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Of his dull life; then when there hath been thrown
How, above all, could it spare the reverie in Westminster
Mortality, behold, and fear,
Though gods they were, as men they died ;'
It is one of the many strange transformation scenes in poetical history. Suddenly, as we weary over a painful elegy on Lady Rutland, or fret at the petty whimsicalities of an amour with a dead mistress in her grass-green mantle of the grave, a veil seems to have been withdrawn, and the true man to appear—a fit companion for John Fletcher !
The Works of Beaumont and Fletcher, ed. George Darley. Two vols. E. Moxon, 1840.
1 The Faithful Shepherdess, Act v, Sc. 5.
? Ibid., Act iv, Sc. 2. $ Ibid., Act I, Sc. 2.
• The Mad Lover: Act v, Sc. 1. 10 The Loyal Subject, Act iii, Sc. 5. 11 The Beggar's Bush, Act ii, Sc. 1. 12 The Lovers' Progress, Act iii, Sc. 5. 13 The Elder Brother, Act iii, Sc. 5. 14 The Bloody Brother, Act iv, Sc. 2. 15 The Captain, Act ii, Sc. 2. 16 An Elegy on the Death of the Countess of Rutland. 17 Mr. Francis Beaumont's Letter to Ben Jonson, vol. ii, p. 710. 18 On the Tombs in Westminster Abbey.
DR. JOHN DONNE
A STRANGE career, a strange nature! Heir to a saving London merchant. Brought up a Roman Catholic. Comrade of Essex and Ralegh in the famous dare-devil raid upon Cadiz, and in the less fortunate Islands Voyage. Beloved of stately, charming Countesses, and other ladies many, with more of charm and less of stateliness. Shining at Courts foreign and English. Revelling at taverns with Ben Jonson and the players, as wild a wit as the wildest. A born rebel against convention, and its slave. According to Izaak Walton, by the time he was twenty, to Jonson, by twenty-five, in the front rank of poets, admirable alike for skill and for audacity. Baring his heart in its nakedness, which was ‘le tout ’, by voice and pen to earn his circle's applause. Never, during his singing season, condescending to print, which would have brought the public renown he despised. Scattering among love ditties insolently amorous, angelic hymns, not rarely unangelically besmirched. Then suddenly—priest, preacher, theologian, dignitary, moralist, faithful husband, -a theme, cheek by jowl with meek, profound Hooker, courtly and saintly Herbert, decorous, dexterous, and diplomatic Wotton, for the seventeenth-century chastened Boswell ; his Muse sulky, because forbidden to be proterva, productive of none but an occasional, perhaps apocryphal, psalm ; yet, it may be, hard tasked at times to scowl down a protesting sigh after the naughty praedecanal nights, when there were cakes and ale and aching brows, rioting, remorse, and rioting again!
The verse of his youth is a complete armoury of whatever can be said in flattery of women, and of most that can be imagined against them. The compliments he pays them are always double-edged :
I walk to find a true love : and I see
Yet know I not which flower
I wish ; a six or four;
All thought of sex, and think to move
My heart to study her, and not to love.
By preference he is frankly abusive :
If thou be'est born to strange sights,
Things invisible go see,
Till Age snow white hairs on thee;
In his rage against a coquette who has induced Love to implant himself with all her barbed lures and deceits in his heart, he threatens the god and her that, after executing a misanthropic will by which he gives, among other generous bequests of nothings,
My best civility,
he will, vindictively, even perish :
Thou, Love, taught'st me by making me
To invent and practise this one way, to annihilate all three ! 3 Conjugal affection itself with him has more passion than respect in it :
Stay O sweet, and do not rise ;
Stay, or else my joys will die,
And perish in their infancy.4 Ingenuity is his forte ; and in that he is transcendent. Try to unravel the web, for instance, of The Primrose, The Bracelet-Ben Jonson's favourite—with its alternate curses and blessings upon the thief of the jewel, according as, child of Hell or 'honest man ’, he kept or restored itand think how little Mrs. Donne, and other objects of the poems—perhaps, for the most part, fortunately—understood of them. His fancy coils and uncoils, as if it were a serpent, progressing all the time. Its point of honour is to say nothing as it had ever been said before; to be brilliant, almost idolatrous ; everything which a lover can be, except sweet and gentle.
Yet, within the limits, what mastery! Readers must allow for a harshness of phraseology, which Donne seems to have cultivated, and for a rhythm which, though possessing a harmony of its own, is as uncouth. Subject to