Professor H.J.C. Grierson (1866-1960) of the University of Aberdeen, who would become Donne's greatest editor, embarked upon his study of Donne with an attempt to place Donne's poetry in relation to other writing of the time (The First Half of the Seventeenth Century, 1906, pp. 139-64).
Chapman comes at the head of a chapter on seventeenth-century poetry as a useful reminder that 'fantastic' is not a very distinctive title to apply to the poetry of Donne and his followers, -that if conceit and far-fetched similitudes are a sign of decadence, then Elizabethan poetry was born decadent, for from first to last it is, in Arnold's phrase, 'steeped in humours and fantasticality up to its very lips'.
It is difficult, in the absence of such contemporary evidence as is afforded to-day by critical reviews, to date exactly the changes in poetical taste. It seems clear, however, that in the closing years of the sixteenth century there was a reaction against the diffuse, flamboyant, Italianate poetry which Spenser, Sidney, and Lodge had made fashionable, -a reaction which showed itself in the satires of Hall and Marston, but found its fullest expression in the poetry-much of which is satirical-of Donne and of Jonson, who took the place in courtly circles which had been held earlier by Spenser and Sidney.
…it was the endeavour to give a denser intellectual texture to poetry which gave both harshness and obscurity to the verse of the two poets who began the movement that ended with Dryden. These two poets, the chief shaping influences of Jacobean and Caroline poetry-John Donne (1573-1631) and Ben Jonson (1573? -1637)-were not only almost exactly contemporary, but were knit together by many common sympathies. They were both impatient of the diffuse and flamboyant style of the Spenserian and Italianate poets, and willing for the sake of pregnancy and vigour to overlook harshness and obscurity. Both were certainly admirers and imitators of Latin poetry, especially satirical and elegiac, and both cultivated a vein of frank, even cynical and brutal, satire. They