John Donne (15721631). The Poems of John Donne. 1896.
Appendix D. The Sheaf of Epigrams of 1652
AMONGST the posthumous editions of Donnes various writings edited by his son occurs the following
Paradoxes, Problems, Essays, Characters, written by Dr. Donne, Dean of Pauls; to which is added a Book of Epigrams, written in Latin by the same author; translated into English by J. Maine, D. D.; and also Ignatius his Conclave, a Satyr, translated out of the original copy, written in Latin by the same author; found lately amongst his own papers . London. Printed by T. N. for Humphrey Moseley, at the Princes Armes in St. Pauls Churchyard, 1652.
Most of the matter contained in this volume is merely reprinted from the Juvenilia of 1633. The English version of the Ignatii Conclave appeared as early as 1611, but the Sheaf of Miscellany Epigrams, as they are headed in a sub-title, is new. There is a dedication to Francis, Lord Newport, signed by the younger Donne, from which I take the following extract: My Lord, I numbly here present unto your Honour things of the least and greatest weight that ever fell from my fathers pen . They are the essays of two ages, where you may see the quickness of the first and the firmness of the latter. This is followed by Ben Jonsons well-known lines to Donne upon his own Epigrams.
It will be observed that the Epigrams are only given as translated by Jasper Mayne from Donnes Latin. In only one instance is the original text printed. They would in no case, therefore, have found a place in this edition. But they are also excluded by the fact that they are in all probability spurious. It will be well to state briefly the evidence on this point. On internal grounds it is clear that the writer of the Epigrams was or had been serving in the Netherlands. There are frequent allusions to a successful siege of Bois-le-duc and to a Prince of Orange. Starting from this, Dr. Augustus Jessopp suggested in his edition of Donnes Essays (1855) that they were probably written in 1587. In that year Sluys was besieged by the Catholic forces, and on July 13th, Prince Maurice of Nassau, younger son of the famous Prince of Orange, made a diversion by an attack on Bois-le-duc. It is true that Walton does not mention any foreign journey of Donnes until that with Essex in 1596, but on the other hand the poet is represented in Marshalls 1591 portrait with his hand upon the hilt of a sword, and therefore he may, rather than must, have been at some time a soldier. Dr. Grosart, in his edition of the Poems, argued at great length against the genuineness of the Epigrams, and the controversy was continued in the Athenæum for July 17th, August 2nd, 9th, and 16th, 1873. In the end Dr. Jessopp admitted that they must be unauthentic. Dr. Grosart refers them to the siege of Bois-le-duc by Frederick William, Prince of Orange, in 1628, for the following reasons
(3) In one of the Epigrams called A Panegyrick upon the Hollanders being Lords of the Sea, occasioned by the Author being in their Army at Dukes Wood, occur the lines
those lands of gold
Which the proud tyrant doth in bondage hold;
Whose wealth, transported from the plunderd mine,
His plate-fleet calls his, but the sea makes thine.
Each Dutchman is Columbus; worlds unknown
To the discovering Spaniard are his grown:
Nor can I here conceal nor yet say well,
Whether Heynskirchs praise, or Olivers excel,
Or Heyns more bold adventure; whose bright ore
Pressd the seas back with wealth snatchd from the shore.
Two of the Dutch seamen mentioned in these lines, Heynskirch or Heemskirk and Oliver van Noort, were known as early as 1596 and 1598, respectively. Heyn, however, did not become conspicuous until 1626, and it is pretty clear that the allusion in the Epigram is to his capture of the Spanish plate-fleet in 1628.
It goes without saying that Donne did not write these Epigrams, many of which are not particularly refined, in 1628; and if, therefore, some of them are clearly of that date, the whole must be rejected as unauthentic. As to how they came to be published as his, or who did really write them, perhaps we have hardly sufficient grounds to speculate. The younger Donne does not appear to have been a person worthy of much credit. Perhaps he wrote them himself; or perhaps they never existed except in Jasper Maynes English; or perhaps they were by the John Done on whom something was said in the second section of this Appendix. I have, however, before leaving this subject, to call attention to a fact which neither Dr. Grosart nor Dr. Jessopp seems to have observed, and which proves, certainly not that these Epigrams are Donnes, but that he did write a set of Latin Epigrams. It is a passage in a Latin letter to Sir Henry Goodyere printed in the 1633 Poems (Alford, vi. p. 440). The date of the letter appears to be fixed to 1611 by the following allusion to Donnes projected journey abroad with the Drurys
Elucescit mihi nova, nec inopportuna, nec inutilis, (paulo quam optarem fortassis magis inhonora) occasio extera visendi regna, liberosque perquam amantissimae conjugis charissima pignora, ceteraque huius aurae oblectamenta, aliquot ad annos relinquendi.
This is the bit in which the reference to the Epigrams occurs
Interim seponas oro chartulas meas quas cum sponsione citae redhibitionis (ut barbare, sed cum ingeniossimo Apollinari loquar) accepisti. Inter quas, Si epigrammata mea Latina, et Catalogus librorum satyricus non sunt, non sunt; extremum judicium, hoc est, manum ultimum, jam jam subiturae sunt. Eorum nonnullae purgatorium suum passurae, ut correctiores emanent. Alia quorum me inscio in mundum erepserunt exempla tamen in archetypis igne absumpta fatebuntur se a me ad Inferos damnata esse. Reliquae quae aut virgines sunt (nisi quod a multis contrectatae) aut ita infeliciter steriles ut ab illis nulla ingenita sunt exemplaria, penitus in annihilationem (quod flagitiosissimis non minatur Deus) corruent et dilabentur.