John Donne: The Critical Heritage - Vol. 2

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

94.

Anon.,Nation

1913

An anonymous reviewer of Grierson's edition of Donne's poems explained Donne's appeal to modern readers. He warmly commended Grierson's work on the text of the poems but thought the introductory appraisal superfluous because Grierson lacked sympathy with the spirit of Donne's poetry ('John Donne, the Elizabethan', Nation, 15 February 1913, pp. 825-6).

One of the most remarkable of the English pictures in the recent 'Post-Impressionist' exhibition depicts 'John Donne arriving in Heaven'. 'I don't know who John Donne is', a sturdy member of the public was lately heard to remark in front of it, 'but he seems to be getting there.' Unconsciously, he summed up Donne's recent history. Of all the great English poets, his name is least known beyond 'literary' circles; but he is certainly 'getting there'. If one has entered, any time these last years, a railway carriage, and found some studious vagabond deep in a little blue book, it generally turns out to be Mr Chambers's invaluable edition in the Muses' Library. And now Professor Grierson and the Delegates of the Clarendon Press have given us, clothed in the most attractive garb possible, a perfect text of the poems, and an immense body of elucidatory comment.

Such service is merited. It proceeds, perhaps, from our modern clearer perception of the true nature of that Elizabethan literature of which Donne was a chief glory. The writers, principally the dramatists, of that great period between 1580 and 1640 have been treated without discrimination. From Lamb and Swinburne, who revered almost all as gods, they have passed into the hands of scholars, who find each equally a subject for annotation and conjecture. At length we are beginning to discern their degrees and kinds, and to note the limits and nature of the short period when the Elizabethans found their highest expression-a period whose spirit is almost completely the spirit of Donne. For the drama, the crown of the time, was at its best for little more than a decade. Between, roughly, 1598 and 1613, all the dramatists were doing their best work. The spirit of power came upon them startlingly.

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