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MASTER JOHN DONNE was born in London, in the year 1573, of good and virtuous parents: and though his own learning and other multiplied merits may justly appear sufficient to dignify both himself and his posterity, yet the reader may be pleased to know, that his father was masculinely and lineally descended from a very ancient family in Wales, where many of his name now, live, that deserve and have great reputation in that country.
By his mother he was descended of the family of the famous and learned Sir Thomas More, sometime Lord Chancellor of England; as also from that worthy and laborious Judge Rastall, who left posterity the vast statutes of the law of this nation most exactly abridged.
He had his first breeding in his father's house, where a private tutor had the care of him, until the tenth year
of his and in his eleventh year was sent to the University of Oxford; having at that time a good command both of the French and Latin tongue. This, and some other of his remarkable abilities, made one then give this censure of him : “ That this age had brought forth another Picus Mirandula ;" of whom story says, “ That he was rather born, than made wise by study.”
There he remained for some years in Hart-hall, having, for the advancement of his studies, tutors of
several sciences to attend and instruct him, till time made him capable, and his learning expressed in public exercises declared him worthy, to receive his first degree in the schools, which he forbore by advice from his friends, who being for their religion of the Romish persuasion, were conscionably averse to some parts of the oath that is always tendered at those times, and not to be refused by those that expect the titulary honour of their studies. About the fourteenth year of his age
he transplanted from Oxford to Cambridge; where, that he might receive nourishment from
both soils, he stayed till his seventeenth year; all which time he was a most laborious student, often changing his studies, but endeavouring to take no degree, for the reasons formerly mentioned.
About the seventeenth year of his age he was removed to London, and then admitted into Lincoln's Inn, with an intention to study the law; where he gave great testimonies of his wit, his learning, and of his improvement in that profession; which never served him for other use than an ornament and self-satisfaction.
His father died before his admission into this society, and, being a merchant, left him his portion in money. (It was 30001.) His mother, and those to whose care he was committed, were watchful to improve his knowledge, and to that end appointed him tutors both in the mathematics, and in all the other liberal sciences, to attend him. But with these arts they were advised to instil into him
particular principles of the Romish Church; of which those tutors professed, though secretly, themselves to be members.
They had almost obliged him to their faith ; having for their advantage, besides many opportunities, the example of his dear and pious parents, which was a most powerful persuasion, and did work
upon him, as he professeth in his preface to his Pseudo-Martyr, a book of which the reader shall have some account in what follows. He was now entered into the eighteenth year
age; and at that time had betrothed himself to no religion, that might give him any other denomination than a Christian. And reason and piety had both persuaded him, that there could be no such sin as Schism, if an adherence to some visible Church were not necessary.
About the nineteenth year of his age, he being then unresolved what religion to adhere to, and considering how much it concerned his soul to choose the most orthodox, did therefore, (though his youth and health promised him a long life,) to rectify all scruples that might concern that, presently lay aside all study of the law, and of all other sciences that might give him a denomination; and began seriously to survey and consider the body of divinity, as it was then controverted betwixt the Reformed and the Roman Church. And as God's blessed Spirit did then awaken him to the search, and in that industry did never forsake him, (they be his own words',) so he calls the same Holy Spirit to witness this protestation; that in that disquisition and search he proceeded with humility and diffidence in himself, and by that which he took to be the safest way; namely, frequent prayers, and an indifferent affection to both parties; and indeed, Truth had too much light about her to be hid from so sharp an inquirer; and he had too much ingenuity, not to acknowledge he had found her.
Being to undertake this search, he believed the Cardinal Bellarmine to be the best defender of the Roman cause, and therefore betook himself to the examination of his reasons. The cause was weighty,
1 In his Preface to Pseudo-Martyr.