sir George released his daughter to Donne, but refused to support her financially, while Egerton refused to give his secretary his job back, even when the injured and reluctant father-in-law joined in the request. Without employment or a home (during the latter part of his employment by Egerton he had lived in lodgings in the Savoy), Donne and his wife had to depend on help from friends and sympathetic relatives. Ann's cousin Francis Wolley offered the most substantial help, giving the Donnes room in his house at Pyrford, near her former home at Loseley. It was there that their first children, Constance and John, were born, at the beginning of 1603 and in the spring of 1604 respectively. In August 1603 the new king, James I, and his court spent the first night of their progress at Pyrford.

Early in 1605 Donne set off to travel on the continent with Sir Walter Chute, their licence being granted on 16 February. They visited Paris, and possibly Venice, where Wotton was now ambassador, before returning to England in April 1606. While Donne was abroad, his wife, who had been staying with her sister Lady Grymes at Peckham, gave birth to their third child, George; on his return the family probably spent a short time back at the Wolley house in Pyrford until they moved, before the end of the year, to a cottage in Mitcham, Surrey. While living at Pyrford, Donne had continued his studies and his writing: it was during this time that he sent his learned opinion on Valdesius to Robert Cotton, and internal evidence suggests that he wrote at least two of the Songs and Sonets ('The Sunne Rising' and 'The Canonization') at about the same time.

Donne lived with his wife in Mitcham for five years, and while they were there four more children were born: Francis in 1607, Lucy in 1608 (her godmother was Lucy Harington, countess of Bedford), Bridget in 1609, and Mary in 1611. From 1607 to 1611 Donne also kept lodgings in London, in the Strand, and he spent a large amount of his time in the city, devoting his energies to making the best of his connections and seeking out some kind of public employment for himself. These attempts to resurrect what had been a promising career failed without exception: in June 1607 he sought to fill a place that had fallen vacant in the queen's household; in November 1608 he applied for a secretaryship in Ireland, through the mediation of the king's favourite, Lord Hay; in February 1609 John Chamberlain wrote to Carleton that Donne 'seekes to be preferred to be secretarie of Virginia' (Letters of John Chamberlain, 1.284)—and these were, most likely, only a fraction of the positions he applied for.

Among the friendships that Donne established or consolidated about this time was that with Ben Jonson (for whose Volpone he wrote Latin commendatory verses in 1607). From 1607 he also began his correspondence with Lady Bedford, and at about the same time he made or renewed his friendship with Mrs Magdalene Herbert (George Herbert's mother, to whom, in July 1611, he sent what was probably the sonnet sequence 'La corona'). During winter 1608–9 he was ill with chronic neuritis, and wrote 'A Litanie', which, in a letter to Sir Henry Goodyer, he referred to as 'a meditation in verse' (Donne, Letters, 32). Most of the Holy Sonnets were probably also written at about this time. There has been much debate over how far these last form any kind of sequence, and if so in what order they should be arranged; certainly, though, the group of twelve as they appear in the Group I and II manuscripts in the 1633 edition of the Poems seem to have some internal coherence, and are far from being individual utterances. The Holy Sonnets are exhortatory, despairing, and demanding by turns, and they make use of virtually the full range of Donne's intellectual pursuits, the twelfth in particular ('Father, part of this double interest') skilfully pleading the legal case for inheritance of the kingdom of heaven to God figured as a divine judge.

Professional authorship, travels with the Drurys, and entry into the church: 1609–1615

The period during which Donne was at Mitcham was one of the most productive for his writing and research, and Bald rightly states that at this time he was 'nearer to being a professional author than at any other time during his life' (Bald, 200). Donne had been engaged for some time, it is clear, in a course of reading in canon and civil law, and in casuistry: the works that he composed from 1607 to 1610 are steeped in this learning, determined at once to display their mastery of a vast number of authorities and to cast a sceptical eye on the very use of authoritative textual testimony. The first substantial work that Donne wrote at this time, Biathanatos (composed in 1607–8, though work on it may have started at Pyrford), is a perfect example of his ambiguous relationship with humanism. It is a cousin to the more frivolous Paradoxes and Problems (the latter probably composed at roughly the same time) in its defence of a seeming paradox—its subtitle is 'A declaration of that paradoxe or thesis, that self-homicide is not so naturally sinne, that it may never be otherwise'—yet it is formidably researched, and its fashionably sceptical attitude can be more properly traced to a frame of mind inculcated by the study of cases of conscience that occupied Donne throughout his life. According to Walton, in Donne's study after his death were found 'divers … cases of Conscience that had concerned his friends, with his observations and solutions of them' (Walton, 68), and Donne refers to his book of cases of conscience in two of his surviving letters. Biathanatos was—by contrast with Donne's other prose writings from this period—intended to be a fairly private work: it was printed in 1647, sixteen years after Donne's death, and only two manuscripts survive from Donne's lifetime. Statements made by Donne to those entrusted with a copy of the work reinforce the sense that he intended it for a restricted circle of readers: in a presentation letter to Sir Edward Herbert he suggests that the best (though he never says only) place for it is Herbert's library, and when sending a copy to Sir Robert Ker in 1619 he declared 'I forbid it only the Presse, and the Fire: publish it not, but yet burn it not; and between those, do what you will with it' (Donne, Letters, 22). The book was, he noted to Ker, 'upon a misinterpretable subject' (ibid., 21).

Shortly after Donne completed Biathanatos, he published what was to be his most substantial prose work, Pseudo-Martyr (1610; the book runs to 430 pages). Pseudo-Martyr is not merely a work more public than Biathanatos: it is in its own right an extremely public and deliberate intervention into a current controversy, and it announces unambiguously Donne's allegiance to the religious policies of James I, to whom it is dedicated. After the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 James had approved an act of parliament that instituted a new oath of allegiance; this oath forced Roman Catholics to deny the deposing power claimed by the pope over monarchs who opposed Catholicism, or to face imprisonment and the seizure of their property. A war of words flared up over whether English Catholics were obliged to swear the oath, the king entering the fray with his Triplici nodo triplex cuneus, or, An Apologie for the Oath of Allegiance (1607). The Jesuit Robert Persons soon responded to James's book in satiric vein, and William Barlow was commissioned to answer Persons. Barlow's Answer to a Catholike English-Man (1609) proved to be a rather feeble contribution, and Donne spoke harshly of it in a letter to Goodyer. He had been following the controversy from its beginning, and may even have been acting as an assistant to the practised controversialist Thomas Morton, chaplain to the earl of Rutland and, from 1607, dean of Gloucester—certainly Donne had read portions of the manuscript of Morton's A Catholike Appeale for Protestants (1609) eighteen months before its publication. Pseudo-Martyr is as learned a work as Biathanatos, and in writing it Donne turned the scepticism evinced towards human authorities in the earlier work to local ends: he was aware of the importance to the controversy of judicious and accurate quotation (Barlow's prime failing, in Donne's opinion), and went to some trouble to assert his own reliability and to expose the distortions of Catholic writers.

Pseudo-Martyr is divided into two sections, which treat in turn two arguments: first, that Catholics may take the oath of allegiance with clear consciences, and second, that therefore those who do not and who suffer as a result are not entitled to be called martyrs. In the preface Donne draws attention to the fact that he is especially well placed to pronounce on martyrdom true and false, asserting that:

as I am a Christian, I have been ever kept awake in a meditation of Martyrdome, by being derived from such a stocke and race, as, I beleeve, no family, (which is not of farre larger extent, and greater branches,) hath endured and suffered more in their persons and fortunes, for obeying the Teachers of Romane Doctrine, then it hath done.

Donne, Pseudo-Martyr, 1610, sig. ❡

In pursuing his thesis Donne argues that the temporal jurisdiction claimed by the pope is false, while the ecclesiastical jurisdiction claimed by various monarchs is legitimate. Arguing that those who suffer for obeying this false papal authority are not true martyrs, he distinguishes between essential points of faith and things indifferent, or adiaphora: he strikes a pose of toleration and moderation, yet in claiming the authority to make this distinction he confronts and provokes his Catholic opponents. Pseudo-Martyr is a work that marshals profound learning in the service of the king's religious policy, yet it appears to have received little notice from other participants in the heated and drawn-out controversy over the oath of allegiance (J. P. Sommerville, Jacobean political thought and the controversy over the oath of allegiance, PhD diss., University of Cambridge, 1981). It may, however, have advertised Donne's skills as a controversial theologian to the king as well as to contemporaries in the church. Walton states that James at this point first suggested that Donne should enter the church, but this suggestion was clearly not received with great enthusiasm: Donne continued to pursue his civil ambitions.

In April 1610 Donne was made an honorary MA of Oxford. It was probably later that year that he wrote his next controversial work, Conclave Ignati, or Ignatius his Conclave. While Pseudo-Martyr tends to conceal its confrontational position behind eirenic language, Ignatius is a brief and biting satire against Roman Catholics in general, Jesuits in particular, and all kinds of innovators, couched in the form of a dream-vision, a Menippean journey to hell where Ignatius holds court. The book was published anonymously, first in Latin and then in Donne's own English translation. It makes much play with this anonymity, a preface 'from the Printer to the Reader' describing the author's supposed reluctance to publish while very deliberately setting the book as a companion-piece to Pseudo-Martyr. Once again Donne displays a studied ambivalence to learning, exposing the distortions of Roman Catholic reading practices while displaying his own erudition. He mocks the procedures of controversy (side-notes support tiny points in Donne's argument by reference to enormous volumes) while at the same time demonstrating his competence in them.

It is unclear when Donne first made the acquaintance of Sir Robert Drury and his family, but in the year following the death of their younger daughter Elizabeth in 1610, he wrote two elegies for her, 'A Funerall Elegie' and 'An Anatomy of the World', and was invited by Sir Robert to join the family on a journey to the continent. Both poems were printed, anonymously, in 1611. The party left England about November 1611, and Donne's wife and children went to stay with her younger sister Frances and her husband, John Oglander, on the Isle of Wight. Donne and the Drurys went first to Amiens, where they stayed from December until roughly the beginning of March, and where Donne wrote the next of his elegies for Elizabeth Drury, 'The Progres of the Soule'; this was published in 1612 with 'An Anatomy of the World' as the 'First' and 'Second' Anniversaries. Early in 1612 the Drurys moved to Paris, where Donne fell ill. He none the less witnessed the double marriage of Louis XIII and his sister, and attempted to make contact with the Sorbonnist Edmond Richer, a critic of the pope's temporal claims; he also saw the exiled Toby Matthew. The next stage of the journey, after Easter, was to Heidelberg and Frankfurt (where the party witnessed the imperial election); from there they went on to Spa, and returned to England via the Low Countries, visiting Maastricht, Louvain, and Brussels (and possibly Antwerp).

On his return to England, Donne moved, with his family, into a house belonging to Sir Robert Drury and near to the Drurys' own substantial house on Drury Lane. He stayed here until 1621. A number of public and personal events provided the occasions for poems during the period after his travels abroad. Donne contributed an elegy for the third edition of Joshua Sylvester's Lachrymae lachrymarum, a memorial volume to Prince Henry, who had died in November 1612; he also wrote an epithalamion for the marriage of Princess Elizabeth to Frederick, the elector palatine ('Hail Bishop Valentine, whose day this is')—the latter a piece that deftly unites attention to the significance of the day upon which the marriage fell (St Valentine's day) with decorous celebration of the couple's equality and mutuality in love. A visit to his friend Sir Henry Goodyer in the spring of 1613 was commemorated in Donne's 'Goodfriday, 1613: Riding Westward'; Donne was probably on his way from Goodyer's house at Polesworth to Sir Edward Herbert at Montgomery Castle.

Donne was still in search of an office, and sought the patronage of those who seemed most likely to be able to help; it was during 1613 that he offered his services to Robert Carr, Viscount Rochester (later earl of Somerset). Carr was engaged in the attempt to make Frances Howard (then married to the earl of Essex) his wife, and it was at this time that Donne was presented to him by another of James's Scottish favourites, James Hay. Donne later offered to write a defence of the nullity pronounced on Howard's previous marriage, and he produced an epithalamion for her wedding to Carr, which took place in December 1613. The epithalamion is a notoriously complicated response to a marriage that was regarded with some misgivings even before the bride and groom were accused of complicity in the murder of Carr's former secretary, Sir Thomas Overbury. Donne frames his poem with an eclogue, explaining that the epithalamion was written in his absence from the court and is being delivered late, and offering to burn it. Seemingly, he removes from himself responsibility for the poem or its reception while still delivering it—an extreme example of the modesty topos, which might point to the anxieties surrounding the event being celebrated.

Also in 1613–14 the young Lord Harington, brother of Lucy, countess of Bedford, died of smallpox, occasioning Donne's long 'Obsequies to the Lord Harrington', at the end of which he announces that his muse has 'spoke her last'. Donne himself had been ill during the winter of 1613–14, as had all of his family, and in May 1614 his daughter Mary died. As well as writing to and for his powerful friends and patrons, Donne was involved once more in the daily business of politics and public life, being returned as MP for Taunton in the short-lived Addled Parliament of April–June 1614. He served on several committees, but there is no evidence of his speaking during the session's debates. It was the search for employment that must have greatly occupied Donne during this period, as it had for some years. Before parliament assembled, he wrote to Carr (now earl of Somerset) asking him to put him forward to the ambassadorship to Venice (recently vacated by Sir Dudley Carleton), and later in the year he made more than one attempt to gain a place directly from the king. These were, however, all unsuccessful, and Donne once again was advised to enter the church, as he had been on the publication of Pseudo-Martyr four years earlier. He had certainly not neglected his studies: according to Walton, at this time Donne was studying Greek and Hebrew (Walton, 46); Donne himself mentions in a letter that he was employed 'in the search of the eastern tongues' (Gosse, 2.16), and he may well have made use of the visits of the scholars Isaac Casaubon and Hugo Grotius in 1613–14. As it became increasingly clear that his path to advancement lay in divine and not secular employment, Donne chose to gather his poems for publication, finding that he needed to call in manuscripts that he had sent to friends: 'by this occasion', he wrote, 'I am made a Rhapsoder of mine own rags, and that cost me more diligence, to seek them, then it did to make them' (Donne, Letters, 197). However, this edition appears never to have been printed.

It is impossible to tell exactly when Donne wrote his Essays in Divinity. When the book was published posthumously in 1651, his son John Donne the younger wrote that it was 'writ when the Author was obliged in Civill business, and had no ingagement with that of the Church', and that the essays were 'the voluntary sacrifices of severall hours, when he had many debates betwixt God and himself, whether he were worthy, and competently learned to enter Holy Orders' (Essays in Divinity, 3, 4), but this suggestion that the work should be dated to the years immediately preceding Donne's ordination has no other support, internal or external. Certainly at times the Essays read like self-conscious apprentice-work—Donne is performing a very careful kind of exegetical meditation on the beginning of Genesis and on Exodus—and their tone stands at a curious mid-point between the private and the public; at one point Donne refers to them as 'sermons' with 'no Auditory' (Essays in Divinity, 41). While it is likely that they were finished by 1615, however (there are no references to books published after this date), they may have been begun much earlier and added to over a long period. It may be significant that Donne uses the Geneva Bible throughout, rather than (as might be expected were he writing after 1611) the King James Version—but he can also be found using the Geneva and a range of other versions after his ordination in his sermons. The Essays, when they have received critical attention, have been praised for the prayers with which they conclude; but there is much more of interest to them than these short devotional pieces. The Essays show Donne's sceptical attitude to human authorities and testimonies engaging with Reformation arguments about the relative status of tradition and authority in doctrine.

Priest and preacher

Donne was ordained deacon and priest on 23 January 1615, in St Paul's, with John King, the bishop of London, officiating. He wrote a series of letters to friends and patrons announcing his ordination, and adopted a new seal, exchanging the sheaf of snakes for an image of Christ crucified on an anchor. Appointed soon after his ordination to a royal chaplaincy, Donne attended the king on James's visit to Cambridge in March, where he was, despite apparent reluctance on the part of the vice-chancellor, awarded an honorary doctorate of divinity. His first sermon was, according to Walton, preached at Paddington (Walton, 48); but the first to survive bears the heading 'Preached at Greenwich, Aprill 30. 1615'. Recent research supports Jessop's contention (challenged by Bald) that the sermon was preached to the court at Greenwich, not in the parish church there. For the rest of his career Donne would combine preaching in parish churches with addressing more elevated auditories, at court, at Lincoln's Inn, and at St Paul's Cathedral, among other places.

Donne received his first benefices in the year following his ordination, being granted Keyston in Huntingdon in January 1616 and Sevenoaks in Kent in July 1616. In October 1616 he was appointed as reader in divinity at his old inn of court, Lincoln's Inn. This, along with his duties at court as chaplain-in-ordinary (he seems to have mainly preached there during Lent), was his main occupation as a preacher in the first years of his ministry. In 1617 he preached his first sermon at the outdoor pulpit at Paul's Cross, on 24 March—the anniversary of the death of Queen Elizabeth and the accession of King James—just after James had set off on a journey to Scotland. In July of the same year he preached at his living in Sevenoaks, with Lady Anne Clifford in the congregation. Another sermon from this year was on a more private and melancholy occasion: on 10 August Ann Donne gave birth to a stillborn child, and five days later she died. Donne preached the funeral sermon at St Clement Danes (the incumbent had himself died recently, and it was Donne's parish church) and he commissioned a monument from Nicholas Stone to commemorate his wife. Walton gives an affecting account of the sermon, and of Donne's ability to move his auditory:

And indeed his very looks and words testified him to be truly such a man [one who had ‘seen affliction’]; and they, with the addition of his sighs and tears, exprest in his Sermon, did so work upon the affections of his hearers, as melted and moulded them into a companionable sadness.

Walton, 52

Donne and diplomacy: travel in Germany, 1619–1620

Having sought some form of diplomatic employment during the years before his ordination, Donne was finally sent in 1619 on an embassy in the capacity of chaplain to Viscount Doncaster. James, always determined to live up to his motto (Beati pacifici'Blessed are the peacemakers'), believed that he could mediate between the Holy Roman emperor and the Bohemian protestants and put a halt to the conflict that would become the Thirty Years' War. Doncaster was appointed ambassador in February, but the party did not set out until May. Donne must have been chosen at least in part because of his understanding of the continental situation—indeed, about 1615 he had been entrusted with a cipher, and was sent another by Wotton in 1623. He was, through his controversial works and his wide reading, well placed to undertake such a mission. Donne appears to have been concerned for his safety on his journey, and before he departed he made preparations in case he should not return, sending his manuscript of Biathanatos to Sir Robert Ker. He preached a farewell sermon at Lincoln's Inn, and about this time he composed the 'Hymne to Christ, at the Authors Last Going into Germany'.

The embassy travelled from Calais to Antwerp, Brussels, and then Mariemont, where they met the archduke. After this they went on to Heidelberg to meet Frederick, the elector palatine, and Princess Elizabeth (James I's son-in-law and daughter), before whom Donne preached a sermon. Doncaster then proceeded to meetings with allies of the emperor, travelling to Ulm, Augsburg, and Munich, where he met the duke of Bavaria. In Salzburg he met Ferdinand himself, and attempted to put the case for treating with the Bohemians, but to little avail. The imperial elections took place at Frankfurt, and Doncaster and many of his party were present, though when he saw that his diplomacy was having no effect he moved on to the Spa, with Donne in attendance. Meanwhile, Frederick was chosen as king of Bohemia and Ferdinand as emperor. In the final stages of his mission, Doncaster pursued the new emperor to Graz, where he was granted an audience, and then set off on his return journey, again having failed to sway Ferdinand towards peace. The embassy travelled to The Hague, where Donne preached, and was given a medal commemorating the Synod of Dort: this gift could be seen as acknowledging his status as a moderate and sympathetic member of the European protestant movement. Finally, the party reached London on 1 January 1620: James's ambitions as peacebroker had been disappointed, and Donne and his companions had experienced the frustration of seeing their embassy exploited as a delaying tactic by the emperor while the protestant forces suffered and remained unassisted by the English.

Donne's ecclesiastical career, 1620–1631

On his return from the continent Donne resumed his duties at Lincoln's Inn; he also celebrated the wedding of Sir Francis Nethersole to Lucy Goodyer, daughter of his friend Sir Henry. He was actively seeking promotion, however, and it is known that twice in 1620–21 his hopes were frustrated. Late in August 1621, though, the bishop of Exeter died, and was succeeded by Valentine Cary, dean of St Paul's: it was decided that Donne would take Cary's place, and he was formally elected and installed on 22 November. Donne resigned from his living at Keyston in October 1621, and also from his readership at Lincoln's Inn (though it is first recorded only in early 1622). As a parting gift to the inn he donated the six-volume edition of the Vulgate with Nicholas de Lyre's commentary. Information on Donne's deanship is scarce; the act-books of the chapter for his incumbency do not survive and recent researches have failed to uncover more material. On being appointed Donne moved his residence to the deanery of St Paul's and, according to Walton, 'immediately after he came to his Deanry, he employed work-men to repair and beautify the Chapel' (Walton, 55).

As dean, Donne's preaching duties were not onerous: he was obliged only to preach on Christmas day, Easter day, and Whit Sunday. But he certainly did more than this bare minimum, and a number of sermons on other occasions survive. Nor did he preach only in the cathedral. In February 1622 Donne was appointed to the living of Blunham in Bedfordshire, in the gift of the earl of Kent, and it seems that he spent time there each summer, as had been his custom with his other livings. Moreover, he continued to preach at court, and elsewhere. In August 1622 he preached before Doncaster, the earl of Northumberland (Doncaster's father-in-law), and the duke of Buckingham at Hanworth, and later that year he was chosen to deliver a sermon on a highly sensitive political occasion. During 1622 the protestant forces had been suffering defeats in Germany, and at the same time the negotiations for a Spanish marriage for Prince Charles were progressing; there was a degree of popular unrest, and James's policies were being criticized from the pulpits. On 4 August the king issued directions to preachers, severely restricting the subjects, political and doctrinal, that could be treated by ordinary clergy, and ordered Donne to justify the directions in a sermon at Paul's Cross on 15 September. The sermon is a consummate example of orderly preaching which also has the ability to offer implicit counsel, but it received mixed reactions when it was delivered: Chamberlain suspected that Donne was not committed to his task (Letters of John Chamberlain, 2.451), but James was impressed, and ordered the sermon to be printed. It was quickly published with a dedication to Buckingham, the first of Donne's sermons to appear in print. This was the first of several important public sermons Donne delivered in autumn 1622. He preached the annual Gunpowder Plot sermon at St Paul's on 5 November, and James demanded to see it—though this time it was not printed. Just over a week later, on 13 November, he preached to the Virginia Company (of which he had been made an honorary member on 22 May and an honorary member of the council on 3 July), at St Michael Cornhill. This sermon was printed, and was dedicated to the company.

The next of Donne's sermons to be printed was preached and published in 1623, on the occasion of the consecration of the new chapel at Lincoln's Inn. Delivered on Ascension day, it was printed with the title Encaenia. As in his defence of the directions to preachers, in this sermon Donne characteristically engages with discretion in a highly controversial subject. Not only the issue of outward displays of worship (addressed by Donne in his dedicatory epistle to the masters of the bench), but also the more specific question of what the function of consecration was in a reformed church, are discussed with a polemical force that derives precisely from Donne's choice of a moderate and moderating voice. In October 1623 Donne preached at the law serjeants' feast, although this sermon does not survive. However, the occasion is a reminder that during his time as dean Donne also had occasion to use his legal training. He served as a justice of the peace in Kent and Bedford, and he was appointed thirteen times to hear appeals from lower ecclesiastical courts and sit in the court of delegates.

During 1623 Donne was engaged in negotiations for the marriage of his daughter Constance to the former actor and founder of Dulwich College, Edward Alleyn; the wedding took place on 3 December. During this winter, however, Donne was seriously ill with what seems to have been a combination of 'relapsing fever' with the less grave 'rewme' (Donne, Devotions, xiii–xvii). This illness he used as the foundation of the Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, printed in early 1624 (it was entered in the Stationers' register on 9 January) and dedicated to Prince Charles. The book, organized into a series of twenty-three meditations, expostulations, and prayers, follows the progress of the illness through Donne's body as he observes himself and considers himself as a type of mankind. It is striking in its dogged pursuit of the possible meanings, spiritual and physical, of the symptoms Donne observes as he works away at the questions of the relation between internal and external, the corporeal and the intellectual, the human and the divine. In March 1624 Donne was appointed to the living of St Dunstan-in-the-West, whose incumbent had recently died and which was in the gift of the earl of Dorset. The parish was in the centre of the legal district as well as being surrounded by stationers' shops, and Donne's congregation there must have contained many lawyers, judges, and printers as well as other citizens. As with his personal chapel at the deanery of St Paul's, Donne initiated renovations at St Dunstan's soon after his appointment.

In 1625 Donne composed the only poem that can be dated with certainty from this period of his life—and it may well have been his last. 'An Hymne to the Saints, and to Marquesse Hamylton' was written at the request of Sir Robert Ker (Hamilton died on 2 March). The same year saw the death of James I (on 27 March) and the accession of Charles I: Donne preached the first sermon before the new king, on 3 April, and a sermon before the body of James on 26 April. He was ill once more, and was forced to leave London because of the plague that swept the city from the summer; staying in Chelsea with Sir John and Lady Danvers until December, he made use of his temporary exile by writing out many of his sermons—he refers to having completed eighty in a letter to Sir Thomas Roe of 25 November (Bald, 479). There was some familial disturbance in Donne's life, however, as he and his son-in-law Edward Alleyn quarrelled over £500 that Alleyn claimed Donne had promised to lend him and then refused to deliver.

After the plague was over, Charles was crowned in 1626 and called his first parliament. Convocation also met, and Donne was chosen prolocutor. He preached the annual Lent sermon at court, and at Charles's suggestion it was printed, with a dedication to the king. Donne clearly retained the royal favour he had enjoyed under James. 1626 was a busy year for him in the pulpit, and he was also appointed a governor of the Charterhouse. The following year his royal favour slipped briefly, as the king—via William Laud—demanded to see a copy of the sermon Donne had preached at court on 1 April. It appears that they suspected him of joining with Archbishop Abbot's criticism of James Montagu and Robert Sibthorpe, who had recently preached sermons in support of Laud's ceremonial innovations. Donne would thus, by extension, be criticizing Laud himself. The sermon was scrutinized, and Donne was cleared.

In 1627 Donne's daughter Lucy died, as well as several of his old friends: Goodyer died on 18 March; Lady Bedford on 31 May; and Lady Danvers in early June. He preached the latter's funeral sermon, and it was subsequently printed. On 19 November he preached at the wedding of Lady Mary Egerton, daughter of the earl of Bridgewater, to the son and heir of Edward, Lord Herbert of Cherbury. Little detailed information is available about Donne's activities during the final years of his life, aside from his attendance at various meetings (for instance, the vestry meetings at St Dunstan's and the meetings of the governors of the Charterhouse), his presence as judge or signatory in legal cases, and his preaching of several datable sermons at Paul's Cross, St Paul's, and the court. It is known that he continued to suffer from ill health: from August 1629 he was unwell with a quinsy, and he seems to have been frequently ill with fever during 1630—possibly a symptom of the stomach cancer that eventually killed him. Had he lived, Donne would almost certainly have been appointed to a bishopric: by summer 1630 he was listed as a candidate for a see whenever a vacancy should open. However, his health was failing, and when his daughter Constance remarried in June 1630 (Alleyn had died in 1626), he went to stay with her at Aldborough Hatch in Essex and remained there until early 1631. His mother, who had been living with him at the deanery, and who had accompanied him to Aldborough Hatch, died in January 1631. Donne had already made his will, on 13 December 1630, and he would only live for another three months.

Donne returned to London, scotching rumours of his death, and on 25 February he preached his final sermon, at Whitehall. This is an extended meditation on mortality and resurrection, later printed as Deaths Duell (it was entered in the Stationers' register on 30 September 1631); according to Walton many of his auditors at the time said 'that Dr. Donne had preach't his own Funeral Sermon' (Walton, 75). Donne spent the time remaining to him preparing for death, practically and spiritually. He dealt with the final remaining cathedral business, he posed in his shroud for a monument (the sculpture by Nicholas Stone, funded by Donne's doctor Simeon Fox, remains in St Paul's today, and the sketch for this was also the model for the engraving by Martin Droeshout on the frontispiece of Deaths Duell), and he bade farewell to his friends. He died at the deanery on 31 March, and Walton gives an affecting portrayal of his end (Walton, 81–2). He was buried, on 3 April, in St Paul's, and the Latin epitaph on his monument may well have been written by Donne himself. Among those who survived him was his son John Donne the younger, author and literary executor.

Donne left his sermons to Henry King, and they later, by a rather murky process, went via Walton to John Donne the younger, who published those in his possession in three folio volumes (LXXX Sermons appeared in 1640, Fifty Sermons in 1649, and XXVI Sermons in 1661). One hundred and sixty of Donne's sermons survive, and they demand reading and study not just as the major productions of his maturity but also as intricate and beautiful pieces of prose. Donne's religious stance has been much debated from his lifetime on, and the sermons demonstrate that while he continued the controversial interests of his early polemical works, his concern during his ministry was most often to seek edification—of his auditors and of the English church—and, while criticizing those whom he regarded as sectarians, both puritan and Roman Catholic, to find some form of accommodation with elements of both. As Donne preaches to congregations ranging from the inhabitants of Blunham to the members of the courts of James I and Charles I, he can be seen to be mapping out a middle way that offers at the same time a strong vision of a church still seeking identity and a voice with which its ministers can speak both with and to authority.

Donne's afterlife

Immediately after his death Donne's greatness was celebrated by a host of poets, especially in the collection of 'Elegies upon the Author' contained in the two first editions of the posthumously published Poems (1633; 1635). Writers such as John Marston, Jonson, Henry King, Richard Corbet, Thomas Carew, Lucius Carey, Jasper Mayne, Sidney Godolphin, and, of course, Izaak Walton joined in praising Donne's skill as poet, divine, and versatile intellectual. Although Carew's elegy (probably now the most famous) singled out for praise Donne's poetic inventiveness, many of the others are notable for their concentration on Donne as a preacher—perhaps surprising in a volume of his poetry. In fact, Donne's verse was not widely known during his life. The poems were initially circulated among a small coterie of readers and, although they soon moved beyond that circle to be copied and recopied in manuscript collections, the paucity of early manuscript witnesses suggests that they travelled somewhat slowly. By the 1620s Donne's secular poetry was appearing regularly in manuscript miscellanies, but by this time he had been ordained for five years and the time of many of the poems' composition was long past.

It was in the decades immediately following Donne's death that his fame as a poet reached its height. The publication of the Poems in 1633 made them available to a wide readership, and the printer's address to the reader emphasized that already it was taken for granted by 'the best judgements' that Donne's poetry was 'the best in this kinde, that ever this Kingdome hath yet seene'. If this was a puff, it worked: there were six editions in the twenty-three years after Donne's death. Through the middle decades of the seventeenth century he was read, admired, and imitated, with further works being printed. Although several of the elegy writers of the 1633 volume had recourse to the paradoxical topos that after Donne's death it is impossible to write, his successors in fact seized the challenge enthusiastically, finding in Donne a model of a new literary style.

However, Donne's fortunes underwent a sudden reversal in the late 1660s. In place of imitation and celebration, there is a firm rejection of his styles of thought and writing. The challenge that Carew found in Donne's prosodic inventiveness, his 'masculine expression', was considered by critics of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries to be one not worth taking up. The 'roughness' of his metre condemned him as old-fashioned, and while his conceits and his wit were praised, they were alleged to overpower the poems and the reader. Dryden criticized Donne for putting wit above feeling in his love poems, and his most critical comments were taken up with enthusiasm in the eighteenth century. This line of attack was pursued most violently by Samuel Johnson in his Life of Cowley (1781), during the course of a general assault on the 'metaphysical poets'. Putting ingenuity above poetry, wrote Johnson, 'their thoughts were often new, but seldom natural; they are not obvious, but neither are they just; and the reader, far from wondering that he missed them, wonders more frequently by what perverseness of industry they were ever found' (Smith, 1.218). Donne was deemed indecorous, decadent, and an incompetent versifier (Pope had produced 'versions' of Satires 2 and 4 in an attempt to regularize them); old editions of his writings became hard to find and new ones were few and very badly produced, riddled with errors. Dissenting voices were rarely heard and the force of their arguments was necessarily reduced by the difficulty of appealing to widely known texts: the feeling against Donne was often based on, at best, a half-knowledge of the works being dismissed.

Writers of the early nineteenth century, by contrast, saw Donne as offering a mirror of some of their own most pressing concerns. Coleridge in particular stands out not only for the range and acuity of his readings of Donne but also in his treatment of the poems as arguments rather than (as Johnson did) a series of discrete and disjointed conceits. As the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries witnessed a surge of interest in the complex relationship between language, thought, and feeling, innovative writers like Coleridge and Godwin celebrated Donne for the individuality of his poetic voice, the force of his unusual images, and his exploration of the boundaries of genre. Coleridge made copious marginal notes in Charles Lamb's copy of the poems—notes that, among other things, show just how carefully Coleridge understood Donne's metrical inventiveness; he states that 'in poems where the writer thinks, and expects the reader to do so, the sense must be understood in order to ascertain the metre' (Smith, 1.266). But beyond the group of writers and intellectuals who were developing an interest in Donne in the nineteenth century (a group that included Charles Lamb, Thomas De Quincey, James Henry Leigh Hunt, Elizabeth Barrett, Robert Browning, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau), his works were reaching a wider readership once more. The need for new editions was repeatedly asserted and, to some extent, met by Henry Alford's Works of John Donne (1839). The first modern edition of the poems, on bibliographical principles, was produced by Grosart in 1872 for the Fuller's Worthies Library—a milestone in the study and reception of Donne, despite its thoroughly unreliable text. Donne still remained something of an acquired taste, however, and it was the work of scholars and critics at the very end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries that saw a wholesale rehabilitation.

Edmund Gosse's magisterial Life and Letters of John Donne (1899) established a context for the understanding of his works, and the editorial labours of J. R. Lowell and C. E. Norton (1895) and E. K. Chambers (1896) went some way to providing a widely available text for the poems. It was with H. J. C. Grierson's two-volume edition of the Poems (1912) that modern bibliographical techniques were properly applied to Donne. Grierson's edition, along with his anthology Metaphysical Poetry: Donne to Butler (1921) also initiated a new interpretive framework for Donne. T. S. Eliot's review of that anthology (1921) celebrated Donne as a precursor of the modernist poet. From the early years of the twentieth century, and with the emergence and consolidation of English literature as a university subject, Donne's place in the canon was assured. Scholars using diverse critical approaches have found Donne an engaging and rewarding subject for commentary. One of the most important aspects of many of these responses to Donne has been their increasing tendency to follow Coleridge in taking Donne's argumentation seriously—a path followed especially brilliantly by the various essays of William Empson. An equally significant aspect of Donne's reputation in the twentieth century has been his popularity as a poet of love. Several of the Songs and Sonets in particular have been celebrated as masterpieces of the genre, and as a result feature frequently in popular and scholarly anthologies. Audio recordings of the poems (most notably an intense performance by the actor Richard Burton) also focus on the erotic affect of Donne's individuality of voice.

Both romantics and critics alike have tended to concentrate on a fairly narrow selection of Donne's works. None the less, with the appearance of the critical editions (most recently the multi-volume variorum edition of the poems), the increasing interest in manuscript studies, and the developing links between literary criticism and history, readers have the tools at hand to produce richer and more firmly grounded contributions to the ongoing debate about the meanings of Donne's life and writings. At present, his reputation is secure as one of the most significant writers of the English Renaissance.


  • R. C. Bald, John Donne: a life, ed. W. Milgate (1970)
  • I. Walton, The lives of John Donne, Sir Henry Wotton, Richard Hooker, George Herbert and Robert Sanderson, ed. G. E. B. Sainsbury (1927)
  • G. Keynes, A bibliography of John Donne, dean of Saint Paul's, 4th edn (1973)
  • J. Donne, Letters to severall persons of honour (1651)
  • I. A. Shapiro, ‘Donne's birthdate’, N&Q, 197 (1952), 310–13
  • W. Milgate, ‘The date of Donne's birth’, N&Q, 191 (1946), 206–8
  • E. Gosse, The life and letters of John Donne, dean of St Paul's, 2 vols. (1899)
  • The sermons of John Donne, ed. G. R. Potter and E. M. Simpson, 10 vols. (1953–1962)
  • Essays in divinity, ed. E. M. Simpson (1952)
  • J. Donne, Devotions upon emergent occasions, ed. A. Raspa (1987)
  • The letters of John Chamberlain, ed. N. E. McClure, 2 vols. (1939)
  • D. Flynn, John Donne and the ancient Catholic nobility (1995)
  • J. Maule, ‘Donne and the words of the law’, John Donne's professional lives, ed. D. Colclough (2003), 19–36
  • P. Beal, ‘“It shall not therefore kill itself; that is, not bury itself”: Donne's Biathanatos and its text’, In praise of scribes (1998), 31–57
  • M. L. Brown, Donne and the politics of conscience in early modern England (1995)
  • P. Sellin, So doth, so is religion: John Donne and diplomatic contexts in the reformed Netherlands, 1619–1620 (1988)
  • J. R. Roberts, ed., John Donne: an annotated bibliography of modern criticism, 1912–1967 (1973)
  • J. R. Roberts, ed., John Donne: an annotated bibliography of modern criticism, 1968–1978 (1982)
  • W. Empson, Essays on Renaissance literature, vol. 1: Donne and the new philosophy (1993)


  • Folger, letters and papers
  • Middle Temple, London, MSS


  • oils, 1595, NPG
  • I. Oliver, miniature, 1616, Royal Collection [see illus.]
  • oils, 1620, St Paul's Cathedral, London, deanery; version, V&A
  • N. Stone, marble effigy, 1631, St Paul's Cathedral, London
  • W. Marshall, line engraving, pubd 1649, BM, NPG
  • M. Droeshout, line engraving (after N. Stone), BM; repro. in J. Donne, Deaths duell (1632), frontispiece
  • W. Hollar, etching (after N. Stone), BM; repro. in Dugdale, St Paul's (1658)
  • probably C. Janssen, oils (after portrait), St Paul's Cathedral
  • P. Lombart, engraving (after portrait), St Paul's Cathedral; repro. in Donne, Letters to severall persons of honour (1651)
  • P. Lombart, engraving (after portrait, 1620), BM, NPG; repro. in J. Donne, Letters to severall persons of honour (1654)
  • W. Marshall, engraving (after painting, 1591), repro. in J. Donne, Poems by J. D. With elegies on the author's death (1633), frontispiece
  • W. Marshall, engraving (after N. Stone), repro. in J. Donne, Devotions, 4th edn (1634)
  • W. Marshall, portrait (after N. Stone), repro. in J. Donne, Devotions, 5th edn (1638)
  • M. Merian junior, line engraving, BM, NPG; repro. in J. Donne, Sermons (1640)
  • oils (after I. Oliver), NPG

Wealth at Death

£3000–£4000: will, repr. in Bald, John Donne

Page of
Notes and Queries
Page of
British Museum, London
Page of
Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC
Page of
National Portrait Gallery, London