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Izaak Walton (1593–1683). The Lives of John Donne and George Herbert.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Paras. 1–49

The Life of Dr. Donne

MASTER JOHN DONNE was born in London, in the year 1573, of good and virtuous parents; and, though his own learning and other multiplied merits may justly appear sufficient to dignify both himself and his posterity, yet the reader may be pleased to know that his father was masculinely and lineally descended from a very ancient family in Wales, where many of his name now live, that deserve, and have great reputation in that country.

By his mother he was descended of the family of the famous and learned Sir Thomas More, sometime Lord Chancellor of England: as also, from that worthy and laborious judge Rastall, who left posterity the vast statutes of the law of this nation most exactly abridged.

He had his first breeding in his father’s house, where a private tutor had the care of him, until the tenth year of his age; and, in his eleventh year, was sent to the University of Oxford; having at that time a good command both of the French and Latin tongue. This, and some other of his remarkable abilities, made one then give this censure of him: That this age had brought forth another Picus Mirandola; of whom story says that he was rather born than made wise by study.

There he remained for some years in Hart Hall, having for the advancement of his studies, tutors of several sciences to attend and instruct him, till time made him capable, and his learning expressed in public exercises declared him worthy, to receive his first degree in the schools, which he forbore by advice from his friends, who, being for their religion of the Romish persuasion, were conscionably averse to some parts of the oath that is always tendered at those times, and not to be refused by those that expect the titulary honour of their studies.

About the fourteenth year of his age he was transplanted from Oxford to Cambridge, where, that he might receive nourishment from both soils, he stayed till his seventeenth year; all which time he was a most laborious student, often changing his studies, but endeavouring to take no degree, for the reasons formerly mentioned.

About the seventeenth year of his age he was removed to London, and then admitted into Lincoln’s Inn, with an intent to study the law; where he gave great testimonies of his wit, his learning, and of his improvement in that profession; which never served him for other use than an ornament and self—satisfaction.

His father died before his admission into this society, and, being a merchant, left him his portion in money. (It was £3000.) His mother, and those to whose care he was committed, were watchful to improve his knowledge, and to that end appointed him tutors, both in the mathematics and in all the other liberal sciences, to attend him. But with these arts they were advised to instil into him particular principles of the Romish Church, of which those tutors professed, though secretly, themselves to be members.

They had almost obliged him to their faith; having for their advantage, besides many opportunities, the example of his dear and pious parents, which was a most powerful persuasion, and did work much upon him, as he professeth in his Preface to his Pseudo-Martyr, a book of which the reader shall have some account in what follows.

He was now entered into the eighteenth year of his age, and at that time had betrothed himself to no religion that might give him any other denomination than a Christian. And reason and piety had both persuaded him that there could be no such sin as schism, if an adherence to some visible church were not necessary.

About the nineteenth year of his age, he, being then unresolved what religion to adhere to, and considering how much it concerned his soul to choose the most orthodox, did therefore,—though his youth and health promised him a long life,—to rectify all scruples that might concern that, presently laid aside all study of the law, and of all other sciences that might give him a denomination; and began seriously to survey and consider the body of divinity, as it was then controverted betwixt the reformed and the Roman Church. And as God’s blessed Spirit did then awaken him to the search, and in that industry did never forsake him,—they be his own words,—so he calls the same Holy Spirit to witness this protestation; that in that disquisition and search he proceeded with humility and diffidence in himself, and by that which he took to be the safest way, namely, frequent prayers, and an indifferent affection to both parties; and indeed, truth had too much light about her to be hid from so sharp an inquirer; and he had too much ingenuity not to acknowledge he had found her.

Being to undertake this search, he believed the Cardinal Bellarmine to be the best defender of the Roman cause, and therefore betook himself to the examination of his reasons. The cause was weighty, and wilful delays had been inexcusable both towards God and his own conscience: he therefore proceeded in this search with all moderate haste, and about the twentieth year of his age did show the then Dean of Gloucester—whose name my memory hath now lost—all the Cardinal’s works marked with many weighty observations under his own hand; which works were bequeathed by him, at his death, as a legacy to a most dear friend.

About a year following he resolved to travel; and the Earl of Essex going first to Cales, and after the island voyages, the first anno 1596, the second 1597, he took the advantage of those opportunities, waited upon his lordship, and was an eye-witness of those happy and unhappy employments.

But he returned not back into England till he had stayed some years, first in Italy, and then in Spain, where he made many useful observations of those countries, their laws and manner of government, and returned perfect in their languages.

The time that he spent in Spain was, at his first going into Italy, designed for travelling to the Holy Land, and for viewing Jerusalem and the sepulchre of our Saviour. But at his being in the farthest parts of Italy, the disappointment of company, or of a safe convoy, or the uncertainty of returns of money into those remote parts, denied him that happiness, which he did often occasionally mention with a deploration.

Not long after his return into England, that exemplary pattern of gravity and wisdom, the Lord Ellesmere, then Keeper of the Great Seal, the Lord Chancellor of England, taking notice of his learning, languages, and other abilities, and much affecting his person and behaviour, took him to be his chief secretary; supposing and intending it to be an introduction to some more weighty employment in the State; for which, his Lordship did often protest, he thought him very fit.

Nor did his Lordship in this time of Master Donne’s attendance upon him, account him to be so much his servant, as to forget he was his friend; and, to testify it, did always use him with much courtesy, appointing him a place at his own table, to which he esteemed his company and discourse to be a great ornament.

He continued that employment for the space of five years, being daily useful, and not mercenary to his friend. During which time, he—I dare not say unhappily—fell into such a liking, as—with her approbation—increased into a love, with a young gentlewoman that lived in that family, who was niece to the Lady Ellesmere, and daughter to Sir George More, then Chancellor of the Garter and Lieutenant of the Tower.

Sir George had some intimation of it, and, knowing prevention to be a great part of wisdom, did therefore remove her with much haste from that to his own house at Lothesley, in the County of Surrey; but too late, by reason of some faithful promises which were so interchangeably passed, as never to be violated by either party.

These promises were only known to themselves; and the friends of both parties used much diligence, and many arguments, to kill or cool their affections to each other: but in vain; for love is a flattering mischief, that hath denied aged and wise men a foresight of those evils that too often prove to be the children of that blind father; a passion, that carries us to commit errors with as much ease as whirlwinds move feathers, and begets in us an unwearied industry to the attainment of what we desire. And such an industry did, notwithstanding much watchfulness against it, bring them secretly together,—I forbear to tell the manner how,—and at last to a marriage too, without the allowance of those friends, whose approbation always was, and ever will be necessary, to make even a virtuous love become lawful.

And, that the knowledge of their marriage might not fall, like an unexpected tempest, on those that were unwilling to have it so; and that pre-apprehensions might make it the less enormous when it was known, it was purposely whispered into the ears of many that it was so, yet by none that could affirm it. But, to put a period to the jealousies of Sir George,—doubt often begetting more restless thoughts than the certain knowledge of what we fear,—the news was, in favour to Mr. Donne, and with his allowance, made known to Sir George by his honourable friend and neighbour, Henry, Earl of Northumberland; but it was to Sir George so immeasurably unwelcome, and so transported him, that, as though his passion of anger and inconsideration might exceed theirs of love and error, he presently engaged his sister, the Lady Ellesmere, to join with him to procure her lord to discharge Mr. Donne of the place he held under his Lordship. This request was followed with violence; and though Sir George was remembered that errors might be overpunished, and desired therefore to forbear till second considerations might clear some scruples, yet he became restless until his suit was granted, and the punishment executed. And though the Lord Chancellor did not, at Mr. Donne’s dismission, give him such a commendation as the great Emperor Charles the Fifth did of his Secretary Eraso, when he parted with him to his son and successor, Philip the Second, saying, “That in his Eraso, he gave to him a greater gift than all his estate, and all the kingdoms which he then resigned to him;” yet the Lord Chancellor said, “He parted with a friend, and such a secretary as was fitter to serve a king than a subject.”

Immediately after his dismission from his service he sent a sad letter to his wife, to acquaint her with it; and after the subscription of his name, writ,

  • John Donne, Anne Donne, Un-done;
  • And God knows it proved too true; for this bitter physic of Mr. Donne’s dismission was not enough to purge out all Sir George’s choler; for he was not satisfied till Mr. Donne and his sometime com-pupil in Cambridge, that married him, namely, Samuel Brooke, who was after Doctor in Divinity and Master of Trinity College, and his brother, Mr. Christopher Brooke, sometime Mr. Donne’s chamber-fellow in Lincoln’s Inn, who gave Mr. Donne his wife, and witnessed the marriage, were all committed to three several prisons.

    Mr. Donne was first enlarged, who neither gave rest to his body or brain, nor to any friend in whom he might hope to have an interest, until he had procured an enlargement for his two imprisoned friends.

    He was now at liberty, but his days were still cloudy: and being past these troubles, others did still multiply upon him; for his wife was—to her extreme sorrow—detained from him; and though with Jacob he endured not a hard service for her, yet he lost a good one, and was forced to make good his title, and to get possession of her by a long and restless suit in law; which proved troublesome and sadly chargeable to him, whose youth, and travel, and needless bounty had brought his estate into a narrow compass.

    It is observed, and most truly, that silence and submission are charming qualities, and work most upon passionate men; and it proved so with Sir George; for these, and a general report of Mr. Donne’s merits, together with his winning behaviour, which, when it would entice, had a strange kind of elegant irresistible art;—these and time had so dispassionated Sir George, that as the world approved his daughter’s choice, so he also could not but see a more than ordinary merit in his new son; and this at last melted him into so much remorse,—for love and anger are so like agues, as to have hot and cold fits; and love in parents, though it may be quenched, yet is easily re-kindled, and expires not till death denies mankind a natural heat,—that he laboured his son’s restoration to his place; using to that end both his own and his sister’s power to her lord; but with no success, for his answer was, “That though he was unfeignedly sorry for what he had done, yet it was inconsistent with his place and credit to discharge and re-admit servants at the request of passionate petitioners.”

    Sir George’s endeavour for Mr. Donne’s re-admission was by all means to be kept secret: for men do more naturally reluct for errors than submit to put on those blemishes that attend their visible acknowledgment.—But, however, it was not long before Sir George appeared to be so far reconciled as to wish their happiness, and not to deny them his paternal blessing, but yet refused to contribute any means that might conduce to their livelihood.

    Mr. Donne’s estate was the greater part spent in many and chargeable travels, books, and dear-bought experience; he out of all employment that might yield support for himself and wife, who had been curiously and plentifully educated; both their natures generous, and accustomed to confer, and not to receive, courtesies: these and other considerations, but chiefly that his wife was to bear a part in his sufferings, surrounded him with many sad thoughts, and some apparent apprehensions of want.

    But his sorrows were lessened and his wants prevented by the seasonable courtesy of their noble kinsman, Sir Francis Wolly, of Pirford, in Surrey, who entreated them to a cohabitation with him, where they remained with much freedom to themselves, and equal content to him, for some years; and as their charge increased—she had yearly a child—so did his love and bounty.

    It hath been observed by wise and considering men that wealth hath seldom been the portion, and never the mark to discover good people; but that Almighty God, who disposeth all things wisely, hath of his abundant goodness denied it—He only knows why—to many whose minds He hath enriched with the greater blessings of knowledge and virtue, as the fairer testimonies of his love to mankind: and this was the present condition of this man of so excellent erudition and endowments; whose necessary and daily expenses were hardly reconcilable with his uncertain and narrow estate. Which I mention, for that at this time there was a most generous offer made him for the moderating of his worldly cares; the declaration of which shall be the next employment of my pen.

    God hath been so good to his church as to afford it in every age some such men to serve at his altar as have been piously ambitious of doing good to mankind; a disposition that is so like to God himself that it owes itself only to Him, who takes a pleasure to behold it in his creatures. These times He did bless with many such; some of which still live to be patterns of apostolical charity, and of more than human patience. I have said this because I have occasion to mention one of them in my following discourse, namely, Dr. Morton, the most laborious and learned Bishop of Durham; one that God hath blessed with perfect intellectuals and a cheerful heart at the age of ninety four years—and is and is yet living;—one that in his days of plenty had so large a heart as to use his large revenue to the encouragement of learning and virtue, and is now—be it spoken with sorrow—reduced to a narrow estate, which he embraces without repining; and still shows the beauty of his mind by so liberal a hand, as if this were an age in which to-morrow were to care for itself. I have taken a pleasure in giving the reader a short but true character of this good man, my friend, from whom I received this following relation.—He sent to Mr. Donne, and entreated to borrow an hour of his time for a conference the next day. After their meeting there was not many minutes passed before he spake to Mr. Donne to this purpose: “Mr. Donne, the occasion of sending for you is to propose to you what I have often revolved in my own thought since I last saw you: which, nevertheless, I will not declare but upon this condition, that you shall not return me a present answer, but forbear three days, and bestow some part of that time in fasting and prayer; and after a serious consideration of what I shall propose, then return to me with your answer. Deny me not, Mr. Donne, for it is the effect of a true love, which I would gladly pay as a debt due for yours to me.”

    This request being granted, the Doctor expressed himself thus:—

    “Mr. Donne, I know your education and abilities; I know your expectation of a State employment; and I know your fitness for it; and I know, too, the many delays and contingencies that attend Court promises: and let me tell you that my love, begot by our long friendship and your merits, hath prompted me to such an inquisition after your present temporal estate as makes me no stranger to your necessities, which I know to be such as your generous spirit could not bear if it were not supported with a pious patience. You know I have formerly persuaded you to waive your Court hopes, and enter into holy orders; which I now again persuade you to embrace, with this reason added to my former request: The King hath yesterday made me Dean of Gloucester, and I am also possessed of a benefice, the profits of which are equal to those of my deanery; I will think my deanery enough for my maintenance,—who am, and resolved to die, a single man,—and will quit may benefice, and estate you in it, which the patron is willing I shall do, if God shall incline your heart to embrace this motion. Remember, Mr. Donne, no man’s education or parts make him too good for this employment, which is to be an ambassador for the God of glory; that God who by a vile death opened the gates of life to mankind. Make me no present answer; but remember your promise, and return to me the third day with your resolution.”

    At the hearing of this, Mr. Donne’s faint breath and perplexed countenance give a visible testimony of an inward conflict; but he performed his promise, and departed without returning an answer till the third day, and then his answer was to this effect:—

    “My most worthy and most dear friend, since I saw you I have been faithful to my promise, and have also meditated much of your great kindness, which hath been such as would exceed even my gratitude; but that it cannot do; and more I cannot return you; and I do that with an heart full of humility and thanks, though I may not accept of your offer: but, sir, my refusal is not for that I think myself too good for that calling, for which kings, if they think so, are not good enough; nor for that my education and learning though not eminent, may not, being assisted with God’s grace and humility, render me in some measure fit for it: but I dare make so dear a friend as you are my confessor. Some irregularities of my life have been so visible to some men, that though I have, I thank God, made my peace with Him by penitential resolutions against them, and by the assistance of his grace banished them my affections; yet this, which God knows to be so, is not so visible to man as to free me from their censures, and it may be that sacred calling from a dishonour. And besides, whereas it is determined by the best of casuists that God’s glory should be the first end, and a maintenance the second motive to embrace that calling, and though each man may propose to himself both together, yet the first may not be put last without a violation of conscience, which he that searches the heart will judge. And truly my present condition is such that if I ask my own conscience whether it be reconcilable to that rule, it is at this time so perplexed about it, that I can neither give myself nor you an answer. You know, sir, who says, ‘Happy is that man whose conscience doth not accuse him for that thing which he does.’ To these I might add other reasons that dissuade me; but I crave your favour that I may forbear to express them, and thankfully decline your offer.”

    This was his present resolution, but the heart of man is not in his own keeping; and he was destined to this sacred service by an higher hand—a hand so powerful as at last forced him to compliance: of which I shall give the reader an account before I shall give a rest to my pen.

    Mr. Donne and his wife continued with Sir Francis Wolly till his death: a little before which time Sir Francis was so happy as to make a perfect reconciliation betwixt Sir George and his forsaken son and daughter; Sir George conditioning by bond to pay to Mr. Donne £800 at a certain day, as a portion with his wife, of £20 quarterly for their maintenance as the interest for it, till the said portion was paid.

    Most of those years that he lived with Sir Francis he studied the Civil and Canon Laws; in which he acquired such a perfection, as was judged to hold proportion with many who had made that study the employment of their whole life.

    Sir Francis being dead, and that happy family dissolved, Mr. Donne took for himself a house in Mitcham, near to Croydon in Surrey, a place noted for good air and choice company; there his wife and children remained; and for himself he took lodgings in London, near to Whitehall, whither his friends and occasions drew him very often, and where he was as often visited by many of the nobility and others of this nation, who used him in their counsels of greatest consideration, and with some rewards for his better subsistence.

    Nor did our own nobility only value and favour him, but his acquaintance and friendship was sought for by most ambassadors of foreign nations, and by many other strangers, whose learning or business occasioned their stay in this nation.

    He was much importuned by many friends to make his constant residence in London; but he still denied it, having settled his dear wife and children at Mitcham, and near some friends that were bountiful to them and him; for they, God knows, needed it: and that you may the better now judge of the then present condition of his mind and fortune, I shall present you with an extract collected out of some few of his many letters.

  • “…And the reason why I did not send an answer to your last week’s letter was, because it then found me under too great a sadness; and at present ’tis thus with me: There is not one person, but myself, well of my family: I have already lost half a child, and, with that mischance of hers, my wife has fallen into such a discomposure as would afflict her too extremely, but that the sickness of all her other children stupefies her—of one of which, in good faith, I have not much hope; and these meet with a fortune so ill—provided for physic, and such relief, that if God should ease us with burials, I know not how to perform even that: but I flatter myself with this hope, that I am dying too; for I cannot waste faster than by such griefs. As for,—
  • From my Hospital at Mitcham,
  • Aug. 10.JOHN DONNE.”
  • Thus he did bemoan himself; and thus in other letters—

  • “…For, we hardly discover a sin, when it is but an omission of some good, and no accusing act: with this or the former I have often suspected myself to be overtaken; which is, with an overearnest desire of the next life: and, though I know it is not merely a weariness of this, because I had the same desire when I went with the tide, and enjoyed fairer hopes than I now do; yet I doubt worldly troubles have increased it: ’tis now spring, and all the pleasures of it displease me; every other tree blossoms, and I wither; I grow older, and not better; my strength diminisheth, and my load grows heavier; and yet I would fain be or do something; but that I cannot tell what, is no wonder in this time of my sadness; for to choose is to do: but to be no part of any body is as to be nothing: and so I am, and shall so judge myself, unless I could be so incorporated into a part of the world, as by business to contribute some sustentation to the whole. This I made account: I began early, when I understood the study of our laws; but was diverted by leaving that, and embracing the worst voluptuousness, an hydroptic immoderate desire of human learning and languages; beautiful ornaments indeed to men of great fortunes, but mine was grown so low as to need an occupation; which I thought I entered well into, when I subjected myself to such a service as I thought might exercise my poor abilities; and there I stumbled, and fell too; and now I am become so little, or such a nothing, that I am not a subject good enough for one of my own letters.—Sir, I fear my present discontent does not proceed from a good root, that I am so well content to be nothing, that is, dead. But, sir, though my fortune hath made me such, as that I am rather a sickness or a disease of the world, than any part of it, and therefore neither love it nor life, yet I would gladly live to become some such thing as you should not repent loving me. Sir, your own soul cannot be more zealous for your good than I am; and God, who loves that zeal in me, will not suffer you to doubt it. You would pity me now if you saw me write, for my pain hath drawn my head so much awry, and holds it so, that my eye cannot follow my pen. I therefore receive you into my prayers with mine own weary soul, and commend myself to yours. I doubt not but next week will bring you good news, for I have either mending or dying on my side; but if I do continue longer thus, I shall have comfort in this, that my blessed Saviour in exercising his justice upon my two worldly parts, my fortune and my body, reserves all his mercy for that which most needs it, my soul! which is, I doubt, too like a porter, that is very often near the gate, and yet goes not out. Sir, I profess to you truly that my loathness to give over writing now seems to myself a sign that I shall write no more.
  • Your poor friend, and
  • God’s poor patient,
  • Sept. 7.JOHN DONNE.”
  • By this you have seen a part of the picture of his narrow fortune, and the perplexities of his generous mind: and thus it continued with him for about two years, all which time his family remained constantly at Mitcham; and to which place he often retired himself, and destined some days to a constant study of some points of controversy betwixt the English and Roman Church, and especially those of Supremacy and Allegiance: and to that place and such studies he could willingly have wedded himself during his life; but the earnest persuasion of friends became at last to be so powerful as to cause the removal of himself and family to London, where Sir Robert Drewry, a gentleman of a very noble estate, and a more liberal mind, assigned him and his wife an useful apartment in his own large house in Drury Lane, and not only rent free, but was also a cherisher of his studies, and such a friend sympathised with him and his, in all their joy and sorrows.

    At this time of Mr. Donne’s and his wife’s living in Sir Robert’s house, the Lord Hay was, by King James, sent upon a glorious embassy to the then French king, Henry the Fourth; and Sir Robert put on a sudden resolution to accompany him to the French court, and to be present at his audience there. And Sir Robert put on a sudden resolution to solicit Mr. Donne to be his companion in that journey. And this desire was suddenly made known to his wife, who was then with child, and otherwise under so dangerous a habit of body, as to her health, that she professed an unwillingness to allow him any absence from her; saying, “Her divining soul boded her some ill in his absence;” and therefore desired him not to leave her. This made Mr. Donne lay aside all thoughts of the journey, and really to resolve against it. But Sir Robert became restless in his persuasions for it, and Mr. Donne was so generous as to think he had sold his liberty, when he received so many charitable kindnesses from him; and told his wife so, who did therefore, with an unwilling-willingness, give a faint consent to the journey, which was proposed to be but for two months; for about that time they determined their return. Within a few days after this resolve, the Ambassador, Sir Robert, and Mr. Donne left London; and were the twelfth day got all safe to Paris. Two days after their arrival there, Mr. Donne was left alone in that room in which Sir Robert, and he, and some other friends had dined together. To this place Sir Robert returned within half-an-hour; and as he left, so he found, Mr. Donne alone, but in such an ecstasy, and so altered as to his looks, as amazed Sir Robert to behold him; insomuch that he earnestly desired Mr. Donne to declare what had befallen him in the short time of his absence. To which Mr. Donne was not able to make a present answer, but after a long and perplexed pause, did at last say, “I have seen a dreadful vision since I saw you: I have seen my dear wife pass twice by me through this room, with her hair hanging about her shoulders, and a dead child in her arms; this I have seen since I saw you.” To which Sir Robert replied, “Sure, sir, you have slept since I saw you; and this is the result of some melancholy dream, which I desire you to forget, for you are now awake.” To which Mr. Donne’s reply was, “I cannot be surer that I now live than that I have not slept since I saw you; and am as sure that at her second appearing she stopped and looked me in the face, and vanished.” Rest and sleep had not altered Mr. Donne’s opinion the next day, for he then affirmed this opinion with a more deliberate, and so confirmed a confidence, that he inclined Sir Robert to a faint belief that the vision was true.—It is truly said that desire and doubt have no rest, and it proved so with Sir Robert; for he immediately sent a servant to Drewry House, with a charge to hasten back, and bring him word whether Mrs. Donne we alive; and, if alive, in what condition she was as to her health. The twelfth day, the messenger returned with this account: That he found and left Mrs. Donne very sad, and sick in her bed; and that, after a long and dangerous labour, she had been delivered of a dead child. And, upon examination, the abortion proved to be the same day, and about the very hour, that Mr. Donne affirmed he saw her pass by him in his chamber.

    This is a relation that will beget some wonder, and it well many; for most of our world are at present possessed with an opinion that visions and miracles are ceased. And, though it is most certain that two lutes being both strung and tuned to an equal pitch, and then one played upon, the other, that is not touched, being laid upon a table at a fit distance, will—like an echo to a trumpet—warble a faint audible harmony in answer to the same tune; yet many will not believe there is any such thing as a sympathy of souls; and I am well pleased that every reader do enjoy his own opinion. But if the unbelieving will not allow the believing reader of this story a liberty to believe that it may be true, then I wish him to consider, many wise men have believed that the ghost of Julius Caesar did appear to Brutus, and that both St. Austin and Monica his mother had visions in order to his conversion. And though these, and many others—too many to name—have but the authority of human story, yet the incredible reader may find in the sacred story that Samuel did appear to Saul even after his death—whether realy or not, I undertake not to determine.—And Bildad, in the Book of Job, says these words: “A spirit passed before my face; the hair of my head stood up; fear and trembling came upon me, and made all my bones to shake.” Upon which words I will make no comment, but leave them to be considered by the incredulous reader; to whom I will also commend this following consideration: That there be many pious and learned men that believe our merciful God hath assigned to every man a particular guardian angel, to be his constant monitor, and to attend him in all his dangers, both of body and soul. And the opinion that every man hath his particular Angel may gain some authority by the relation of St. Peter’s miraculous deliverance out of prison, not by many, but by one angel. And this belief may yet gain more credit by the reader’s considering, that when Peter after his enlargement knocked at the door of Mary the mother of John, and Rhode, the maidservant, being surprised with joy that Peter was there, did not let him in, but ran in haste and told the disciples—who were then and there met together—that Peter was at the door; and they, not believing it, said she was mad; yet, when she again affirmed it, though they then believed it not, yet they concluded, and said, “It is his angel.”

    More observations of this nature, and inferences from them, might be made to gain the relation a firmer belief; but I forbear, lest I that intended to be but a relator, may be thought to be an engaged person for the proving what was related to me; and yet I think myself bound to declare, that though it was not told me by Mr. Donne himself, it was told me—now long since—by a person of honour, and of such intimacy with him, that he knew more of the secrets of his soul than any person then living: and I think he told me the truth; for it was told with such circumstances, and such asseverations, that—to say nothing of my own thoughts—I verily believe he that told it me did himself believe it to be true.

    I forbear the reader’s further trouble, as to the relation, and what concerns it; and will conclude mine with commending to his view a copy of verses given by Mr. Donne to his wife at the time he then parted from her. And I beg leave to tell that I have heard some critics, learned both in languages and poetry, say that none of the Greek or Latin poets did ever equal them.

  • As virtuous men pass mildly away,
  • And whisper to their souls to go,
  • Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
  • The breath goes now, and some say No:
  • So let us melt, and make no noise,
  • No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
  • ’Twere profanation of our joys,
  • To tell the laity our love.
  • Moving of th’ earth brings harms and fears:
  • Men reckon what it did or meant:
  • But trepidation of the spheres,
  • Though greater far, is innocent,
  • Dull sublunary lovers’ love—
  • Whose soul is sense—can not admit
  • Absence, because that doth remove
  • Those things which elemented it.
  • But we, by a love so far refined,
  • That ourselves know not what it is,
  • Inter-assured of the mind,
  • Care not hands, eyes, or lips to miss.
  • Our two souls therefore which are one,—
  • Though I must go, endure not yet
  • A breach, but an expansion,
  • Like gold to airy thinness beat.
  • If we be two? we are two so
  • As stiff twin-compasses are two:
  • Thy soul, the fix’d foot, makes no show
  • To move, but does if th’ other do.
  • And though thine in the centre sit,
  • Yet, when my other far does roam,
  • Thine leans and hearkens after it,
  • And grows erect as mine comes home.
  • Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
  • Like th’ other foot, obliquely run:
  • Thy firmness makes my circle just,
  • And me to end where I begun.
  • I return from my account of the vision, to tell the reader that both before Mr. Donne’s going into France, at his being there, and after his return, many of the nobility and others that were powerful at Court, were watchful and solicitous to the King for some secular employment for him. The King had formerly both known and put a value upon his company, and had also given him some hopes of a State employment; being always much pleased when Mr. Donne attended him, especially at his meals, where there were usually many deep discourses of general learning, and very often friendly disputes, or debates of religion, betwixt his Majesty and those divines whose places required their attendance on him at those times, particularly the Dean of the Chapel, who then was Bishop Montague—the publisher of the learned and the eloquent works of his Majesty—and the most Reverend Doctor Andrews, the late learned Bishop of Winchester, who was then the King’s almoner.

    About this time there grew many disputes that concerned the oath of supremacy and allegiance, in which the King had appeared, and engaged himself by his public writings now extant; and his Majesty discoursing with Mr. Donne concerning many of the reasons which are usually urged against the taking of those oaths, apprehended such a validity and clearness in his stating the questions, and his answers to them, that his Majesty commanded him to bestow some time in drawing the arguments into a method, and then to write his answers to them; and, having done that, not to send, but be his own messenger, and bring them to him. To this he presently and diligently applied himself, and within six weeks brought them to him under his own handwriting, as they be now printed; the book bearing the name of Pseudo-Martyr, printed anno 1610.

    When the King had read and considered that book, he persuaded Mr. Donne to enter into the ministry; to which, at that time, he was, and appeared, very unwilling, apprehending it—such was his mistaken modesty—to be too weighty for his abilities: and though his Majesty had promised him a favour, and many persons of worth mediated with his Majesty for some secular employment for him,—to which his education had adapted him,—and particularly the Earl of Somerset, when in his greatest height of favour; who being then at Theobald’s with the King, where one of the clerks of the council died that night, the Earl posted a messenger for Mr. Donne to come to him immediately, and at Mr. Donne’s coming said, “Mr. Donne, to testify the reality of my affection, and my purpose to prefer you, stay in this garden till I go up to the King and bring you word that you are clerk of the council: doubt not my doing this, for I know the King loves you, and know the King will not deny me.” But the King gave a positive denial to all requests, and, having a discerning spirit, replied, “I know Mr. Donne is a learned man, has the abilities of a learned divine, and will prove a powerful preacher; and my desire is to prefer him that way, and in that way I will deny you nothing for him.”

    After that time, as he professeth, “the King descended to a persuasion, almost to a solicitation, of him to enter into sacred orders;” which, though he then denied not, yet he deferred it for almost three years. All which time he applied himself to an incessant study of textual divinity, and to the attainment of a greater perfection in the learned languages, Greek and Hebrew.