My name engrav’d herein,
Doth contribute my firmenesse to this glasse.
Donne, “A Valediction: Of my Name in the Window”
In one of the most stunningly determining moments in his life, John Donne married Anne More in a clandestine wedding in December of 1601. Donne had been employed as secretary to Thomas Egerton, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. Anne was a member of Egerton’s household and the daughter of Sir George More, a wealthy squire who had served on the Continent with the Earl of Leicester and perhaps Sir Philip Sidney. Their marriage eventually produced some twelve children, but its immediate effect on Donne’s career as an aspiring courtier was disastrous; the resulting quick plummet from his employer’s grace was given proverbial shape in the contemporary quip: “John Donne, Anne Donne, Un-done.” 1 In the highly awkward negotiations that succeeded the marriage, Donne sought to smooth matters over with his irate father-in-law and wrote the following, which he had delivered by no less a person than the Earl of Northumberland:
I know this letter shall find you full of passion; but I know no passion can alter your reason and wisdome, to which I adventure to commend these particulars; that it is irremediably donne; that if you incense my Lord you destroy her and me; that it is easy to give us happines, and that my endeavours and industrie, if it please you to prosper them, may soone make me somewhat worthier of her. 2
The letter is surely one of the more astonishing flops in the history of familial correspondences. Sir George subsequently pressed for both an annulment of the marriage, which he failed to get, and Donne’s dismissal from Egerton’s service, which he did accomplish. But the letter is also—and this could only have added further fuel to the fire—“irremediably donne”: that is, a statement asserting not just that an action is past and therefore a “fait