Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Donne, John (1604-1662)

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DONNE, JOHN, the younger (1604–1662), miscellaneous writer, son of Dr. John Donne, dean of St. Paul's [q. v.], born about May 1604, was educated at Westminster School, whence he was elected a student at Christ Church, Oxford, in 1622. He appears to have taken the degrees of B.A. and MA. in the usual course, but was notorious for his dissipated habits (Tobie Matthew's Letters, p. 374). At the time of his father's death he was in England, and he managed to get possession of all the books and papers which had been bequeathed to Dr. John King, and to retain them in his own hands during his life. On 31 Oct. 1633, while riding with a friend in St. Aldate's in Oxford, a little boy of eight years old startled one of the horses, whereupon Donne struck the child on his head four or five times with his riding-whip. The poor little fellow languished till 22 Nov. and then died. Laud was vice-chancellor at the time, and Donne was put upon his trial for manslaughter, but acquitted. He left England after this, and betook himself to Padua, at which university he took the degree of doctor of laws, and on his return was incorporated at Oxford with the same degree, 30 June 1638. About this time he was admitted to holy orders; it is not known by whom. On 10 July he was presented to the rectory of High Roding in Essex; on 29 May 1639 to the rectory of Ufford in Northamptonshire; and on 10 June of the same year to the rectory of Fulbeck in Lincolnshire. He resided at none of them. He was chaplain to Basil, earl of Denbigh, to whom he dedicated the second volume of his father's sermons. During the rebellion he was an object of suspicion to the parliamentary party, and writing in 1644 he tells us, ‘Since the beginning of the war my study was often searched, and all my books and almost my brains by their continual alarms sequestered for the use of the committee.’ A few years later the following entry appears in the ‘Lords' Journals:’ ‘Wed. 14 June 1648. Upon reading the petition of Dr. John Donne, chaplain to the Earl of Denbigh, who is arrested contrary to the privilege of parliament, it is ordered that it is referred to the committee of privileges to consider whether the said Dr. Donne be capable of the privilege of parliament or no, and report the same to this house.’ He died in the winter of 1662, at his house in Covent Garden, where he appears to have resided for the last twenty years of his life, and was buried on 3 Feb. at the west end of St. Paul's Church, Covent Garden.

Some months before his death he issued a very gross volume in small 8vo, entitled ‘Donnes Satyr; containing a short map of Mundane Vanity, a cabinet of Merry Conceits, certain pleasant propositions and questions, with their merry solutions and answers.’ Two or three times during the last forty years certain of his manuscript remains have found their way into the market; they were at one time in the possession of the late S. W. Singer. They are full of the most shocking indecencies. Wood sums up his character thus: ‘He had all the advantages imaginable tendered to him to tread in the steps of his virtuous father, but his nature being vile, he proved no better all his lifetime than an atheistical buffoon, a banterer, and a person of over free thoughts.’ It has been assumed, and may be true, that he was the John Donne who married Mary Staples at Camberwell 27 March 1627. The remnants of his father's books and papers were given by him to Izaak Walton the younger, and some of them are to be found in Salisbury Cathedral library.

[Wood's Fasti, i. 503; Laud's Works, Anglo-Cath. Library, v. 99; the records concerning his trial are to be seen in the Archives of the University of Oxford; Walton's Life of Donne, by Zouch; in Newcourt's Repertorium, ii. 501, his name appears as John Duke; Nicolas's Life of Izaak Walton, by Pickering; prefaces to Donne's father's works; collections of the Rev. T. R. O'fflahertie.]

A. J.