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By Lennart Ege

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It is also clear that the relationship of feeling and thought, an issue often mentioned as a way of criticizing Donne for being over-intellectual, was open for further discussion. Grierson still turns to Tennyson as a touchstone, comparing Donne’s religious questioning to Tennyson’s, but suggests that the passion of ‘Crossing the Bar’ grows ‘a little pale’ in comparison with ‘A Hymn to God the Father’. An anonymous reviewer of Grierson’s edition in the Nation wrote in a way suggestive of slightly more liberal social attitudes to sexuality.

However, his place in history is safe because he ‘first made it possible to think in lyric verse, and in a variety of rhythms and stanza schemes’ while retaining ‘a quality of song and the suggestion of instrumental accompaniment of the earlier lyric. ’ The question of the relationship between Donne’s life and his work has remained an important strand in criticism. The New Critics, who followed Eliot in his declaration that ‘biographical data’ are irrelevant to literary value, made it possible to concentrate on the thought and emotion in poems without moral censure of Donne the man.

Gosse’s provision of a context for Donne’s writing provoked in reviews of his book a flurry of historical comments, such as Richard Garnett’s of 1899, contending that Donne’s conceits, especially at the beginning of poems, were a transference to poetry of what was customary in the letter-writing of the day. Leslie Stephen similarly explained that Donne’s thinking was filled with the scholastic controversies of the time and that as the preachers of the next generation, such as Tillotson and South, ‘condescended to drop their doctoral robes’, so Donne’s style became obsolete, and so his reputation waned.

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