IN setting out to edit the Divine Poems of John Donne I had two purposes. I wished to print the 'Holy Sonnets' in what I believe to be their right order, to display their dependence in subject and treatment on the tradition of formal meditation, and to argue that the majority were written well before Donne was ordained. My second purpose was to annotate the poems, particularly 'A Litany'. To do this it was necessary to re-examine the text. A third purpose thus developed: to find a solution to the problem presented by the fact that the first edition of Donne's poems is posthumous, and that, while no copies in holograph are known to have survived, the poems exist in a great many manuscript copies which antedate the first edition.
The 'Holy Sonnets' are printed here in three sets. The first set consists of the twelve sonnets which were printed in the first edition of 1633 and which appear in the same order in the two most reliable groups of manuscripts. There is high textual authority for printing these twelve together in this order. But there is good internal authority also. When these twelve sonnets are read in this order they can be seen to form a sequence. The four sonnets which were interpolated among these twelve in the second edition of 1635 are printed together, arranged in a logical order from their subject-matter. They also, in this order, form a short sequence. This leaves the three sonnets which are only extant in the Westmoreland manuscript standing by themselves. They are quite distinct in their subjects and treatment from the other sixteen, as well as from each other.
In general, discussion of the dates of poems is to be found in the Commentary; but the problem of the date of the 'Holy Sonnets' is a complicated one, and is so important for a just appreciation of Donne's religious development that I have preferred to treat the question, together with the related questions of their right order and interpretation, in the second part of the Introduction. In the same way, I have taken out of the Commentary and treated inpg vi Appendices certain controversial matters which demand longer discussion than a Commentary can include.
No poet more needs or more repays commentary than Donne. When I was beginning my work, the late Dr. F. E. Hutchinson urged me to comment as fully as possible. Experience has shown me the wisdom of his advice. It has constantly happened, when I had thought that I had made sufficient comment on a poem, that a question from a pupil or a friend called my attention to a phrase which I had thought it unnecessary to annotate, but which on reflection proved either to be obscure, or to bear a meaning which was not the apparently obvious one. An editor who adopts the policy of full annotation runs the risk of incurring the censure which Johnson passed on a note by Warburton: 'It explains what no reader has found difficult, and, I think, explains it wrong.' But with a poet so difficult as Donne the plain meaning is sometimes overlooked, and a wrong explanation may at least provoke someone else to provide the right one. The attempt to understand the exact meaning of the words, and to recognize the sources or the field of reference of a poem brings great rewards. Indeed it places some poems in quite a fresh light.
The work on the text is embodied in the Textual Introduction and in textual notes. The textual note is always printed first, and the exegetical note follows as a separate paragraph. A reader who is not interested in textual matters can thus avoid them altogether. Since Sir Herbert Grierson's edition of 1912 two important manuscripts have come to light. Both were discovered by Mr. Geoffrey Keynes: the first he gave to the Cambridge University Library, where it is Additional MS. 5778; the other, the Luttrell manuscript, is in his own library, and he has generously allowed me to give the first description of it. With the help of the Cambridge manuscript, it has been possible to carry further Sir Herbert Grierson's analysis of the manuscripts of Group I. I argue that the collection which these manuscripts contain is a collection made by Donne himself in 1614, when he was thinking of publishing his poems. Since the largest and best portion of the edition of 1633 was taken from a very good manuscript of this group, my argument, if accepted, places the major part of Donne's poems on a secure textual foundation.pg vii The Luttrell manuscript is also of great importance. It is the source of the O'Flaherty manuscript, which was itself the main source of the additional poems and corrections in the second edition of 1635. I have demonstrated, I hope conclusively, that this second edition is a derived and not a substantive text.
My text is a critical one, based on the first printed version of each poem, emended from the manuscripts. But emendation is in accordance with a theory of textual transmission set out at length in the Textual Introduction. The Group III manuscripts preserve in some poems a version which differs from the version in Groups I and II and appears to represent an earlier state of the text. All Group III readings which may thus be regarded as genuine earlier readings are recorded in the critical apparatus, which allows readers to see Donne at work revising his poems. The textual notes give fuller information on manuscript variants. The manuscript copies of Donne's poems are so widely scattered that consultation of more than a few is impossible for most students. An apparatus should be selective; but readings which should not appear there have a place in the notes if they throw light on the line of transmission. They may also serve to establish the relationships of any fresh manuscripts which may be discovered.
I have to thank many people for their help: Dr. Paul Maas for discussing textual problems; Dr. H. W. Garrod for help with Donne's Latin verse; Dr. R. W. Hunt for answering palaeographical questions; Dr. Percy Simpson for discussing problems of punctuation; Miss Dorothy Whitelock, Dr. C. T. Onions, and Mr. G. V. Smithers for help with difficult points of syntax; Mrs. H. R. Ing for assistance with problems of versification; and Mrs. Kenneth Leys for discussing Church History. I am particularly indebted to Professor F. P. Wilson for reading and criticizing the Textual Introduction; to Mr. Hugh Macdonald for much helpful advice; and to Miss Lucy Hutchinson for assistance in preparing my manuscript for the press and for reading the proofs. Among those particularly known for their work on Donne, I have to thank Mr. I. A. Shapiro for answering questions about Donne's letters; Mrs. Simpson for reading many sections of my work at various stages; and Mr. John Hayward for advice on problems of presentationpg viii and reading the Introductions and Appendices. By good fortune Professor W. Milgate, of Sydney University, was in Oxford working on Donne from 1948–50, and I can hardly exaggerate what I owe to the fact that we were working together on the manuscripts.
I am indebted to the trustees of the Henry W. Berg and Albert A. Berg Collection in the New York Public Library for permission to print the three sonnets and to quote variants from the Westmoreland manuscript; to the Huntington Library for permission to quote variants from the Bridgewater manuscript; and to the Houghton Library, Harvard University, for permission to quote variants from the Carnaby, Dobell, Norton, O'Flaherty, and Stephens manuscripts. I have to thank the librarians of these institutions for supplying me with photostats and information. I am similarly indebted to the Master and Fellows of Trinity College, Cambridge; the Provost and Fellows of Trinity College, Dublin; the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's Cathedral; and to their respective librarians, Mr. H. M. Adams, Mr. Joseph Hanna, and Mr. Gerald Henderson. I should like also to express my gratitude to the officials and assistants of the Bodleian Library, and those in the Manuscript Departments of the Cambridge University Library and the British Museum.
This edition owes much to the generosity of private owners. I must thank particularly Mr. Geoffrey Keynes for allowing me to examine the Leconfield and Luttrell manuscripts; and Mr. Wilfred Merton, who most kindly deposited the Dowden manuscript of poems and two manuscripts of sermons in the British Museum for my use. I have also to thank his Grace the Duke of Portland, who through his librarian, Mr. Francis Needham, placed the Welbeck manuscript temporarily in the Bodleian Library; and Mr. Richard Jennings, who allowed me to collate the John Cave manuscript and to examine his fine copy of the edition of 1633.
I wish in conclusion to acknowledge what should be obvious without any acknowledgement from me here, the debt I owe to Sir Herbert Grierson's edition of 1912. All new work on Donne is based on his. But beside this impersonal debt which all lovers of Donne owe to him, I should like to thank him for his personal kindness and encouragement when I first told him of my wish to editpg ix the Divine Poems, for the pleasure I had in discussing with him my interpretation of the 'Holy Sonnets', and for the interest he has taken in the progress of the work. I should like to join with his name that of another much beloved student of the seventeenth century, the late Dr. F. E. Hutchinson. His beautiful copy of the LXXX and Fifty Sermons, bound together, a gift to me from Mrs. Hutchinson, stands on my shelves, and has been, in the later stages of my work, a daily reminder of his warm sympathy and wise advice in its earlier stages. The last debt I have to acknowledge is a much older one. If this book bore a dedication, it would be to the memory of Florence Gibbons, sometime senior English mistress at the North London Collegiate School, with whom, twenty-six years ago, I first read the Divine Poems of John Donne.
- ST. HILDA's COLLEGE