The recent publication of the tenth and final volume of The Sermons of John Donne has brought to a close one of the great homiletic publishing events of the twentieth century. (The Sermons of John Donne, 10 vols., ed. by George R. Potter and Evelyn M. Simpson, University of California Press: Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1953–1962; all volume and page references in this essay are to this edition.) Praises of John Donne the metaphysical poet—most distinguished member of a school numbering George Herbert, Richard Crashaw, Abraham Cowley, Andrew Marvell, Henry Vaughan, Thomas Traherne—have long been sung; indeed there was no English non-dramatic poet of Donne’s stature between Edmund Spenser and John Milton. But only with the publication of this definitive edition of the sermons is the magnitude of his prose achievement likely to become known. Since 1953 the handsome, well-made volumes containing the 160 extant sermons of perhaps the greatest preacher in England’s history have been issuing from the University of California Press. The editors—Mrs. Evelyn M. Simpson of Oxford, England, and the late Professor George R. Potter of the University of California—have, with a brilliantly exacting scholarship, set their texts from various manuscripts and from the three great folio volumes of Donne’s sermons: the LXXX Sermons of 1640, the Fifty Sermons of 1649, and the XXVI Sermons of 1661. They have also supplied excellent introductory material and critical essays.
Difficult it is to find a more moving example of devotion to one’s calling than that of Mrs. Simpson and Mr. Potter. Mrs. Simpson was publishing material on Donne as early as 1913, Mr. Potter as early as 1927. It was in the mid-1940’s that they determined their collaborative effort, ...1
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