This thesis came about as a result of a search for a life of Donne to be used as background material for a study of the use of elisions in his poetry. It was with considerable surprise that I discovered the lack of any real biography of the poet since Sir Edmund Gosse's two volume attempt at the end of the last century. Since then there have been innumerable studies of one or another facet of Donne's life and work, but no one has attempted a serious work on the whole man. Hugh I'A. Fausset's Study in Discord, to which no references of any kind have been made in this was a poor restatement of Gosse's overly- romantic treatment of the poet without Gosse's fortunately firm framework of 17th Century Christian orthodoxy.
Once determined on the subject, I had one great advantage that is often missing in modern scholarship, especially American scholarship. Much as I enjoyed and admired Donne's work, I had no special beliefs about either his life or work. There are many points made in this thesis which I did not at first believe but was forced to accept as I went along. Even while writing on such events as the Armada and Donne's reaction to it, I found my first thoughts to be incorrect. At no time did any prejudgements have so much force as to keep me from changing. Indeed there are some arguments which are still very fluid in my mind, but I have
not put down any of these thoughts without finding sufficient proof. For example, I think it very likely that Donne wrote not only his Satyres between his two Essex voyages, but nearly all the Elegies as well, perhaps beginning with a translation of Ovid or Horace on the trip back from Cadiz. I have attempted to keep away from the romancing of Gosse, however, and have not recorded these thoughts unless there has been sufficient evidence.
Whenever industry or interest flagged, there were always new articles or criticisms to awaken anger sufficient to carry on. The lack of full biographical treatment of Donne has led to a good deal of utter rot being printed about the man. Marius Bewley's last article in The Kenyon Review is a good example. His "psychological" criticisms seem to me to be ridiculous, but he is welcome to them. His completely wrong biographical data, however, merely angers me. If this thesis did nothing but show that Donne was not trained by Jesuits, it would be valuable. BBC broadcasts have shown a similar lack of knowledge about Donne. The Schools' broadcast for May 18, 1952, used material from Walton's biography of Donne which has been shown to be inaccurate. John Dowland's "Sweet, Stay awhile" has been announced as by Donne. And a program on the reading of Donne on the Third Programme has claimed that to read Donne correctly, one must be like him and feel
with him - -this spoken by a voice which continued to mis-pronounce his name. It seems strange that after so much has been written on the subject and after Donne himself made the point so clear that the "official" pronunciation of his name should be so obviously wrong. Then there are the other problems of Donne scholarship which have led to so much error, particularly in the uncritical acceptance of the letters from the Burley MS. I have given as much attention to these problems as possible, but I have attempted to subordinate them to the main purpose of the thesis: to give as complete and as detailed a description of Donne's first thirty years as is possible from printed and manuscript material now available. As the Bibliography indicates, I have attempted to draw upon all sources for a study of Donne's entire life, for his later actions help to illuminate the young man.