John Donne and the Ancient Catholic Nobility

By Dennis Flynn | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION

TWO LETTERS DONNE wrote about three months after his wedding imply that even at this late date (having suffered the disgrace of imprisonment and dismissal from his position for secretly marrying a fifteen-year-old) he had to consider, among other prospects, going into exile. On I March 1602, after his release from the Fleet, Donne wrote to his outraged father-in-law, Sir George More, concerning his own predicament:

I should wrong you as much againe as I did, if I should think you sought to destroy me, but though I be not hedlongly destroyd, I languish and rust dangerously. From seeking preferments abrode, my love and conscience restrains me; from hoping for them here my Lord's disgracings cut me of. 1

The phrase "seeking preferments abrode" does not refer to seeking work in some branch of English foreign service. Rather, Donne declines to seek Catholic preferment in exile, mentioning "conscience" as a restraint. By stressing his "conscience" in this way, Donne evidently intends, as in other letters to his new father-in-law, to mollify More's baleful view of him as "loving a corrupt religion." 2

To his former employer, Lord Keeper Sir Thomas Egerton, Donne wrote more circumstantially on the very same day:

It ys late now for me (but that necessity, as yt hath continually an autumne and a wytheringe, so yt hath ever a springe, and must put forth,) to beginne that course, w'ch some yeares past I purposd to travaile, though I could now do yt, not much disadvantageously. I have some bridle upon me now more, more than then, by my marriadge of this gentlewoman; in providing for whom I can and wyll show myself very honest, though not so fortunate. To seek preferment here with any but your Lordship were a madness. 3

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