Montreal and London: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1975. Super octavo (26.2 x 18.4 cm), 192 pp. Contents, Preface, Abbreviations, Introduction (I: The Illness and the Occasion; II: Medication and Metaphysics; III: Seventeenth-Century Copies; IV: The Editions; V: The Text), Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, Commentary, Selective Bibliography. Bound in red cloth quartered with pale buff cloth, lettered on spine of book in black, buff dust jacket with front cover and spine lettered in red and black.
Barely noticeable minor smudging marks on dust jacket front cover, no tears. Fine / Near fine. Item #865
John Donne (1572-1631), regarded as one of the leading poets in the English language, noted for his sonnets, love poems and religious verse, and prose including sermons (among the best in the 17th century), treatises, translations, satires, and letters, was born (and died) in London. Pre-eminent among the metaphysical poets, Donne was born into a Roman Catholic family. In London, he read Law in the 1590s before engaging in privateering adventures with the Earl of Essex and hunting Spanish treasure ships with Sir Walter Raleigh.
At the beginning of the 17th century, Donne turned to Anglicanism, often living on the charity of rich friends while unsuccessfully seeking employment. His friends began urging him to take holy orders in the Church of England at a time when his patrons supported his writing works on canon law, theology and anti-Catholic polemics. John Donne was ordained deacon and priest in 1615, soon thereafter being appointed a royal chaplain and receiving a degree as doctor of divinity from Cambridge. Donne’s life was revisited by intense grief when his wife died soon after the birth of their 14th child in 1617. In late 1621, Donne was installed as dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
In 1623, Donne suffered a serious illness, described variously as typhus, relapsing fever or the plague. He reflected on spiritual and physical illness, leading to the publication of his important work, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, in 1624. Following the chronology of his illness, Donne wrote each ‘Devotion’ as an attempt at spiritual diagnosis of a stage in his sickness. Donne draws from it a logical, coherent, spiritual meaning relevant to his own life and the lives of others. The 1975 edition presented here is an attempt to arrive at a definitive text and is mostly based on the first, and least corrupt, text of 1624. The Introduction discusses various theories about the nature of Donne’s illness, the combination of Senecan style and Metaphysical use of language (not usually associated in 17th century prose), Donne’s approach to Biblical typology and world history, and the influence of the mentality of Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises. The Commentary traces allusions to Renaissance medicine and physical science and to the effects of astral influences on human life, and identified Biblical references not noted in Donne’s marginalia.
Fatally ill with stomach cancer, Donne preached a final sermon at Court on 25 February 1631, published posthumously as ‘Death’s Duel’.