Page:Studies of a Biographer 3.djvu/85

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73
JOHN DONNE

of mysterious learning, has become as strange as Donne's political attitude. The King for him is scarcely short of an earthly god. We wonder whether he was perfectly sincere. In one of his most elaborate performances Donne applies a text from Proverbs, saying, that the King shall be the friend of him 'that loveth pureness of heart.' In a glowing peroration this is applied to James.[1] Donne, of course, includes purity of doctrine, to which James might make a claim; but nobody knew better than Donne what was the moral purity of the favourites who had been rewarded by James's friendship. Neither he nor his congregation, we must presume, looked too closely; but Donne, if he turned over a certain satire which lay in his desk, might have remembered that such a panegyric might be turned into the bitterest irony.

But, putting this aside, we must admit another point. Donne's learning is, after all, subsidiary to a marvellous intellectual activity. In his poems the dialectical subtlety seems to fetter him. The fancy is condensed as well as constrained. He seems to labour till he can squeeze the imaginative

  1. 'The Court of James I.,' says Hallam, 'was incomparably the most disgraceful scene of profligacy which this country has ever witnessed.'