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ANON., The Critical Review, 1767

ANON., The Critical Review, 1767

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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

further entry.


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’:




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.



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.


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