In a substantial commendation of Donne's poetry, the American psycho-biographer Gamaliel Bradford (1863-1932) set out to bridge the gap between 'those who know', to whom Donne's poetry is 'an object of enthusiasm', and the general reading public, which ignores Donne altogether ('The Poetry of Donne', Andover Review, 106 (1892), 350-67; reprinted in A Naturalist of Souls, 1917).
[Bradford quoted J.R. Lowell's and Swinburne's high praise of Donne, 1 threw in Ben Jonson's and Carew's tributes to Donne, and then staked his own claim.]
We shall find, I think, that the study of his poems fully justifies this high estimate of him, though his unpopularity with those who read to pass an idle hour is perfectly explicable.
[Bradford uses the circumstances of Donne's life and career to throw light on the character of the work. He finds that Donne's early canvassing of theological controversy reveals a nature which is marked by its intensity.]
…that restless, hungry energy of mind, which will not let a man shut his eyes while there is a corner of thought unprobed, un-lightened. Vigor of intellect, fervor of emotion, -these are what give Donne his high position as a man and as a poet.
[Bradford disparages Pope's rewriting of Satires 2 and 4, and reprehends Johnson's use of Donne 'as a sort of scapegoat for Cowley…two writers who have as little as possible in common'. He derides the idea that Pope mirrored nature more searchingly than Donne.]
The most obscure and elaborate poem of Donne strikes more deeply into the truths of nature and the heart of man than the most brilliant production of the clever rhymer of Twickenham.
[Donne's coarseness and needless difficulty must be allowed; nonetheless, his ruggedness is often the condition of his success.]