Contemporary engravings illuminate a moving collection of prose by the celebrated poet.
'Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls: It tolls for thee'
Perhaps no one wrote better about the human condition – heart, body and soul – than John Donne (1572–1631). Known in his youth as a ‘great Visitor of Ladies, a great Frequenter of lays, a great writer of conceited Verses’, the dashing ‘Jack’ Donne became in later years the revered Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral.
Lovers of Donne will relish his prose, which is as witty and passionate as his poetry. This collection, compiled especially for The Folio Society by the literary editor Rivers Scott in 1997, begins with Donne’s early Paradoxes and Problems, described by their author as ‘swaggerers’. Here Donne enjoys himself addressing worldly considerations. He argues that women ‘ought to paint themselves’, that ‘a wise man is known by much laughing’ and even, playing devil’s advocate in his ‘Defence of Women’s Inconstancy’, that women should change their lovers along with their underwear.
Despite the ribald vein of some of his work, Donne was also much concerned with spirituality. His study of suicide, Biathanatos, is the first work in English on the subject; his Devotions, including a moving account of his near-fatal illness, attempt to reconcile the earthly with the divine; while his thundering sermons, as impressive on the page as they must have been from the pulpit, remind us that the great questions of life have not changed in four centuries.
This reissued edition contains a series of carefully chosen contemporary engravings. Among them are original frontispieces and title pages from several of his works, and scenes that illustrate his themes, including London landmarks such as St Paul’s Cathedral. These black-and-white images contrast beautifully with the book’s rich purple endpapers and slipcase.
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