John Donne

Evelyn Simpson, Helen Gardner, and T. S. Healy (eds), Selected Prose

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pg 111 3. [To Sir Henry Wotton?]

[? 1600]1


Only in obedience I send you some of my paradoxes: I love you and myself and them too well to send them willingly for they carry with them a confession of their lightnes, and your trouble and my shame. But indeed they were made rather to deceave tyme than her daughter truth: although they have beene written in an age when any thing is strong enough to overthrow her. If they make you to find better reasons against them they do their office: for they are but swaggerers: quiet enough if you resist them. If perchaunce they be pretyly guilt, that is their best for they are not hatcht: they are rather alarums to truth to arme her than enemies: and they have only this advantadg to scape from being caled ill things that they are nothings. Therefore take heed of allowing any of them least you make another. Yet Sir though I know their low price, except I receive by your next letter an assurance upon the religion of your friendship that no coppy shalbee taken for any respect of these or any other my compositions sent to you, I shall sinn against my conscience if I send you any more. I speake that in playnes which becomes (methinks) our honestyes; and therfore call not this a distrustfull but a free spirit: I meane to acquaint you with all myne: and to my satyrs there belongs some feare and to some elegies, and these perhaps, shame. Against both which affections although I be tough enough, yet I have a ridling disposition to bee ashamed of feare and afrayd of shame. Therefore I am desirous to hyde them with out any over reconing of them or their maker. But they are not worth thus much words in theyre disprayse. I will step to a better subject, your last letter, to which I need not tell I made no answere but I had need excuse it. All your letter I embrace and beleeve it when it speakes of your self and pg 112when of me too, if the good words which you speake of me bee ment of my intentions to goodnes: for else alas! no man is more beggerly in actuall vertue than I.I am sory you should (with any great ernestnes) desyre any thing of P. Aretinus, not that he could infect; but that it seemes you are alredy infected with the common opinion of him: beleeve me he is much lesse than his fame and was too well payd by the Roman church in that coyne which he coveted most where his bookes were by the counsell of Trent forbidden which if they had beene permitted to have beene worne by all long ere this had beene worne out: his divinyty was but a sirrope to enwrapp his prophane bookes to get them passage, yet in these bookes which have devine titles there is least harme as in his letters most good: his others have no other singularyty in them but that they are forbidden. The psalmes (which you aske) if I cannot shortly procure you one to poses I can and will at any tyme borrow for you: In the meane tyme Sir have the honor of forgiving two faults togeather: my not writing last tyme and my abrupt ending now.

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Editor’s Note
1 'This letter, which is undoubtedly Donne's, was probably written by him to Wotton about 1600. Although we cannot date the Paradoxes exactly, they seem to be earlier than the Problems and belong to the period when Donne was a young man at court in the service of Egerton.… The reference to the Satires and Elegies would agree with this date.… In the present letter Donne shows that he already felt a certain shame about them, caused, perhaps, by the responsible post he now held as secretary to the grave Lord Keeper, and also by his growing love for Ann More, whom he married in December 1601.' (E.M.S., Prose Works, 1948, p. 317.) Mr. Shapiro agrees that this letter 'is undoubtedly Donne's', but states that it 'cannot have been written to Wotton'.
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