In publishing this Essay of my Poeme, there is this great disadvantage against me; that it commeth out at this time, when Verses are wholly deduc’t to Chambers, and nothing esteem’d in this lunatique Age, but what is kept in Cabinets, and must only passe by Transcription.
Michael Drayton, Poly-Olbion, 1612, “To The Generall Reader”
Donne and Jonson were the most important and influential poets writing in the first quarter of the seventeenth century. They were the new voices, as the last two chapters have attempted to show. But their poetry was hardly “popular,” if we mean by that word a poetry either conceived with a large population of readers in mind or concerned with exploring issues that might be described as of broadly public or national interest. Donne’s poetry circulated widely but in manuscript and, initially at least, among a highly select group of aristocrats and educated friends. He saved his preaching for the pulpit and for prose. When financial circumstances forced him finally and for the only time to publish some verse, it is significant that the “First and Second Anniversaries,” the work he entitled An Anatomie of the World, appeared without his name on the title page and that the world he chose to anatomize has little to do with the particularities of daily life. In this regard, Eliot’s famous description of Donne as possessing the kind of mind that amalgamates experiences as disparate as falling in love and the smell of cooking is misleading. 1 Indeed, were it not for the fact that in his poetry, at least, Jonson wrote for an audience similar (in some cases identical) to Donne’s, the description might apply better to him, where there is more cooking and more of the world. But except when Jonson’s purpose is satirical, his sense of “society,” like Donne’s, does not extend very far downward; and though his route into print was very different from Donne’s, both ultimately sought to disguise the vulgar connections binding them to booksellers and stationers and ultimately to the public. It is not mere flattery that inspired Jonson to depict Donne as his ideal judge and reader in Epigram 96. “A man should seek great glory, and not broad” defines a credo the two men held in common.