Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

Before his retirement into the country, he published “ The Life of Dr. Donne.” It was originally appended to “LXXX Sermons, preached by that learned and reverend divine, John Donne, Dr. in Divinity, late Dean of the Cathedrall Church of St. Paul's, London, 1640.” He had been folicited by Sir Henry Wotton, to supply him with materials for writing that Life. Sir Henry dying in 1639, before he had made any progress in the work, Isaac Walton engaged in it. This, his first essay in biography, was by more accurate revisals corrected, and considerably enlarged in subsequent editions. Donne has been principally commended as a poet;Walton, who, as it has been already remarked, was a constant hearer of his fermons, makes him known to us as a preacher, eloquent, animated, affecting. His poems, like the sky bespangled with small stars, are occasionally interspersed with the ornaments of fine imagery. They must however be pronounced generally devoid of harmony of numbers, or beauty of versification. Involved in the language of metaphysical obscurity", they cannot be read but with fastidiousness: They abound in false thoughts, affected phrases, and unnatural conceits'. His sermons, though not without that pedantry which debases the writings of almost all the divines of those times, are often written with energy, elegance, and copiousness of style. Yet it must be confessed, that all the wit and eloquence of the author have been unable to secure them from neglect.

An

[ocr errors]

1 Dr. Donne affects the metaphysics, not only in his fatires, but in his amorous verses, where nature only should reign, and perplexes the minds of the fair sex with nice speculations of philosophy, when he should engage their hearts and entertain them with the foftnefles of love. In this, if I may be pardoned for so bold a truth, Mr. Cowley has copied him to a fault, so great a one in my opinion, that it throws his “Mistress” infinitely below his Pindariques and his latter compositions, 'which are undoubtedly the best of his poems, and the most correct.-( !!Ir. Dryden's Dedication, prefixed to the Translation of Juvenal and Perfius.)

[ocr errors][merged small]

Mr. Pope has clasied the English Poets by their school. First, School of Provence. Second, School of Chaucer., Third, School of Petrarch. Fourth, School of Dante. Fifth, School of Spenser. Sixth, School of Donne. In the latter school he has very injudiciously placed Michael Drayton, who wrote before Donne, and not in the least in his manner.“ Dr Donne's (poetical) writings are like a voluntary or prelude, in which a man is not tied to any particular design of air, but may change his key or mood at pleasure; so his compositions seem to have been written without any particular scope.” ( Butler's Remains, Vol. II. p. 498.)

[ocr errors]

An instance of filial gratitude and affection occurs in a letter from Mr. John Donne, junior, to Mr. Isaac Walton, thanking him for writing his father the Dean's Life.

SIR, “ I send this book rather to witness my debt, than to make any payment. For it would be incivil in me to offer any satisfaction for that that all my

father's friends, and indeed all good men, are so equally engaged. “ Courtesies that are done to the dead being examples of so much piety, “ that they cannot have their reward in this life, because lasting as long, “and still (by awaking the like charity in others) propagating the debt “ they must expect a retribution from him, who gave the first inclination.

2. And by this circle, Sir, I have set you in my place, and instead of “ making you a payment, I have made you a debtor; but 'tis to Almighty

God, to whom I know you will be so willingly committed, that I may safely take leave to write myself,

" Your thankful servant,

From my house inecuvent Garden, }

JO. DONNE.”

It is difficult to discover what correspondence subsisted between our biographer and the writer of the preceding letter, who, having been admitted to the degree of Doctor of Laws in the University of Padua, was incorporated in that degree at Oxford, in 1638*. In a will which was printed in 1662, Dr. John Donne, junior, bequeathed all his father's writings, with his

Common Place Book,” to Isaac Walton, for the use of his son, if he should be brought up a scholar. That he was a clergyman, and had some preferment in the diocese of Peterborough, we learn from a letter written to him by Dr. John Towers, Bishop of Peterborough, his diocesan; wherein his Lordship thanks him for the first volume of his father's fermons, telling him, that his parishioners may pardon his filence to them for a while, since by it he hath preached to them and to their children's children, and to all our English parishes, for ever. Anthony Wood, although he describes him as a man of sense and parts, is unfavourable to his memory. He represents him as no better than “ an atheistical buffoon, a banterer, and a person of over-free thoughts, yet valued by Charles II.” With a sarcasm not unusual to him, he informs his reader, that Dr. Walter Pope “ leads an epicurean and heathenish life, much like to that of Dr. Donne, the son.” Bishop Kennet, in his “ Register,” p. 318, calling him, by mistake, Dr. John Downe, names him as the editor of “ A Collection of Letters made by Sir Toby Matthews, Knight,” with a character of the most excellent Lady, Lucy Countess of Carlisle, by the same author; to which are added several letters of his own to several persons of honour, who were contemporary with him, London, 1660, 8". I cannot but observe, that he neither consulted the reputation of his father, nor the public good, when he caused the “ Biathanatos” to be printed. If he was determined, at all events, to disregard the injunctions of parental authority, would it not have been more expedient to have committed the manuscript to the flames, rather than to have encountered the hazard of diffusing certain novel opinions, from which no good consequences could possibly arise? For though those effects did not actually follow, which are mentioned by an industrious foreign writer', who tells us, that on the first publication of this work, many persons laid violent hands on themselves;

able

He died in 1682, and was buried in the Churchyard of St. Paul, in Covent Garden

yet

The following account of Dr. Donne is given in “ Morhoff's Polyhistor,” L. VI. C. IV. $ xviii. “ Inter quos numerandum puto JOHANNEM DONNE, Ecclefiæ S. Pauli apud Londinenses Decanum. Ingeniofiflimum fuiffe Poemata ejus juvenilia oftendunt Londini A. 1633 in 4 edita, quæ anno ætatis 18 scripsit, plena argutiffimorum conceptuum: Quorum aliquot in Linguam Belgicam vertit Conftantius Hugonius a Carolo fecundo Rege sollicitatus, qui inimitabilem Germanis et Belgis hujus viri ftylum putabat. Sermones vero facros elegantissimos et multos, et in varios S. Scripturæ textus emisit Londini, diversis annis. Scripfit et Meditationes super morbo suo facras, quæ in Linguam Belgicam conversæ et Amstelodami 1655, in 12 editæ. sunt. Scripfit et Librum, quem a tali Viro scribi potuiffe plane mirere, quippe qui avtoxicar, certis in cafibus, licitam quoque effe affirmaret : Titulus, Boc@avatos: That self-murder is not to naturally a fin, that it may never be otherwise : Editus vero liber demum post mortem Auctoris est: Atque, ut aiunt, ipfo etiam, dum viveret, ejus editionem ferio deprecante prohibenteque, Londini 1648, in 4to. At mox, cum prodiiffet, àdeo se multis hominibus probavit, ut haud pauci ejus Lectione ad mortem voluntariam adacti memorentur: Recusus certe iterum Londini est, 1644. Et haud dubie dedit occasionem fcribendo alii Libro, nefcio cujus Anonymi, qui perniciofiflimam opinionem ex animis hominum evellere haud abs Re tentabat.” (Pellicanicidium, or the Christian Adviser agains Self-murder : Together with a Guide, and the Pilgrim's Pass to the Land of the Living, Lond. 1653, in 8vo.)

yet the most remote probability of danger accruing from it should have induced him entirely to have suppressed it. But to return from this digression.

The narrative of the vision in this Life of Dr. Donne hath subjected the author to some severe animadversions. Let it however be remembered, that he probably related the matter with cautious and discreet fidelity, as it was really represented to him. The account is not inserted in the earlier editions of Dr. Donne's Life. Hence we may presume that the strictest and most severe inquiry was made before its introduction. Plutarch is not esteemed a credulous writer : Yet he has given a full and circumftantial history of the appearances that presented themselves to Dion and to Brutus. And in modern times Dr. Doddridge, a most fedulous examiner of facts, and of all men the least liable to credulity and weakness of understanding, published a relation of an extraordinary vision. Let it be remarked that, according to the opinion of a medical writer of great eminence, a discriminating symptom of human insanity is “the rising up in the mind of images not distinguishable by the patient from impreilions upon the senses.”To a momentary delusion originating from some bodily disorder we may safely attribute the visions or false perceptions, of which many authentic descriptions have been transmitted to us; and we may easily supposc that Dr. Donne, separated from his beloved wife and family, whom he had left in a very distressful situation, must have suffered the most poignant anxiety of mind, and of course much indispolition of body".

When the first years of man have been devoted to "the diligence of trades and noiseful gain,” we have no reason to hope that his mind will be replenished by study, or enriched with literature. In the lucrative, as well as in the political life, men are tempted to assume some of those habits or dispositions, which are not entirely consistent with the principles of justice or honour. An eagerness to amass wealth, not feldom extinguishes every other affection. But it was not thus with Isaac Walton. Firm and uncorrupted in his integrity, he no sooner bade farewel to his commercial con

С

cerns, m See “ Plin. Epift.” L. VII. Epist. 27. “ Biographia Britannica,” in the articles DEN JONSON, ANDREW MARVEL. See also “ Lord Clarendon's Hift. of the Rebellion,” Vol. I. p 42..

cerns, than he gave the most convincing proofs of his attention to the most laudable pursuits. He had already written the life of one friend. He now undertook to exhibit a testimony of respect to the memory of another. In 1651, he was the editor of “Reliquiæ Wottonianæ, or a Collection of Lives, Letters, Poems, with Characters of fundry Personages, and other incomparable Pieces of Language and Art, by the curious Pencil of the ever-memorable Sir Henry Wotton, Knt. late Provost of Eaton College.” This collection is dedicated “ to Lady Mary Wotton, relict of the last Lord Wotton, and to her three noble daughters." These ladies communicated to him many original letters, written by their illustrious relation. After the Dedication follows “ The Life of Sir Henry Wotton.” In the succeeding editions, the volume is inscribed to the Right Honourable Philip Earl of Chesterfield, Lord Stanhope of Shelford, and great nephew to Sir Henry Wotton". This nobleman accompanying his mother, the Lady Catharine Stanhope, into Holland, where she attended the Princess of Orange, daughter to Charles I. had his education along with William, Prince of Orange, afterward advanced to the throne of England, and became very serviceable in promoting the restoration of the Royal Family. He loved the memory, and imitated the virtues of his generous uncle. By a life of strict temperance he attained to a great age. He died, January 28, 1713°. It is proper

to

D

The mother of this Lord Chesterfield was Catharine the eldest daughter of Thomas Lord Wotton, and relict of Henry Lord Stanhope, who died before his father the Earl of Chesterfield. She had been governess to Mary Princess of Orange, and after the Restoration was made Countess of Chesterfield. See “ Walpole's Anecdotes of Painting,” Vol. II. p. 113.

• A contemporary writer has thus delineated the characters of Dr. Donne and Sir Henry Wetton-" To speak it in a word, the Trojan Horse was not fuller of heroic Grecians, than King James's reign was full of men excellent in all kinds of learning. And here I desire the reader's leave to remember two of my own old acquaintance: the one was Mr. John Donne, who, leaving Oxford, lived at the Inns of. Court, not diffolute, but very neat; a great visitor of ladies, a great writer of conceited verses, until such time as King James, taking notice of the pregnancy of his wit, was a means that he took him to the study of divinity, and thereupon proceeding Doctor was made Dean of St. Paul's, and became so rare a preacher, that he was not only commended, but even admired by all that heard him. The other was Henry Wotton (mine old acquaintance also, as having been fellow pupils and

chamber

« НазадПродовжити »