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CHAPTER VII
SEVENTEENTH CENTURY - PURITANS AND CAVALIERS I

John Donne, 1573-1631. This is precisely what came to pass ; but in this variety of literary productions there was hardly an author who was not influenced by the writings of a much admired preacher and poet named John Donne, the Dean of St Paul's. His life covered the reign of James and two-thirds of that of Elizabeth, but just when his poems were written is not known. They are noted for two qualities. One of these was so purely his own that no one could imitate it, the power to illuminate his subject with a sudden and flashing thought. That is why stray lines of Donne's linger in the memory, such as

I long to talk with some old lover's ghost,
Who died before the god of love was born.

Unfortunately, it was the second quality which was so generally imitated. This was, not the flashing out of a thought, but the wrapping it up and concealing it so that it requires a distinct intellectual effort to find out what is meant ; for instance, in the very poem just quoted are the lines :

But when an even flame two hearts did touch,
His [Love's] office was indulgently to fit
Actives to passives ; correspondency
Only his subject was ; it cannot be
Love, if I love who loves not me.

Of course one finally reasons it out that Donne means to say love should inspire love, that " I love " and " I am loved " should " fit ;" but by that time the reader is inclined to agree with honest Ben Jonson, who declared that Donne " for not being understood would perish."
Sometimes, again, Donne conceals his thought in so complicated, far-fetched a simile that one has to

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