By John Ostrander
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94 John Donne William Minto “John Donne” (1880) William Minto (1845–1893) was a Scottish critic and scholar, a professor at the University of Aberdeen, and author of the respected Characteristics of English Poets from Chaucer to Shirley. QQQ The knowledge of Donne’s immense learning, the subtlety and capacity of his intellect, the intense depth and wide scope of his thought, the charm of his conversation, the sadness of his life, gave a vivid meaning and interest to his poems, circulated among his acquaintances, which at this distance of time we cannot reach without a certain effort of imagination.
Donne’s “negative originality” is found in the uniqueness of his lyrics and work; Schelling argues that Donne was “by far the most independent lyrical metrist of this age” and that unlike many of his contemporaries, Donne was not highly shaped by the prevailing influence of Renaissance Italian poetry. Schelling also compares Donne to several of his contemporaries, including George Daniel, Fulke Greville, and especially Ben Jonson. ” Any individual carefully studying Donne’s work may find Schelling’s essay particularly interesting, and applying Schelling’s concepts of positive and negative originality to 30 John Donne not only Donne but also Jonson and the other poets Schelling mentions below may prove a fruitful endeavor in further understanding Donne’s unique place amongst Renaissance poets.
By far the most independent lyrical metrist of this age was John Donne, who has been, it seems to me, quite as much misunderstood on this side as on the side of his eccentricities of thought and expression. In a recent chapter on Donne, in several other respects far from satisfactory, Mr. Edmund Gosse has treated this particular topic very justly. Speaking of Donne’s “system of prosody,” he says: “The terms ‘irregular,’ ‘unintelligible’ and ‘viciously rugged,’ are commonly used in describing it, and it seems even to be supposed by some critics that Donne did not know how to scan.