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their dishes with ambergris and scents. They regarded allusions to physiological and medical details as by no means inappropriate to mysteries of Faith. Many modern critics and students have so steeped themselves in the most brilliant of English literary eras as to find nothing distasteful in its ugly accidents of social usage. The rest of us may have been a little spoilt by the magnificent cleanliness of one transcendent writer of the period. We are tempted to forget that Epithalamia and the like did not shock Shakespeare's own admirers. But we have to do with facts ; and the fact is that the ordinary lover of poetry wants to be free to dip into a volume without having to allow for rudenesses of diction or sentiment in consideration of its date. It is nothing to him as he reads, or lets read, that the singer in his hot youth, at the time he sang, was a professed wit, or preying upon the Spaniard. He does not care to pick his way through mud on the chance of happening, like a barn-door fowl of superior discernment, upon a precious stone in the midden. A habit consequently has grown up of ceasing popularly to reckon Donne as more than a contributor to selections, while, without recognizing the source, we use many of his lines and phrases as elements of the English language.
I have expressed my sorrow for the common neglect, and have endeavoured to trace the cause. The attempt and the result aggravate the regret, and for the poet as well as his work. The more I consider the excellence of that and its blemishes, the harder it remains to comprehend how the same fancy should have vented such grossness with such ethereal conceptions ; how an offensive classical allusion should have been allowed to jar and mar the transfiguration declared in noble language to be wrought at Ordination by the laying-on of hands ; how the same
potent fancy should have employed itself, at one moment, on epistolary communications to noble English women full of lofty beauty and piety, and, at another, on letters from Sappho suggestive of all the reverse. It may readily be believed that the various obnoxious verses had been loosely scattered in their author's youth'; that in his penitential years he wished his own eyes had witnessed their funerals ’14 Still the problem is unsolved, how they could ever have been born of him. Still posterity, which might have pardoned obscurity, but insists that literature for its daily food shall be wholesomely pure, has to share the penalty with him for licence which has lost it, in the mire, not a few heavenly anthems!
John Donne-Poems, ed. E. K. Chambers. Two vols. Lawrence & Bullen, 1896. (Also, John Donne—Poems, complete, ed. A. B. Grosart. Two vols. Fuller Worthies’ Library, 1872.)
1 The Primrose, At Montgomery Castle, vv. 8-20.
5 The Dream (Songs and Sonnets). 6 Holy Sonnets, x (Divine Poems).
? An Anatomy of the World-On the Progress of the Soul—The Second Anniversary, vv. 93–112.
8 Ibid., vv. 244-6. • An Anatomy of the World—The First Anniversary, vv. 427-8. 10 An Anatomy of the World—The Progress of the Soul—The Second Anniversary, vv. 523-8. 11 The Progress of the Soul, Song vi, vv. 53-7. 12 Satire III, vv. 21-42.
13 Ibid. 77-84. 14 Isaak Walton. Life of Dr. John Donne, p. 35. Oxford, 1824.
The model, the exemplar, the prince, of sacred poets. Not equal to one of his immediate successors in mystic piety, to another in enthusiasm ; but knowing best what he wanted, and able to execute whatever he felt needed and ought to be accomplished by his pen. Made to lead, not follow. Sidney's peer in rank, force of brain, warmth of heart, sense of national duty, courtly fascination, romance. Endowed with a fancy as vivid as Sir Philip's for singing in ladies' bowers of a mistress's curls, enchanted groves, and purling streams refreshing a lover's wooing. Diverted thence by a more powerful strain in his nature, chivalrous after another sort, which enlisted him as the sworn soldier of his Church.
Had he remained a courtier, his own age and posterity would have lost The Temple in exchange for many dexterous songs, if only on a scarf or glove', on 'fictions and false hair'. He must have sung, whatever the subject. His nature, the bent of the period, and of the society to which he had belonged, being what they were, he hymned a Heavenly, very much as otherwise he would have extolled an earthly, love. Unconsciously he spun his lines :
Catching the sense at two removes. The prevailing taste was to treat a topic for verse as the scientific chemist treats a substance he is compelling to reveal all its capabilities. Herbert is not a whit behind Sidney in the almost cruel skill and patience with which he dissects the subject of his adoration. Read, in proof,
The Reprisal, Easter Wings, The Sinner, Conscience, The Anagram, the last three lines of The Dawning, Affliction, Jesu, Love Unknown, Paradise, The Bag, Praise, Grief, The Source, The Odour, The Forerunners, The Rose. And these are but specimens !
They exhibit the extravagance, often the coarseness , which he stigmatizes as deforming contemporary loveditties. In them the adorable simplicity of Gospel truths, the pure awe of Christian mysteries, are grotesquely travestied. He seems to think it enough that imagery is eccentric for it to be beautiful. He attests the sincerity of service to Heaven by the racking of fancy. Even the passion with which doubtless he started has, long before the climax, spent all motive force in its passage round the sharp curves of wit. If they stood alone, and we were unacquainted with Herbert's holy life and character, we might have been tempted to think the author something perhaps of a selfdeceiver, and certainly little of a poet. Happily the faults are fashion's rather than his. A true soul shines out from the excrescences of style, and, what mainly concerns us here, an inspired singer.
Not all his artifices, fireworks of wit, themselves are to be condemned. In their season, and kept within due bounds, they add piquancy and point to pregnant thought. I could not wish away the surprise that the dead Christ should have found no warm heart to sojourn in :
O blessed bodie! Whither art thou thrown ?
Receive thee ? 1
A grand idea animates the enigma :
Ah, my deare God! though I am clean forgot,
It is a touching appeal of dumb creation to Man to worship the Creator that he alone owns, on behalf of all, the voice, pen, and knowledge, being the appointed 'Secretary of God's praise. We feel the pathetic sweet reality in the unreality of a literal acceptance of the entreaty not to 'grieve the Holy Spirit': And art thou grieved, sweet and sacred Dove,
When I am sowre,
And crosse thy love ?
Griev'd for a worm ? 4
The conceit, again, that Man's Maker, like a fairy godmother, after forming him, proceeded to pour from a glass upon his head all earthly gifts but ‘rest ', in order that, if not goodness, weariness might toss him to his Father's breast," is of an ingenuity indistinguishable from, and as winning as, simplicity.
He has told how, when he began to sing of celestial joys, he feared he could never be at pains sufficient to deck the lustrous sense. He sought out quaint words, trim invention, curling metaphors, blotting often that he had written, till he heard a whisper :
There is in love a sweetnesse readie penn'd.6 Had he foreseen, and cared to gratify, the curiosity of posterity, by arranging his poems in order of date, he would have enabled us to judge how far they comply with the counsel. As it is, they manifestly differ in the degree of obscuration of a plain intention '. Though all are liable to occasional contortions of fancy, these frequently divert rather than offend. Thus, we recognize the seventeenth century, not its eccentricities, in the point of view of primaeval purity, when,