John Donne and Conformity in Crisis in the Late Jacobean Pulpit

By Jeanne Shami | Go to book overview

Chapter 4

“FAIRE INTERPRETATION”: THE DIRECTIONS AND THE CRISIS OF CENSORSHIP

FAULT LINES IN CONFORMIST SERMONS

WHILE THE Directions for Preachers were issued on 4 August, their official interpretation had to wait for Donne's sermon almost six weeks later. This 15 September sermon was Donne's most important homiletic intervention in the public sphere. Preached by royal command, it was published shortly afterwards, and soon moved into three issues (IV, 15—16). Neither the sermon's publication nor its royal authorization, however, are the chief reasons for according it this significance. 1 Its influence derives primarily from Donne's specific role in interpreting the momentous and controversial change in public policy anticipated in August and September of 1622 in terms that would satisfy political and ecclesiastical authorities as well as the internally divided audience for sermons in the Church of England. Donne's mediation of the crisis of censorship that precipitated the Directions would have significant consequences for the identity of the late Jacobean church.

While it is unlikely that Gowry anniversary sermons for 1622 were responding to the Directions, sermons by Andrewes, Purchas, and Daniel Donne, all subsequently published, establish parameters for interpreting the Directions. Andrewes delivers an “ultraconformist” performance on the theme of nolite me tangere; 2 Purchas, puritan chaplain to George Abbot and John King, delivers a diatribe against all the demons of Jacobean culture, including papists, Jesuits, the powder- plotters, anarchy and disorder, the Scots, and the Irish. Daniel Donne, at Paul's Cross, delivers an equivocal sermon on the dangers of religious extremism. All three sermons demonstrate the preoccupation of the pulpit with questions of obedience, authority, and order in the summer of 1622.

____________________
1
Although it is Donne's first printed sermon, it was not the most widely circulated; more manuscript copies exist of his “Sermon of Valediction, ” for example, preached in 1619 before his departure with the Doncaster embassy. The impact of scribal “publication” is only beginning to be appreciated. See works by Woudhuysen, Love, Beal, and Marotti's Manuscript, Print. Donne's 1622 Gunpowder Plot sermon exists in both manuscript and printed forms, enabling comparison of the differences between the two versions. See Shami, “Donne's 1622 Sermon on the Gunpowder Plot.” Manuscript sermons by Stoughton, Abbot, Winniffe, and Loe will cast important light on the emerging public sphere following the Directions. We have already seen the impact of manuscript sermons by Simpson and Peacham in Chapter 2 above.
2
Ferrell, Government by Polemic, calls this theme the “leitmotif of ultraconformist sermons after 1610” (p. 104).

-102-

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