The first professor of English at Aberdeen University and later successor to Saintsbury at Edinburgh, Sir Herbert Grierson (1866-1960) did much to stimulate interest in the metaphysical poets with his two-volume edition of Donne and other works.
Extract from the Introduction to Metaphysical Lyrics and Poems of the Seventeenth Century (Oxford, 1921), pp. xxix-xxxi, xxxvii-xxxviii, reprinted by permission of Oxford University Press.
It was among the younger generation of Courtiers that Donne found the warmest admirers of his paradoxical and sensual audacities as a love-poet, as it was the divines who looked to Laud and the Court for Anglican doctrine and discipline who revered his memory, enshrined by the pious Izaak Walton, as of a divine poet and preacher. The ‘metaphysicals’ were all on the King’s side. Even Andrew Marvell was neither Puritan nor Republican. ‘Men ought to have trusted God, ’ was his final judgement on the Rebellion, ‘they ought to have trusted the King with the whole matter’ [RT I, p. 135]. They were on the side of the King, for they were on the side of the humanities; and the Puritan rebellion, whatever the indirect constitutional results, was in itself and at the moment a fanatical upheaval, successful because it also threw up the John Zizka of his age; its triumph was the triumph of Crom-well’s sword.
[Quotes the ‘Horatian Ode, ’ ll. 115-20. ]
To call these poets the ‘school of Donne’ or ‘metaphysical’ poets may easily mislead if one takes either phrase in too full a sense. It is not only that they show little of Donne’s subtlety of