A fine Copy with the Portrait of Donne

Donne, John (1573-1631)

Poems, by J.D. With elegies on the authors death. To which is added divers copies under his own hand never before in print.

London: Printed for John Marriot, and are to be sold by Richard Marriot at his shop by Chancery lane end over against the Inner Temple gate, 1650


Octavo: 14.2 x 9 cm. [8], 392, [32] p. A4, B-Z8, Aa8, (aa)8, (bb)4, Bb-Cc8. Lacking blank A1. With an added portrait frontispiece.

FOURTH EDITION, second issue. Largely a reissue of the sheets of the first issue but with the addition of new material in 2 new quires at end.

A very fine copy in contemporary blind-ruled calfskin, lacking ties and with small loss to the lower corner of the upper board. Front hinge just starting at head. Very fresh internally. Complete with the portrait of Donne –now rarely encountered- by William Marshall, apparently after a lost miniature by Hillyard, showing Donne as a rakish young man of eighteen, with long hair and an earring in his right ear. Beneath the portrait is a poem by Izaak Walton. Provenance: Sotheby's, 14 December 14 1959, lot 128 (undesignated consignor; purchased by Bernard Quaritch.)

“The poetry of Donne represents a sharp break with that written by his predecessors and most of his contemporaries. Much Elizabethan verse is decorative and flowery in its quality. Its images adorn; its meter is mellifluous. Image harmonizes with image, and line swells almost predictably into line. Donne’s poetry, on the other hand, is written very largely in conceits— concentrated images that involve an element of dramatic contrast, of strain, or of intellectual difficulty. Most of the traditional ‘flowers of rhetoric’ disappear completely. For instance, in his love poetry one never encounters bleeding hearts, cheeks like roses, lips like cherries, teeth like pearls, or Cupid shooting arrows of love. The tears which flow in A Valediction: of Weeping, are different from, and more complex than, the ordinary saline fluid of unhappy lovers; they are ciphers, naughts, symbols of the world’s emptiness without the beloved; or else, suddenly reflecting her image, they are globes, worlds, they contain the sum of things. The poet who plays with conceits not only displays his own ingenuity; he may see into the nature of the world as deeply as the philosopher. Donne’s conceits in particular leap continually in a restless orbit from the personal to the cosmic and back again.

“Donne’s rhythms are colloquial and various. He likes to twist and distort not only ideas, but also metrical patterns and grammar itself. In the satires, which Renaissance writers understood to be ‘harsh’ and ‘crabbed’ as a genre, Donne’s distortions often threaten to choke off the stream of expression entirely. But in the lyrics (both those which are worldly and those which are religious in theme), as in the elegies and sonnets, the verse never fails of a complex and memorable melody. Donne had an unusual gift, rather like that of a modern poet, T.S. Eliot, for striking off phrases that ring in the mind like a silver coin. They are two masters of the colloquial style, removed alike from the dignified, weighty manner of Milton and the sugared sweetness of the Elizabethans.

“Donne and his followers are known to literary history as the ‘metaphysical school’ of poets. Strictly speaking, this is a misnomer; there was no organized group of poets who imitated Donne, and if there had been, they would not have called themselves ‘metaphysical’ poets. That term was invented by Dryden and Dr. Johnson. But the influence of Donne’s poetic style was widely felt, especially by men whose taste was formed before 1660. George Herbert, Richard Crashaw, Henry Vaughan, Andrew Marvell, and Abraham Cowley are only the best known of those on whom Donne’s influence is recognizable. The great change of taste that took place in 1660 threw Donne and the ‘conceited’ style out of fashion; during the 18th and 19th centuries both he and his followers were rarely read and still more rarely appreciated. Finally, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, three new editions of Donne appeared, of which Sir H.J.C. Grierson’s, published in 1912, was quickly accepted as standard. By clarifying and purifying the often-garbled text, Grierson did a great deal to make Donne’s poetry more available to the modern reader. Almost at once it started to exert an influence on modern poetic practice, the modern poets being hungry for a ‘tough’ style that would free them form the worn-out rhetoric of the late 19th century romanticism. And Donne’s status among the English poets quickly climbed from that of a curiosity to that of an acknowledged master.

“No more than a couple of the poems on which Donne’s modern reputation is built were published during his lifetime, though most of them were widely circulated through court and literary circles in handwritten copies. There were practical reasons for this halfway state of affairs. Many of the poems would have constituted black marks on Donne’s reputation as an earnest and godly divine; and because they were difficult and allusive, only a few people wanted to read them. Thus Donne was known, outside the relatively limited circles that had access to manuscript-collections, primarily as a preacher and devotional writer. But in these capacities he was tremendously productive and influential.” (The Norton Anthology of English Literature, fourth edition)

Wing D1869; ESTC R32767; Grolier/Donne 86 (this copy); Grolier/Wither to Prior 290; Keynes, Donne 82