John Donne, an English poet, born in London in 1573, died there, March 31, 1631. He was of a Roman Catholic family, studied at Oxford and Cambridge, and was designed for the law, but relinquished it in his 19th year for theology. He abandoned the Roman Catholic church for the Anglican, and travelled for three years in Spain and Italy. On his return to England in 1597 he was appointed secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton, keeper of the great seal, which post he held five years; but having secretly married Anne, daughter of Sir George More, and niece of Lady Egerton, he was dismissed from his situation and for a time imprisoned in the tower. He accompanied Sir Robert Drury to Paris, and returning to England was presented to James I., by whose command he wrote the "Pseudo-Martyr" to prove that Roman Catholics might conscientiously take the oath of allegiance. At the age of about 41 he entered into orders, and having distinguished himself as a preacher he was made by the king his chaplain in ordinary and dean of St. Paul's, and received from the university of Cambridge the degree of doctor of divinity.
His failing health obliged him to desist from preaching, but a calumnious whisper having reached him that his sickness was feigned because he chose to be idle, he ascended the pulpit and preached what his biographer has called his own funeral sermon, which was afterward printed with the title of " Death's Duel." He died soon after. He left sermons and devotional and controversial works, but is best known as a poet. His poems consist of satires, elegies, epigrams, and religious and complimentary verses. His subtle and vivid imagination, and his great simplicity and tenderness, are manifest amid his vast learning and the abounding vicious conceits of his style. He was the first of the series of English poets characterized by Dr. Johnson as metaphysical. His rugged numbers made him little esteemed during the last century, but the scattered gems of poetry and melody in his books have recalled something of his first reputation, and his works have been republished under the editorial care of Dean Alford (6 vols. 8vo, London, 1839). His life was written by Izaak Walton.