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the most laborious and learned Bishop of Durham ; one that God hath blessed with perfect intellectuals and a cheerful heart at the age of ninety-four years, and is yet living; one that in his days of plenty had so large a heart as to use his large revenue to the encouragement of learning and virtue, and is now—be it spoken with sorrowreduced to a narrow estate, which he embraces without repining; and still shows the beauty of his mind by so liberal a hand, as if this were an age in which to-morrow were to care for itself. I have taken a pleasure in giving the reader a short but true character of this good man, my friend, from whom I received the following relation. He sent to Mr. Donne, and entreated to borrow an hour of his time for a conference the next day. After their meeting, there was not many minutes passed before he spake to Mr. Donne to this purpose : “Mr. Donne, the occasion of sending for you is to propose to you what I have often revolved in my own thought since I last saw you; which, nevertheless, I will not declare but upon this condition, that you shall not return me a present answer, but forbear three days, and bestow some part of that time in fasting and prayer; and, after a serious consideration of what I shall propose, then return to me with your answer. Deny me not, Mr. Donne ; for it is the effect of a true love, which I would glady pay as a debt due for yours to me.”
This request being granted, the Doctor expressed himself thus :
“Mr. Donne, I know your education and abilities, I know your expectation of a State employment, and I know your fitness for it, and I know too the many delays and contingencies that attend Court promises; and let me tell you that my love, begot by our long friendship and your merits, hath prompted me to such an inquisition
after your present temporal estate as makes me stranger to your necessities, which I know to be such as your generous spirit could not bear if it were not supported with a pious patience. You know I have formerly persuaded you to waive your Court hopes and enter into Holy Orders, which I now again persuade you to embrace, with this reason added to my former request ; The king hath yesterday made me Dean of Gloucester, and I am also possessed of a benefice, the profits of which are equal to those of my deanery; I will think my deanery enough for my maintenance—who am and resolved to die a single man—and will quit my benefice and estate you in it, which the patron is willing I shall do, if God shall incline your heart to embrace this motion. Remember, Mr. Donne, no man's education or parts make him too good for this employment, which is to be an ambassador for the God of glory; that God who by a vile death opened the gates of life to mankind. Make me no present answer ; but remember your promise, and return to me the third day with your
resolution.” At the hearing of this, Mr. Donne's faint breath and perplexed countenance gave a visible testimony of an inward conflict; but he performed his promise, and departed without returning an answer till the third day, and then his answer was to this effect:
“My most worthy and most dear friend, since I sawyou I have been faithful to my promise, and have also meditated much of your great kindness, which hath been such as would exceed even my gratitude ; but that it cannot do, and more I cannot return you; and I do that with a heart full of humility and thanks, though I may not accept of your offer ; but, sir, my refusal is not for that I think myself too good for that calling, for which kings, if they think so, are not good enough : nor
for that my education and learning, though not eminent, may not, being assisted with God's grace and humility, render me in some measure fit for it; but I dare make so dear a friend as you are my confessor. Some irregularities of my life have been so visible to some men, that though I have, I thank God, made my peace with Him by penitential resolutions against them, and by the assistance of His grace banished them my affections, yet this, which God knows to be so, is not so visible to man as to free me from their censures, and it may be that sacred calling from a dishonour. And besides, whereas it is determined by the best of casuists that God's glory should be the first end, and a maintenance the second motive to embrace that calling, and though each man may propose to himself both together, yet the first may not be put last without a violation of conscience, which He that searches the heart will judge. And truly my present condition is such, that if I ask my own conscience whether it be reconcilable to that rule, it is at this time so perplexed about it, that I can neither give myself nor you an answer. You know, sir, who says, * Happy is that man whose conscience doth not accuse him for that thing which he does.' To these I might add other reasons that dissuade me; but I crave your favour that I may forbear to express them, and thankfully decline your offer.”
This was his present resolution, but the heart of man is not in his own keeping; and he was destined to this sacred service by a higher hand, a hand so powerful, as at last forced him to a compliance, of which I shall give the reader an account before I shall give a rest to my pen.
Mr. Donne and his wife continued with Sir Francis Wolly till his death, a little before which time Sir Francis was so happy as to make a perfect reconciliation betwixt Sir George and his forsaken son and daughter, Sir George conditioning, by bond, to pay to Mr. Donne £800 at a certain day, as a portion with his wife, or £20 quarterly for their maintenance, as the interest for it, till the said portion was paid.
Most of those years that he lived with Sir Francis he studied the civil and canon laws; in which he acquired such a perfection as was judged to hold proportion with many who had made that study the employment of their whole life.
Sir Francis being dead, and that happy family dissolved, Mr. Donne took for himself a house in Mitcham, near to Croydon in Surrey, a place noted for good air and choice company. There his wife and children remained, and for himself he took lodgings in London, near to Whitehall, whither his friends and occasions drew him very often, and where he was as often visited by many of the nobility and others of this nation, who used him in their counsels of greatest consideration, and with some rewards for his better subsistence.
Nor did our own nobility only value and favour him, but his acquaintance and friendship was sought for by most ambassadors of foreign nations, and by many other strangers whose learning or business occasioned their stay in this nation.
He was much importuned by many friends to make his constant residence in London; but he still denied it, having settled his dear wife and children at Mitcham, and near some friends that were bountiful to them and him, for they, God knows, needed it; and that you may the better now judge of the then present condition of his mind and fortune, I shall present you with an extract collected out of some few of his many letters :
.... And the reason why I did not send an answer to your last week's letter was because it then found me under too great a sadness; and at present 'tis thus with ne: There is not one person but myself well of my family: I have already lost half a child, and, with that mischance of hers, my wife has fallen into such a discomposure as would afflict her too extremely, but that the sickness of all her other children stupefies her, of one of which, in good faith, I have not much hope ; and these meet with a fortune so ill-provided for physic, and such relief, that if God should ease us with burials, I know not how to perform even that; but I flatter myself with this hope, that I am dying too ; for I cannot waste faster than by such griefs. As for ... “From my Hospital at Mitcham;
“JOHN DONNE. Aug. 10. Thus he did bemoan himself; and thus in other letters :
For, we hardly discover a sin, when it is but an omission of some good and no accusing act: with this or the former, I have often suspected myself to be overtaken ; which is, with an over-earnest desire of the next life; and though I know it is not merely a weariness of this, because I had the same desire when I went with the tide, and enjoyed fairer hopes than I now do, yet I doubt worldly troubles have increased it ; 'tis now Spring, and all the pleasures of it displease me ; every other tree blossoms, and I wither : I grow older, and not better; my strength diminisheth, and my load grows heavier, and yet I would fain be or do something ; but that I cannot tell what, is no wonder in this time of my sadness; for to choose is to do, but to be no part