The Art of Letters
by Robert Lynd
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New York



My Dear Jack,

You were godfather to a good many of the chapters in this book when they first appeared in the London Mercury, the New Statesman, and the British Review. Others of the chapters appeared in the Daily News, the Nation, the Athenaeum, the Observer, and Everyman. Will it embarrass you if I now present you with the entire brood in the name of a friendship that has lasted many midnights?


Robert Lynd.


30th August 1920




























Mr. Pepys was a Puritan. Froude once painted a portrait of Bunyan as an old Cavalier. He almost persuaded one that it was true till the later discovery of Bunyan's name on the muster-roll of one of Cromwell's regiments showed that he had been a Puritan from the beginning. If one calls Mr. Pepys a Puritan, however, one does not do so for the love of paradox or at a guess. He tells us himself that he "was a great Roundhead when I was a boy," and that, on the day on which King Charles was beheaded, he said: "Were I to preach on him, my text should be—'the memory of the wicked shall rot.'" After the Restoration he was uneasy lest his old schoolfellow, Mr. Christmas, should remember these strong words. True, when it came to the turn of the Puritans to suffer, he went, with a fine impartiality, to see General Harrison disembowelled at Charing Cross. "Thus it was my chance," he comments, "to see the King beheaded at White Hall, and to see the first blood shed in revenge for the blood of the King at Charing Cross. From thence to my Lord's, and took Captain Cuttance and Mr. Shepley to the Sun Tavern, and did give them some oysters." Pepys was a spectator and a gourmet even more than he was a Puritan. He was a Puritan, indeed, only north-north-west. Even when at Cambridge he gave evidence of certain susceptibilities to the sins of the flesh. He was "admonished" on one occasion for "having been scandalously overserved with drink ye night before." He even began to write a romance entitled Love a Cheate, which he tore up ten years later, though he "liked it very well." At the same time his writing never lost the tang of Puritan speech. "Blessed be God" are the first words of his shocking Diary. When he had to give up keeping the Diary nine and a half years later, owing to failing sight, he wound up, after expressing his intention of dictating in the future a more seemly journal to an amanuensis, with the characteristic sentences:

Or, if there be anything, which cannot be much, now my amours to Deb. are past, I must endeavour to keep a margin in my book open, to add, here and there, a note in shorthand with my own hand.

And so I betake myself to that course, which is almost as much as to see myself go into my grave; for which, and all the discomforts that will accompany my being blind, the good God prepare me.

With these words the great book ends—the diary of one of the godliest and most lecherous of men.

In some respects Mr. Pepys reminds one of a type that is now commoner in Scotland, I fancy, than elsewhere. He himself seems at one time to have taken the view that he was of Scottish descent. None of the authorities, however, will admit this, and there is apparently no doubt that he belonged to an old Cambridgeshire family that had come down in the world, his father having dwindled into a London tailor. In temperament, however, he seems to me to have been more Scottish than the very Scottish Boswell. He led a double life with the same simplicity of heart. He was Scottish in the way in which he lived with one eye on the "lassies" and the other on "the meenister." He was notoriously respectable, notoriously hard-working, a judge of sermons, fond of the bottle, cautious, thrifty. He had all the virtues of a K.C.B. He was no scapegrace or scallywag such as you might find nowadays crowing over his sins in Chelsea. He lived, so far as the world was concerned, in the complete starch of rectitude. He was a pillar of Society, and whatever age he had been born in, he would have accepted its orthodoxy. He was as grave a man as Holy Willie. Stevenson has commented on the gradual decline of his primness in the later years of the Diary. "His favourite ejaculation, 'Lord!' occurs," he declares, "but once that I have observed in 1660, never in '61, twice in '62, and at least five times in '63; after which the 'Lords' may be said to pullulate like herrings, with here and there a solitary 'damned,' as it were a whale among the shoal." As a matter of fact, Mr. Pepys's use of the expression "Lord!" has been greatly exaggerated, especially by the parodists. His primness, if that is the right word, never altogether deserted him. We discover this even in the story of his relations with women. In 1665, for instance, he writes with surprised censoriousness of Mrs. Penington:

There we drank and laughed [he relates], and she willingly suffered me to put my hand in her bosom very wantonly, and keep it there long. Which methought was very strange, and I looked upon myself as a man mightily deceived in a lady, for I could not have thought she could have suffered it by her former discourse with me; so modest she seemed and I know not what.

It is a sad world for idealists.

Mr. Pepys's Puritanism, however, was something less than Mr. Pepys. It was but a pair of creaking Sunday boots on the feet of a pagan. Mr. Pepys was an appreciator of life to a degree that not many Englishmen have been since Chaucer. He was a walking appetite. And not an entirely ignoble appetite either. He reminds one in some respects of the poet in Browning's "How it strikes a Contemporary," save that he had more worldly success. One fancies him with the same inquisitive ferrule on the end of his stick, the same "scrutinizing hat," the same eye for the bookstall and "the man who slices lemon into drink." "If any cursed a woman, he took note." Browning's poet, however, apparently "took note" on behalf of a higher power. It is difficult to imagine Mr. Pepys sending his Diary to the address of the Recording Angel. Rather, the Diary is the soliloquy of an egoist, disinterested and daring as a bad boy's reverie over the fire.

Nearly all those who have written about Pepys are perplexed by the question whether Pepys wrote his Diary with a view to its ultimate publication. This seems to me to betray some ignorance of the working of the human mind.

Those who find one of the world's puzzles in the fact that Mr. Pepys wrapped his great book in the secrecy of a cipher, as though he meant no other eye ever to read it but his own, perplex their brains unnecessarily. Pepys was not the first human being to make his confession in an empty confessional. Criminals, lovers and other egoists, for lack of a priest, will make their confessions to a stone wall or a tree. There is no more mystery in it than in the singing of birds. The motive may be either to obtain discharge from the sense of guilt or a desire to save and store up the very echoes and last drops of pleasure. Human beings keep diaries for as many different reasons as they write lyric poems. With Pepys, I fancy, the main motive was a simple happiness in chewing the cud of pleasure. The fact that so much of his pleasure had to be kept secret from the world made it all the more necessary for him to babble when alone. True, in the early days his confidences are innocent enough. Pepys began to write in cipher some time before there was any purpose in it save the common prudence of a secretive man. Having built, however, this secret and solitary fastness, he gradually became more daring. He had discovered a room to the walls of which he dared speak aloud. Here we see the respectable man liberated. He no longer needs to be on his official behaviour, but may play the part of a small Nero, if he wishes, behind the safety of shorthand. And how he takes advantage of his opportunities! He remains to the end something of a Puritan in his standards and his public carriage, but in his diary he reveals himself as a pig from the sty of Epicurus, naked and only half-ashamed. He never, it must be admitted, entirely shakes off his timidity. At a crisis he dare not confess in English even in a cipher, but puts the worst in bad French with a blush. In some instances the French may be for facetiousness rather than concealment, as in the reference to the ladies of Rochester Castle in 1665:

Thence to Rochester, walked to the Crowne, and while dinner was getting ready, I did then walk to visit the old Castle ruines, which hath been a noble place, and there going up I did upon the stairs overtake three pretty mayds or women and took them up with me, and I did baiser sur mouches et toucher leur mains and necks to my great pleasure; but lord! to see what a dreadfull thing it is to look down the precipices, for it did fright me mightily, and hinder me of much pleasure which I would have made to myself in the company of these three, if it had not been for that.

Even here, however, Mr. Pepys's French has a suggestion of evasion. He always had a faint hope that his conscience would not understand French.

Some people have written as though Mr. Pepys, in confessing himself in his Diary, had confessed us all. They profess to see in the Diary simply the image of Everyman in his bare skin. They think of Pepys as an ordinary man who wrote an extraordinary book. To me it seems that Pepys's Diary is not more extraordinary as a book than Pepys himself is as a man. Taken separately, nine out of ten of his characteristics may seem ordinary enough—his fears, his greeds, his vices, his utilitarian repentances. They were compounded in him, however, in such proportion as to produce an entirely new mixture—a character hardly less original than Dr. Johnson or Charles Lamb. He had not any great originality of virtue, as these others had, but he was immensely original in his responsiveness—his capacity for being interested, tempted and pleased. The voluptuous nature of the man may be seen in such a passage as that in which, speaking of "the wind-musique when the angel comes down" in The Virgin Martyr, he declares:

It ravished me, and indeed, in a word, did wrap up my soul so that it made me really sick, just as I have formerly been when in love with my wife.

Writing of Mrs. Knipp on another occasion, he says:

She and I singing, and God forgive me! I do still see that my nature is not to be quite conquered, but will esteem pleasure above all things, though yet in the middle of it, it has reluctances after my business, which is neglected by my following my pleasure. However, musique and women I cannot but give way to, whatever my business is.

Within a few weeks of this we find him writing again:

So abroad to my ruler's of my books, having, God forgive me! a mind to see Nan there, which I did, and so back again, and then out again to see Mrs. Bettons, who were looking out of the window as I came through Fenchurch Streete. So that, indeed, I am not, as I ought to be, able to command myself in the pleasures of my eye.

Though page after page of the Diary reveals Mr. Pepys as an extravagant pleasure-lover, however, he differed from the majority of pleasure-lovers in literature in not being a man of taste. He had a rolling rather than a fastidious eye. He kissed promiscuously, and was not aspiring in his lusts. He once held Lady Castlemaine in his arms, indeed, but it was in a dream. He reflected, he tells us,

that since it was a dream, and that I took so much real pleasure in it, what a happy thing it would be if when we are in our graves (as Shakespeare resembles it) we could dream, and dream but such dreams as this, that then we should not need to be so fearful of death, as we are this plague time.

He praises this dream at the same time as "the best that ever was dreamt." Mr. Pepys's idea of Paradise, it would be seen, was that commonly attributed to the Mohammedans. Meanwhile he did his best to turn London into an anticipatory harem. We get a pleasant picture of a little Roundhead Sultan in such a sentence as "At night had Mercer comb my head and so to supper, sing a psalm and to bed."

* * * * *

It may seem unfair to over-emphasize the voluptuary in Mr. Pepys, but it is Mr. Pepys, the promiscuous amourist; stringing his lute (God forgive him!) on a Sunday, that is the outstanding figure in the Diary. Mr. Pepys attracts us, however, in a host of other aspects—Mr. Pepys whose nose his jealous wife attacked with the red-hot tongs as he lay in bed; Mr. Pepys who always held an anniversary feast on the date on which he had been cut for the stone; Mr. Pepys who was not "troubled at it at all" as soon as he saw that the lady who had spat on him in the theatre was a pretty one; Mr. Pepys drinking; Mr. Pepys among his dishes; Mr. Pepys among princes; Mr. Pepys who was "mightily pleased" as he listened to "my aunt Jenny, a poor, religious, well-meaning good soul, talking of nothing but God Almighty"; Mr. Pepys, as he counts up his blessings in wealth, women, honour and life, and decides that "all these things are ordered by God Almighty to make me contented"; Mr. Pepys as, having just refused to see Lady Pickering, he comments, "But how natural it is for us to slight people out of power!"; Mr. Pepys who groans as he sees his office clerks sitting in more expensive seats than himself at the theatre. Mr. Pepys is a man so many-sided, indeed, that in order to illustrate his character one would have to quote the greater part of his Diary. He is a mass of contrasts and contradictions. He lives without sequence except in the business of getting-on (in which he might well have been taken as a model by Samuel Smiles). One thinks of him sometimes as a sort of Deacon Brodie, sometimes as the most innocent sinner who ever lived. For, though he was brutal and snobbish and self-seeking and simian, he had a pious and a merry and a grateful heart. He felt that God had created the world for the pleasure of Samuel Pepys, and had no doubt that it was good.


Once, when John Bunyan had been preaching in London, a friend congratulated him on the excellence of his sermon. "You need not remind me of that," replied Bunyan. "The Devil told me of it before I was out of the pulpit." On another occasion, when he was going about in disguise, a constable who had a warrant for his arrest spoke to him and inquired if he knew that devil Bunyan. "Know him?" said Bunyan. "You might call him a devil if you knew him as well as I once did." We have in these anecdotes a key to the nature of Bunyan's genius. He was a realist, a romanticist, and a humourist. He was as exact a realist (though in a different way) as Mr. Pepys, whose contemporary he was. He was a realist both in his self-knowledge and in his sense of the outer world. He had the acute eye of the artist which was aware of the stones of the street and the crows in the ploughed field. As a preacher, he did not guide the thoughts of his hearers, as so many preachers do, into the wind. He recalled them from orthodox abstractions to the solid earth. "Have you forgot," he asked his followers, "the close, the milk-house, the stable, the barn, and the like, where God did visit your souls?" He himself could never be indifferent to the place or setting of the great tragi-comedy of salvation. When he relates how he gave up swearing as a result of a reproof from a "loose and ungodly" woman, he begins the story: "One day, as I was standing at a neighbour's shop-window, and there cursing and swearing after my wonted manner, there sat within the woman of the house, who heard me." This passion for locality was always at his elbow. A few pages further on in Grace Abounding, when he tells us how he abandoned not only swearing but the deeper-rooted sins of bell-ringing and dancing, and nevertheless remained self-righteous and "ignorant of Jesus Christ," he introduces the next episode in the story of his conversion with the sentence: "But upon a day the good providence of God called me to Bedford to work at my calling, and in one of the streets of that town I came where there were three or four poor women sitting at a door in the sun, talking about the things of God." That seems to me to be one of the most beautiful sentences in English literature. Its beauty is largely due to the hungry eyes with which Bunyan looked at the present world during his progress to the next. If he wrote the greatest allegory in English literature, it is because he was able to give his narrative the reality of a travel-book instead of the insubstantial quality of a dream. He leaves the reader with the feeling that he is moving among real places and real people. As for the people, Bunyan can give even an abstract virtue—still more, an abstract vice—the skin and bones of a man. A recent critic has said disparagingly that Bunyan would have called Hamlet Mr. Facing-both-ways. As a matter of fact, Bunyan's secret is the direct opposite of this. His great and singular gift was the power to create an atmosphere in which a character with a name like Mr. Facing-both-ways is accepted on the same plane of reality as Hamlet.

If Bunyan was a realist, however, as regards place and character, his conception of life was none the less romantic. Life to him was a story of hairbreadth escapes—of a quest beset with a thousand perils. Not only was there that great dragon the Devil lying in wait for the traveller, but there was Doubting Castle to pass, and Giant Despair, and the lions. We have in The Pilgrim's Progress almost every property of romantic adventure and terror. We want only a map in order to bring home to us the fact that it belongs to the same school of fiction as Treasure Island. There may be theological contentions here and there that interrupt the action of the story as they interrupt the interest of Grace Abounding. But the tedious passages are extraordinarily few, considering that the author had the passions of a preacher. No doubt the fact that, when he wrote The Pilgrim's Progress, he was not definitely thinking of the edification of his neighbours, goes far towards explaining the absence of commonplace arguments and exhortations. "I did it mine own self to gratify," he declared in his rhymed "apology for his book." Later on, in reply to some brethren of the stricter sort who condemned such dabbling in fiction, he defended his book as a tract, remarking that, if you want to catch fish,

They must be groped for, and be tickled too, Or they will not be catch't, whate'er you do.

But in its origin The Pilgrim's Progress was not a tract, but the inevitable image of the experiences of the writer's soul. And what wild adventures those were every reader of Grace Abounding knows. There were terrific contests with the Devil, who could never charm John Bunyan as he charmed Eve. To Bunyan these contests were not metaphorical battles, but were as struggles with flesh and blood. "He pulled, and I pulled," he wrote in one place; "but, God be praised, I overcame him—I got sweetness from it." And the Devil not only fought him openly, but made more subtle attempts to entice him to sin. "Sometimes, again, when I have been preaching, I have been violently assaulted with thoughts of blasphemy, and strongly tempted to speak the words with my mouth before the congregation." Bunyan, as he looked back over the long record of his spiritual torments, thought of it chiefly as a running fight with the Devil. Outside the covers of the Bible, little existed save temptations for the soul. No sentence in The Pilgrim's Progress is more suggestive of Bunyan's view of life than that in which the merchandise of Vanity Fair is described as including "delights of all sorts, as whores, bawds, wives, husbands, children, masters, servants, lives, blood, bodies, souls, silver, gold, pearls, precious stones, and what not." It is no wonder that one to whom so much of the common life of man was simply Devil's traffic took a tragic view of even the most innocent pleasures, and applied to himself, on account of his love of strong language, Sunday sports and bell-ringing, epithets that would hardly have been too strong if he had committed all the crimes of the latest Bluebeard. He himself, indeed, seems to have become alarmed when—probably as a result of his own confessions—it began to be rumoured that he was a man with an unspeakable past. He now demanded that "any woman in heaven, earth or hell" should be produced with whom he had ever had relations before his marriage. "My foes," he declared, "have missed their mark in this shooting at me. I am not the man. I wish that they themselves be guiltless. If all the fornicators and adulterers in England were hanged up by the neck till they be dead, John Bunyan, the object of their envy, would still be alive and well." Bunyan, one observes, was always as ready to defend as to attack himself. The verses he prefixed to The Holy War are an indignant reply to those who accused him of not being the real author of The Pilgrim's Progress. He wound up a fervent defence of his claims to originality by pointing out the fact that his name, if "anagrammed," made the words: "NU HONY IN A B." Many worse arguments have been used in the quarrels of theologians.

Bunyan has been described as a tall, red-haired man, stern of countenance, quick of eye, and mild of speech. His mildness of speech, I fancy, must have been an acquired mildness. He loved swearing as a boy, and, as The Pilgrim's Progress shows, even in his later life he had not lost the humour of calling names. No other English author has ever invented a name of the labelling kind equal to that of Mr. Worldly Wiseman—a character, by the way, who does not appear in the first edition of The Pilgrim's Progress, but came in later as an afterthought. Congreve's "Tribulation Spintext" and Dickens's "Lord Frederick Verisopht" are mere mechanical contrivances compared to this triumph of imagination and phrase. Bunyan's gift for names was in its kind supreme. His humorous fancy chiefly took that form. Even atheists can read him with pleasure for the sake of his names. The modern reader, no doubt, often smiles at these names where Bunyan did not mean him to smile, as when Mrs. Lightmind says: "I was yesterday at Madam Wantons, when we were as merry as the maids. For who do you think should be there but I and Mrs. Love-the-flesh, and three or four more, with Mr. Lechery, Mrs. Filth, and some others?" Bunyan's fancifulness, however, gives us pleasure quite apart from such quaint effects as this. How delightful is Mr. By-ends's explanation of the two points in regard to which he and his family differ in religion from those of the stricter sort: "First, we never strive against wind and tide. Secondly, we are always most zealous when Religion goes in his silver slippers; we love much to walk with him in the street, if the sun shines, and the people applaud him." What a fine grotesque, again, Bunyan gives us in toothless Giant Pope sitting in the mouth of the cave, and, though too feeble to follow Christian, calling out after him: "You will never mend till more of you be burnt." We do not read The Pilgrim's Progress, however, as a humorous book. Bunyan's pains mean more to us than the play of his fancy. His books are not seventeenth-century grotesques, but the story of his heart. He has written that story twice over—with the gloom of the realist in Grace Abounding, and with the joy of the artist in The Pilgrim's Progress. Even in Grace Abounding, however, much as it is taken up with a tale of almost lunatic terror, the tenderness of Bunyan's nature breaks out as he tells us how, when he was taken off to prison, "the parting with my wife and four children hath often been to me in the place as the pulling the flesh from the bones ... especially my poor blind child, who lay nearer my heart than all beside. Oh, the thoughts of the hardship I thought my poor blind one might go under would break my heart to pieces!" At the same time, fear and not love is the dominating passion in Grace Abounding. We are never far from the noise of Hell in its pages. In Grace Abounding man is a trembling criminal. In The Pilgrim's Progress he has become, despite his immense capacity for fear, a hero. The description of the fight with Apollyon is a piece of heroic literature equal to anything in those romances of adventure that went to the head of Don Quixote. "But, as God would have it, while Apollyon was fetching his last blow, thereby to make a full end of this good man, Christian nimbly reached out his hand for his sword, and caught it, saying: 'Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy! when I fall I shall arise'; and with that gave him a deadly thrust, which made him give back, as one that had received a mortal wound." Heroic literature cannot surpass this. Its appeal is universal. When one reads it, one ceases to wonder that there exists even a Catholic version of The Pilgrim's Progress, in which Giant Pope is discreetly omitted, but the heroism of Christian remains. Bunyan disliked being called by the name of any sect. His imagination was certainly as little sectarian as that of a seventeenth-century preacher could well be. His hero is primarily not a Baptist, but a man. He bears, perhaps, almost too close a resemblance to Everyman, but his journey, his adventures and his speech save him from sinking into a pulpit generalization.


Thomas Campion is among English poets the perfect minstrel. He takes love as a theme rather than is burned by it. His most charming, if not his most beautiful poem begins: "Hark, all you ladies." He sings of love-making rather than of love. His poetry, like Moore's—though it is infinitely better poetry than Moore's—is the poetry of flirtation. Little is known about his life, but one may infer from his work that his range of amorous experience was rather wide than deep. There is no lady "with two pitch balls stuck in her face for eyes" troubling his pages with a constant presence. The Mellea and Caspia—the one too easy of capture, the other too difficult—to whom so many of the Latin epigrams are addressed, are said to have been his chief schoolmistresses in love. But he has buried most of his erotic woes, such as they were, in a dead language. His English poems do not portray him as a man likely to die of love, or even to forget a meal on account of it. His world is a happy land of song, in which ladies all golden in the sunlight succeed one another as in a pageant of beauties. Lesbia, Laura, and Corinna with her lute equally inhabit it. They are all characters in a masque of love, forms and figures in a revel. Their maker is an Epicurean and an enemy to "the sager sort":

My sweetest Lesbia, let us live and love, And, though the sager sort our deeps reprove, Let us not weigh them. Heav'n's great lamps do dive Into their west, and straight again revive. But, soon as once is set our little light, Then must we sleep our ever-during night.

Ladies in so bright and insecure a day must not be permitted to "let their lovers moan." If they do, they will incur the just vengeance of the Fairy Queen Proserpina, who will send her attendant fairies to pinch their white hands and pitiless arms. Campion is the Fairy Queen's court poet. He claims all men—perhaps, one ought rather to say all women—as her subjects:

In myrtle arbours on the downs The Fairy Queen Proserpina, This night by moonshine leading merry rounds, Holds a watch with sweet love, Down the dale, up the hill; No plaints or groans may move Their holy vigil.

All you that will hold watch with love, The Fairy Queen Proserpina Will make you fairer than Dione's dove; Roses red, lilies white And the clear damask hue, Shall on your cheeks alight: Love will adorn you.

All you that love, or lov'd before, The Fairy Queen Proserpina Bids you increase that loving humour more: They that have not fed On delight amorous, She vows that they shall lead Apes in Avernus.

It would be folly to call the poem that contains these three verses one of the great English love-songs. It gets no nearer love than a ballet does. There are few lyrics of "delight amorous" in English, however, that can compare with it in exquisite fancy and still more exquisite music.

Campion, at the same time, if he was the poet of the higher flirtation, was no mere amorous jester, as Moore was. His affairs of the heart were also affairs of the imagination. Love may not have transformed the earth for him, as it did Shakespeare and Donne and Browning, but at least it transformed his accents. He sang neither the "De Profundis" of love nor the triumphal ode of love that increases from anniversary to anniversary; but he knew the flying sun and shadow of romantic love, and staged them in music of a delicious sadness, of a fantastic and playful gravity. His poems, regarded as statements of fact, are a little insincere. They are the compliments, not the confessions, of a lover. He exaggerates the burden of his sigh, the incurableness of his wounded heart. But beneath these conventional excesses there is a flow of sincere and beautiful feeling. He may not have been a worshipper, but his admirations were golden. In one or two of his poems, such as:

Follow your saint, follow with accents sweet; Haste you, sad notes, fall at her flying feet,

admiration treads on the heels of worship.

All that I sung still to her praise did tend; Still she was first, still she my song did end—

in these lines we find a note of triumphant fidelity rare in Campion's work. Compared with this, that other song beginning:

Follow thy fair sun, unhappy shadow, Though thou be black as night, And she made all of light, Yet follow thy fair sun, unhappy shadow—

seems but the ultimate perfection among valentines. Others of the songs hesitate between compliment and the finer ecstasy. The compliment is certainly of the noblest in the lyric which sets out—

When thou must home to shades of underground, And, there arriv'd, a new admired guest, The beauteous spirits do ingirt thee round, White lope, blithe Helen, and the rest, To hear the stories of thy finisht love From that smooth tongue whose music hell can move;

but it fades by way of beauty into the triviality of convention in the second verse:

Then wilt thou speak of banqueting delights, Of masks and revels which sweet youth did make, Of tourneys and great challenges of knights, And all these triumphs for thy beauty's sake: When thou hast told these honours done to thee, Then tell, O tell, how thou didst murther me.

There is more of jest than of sorrow in the last line. It is an act of courtesy. Through all these songs, however, there is a continuous expense of beauty, of a very fortune of admiration, that entitles Campion to a place above any of the other contemporaries of Shakespeare as a writer of songs. His dates (1567-1620) almost coincide with those of Shakespeare. Living in an age of music, he wrote music that Shakespeare alone could equal and even Shakespeare could hardly surpass. Campion's words are themselves airs. They give us at once singer and song and stringed instrument.

It is only in music, however, that Campion is in any way comparable to Shakespeare. Shakespeare is the nonpareil among song-writers, not merely because of his music, but because of the imaginative riches that he pours out in his songs. In contrast with his abundance, Campion's fortune seems lean, like his person. Campion could not see the world for lovely ladies. Shakespeare in his lightest songs was always aware of the abundant background of the visible world. Campion seems scarcely to know of the existence of the world apart from the needs of a masque-writer. Among his songs there is nothing comparable to "When daisies pied and violets blue," or "Where the bee sucks," or "You spotted snakes with double tongue," or "When daffodils begin to peer," or "Full fathom five," or "Fear no more the heat o' the sun." He had neither Shakespeare's eye nor Shakespeare's experiencing soul. He puts no girdle round the world in his verse. He knows but one mood and its sub-moods. Though he can write

There is a garden in her face, Where roses and white lilies grow,

he brings into his songs none of the dye and fragrance of flowers.

Perhaps it was because he suspected a certain levity and thinness in his genius that Campion was so contemptuous of his English verse. His songs he dismissed as "superfluous blossoms of his deeper studies." It is as though he thought, like Bacon, that anything written for immortality should be written in Latin. Bacon, it may be remembered, translated his essays into Latin for fear they might perish in so modern and barbarous a tongue as English. Campion was equally inclined to despise his own language in comparison with that of the Greeks and Romans. His main quarrel with it arose, however, from the obstinacy with which English poets clung to "the childish titillation of rhyming." "Bring before me now," he wrote, "any the most self-loved rhymer, and let me see if without blushing he be able to read his lame, halting rhymes." There are few more startling paradoxes in literature than that it should have been this hater of rhymes who did more than any other writer to bring the art of rhyme to perfection in the English language. The bent of his intellect was classical, as we see in his astonishing Observations on the Art of English Poesy, in which he sets out to demonstrate "the unaptness of rhyme in poesy." The bent of his genius, on the other hand, was romantic, as was shown when, desiring to provide certain airs with words, he turned out—that seems, in the circumstances, to be the proper word—"after the fashion of the time, ear-pleasing rhymes without art." His songs can hardly be called "pot-boilers," but they were equally the children of chance. They were accidents, not fulfilments of desire. Luckily, Campion, writing them with music in his head, made his words themselves creatures of music. "In these English airs," he wrote in one of his prefaces, "I have chiefly aimed to couple my words and notes lovingly together." It would be impossible to improve on this as a description of his achievement in rhyme. Only one of his good poems, "Rosecheek'd Laura," is to be found among those which he wrote according to his pseudo-classical theory. All the rest are among those in which he coupled his words and notes lovingly together, not as a duty, but as a diversion.

Irish critics have sometimes hoped that certain qualities in Campion's music might be traced to the fact that his grandfather was "John Campion of Dublin, Ireland." The art—and in Campion it was art, not artlessness—with which he made use of such rhymes as "hill" and "vigil," "sing" and "darling," besides his occasional use of internal rhyme and assonance (he rhymed "licens'd" and "silence," "strangeness" and "plainness," for example), has seemed to be more akin to the practices of Irish than of English poets. No evidence exists, however, as to whether Campion's grandfather was Irish in anything except his adventures. Of Campion himself we know that his training was English. He went to Peterhouse, and, though he left it without taking a degree, he was apparently regarded as one of the promising figures in the Cambridge of his day. "I know, Cambridge," apostrophized a writer of the time, "howsoever now old, thou hast some young. Bid them be chaste, yet suffer them to be witty. Let them be soundly learned, yet suffer them to be gentlemanlike qualified"; and the admonitory reference, though he had left Cambridge some time before, is said to have been to "sweet master Campion."

The rest of his career may be summarized in a few sentences. He was admitted to Gray's Inn, but was never called to the Bar. That he served as a soldier in France under Essex is inferred by his biographers. He afterwards practised as a doctor, but whether he studied medicine during his travels abroad or in England is not known. The most startling fact recorded of his maturity is that he acted as a go-between in bribing the Lieutenant of the Tower to resign his post and make way for a more pliable successor on the eve of the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury. This he did on behalf of Sir Thomas Monson, one of whose dependants, as Mr. Percival Vivian says, "actually carried the poisoned tarts and jellies." Campion afterwards wrote a masque in celebration of the nuptials of the murderers. Both Monson and he, however, are universally believed to have been innocent agents in the crime. Campion boldly dedicated his Third Book of Airs to Monson after the first shadow of suspicion had passed.

As a poet, though he was no Puritan, he gives the impression of having been a man of general virtue. It is not only that he added piety to amorousness. This might be regarded as flirting with religion. Did not he himself write, in explaining why he mixed pious and light songs; "He that in publishing any work hath a desire to content all palates must cater for them accordingly"? Even if the spiritual depth of his graver songs has been exaggerated, however, they are clearly the expression of a charming and tender spirit.

Never weather-beaten sail more willing bent to shore, Never tired pilgrim's limbs affected slumber more, Than my wearied sprite now longs to fly out of my troubled breast. O come quickly, sweetest Lord, and take my soul to rest.

What has the "sweet master Campion" who wrote these lines to do with poisoned tarts and jellies? They are not ecstatic enough to have been written by a murderer.


Izaak Walton in his short life of Donne has painted a figure of almost seraphic beauty. When Donne was but a boy, he declares, it was said that the age had brought forth another Pico della Mirandola. As a young man in his twenties, he was a prince among lovers, who by his secret marriage with his patron's niece—"for love," says Walton, "is a flattering mischief"—purchased at first only the ruin of his hopes and a term in prison. Finally, we have the later Donne in the pulpit of St. Paul's represented, in a beautiful adaptation of one of his own images, as "always preaching to himself, like an angel from a cloud, though in none; carrying some, as St. Paul was, to Heaven in holy raptures, and enticing others by a sacred art and courtship to amend their lives." The picture is all of noble charm. Walton speaks in one place of "his winning behaviour—which, when it would entice, had a strange kind of elegant irresistible art." There are no harsh phrases even in the references to those irregularities of Donne's youth, by which he had wasted the fortune of L3,000—equal, I believe, to more than L30,000 of our money—bequeathed to him by his father, the ironmonger. "Mr. Donne's estate," writes Walton gently, referring to his penury at the time of his marriage, "was the greatest part spent in many and chargeable travels, books, and dear-bought experience." It is true that he quotes Donne's own confession of the irregularities of his early life. But he counts them of no significance. He also utters a sober reproof of Donne's secret marriage as "the remarkable error of his life." But how little he condemned it in his heart is clear when he goes on to tell us that God blessed Donne and his wife "with so mutual and cordial affections, as in the midst of their sufferings made their bread of sorrow taste more pleasantly than the banquets of dull and low-spirited people." It was not for Walton to go in search of small blemishes in him whom he regarded as the wonder of the world—him whose grave, mournful friends "strewed ... with an abundance of curious and costly flowers," as Alexander the Great strewed the grave of "the famous Achilles." In that grave there was buried for Walton a whole age magnificent with wit, passion, adventure, piety and beauty. More than that, the burial of Donne was for him the burial of an inimitable Christian. He mourns over "that body, which once was a Temple of the Holy Ghost, and is now become a small quantity of Christian dust," and, as he mourns, he breaks off with the fervent prophecy, "But I shall see it reanimated." That is his valediction. If Donne is esteemed three hundred years after his death less as a great Christian than as a great pagan, this is because we now look for him in his writings rather than in his biography, in his poetry rather than in his prose, and in his Songs and Sonnets and Elegies rather than in his Divine Poems. We find, in some of these, abundant evidence of the existence of a dark angel at odds with the good angel of Walton's raptures. Donne suffered in his youth all the temptations of Faust. His thirst was not for salvation but for experience—experience of the intellect and experience of sensation. He has left it on record in one of his letters that he was a victim at one period of "the worst voluptuousness, an hydroptic, immoderate desire of human learning and languages." Faust in his cell can hardly have been a more insatiate student than Donne. "In the most unsettled days of his youth," Walton tells us, "his bed was not able to detain him beyond the hour of four in the morning; and it was no common business that drew him out of his chamber till past ten; all which time was employed in study; though he took great liberty after it." His thoroughness of study may be judged from the fact that "he left the resultance of 1,400 authors, most of them abridged and analyzed with his own hand." But we need not go beyond his poems for proof of the wilderness of learning that he had made his own. He was versed in medicine and the law as well as in theology. He subdued astronomy, physiology, and geography to the needs of poetry. Nine Muses were not enough for him, even though they included Urania. He called in to their aid Galen and Copernicus. He did not go to the hills and the springs for his images, but to the laboratory and the library, and in the library the books that he consulted to the greatest effect were the works of men of science and learning, not of the great poets with whom London may almost be said to have been peopled during his lifetime. I do not think his verse or correspondence contains a single reference to Shakespeare, whose contemporary he was, being born only nine years later. The only great Elizabethan poet whom he seems to have regarded with interest and even friendship was Ben Jonson. Jonson's Catholicism may have been a link between them. But, more important than that, Jonson was, like Donne himself, an inflamed pedant. For each of them learning was the necessary robe of genius. Jonson, it is true, was a pedant of the classics, Donne of the speculative sciences; but both of them alike ate to a surfeit of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. It was, I think, because Donne was to so great a degree a pagan of the Renaissance, loving the proud things of the intellect more than the treasures of the humble, that he found it easy to abandon the Catholicism of his family for Protestantism. He undoubtedly became in later life a convinced and passionate Christian of the Protestant faith, but at the time when he first changed his religion he had none of the fanaticism of the pious convert. He wrote in an early satire as a man whom the intellect had liberated from dogma-worship. Nor did he ever lose this rationalist tolerance. "You know," he once wrote to a friend, "I have never imprisoned the word religion.... They" (the churches) "are all virtual beams of one sun." Few converts in those days of the wars of religion wrote with such wise reason of the creeds as did Donne in the lines:

To adore or scorn an image, or protest, May all be bad; doubt wisely; in strange way To stand inquiring right, is not to stray; To sleep or run wrong is. On a huge hill, Cragged and steep, Truth stands, and he that will Reach her, about must and about must go; And what the hill's suddenness resists win so.

This surely was the heresy of an inquisitive mind, not the mood of a theologian. It betrays a tolerance springing from ardent doubt, not from ardent faith.

It is all in keeping with one's impression of the young Donne as a man setting out bravely in his cockle-shell on the oceans of knowledge and experience. He travels, though he knows not why he travels. He loves, though he knows not why he loves. He must escape from that "hydroptic, immoderate" thirst of experience by yielding to it. One fancies that it was in this spirit that he joined the expedition of Essex to Cadiz in 1596 and afterwards sailed to the Azores. Or partly in this spirit, for he himself leads one to think that his love-affairs may have had something to do with it. In the second of those prematurely realistic descriptions of storm and calm relating to the Azores voyage, he writes:

Whether a rotten state, and hope of gain, Or to disuse me from the queasy pain Of being belov'd, and loving, or the thirst Of honour, or fair death, out pusht me first.

In these lines we get a glimpse of the Donne that has attracted most interest in recent years—the Donne who experienced more variously than any other poet of his time "the queasy pain of being beloved and loving." Donne was curious of adventures of many kinds, but in nothing more than in love. As a youth he leaves the impression of having been an Odysseus of love, a man of many wiles and many travels. He was a virile neurotic, comparable in some points to Baudelaire, who was a sensualist of the mind even more than of the body. His sensibilities were different as well as less of a piece, but he had something of Baudelaire's taste for hideous and shocking aspects of lust. One is not surprised to find among his poems that "heroical epistle of Sappho to Philaenis," in which he makes himself the casuist of forbidden things. His studies of sensuality, however, are for the most part normal, even in their grossness. There was in him more of the Yahoo than of the decadent. There was an excremental element in his genius as in the genius of that other gloomy dean, Jonathan Swift. Donne and Swift were alike satirists born under Saturn. They laughed more frequently from disillusion than from happiness. Donne, it must be admitted, turned his disillusion to charming as well as hideous uses. Go and Catch a Falling Star is but one of a series of delightful lyrics in disparagement of women. In several of the Elegies, however, he throws away his lute and comes to the satirist's more prosaic business. He writes frankly as a man in search of bodily experiences:

Whoever loves, if he do not propose The right true end of love, he's one that goes To sea for nothing but to make him sick.

In Love Progress he lets his fancy dwell on the detailed geography of a woman's body, with the sick imagination of a schoolboy, till the beautiful seems almost beastly. In The Anagram and The Comparison he plays the Yahoo at the expense of all women by the similes he uses in insulting two of them. In The Perfume he relates the story of an intrigue with a girl whose father discovered his presence in the house as a result of his using scent. Donne's jest about it is suggestive of his uncontrollable passion for ugliness:

Had it been some bad smell, he would have thought That his own feet, or breath, that smell had brought.

It may be contended that in The Perfume he was describing an imaginary experience, and indeed we have his own words on record: "I did best when I had least truth for my subjects." But even if we did not accept Mr. Gosse's common-sense explanation of these words, we should feel that the details of the story have a vividness that springs straight from reality. It is difficult to believe that Donne had not actually lived in terror of the gigantic manservant who was set to spy on the lovers:

The grim eight-foot-high iron-bound serving-man That oft names God in oaths, and only then; He that to bar the first gate doth as wide As the great Rhodian Colossus stride, Which, if in hell no other pains there were, Makes me fear hell, because he must be there.

But the most interesting of all the sensual intrigues of Donne, from the point of view of biography, especially since Mr. Gosse gave it such commanding significance in that Life of John Donne in which he made a living man out of a mummy, is that of which we have the story in Jealousy and His Parting from Her. It is another story of furtive and forbidden love. Its theme is an intrigue carried on under a

Husband's towering eyes, That flamed with oily sweat of jealousy.

A characteristic touch of grimness is added to the story by making the husband a deformed man. Donne, however, merely laughs at his deformity, as he bids the lady laugh at the jealousy that reduces her to tears:

O give him many thanks, he is courteous, That in suspecting kindly warneth us. We must not, as we used, flout openly, In scoffing riddles, his deformity; Nor at his board together being set, With words nor touch scarce looks adulterate.

And he proposes that, now that the husband seems to have discovered them, they shall henceforth carry on their intrigue at some distance from where

He, swol'n and pampered with great fare, Sits down and snorts, cag'd in his basket chair.

It is an extraordinary story, if it is true. It throws a scarcely less extraordinary light on the nature of Donne's mind, if he invented it. At the same time, I do not think the events it relates played the important part which Mr. Gosse assigns to them in Donne's spiritual biography. It is impossible to read Mr. Gosse's two volumes without getting the impression that "the deplorable but eventful liaison," as he calls it, was the most fruitful occurrence in Donne's life as a poet. He discovers traces of it in one great poem after another—even in the Nocturnal upon St. Lucy's Day, which is commonly supposed to relate to the Countess of Bedford, and in The Funeral, the theme of which Professor Grierson takes to be the mother of George Herbert. I confess that the oftener I read the poetry of Donne the more firmly I become convinced that, far from being primarily the poet of desire gratified and satiated, he is essentially the poet of frustrated love. He is often described by the historians of literature as the poet who finally broke down the tradition of Platonic love. I believe that, so far is this from being the case, he is the supreme example of a Platonic lover among the English poets. He was usually Platonic under protest, but at other times exultantly so. Whether he finally overcame the more consistent Platonism of his mistress by the impassioned logic of The Ecstasy we have no means of knowing. If he did, it would be difficult to resist the conclusion that the lady who wished to continue to be his passionate friend and to ignore the physical side of love was Anne More, whom he afterwards married. If not, we may look for her where we will, whether in Magdalen Herbert (already a young widow who had borne ten children when he first met her) or in the Countess of Bedford or in another. The name is not important, and one is not concerned to know it, especially when one remembers Donne's alarming curse on:

Whoever guesses, thinks, or dreams he knows Who is my mistress.

One sort of readers will go on speculating, hoping to discover real people in the shadows, as they speculate about Swift's Stella and Vanessa, and his relations to them. It is enough for us to feel, however, that these poems railing at or glorying in Platonic love are no mere goldsmith's compliments, like the rhymed letters to Mrs. Herbert and Lady Bedford. Miracles of this sort are not wrought save by the heart. We do not find in them the underground and sardonic element that appears in so much of Donne's merely amorous work. We no longer picture him as a sort of Vulcan hammering out the poetry of base love, raucous, powerful, mocking. He becomes in them a child Apollo, as far as his temperament will allow him. He makes music of so grave and stately a beauty that one begins to wonder at all the critics who have found fault with his rhythms—from Ben Jonson, who said that "for not keeping accent, Donne deserved hanging," down to Coleridge, who declared that his "muse on dromedary trots," and described him as "rhyme's sturdy cripple." Coleridge's quatrain on Donne is, without doubt, an unequalled masterpiece of epigrammatic criticism. But Donne rode no dromedary. In his greatest poems he rides Pegasus like a master, even if he does rather weigh the poor beast down by carrying an encyclopaedia in his saddle-bags.

Not only does Donne remain a learned man on his Pegasus, however: he also remains a humorist, a serious fantastic. Humour and passion pursue each other through the labyrinth of his being, as we find in those two beautiful poems, The Relic and The Funeral, addressed to the lady who had given him a bracelet of her hair. In the former he foretells what will happen if ever his grave is broken up and his skeleton discovered with

A bracelet of bright hair about the bone.

People will fancy, he declares, that the bracelet is a device of lovers

To make their souls at the last busy day Meet at the grave and make a little stay.

Bone and bracelet will be worshipped as relics—the relics of a Magdalen and her lover. He conjectures with a quiet smile:

All women shall adore us, and some men.

He warns his worshippers, however, that the facts are far different from what they imagine, and tells the miracle seekers what in reality were "the miracles we harmless lovers wrought":

First we loved well and faithfully, Yet knew not what we lov'd, nor why; Difference of sex no more we knew Than our guardian angels do; Coming and going, we Perchance might kiss, but not between those meals; Our hands ne'er touch'd the seals, Which nature, injur'd by late law, sets free: These miracles we did; but now, alas! All measure, and all language I should pass, Should I tell what a miracle she was.

In The Funeral he returns to the same theme:

Whoever comes to shroud me do not harm Nor question much That subtle wreath of hair that crowns my arm; The mystery, the sign you must not touch, For 'tis my outward soul.

In this poem, however, he finds less consolation than before in the too miraculous nobleness of their love:

Whate'er she meant by it, bury it with me, For since I am Love's martyr, it might breed idolatry, If into other hands these relics came; As 'twas humility To afford to it all that a soul can do, So, 'tis some bravery, That, since you would have none of me, I bury some of you.

In The Blossom he is in a still more earthly mood, and declares that, if his mistress remains obdurate, he will return to London, where he will find a mistress:

As glad to have my body as my mind.

The Primrose is another appeal for a less intellectual love:

Should she Be more than woman, she would get above All thought of sex, and think to move My heart to study her, and not to love.

If we turn back to The Undertaking, however, we find Donne boasting once more of the miraculous purity of a love which it would be useless to communicate to other men, since, there being no other mistress to love in the same kind, they "would love but as before." Hence he will keep the tale a secret:

If, as I have, you also do, Virtue attir'd in woman see, And dare love that, and say so too, And forget the He and She.

And if this love, though placed so, From profane men you hide, Which will no faith on this bestow, Or, if they do, deride:

Then you have done a braver thing Than all the Worthies did; And a braver thence will spring, Which is, to keep that hid.

It seems to me, in view of this remarkable series of poems, that it is useless to look in Donne for a single consistent attitude to love. His poems take us round the entire compass of love as the work of no other English poet—not even, perhaps, Browning's—does. He was by destiny the complete experimentalist in love in English literature. He passed through phase after phase of the love of the body only, phase after phase of the love of the soul only, and ended as the poet of the perfect marriage. In his youth he was a gay—but was he ever really gay?—free-lover, who sang jestingly:

How happy were our sires in ancient time, Who held plurality of loves no crime!

But even then he looks forward, not with cynicism, to a time when he

Shall not so easily be to change dispos'd, Nor to the arts of several eyes obeying; But beauty with true worth securely weighing, Which, being found assembled in some one, We'll love her ever, and love her alone.

By the time he writes The Ecstasy the victim of the body has become the protesting victim of the soul. He cries out against a love that is merely an ecstatic friendship:

But O alas, so long, so far, Our bodies why do we forbear?

He pleads for the recognition of the body, contending that it is not the enemy but the companion of the soul:

Soul into the soul may flow Though it to body first repair.

The realistic philosophy of love has never been set forth with greater intellectual vehemence:

So must pure lovers' souls descend T' affections and to faculties, Which sense may reach and apprehend, Else a great Prince in prison lies. To our bodies turn we then, that so Weak men on love reveal'd may look; Love's mysteries in souls do grow But yet the body is the book.

I, for one, find it impossible to believe that all this passionate verse—verse in which we find the quintessence of Donne's genius—was a mere utterance of abstract thoughts into the wind. Donne, as has been pointed out, was more than most writers a poet of personal experience. His greatest poetry was born of struggle and conflict in the obscure depths of the soul as surely as was the religion of St. Paul. I doubt if, in the history of his genius, any event ever happened of equal importance to his meeting with the lady who first set going in his brain that fevered dialogue between the body and the soul. Had he been less of a frustrated lover, less of a martyr, in whom love's

Art did express A quintessence even from nothingness, From dull privations and lean emptiness,

much of his greatest poetry, it seems to me, would never have been written.

One cannot, unfortunately, write the history of the progress of Donne's genius save by inference and guessing. His poems were not, with some unimportant exceptions, published in his lifetime. He did not arrange them in chronological or in any sort of order. His poem on the flea that has bitten both him and his inamorata comes after the triumphant Anniversary, and but a page or two before the Nocturnal upon St. Lucy's Day. Hence there is no means of telling how far we are indebted to the Platonism of one woman, how much to his marriage with another, for the enrichment of his genius. Such a poem as The Canonisation can be interpreted either in a Platonic sense or as a poem written to Anne More, who was to bring him both imprisonment and the liberty of love. It is, in either case, written in defence of his love against some who censured him for it:

For God's sake, hold your tongue, and let me love.

In the last verses of the poem Donne proclaims that his love cannot be measured by the standards of the vulgar:

We can die by it, if not live by love, And if unfit for tombs or hearse Our legend be, it will be fit for verse; And, if no piece of chronicle we prove, We'll build in sonnets pretty rooms; As well a well-wrought urn becomes The greatest ashes as half-acre tombs, And by these hymns all shall approve Us canoniz'd by love:

And thus invoke us: "You whom reverend love Made one another's hermitage; You to whom love was peace, that now is rage; Who did the whole world's soul contract and drove Into the glasses of your eyes (So made such mirrors, and such spies, That they did all to you epitomize), Countries, towns, courts. Beg from above A pattern of your love!"

According to Walton, it was to his wife that Donne addressed the beautiful verses beginning:

Sweetest love, I do not go For weariness of thee;

as well as the series of Valedictions. Of many of the other love-poems, however, we can measure the intensity but not guess the occasion. All that we can say with confidence when we have read them is that, after we have followed one tributary on another leading down to the ultimate Thames of his genius, we know that his progress as a lover was a progress from infidelity to fidelity, from wandering amorousness to deep and enduring passion. The image that is finally stamped on his greatest work is not that of a roving adulterer, but of a monotheist of love. It is true that there is enough Don-Juanism in the poems to have led even Sir Thomas Browne to think of Donne's verse rather as a confession of his sins than as a golden book of love. Browne's quaint poem, To the deceased Author, before the Promiscuous printing of his Poems, the Looser Sort, with the Religious, is so little known that it may be quoted in full as the expression of one point of view in regard to Donne's work:

When thy loose raptures, Donne, shall meet with those That do confine Tuning unto the duller line, And sing not but in sanctified prose, How will they, with sharper eyes, The foreskin of thy fancy circumcise, And fear thy wantonness should now begin Example, that hath ceased to be sin! And that fear fans their heat; whilst knowing eyes Will not admire At this strange fire That here is mingled with thy sacrifice, But dare read even thy wanton story As thy confession, not thy glory; And will so envy both to future times, That they would buy thy goodness with thy crimes.

To the modern reader, on the contrary, it will seem that there is as much divinity in the best of the love-poems as in the best of the religious ones. Donne's last word as a secular poet may well be regarded as having been uttered in that great poem in celebration of lasting love, The Anniversary, which closes with so majestic a sweep:

Here upon earth we are kings, and none but we Can be such kings, nor of such subjects be. Who is so safe as we, where none can do Treason to us, except one of us two? True and false fears let us refrain; Let us love nobly, and live, and add again Years and years unto years, till we attain To write three-score: this is the second of our reign.

Donne's conversion as a lover was obviously as complete and revolutionary as his conversion in religion.

It is said, indeed, to have led to his conversion to passionate religion. When his marriage with Sir George More's sixteen-year-old daughter brought him at first only imprisonment and poverty, he summed up the sorrows of the situation in the famous line—a line which has some additional interest as suggesting the correct pronunciation of his name:

John Donne; Anne Donne; Undone.

His married life, however, in spite of a succession of miseries due to ill-health, debt and thwarted ambition, seems to have been happy beyond prophecy; and when at the end of sixteen years his wife died in childbed, after having borne him twelve children, a religious crisis resulted that turned his conventional churchmanship into sanctity. His original change from Catholicism to Protestantism has been already mentioned. Most of the authorities are agreed, however, that this was a conversion in a formal rather than in a spiritual sense. Even when he took Holy Orders in 1615, at the age of forty-two, he appears to have done so less in answer to any impulse to a religious life from within than because, with the downfall of Somerset, all hope of advancement through his legal attainments was brought to an end. Undoubtedly, as far back as 1612, he had thought of entering the Church. But we find him at the end of 1613 writing an epithalamium for the murderers of Sir Thomas Overbury. It is a curious fact that three great poets—Donne, Ben Jonson, and Campion—appear, though innocently enough, in the story of the Countess of Essex's sordid crime. Donne's temper at the time is still clearly that of a man of the world. His jest at the expense of Sir Walter Raleigh, then in the Tower, is the jest of an ungenerous worldling. Even after his admission into the Church he reveals himself as ungenerously morose when the Countess of Bedford, in trouble about her own extravagances, can afford him no more than L30 to pay his debts. The truth is, to be forty and a failure is an affliction that might sour even a healthy nature. The effect on a man of Donne's ambitious and melancholy temperament, together with the memory of his dissipated health and his dissipated fortune, and the spectacle of a long family in constant process of increase, must have been disastrous. To such a man poverty and neglected merit are a prison, as they were to Swift. One thinks of each of them as a lion in a cage, ever growing less and less patient of his bars. Shakespeare and Shelley had in them some volatile element that could, one feels, have escaped through the bars and sung above the ground. Donne and Swift were morbid men suffering from claustrophobia. They were pent and imprisoned spirits, hating the walls that seemed to threaten to close in on them and crush them. In his poems and letters Donne is haunted especially by three images—the hospital, the prison, and the grave. Disease, I think, preyed on his mind even more terrifyingly than warped ambition. "Put all the miseries that man is subject to together," he exclaims in one of the passages in that luxuriant anthology that Mr. Logan Pearsall Smith has made from the Sermons; "sickness is more than all .... In poverty I lack but other things; in banishment I lack but other men; but in sickness I lack myself." Walton declares that it was from consumption that Donne suffered; but he had probably the seeds of many diseases. In some of his letters he dwells miserably on the symptoms of his illnesses. At one time, his sickness "hath so much of a cramp that it wrests the sinews, so much of tetane that it withdraws and pulls the mouth, and so much of the gout ... that it is not like to be cured.... I shall," he adds, "be in this world, like a porter in a great house, but seldomest abroad; I shall have many things to make me weary, and yet not get leave to be gone." Even after his conversion he felt drawn to a morbid insistence on the details of his ill-health. Those amazing records which he wrote while lying ill in bed in October, 1623, give us a realistic study of a sick-bed and its circumstances, the gloom of which is hardly even lightened by his odd account of the disappearance of his sense of taste: "My taste is not gone away, but gone up to sit at David's table; my stomach is not gone, but gone upwards toward the Supper of the Lamb." "I am mine own ghost," he cries, "and rather affright my beholders than interest them.... Miserable and inhuman fortune, when I must practise my lying in the grave by lying still."

It does not surprise one to learn that a man thus assailed by wretchedness and given to looking in the mirror of his own bodily corruptions was often tempted, by "a sickly inclination," to commit suicide, and that he even wrote, though he did not dare to publish, an apology for suicide on religious grounds, his famous and little-read Biathanatos. The family crest of the Donnes was a sheaf of snakes, and these symbolize well enough the brood of temptations that twisted about in this unfortunate Christian's bosom. Donne, in the days of his salvation, abandoned the family crest for a new one—Christ crucified on an anchor. But he might well have left the snakes writhing about the anchor. He remained a tempted man to the end. One wishes that the Sermons threw more light on his later personal life than they do. But perhaps that is too much to expect of sermons. There is no form of literature less personal except a leading article. The preacher usually regards himself as a mouthpiece rather than a man giving expression to himself. In the circumstances what surprises us is that the Sermons reveal, not so little, but so much of Donne. Indeed, they make us feel far more intimate with Donne than do his private letters, many of which are little more than exercises in composition. As a preacher, no less than as a poet, he is inflamed by the creative heat. He shows the same vehemence of fancy in the presence of the divine and infernal universe—a vehemence that prevents even his most far-sought extravagances from disgusting us as do the lukewarm follies of the Euphuists. Undoubtedly the modern reader smiles when Donne, explaining that man can be an enemy of God as the mouse can be an enemy to the elephant, goes on to speak of "God who is not only a multiplied elephant, millions of elephants multiplied into one, but a multiplied world, a multiplied all, all that can be conceived by us, infinite many times over; nay (if we may dare to say so) a multiplied God, a God that hath the millions of the heathens' gods in Himself alone." But at the same time one finds oneself taking a serious pleasure in the huge sorites of quips and fancies in which he loves to present the divine argument. Nine out of ten readers of the Sermons, I imagine, will be first attracted to them through love of the poems. They need not be surprised if they do not immediately enjoy them. The dust of the pulpit lies on them thickly enough. As one goes on reading them, however, one becomes suddenly aware of their florid and exiled beauty. One sees beyond their local theology to the passion of a great suffering artist. Here are sentences that express the Paradise, the Purgatory, and the Hell of John Donne's soul. A noble imagination is at work—a grave-digging imagination, but also an imagination that is at home among the stars. One can open Mr. Pearsall Smith's anthology almost at random and be sure of lighting on a passage which gives us a characteristic movement in the symphony of horror and hope that was Donne's contribution to the art of prose. Listen to this, for example, from a sermon preached in St. Paul's in January, 1626:

Let me wither and wear out mine age in a discomfortable, in an unwholesome, in a penurious prison, and so pay my debts with my bones, and recompense the wastefulness of my youth with the beggary of mine age; let me wither in a spittle under sharp, and foul, and infamous diseases, and so recompense the wantonness of my youth with that loathsomeness in mine age; yet, if God withdraw not his spiritual blessings, his grace, his patience, if I can call my suffering his doing, my passion his action, all this that is temporal, is but a caterpillar got into one corner of my garden, but a mildew fallen upon one acre of my corn: the body of all, the substance of all is safe, so long as the soul is safe.

The self-contempt with which his imagination loved to intoxicate itself finds more lavish expression in a passage in a sermon delivered on Easter Sunday two years later:

When I consider what I was in my parents' loins (a substance unworthy of a word, unworthy of a thought), when I consider what I am now (a volume of diseases bound up together; a dry cinder, if I look for natural, for radical moisture; and yet a sponge, a bottle of overflowing Rheums, if I consider accidental; an aged child, a grey-headed infant, and but the ghost of mine own youth), when I consider what I shall be at last, by the hand of death, in my grave (first, but putrefaction, and, not so much as putrefaction; I shall not be able to send forth so much as ill air, not any air at all, but shall be all insipid, tasteless, savourless, dust; for a while, all worms, and after a while, not so much as worms, sordid, senseless, nameless dust), when I consider the past, and present, and future state of this body, in this world, I am able to conceive, able to express the worst that can befall it in nature, and the worst that can be inflicted on it by man, or fortune. But the least degree of glory that God hath prepared for that body in heaven, I am not able to express, not able to conceive.

Excerpts of great prose seldom give us that rounded and final beauty which we expect in a work of art; and the reader of Donne's Sermons in their latest form will be wise if he comes to them expecting to find beauty piecemeal and tarnished though in profusion. He will be wise, too, not to expect too many passages of the same intimate kind as that famous confession in regard to prayer which Mr. Pearsall Smith quotes, and which no writer on Donne can afford not to quote:

I throw myself down in my chamber, and I call in, and invite God, and his angels thither, and when they are there, I neglect God and his Angels, for the noise of a fly, for the rattling of a coach, for the whining of a door. I talk on, in the same posture of praying; eyes lifted up; knees bowed down; as though I prayed to God; and, if God, or his Angels should ask me, when I thought last of God in that prayer, I cannot tell. Sometimes I find that I had forgot what I was about, but when I began to forget it, I cannot tell. A memory of yesterday's pleasures, a fear of to-morrow's dangers, a straw under my knee, a noise in mine ear, a light in mine eye, an anything, a nothing, a fancy, a chimera in my brain troubles me in my prayer.

If Donne had written much prose in this kind, his Sermons would be as famous as the writings of any of the saints since the days of the Apostles.

Even as it is, there is no other Elizabethan man of letters whose personality is an island with a crooked shore, inviting us into a thousand bays and creeks and river-mouths, to the same degree as the personality that expressed itself in the poems, sermons, and life of John Donne. It is a mysterious and at times repellent island. It lies only intermittently in the sun. A fog hangs around its coast, and at the base of its most radiant mountain-tops there is, as a rule, a miasma-infested swamp. There are jewels to be found scattered among its rocks and over its surface, and by miners in the dark. It is richer, indeed, in jewels and precious metals and curious ornaments than in flowers. The shepherd on the hillside seldom tells his tale uninterrupted. Strange rites in honour of ancient infernal deities that delight in death are practised in hidden places, and the echo of these reaches him on the sighs of the wind and makes him shudder even as he looks at his beloved. It is an island with a cemetery smell. The chief figure who haunts it is a living man in a winding-sheet. It is, no doubt, Walton's story of the last days of Donne's life that makes us, as we read even the sermons and the love-poems, so aware of this ghostly apparition. Donne, it will be remembered, almost on the eve of his death, dressed himself in a winding-sheet, "tied with knots at his head and feet," and stood on a wooden urn with his eyes shut, and "with so much of the sheet turned aside as might show his lean, pale, and death-like face," while a painter made a sketch of him for his funeral monument. He then had the picture placed at his bedside, to which he summoned his friends and servants in order to bid them farewell. As he lay awaiting death, he said characteristically, "I were miserable if I might not die," and then repeatedly, in a faint voice, "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done." At the very end he lost his speech, and "as his soul ascended and his last breath departed from him he closed his eyes, and then disposed his hands and body into such a posture as required not the least alteration by those that came to shroud him." It was a strange chance that preserved his spectral monument almost uninjured when St. Paul's was burned down in the Great Fire, and no other monument in the cathedral escaped. Among all his fantasies none remains in the imagination more despotically than this last fanciful game of dying. Donne, however, remained in all respects a fantastic to the last, as we may see in that hymn which he wrote eight days before the end, tricked out with queer geography, and so anciently egoistic amid its worship, as in the verse:

Whilst my physicians by their love are grown Cosmographers, and I their map, who lie Flat on this bed, that by them may be shown That this is my south-west discovery, Per fretum febris, by these straits to die.

Donne was the poet-geographer of himself, his mistresses, and his God. Other poets of his time dived deeper and soared to greater altitudes, but none travelled so far, so curiously, and in such out-of-the-way places, now hurrying like a nervous fugitive, and now in the exultation of the first man in a new found land.


[1] Letters of Horace Walpole; Oxford University Press, 16 vols., 96s. Supplementary Letters, 1919; Oxford University Press, 2 vols., 17s.

Horace Walpole was "a dainty rogue in porcelain" who walked badly. In his best days, as he records in one of his letters, it was said of him that he "tripped like a pewit." "If I do not flatter myself," he wrote when he was just under sixty, "my march at present is more like a dab-chick's." A lady has left a description of him entering a room, "knees bent, and feet on tiptoe as if afraid of a wet floor." When his feet were not swollen with the gout, they were so slender, he said, that he "could dance a minuet on a silver penny." He was ridiculously lean, and his hands were crooked with his unmerited disease. An invalid, a caricature of the birds, and not particularly well dressed in spite of his lavender suit and partridge silk stockings, he has nevertheless contrived to leave in his letters an impression of almost perfect grace and dandyism. He had all the airs of a beau. He affected coolness, disdain, amateurishness, triviality. He was a china figure of insolence. He lived on the mantelpiece, and regarded everything that happened on the floor as a rather low joke that could not be helped. He warmed into humanity in his friendships and in his defence of the house of Walpole; but if he descended from his mantelpiece, it was more likely to be in order to feed a squirrel than to save an empire. His most common image of the world was a puppet-show. He saw kings, prime ministers, and men of genius alike about the size of dolls. When George II. died, he wrote a brief note to Thomas Brand: "Dear Brand—You love laughing; there is a king dead; can you help coming to town?" That represents his measure of things. Those who love laughing will laugh all the more when they discover that, a week earlier, Walpole had written a letter, rotund, fulsome, and in the language of the bended knee, begging Lord Bute to be allowed to kiss the Prince of Wales's hand. His attitude to the Court he described to George Montagu as "mixing extreme politeness with extreme indifference." His politeness, like his indifference, was but play at the expense of a solemn world. "I wrote to Lord Bute," he informed Montagu; "thrust all the unexpecteds, want of ambition, disinterestedness, etc., that I could amass, gilded with as much duty, affection, zeal, etc., as possible." He frankly professed relief that he had not after all to go to Court and act out the extravagant compliments he had written. "Was ever so agreeable a man as King George the Second," he wrote, "to die the very day it was necessary to save me from ridicule?" "For my part," he adds later in the same spirit, "my man Harry will always be a favourite; he tells me all the amusing news; he first told me of the late Prince of Wales's death, and to-day of the King's." It is not that Walpole was a republican of the school of Plutarch. He was merely a toy republican who enjoyed being insolent at the expense of kings, and behind their backs. He was scarcely capable of open rudeness in the fashion of Beau Brummell's "Who's your fat friend?" His ridicule was never a public display; it was a secret treasured for his friends. He was the greatest private entertainer of the eighteenth century, and he ridiculed the great, as people say, for the love of diversion. "I always write the thoughts of the moment," he told the dearest of his friends, Conway, "and even laugh to divert the person I am writing to, without any ill will on the subjects I mention." His letters are for the most part those of a good-natured man.

It is not that he was above the foible—it was barely more than that—of hatred. He did not trouble greatly about enemies of his own, but he never could forgive the enemies of Sir Robert Walpole. His ridicule of the Duke of Newcastle goes far beyond diversion. It is the baiting of a mean and treacherous animal, whose teeth were "tumbling out," and whose mouth was "tumbling in." He rejoices in the exposure of the dribbling indignity of the Duke, as when he describes him going to Court on becoming Prime Minister in 1754:

On Friday this august remnant of the Pelhams went to Court for the first time. At the foot of the stairs he cried and sunk down; the yeomen of the guard were forced to drag him up under the arms. When the closet-door opened, he flung himself at his length at the King's feet, sobbed, and cried, "God bless your Majesty! God preserve your Majesty!" and lay there howling, embracing the King's knees, with one foot so extended that my Lord Coventry, who was luckily in waiting, and begged the standers-by to retire, with, "For God's sake, gentlemen, don't look at a great man in distress!" endeavouring to shut the door, caught his grace's foot, and made him roar with pain.

The caricature of the Duke is equally merciless in the description of George II.'s funeral in the Abbey, in which the "burlesque Duke" is introduced as comic relief into the solemn picture:

He fell into a fit of crying the moment he came into the chapel, and flung himself back in a stall, the Archbishop hovering over him with a smelling-bottle; but in two minutes his curiosity got the better of his hypocrisy, and he ran about the chapel with his glass to spy who was or was not there, spying with one hand and mopping his eyes with the other. Then returned the fear of catching cold; and the Duke of Cumberland, who was sinking with heat, felt himself weighed down, and turning round found it was the Duke of Newcastle standing upon his train to avoid the chill of the marble.

Walpole, indeed, broke through his habit of public decorum in his persecution of the Duke; and he tells how on one occasion at a ball at Bedford House he and Brand and George Selwyn plagued the pitiful old creature, who "wriggled, and shuffled, and lisped, and winked, and spied" his way through the company, with a conversation at his expense carried on in stage whispers. There was never a more loyal son than Horace Walpole. He offered up a Prime Minister daily as a sacrifice at Sir Robert's tomb.

At the same time, his aversions were not always assumed as part of a family inheritance. He had by temperament a small opinion of men and women outside the circle of his affections. It was his first instinct to disparage. He even described his great friend Madame du Deffand, at the first time of meeting her, as "an old blind debauchee of wit." His comments on the men of genius of his time are almost all written in a vein of satirical intolerance. He spoke ill of Sterne and Dr. Johnson, of Fielding and Richardson, of Boswell and Goldsmith. Goldsmith he found "silly"; he was "an idiot with once or twice a fit of parts." Boswell's Tour of the Hebrides was "the story of a mountebank and his zany." Walpole felt doubly justified in disliking Johnson owing to the criticism of Gray in the Lives of the Poets. He would not even, when Johnson died, subscribe to a monument. A circular letter asking for a subscription was sent to him, signed by Burke, Boswell, and Reynolds. "I would not deign to write an answer," Walpole told the Miss Berrys, "but sent down word by my footman, as I would have done to parish officers with a brief, that I would not subscribe." Walpole does not appear in this incident the "sweet-tempered creature" he had earlier claimed to be. His pose is that of a schoolgirl in a cutting mood. At the same time his judgment of Johnson has an element of truth in it. "Though he was good-natured at bottom," he said of him, "he was very ill-natured at top." It has often been said of Walpole that, in his attitude to contemporary men of genius, he was influenced mainly by their position in Society—that he regarded an author who was not a gentleman as being necessarily an inferior author. This is hardly fair. The contemporary of whom he thought most highly was Gray, the son of a money broker. He did not spare Lady Mary Wortley Montagu any more than Richardson. If he found an author offensive, it was more likely to be owing to a fastidious distaste for low life than to an aristocratic distaste for low birth; and to him Bohemianism was the lowest of low life. It was certainly Fielding's Bohemianism that disgusted him. He relates how two of his friends called on Fielding one evening and found him "banqueting with a blind man, a woman, and three Irishmen, on some cold mutton and a bone of ham, both in one dish, and the dirtiest cloth." Horace Walpole's daintiness recoiled from the spirit of an author who did not know how to sup decently. If he found Boswell's Johnson tedious, it was no doubt partly due to his inability to reconcile himself to Johnson's table manners. It can hardly be denied that he was unnaturally sensitive to surface impressions. He was a great observer of manners, but not a great portrayer of character. He knew men in their absurd actions rather than in their motives—even their absurd motives. He never admits us into the springs of action in his portraits as Saint-Simon does. He was too studied a believer in the puppetry of men and women to make them more than ridiculous. And unquestionably the vain race of authors lent itself admirably to his love of caricature. His account of the vanity of Gibbon, whose history he admired this side enthusiasm, shows how he delighted in playing with an egoistic author as with a trout:

You will be diverted to hear that Mr. Gibbon has quarrelled with me. He lent me his second volume in the middle of November. I returned it with a most civil panegyric. He came for more incense. I gave it, but, alas, with too much sincerity! I added, "Mr. Gibbon, I am sorry you should have pitched on so disgusting a subject as the Constantinopolitan History. There is so much of the Arians and Eumonians, and semi-Pelagians; and there is such a strange contrast between Roman and Gothic manners, and so little harmony between a Consul Sabinus and a Ricimer, Duke of the palace, that though you have written the story as well as it could be written, I fear few will have patience to read it." He coloured; all his round features squeezed themselves into sharp angles; he screwed up his button mouth, and rapping his snuff-box, said, "It had never been put together before"—so well he meant to add—but gulped it. He meant so well certainly, for Tillemont, whom he quotes in every page, has done the very thing. Well, from that hour to this I have never seen him, though he used to call once or twice a week; nor has he sent me the third volume, as he promised. I well knew his vanity, even about his ridiculous face and person, but thought he had too much sense to avow it so palpably.

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