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ANON., The Critical Review, 1767
96. James Granger
Granger (1723–76), Vicar of Shiplake, was a biographer and
print collector. He gave an account of Donne in A Biographical
History of England, from Egbert the Great to the Revolution,
1769, i, pp. 186–7, 246, 288. There are separate entries for Donne
as poet and as divine, and the Lothian portrait is described in a
John Donne, styled by Mr Dryden ‘the greatest wit, though not the
greatest poet, of our nation,’ wrote on various subjects; but his greatest
excellency was satire. He had a prodigious richness of fancy; but his
thoughts were much debased by his versification…. [He says
Drummond told Ben Jonson that Donne wrote his best pieces before
he was twenty-five; and he quotes John Brown’s Essay on Satire—
‘’Twas then plain DONNE in honest vengeance rose’, etc. (see No.
[Speaking of Donne as a divine] We hear much of him as a poet, but
very little as a divine, though in the latter character he had great
97. Richard Hurd
Hurd (1720–1808) was Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry 1774–
8 and Bishop of Worcester 1781–1808. He edited classical texts,
engaged in theological controversy, and wrote on moral and
literary matters; his Letters on Chivalry and Romance, 1762,
contributed powerfully to the revival of interest in ‘Gothic’
writings. He illustrated his commentary upon Horace from the
English poets, several times referring to Donne (Horatius Flaccus,
1776, pp. 42–3, 97–8, 191–2). He spoke of Donne again in his
Select Works of Mr A.Cowley, 1772, ii, p. 117.
(i) From the ‘Notes on the Art of Poetry’:
25–28. BREVIS ESSE LABORO, OBSCURUS FIO: SECTANTEM
LENIA NBRVI DEFICIUNT ANIMIQUE: PROFESSUS GRANDIA
TURGET: SERPIT HUMI TUTUS NIMIUM TIMIDUSQUE
PROCELLAE.]1 If these characters were to be exemplified in our
own poets, of reputation, the first, I suppose, might be justly applied
to Donne; the second, to Parnell; the third, to Thomson; and the
fourth, to Addison.
(ii) From ‘A Discourse on Poetical Imitation’:
The mutual habitudes and relations (at least what the mind is capable
of regarding as such), subsisting between those innumerable objects
of thought and sense, which make up the entire natural and intellectual
world, are indeed infinite; and if the poet be allowed to associate and
bring together all those ideas, wherein the ingenuity of the mind can
perceive any remote sign or glimpse of resemblance, it were truly
wonderful, that, in any number of images and allusions, there should
be found a close conformity of them with those of any other writer.
‘Striving to be brief I become obscure; aiming to be smooth I lack sinew and
life. The poet who professes grandeur is turgid; and the man who is too fearful of the
storm creeps safe along the ground.’ Horace, Ars Poetica, lines 25–8.
THE CRITICAL HERITAGE
But this is far from being the case. For…the more august poetry disclaims,
as unsuited to its state and dignity, that inquisitive and anxious diligence,
which pries into Nature’s retirements, and searches through all her secret
and hidden haunts, to detect a forbidden commerce, and expose to light
some strange unexpected conjunction of ideas. This quaint combination
of remote, unallied imagery, constitutes a species of entertainment, which,
for its novelty, may amuse and divert the mind in other compositions;
but is wholly inconsistent with the reserve and solemnity of the graver
forms. There is too much curiosity of art, too sollicitous an affectation
of pleasing, in these ingenious exercises of the fancy, to suit with the
simple majesty of the epos or drama; which disclaims to cast about for
forced and tortured allusions, and aims only to expose, in the fairest
light, such as are most obvious and natural. And here, by the way, it
may be worth observing, in honour of a great Poet of the last century, I
mean Dr. DONNE, that though agreeably to the turn of his genius, and
taste of his age, he was fonder, than ever poet was, of these secret and
hidden ways in his lesser poetry; yet when he had projected his great
work ‘On the progress of the Soul’ (of which we have only the beginning),
his good sense brought him out into the freer spaces of nature and open
(iii) From ‘On the Marks of Imitation’:
You see with what a suspicious eye, we, who aspire to the name of
critics, examine your writings. But every poet will not endure to be
scrutinized so narrowly.
1. B. Jonson, in his Prologue to the Sad Shepherd, is opening the
subject of that poem. The sadness of his shepherd is
For his lost Love, who in the TRENT is said
To have miscarried! ’las! what knows the head
Of a calm river, whom the feet have drown’d!
The reflexion in this place is unnecessary and even impertinent. Who
besides ever heard of the feet of a river? Of arms we have. And so it
stood in Jonson’s original.
Greatest and fairest Empress, know you this?
Alas! no more than Thames’ calm head doth know
Whose meads his arms drown, or whose corn o’erflow.
The poet is speaking of the corruption of the courts of justice, and
the allusion is perfectly fine and natural. Jonson was tempted to
bring it into his prologue by the mere beauty of the sentiment. He
had a river at his disposal, and would not let slip the opportunity.
But his unnatural use of it detects his ‘imitation.’
(iv) Hurd’s editorial note on Cowley’s ‘Ode upon Liberty’, line 122:
Or to the sweetness of the sound, or greatness of the sense] Intimating,
that these two things cannot, or should not, be united in poetry. It is
certain, that Donne and Jonson (Cowley’s great models) seemed to
think so, who, when they had a better thing than ordinary to say,
were sure to say it in the roughest and harshest metre.
98. William Dodd
Dodd (1729–77), clergyman, writer, forger, had in his library ‘1
vol. Donne’s Poems (Duodecimo)’, listed so without further
specification in the catalogue of the sale of the library, 13–16
March 1777. (See Sale Catalogues of Libraries of Eminent
Persons, v, ed. S.Parks, 1972, p. 377.)
99. Anon., The Encyclopaedia Britannica
Donne gets an entry in the second edition of The Encyclopaedia
Britannica; Or, A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, &c, 1779, iv, pp.
2515b-16a. The writer shows no acquaintance with Donne’s work
and takes part of his account straight from Granger’s Biographical
History (see No. 96).
DONNE (Dr John), an excellent poet and divine of the
seventeenth century. [There follows a brief life, with a list of
writings.]… His writings shew him to be a man of incomparable
wit and learning; but his greatest excellence was satire. He had
a prodigious richness of fancy, but his thoughts were much
debased by his versification. He was, however, highly celebrated
by all the great men of that age.
100. John Bell
The publisher John Bell (1745–1831) brought out at Edinburgh
an edition of The Poetical Works of Dr John Donne in three
small volumes as nos 23–5 of a collection of Poets of Great
Britain. Before the poems Bell printed Walton’s Life of Donne
(abridged but not, as in the 1719 edition, rewritten), the younger
John Donne’s address to Lord Craven, Ben Jonson’s epigrams to
Donne, and all the funeral elegies on Donne.
The text of the poems is that of the 1719 edition, but the several
groups of poems are given in a new and quite arbitrary order.
101. Anon., The Monthly Review
An anonymous reviewer of Johnson’s The Works of the English
Poets (the Prefaces to which were in fact the Lives of the English
Poets) quoted the first seven lines of Donne’s Elegie viii, ‘The
Comparison’, to confirm Johnson’s account of ‘metaphysical’
poetry in the Life of Cowley (The Monthly Review, lxi, JulyDecember 1779, p. 4). The reviewer remarks: ‘It is a most curious
specimen of metaphysical gallantry.’ He goes on to endorse
Johnson’s comment that whatever is improper or vicious in such
examples is produced by a voluntary deviation from nature in
pursuit of something new and strange.