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If that great master of language and art, Sir Henry Wotton, the late Provost of Eaton College, had lived to see the publication of these Sermons,* he had presented the world with the author's Life exactly written; and it was pity he did not ; for it was a work worthy his undertaking, and he fit to undertake it; betwixt whom and the author there was so mutual a knowledge, and such a friendship contracted in their youth, as nothing but death could force a separation. And though their bodies were divided, their affections were not; for that learned knight's love followed his friend's fame beyond death and the forgetful grave, which he testified by entreating me, whom he acquainted with his design, to inquire of some particulars that concerned it, not doubting but
* This Life was originally prefixed to the first collection of Dr. Donne’s Sermons, printed in 1640.
my knowledge of the author and love to his memory might make my diligence useful. I did most gladly undertake the employment, and continued it with great content till I had made my collection ready to be augmented and completed by his 'matchless pen; but then death prevented his intentions.
When I heard that sad news, and heard also that these Sermons were to be printed, and want the author's Life, which I thought to be very remarkable, indignation or grief (indeed I know not which) transported me so far, that I reviewed my forsaken collections, and resolved the world should see the best plain picture of the author's life that my artless pencil, guided by the hand of truth, could present to it.
And if I shall now be demanded, as once Pompey's poor bondman was; (the grateful wretch had been left alone on the sea-shore, with the forsaken dead body of his once glorious lord and master, and was then gathering the scattered pieces of an old broken boat to make a funeral pile to burn it, which was the custom of the Romans) - “ Who art thou that alone hast the honor to bury the body of Pompey the Great ?" so, who am I that do thus officiously set the author's memory on fire! I hope the question will prove to have in it more of wonder than disdain. But wonder indeed the reader may, that
1, who profess myself artless, should presume, with my faint light, to show forth his life, whose very name makes it illustrious! But be this to the disadvantage of the person represented: certain I am it is to the advantage of the beholder, who shall here see the author's picture in a natural dress, which ought to beget faith in what is spoken ; for he that wants skill to deceive may safely be trusted.
And if the author's glorious spirit, which now is in heaven, can have the leisure to look down and see me, the poorest, the meanest of all his friends, in the midst of his officious duty, confident I am, that he will not disdain this wellmeant sacrifice to his memory; for whilst his conversation made me and many others happy below, I know his humility and gentleness were then eminent; and, I have heard divines say, those virtues that were but sparks upon earth, become great and glorious flames in heaven.
Before I proceed further, I am to intreat the reader to take notice, that when Doctor Donne's Sermons were first printed, this was then my excuse for daring to write his life ; and I dare not now appear without it.
MASTER John DONNE was born in London, in the year 1573, of good and virtuous parents ; and though his own learning and other multiplied merits may justly appear sufficient to dignify both himself and his posterity, yet the reader may be pleased to know, that his father was masculinely and lineally descended from a very ancient family in Wales, where many of his name now live, that deserve and have great reputation in that country.
By his mother he was descended of the family of the famous and learned Sir Thomas More, sometime Lord Chancellor of England; as also from that worthy and laborious Judge Rastall, who left posterity the vast statutes of the law of this nation most exactly abridged.