John Donne:

Biography



John Donne was born in Bread Street, London between January and June of 1572 into an old Roman Catholic family. He was the sixth child of John Donne and Elizabeth (Heywood) Donne. His mother was a lifelong Catholic and the great niece of the Catholic martyr Sir Thomas More. His uncle Jasper Heywood headed an underground Jesuit mission in England from 1581 to 1583 and was eventually caught, imprisoned, and then exiled. John Donne's father was a merchant, the leading member of the ironmonger's Company, who died in January 1576 when Donne was approximately four years of age. Within six months Elizabeth Donne married John Symenges, an Oxford-educated physician. As a child, Donne began an early education at home by Catholic tutors. Then at the age of eleven he entered Hart Hall, Oxford, where he was barred from obtaining a degree because of his religion. Later, he entered Cambridge, Lincoln's Inn, and Thavies Inn.

While sailing as a gentleman adventurer with the English expeditions to Cadiz and the Azores in 1596 and 1597, he wrote most of his love poems, such as "The Good Morrow," "The Canonization," "The Bait," and songs such as "Go and catch a falling star". This was his period for womanizing and writing verse.

After his adventures, he entered the service of Sir Thomas Egerton, the Lord Keeper of England. Egerton's brother-in-law was Sir George More, parliamentary representative for Surrey. Donne at the age 30 married 17-year-old Anne More, daughter of Sir George More, secretively in December 1601. When Sir George heard of the wedding, Donne and his helpful friends were briefly imprisoned, and More set out to get the marriage annulled. After his marriage was upheld, Donne and his family went to live at a cottage at Mitcham.

Later, More reconciled with Donne, but the business caused Donne to lose his job, and he did not find regular employment again until he took holy orders more than twelve years later. During those twelve years, Donne depended on charity from his wife's family, friends, and patrons to sustain his family. Also, during this time Donne wrote many of his notable poems, verse letters, and holy sonnets such as "Biathanatos"(1607), "Pseudo-Martyr"(1610), and "Ignatius His Conclave"(1611).

All these works dealt with Christianity and his preoccupation with it, which eventually led him into publicly renouncing the Catholic faith. In 1615, he entered the Anglican ministry, urged on by King James, and was appointed Reader in Divinity at Lincoln's Inn, which he had attended as a young man. John Donne was considered the greatest preacher in an age of great preachers, which led to his appointment as Dean of St. Paul's in 1621.

During this time of success, his wife, whom he loved dearly, died August 15, 1617, after having a stillborn child. Her memory was celebrated by a fine sonnet and a great sermon delivered by Donne himself.

Donne remained with seven of the twelve children they had together. He remained depressed and unable to overcome his grief, which drew him deeper and deeper into his religion.
In 1623, Donne became seriously ill during an epidemic and wrote "Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions", a series of religious meditations on the course of his disease. In 1630, he performed his last preaching, "Death Duel," before King Charles I. He wrote his will December 13, 1630, and ordered his own monument, which he designed himself, to be put in the church after his death.

John Donne died March 31, 1631, of illness and age. Two years after his death, the first of his poems were published by his son. John Donne's works are based on personal episodes in his life. During his youth and as a womanizer, he wrote most of his love poems. In his later years, as he was reevaluating tradition and Christianity, he wrote most of his religious poetry. And up until the moment of his death, as he was experiencing a serious disease, he continued to write religious meditations and speculations upon the nature of illness and the meaning of life and death.