Would they thinke it well if the day were spent in dressing, mistressing and complement

From John Donne’s To Mr. Tilman After He Had Taken Orders, with Helen Gardner’s readings from her edition of The Divine Poems. ‘Mistressing’ is a verbal form of the noun ‘mistress’ and ‘complement’ here is an obsolete spelling on ‘compliment’ (OED 8.b – ‘observance of ceremony in social relations; ceremoniousness; formal civility, politeness, or courtesy. to keep complement: to observe ceremony’).

Why doth the foolish world scorn that profession,
Whose joyes pass speech? Why do they think unfit
That Gentry should join families with it?
Would they thinke it well if the day were spent
In dressing, mistressing and complement.
Alas poor joyes, but poorer men, whose trust
Seemes richly placed in refined dust,
(For such are clothes and beauties, which though gay,
Are, at the best, but of sublimed clay)
Let then the world thy calling disrespect,
But go thou on, and pity their neglect.

As humorous is my contritione as my prophane love, and as soone forgott

From John Donne’s Divine Poems (no. 3 in the Holy Sonnets from the Westmoreland MS):

Oh, to vex me, contraryes meete in one:
Inconstancy unnaturally hath begott
A constant habit; that when I would not
I change in vowes, and in devotione.
As humorous is my contritione
As my prophane love, and as soone forgott:
As ridlingly distemperd, cold and hott,
As praying, as mute; as infinite, as none.
I durst not view heaven yeserday; and to day
In prayers, and flattering speaches I court God:
To morrow I quake with true feare of his rod.
So my devout fitts come and go away
Like a fantastique Ague: save that here
Those are my best dayes, when I shake with feare.

The editor of my edition – Helen Gardner for the 1952 Oxford English Texts volume- had nothing to say on this in her commentary.

‘Tis strange that she should thus confess it

From Donne’s imitation of Horace, Persius, and Juvenal we move to his of Martial:


Your mistress, that you follow whores, still taxeth you ;
‘Tis strange that she should thus confess it, though’t be true.


If in his study he hath so much care
To hang all old strange things, let his wife beware.


Thy flattering picture, Phryne, is like thee,
Only in this, that you both painted be.


Klockius so deeply hath sworn ne’er more to come
In bawdy house, that he dares not go home.

God! How have I sinn’d, that thy wrath’s furious rod, this fellow, chooseth me?

From John Donne’s Satire 4 – a visit to the court.  At least quarantine keeps you from these sorts of social strappado-ings:

towards me did run
A thing more strange, than on Nile’s slime the sun
E’er bred, or all which into Noah’s ark came;
A thing which would have posed Adam to name; 20
Stranger than seven antiquaries’ studies,
Than Afric’s monsters, Guiana’s rarities;
Stranger than strangers; one, who for a Dane,
In the Danes’ massacre had sure been slain,
If he had lived then; and without help dies, 25
When next the ’prentices ’gainst strangers rise;
One, whom the watch, at noon, lets scarce go by;
One, to whom th’ examining justice sure would cry,
‘Sir, by your priesthood, tell me what you are.’
His clothes were strange, though coarse, and black, though bare; 30
Sleeveless his jerkin was, and it had been
Velvet, but ’twas now—so much ground was seen—
Become tufftaffaty; and our children shall
See it plain rash awhile, then nought at all.
The thing hath travell’d, and, faith, speaks all tongues, 35
And only knoweth what to all states belongs.
Made of th’ accents and best phrase of all these,
He speaks one language. If strange meats displease,
Art can deceive, or hunger force my taste,
But pedants’ motley tongue, soldiers’ bombast, 40
Mountebanks’ drug-tongue, nor the terms of law
Are strong enough preparatives, to draw
Me to bear this, yet I must be content
With his tongue, in his tongue, called compliment;
In which he can win widows, and pay scores, 45
Make men speak treason, cozen subtlest whores,
Outflatter favourites, or outlie either
Jovius, or Surius, or both together.
He names me, and comes to me; I whisper, ‘God!
How have I sinn’d, that Thy wrath’s furious rod, 50
This fellow, chooseth me?’

Doubt wisely, in strange way to stand inquiring right, is not to stray

From John Donne’s Satire 3.

…. though truth and falshood bee
Neare twins, yet truth a little elder is;
Be busie to seeke her, beleeve mee this,
Hee’s not of none, nor worst, that seekes the best.
To adore, or scorne an image, or protest,
May all be bad; doubt wisely, in strange way
To stand inquiring right, is not to stray;
To sleepe, or runne wrong, is: on a huge hill,
Cragg’d, and steep, Truth stands, and hee that will
Reach her, about must, and about must goe;
And what the hills suddennes resists, winne so;
Yet strive so, that before age, deaths twilight,
Thy Soule rest, for none can worke in that night,
To will, implyes delay, therefore now doe.
Hard deeds, the bodies paines; hard knowledge too
The mindes indeavours reach, and mysteries too
Are like the Sunne, dazzling, yet plaine to all eyes;

Shall I leave all this constant company, And follow headlong, wild uncertaine thee?

The opening of John Donne’s first Satire.  I have the added commentary of the Oxford texts edition of The Satires, Epigrams and Verse Letters edited by W.Milgate but I’m enjoying the scans of the 1633 edition at the Digital Donne

Away thou fondling motley humorist,
Leave mee, and in this standing woodden chest,
Consorted with these few bookes, let me lye
In prison, and here be coffin’d, when I dye;
Here are Gods conduits; grave Divines, and here
Natures Secretary, the Philosopher.
And jolly Statesmen, which teach how to tie
The sinewes of a cities mistique bodie;
Here gathering Chroniclers, and by them stand
Giddie fantastique Poëts of each land.
Shall I leave all this constant company,
And follow headlong, wild uncertaine thee?

Diverted by the worst voluptuousnes, which is an Hydroptique immoderate desire of humane learning and languages

From John Donne’s Letters (number 43):

To Sir H. Goodere


EVERY tuesday I make account that I turn a great hour-glass, and consider that a weeks life is run out since I writ. But if I aske my self what I have done in the last watch, or would do in the next, I can say nothing; if I say that I have passed it without hurting any, so may the Spider in my window. The primitive Monkes were excusable in their retirings and enclosures of themselves: for even of them every one cultivated his own garden and orchard, that is, his soul and body, by meditation, and manufactures; and they ought the world no more since they consumed none of her sweetnesse, nor begot others to burden her. But for me, if I were able to husband all my time so thriftily, as not onely not to wound my soul in any minute by actuall sinne, but not to rob and cousen her by giving any part to pleasure or businesse, but bestow it all upon her in meditation, yet even in that I should wound her more, and contract another guiltinesse: As the Eagle were very unnaturall if because she is able to do it, she should pearch a whole day upon a tree, staring in contemplation of the majestie and glory of the Sun, and let her young Eglets starve in the nest. Two of the most precious things which God hath afforded us here, for the agony and exercise of our sense and spirit, which are a thirst and inhiation after the next life, and a frequency of prayer and meditation in this, are often envenomed, and putrefied, and stray into a corrupt disease: for as God doth thus occasion, and positively concurre to evill, that when a man is purposed to do a great sin, God infuses some good thoughts which make him choose a lesse sin, or leave out some circumstance which aggravated that; so the devill doth not only suffer but provoke us to some things naturally good, upon condition that we shall omit some other more necessary and more obligatory. And this is his greatest subtilty; because herein we have the deceitfull comfort of having done well, and can very hardly spie our errour because it is but an insensible omission, and no accusing act. With the first of these I have often suspected my self to be overtaken; which is, with a desire of the next life: which though I know it is not merely out of a wearinesse of this, because I had the same desires when I went with the tyde, and enjoyed fairer hopes then now: yet I doubt worldly encombrances have encreased it. I would not that death should take me asleep. I would not have him meerly seise me, and onely declare me to be dead, but win me, and overcome me. When I must shipwrack, I would do it in a Sea, where mine impotencie might have some excuse; not in a sullen weedy lake, where I could not have so much as exercise for my swimming. Therefore I would fain do something; but that I cannot tell what, is no wonder. For to chuse, is to do: but to be no part of any body, is to be nothing. At most, the greatest persons, are but great wens, and excrescences; men of wit and delightfull conversation, but as moalls for ornament, except they be so incorporated into the body of the world, that they contribute something to the sustentation of the whole. This I made account that I begun early, when I understood the study of our laws: but was diverted by the worst voluptuousnes, which is an Hydroptique immoderate desire of humane learning and languages: beautifull ornaments to great fortunes; but mine needed an occupation, and a course which I thought.  I entred well into, when I submitted my self to such a service, as I thought might imploy those poor advantages, which I had. And there I stumbled too, yet I would try again: for to this hour I am nothing, or so little, that I am scarce subject and argument good enough for one of mine own letters: yet I fear, that doth not ever proceed from a good root, that I am so well content to be lesse, that is dead. You, Sir, are farre enough from these descents, your vertue keeps you secure, and your naturall disposition to mirth will preserve you; but lose none of these holds, a slip is often as dangerous as a bruise, and though you cannot fall to my lownesse, yet in a much lesse distraction you may meet my sadnesse, for he is no safer which falls from an high tower into the leads, then he which falls from thence to the ground: make therefore to your self some mark, and go towards it alegrement. Though I be in such a planetary and erratique fortune, that I can do nothing constantly, yet you may finde some constancy in my constant advising you to it.

Your hearty true friend
J. Donne