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John Donne (1572 - 1631)

Picture of John Donne
Books by this author: Selected Letters
  • About
  • JOHN DONNE developed one of the most distinctive and remarkable poetic voices of the English Renaissance. He also became a leading churchman: having been born and bred a Catholic (his mother was descended from Thomas More), he began asserting his loyalty to the Church of England in his twenties and was appointed Dean of St Paul's at the age of forty-nine. The first edition of his verse, which was published posthumously in 1633, contained a number of elegies commemorating him as one of the greatest preachers of his age. In his private life, however, he was dogged by insecurity and loss: in 1574 his mother's uncle was executed for saying Mass; ten years later one of her brothers narrowly avoided the same fate; and when Donne was twenty-one or so, his own brother died in Newgate, where he had been sent for harbouring a priest. Then, in 1601, Donne married the fifteen-year-old Ann More without her family's knowledge, precipitating a period of poverty and dependence which ended only with his ordination in 1615. Horrified by religious extremism, he occupied a moderate, central position in the fierce religious disputes of his day, enabling his parishioner Izaak Walton to present him, in the first edition of his Life and Death of Dr Donne, as a man entirely without party allegiances who devoted himself to preaching and acts of charity.
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