THIS STUDY is an attempt to establish Donne's relation to the conflict, current in his generation, between mediaeval and renaissance thought, and to determine the effect, if any, which Donne's suffrages in the situation which confronted him, had upon the subsequent course of English poetry.
The nature of the subject has made necessary a rather complete analysis and evaluation of modern criticism of Donne which has covered a wide range since the revival of this poet was begun by Grosart's edition of the 1870's. So far as my particular problem was concerned the two poles of that criticism were represented, on the one hand by W. J. Courthope and, on the other, by Miss Mary Paton Ramsay, whose French dissertation, Les doctrines médiévales chez Donne, appearing in 1917, advanced the rather startling theory that Donne was a true child of the Middle Ages and that he was to be understood only by tracing his origins to their mediaeval sources. The abyss which separates the critical position of Miss Ramsay from that of Courthope is to be explained only by the recognition of the divergence between their respective evaluations of the civilization to which Donne was heir. The heart of that civilization, of course, was the Thomistic philosophy, the resurgence of which has been a notable feature of the twentieth century.
My own position represents a mean between that of Courthope and that of Miss Ramsay. I have not hesitated to say that the former, by facilely reading into Donne and his era the atmosphere of religious panic which prevailed in Victorian England after materialistic science had launched its frontal attack on the Christian faith and the Essays and Reviews--and kindred works--had undermined it from within, has scarcely taken an unimpeachable viewpoint. I have insisted that it is a mistake to push Donne's break with mediaeval thought to the point where he is made to appear confused and dismayed by the "new science" of his day; that his interest in that science, particularly in the new astronomy, was rather a popular and poetic interest whereby he caught up new ideas, toyed with them, wove them into the fabric of his poetry, but at no time saw in them a challenge to the stability of traditional Christianity.
But if Courthope erred in one direction, Miss Ramsay, I have felt,
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Publication information: Book title: John Donne:His Flight from Mediaevalism. Contributors: Michael Francis Moloney - Author. Publisher: University of Illinois Press. Place of publication: Urbana, IL. Publication year: 1944. Page number: 210.
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