John Donne (Life's summary)

He was born in 1572 in London of a prosperous family with strong Roman Catholic traditions. In 1576 his father died suddenly and left the three children to be raised by their mother. At the age of eleven, he and his younger brother were entered at Hart Hall, University of Oxford, where Donne studied for three years. In 1591 he was admitted to study law as a member of Lincoln's Inn, and it seemed natural that Donne should embark upon a legal or diplomatic career. In 1596 he followed the Earl of Essex in two adventurous naval expeditions. When Donne came back to London in 1598, he renounced his Catholic faith to follow Anglicanism and became secretary to sir Thomas Egerton, the Lord Keeper; Donne was beginning a promising career. But his secret marriage to Anne More, the seventeen-year-old niece of Lord Egerton, in 1601, ruined his career. Donne was dismissed from his job and temporarily imprisoned: for the next decade he had to live near poverty to support his growing family. In 1615 the poet took Holy Orders: he was appointed a Royal Chaplain. In 1616 Donne was appointed Reader in Divinity at Lincoln's Inn (Cambridge had conferred the degree of Doctor of Divinity on him two years earlier). His style, full of elaborate metaphors and religious symbolism, his flair for drama, his wide learning and his quick wit soon established him as one of the greatest peachers of the era. Just as Donne's fortunes seemed to be improving, Anne Donne died, aged thirty-three, after giving birth to their twelfth child; seven of their children survived their mother's death. In 1621 Donne was appointed Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral by James I, a post he held until his death. He excelled at his post, and was at last financially secure. Donne preached what was called his own funeral sermon, Death's Duel, just a few weeks before he died (1631) in London. A monument (survived the Great Fire of London) in St. Paul's Cathedral commemorates him.

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