John Donne: The Critical Heritage - Vol. 2

By A. J. Smith; Catherine Phillips | Go to book overview
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89.

Herbert John Clifford Grierson

1912

Grierson published his magisterial edition of Donne's poems in two volumes, being the first of Donne's editors to aim for an authentic text of the poems by an analytic comparison of all the early manuscripts and published versions which had then come to light. Grierson wrote later that he had realized in the 1890s the need for textual work on Donne such as commonly went into the editing of a classical text. He remarked that his interest in Donne had been aroused by the essays of Dowden and Minto, and the edition of Donne's poems by E.K. Chambers. 1

The new edition of Donne made such an impact that Grierson is sometimes credited with the modern rediscovery of Donne, and the year 1912 spoken of as a turning-point in English literary studies. Beyond doubt Grierson's work massively confirmed Donne's stature and furthered the serious study of his poetry, as well as preparing the ground for all future work on the text of the poems.

In the second volume of his edition Grierson essayed a long introduction to the poems, and commentary upon them, whose tenor is markedly more conservative than his editorial approach. Yet he did initiate some ideas about Donne's poetry which would be developed in later criticism ('The Poetry of John Donne', The Poems of John Donne, 1912, vol. ii, pp. v-lv).

[Grierson begins by approving Courthope's account of 'Donne's position among English poets, regarded from the historical and what we like to call scientific point of view'.]

What we are shown is the connexion of 'metaphysical wit' with the complex and far-reaching changes in men's conception of Nature which make the seventeenth century perhaps the greatest epoch in human thought since human thinking began.

[He judges that Courthope 'has probably said the last word' on the subject of Donne's conceits. Then he goes on to trace the

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