SINCE Donne was rediscovered some thirty-five years ago, critics and scholars have written a great deal about the Metaphysical poets. Nor, because he has not needed rediscovery, have they spared Milton the same treatment. On the other hand, they have written a good deal less about the relations of the Metaphysicals and Milton; and the opinions men have held on those relations have been liable to change and are still in a state of flux. There is more room for lectures on both topics together than for lectures on either in isolation.
In the early days of revived enthusiasm for the Metaphysicals, Milton, so firmly established, the vast oak not giving the smaller shrubs near by their place in the sun, was conceived of as a kind of enemy; and Donne was the man to put up against him. As in any new stir of thought, the partisan spirit showed itself; and some admirers of Donne joined to dilate his claims to greatness and to undermine the top-heavy reputation of the established idol. George Williamson's book on the Donne tradition ( 1930), written when the enthusiasm for the Metaphysicals was at its height, is typical of this spirit. If Milton was ever good at anything, he gave you to understand, Donne was always a bit better. This partisan enthusiasm has waned since then but it has left its effects. People still unconsciously conceive