Cover image for Religion Around John Donne By Joshua Eckhardt

Religion Around John Donne

Joshua Eckhardt


$53.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-08337-7

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208 pages
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Religion Around

Religion Around John Donne

Joshua Eckhardt

Winner of the John Donne Society Award for Distinguished Publication

Religion Around John Donne traces the context for all these titles in Donne’s reading, with a careful scholarship that also serves to highlight the fact that he could be very, very funny. And this, too, is a kind of renewal. Eckhardt makes good on his introduction’s promise to write ‘a book history [that] can demonstrate plenty about broad social contexts’ in uniting manuscript copies of Donne with printed versions, other books held side by side in contemporary libraries, and variora from Donne’s contemporaries.”


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In this volume, Joshua Eckhardt examines the religious texts and books that surrounded the poems, sermons, and inscriptions of the early modern poet and preacher John Donne. Focusing on the material realities legible in manuscripts and Sammelbände, bookshops and private libraries, Eckhardt uncovers the myriad ways in which Donne’s writings were received and presented, first by his contemporaries, and later by subsequent readers of his work.

Eckhardt sheds light on the religious writings with which Donne’s work was linked during its circulation, using a bibliographic approach that also informs our understanding of his work’s reception during the early modern period. He analyzes the religious implications of the placement of Donne’s poem “A Litany” in a library full of Roman Catholic and English prayer books, the relationship and physical proximity of Donne’s writings to figures such as Sir Thomas Egerton and Izaak Walton, and the movements in later centuries of Donne’s work from private owners to the major libraries that have made this study possible. Eckhardt’s detailed research reveals how Donne’s writings have circulated throughout history—and how religious readers, communities, and movements affected the distribution and reception of his body of work.

Centered on a place in time when distinct methods of reproduction, preservation, and circulation were used to negotiate a complex and sometimes dangerous world of confessional division, Religion Around John Donne makes an original contribution to Donne studies, religious history, book history, and reception studies.

Religion Around John Donne traces the context for all these titles in Donne’s reading, with a careful scholarship that also serves to highlight the fact that he could be very, very funny. And this, too, is a kind of renewal. Eckhardt makes good on his introduction’s promise to write ‘a book history [that] can demonstrate plenty about broad social contexts’ in uniting manuscript copies of Donne with printed versions, other books held side by side in contemporary libraries, and variora from Donne’s contemporaries.”
“Professor Eckhardt is to be congratulated for the excellent approach which he takes to setting Donne in a religious context.”
“An invaluable study for grappling anew with the highly charged and polemical divides in early modern England and the sophisticated nuance of Donne's and his contemporaries’ responses to and critiques of those issues.”
“Eckhardt makes a persuasive case for the ways that Henry Constable’s controversial sonnet of Mariolatry, often attributed to Donne until the late nineteenth century, changes how readers would interpret Donne’s religious verse.”
“This volume is informative, deftly written, and clearly deeply knowledgeable.”
“In its thorough approach to neglected but fruitful aspects of Donne’s oeuvre, it recommends itself both as an entry point into Donne’s universe and also as a complement for readers already familiar with it.”
“Interpreting his brief to survey the religion around Donne literally, Eckhardt sets out to examine the religion which surrounded Donne’s works in manuscript collections, Sammelbände (composite volumes of printed texts), private libraries, and bookshops. The result is a triumph: an innovative study which puts religion and book history into conversation with each other, showing ‘religious contexts through bibliographic ones.’ The reader is taken on a riveting journey through a series of libraries and archives, which opens up new perspectives both on Donne (as book-buyer, book-owner, book-binder, and reader) and on the way in which contemporaries and future generations shaped his religious identity in manuscript and print.”
“It is sometimes easy to forget the mental and physical footwork that is required to construct even one sentence of bibliographical research, and Eckhardt is to be commended for his excellent and committed collation of information from a vast number of sources in what is an exemplary addition to each of the disciplines he contributes to in his book.”
“A tour de force. Weaving together close reading, reception study, and book history, this volume sheds new light on Donne’s writing, its readers, and the complex landscape of early modern religious belief and practice. Expertly navigating archival sources, Eckhardt follows Donne’s works as they travel through a world of religious communion and division, generating and participating in conversations that are as compelling now as they were in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.”
“Besides providing new insights into the life and works of John Donne in the context of the religious disputes of his time, Religion Around John Donne shows how book history can be written in a scholarly and engaging way. Joshua Eckhardt provides absorbing and exemplary readings of material features in a rich variety of books connected to Donne.”
“This study of the consummate poet and preacher of the late English Renaissance recovers a religious and literary culture profoundly embodied in the physical labors of scribes, printers, and bibliophile collectors. Here we encounter an intimate history of the material circumstances of knowledge in the premodern world—of paper, ink, and pen—down to the miracles of book preservation and the odds-breaking power of historic library collections to hold the Renaissance together in snapshot form.”
Religion Around John Donne brilliantly realizes the potential of its bibliographical approach. Its focus on the religious texts, in manuscript and print, that Donne and his contemporaries made, collected, and preserved yields fascinating new insights into the role played by religion in Donne’s life and writing. Vividly written, perfectly paced, and beautifully clear, Religion Around John Donne will be of great interest and value to beginners and experts alike.”

Joshua Eckhardt is Associate Professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University.


Note on Texts and Conventions


1. Religion Around Donne’s Poems

in a Family Library

Interlude: Mirreus, Crants, and Graius Go

to the Library

2. Religious Works Around Donne’s Inscriptions

3. Religious Verse Around Donne’s Verse

4. Religious Prose Around Donne’s Prose

5. Religious Books Around Donne’s Works




From the Introduction

Raised a Roman Catholic in protestant England, John Donne became its most scribally published poet and, after converting, one of the Church of England’s better-published preachers as well. He could not have done it alone. And in the case of his poetry, he hadn’t wanted to do it at all. Donne circulated most of his poems exclusively among friends and patrons in late Elizabethan and early Stuart England. He allowed relatively few of his poems to be printed.1 Despite this, and in part because of it, his readers and collectors made thousands of surviving manuscript copies of his poems—thousands more than they preserved of any contemporary poet’s works. Against his wishes, they made Donne the most popular manuscript poet of early modern England.

People also hand-copied some of his prose writings, especially his sermons, but in much smaller numbers. They could easily buy some of them, since Donne had allowed stationers to publish certain prose works in print. And they could simply go to hear others: Donne published his sermons orally himself, in pulpits ranging from parish churches to royal courts. Serving as a royal chaplain-in-ordinary, Donne preached to both the Chamber (upstairs) and the Household (below) every April and Lent, in the courts of first James VI and I and then Charles I. In the summers, Donne delivered sermons at his livings beyond London (Keyston, near Huntingdon; Sevenoaks in Kent; and, later, Blunham in Bedfordshire). On a diplomatic mission, Donne preached even farther afield: first in Heidelberg (before King James’s daughter, Princess Elizabeth, and her husband the Elector Palatine, Frederick V), and then at The Hague. He read most of his sermons in pulpits in and around his hometown of London, though. As a reader in divinity, he preached regularly at Lincoln’s Inn, the Inn of Court to which he already belonged. He read occasional sermons at Paul’s Cross, the open-air pulpit in St. Paul’s Churchyard. More than anywhere else, he preached inside the cathedral, as dean of St. Paul’s. At the other end of Fleet Street, he came to deliver regular sermons at the parish church of St. Dunstan-in-the-West, serving as vicar. At both St. Dunstan’s and St. Paul’s, Donne published sermons orally, while booksellers published some of his printed works just outside in the churchyards. Londoners could both hear Donne’s sermons and buy a few of them in affordable quartos not far from the churches he served.

If they wanted to read the dean’s poems during his lifetime, however, they needed to resort to manuscripts. Many did. Donne’s poetry survives because of their efforts. Even the prose works that he sent to press would no longer exist if not for the people who reproduced and stored them. We can read Donne’s work only through theirs, and this book aims to do just that. It surveys the religion around Donne in the manuscript collections, composite volumes, private libraries, and bookshops of some of the people responsible for reproducing and preserving his works. Each of these people fashioned unique contexts for Donne. None of them collected only Donne’s works, after all. Virtually all of them collected others’ writing as well. In the process, they gathered diverse texts together, whether in shops, on shelves, or within bindings. In this way, they surrounded Donne’s writings with others’, much of it religious in character. They physically placed religion around Donne, at least as they saw him in their collections of texts and books. Because they did, Religion Around John Donne can explore the religious texts that collectors actually put around Donne’s poems and sermons.

This book can also show some of the religion that Donne placed around himself. Donne collected books too, and the books’ subsequent owners have preserved many of them. Donne inscribed books in ink, lightly marked up their margins in pencil, and may even have had some bound together. Books from his library allow the second chapter of this study to get quite close to him, by reading from copies of religious works that he personally marked. Following Donne’s own pen and pencil marks, the chapter surveys some of the attacks on separatists and Catholics, and a few of the defenses of the Church of England, that Donne personally read. It thus zooms in on the religion right around Donne in his library, and in his hands.

The second chapter cannot, however, feature more than a small fraction of the books that Donne must have read and used in his writing. Donne cited far more works than survive marked in his hand. Take his use of Augustine, for example. Katrin Ettenhuber and the other editors of The Oxford Edition of the Sermons of John Donne have demonstrated that Donne quoted Augustine more than any other church father. Their annotated editions, and Ettenhuber’s intertextual study of Donne’s citations of Augustine, therefore rightly refer throughout to Augustine’s works, regardless of the fact that the actual copies of patristic sources that Donne used do not seem to have survived. This book, by contrast, relies exclusively on evidence from collections of surviving artifacts. Instead of the normal sort of intertextuality, produced by one author quoting another, it focuses on an often overlooked kind of “‘proximate’ or ‘material intertextuality,’” produced by a collector of texts, whether “in book form” or in the shape of a library. The second chapter approaches Donne as just such a collector. It focuses in particular on books that Donne may have had bound together in composite volumes called Sammelbände. This chapter thus turns attention to parts of the religion around Donne that he was more inclined to mock than cite, such as William Covell’s defenses of the Church of England.

The chapter then proceeds to the subsequent owners of Donne’s books, following those books from Donne’s library to others’. This may make the second chapter seem to lose its focus on Donne. But it actually returns the book’s attention to the collectors of the writings that Donne left behind. This is one way of acknowledging that any of Donne’s writing that survives, even if it’s in his own hand, has come to us by other hands as well. The artifacts’ subsequent owners have already mediated any apparently immediate access that we can have to the author at the center of this book. They have also already contextualized him, effectively anticipating and sometimes influencing the efforts of modern students and scholars to do the same. Much, if not all, historical research contextualizes its subject. And, when they contextualize, scholars rarely act alone. They tend to consult, or at least submit to the influence of, many others when they explore and propose historical contexts: their fellow experts, their teachers, leading publishers. This book does the same; it simply insists on consulting first some of the people who first contextualized Donne. Throughout, this study focuses on texts that early modern readers gathered together with something that Donne wrote, whether a poem, a sermon, or just an inscription on the title page of a printed book that he evidently owned. To put this another way, this study seeks religion that has been actually, physically “around” Donne and his writing. I was given the title for the John Donne installment in the Religion Around series, and I take it literally.

This book, then, shows religious contexts through bibliographical ones, and defines context principally as what’s physically with (con-) a text. It’s a book history (even though it also deals with some unbound documents that might not technically qualify as books). Like most any other history of religion or literature, a book history draws its evidence from books: even historians who never use rare books tend to use modern, scholarly ones. But a book history draws that evidence from more than the books’ contents. It considers not only what a book says but also what a book is, and how it got that way. It studies not only the authors of books but also their other producers and users, not only the subject matter of those books but also their physical matter: the paper, the ink, the stitching and binding, the owners’ inscriptions, and readers’ marks. A book history can offer plenty of information about literary history or religious history. It just also keeps in view the particular artifacts on which it relies, and some of the labor that has gone into making, modifying, and preserving them. A book history can demonstrate plenty about broad social contexts. It simply shows those contexts as certain people could perceive them and grasp them at the time—in bookshops, on shelves, and in volumes of diverse contents.

Donne’s popularity with readers, and the astounding effort that those readers put into reproducing his work, invite this bibliographical approach. It might not work as well for just any author. Moreover, the Religion Around series calls for a distinctive approach to Donne because the series began with Religion Around Shakespeare, written by the series’ founding editor, Peter Iver Kaufman. Donne and Shakespeare lived in the same city over many of the same years. Much, if not all, of Kaufman’s book therefore describes the religion around Donne as well as around Shakespeare. This book would run the risk of redundancy if it approached the subject in the same way that Kaufman does. Instead, it strikes out in a direction that suits Donne and his works in particular. Shakespeare’s poems did not circulate widely in manuscript; Donne’s most certainly did. Shakespeare’s writings for public performance did not have the support of the Church; Donne’s, again, did. This book therefore turns early and often to Donne’s poems in manuscript, and later to a few of his more widely published sermons. Throughout, it focuses on the religious texts that have physically accompanied Donne and his writing: the religion around Donne.

Even without Kaufman’s inaugural volume, though, a new book on Donne’s religious contexts could run the risk of merely repeating its predecessors. Dennis Flynn has already written an influential book on the Roman Catholic religion of Donne’s family and youth. Jeff Johnson has already contributed one on Donne’s theology, drawn largely from his sermons. Jeanne Shami devoted a book to the contexts of Donne’s late Jacobean sermons in particular. And Achsah Guibbory focused much of her book about Donne on the religious contexts of his prose and verse. This list of important Donne books could go on. Another, related list could feature those of religious historians, including Lori Anne Ferrell, Kenneth Fincham, Peter Lake, Diarmaid MacCulloch, Michael Questier, Ethan Shagan, Nicholas Tyacke. Many readers of this book will have already read earlier books by these scholars. People who haven’t may choose to read them first, with good reason. Nevertheless, I have tried to write this book for both experts and nonexperts alike—by attending to both basic features of the religion and overlooked collections of material evidence. Experts will find in this book the same sorts of Christians that they already know well, in general—the papists and separatists, the Calvinists and conformists. The details, however, ought to be new to most readers.

To some potential readers, it may seem odd to pick up a book about religion and find oneself reading about old books. It shouldn’t, though, especially in the case of a religion that has long focused on an old book. Nevertheless, readers of religious histories may be more accustomed to thinking about expressive activities than about receptive ones: an author writing, a preacher preaching, a prisoner answering questions, a congregation gathering secretly in the woods. This book features each of these activities, but it takes seriously the fact that we know about them only because people reproduced and preserved the words of others. It therefore includes the reproducers and preservers of texts in its account of religion, along with less expressive activities that rarely make it into religious histories: hastily recording depositions, carefully copying a sermon by hand, shopping for books, sending them to the binder, reading with a pencil ready to mark up the margins. It does so partly because, for many people, religion has included making and using manuscripts and books. Indeed, for some, religion has occasionally had more to do with reception than with production—with attending to the text at hand, and abiding with what is already written—than it has had to do with expressing much else. Without a little book history, religious history would overlook a lot of religion.

Even readers who are already accustomed to book history, though, may balk at certain features of this book. It does not confine itself to either manuscripts or printed books, for instance. Rather, it makes a point of engaging both media, partly because this is what Donne and his readers did, and partly because scholars have recently insisted on doing the same. The book does not focus only on authors, or members of the Stationers’ Company, or readers. It engages all of them. It draws on subdisciplines that scholars sometimes keep separate (codicology, analytical bibliography, textual criticism, provenance research), but it does so very selectively, using these methods only long enough to identify another aspect of the religion around Donne. Moreover, the book does not try to exhaust the study of any one of the volumes or libraries that it considers. Quite the opposite: it shows merely a representative sample of the religious texts that have physically surrounded Donne and his writing, in the hope that others will consult or reconsider these or other collections of textual artifacts for themselves.

Excerpt ends here.