Colvin (1845-1927), lately Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum, characterized Donne's poetry in his presidential address to the English Association (On Concentration and Suggestion in Poetry, 1915, pp. 16-19).
[Colvin makes Donne the arch-representative of the minority of poets who aim at intellectual concentration rather than expansiveness.]
So much by way of instance and of indication, for what such summary finger-pointing may be worth, concerning those poets, and they are the majority, who use the method of intense and suggestive concentration not continuously but by strokes and flashes, as the occasion or their inspiration bids them. Now for the minority who by principle or instinct pack and condense and concentrate and compress habitually and all the time. They are for the most part the same in whose poetry the element of intellect plays the largest and most restless part along with the elements of imagination and emotion. We have reminded ourselves how at a certain stage of Shakespeare's work the purely intellectual element thrust itself into a predominant place among his other tremendous gifts and faculties, and how it put into the mouths of his characters poetry of a more strenuous concentration, a denser imaginative and intellectual tissue, so to speak, than before. Among some poets of Shakespeare's generation and the next there existed both a passion and a fashion, much stimulated by the study of certain Spanish and Italian models, for intellectual athletics, sometimes of a highly fantastical kind. The most consistent and indefatigable of mental athletes in our Jacobean poetry was-it is needless to say to such an audience as this-John Donne, the Dean of St Paul's. From the range and depth both of his attainments and experiences, and the mingled elements of sensuality, cynicism, and intense brooding piety in his nature, the work of Donne derives a quality unique in our literature. In his hands poetry turned away from many of the pleasant conventions, pastoral, Petrarchan, and allegoric, beloved by Spenser and his followers, to concern itself with the hot and