DONNE'S prose, like his poetry, falls into two groups, "humane and divine," products respectively of youth and age. In the following pages will be found selections from all his prose writings except the second and least remarkable of his controversial works, the "Pseudo-Martyr." The "Paradoxes and Problemes" are the best examples of his secular work in prose, as they are also the earliest. They were written before 1600, when Donne's wit was at its most brilliant, and should be read with the poems, with the "Satyres" in particular. "Ignatius, his Conclave," which is printed here for the first time since 1652, a controversial, though not specifically a religious work, is a keen satire upon the Jesuits, contemporary with the "Anniversaries," with the style of which it has marked affinities. The "Devotions" and the "Sermons" belong to Donne's mature age, when he had long since discarded the "Mistress of his Youth"--Poetry, for a new Mistress--Divinity. The "Letters" are from every period, and are therefore a valuable commentary on his writings, in verse or in prose, and upon their development.
The importance of Donne's prose works, not only as a guide to his character but also as a key to many of the involved theories and doctrines, drawn from the Schoolmen and the Fathers, and a mountain of controversial writings, which abound, though made more subtle by fantasy, in his poetry, cannot be underestimated. The tendency has been, however, to neglect them, with the exception perhaps of the "Sermons," in favour of his poetry, and it is true to say that until Professor Grierson made use of them in his edition of the "Poems" to elucidate obscurities in the text, small attention was paid them. Since then, interest has been aroused, and with Miss Ramsay's thesis on Donne's mediævalism, Mr. Sparrow's edition of the "Devotions," and Mrs. Simpson's study of the prose works, there is no excuse for allowing this interest to abate.