Professor W. Minto (1845-93) of the University of Aberdeen contributed a substantial appraisal of Donne to a leading review. He had formerly published a book on Characteristics of English Poets from Chaucer to Shirley (1874; second edition 1885), with the aim of setting out 'the characters, personal and artistic, of the poets dealt with', but, although he included BenJonson, he made no mention of Donne. ('John Donne', Nineteenth Century, 7 (1880), 846-63.)
[Minto ponders the continuing neglect of Donne's poetry:]
it is strange that a man who in such an age was numbered among the masters of literature should have received so little honour from posterity.
Neglect, indeed, is not the only indignity that the poetry of Dr Donne has suffered. It was stamped with emphatic condemnation by the great critical authority of the eighteenth century. Dr Johnson recognised Donne as a master and the founder of a school, but it was a school with which he had no sympathy. He nicknamed Donne and his followers 'the metaphysical poets', and he culled from their works a variety of specimens to prove that the characteristics of the school were unnatural and far-fetched conceits, 'enormous and disgusting hyperboles', 'violent and unnatural fictions', 'slight and trifling sentiments'. At the same time he did not deny that there was something to be said in their favour.
Great labour, directed by great ability, is never wholly lost; if they frequently threw away their wit upon false conceits, they likewise sometimes struck out unexpected truth; if their conceits were far-fetched, they were often worth the carriage…. If their greatness seldom elevates, their acuteness often surprises; if the imagination is not always gratified, at least the powers of reflection and comparison are employed; and in the mass of materials which ingenious absurdity has thrown together, genuine wit and useful knowledge may be sometimes found buried perhaps in grossness of expression, but useful to those who know their value; and such as, when they are expanded to perspicuity and polished to elegance, may give lustre to works which have more propriety, though less copiousness, of sentiment.
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Book title: John Donne: The Critical Heritage. Volume: 2. Contributors: A. J. Smith - Editor, Catherine Phillips - Editor. Publisher: Routledge. Place of publication: London. Publication year: 1996. Page number: 3.
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