John Donne: His Flight from Mediaevalism

By Michael Francis Moloney | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
DONNE AND THE RIVAL IDEALISMS

WHAT THEN is the relation of John Donne to the manifold implications of the mediaeval aesthetic thought, and to what extent was he influenced by the counter idealism of the Renaissance? These questions focus attention on the most important single factor to be considered in arriving at an evaluation of Donne as a literary artist.

Miss Ramsay, indeed, holds that Donne accepted the Thomistic synthesis--that he is, in truth a "metaphysical" poet of the mediaeval mould.

Ainsi nous considérerons Donne comme poète métaphysicien, c'est-à-dire, qui cherche son inspiration dans l'érudition et dans la philosophie de son époque . . .

. . . c'est avec Dante que Donne a le plus de ressemblances, grâce probablement au système identique de philosophie qui leur est commun . . . . Pour cette philosophie, le monde de la nature matérielle n'est point séparé du monde métaphysique. Il n'est que le symbole, la copie d'un autre monde, d'un monde intelligible. Les idées, les formes exemplaires existent éternellement au sein de l'Etre Suprême et par lequel tout a été créé, vers lequel tout se meut.1

Her position is, I think, untenable, but in maintaining it she has rendered an important service to Donnean criticism by indicating the significance which the scholastic thought assumed in Donne's mind. Actually, I am convinced, Donne rejected the mediaeval synthesis. The true explanation of both his personal and his literary orientation is to be found in his rejection of mediaeval idealism and in his puzzled and unsatisfactory state of mind which resulted from that rejection. Professor Grierson is undeniably right when he asserts that "poems are not written by influences or movements or sources, but come from the living hearts of men."2 And Courthope is unquestionably wrong when he would explain "the identity of essence in the 'Wit' which began to be fashionable in almost every European country about the time of the Council of Trent," and "the great variety of form under which it exhibited itself in different places" by saying that

____________________
1
Op. cit., p. 14.
2
Metaphysical Lyrics & Poems of the Seventeenth Century Donne to Butler. Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1921, p. xvii.

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John Donne: His Flight from Mediaevalism
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Foreword 7
  • Contents 11
  • Chapter I - The Life and Times 13
  • Chapter II - The Mind of Donne: the New Science 47
  • Chaptep III - Mediaeval Synthesis and Renaissance Dichotomy 69
  • Chapter IV - Donne and the Rival Idealisms 105
  • Chapter V - The Heart of the Struggle 129
  • Chapter VI - Donne's Mysticism 165
  • Chapter VII - In the Wake of Donne 196
  • Chapter VIII - Summary 210
  • Bibliography 214
  • Index 220
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