THE praise that has been accorded to Donne's writings by three centuries of his admirers is not more remarkable than the contempt in which they have been held by his detractors. No English writer has provoked such passionate like and dislike, for Donne more than any of his contemporaries has suffered from the vagaries of that changeable and elusive spirit, Taste. The elegies printed after his death bear witness to the popularity he enjoyed, both as a poet and as a divine, and to the end of the seventeenth century his influence as a writer in the "metaphysical style" can be traced in the work of poets and poetasters alike. This influence, though widespread, was never deep, for the turbid flood of mediæval thought and feeling that flows through Donne's writings dwindled into mere rivulets as the century advanced and in the end disappeared altogether. Donne was the last great disciple of scholasticism, of those dark esoteric beliefs that the "new philosophy," as he described the scientific renascence of the early seventeenth century, was to "call in doubt." When Donne died the heritage of the Middle Ages passed to no heir; "Death's Duell" was, as it were, a final claim to that title, its preaching a landmark in the transition of the old world into a new.
In the Augustan age Donne was barely remembered in Pope's version of his Satires, and in Johnson Life of Cowley. Appreciation of his peculiar and brilliant gifts seemed lost until Coleridge and De Quincey attempted to renew it during one of those revolutions in taste, more puzzling to the critic, than any political upheaval to the historian--the Romantic revival. Yet