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John Donne and Scholarly Melancholy


Author(s): Douglas Trevor
Source: Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 40, No. 1, The English Renaissance
(Winter, 2000), pp. 81-102
Published by: Rice University
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1556155 .
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SEL 40, 1 (Winter2000)


ISSN 0039-3657

81

John Donne and Scholarly


Melancholy
DOUGLAS TREVOR

Donneis ina sensea psychologist.


-T. S.Eliot

Throughouthislife,JohnDonne's proseand poetryare filledwith


1
references
to,aswellas accountsof,hisself-understanding
as a melancholic.
Ifwe takehis self-professed
depressivetendenciesas seriouslyas his
we findthatthetwoareinterlinked:
devotionalmeditations,
Donne often
ofearthly
describesecstatic
religious
experiencewiththesamemetaphors
andmaterial
heusestocataloguehismelancholic,
instability
metamorphoses
inclinatons.
LikeS0renKierkegaard,
whowillpraiseChristian
self-destructive
Donne isinclinedtoequate
beliefinpartbecauseitentailsgreatsuffering,
unhappinesswithspiritual
redemption.
Modernthinkers
indepressionhaveoftencommentedon
interested
"the
thecircularnatureofreligiousdespair.AccordingtoJuliaKristeva,
oflove and consequently
ofreconciliation
implicitness
and forgiveness
transforms
thescope ofChristian
initiation
completely
bygivingitan aura
ofgloryandunwavering
faith
hopeforthosewhobelieve.Christian
appears
anddepression,
thenas anantidote
tohiatus
with
hiatus
and
along
depression
fromthem."2
inHolySonnet
Donneuncoversa similar
andstarting
pattern
III ("O might
thosesighesandtearesreturne
againe"):
To (poore) meis allow'd
No ease; for,long,yetvehementgriefehathbeene
Th'effect
andcause,thepunishment
and sinne.3
ofEnglishattheUniversity
ofIowa.He isworking
DouglasTrevorisassistant
professor
on a book entitledThe Reinvention ofSadness: WritingLearned Selves in Early Modern
the forthcoming
Historiscm,Psychoanalysis
Englandandisco-editor
(wifth
CarlaMazzio)of

and EarlyModernCulture(Routledge).

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Donne and Melancholy

82

tosee Kristeva
Itis perhapsnotsurprising
diagnosereligiousdespairas a
formofnarcissistic
depression;andwe mightwellbe temptedto characinsucha way,particularly
ifwe arewillingto
terizeDonne'smelancholy
readtheemotionsexpressedinHolySonnetIII as self-disclosure
on the
would
partofitsauthor.ReadingDonne as a "narcissistic
depress[ive]"
thedegreetowhichhismelancholy
seemstobe permeanemphasizing
than
rather
petually
re-invigorated,
principally
byhisownself-involvement
overlostobjects.Depressives,Kristevaclaims,"do not
by bereavement
witha fundamental
considerthemselves
wrongedbutafflicted
flaw,a con... Forsuchnarcissistic
genitaldeficiency
depressedpersons,sadnessis
reallythesole object."4
The recourseto modernpsychoanalytic
categoriesto come toterms
isnotnecessary,
withDonne'smelancholy
however;earlymodernEnglish
writers,
notablyRobertBurtonand-beforehim-Timothy
Bright,
provide
us withampleschemataand examplesofthecauses and symptoms
of
intheperiod.5
asitwasunderstood
Donnecomplicates
depression
Moreover,
the relationshiphe positsbetween melancholyand religiousbelief,
notionofwhatit
complicatesitin sucha wayas to transcendKristeva's
meanstobe narcissistically
Whileheismindful
thathisinordinate
depressed.
tohisdejection,
sadness
self-interest
sometimes
provokesandcontributes
otherconcerns,
isnotDonne's"soleobject."
He isoccupiedbyothermatters,
Inthispiece,
evenotherworries:
andecclesiastical.
spiritual,
professional,
I arguethatDonne's scholarly
stimulated
melancholy-grief
specifically
an integral
bylearnedendeavor-forms
partofhisreligiousmelancholy.
Donne'sself-perceived,
melancholic
thusmanifests
itself
both
disposition
inhisapproachtolearning
ofhisexperiences
as wellas inhisarticulations
as a Christian.
as we havealreadyseen,is,attimes,desired
Bereavement,
ofHolySonnetIII:
inthedevotionalrealm.Donne praysatthebeginning
0 mightthosesighesandtearesreturne
againe
Intomybreastandeyes,whichI havespent,
ThatI mightinthisholydiscontent
Mournewithsomefruit.

(lines1-4)

AsJohnCalvinhimself
doubtadmits,despairassociatedwithChristian
inthecontextofReformation
theology,
whetheror notone could count
oneselfamongsttheelect-is hardtoavoid:"OneofSatan'sdeadlyweapons is to attackbelieverswithdoubtsaboutwhethertheyareamongthe
elect,andthenincitethemtolookforanswersinthewrongway... There

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Douglas Trevor

83

is hardlyanyonewho does notthinksometimes,


'Ifmysalvationcomes
onlyfromGod's election,whatproofhave I ofthatelection?'Whenthis
thought
dominates
an individual,
hewillbe permanently
miserable,
interribletorment
ormentalconfusion."6
Forthemalescholarintheearlymodernperiod,asJulianaSchiesarihasshown,melancholy
"appearsas a privilegedbutalso perilouscondition,"
potentially
designating
itssufferer
as a
geniuswhilealso indicating
thathe is easilysubjectto distraction,
even
madness.7Althoughdepression,fordevoutand studioussouls alike,
prompts
concern,itcan alsovalidatetheclaimsadvancedbyitssuffererclaimsofintellectual
as wellas spiritual
worth.
Aswe willsee inHolySonnetXIX("Oh,tovexme,contraryes
meetin
one"),Donne oftenturnsto hisvolatilehumoralmakeupto explainhis
religiousdevotion(p. 447). Atthesame time,however,by insisting
so
on an intimate,
vehemently
even inseparable,relationship
betweenthe
learnedand thedevoutlife-by claiming,as he does in hisEssayesin
Divinity,that"ReasonisourSword,FaithourTarget"8
-Donne knowingly
exacerbateshis humoralimbalance,forscholarlypursuitsin particular
were thoughtin the seventeenthcenturyto invitedespondencyand
depression.9Donne notonlyrecognizesthatmelancholy
lurksbehindandina senseauthenticates-his
forknowledge,hetransforms
thirst
what
Jaques,inAs YouLikeIt,calls"amelancholyofmineown"intoa subject
forintellectual
inquiry,
writing
Biathanatos,a tractthatdefendstheright
in darkthemes-decay,misery,
to self-slaughter.10
Donne's interest
guilt,
loneliness-isnotlimitable
to a certainsetoftextsorto a givenperiodin
hislife,althoughcertainly
hisyearsatMitcham,
from1607to1609,
roughly
wereespeciallyfraught
withprofessional
andpersonaldissatuncertainty
isfaction.11
as JohnCareyhas argued,Donne's "graspoftheworld
Rather,
didnotbasicallychange"duringhislife,althoughofcoursehisopinions
andsocialattitudes
evolved.12Asa poet,controversialist,
andpreacher,
his
mostpersistent
wereoftenhismostmoroseanddespairing
thoughts
ones.
Donne'sobsessionwithdecay,sickness,
anddegeneration
isnotlimited
tohisAnniversaries,
inthemwe see a particularlyvivid
although
assessment
oftheworldas "rotten
atthehart,"
likenedto "aHectiquefever[that]
hath
gothold/Ofthewholesubstance,
nottobe contrould"
(First,pp. 324-71,
lines242,243-4).Donne'stendencyto
producesuchgraphic
representations
ofmaterial
TheFirstAnniversarie
transformations-in
notonlytheworld
butmankindas well "decayes,"
whilethewhole universe"[iuscrumbled
out againe"(lines 143,212)-has been examinedmostthoroughly
by
Ratherthanread thesedescriptions
Carey.13
symptomatically,
however,
CareysuggeststhatDonneviewed"change"
withequanimity,
as "anally."'14

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84

Donne and Melancholy

Relatedto
Donne'sprobing,
at imesdishurbing,
examinations
ofmetamorphoses
and loss is hisskepticism,
whichcompelshimto presshisinvestigations
andanalyses
further
andfurther.
embodiment
Hamlet,
perhapstheexemplary
oftheearlymodernfusionofmelancholy
andskepticism,
sharesDonne's
curiosity
as wellas hisfascination
withmutability;
indeedtheprince's
tracing
ofAlexander's
dusttothestopofa beerbarrelcallstomind,inabbreviated
form,
Donne'sMetempsychosis,
inwhichthereaderisledthrough
human
history
byfollowing
thesouloftheforbidden
fruit
first
pluckedbyEve.15
Particularly
attuned
toDonne'sinexhaustibly
intellectual
nature,
although
unfortunately
distancedfromanyconsideration
ofhismelancholy,
have
been thosecriticalreadingsthatemphasizehisskepticalpredilections.
Indeed,itis tempting
to see inwhatJoshuaScodeldescribesas Donne's
"skeptical
meanbetweentheextremes
ofpositiveandnegative
dogmatism"
not merelythe skeptic's desire to find a middle ground but the
16Donne'semphasisonthe
melancholic's
desiretoattainhumoralstability.
via media,in otherwords,carrieswithita psychologicalcorollary:his
desireformoderationin ecclesiasticalaffairs
mirrors
themelancholic's
foremotional
yearning
balanceandmental
Theevidenceprovided
tranquillity.
devotional
byhispoetry,
andsermonsrevealshowDonneprose,letters,
hislife-readhisbody,faith,
throughout
andtheworld-at-large
humorally.
Scholarshave increasinglysensed the degree to which Donne's
self-analysesresistan exclusivelyChristian
templateofinterpretation,
inrelation
particularly
tohisdivinepoems.John
forexample,
Stachniewski,
regretted
of
reluctance
literary
criticsto facethe[Holy][Slonnets
"[t]he
as productions
oftheearlyseventeenth
squarely
century
bya self-confessed
melancholic,"
while-without
elaborating-David
Norbrook
hasidentified
a "manic-depressiveelement"in Donne's writings.17
Beforeeither
Stachniewski
or Norbrook,Donald RamsayRobertsarguedthat"[t]he
persistence,in one formor another,oftheidea of a deathinstinct
in
Donne'sintellectual
lifemaybe attributed
tothefact... thata wishfordeath
wasa permanent
andconstant
elementinhispsychiclife"andthatthiswish
18Donne
reveals"something
morethanappropriate
Christian
resignation."
himself
resists
a stricdyreligious
ofhismelancholybycontinually
understanding
to thepotentially
strained-ifalwayseventually
testifying
reconcilablerelationship
betweenthelearnedandthedevoutlife.Indeed,itisthrough
hisstudiesthatDonne understands
and conceptualizeshisdevotion.He
comestoreadhimself
as he does hisbooks,withinsight,
and
persistence,
considerableanguish-anguishthathe sees saturating
theworldaround
him,andon whichhe continually
drawsregardless
ofthegenreinwhich
he writes.

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Douglas Trevor

85

WhenDonne,intheDevotionsuponEmergent
Occasions,imagines
ina losingduelwithdeath,heconsidersfora moment
himself
onepossible
cause ofhisillness:"Butwhathave I done,eitherto breed,or to breath
thesevapors?TheytellmeitismyMelancholy:
Did I infuse,
didI drinkein
was I notmade to
Melanchollyintomyselfe?It is mythoughtfulnesse;
Itismystudy;dothnotmyCallingcallforthat?
thinke?
I havedonnothing,
towardit,yetmustsuffer
in it,die by it."'9As Donne
wilfully,
perversly
describesit,hismelancholy
iscausedbythinking
andstudying,
thequintofthescholar.But,towhatextentisDonne responsible
essentialactivities
fortheseinclinations,
thesetendencies
thatseemtoleadinevitably
tosickness?Initially
he proposestwoalternatives:
thevaporsthatconstitute
his
areeitherbredbyhishumorsorabsorbed-breathedin-by
melancholy
hislungs.Bytheendofthispassage,however,
Donnechoosesneither
scenario,decidinginsteadto absolvehimself
ofall responsibility,
intheprocess punningon hisname("I havedonnothing"),
andpresenting
himself
as an acted-upon,pitiablesubjectofadversity.
Donne's melancholy,
figuredas theconsequenceofscholarly
inclinations
he can neithercontrol
norresist,
is also revealedtobe ineluctably
interwoven
withhisresponsibilitiesas a preacher.
Scrupulously
in
working
through
counterarguments,
theprocessdemonstrating
theveryintellectual
rapaciousness
he laments,
Donne makesitclearthateven ifone wereto attribute
hisillnessto the
studiesthathe himself
has undertaken,
thesestudiesarein factnecessitatedby hiscalling,bythatprofession
thatGod has selectedforhim.At
othertimes,as inHolySonnetVIII("Iffaithful
soulesbe alikeglorifi'd"),
Donne readshismelancholy
inless mediatedterms,
as a kindofdespair
thatGodnotonlyimparts
butalsolifts
away:"Thenturne/0 pensivesoule,
to God,forhe knowesbest/Thytruegriefe,
forhe putitinmybreast"(p.
439,lines12-4).20
Judgingfromtheabove passage fromtheDevotions,
however,scholarly
formsan integral
melancholy
partofthis"truegriefe,"
thesincerity
ofDonne's spiritual
authenticating
convictions
whilecaushim.
inghimpain,even-potentially-killing
The close connectionsDonne drawsbetweenlearningand faithare
intheearlyseventeenth
not,ofcourse,unproblematic
Facedwith
century.
thethreatofill-health
thatwas so oftenthought
to accompanyscholarly
endeavor,
GeorgeHerbert
(accordingto
IzaakWalton)
frequently
contemplated
hisback entirely
on theactivities
and environsthatmadeup the
turning
malescholar'slifeatCambridge:
"I maynotomitto tell,thathe [Herbert]
had oftendesignedtoleavetheuniversity
anddeclineallstudy,
whichhe
didimpairhishealth;forhe hada bodyapttoa consumption,
thought
and
tofevers,
andotherinfirmities
whichhejudgedwere
increased
byhisstudies;

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86

Donne and Melancholy

forhe wouldoftensay,'He hadtoothoughtful


a wit:a wit,likea penknife
intoo narrowa sheath,too sharpforhisbody."'21
In responsetoDonne's
12"oftheDevotions,"Itis mystudy;dothnotmy
questionin"Meditation
Herbert
answersno.Inclearcontrast
toDonne,who
Callingcallforthat?"22
proclaimsno controlwhatsoeveroverhisscholarly
melancholy,
Herbert
recognizes
thedangersoflearning
andfinally
withdraws
from
suchpursuits
him.23
whentheythreaten
tooverwhelm
Donne arguesforthespiritually
edifying
effectsof learningin his
EssayesinDivinitywhere,incontrast
totheopinionsoffered
byHerbert
inA PriesttotheTemple-"Curiosity
inpryingintohighspeculativeand
blocktotheholinesse
unprofitable
questions,isanothergreatstumbling
ofScholars"-heproposesthattheworkofscholarsservesGod well:"So
he [God]ispleasedthathiswordshouldendureandundergotheopinion
or otherinfirmities,
in theeyes ofPride(theAuthorof
ofcontradiction,
and
Heresieand Schism)thatafterall such dissections,& cribrations,
return
from
thefurnace
ofHereticall
examinings
adventures
uponit,might
andgainlusterandclearnessbythisvexation."24
Whileaware
morerefin'd,
inpursuit
of
ofthepotential
pitfalls
awaitingthosewho neglecttheirfaith
Donneusuallyqualifieshiscensureofoverzealous"dissections,
learning,
orinsiststhat"Humility,
& cribrations,"
and Studiousnesse. . . areso near
ofkin,thattheyarebothagreedtobe limbesandmembersofone vertue,
In a sermonpreachedon Christmas
Temperance."25
Day in 1621,Donne
that"Knowledge
cannotsave us,butwe cannotbe
goes further,
asserting
saved withoutKnowledge;Faithis noton thisside [oflKnowledge,but
cometoKnowledgefirst,
beyondit;we mustnecessarily
thoughwe must
notstayatit,whenwe arecome thither."26
the
Learning,
then,can purify
Christian
believer,or-more relevantto Donne's own circumstances
"Tobe a good Divine,
evenhelptoprotect
thepreacherfrommelancholy:
requireshumaneknowledge;andso does itofalltheMysteries
ofDivinity
too;because,as thereareDevilsthatwillnotbe castoutbutbyFastingand
Prayer,
so therearehumours
thatundervalue
men,thatlackethesehelps."27
Donne'sconceptionoflife,indeedhispassagethrough
life,is deeply
rootedinlearning.
As Catherine
CreswellarguesinreadinghisHolySonas vision,likehisrejectionofindividual
nets,"Donne'srejectionoftruth
isan insistence
revelation,
uponinterpretation
overimmanent
seeing,often
as a movetoward'hearing'
tothe'voyce."'28
thematized
theWordorturning
Inimportant
ways,however,tolive-forDonne-is notonlytostudyand
Donneattaches
write
butalso,indoingso,tosuffer.
LikeBurton,
unhappiness
toscholarly
atthesametimethathe identifies
as the
suchpursuits
pursuits

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Douglas Trevor

87

focalpointofhisown existence,thereby
knowingly
risking
theonsetof
He also frequently
melancholy.`9
equateshisscholarlyactivity
withreal
imprisonment,
thisin spiteofthefactthathe suffered
suchdetentionin
theFleetfollowing
hissecretmarriage
toAnnMore.Forinstance,
ina 1625
letter-possibly
toSirThomas
Roe-Donne describes
a productive,
ifstifling,
periodoftime:"I have spentthisSummerin myclose Emprisonment.
I
havereviewedas manyofmySermons,as I had keptanynotesof;and I
havewritten
out,a greatmany,andhope todo more.I ameallreadycome
tothenumberof80."30
As books so oftenoccupyDonne's energies,partsofthescholarly
book as wellfigureprominently
in hisdescription
ofmortallife:"Allthis
lifeisbuta Preface,orbutanIndexandRepertory
tothebookoflife;There,
inthatbook,tobe dayly
atthatbook beginnesthyStudy;To growperfect
conversant
inthatbook,tofindwhatbe themarksofthem,whosenames
inthatbook,and to findethosemarks,ingenuously,
arewritten
and in a
rectified
conscience,in thyselfe... thisis to goeforth,and see thyself,
To liveis,for
beyondthyself,tosee whatthoushaltbe inthenextworld."'31
Donne,toreadoneselfandbyreadingtobegintheprocessofimproving,
orrectifying,
one'sconscience.Byimagining
earth-bound
lifeas a preface
oranindex,Donneconverts
individual
beingintoboundpages,pagesthat
arecarefully,
evenscrupulously,
studiedina quintessentially
erudite
fashion.
book causes Donne toprivilege,
Suchan emphasison thematerial
inthe
written
Essayesin Divinity,
praiseofGod overspokenprayers.32
Books
notonlycome to symbolizeexistenceforDonne,theyalso providehim
withanacademicaudienceintimesofpersonalisolation:
"Ishallbe content
thatOkes and Beeches be myschollers,and witnessesof mysolitary
he claimshalfvvay
hisEssayes,implying
thatwhen
Meditations,"
through
isrecorded
andcirculated
itdoesnotremain
forlong.33
introspection
"solitary"
In "SatyreI," probablycomposed while Donne was a studentat
Lincoln'sInn(1592-95),he depictsa scholar'sabandonment
ofhisbooks,
butdoes so lessapprovingly
thanWaltonhadinrecounting
deHerbert's
life.Arthur
Marotti
reads"SatyreI"-correctly,I
parturefromuniversity
think-asreflectingh'*e
ofhimself
... intothescholar-moralist
poet'ssplitting

andtheinconstant
fooladdicted
tothefashions
ofCourt
andCity."34 The

atdismissing
his
openinglinesbearwitnesstothespeaker'sfailedattempt
as a specterofhumoralintemperance,
buttheyalso castthisvisitor
visitor,
dunleavingthespeakertochoosebetweenhiscompanyandthefamiliar,
geon-likequalityofa Donne study:

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88

Donne and Melancholy

Awaythoufondling
motleyhumorist,
Leavemee,andinthisstanding
wooddenchest,
withthesefewbookes,letmelye
Consorted
Inprison,and herebe coffin'd,
whenI dye;
(pp. 214-8,lines1-4)
itresemblesa prisonora tomb,thisstudyprovestobe morelike
Although
a womb:thespeakerfindswithinitswalls the "constant
company"of
divines,philosophers,
andpoetswho nurture
his
statesmen,
chroniclers,
intellect(line 11).To imaginehis deathin such surroundings
is forthe
speakerto imaginehimself
nestled,perhapsevensuffocated,
underthe
pages ofhisfavorite
orevenunderthevolumesofnoteswritten
authors,
inhisown hand.Thisis a farcryfrombeingleft"inthemiddlestreet,"
the
speaker'sother,moreagoraphobicfearthat-fittingly-comes
truewhen
he ventures
outofhischambers(line15).
Tornbetweensocialfrivolity
andbooklearning,
Donne suggeststhat
themelancholy
thatwrapshim,likejaques,"ina mosthumorous
sadness,"
isnotmerely
ofa scholar.35
themelancholy
Asmuchas heattempts
tosatisfy
of his mind,and-perhaps moreimportantly-write
thethirst
ofsuch
Donneisalsosubjecttodistractions:
attempts,
distractions
which,if"Satyre
I"canbe takenas evidence,prompt
regret
whentheyarefulfilled.
Ina letter
hewritestohisfriend
HenryGoodyerin1622,hewelcomesthepassingof
ofhishumors,praisinghispresentmelancholicbouts
yearsand gentling
in comparisonto thosehe once suffered:
ofthebody
"Everydistemper
now,is complicatedwiththespleen,andwhenwe wereyoungmenwe
scarceeverheardofthespleen.Inourdeclinations
now,everyaccidentis
accompaniedwithheavycloudsofmelancholy;
andinouryouthwe
never
admitted
any.Itisthespleenoftheminde,andwe areaffected
withvapors
fromthence;yettruly,
even thissadnesse thatovertakesus, and this
yeeldingto thesadnesse,is notso vehementa poison (thoughitbe no
Physickneither)
as thosefalsewaies,inwhichwe soughtourcomforts
in
ourlooserdaies."36
Eagerhereandelsewheretoputdistancebetweenhis
pre-ordination
Donneblameshiscurrent
"looser,"
daysandthosethatfollow,
on hisspleen,theorganin whichmedicaltheoryoftheday
distempers
wouldhaveplacedtheproduction
ofthemelancholic
humorblackbile.37
thetruesourceforsuch"heavyclouds,"rather
Recognizing
thanfollowing
the "falsewaies" of his youth,providesDonne withcomfort,
in part
because withtheidentification
of "true"symptoms
hismind,and body,
aresparedtheharmful
effects
ofmisguidedrumination.

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Douglas Trevor

89

the"false
Certainly,
waies"withwhichDonneassociates
hisprior"poison"
remindus ofthespeaker'swaywardsalliesintothestreetsofLondonin
I."Nonetheless,
"Satyre
letters
written
beforeDonne'sordination
indicate
thathislackofclericalcredentials
also perturbs
him,suggesting
perhaps
thathe mighthavefounda careeras a preacherattractive
in 1615in part
becauseitmeantan increaseinhisstature
as a scholar,andthusa possible
oftheseverity
ofhismelancholic
diminution
bouts.Writing
toGoodyerin
1608,Donne expressesconcernoverbeingdismissedas a self-interested
layman,even whenthewritings
he has in mindare in verseratherthan
inLatinverse,whichgavemenotthereason
prose:"IhavemettwoLetanies
foringood faith
ofmymeditations,
I thought
notuponthemthen,butthey
giveme a defence,ifanyman;to a Layman,and a private,
imputeitas a
totakesuchdivineandpubliquenames,tohisownlittle
fault,
thoughts."38
Donne'scomments
hispoem "TheLitanie"
regarding
implythathe views
his poeticproductionsas he does his scholarlyprojects.Bothrequire
fromcritics.
research,ifnotforideas,thenfor"defence"
Keenlyawareof
to his "little
Donne at
theneed to lendweightand legitimacy
thoughts,"
once seeks outprecedentsfortheclaimshe is making,as anybudding
to preservehis
controversialist
must,whileat thesame timeattempting
as a poet,assuring
ingenuity
Goodyerthathe innowayhadtheLatinlitanies
inmindwhenhe wrotehisown.
ofscholarlyand
IfDonne's lettercallsattention
to thecommonality
"TheLitanie"itselfrepeatedlyatteststo itsauthor's
poeticenterprises,
awareness-moreinsistedupon herethaninhisEssayes-ofthedangers
learningcan pose toreligiousbelief.Indeed,themostpersistent
petitions
inthepoemdwelluponthespeaker'sfearthathe willpursueknowledge
moreimportant
matters:
"Letnotmy
too zealously,therebyforgetting
mindebe blinderbymorelight/NorFaithbyReasonadded,losehersight"
towriting
(pp.456-67,lines62-3).Excessiveattention
poetryalsoprompts
theprophets,
thespeakeraskshisLord"ThatI by
earnestpleas;regarding
orPoetiquenesse"
themexcusenotmyexcesse/Inseekingsecrets,
(lines
of "TheLitanie,"
entitled"TheDoctors,"Donne
71-2). In stanzathirteen
anothercautionary
strikes
note,askingthatwhattheChurchFathers
havemisdone
wee tothatmaynotadhere,
Ormis-said,
Theirzeale maybe oursinne.Lordletus runne
Meanewaies,andcallthemstars,butnottheSunne.
(lines114-7)

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90

DonneandMelancholy

withregardtolearning
fewreaders
Suchtemperance
wouldhavesurprised
thatpointed
inJacobeanEngland,accustomedas theyweretoarguments
out theperilsawaitingthosewho pursuedknowledgeimmoderately,
argumentsoftenputforth
by learnedmen("How well he's read,"King
ofBerowneinLove'sLabour'sLost,"toreasonagainst
Ferdinand
remarks
reading!").39
Bytheend of"TheLitanie,"
however,Donne'swaryattitude
towardsuchintellectual
andaestheticpursuits
is qualified,
whilehisown
tomoderate
hispassionisopenlydoubted.Thepenultimate
ability
petition
ofthepoem,followedonlybya finalprayer
forsalvation,
findsthespeaker
askingGod tomoderatehisdangerousdesireforknowledgewhileatthe
sametimetorefrain
fromvanquishing
itentirely:
Thatlearning,
thineAmbassador,
Fromthineallegeancewee nevertempt,
Thatbeauty,paradisesflower
Forphysickemade,frompoysonbe exempt,
Thatwit,borneapt,highgood todoe,
Bydwellinglazily
On Naturesnothing,
be notnothing
too,
Thatouraffections
killus not,nordye,
Heareus,weake ecchoes,0 thoueare,andcry.

(lines235-43)

Equated here with"affections"-with


feelingsor emotionsthatdefy
governance,oremanatefroman abnormalbodilystate-theyearning
to
knowisrecognizedas a potential
for
poison,andyetthespeakerpleads it
nonethelessto remainin hissystem.40
He wantsin psychologicalterms
whattheskepticdesiresintellectually:
toholda positionbetweenextremes.
Donne'sdefenseof"TheLitanie"
as havingbeenwritten
in"goodfaith"
mirrors
hisinsistence
thatBiathanatoswas composedoutof"[p]iety,"
and
indeedbothworksarethought
whileDonne livedat
tohavebeenwritten
Mitcham.41
Each composition,althoughin a different
genre,atteststo
Donne's scholarlyblendingofintellectual,
religious,and melancholic
inclinations.WhileDonne deniesin Biathanatosthathisstudyofselfisblasphemous,
slaughter
hisdecisiontokeepthebookinmanuscript
form
suggestsfearon hispartthattoowidea readership
mightcause thework
to be accused ofinjecting"poyson"intothefloweroflearning.Donne
realizes,inotherwords,thathisstudiousinclinations
flirt
withdanger-at
ofpubliccensure,
theveryleastintheform
atthemost,spiritual
corruptionandyethe refusestoforswear
suchpredilections,
eitherthatthey
claiming

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Douglas Trevor

91

or thattheydeservescripted
are a partofhisnature,as in "TheLitanie,"
with
Biathanatos.
In
the
latter
preservation,
as
case, textualabeyance
represents
Donne'sfamiliar
forthevia media,herebetweentwo
yearning
extremesdescribedinthe1619letterto SirRobertCarreas "the[printing]
Presse,andtheFire."42
towhatDonne claimsinhis 1622letter
Contrary
to Goodyer,"Satyre
III"indicates
thattheyounger
Donneiswellawareofthespleen,foritfigures
intheopeningofthepoem:"Kindepitty
prominently
chokesmyspleene;
brave scornforbids/ Those tearesto issue whichswell myeye-lids"
(pp. 224-9,lines 1-2). Unsatisfied
byhisown displayofChristian
belief,
whenitis contrasted
withthe"blindePhilosophers"
ofpast
particularly
ages, "whosemerit/ Of strictlifemaybe imputedfaith,"
the speaker
resolvesto "Seeketruereligion"
(lines12-3,43):
To will,implyesdelay,therefore
nowdoe.
Harddeeds,thebodiespaines;hardknowledgetoo
The mindesindeavoursreach,andmysteries
AreliketheSunne,dazzling,yetplainetoalleyes.

(lines85-8)

on theselines,RichardStrier
Commenting
has arguedthat"[t]hecontext,
after
lifeingeneralbutofthereligiouslife
all,is notthatoftheintellectual
inparticular."43
ButDonne,I wouldsuggest,
does notso neatlydistinguish
betweenthetwo.Rather,
forhim,as we havealreadyseeninhisChristmas
Day,1621sermon,"wemustnecessarily
cometoKnowledgefirst,
though
we mustnotstayatit,whenwe arecomethither."44
Forthespeakerin"Satyre
himself
to 'truereligion"
III,"tocommit
meansrecommitting
himself
to his
AsJ.B.Leishman
studies.
"this
in
truth
a
wrote, saving
is, sense,factual
rather
thandoctrinal,
and to be attained,
notinsome beatificvision,butas the
resultofa long and laboriousprocessofhistorical,
or semi-historical,
research."45
Or,as Donne putsit,
andfalshoodbee
thoughtruth
a littleelderis;
Nearetwins,yettruth
Be busietoseekeher,beleevemeethis,
Hee's notofnone,norworst,thatseekesthebest.

(lines72-5)

Attheveryleast,itappears,seekingtruth
can do no harm,andyetdistinfromthe"worst"
guishingthe"best"ofthesepursuits
vexes Donne long
after
III."
he has finished
"Satyre

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92

Donne and Melancholy

Donne'sreligious
beliefdependsupon,andisarticulated
through,
his
ownsearchfor"hardknowledge."
In"Satyre
III,"theconnectionbetween
... plaineto all eyes"is unclear,as Strier
thissearchand those"mysteries
I wouldargue,reflects
acknowledges(lines87-8).46Butthisambiguity,
the
intimate
relationship
Donne maintains
betweenstudyand devotion;the
latter,
whilestrengthened
bytheformer,
is notdependentupon it.The
natureofdevotionis a mystery,
is through
andyet-paradoxically-it
the
mind'sendeavors
thatfaith
canbe made"plainetoalleyes."Whileundecided
about the natureof "truereligion,"Donne is certainthatit is to be
ofhisstudy
Andyet,recalling
thedescriptions
approachedthrough
study.
in"Satyre
I"andelsewhere,
hefrequently
describestheplaceinwhichsuch
learning
occursas a depressing
one,linking
scholarly
activitywith
suffering
and isolation,justas he describes,as inthebeginningofLa Corona,his
verseas a productofhis "lowdevoutmelancholie"
(pp. 429-30,line2).
Donne periodically
fromhisscholarly
releaseshimself
Although
imprisonment,itshold on himremainssteadyovertime.This is in spiteof,
indeedbecauseof,themorbidconnotations
thestudycarriesforDonne,
foritisinhisdescriptions
ofthescholar's
Donne'sfascination
that
placeofwork
Hislearnedendeavors,
withdeathisgrounded.
inother
words,areendeavors
rootedina desireifnotnecessarily
todie thento experiencetheplace of
thestudy.
death,a place accessedthrough
Nowhereissucha conflation
betweentheplaceofburialandlearning
in
morevisiblethan a 1608letter
toGoodyerinwhichDonne revealsthat
hisstudy,
sitsatopa crypt:"I haveoccasionto sitlatesome
quiteliterally,
and now I
nightsin mystudy,(whichyourbooks makea pretty
library)
use:forhavingunder
findethatthatroomhatha wholesomeemblematique
ita vault,I makethatpromiseme,thatI shalldie reading,sincemybook
inthededicatory
anda graveareso near."47
toSirEdward
letter
Similarly,
Herbertthatgraces the inside cover of the Bodleian Manuscriptof
ontothetext,assuring
Biathanatos,Donne projectshisown melancholy
hisfriend
thatthebookwillnottakeitsownlifebecauseitispleasedwith
"I makeaccountthatthysBooke hathinoughperform'd
itsargument:
yt
wchytundertooke,
bothbyArgument
andExample.Ittshalltherfore
the
anotherExampleofye Doctrine.Ittshallnot
lesse neede to bee yttselfe
thatys,notburyitselfe."48
therefore
The insinuation
hereis
kyllyttselfe;
to"kyll"
isthesameasto"bury,"
that
butifwerecallDonne'salready
envisioned,
in"Satyre
theproximity
"coffin'd"
passivemodesofexpiration-being
I,"noting
ofa graveto hisstudyintheletterto Goodyer-we realizethatDonne is
as muchaboutbeingplaced intheearthas he is oftaking
againthinking
hisownlife.Suicideremainsa partoftheequation,butnotthefocalpoint

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Douglas Trevor

93

ofDonne'sattention.
Thisattitude
changessomewhatintheclosinglines
oftheletterto Herbert,
whereself-slaughter
becomesthecharacteristic
"I know
ofmenwho spendtheirlivesreadingand writing:
performance
yorLoue to mee wyllmakein myfauor,and dischardge,
yow mayadde
hathnotbeene
thys,thatthoughthysDoctrine[defending
self-slaughter]
toughtnordefendedbywriters,
yetthey,mostofanysorteofMeninthe
ForDonne,suicidebecomesa possibleproduct,
world,hauepractisd
ytt."49
undertaken
andthusuniquely
andend,ofthelearnedlife,one frequently
understoodbyscholars,indeedeven conceptualizedin scholarly
terms,
intheDevotions,
forwhenDonnedescribes,
from
thetransition
theearthly
tothecelestialrealmhe does so bydrawingon an extendedanalogywith
thematerial
book.50
Upon takingholyorders,Donne givestheimpression-aswe have
in
alreadyseen-thathismelancholichumorchanges.He also indicates,
his1619letter
injustifying
toCarre,
thathispriorinterest
self-slaughter
fades
sermons.Biathanatos,Donne writesto
as he devoteshimself
to writing
Carre,isa "Bookwritten
byJackDonne,andnotbyD. Donne."'51Herethe
selfis ostensibly
studentis distinguished
scholarly
split,justas thedutiful
fromthe"motley
in"Satyre
humorist"
I,"but,infact,bothincarnations
are
involvedinlearnedactivities,
theone pious,theotherarguablyheretical.
Donne's ordination
does notmakehima new scholar,however,at least
wouldwantustobelieve,orthatDonnehimself
nottotheextent
thatWalton
Whilehe devoteshimself
mighthavehoped.52
wholeheartedly
tosermon
Donne'sworkinthisgenrebetrays
itsauthor's
continued
fascination
writing,
Christ's
soul "didnotleavehisbodybyforce,"
withself-slaughter.
Donne
on EasterDay,1619(thesameyearinwhichhewrites
tellshiscongregation
toCarreaboutJack
andtheDoctor),"butbecausehewould,andwhenhe
thisisananswerto
thisquestion,
would,andhowhewould;Thusfarthenfirst,
norviolently,
as allothersdoe,but
didnotdienaturally,
Quishomo?Christ
WhileDonnerefrains
onlyvoluntarily."53
fromofferingthe
evidencemarshaled
inBiathanatosto argueforChrist's
suicide,he nonethelessencourages
hislisteners
to thinkoftheirsavior'sdeath-ifonlyfora moment-asa
one.54Christ's
crucifixion
herefascinates
Donne notbecause it
voluntary
is a self-sacrifice
forthesinsofhumanity,
himanother
butbecauseitaffords
aboutdeath.
wayofthinking
In a numberoftextswheremelancholy
is notformally
attachedtohis
lifeas a scholar,Donne's analysisis nonethelessofa scholarly
nature;he
in
readshimself, otherwords,inthesamerigorous
wayhereadshisbooks,
lifeonearth-aswe havealreadyseen-as "buta Preface,
justas hedescribes
or butan Index."Donne's descriptive
his
tendenciesthemselvesreflect

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94

Donne and Melancholy

andearthly
(crudeorindecent),
earthy
melancholy:
hebuildsup intensely
ornondivine)
images,onlytoallowsuchimagestodecompose.
(terrestrial
to,thehumanbody,
Whileoftentheseimagesinclude,orreferexplicitly
of
the
the
physicalworldto immaterial
transfer language
theyfrequently
nature,and
realms-realmsthatare oftenofa psychologicalor spiritual
revealed
ofboth.55
In theprocess,thewriter
sometimes
curiousmixtures
readsnotonly
is one fascinated
withinconstancy,
one who persistently
andunstable.
hisownconstitution
butthelargerworldas tempestuous
ofcataclysmic,
spiritual
changewithtemporal,
Itis thisjuxtaposition
thatis at theheartofthe experienceof spiritual
earthboundshiftings
andexpressedbyDonneinmanyofhissermons,
illumination
as understood
butparticularly
in thefourextantthathe devotedto Paul's conversion
(preachedbetweentheyears1624and 1630).Whileitwouldbe impossible
oftransformation
whendescribing
experiences
perhapstoavoidmetaphors
turnsrepeatedly
toimagesof
ofspiritual
illumination,
Donnenonetheless
he remindsus in a sermonpreachedat St.
theearth.Paul's conversion,
and a
in 1624on Acts9:4,"wasa trueTransubstantiation,
Paul'sCathedral
thanconcludehissermonwiththisimageof
newSacrament."56
Butrather
thenew,sanctified
Paul,Donne insteadglossesanotherwordoftheverse
associatedwithsinbut,bythe
he has chosen-thewordearth,herefirst
forthesoulawaiting
intoanincubator
the
endofthepassage,transformed
"You heap earthupon yoursoules,and encumberthem
LastJudgment:
and luxuriant
diet;You adde
withmoreand moreflesh,bya superfluous
andmeasurenotbyAcres,butbyManors,
earthtoearthinnewpurchases,
norbyManors,
butbyShires;Andthereisa little
Close,worth
Quillet,a little
whenthoureadest,
ThatGod makes
allthese.Aquietgrave.Andtherefore,
thybed inthysicknesse,rejoyceinthis... ThatthatGod,thatmadethe
isnowmakingthybed intheearth,
a quietgrave,wherethou
wholeearth,
"57
waketheeattheResurrection.
shaltsleepinpeace,tilltheAngelsTrumpet
ofthephrase"quietgrave"emphasizesthatDonne's God has
Repetition
designatedspace forhissubjectsintheearth,space to be occupieduntil
intotheheavenlyrealmareenacted.Atthesame
greater
metamorphoses
ofthebenefits
description
time,thephrasecallstomindDespair'salluring
thatfollowsuicideinbook 1 ofTheFaerieQueene:
Is notshortpainewellborne,thatbringslongease,
Andlayesthesouletosleepeinquietgraue?
stormie
seas,
toyle,portafter
Sleepeafter
lifedoes greatly
Ease after
please.58
warre,deathafter

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95

Douglas Trevor

we mightsay,has,inthissermon,dissolvedintothecrypt
Donne's study,
itaffords,
withdrawal
perhaps,
beneathit;theallureoftheearthisthepeaceful
sermons,foronlydeathcan-in Donne's
fromsuchtasksas "reviewing"
eyes-releasethescholarfromlearnedlabor.59
Althoughbiographicaldetails(e.g.,theabandonmentofhisfamilial
usexperiences
whichwe cansurmise
religion
andthedeathofhiswife)offer
ofhismelancholy
is-as we might
tortured
Donne,hisownunderstanding
sees himself
expectinJacobeanEngland-humoral;Donne persistently
for
as rackednotso muchbyeventsinhislifeas byhisown constitution,
in a 1608letterto Goodyer,"myvicesarenot
as he notesparenthetically
normeantogo away
theycamenotyesterday,
infectious,
norwandring,
so welcome...
today:theyInnenot,butdwellinme,andsee themselves
towhichDonnetakessoleresponsithattheywillnotchange."0Theextent
whenwe recallhisinsistence
forthesevicesisdebatable,particularly
bility
in theDevotionsthathis callingnecessitatesstudying,
whichinvites
Whether
itis attributable
toGod,ortohisownnature,
ortoa
melancholy.
ofboth,the"'worst
forDonne remainsone
voluptuousness"
combination
immoderate
desireofhumanelearning.",61
alone:the"Hydroptique
temptation
Herehe holdsthesameopinionas theauthorof TheAnatomyofMelaninan effort
to
melancholy
choly,forjustas Burtonfeedshisownscholarly
Donne
cureit("IwriteofMelancholy,
bybeingbusietoavoidMelancholy"),
his"Hydroptique"
desirewitha steadydietofstudyandmeditation.62
treats
bywhich
Painfully
forDonne,however,theveryactofintrospection
one chartsone's spiritualhealth,or addressesa potentialreader,risks
letter
toGoodyer,
thisone from1609,
one intodespair.Inanother
plunging
intomyself."63
Emphasizing
Donnewrites
ofbeing"contracted,
andinverted
heconfesses
tmnsformation
ofanimaterialabstraction,
yetagainthematerial
hisfearofbeingtoogreatly
concernedwithhisowndepressionwhilehis
besidehim,has equal groundsforunhappiness:"ButifI melt
wife,sitting
intoa melancholy
whilestI write,I shallbe takeninthemanner:and I sit
and itis so muchourduty,
byone too tendertowardstheseimpressions,
Aturninwards,
toavoidalloccasionsofgivingthemsad apprehensions."64
to praybutratherinstinctively
to brood,remindsus
herenotvoluntarily
andreligiousbeliefisa sharedspace,
thattherealmformelancholy
vividly
andpsychologically,
bothmetaphorically
languagein
justas melancholic
usedtodescribehumorsthatwere
theperiodisatoncediagnostic
(melting
Hamlet'ssimilar-sounding
heatedor imbalanced),as well as figurative.
scholar
us anotherinstancein whicha disenchanted
lamentation
offers
yearnsforself-dissolution.

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96

Donne and Melancholy

O thatthistootoo solidfleshwouldmelt,
Thawandresolveitself
intoa dew,
OrthattheEverlasting
hadnotfix'd
Hiscanon'gainstself-slaughter.
God,0 God.65
Ineachcase,thespeaker'senvisioneddisintegration
isprompted
bya guilt
complexthat,paradoxically,
feedsitselfeven by conjuringup itsown
annihilation.
andtheloathing
itengenders,
Self-preoccupation,
stubbornly
suchthatwhenDonne imaginesattending
remain,
so scrupulously
tohis
soulthatitisnotbesmirched
"inanyminutebyactuallsinne,"heconfesses
that"even in thatI should wound her more, and contractanother
guiltinesse."66

Indeed,inthesame1609letter
toGoodyerinwhichDonne describes
hisanxiousmarital
he writesofdenyinghimself
relationship,
pleasurein
terms
ofthecloselinkbetweenasceticimpulsesandwillful
suggestive
selfannihilation:
"AsI havemuchquenchedmysenses,anddisusedmybody
frompleasure,andso triedhow I can enduretobe myowngrave,so I try
nowhowI cansuffer
a prison."67
hereonceagaincombineswith
"[G]rave,"
theinterlinked,
"prison,"
conflating
earthly
categoriesofdeath,suffering,
and even learning(thestudysuperimposed,
as itwere,overa crypt).In
Biathanatos,Donne claimsto keep thekeysto sucha prisonalwayson
handso thathe might
escape wheneverhe desires,makinghisprisonstay
one ofvoluntary
duration.68
Indeed,justas he-veryuncharacteristically
forhisage-grantsChristians
fromall churchesa chanceatredemption,
Donneisequallygenerouswithdepression:"Godhathaccompanied,"
he
assureshisparishioners,
"andcomplicatedalmostall ourbodilydiseases
ofthesetimes,
withanextraordinary
sadnesse,a predominant
melancholy,
afaintnesse
a chearlesnesse,
a joylesnesse
ofheart,
Similarsentiments
ofspirit"69
so overwhelm
DonneintheDevotionsthathe dares,fora moment,
toask
theunthinkable:
"Isthegloryofheavenno perfecter
initselfe,butthatit
needsafoileofdepression
andingloriousnesse
"70
inthisworld,tosetitof?
Donne's insistentuse of metaphorsthatequate themeltingsand
oftheearthwiththe
eternal
soulandtheearthly
selfaremetaphors
scorchings
thatfrequently
dissolvetheveryimagestheycreate,as wellas thesenseof
a stable,authorial
forthese
personaresponsible
images.Nowhere,
perhaps,
is thisdissolution
morestriking
thaninHolySonnetXIX("Oh,tovexme,
Thepoembrims
meetinone").71
withdescriptions
contraryes
ofinconstancy
thatdrawfromRenaissancemedicalterminology:
boththe speaker's
devotionto God and his moretemporallove are "humorous";
each is
coldandhott"(p. 447,lines5,7).AsintheDevotions,
"ridlingly
distemperd,

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DouglasTrevor

97

but
a Disease forReligion,"
Donneisawarenotonlythatone may"mistake
todescribereligious
canbe usedmetaphorically
thathumoralterminology
one's sinsto employinga physic
practice,as whenhe likensconfessing
which"drawesthepeccanthumourtoitselfe."72
Yet,herethemelancholic
Rather,
tenorofthesonnetdoes notarisefromitshumoraljuxtapositions.
thecrystalliemergeinthespeaker'sself-estrangement,
suchsentiments
zationofwhichoccursinthepoem'ssestet:
I durstnotviewheavenyesterday;
andtoday
speachesI courtGod:
In prayers,
andflattering
To morrowI quakewithtruefeareofhisrod.
comeandgo away
So mydevoutfitts
Ague:savethathere
Likea fantastique
Thosearemybestdayes,whenI shakewithfeare.

(lines9-14)

ina middlerealmwhere
Today,inpresenttime,thespeakerfindshimself
withwhichhe "durst
Thetimidity
hisapproachtoGodisclearly
inadequate.
not view heaven" is replaced,in thefollowingline,by courtingthat
to God and his "flattering
speaches."It is
permeatesbothhis "prayers"
anotherpointintime,a daytowardwhichthespeakerlookstwice,thatis
(lines11,14).
withhighvolatility
his"best,"
andyetthisstatetooisonemarked
In a 1608letter
images,and
toGoodyer,Donneusesequallytempestuous
whatmightbe hisworstdays,
even some ofthesamewords,to portray
andspiritually
thesimilarities
betweenhismelancholic
further
suggesting
illuminedstates:"I have over fraughtmyselfwithVice, and so am
andOversetting,
and
wrackes,Sinking
ridd[l]ingly
subjecttotwocontrary
undertheiniquityof such a disease as inforcesthepatientwhen he is
In "Oh,to vex me,"the
almoststarved,notonlyto fast,butto purge."73
Thedesired
stateisoneoftrembling,
and"shake[s]"
with
fear.
speaker"quake[s]"
akinto theearthquakesthatare said to bring"harmesand feares"in "A
we willrecall,
Valediction
forbidding
mourning"
(line9). IntheDevotions,
inclinations
butsuicidal
todescribenotdevotional
Donneusesearthquakes
stateofthespeaker,
Ineachcase,distemper
ones.74
pervadestheemotional
as beingwrappedin thehotand cold
a statepersistently
characterized
feversofmelancholy.
In"Oh,tovexme,"theinconstant
fits
theremembered
thatcharacterize
andlonged-for
realmofreligiousfaithabate.The finalsimileofthepoem
Ague")equates religiousfervorwithphysicalfever
("Likea fantastique
of"feare."
ourselvesthat"doubt"
to
beforegivingway tremors
Reminding

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98

Donne and Melancholy

intheperiod,andthatfear,sadness,anddespair
and"fear"
weresynonyms
ofa melancholic
werealltakentobe symptoms
condition,
onlyaccentuates
conclusion.75
Truecontrition,
atthemomentafter
thepoem'sambivalent
is byitsverynatureanxiousand
and beforeitis thrownintofluctuation,
his
intodespondency,
trembling.
Conditioned
byhisown fearofmelting
withhisbooks,Donne turnshisfearinto
own visionsofbeingcoffined
intoa description
hisfaith
intofear,anda charting
ofhistemperament
faith,
thatcharacterizes,
inhisscripted
lifeofuneasy
ofthemaddening
inconstancy
hisrelationship
sequestration
and contemplation,
bothtohimself
and to
hisGod.
Thespeakerattheconclusionof"Oh,tovexme,"ispainfully
awareof
whatisexpectedofhim,andyetthesonnetisholyonlyinsofar
asitishopeful;
thespeaker's"bestdayes"do notmaterialize.
The "here,"whichsuggests
atoncethepresent
moment
andthespeaker's
grounded
presence(spiritually
and physically)
on earthis insteadsetoffby thepronoun"Those."This
shift
from
insufficient
contrition
("here")toappropriate
("Those")issudden
void of syntactical
and formally
and surprising,
demarcation
suggested
onlybyenjambment
("savethathere/Those are mybestdayes,whenI
hisidealizedself,
shakewithfeare").76
from
thepenitent
Estranged
supplicant,
thespeaker'slongingis disturbingly
self-interested
as well as pious;
indeed,thepoempointsout-as does muchofDonne'sverse-theuneasy
similarities
betweenthetwostatesofmind.
RogerRollin,
inthemostenduring
psychoanalytic
readingoftheHoly
Sonnets,callsthem"vexatious... inpartbecause theyaresickpoemsin
theserviceofpreventive
medicine."77
Butthespeakerhere,in"Oh,tovex
witheventhepossibility
ofa cure.Instead,it
me,"does notdeludehimself
istheacuteawareness
ofhisowntemperament
himmelancholic.
thatrenders
Donne is not,as AnneFerrywouldhaveit,"asserting
theexistenceofan
intrinsic
stateofbeingwhichhe cannotname,"butrather
moretroubling,
he is recognizing
thatthisstateis inherently
andunstable.78
tempestuous
As in theDevotions,theoverriding
is a somberone:
sense ofhumanity
"Man... isbutdust,andcoagulatedandkneadedintoearth,byteares;his
matter
isearth,
between
hisforme,
misery."79
Paul,wewillrecall,
distinguishes
twokindsofsorrow("Forgodlysorrowworketh
tosalvation
repentance
nottobe repentedof:butthesorrowoftheworldworketh
While
death").80
Donne forever
he neverwhollyescapesthelatter.81
aspirestotheformer,
inhisletters,
andverse,iscontinually
mixedwith
Worldly
sorrow,
sermons,
thandiscardone kindofmelancholy
itisperhaps
fortheother,
godly.Rather
morefitting
torecognize-asDonnehimself
does-the sharedtopologies
ofspiritual
and temperamental
and to acknowledgethatDonne
terrain,
sees hisscholarlymelancholyas an integral
componentofhisreligious
tobe bothtreasured
andfeared.
faith,

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DouglasTrevor

99

NOTES
Thisessay benefitedenormouslyfromthefeedbackofmanyscholars;I would
especiallyliketo thankBarbaraLewalski,Jeffrey
Masten,and Helen Vendler.
I Epigraph
is fromT. S. Eliot,The VarietiesofMetaphysicalPoetry,ed. Ronald
Schuchard(New York:HarcourtBrace,1993),p. 80.
2JuliaKristeva,Black Sun: Depressionand Melancholia,trans.Leon S. Roudiez
(New York:ColumbiaUniv.Press,1989),p. 134.
3JohnDonne,HolySonnetIII, in 7The
CompleteEnglishPoemsofJohnDonne, ed.
C.A.Patrides(London:J.M.DentandSons,1985),pp.435-6,lines12-4.Unlessotherwise
noted,subsequentreferences
to Donne's poetrywillbe tothiseditionand willbe cited
in thetextby inclusivepage numbersforthefirst
mentionofa poem,
parenthetically
on allreferences.
Patrides
followsthenumbering
andbytheirnumbersandlinereferences
of the sonnetsestablishedby HerbertGriersonin his editionof 7The
Poems ofJohn
Donne, 2 vols. (Oxford:OxfordUniv.Press,1912).AlthoughI do not employHelen
I favorherdatingofsixteenofthenineteenHolySonnetsbetween
Gardner'snumbering,
II. The Date, Order,and Interpretation
of
theyears1609and 1611.See "Introduction:
Donne: 7heDivinePoems(Oxford:Clarendon
The 'HolySonnets"'inhereditionofJohn
Press,1952;rprt.1966),pp. xxxvii-lv.
4Kristeva,
p. 12.
the
5TheItalianhumanistMarsilioFicinois principally
responsibleforestablishing
betweenmelancholy
andlearnedendeavorinRenaissanceEurope.
perceivedconnection
See book 1,De vitasana orDe cura valetudiniseorumqui incumbuntstudio
litterarum
(1480) ofhisDe vitalibritres.
6John
Calvin,TheInstitutes
ofChristian
Religion,ed.TonyLaneandHilaryOsborne
(GrandRapidsMI:BakerBook House, 1987),p. 219.
7Juliana
and
Schiesari,TheGenderingofMelancholia:Feminism,
Psychoanalysis,
theSymbolics
ofLossinRenaissanceLiterature
(Ithaca:CornellUniv.Press,1992),p. 104.
8John
Donne,EssayesinDivinity,
ed. EvelynM.Simpson(Oxford:ClarendonPress,
1952),p. 16.
9Surveying
a wide rangeofearlymoderntexts,LawrenceBabb has arguedthat
ofintellectual
"thephysiologicaleffects
laborweresuchthatthemanofletters[inElizabethanandJacobeanEngland]could hardlyhope toescape melancholy"("Melancholy
and theElizabethanManofLetters,"
HLQ 9, 3 [April1941]:247-61,261).
10William
Shakespeare,As YouLikeIt,ed. AlanBrissenden(Oxford:OxfordUniv.
Press,1994),IVi.15.
11Accordingto Donne's nineteenth-century
biographer,AugustusJessopp,the
fromMitchamis "attributable
mournfulness
thatmarkshisletters
written
farless to any
merelackofmeansthantothatintellectual
depressioninseparablefromexcessivestrain
upon thepowersofbrainand heart"(ohn Donne, SometimeDean ofSt.Paul's [London: Methuen,1897],pp. 61-2).
"2John
Carey,JohnDonne. Life,Mind,and Art(London: Faberand Faber,1981;
rprt.1990),p. xi.
in
13See also George Williamson,"Mutability,
Decay, andJacobeanMelancholy,"
Seventeenth
rev.edn.(Chicago:Univ.ofChicagoPress,1969),pp.9-41
CenturyContexts,
14Carey,p. 182. I thinkCareyis rightin pointingout thatDonne "wanted,and
inwhichall thingswere continuously
invented,a universeas changeableas himself,
on theedge ofnothingness,"
butchangeunsettledDonne inwaysI do notthinkCarey
sufficiently
acknowledges(p. 158).

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100

Donne and Melancholy

15See Shakespeare,
1982),V.i.200-5.
Hamlet,ed. HaroldJenkins
(London:Routledge,
"Theonelymeasure
DonneendsMetempsychosis
byechoingbothHamletandMontaigne:
is,and judge,opinion"(pp. 402-27,line520).
16JoshuaScodel, "JohnDonne and the ReligiousPoliticsof the Mean,"inJohn
T Shawcross,
ed.Raymond-Jean
Donne'sReligiousImagination:EssaysinHonorofJohn
Frontainand FrancesM.Malprezzi(ConwayAR:UCAPress,1995),pp. 45-80,55.
17JohnStachniewski,
"JohnDonne: The Despairofthe'HolySonnets,"'ELH48, 4
(Winter1981):677-705, 705 n. 52; David Norbrook,"The Monarchyof Witand the
LiteraryTheoryand
RepublicofLetters:
Donne's Politics,"
inSoliciting
Interpretation:
Seventeenth-Century
EnglishPoetry,ed. ElizabethD. Harveyand KatharineEisaman
Maus (Chicagoand London:Univ.ofChicagoPress,1990),pp. 3-36,16.
18Donald RamsayRoberts,
Donne,"PMLA62,4 (December
"TheDeathWishofJohn
1947):958-76,970,960.
19Donne, "Meditation12,"in Devotionsupon EmergentOccasions,ed. Anthony
Raspa (Oxford:OxfordUniv.Press,1987),pp. 62-4,63.
20HereI followtheWestmoreland
manuscript.
The 1635Poems,inaccordancewith
rendersthelastlineas "Thygriefe,forhe putit
theO'Flahertyand Dobell manuscripts,
intomybreast."See Gardner,p. 14.
21Izaak Walton,"TheLife
ofDr.Donne"and "TheLifeofMr.GeorgeHerbert"(New
York:P.F.Collierand Son, 1937),p. 384.
22Donne,"Meditation
12,"p. 63.
23Timothy
Brightcounselshisreaderto "abandonworkingofyourbrainebyany
fromsuch actions,that
studie,or conceit:and giue yourmindto libertieofrecreation,
drawetoo muchofthespirit,
and therby
wrongthecorporallmembersofthebodie"(A
TreatiseofMelancholie [London, 1586],p. 243). While WinfriedSchleinerargues
convincinglythat"'bythe earlyseventeenthcenturymelancholyis not presented
scholarssuchas Donne and RobertBurton
unambiguouslyas thehumorofthegifted,"
continueto associatethemselveswiththemalady(Melancholy,Genius,and Utopiain
theRenaissance[Wiesbaden:OttoHarrassowitz,
1991],p. 29).
24 George
A PriesttotheTemple.Or,7The
CountryParson,His Character,
Herbert,
and Rule ofHolyLife,in The WorksofGeorgeHerbert,ed. F. E. Hutchinson(Oxford:
ClarendonPress,1941),pp. 223-90,238. Donne, Essayesin Divinity,p. 57.Cf.Martin
Luther,
De ServoArbitrio,
inLutherandErasmus:Free WillandSalvation,trans.Philip
S. Watson(London:SCMPress,1969),pp. 110-2.
25Donne,Essayesin Divinity,p. 5. Cf.Scodel,p. 62.
26Donne,TheSermonsofJohnDonne, ed. Simpsonand GeorgeR.Potter,10vols.
(Berkeleyand Los Angeles:Univ.of CaliforniaPress,1962),3:359.All referencesto
Donne's sermonsarefromthisedition.
27Donne,Sermons,9:254.
28 CatherineCreswell,"Turning
to See the Sound: Readingthe Face of God in
Donne's HolySonnets,"inJohnDonne'sReligiousImagination,pp. 181-201,184.
should
toBurton,
29According
"[t]womainereasonsmaybe givenofit,whystudents
thenothers.Theone is,theylivea sedentary,
be moresubjecttothismalady[melancholy]
solitarylife,sibi & musis,freefrombodilyexercise.. . The second is contemplation,
whichdriesthebraine,and extinguisheth
naturallheat,forwhilstthespiritsare intent
and thence
to meditationabove in thehead, thestomackeand liverare leftdestitute,
comeblackebloodand cruditiesbydefectofconcoction,andfor wantofexercise,the
superfluousvapours cannot exhale" (The AnatomyofMelancholy,ed. Thomas C.
Faulkner,NicolasK. Kiessling,and RhondaL. Blair,3 vols. [Oxford:ClarendonPress,
1989],1:302-4).

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101

DouglasTrevor

30Donne, TheCompletePoetryand SelectedProseofJohnDonne, ed. CharlesM.


Coffin(New York:RandomHouse, 1952;rprt.
New York:ModernLibrary,
1994),p. 402.
AllquotationsofDonne's letters,
unlessotherwisenoted,are fromthisedition.
31Donne,Sermons,6:286.
32See Donne,Essayesin Divinity,p. 41
33Ibid.
F.Marotti,John
34Arthur
Donne, CoteriePoet(Madison:Univ.ofWisconsinPress,
1986),p. 39.
As YouLikeIt,IV.i.18-9.
35Shakespeare,
36Donne,SelectedProse,p. 390.
37See, forexample,ThomasWalkington,
TheOptickGlasseofHumors(London,
1639),p. 133.
38Donne,SelectedProse,p. 373. The datingofthisletter,
as withmostofDonne's
Patridessuggests1609or 1610(p. 456).
correspondences,is uncertain.
39Shakespeare,
Love'sLabour'sLost,ed. RichardDavid (London:Routledge,1951,
rprt.1994),I.i.94.
40According
to theOED, affectioncould be used in Donne's day to referto "an
emotionor feeling.. . as opposed to reason,"a "[s]tateofmindgenerally,
mentaltenor a "bodilystatedue to anyinfluence."
dency;disposition,"
41Donne, Biathanatos,ed. ErnestW.SullivanII (Londonand Toronto:Associated
Univ.Presses,1984),p. 31 ForthedatingofBiathanatos,see Sullivan'sintroduction,
p. ix.
42Donne,SelectedProse,p. 387.
43Richard
Strier,
"RadicalDonne: 'SatireIII,"'ELH60, 2 (Summer1993):283-322,304.
44Donne,Sermons,3:359.
B. Leishman,The Monarchy of Wit:An Analytical and Comparative Study of
45J.
thePoetryofJohnDonne(1951;rprt.London:Hutchinson,1962),p. 116.
46Strier,p. 304.

47Donne, Selected Prose, p. 372.

48Donne,Biathanatos,"AppendixA,"pp. 248-50,249.
49Ibid.
50See Donne, "Meditation
17,"inDevotions,pp. 86-7.
51Donne, SelectedProse,p. 387.
52See Walton,LifeofDr.Donne, p. 342.
53Donne,Sermons,2:208.
54SeeDonne,Biathanatos,pp. 128-30.
55See ElaineScarry,
"Donne:'Butyetthebodyis hisbooke,"'inLiterature
and the
Body:Essayeson Populationsand Persons,ed. Scarry(Baltimoreand London:Johns
HopkinsUniv.Press,1988),pp. 70-105.
56Donne,Sermons,6:209.
57Donne,Sermons,6:213.
58Edmund
Spenser,TheFaerie Queene,ed. A.C. Hamilton(Londonand New York:
Longman,1977),I.ix.40.6-9.
59Cf.
Donne's description
ofChrist's
thatis,hissubmersionintemporal
depression,
and hiseventualredemption(Sermons,10:192-3).
suffering,
60Donne, Selected Prose, p. 372.
61Donne, Selected Prose, p. 376.
62Burton,
TheAnatomy ofMelancholy, 1:6.
63Donne, Selected Prose, p. 377.

64Donne,SelectedProse,pp. 377,378.
65Shakespeare,Hamlet,I.ii.129-32.Here I followtheFoliotext.

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102

Donne and Melancholy

66Donne,SelectedProse,p. 375.
67Donne,SelectedProse,p. 378.
68Donne,Biathanatos,p. 29.
69Donne,Sermons,7:68-9.
70Donne,"Expostulation
17,"inDevotions,pp. 87-9,89.
71Jonathan
Dollimorearguesthat,inthispoem,and intheHolySonnetsingeneral,
"anexperienceofdislocation... overrideseven therelocatingpotentialofthesonnet

form"(Radical Tragedy: Religion, Ideology, and Power in the Drama of Shakespeare

and His Contemporaries,


2d edn. [DurhamNC:Duke Univ.Press,1993],p. 180).
72Donne,"Meditation
5,"inDevotions,
pp. 24-6,26;"Expostulation
10,"inDevotions,
pp. 52-4,54.
73Donne, SelectedProse, p. 371.Cf."Meditation1,"in Devotions: "O perplex'd
0 riddlingdistemper,
0 miserableconditionofMan"(pp. 7-8,8).
discomposition,
74Donne,"Meditation
1,"pp. 7-8.
75See Bright,
A TreatiseofMelancholie,pp. 101-2.
76Cf.AnneFerry,
The "Inward"Language: Sonnets of Wyatt,Sidney, Shakespeare,
Donne (Chicago and London:Univ.ofChicagoPress,1983),pp. 242-3.
77RogerB. Rollin,"'FANTASTIQUEAGUE': The Holy Sonnets and Religious
in TheEagle and theDove:ReassessingJohn
Melancholy,"
Donne,ed. ClaudeJ.Summers
and Ted-Larry
Pebworth(Columbia:Univ.ofMissouriPress,1986),pp. 131-46,131.
78Ferry,
p. 249.
79Donne,"Meditation
8,"inDevotions,pp. 40-2,41.
802 Cor7:10.See also Rom5:3-5(KJV):"Andnotonlyso, butwe gloryintribulations
also:knowingthattribulationworketh
andexperience,
patience;Andpatience,
experience;
hope: Andhope makethnotashamed;because thelove ofGod is shed abroad in our
heartsbytheHolyGhostwhichis givenuntous."
81SeeDonne, "Meditation
17,"inDevotions:"NoManhathaffliction
enough,thatis
notmatured,and ripenedbyit,and made fitforGod bythataffliction"
(pp. 86-7,87).

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