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The Critical Heritage gathers jointly a wide physique of serious resources on significant figures in literature. every one quantity provides modern responses on a writer's paintings, permitting scholar and researcher to learn the cloth themselves.

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Extra info for John Donne, Volume 1 (The Critical Heritage)

Example text

It follows that what matters in Donne is ‘the management of the thoughts’ rather than ‘the ornaments of style’. As some earlier critics had done, de Quincey singles out the Metempsychosis. For him it exemplifies the ‘extraordinary compass of powers’ one finds in Donne’s poems, which uniquely combine ‘the last sublimation of dialectical subtlety and address with the most impassioned majesty’. Here is a truth, finely put, which more than vindicates Donne’s derided wit and versification. It reminds us of the poet we ourselves don’t always honour enough for his distinctive mastery of our language, Browning’s ‘magisterial Donne’ whose sonorous music also overwhelmed Swinburne.

In 1756 he was savaged for placing Donne in the second class of poets and allowing him even a moderate degree of poetical genius. So the rewritten passage six years later quietly relegated Donne to the third class of poets, mere men of wit and lively fancy in describing familiar life. By 1782 Johnson had pronounced on the metaphysical poets and we find Warton dismissing Donne altogether, in thoroughly orthodox terms, as a corrupter of taste who is full of false thoughts, far-sought sentiments, and unnatural conceits.

Both Warburton and Hurd praised the Metempsychosis highly and found much that is fine and noble in the Satyres. Kippis, heralding the coming revival, flatly contradicted the orthodox reviewers who could find no poetry in Donne and referred them to the last four stanzas of the ‘Valediction: forbidding Mourning’. Cowper at least showed an eagerness to read Donne’s verse and a freedom from the current prejudices against it. The weight of hostile opinion was considerable to judge by the way some people went back on their first favourable impressions of Donne, and if anything it increased as the century went on.

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