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ANON., manuscript verses on Donne, ?1631
17. Joost van den Vondel
The Dutch poet Vondel (1587–1679) commented in verse on
Huygens’s translation of Donne’s poems into Dutch (see No.
14), indicating that he thought Donne greatly overrated (Die
Werken van Vondel, ed. J.F.M.Sterck and H.W.E.Moller,
Amsterdam, 1929, iii, p. 415). Here is a prose translation of
Vondel’s lines. ‘The Sheriff’ is P.C.Hooft, Sheriff of Muiden;
Tesselscha was the popular and talented daughter of RoemerVisscher; and ‘Mustard’ is Daniel Mostart. All three evidently
prized Donne’s poetry highly.
On the recondite epigrams of the English poet John Donne, translated by
The English poet Donne, that obscure sun, does not shine for
everyone’s eyes, Huygens has said, rightly—this language scholar
from the Hague, who relishes caviar, snuff and smoking, which clouds
the brain of the inexperienced. But this unusual fare is a feast for the
Sheriff, and our young friend, sweet Tesselscha. O dear nymph
Tesselscha, if you do not understand it, then make a guess at it or get
someone to explain it to you: for these are songs more exalted than
the Song of Songs of Solomon, which elude the shrewdest minds
except the most experienced of learned doctors. But why should my
judgement disapprove of what appeals to the taste of my piquant
friend, my Mustard, who can never have enough of such salads!
Now good people, eat your fill, adding vinegar and peppers; for I do
not covet these delicacies at all.
18. The first collected edition of
We do not know who edited Poems, By J.D. With Elegies on the
Authors Death, 1633. It may have been Donne’s friend, the poet
Henry King. Whoever it was, he brought together not only
Donne’s poems but a body of tributes to their author which
constitutes far and away the best evidence of what Donne’s
contemporaries valued in his writings. The items that follow are
all given in this edition.
(i) An unsigned address to the reader, presumably by the ‘M.F.’ who
is named on the title page as the printer of the edition for the publisher
John Marriot. ‘M.F.’ was probably Miles Fletcher, a well-known
printer of the day:
For this time I must speake only to you: at another, Readers may
perchance serve my turne; and I thinke this a way very free from
exception, in hope that very few will have a minde to confesse
If you looke for an Epistle, as you have before ordinary
publications, I am sory that I must deceive you; but you will not lay
it to my charge, when you shall consider that this is not ordinary, for
if I should say it were the best in this kinde, that ever this Kingdome
hath yet scene; he that would doubt of it must goe out of the Kingdome
to enforme himself, for the best judgments, within it, take it for
You may imagine (if it please you) that I could endeare it unto
you, by saying, that importunity drew it on; that had it not beene
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presented here, it would have come to us from beyond the Seas;
(which perhaps is true enough,) That my charge and paines in
procuring of it hath beene such, and such. I could adde hereto, a
promise of more correctness, or enlargement in the next Edition,
if you shall in the meane time content you with this. But these
things are so common, as that I should profane this Peece by
applying them to it; A Peece which who so takes not as he findes
it, in what manner soever, he is unworthy of it, sith a scattered
limbe of this Author, hath more amiablenesse in it, in the eye of a
discerner, then a whole body of some other; Or, (to expresse him
best by himselfe)
—A hand, or eye,
By Hilyard drawne, is worth a history
By a worse Painter made;—
If any man (thinking I speake this to enflame him for the vent of the
Impression) be of another opinion, I shall as willingly spare his money
as his judgement. I cannot lose so much by him as hee will by himselfe.
For I shall satisfie my selfe with the conscience of well doing, in
making so much good common.
Howsoever it may appeare to you, it shall suffice mee to enforme
you, that it hath the best warrant that can bee, publique authority,
and private friends.
There is one thing more wherein I will make you of my counsell,
and that is, That whereas it hath pleased some, who had studyed
and did admire him, to offer to the memory of the Author, not long
after his decease, I have thought I should do you service in presenting
them unto you now; onely whereas, had I placed them in the
beginning, they might have serv’d for so many Encomiums of the
Author (as is usuall in other workes, where perhaps there is need of
it, to prepare men to digest such stuffe as follows after,) you shall
here finde them in the end, for whosoever reades the rest so farre,
shall perceive that there is no occasion to use them to that purpose;
yet there they are, as an attestation for their sakes that knew not so
much before, to let them see how much honour was attributed to
this worthy man, by those that are capable to give it. Farewell.
(ii) A preliminary commendation by John Marston (?1575–1634),
the satiric poet and playwright who became an Anglican priest.
Marston’s work owes much to Donne:
I see in his last preach’d, and printed Booke,
His Picture in a sheet; in Pauls I looke,
And see his Statue in a sheete of stone,
And sure his body in the grave hath one:
Those sheetes present him dead, these if you buy,
You have him living to Eternity.
(iii) An anonymous commendation:
Hexastichon ad Bibliopolam.
In thy Impression of Donnes Poems rare,
For his Eternitie thou hast ta’ne care:
’Twas well, and pious; And for ever may
He live: Yet shew I thee a better way;
Print but his Sermons, and if those we buy,
He, We, and Thou shall live t’ Eternity.
(iv) The collection of funeral elegies on Donne which concludes the
1633 edition contains some notable criticism of his writings as well
as direct evidence of his reputation among other writers in his own
day. The first elegy is by Henry King (1592–1669), later Bishop of
Chichester, a considerable poet of small output who had been an
intimate friend in Donne’s last years. This elegy, with that by Edward
Hyde (No. 18 (iv) (c)), was originally published unsigned in 1632 as
an appendix to Donne’s sermon Deaths Duell:
ELEGIES UPON THE AUTHOR
TO THE MEMORIE OF
MY EVER DESIRED FRIEND
To have liv’d eminent, in a degree
Beyond our lofty’st flights, that is, like Thee,
Or t’ have had too much merit, is not safe;
For, such excesses finde no Epitaph.
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At common graves we have Poetique eyes
Can melt themselves in easie Elegies,
Each quill can drop his tributary verse,
And pin it, like the Hatchments, to the Hearse:
But at Thine, Poeme, or Inscription
(Rich soule of wit, and language) we have none.
Indeed a silence does that tombe befit,
Where is no Herald left to blazon it.
Widow’d invention justly doth forbeare
To come abroad, knowing Thou art not here,
Late her great Patron; Whose Prerogative
Maintain’d, and cloth’d her so, as none alive
Must now presume, to keepe her at thy rate,
Though he the Indies for her dowre estate.
Or else that awfull fire, which once did burne
In thy cleare Braine, now falne into thy Urne
Lives there, to fright rude Empiricks from thence,
Which might prophane thee by their Ignorance.
Who ever writes of Thee, and in a stile
Unworthy such a Theme, does but revile
Thy precious Dust, and wake a learned Spirit
Which may revenge his Rapes upon thy Merit.
For, all a low pitch’t phansie can devise,
Will prove, at best, but Hallow’d Injuries.
Thou, like the dying Swanne, didst lately sing
Thy Mournfull Dirge, in audience of the King;
When pale lookes, and faint accents of thy breath,
Presented so, to life, that peece of death,
That it was fear’d, and prophesi’d by all,
Thou thither cam’st to preach thy Funerall.
O! had’st Thou in an Elegiacke Knell
Rung out unto the world thine owne farewell,
And in thy High Victorious Numbers beate
The solemne measure of thy griev’d Retreat;
Thou might’st the Poets Service now have mist
As well, as then thou did’st prevent the Priest;
And never to the world beholding bee
So much, as for an Epitaph for thee.
I doe not like the office. Nor is ’t fit
Thou, who did’st lend our Age such summes of wit,
Should’st now re-borrow from her bankrupt Mine,
That Ore to Bury Thee, which once was Thine,
Rather still leave us in thy debt; And know
(Exalted Soule) more glory ’t is to owe
Unto thy Hearse, what we can never pay,
Then, with embased Coine those Rites defray.
Commit we then Thee to Thy selfe: Nor blame
Our drooping loves, which thus to thy owne Fame
Leave Thee Executour. Since, but thine owne,
No pen could doe Thee Justice, nor Bayes Crowne
Thy vast desert; Save that, wee nothing can
Depute, to be thy Ashes Guardian.
So Jewellers no Art, or Metall trust
To forme the Diamond, but the Diamonds dust.
(b) Probably by Sir Thomas Browne (1605–82), the physician and
writer; though Browne was at this time a young medical student
who had published nothing of note, and was unknighted. These lines
do not appear in subsequent editions of Donne’s poems:
To the deceased Author,
Upon the Promiscuous printing of his Poems, the
Looser sort, with the Religious.
When thy Loose raptures, Donne, shall meet with Those
That doe confine
Tuning, unto the Duller line,
And sing not, but in Sanctified Prose;
How will they, with sharper eyes,
The Fore-skinne of thy phansie circumcise?
And feare, thy wantonnesse should now, begin
Example, that hath ceased to be Sin?
And that Feare fannes their Heat; whilst knowing eyes
Will not admire
At this Strange Fire,
That here is mingled with thy Sacrifice:
But dare reade even thy Wanton Story,
As thy Confession, not thy Glory.
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And will so envie Both to future times,
That they would buy thy Goodnesse, with thy Crimes.
(c) Probably by Edward Hyde (1607–59), Anglican divine and
theologian; though the future Earl of Clarendon (1609–74) has been
On the death of Dr DONNE.
I cannot blame those men, that knew thee well,
Yet dare not helpe the world, to ring thy knell
In tunefull Elegies; there’s not language knowne
Fit for thy mention, but ’twas first thy owne;
The Epitaphs thou writst, have so bereft
Our tongue of wit, there is not phansie left
Enough to weepe thee; what henceforth we see
Of Art or Nature, must result from thee.
There may perchance some busie gathering friend
Steale from thy owne workes, and that, varied, lend,
Which thou bestow’st on others, to thy Hearse,
And so thou shalt live still in thine owne verse;
Hee that shall venture farther, may commit
A pitied errour, shew his zeale, not wit.
Fate hath done mankinde wrong; vertue may aime
Reward of conscience, never can, of fame,
Since her great trumpet’s broke, could onely give
Faith to the world, command it to beleeve;
Hee then must write, that would define thy parts:
Here lyes the best Divinitie, All the Arts.
(d) By Dr Richard Corbet (1582–1635), Bishop of Oxford and
Norwich. Corbet wrote verses and is the author of the well-known
poem ‘Farewell, rewards and fairies’:
On Doctor Donne,
By D’ C.B. of O.
He that would write an Epitaph for thee,
And do it well, must first beginne to be
Such as thou wert; for, none can truly know
Thy worth, thy life, but he that hath liv’d so;
He must have wit to spare and to hurle downe:
Enough, to keepe the gallants of the towne.
He must have learning plenty; both the Lawes,
Civill, and Common, to judge any cause;
Divinity great store, above the rest;
Not of the last Edition, but the best.
He must have language, travaile, all the Arts;
Judgement to use; or else he wants thy parts.
He must have friends the highest, able to do;
Such as Mecœnas, and Augustus too.
He must have such a sicknesse, such a death;
Or else his vaine descriptions come beneath;
Who then shall write an Epitaph for thee,
He must be dead first, let’it alone for mee.
(e) By Henry Valentine (fl. 1600–50), Rector of Deptford and later
D.D. of the University of Oxford. These are extracts from his long
elegy on Donne:
An Elegie upon the incomparable
All is not well when such a one as I
Dare peepe abroad, and write an Elegie;
When smaller Starres appeare, and give their light,
Phœbus is gone to bed: Were it not night,
And the world witlesse now that DONNE is dead,
You sooner should have broke, then seene my head.
Dead did I say? Forgive this Injury
I doe him, and his worthes Infinity,
To say he is but dead; I dare averre
It better may be term’d a Massacre,
Then Sleepe or Death; See how the Muses mourne
Upon their oaten Reeds, and from his Vrne
Threaten the World with this Calamity,
They shall have Ballads, but no Poetry.
Language lyes speechlesse; and Divinity,
Lost such a Trump as even to Extasie
Could charme the Soule, and had an Influence
To teach best judgements, and please dullest Sense,
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The Court, the Church, the Vniversitie,
Lost Chaplaine, Deane, and Doctor, All these, Three.
It was his Merit, that his Funerall
Could cause a losse so great and generall….
Me thinkes, Corruption, Wormes, what else is foule
Should spare the Temple of so faire a Soule.
I could beleeve they doe; but that I know
What inconvenience might hereafter grow:
Succeeding ages would Idolatrize,
And as his Numbers, so his Reliques prize.
If that Philosopher, which did avow
The world to be but Motes, was living now:
He would affirme that th’ Atomes of his mould
Were they in severall bodies blended, would
Produce new worlds of Travellers, Divines,
Of Linguists, Poets: sith these severall lines
In him concentred were, and flowing thence
Might fill againe the worlds Circumference….
Let this suffice thee, that his Soule which flew
A pitch of all admir’d, known but of few,
(Save those of purer mould) is now translated
From Earth to Heaven, and there Constellated.
For, if each Priest of God shine as a Starre,
His Glory is as his Gifts, ’bove others farre.
(f) By Izaac Walton (1593–1683), Donne’s friend and biographer,
who later wrote The Compleat Angler and the lives of some celebrated
contemporary poets and writers. Walton revised his elegy many times
and in 1658 transferred it to his Life of Donne where he continued
to revise it in the successive republications of that work (see No. 27
(i)). Thus in all the seventeenth-century editions of Donne’s poems
after 1633 the elegy closes with four additional lines which refer to
Donne’s ‘matchlesse worth’. In the 1658 edition of the Life of Donne,
and subsequently, the poem opens with these lines:
Our Donne is dead: and we may sighing say,
We had that man where language chose to stay
And shew her utmost power. I would not praise
That, and his great Wit, which in our vaine dayes
Makes others proud; but as these serv’d to unlocke
That Cabinet, his mind, where such a stock
Of knowledge was repos’d, that I lament
Our just and generall cause of discontent.
Most interesting of all, the reference in the 1633 version to Donne’s
youth scattering poetry ‘wherein/ Was All Philosophie’ becomes in
the final form of the poem ‘wherein/Lay Loves Philosophy’. The
following are extracts from the version of the elegy given in 1633:
An Elegie upon Dr Donne.
Is Donne, great Donne deceas’d? then England
say Thou ’hast lost a man where language chose to stay
And shew it’s gracefull power. I would not praise
That and his vast wit (which in these vaine dayes
Make many proud) but as they serv’d to unlock
That Cabinet, his minde: where such a stock
Of knowledge was repos’d, as all lament
(Or should) this generall cause of discontent….
Dull age, Oh I would spare thee, but th’art worse,
Thou art not onely dull, but hast a curse
Of black ingratitude; if not, couldst thou
Part with miraculous Donne, and make no vow
For thee and thine, successively to pay
A sad remembrance to his dying day?
Did his youth scatter Poetrie, wherein
Was all Philosophie? Was every sinne,
Character’d in his Satyres? made so foule
That some have fear’d their shapes, and kept their soule
Freer by reading verse? Did he give dayes
Past marble monuments, to those, whose praise
He would perpetuate? Did hee (I feare
The dull will doubt:) these at his twentieth yeare?
But, more matur’d: Did his full soule conceive,
And in harmonious-holy-numbers weave
A Crowne of sacred sonets, fit to adorne La Corona.
A dying Martyrs brow: or, to be worne
On that blest head of Mary Magdalen:
After she wip’d Christs feet, but not till then?…
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Did hee (fit for such penitents as shee
And hee to use) leave us a Litany?
Which all devout men love, and sure, it shall,
As times grow better, grow more classicall.
Did he write Hymnes, for piety and wit
Equall to those great grave Prudentius writ?
Spake he all Languages? knew he all Lawes?
The grounds and use of Physicke; but because
’Twas mercenary wav’d it? Went to see
That blessed place of Christs nativity?
Did he returne and preach him? preach him so
As none but hee did, or could do? They know
(Such as were blest to heare him know) ’tis truth.
Did he confirme thy age? convert thy youth?
Did he these wonders? And is this deare losse
Mourn’d by so few? (few for so great a crosse.)
(g) By Thomas Carew (?1598-?1639), the poet and courtier, who was
at this time sewer-in-ordinary to King Charles. Carew’s elegy contains
some of the most memorable things ever said about Donne’s poetry:
An Elegie upon the death of the
Deane of Pauls, Dr. Iohn Donne:
By Mr. Tho: Carie.
Can we not force from widdowed Poetry,
Now thou art dead (Great DONNE) one Elegie
To crowne thy Hearse? Why yet dare we not trust
Though with unkneaded dowe-bak’t prose thy dust,
Such as the uncisor’d Churchman from the flower
Of fading Rhetorique, short liv’d as his houre,
Dry as the sand that measures it, should lay
Upon thy Ashes, on the funerall day?
Have we no voice, no tune? Did’st thou dispense
Through all our language, both the words and sense?
’Tis a sad truth; The Pulpit may her plaine,
And sober Christian precepts still retaine,
Doctrines it may, and wholesome Uses frame,
Grave Homilies, and Lectures, But the flame
Of thy brave Soule, that shot such heat and light,
As burnt our earth, and made our darknesse bright,
Committed holy Rapes upon our Will,