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John Donne

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

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pg 1822. From a Sermon Preached at Lincolns Inne[? Spring or Summer 1618]1

For, this plurality, this multiplicity of sin, hath found first a spunginesse in the soul, an aptnesse to receive any liquor, to embrace any sin, that is offered to it; and after a while, a hunger and thirst in the soul, to hunt, and pant and draw after a tentation, and not to be able to endure any vacuum, any discontinuance, or intermission of sinne: and hee will come to think it a melancholique thing, still to stand in fear of Hell; a sordid, a yeomanly thing, still to be plowing, and weeding, and worming a conscience; a mechanicall thing, still to be removing logs, or filing iron, still to be busied in removing occasions of tentation, or filing and clearing particular actions: and, at last he will come to that case, which S. Augustine out of an abundant ingenuity, and tendernesse, and compunction, confesses of himself, Ne vituperarer, vitiosior fiebam, I was fain to sin, lest I should lose my credit, and be under-valued; Et ubi non suberat, quo admisso, æquarer perditis, when I had no means to doe some sins, whereby I might be equall to my fellow, Fingebam me fecisse quod non feceram, ne viderer abjectior, quo innocentior, I would bely my self, and say I had done that, which I never did, lest I should be under-valued for not having done it. Audiebam eos exaltantes flagitia, sayes that tender blessed Father, I saw it was thought wit, to make Sonnets of their own sinnes, Et libebat facere, non libidine facti, sed libidine laudis, I sinn'd, not for the pleasure I had in the sin, but for the pride that I had to write feelingly of it. O what a Leviathan is sin, how vast, how immense a body! And then, what a spawner, how numerous! Between these two, the denying of sins, which we have done, and the bragging of sins, which we have not done, what a space, what a compasse is there, for millions of millions of sins!

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Editor’s Note
1 On the text: 'For mine iniquities are gone over my head, as a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me' (Ps. xxxviii. 4).
Donne was appointed Divinity Reader for Lincoln's Inn, where he had been a student, on 24. October 1616. He held office until 11 February 1622, when he resigned after accepting the Deanery of St. Paul's.
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