Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Was John King the person addressed in Donne’s ‘The Anniversary’?

John King, Bishop of London, c.1559-1621

‘The Anniversary’ (text after Robin Robbins)
All kings and all their favourites,
         All glory of honours, beauties, wits,
    The sun itself, which makes times, as they pass,
    Is elder by a year now than it was
    When thou and I first one another saw.
    All other things to their destruction draw:
         Only our love hath no decay.
    This, no tomorrow hath, nor yesterday;
    Running, it never runs from us away,
But truly keeps his first, last, everlasting day.

         Two graves must hide thine and my corse:
         If one might, death were no divorce.
    Alas, as well as other princes, we
    (Who prince enough in one another be)
    Must leave at last in death these eyes and ears
    Oft fed with true oaths, and with sweet-salt tears;
         But souls where nothing dwells but love
    (All other thoughts being inmates) then shall prove
    This, or a love increasèd there above,
When bodies to their graves, souls from their graves remove.

         And then we shall be throughly blessed,
         But we no more than all the rest.
    Here upon earth we’re kings, and none but we
    Can be such kings, nor of such subjects be:
    Who is so safe as we? where none can do
    Treason to us, except one of us two.
         True and false fears let us refrain:
    Let us love nobly and live, and add again
    Years and years unto years, till we attain
To write threescore. This is the second of our reign.

Well, there they all were at York House. Sir Thomas Egerton has a new domestic chaplain in John King, and John Donne is installed as a private secretary (Egerton, beside his hard work and personal probity, could certainly pick talent). The niece of Egerton’s wife is also present, Ann More, a young woman of 17.

According to the story promoted by E. E. Duncan-Jones and Robin Robbins after her, that emotionally labile man John Donne then falls into a state of deep and lasting personal attachment not just to Ann More (which we know about), but also to John King. Being able to give your heart more or less at once to a girl twelve years your junior and a man twelve, or maybe thirteen years your senior takes some crediting, but love is broad, and perhaps it truly was especially broad in the early modern period.

This is Robbins’ summary of the case for ‘The Anniversary’ being about Donne’s friendship with King: “The parity of the partners in Anniversary, contrasting with the inequality affirmed in the same analogy in [‘The Sun Rising’], where “kings … all here in one bed” lie but it is the man alone who is “all princes”, suggests an exclusively male relationship. E. E. Duncan-Jones … argues persuasively that, since the gender of the addressee is not specified, Donne may in the thrice-repeated “kings” be punning on the surname … of John King (1559?-1621), a lifelong friend, with whom his relationship was termed by Walton “a marriage of souls”.

But how persuasive was E. E. Duncan-Jones? In her letter to the LRB (October 1993), we see every sign of wishful thinking, as she promotes once more an idea that she just can’t let go (despite, as she admits, having been brusquely told by her colleague and friend Helen Gardner to “Forget it”): “When Walton calls this friendship ‘a marriage of souls’ in his life of Donne it is so apt a description of the subject of this poem that Walton might be covertly alluding to it.” Her phrasing, “in his life of Donne” seems to me to bend the facts ever so slightly: that striking phrase about the marriage of souls, seized upon by Robbins, appears only in a letter of dedication to the second edition of Walton’s Life of Donne. In the 1640 version, Donne, acceding to the king’s wish that the author of Pseudo-Martyr become a churchman, is described as “declaring his intentions to his deare friend D. King the then worthy Bishop of London”.

By 1658, dedicating the second edition of his Life of Donne to Sir Robert Holt, Walton improves on ‘deare friend’:  “For, Sir, Dr. Donne was so much a part of your self, as to be incorporated into your Family, by so noble a friendship, that I may say there was a marriage of souls betwixt him and your reverend Grandfather, who in his life was an Angel of our once glorious Church, and now no common Star in heaven. And Dr. Donne’s love died not with him, but was doubled upon his Heire, your beloved Uncle the Bishop of Chichester, that lives in this froward generation, to be an ornament to his Calling. And this affection to him was by Dr. D. so testified in his life, that he then trusted him with the very secrets of his soul; & at his death, with what was dearest to him, even his fame, estate, & children.”

Walton is reminding his dedicatee of close relationships between Donne and both the Kings, father (John) and son (Henry). He reaches rather self-consciously (“that I may say”) to the florid affirmation, which seems likely to have slipped into his memory from Jeremy Taylor’s high-flown discourse on friendship to that great oracle of Friendship, Orinda, Katherine Philips:
“There are two things which a friend can never pardon, a treacherous blow and the revealing of a secret, because these are against the Nature of friendship; they are the adulteries of it, and dissolve the Union; and in the matters of friendship which is the marriage of souls; these are the proper causes of divorce…” (Jeremy Taylor, A discourse of the nature, offices, and measures of friendship with rules of conducting it written in answer to a letter from the most ingenious and vertuous M.K.P. by J.T. 1657). 
So, the “marriage of souls” phrase was Walton’s later hyperbole, when talking up the Donne/John King relationship in a dedicatory epistle, and taken from the typical discourse of Katherine Philips’ precieux circle.

Gauging the depth of that dear friendship is hard: in certain aspects of character, one would not think John King to be Donne’s type, for King was fiercely anti-Catholic. (That might initially have been the point: Donne, the former Catholic, associating himself with a man whose opinions made him a good guarantor that Donne really had switched persuasions.) Their long-continued acquaintance became a professional one: it would be John King, as Bishop of London, who ordained Donne.

So anti-Catholic was John King that he was victim of a very successful posthumous libel by a Catholic writer, who interjects as a truth a story that King renounced the Protestant faith and his own ministry as false in the last days before his death. Richard Broughton (The English protestants plea, and petition, for English preists and papists to the present court of Parlament, 1621) might have believed what he wrote, a victim of misinformation or wishful thinking, or might have deliberately concocted the lie and placed it in his book. But it was noticed, and there was clearly an urgent inquiry into this scandalous allegation, to the result that John King’s eldest clergyman son gave a funeral sermon that goes into a very detailed account of his father’s departure from this world, and makes candid appeals to a sense of likelihood. This was printed along with a denial of the imputed apostasy that had been obtained from a Catholic.

I find John Donne oddly absent from this sensational business. He isn’t mentioned, and as far as I know he doesn’t mention it. E. E. Duncan-Jones ended her letter with a fact and, coupled to that fact, a passing remark from a later sermon that she thinks shows Donne being conscious of his dearest friend being in a grave close at hand:  “King died in 1621 and was buried in St Paul’s. On Easter Day 1630, preaching in St Paul’s, Donne speaks of ‘a love … that will melt one’s bowels if he do but passe over or passe by the grave of his dead friend’.” This is striking, but in context, Donne is reaching out as he often did to wider experiences in his congregation, rather than delivering a personal note that isolating the sentiment produces: “There is a love that will make one kisse the case of a picture, though it be shut; There is a love that will melt ones bowels, if he do but passe over, or passe by the grave of his dead friend.” 
To sum up, the relationship between John Donne and John King is not something R. C. Bald makes much of, while Donne’s more racy biographer John Stubbs tells the story of the posthumous slander of King for its own sake without adducing anything to show Donne was personally concerned.
King was an anti-catholic to the extent that the Catholics mounted a posthumous propaganda coup exploiting his reputation. Donne, apparently silent on this matter concerning his friend, does himself have bad things to say about ‘papists’, but that simply went with the territory of being in the 17th century English pulpit. Donne is more himself when saying things to bring his congregation up short, as when he told his listeners that he was a papist himself (and a puritan too!):
therefore, if when I study this holinesse of life, and fast, and pray, and submit my selfe to discreet, and medicinall mortifications, for the subduing of my body, any man will say, this is Papisticall, Papists doe this, it is a blessed Protestation, and no man is the lesse a Protestant, nor the worse a Protestant for making it, Men and brethren, I am a Papist, that is, I will fast and pray as much as any Papist, and enable my selfe for the service of my God, as seriously, as sedulously, as laboriously as any Papist. So, if when I startle and am affected at a blasphemous oath, as at a wound upon my Saviour, if when I avoyd the conversation of those men, that prophane the Lords day, any other will say to me, This is Puritanicall, Puritans do this, It is a blessed Protestation, and no man is the lesse a Protestant, nor the worse a Protestant for making it, Men and Brethren, I am a Puritan, that is, I wil endeavour to be pure, as my Father in heaven is pure, as far as any Puritan.
Donne prefers to place himself between Catholic and Calvinist-Protestant extremes.
Is ‘The Anniversary’ about Donne’s feelings for John King? Even E. E. Duncan-Jones has difficulties with:
And then we shall be throughly blessed,
         But we no more than all the rest.

“The rather unregenerate hint that in heaven the two will not be quite so happy because others will be as happy as they are at least marks the poet’s total content and zest for living.” I don’t get the impression that Dr. John King was someone to whom you sounded unregenerate notes of any kind.
The “content and zest for living” is just too radically anti-Calvinist to imagine Dr. King indulging: Donne promotes the exclusive joy of human love against the democracy of shared delight in heaven. Duncan-Jones also tries this argument: “The part played by ‘bodies’ in this relationship is strikingly small. What will be lost in death will be ‘eyes’ and ‘eares’, the sight and speech of the loved one: ‘Oft fed with true oathes, and with sweet salt teares’.” Here, the critic conveniently forgets that Donne doesn’t itemise body parts or properties in the Songs and Sonnets: breast, skin, red, white, soft, neck, leg, foot don’t feature – this was, after all, the love poet of ‘lovely glorious nothing’, and body parts beyond the face are usually his (‘The Fever’ is an exception, but there the purported illness makes him write about the body, the ‘beauty, and all parts, which are thee’ of the beloved.)
Duncan-Jones’ comment was about:
    (Who prince enough in one another be)
    Must leave at last in death these eyes and ears
    Oft fed with true oaths, and with sweet-salt tears …

This language of tears and oaths does not strike me as different enough from the other (male to female) Songs and Sonnets.

But the clincher is meant to be in:

    Here upon earth we’re kings, and none but we
    Can be such kings, nor of such subjects be

This parity between the lovers has to make them, at least so Robin Robbins seems eager to conclude, both men. He distinguishes this poem from ‘The Sun Rising’ on that basis. To remind the reader, the male speaker there addressed the sun:
Look, and tomorrow late, tell me, 
Whether both th' Indias of spice and mine 
Be where thou leftst them, or lie here with me. 
Ask for those kings whom thou saw'st yesterday, 
And thou shalt hear, All here in one bed lay.

She's all states, and all princes, I, 
Nothing else is. 
The argument goes that in these lines the male speaker entertains a fantasy of himself as ‘All [kings]’ because she is ‘all states’, especially she is the inexhaustible source of wealth of both the Indies, he being the doubly fortunate ruler of both east and west. Yet the poem possibly just wavers towards the notion of their parity: all the world’s kings now compacted into the two of them in bed together. This might be taken as a preliminary to the stronger statement of equality in ‘The Anniversary’. As ‘The Sun Rising’ ends, the speaker joins in the new geography of the world that is now contracted into this bedroom. The ageing sun’s duty is to warm the world, and happily, ‘that’s done in warming us’. The (male) speaker seems to have forgotten the notion that he is world ruler, but joins his beloved as a new world. He promoted her, for a moment, to kingship with him, he now moves himself down to worldship with her.
It is worth questioning as well whether it is likely that Donne would have made an argument for equality if the relationship with John King were his subject. Donne regularly exploited a distinction between love’s adepts and the general ‘laity’. Real clergymen, when they are his subject, prompt him to ingenious assertions of their superiority – God’s ambassadors on earth, and all that other stuff, as seen in his poem to Mr Tilman. To celebrate his friendship with Dr John King in ‘The Anniversary’ in terms of equality would have been a solecism.
There is another angle on all this. By a coincidence, it fell to Bishop King to give the sermon when Princess Elizabeth was married to Frederick, Count Palatine, in 1614. Donne wrote his best epithalamion for the event. Bishop King was placed in circumstances in which he had, as a matter of politics, to make the bride equal with the groom. It would not have been possible to read to the Stuart Princess a sermon of woman’s subordination: to do so would have been to slight the Stuarts, who had just lost their Prince Henry and so unlikely to be receptive to further diminution of the dynasty. Frederick, Count Palatine, was not the prime prince of Europe. King rose to the requirements of the occasion, with a marriage sermon about the worthiness of women, equality of partners as essential to a godly marriage, and the superiority of marriage to friendship.
As I indicate, it was a contingent discourse, but King puts all his theological weight behind it, he could not sound as though he is advancing a paradox or problem case:
A woman is, he said:
“the gate of entrance into liuing. Hence began the world; God buildeth the woman (aedificat costam, finxit hominem: man was figmentum, woman aedificium, an artificiall building) and from the rafter or planke of this rib is the world built. Therfore was Heva called mater viventium, the mother of the living; quia mortali generei immortalitatem parit, she is the meanes to continue a kind of immortalitie amongst the mortall sonnes of men. No sooner was man made, but presently also a woman; (not animal occasionatum, a creature upon occasion, nor mas laesus, a male with maime and imperfection, (philosophy speaketh too dully:) but out of the counsel and skill and workemanship of almighty God; aedificat, a goodly frame:) and no sooner a woman, but presently a wife. So that man, and woman, and wife are simul tempore, of the same standing; and the first vocation of man was maritari, to be an husband. Mulier propter virum, The woman was made for the man to be his wife: so that, according to the Hebrew prouerb, Cui non est vxor, is non est vir, A man without a wife is not a man. Vir and vxor, man and wife, are primum par, fundamentum parium, the first originall match of all others. All other couples and paires, as father and sonne, maister and seruant, king and subject come out of this paire.
Happy, thrice happy these that keepe this bond without breach. Amicus & socius commodè conueniunt, sed utrum{que} antecessit vxor iuncta viro. A freind and a companion come together at an opportunitie, but above them both is a wife with her husband. And the whole infelicity of marriage for the most part, that Iliade of evils which accompanieth some matches, is when this sicut is wanting; when men choose not similes their likes, when matches are made of such as match not…”
The writer of the ODNB life of John King represents these as his general opinions, understands this as sincerely said. It might have been. This raises the possibility, then, that in talking to his dear friend John King, John Donne had previously heard something similar: that the fleeting moment of parity between the lovers in ‘The Anniversary’ – who are a man and a woman – might have owed something after all to John King, from whom John Donne might have heard an ameliorative discourse, a possibility that he could entertain.