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kinsman, Sir Francis Wolly, of Pirford, in Surrey, who entreated them to a cohabitation with him; where they remained, with much freedom to themselves, and equal content to him, for some years; and as their charge increased, (she had yearly a child,) so did his love and bounty.
It hath been observed by wise and considering men, that wealth hath seldom been the portion, and never the mark to discover good people; but that Almighty God, who disposeth all things wisely, hath of his abundant goodness denied it (he only knows why) to many, whose minds he hath enriched with the greater blessings of knowledge and virtue, as the fairer testimonies of his love to mankind; and this was the present condition of this man of so excellent erudition and endowments; whose necessary and daily expenses were hardly reconcileable with his uncertain and narrow estate. Which I mention, for that at this time there was a most generous offer made him for the moderating of his worldly cares; the declaration of which shall be the next employment of my pen.
God hath been so good to his church, as to afford it in every age some such men to serve at his altar as have been piously ambitious of doing good to mankind; a disposition, that is so like to God himself, that it owes itself only to Him, who takes a pleasure to behold it in his creatures. These times 1 he did bless with many such; some of which still live to be patterns of apostolical charity, and of more than human patience. I have said this, because I have occasion to mention one of them in my following discourse; namely, Dr. Morton, the most laborious and learned Bishop of Durham; one that God hath blessed with perfect intellectuals and a cheerful heart at the age of ninety-four years (and is yet
1 Anno 1608.
living); one, that in his days of plenty had so large a heart, as to use his large revenue to the encouragement of learning and virtue, and is now (be it spoken with sorrow) reduced to a narrow estate, which he embraces without repining; and still shows the beauty of his mind by so liberal a hand, as if there were an age in which to-morrow were to care for itself. I have taken a pleasure in giving the reader a short but true character of this good man, my friend, from whom I received this following relation. He sent to Mr. Donne, and entreated to borrow an hour of his time for a conference the next day. After their meeting, there was not many minutes passed before be spake to Mr. Donne to this purpose: “Mr. Donne, the occasion of sending
is to propose to you what I have often revolved in my own thought since I last saw you; which, nevertheless, I will not declare but upon this condition, that you shall not return me a present answer, but forbear three days, and bestow some part of that time in fasting and prayer; and after a serious consideration of what I shall propose, then return to me with your answer. Deny me not, Mr. Donne; for it is the effect of a true love, which I would gladly pay as a debt due for yours to me.
This request being granted, the Doctor expressed himself thus :
“ Mr. Donne, I know your education and abilities; I know your expectation of a state-employment; and I know your fitness for it; and I know too the many delays and contingencies that attend court-promises; and let me tell you, that my love, begot by our long friendship and your merits, hath prompted me to such an inquisition after your present temporal estate, as makes me no stranger to your necessities; which I know to be such as your generous spirit could not bear, if it were not supported by a pious patience. You know I have for
merly persuaded you to waive your court hopes, and enter into holy orders; which I now again persuade you to embrace, with this reason added
to my former request: the King hath yesterday made me Dean of Gloucester, and I am also possessed of a benefice, the profits of which are equal to those of my Deanery. I will think my Deanery enough for my maintenance, (who am and resolve to die a single man,) and will quit my benefice, and estate you in it, (which the Patron is willing I shall do), if God shalí incline your heart to embrace this motion. Remember, Mr. Donne, no man's education or parts make him too good for this employment, which is to be an ambassador for the God of glory, that God who by a vile death opened the gates of life to mankind. Make me no present answer; but remember your promise, and return to me the third day with your resolution.
At the hearing of this, Mr. Donne's faint breath and perplexed countenance, gave a visible testimony of an inward conflict: but he performed his promise, and departed without returning an answer till the third day, and then his answer was to this effect :
“My most worthy and most dear friend, since I saw you
I have been faithful to my promise, and have also meditated much of your great kindness, which hath been such as would exceed even my gratitude; but that it cannot do; and more I cannot return you;
and I do that with a heart full of humility and thanks, though I may not accept of your offer: but, Sir, my refusal is not for that I think myself too good for that calling, for which kings, if they think so, are not good enough: nor for that my education and learning, though not eminent, may not, being assisted with God's grace and humility, render me in some measure fit for it: but I dare make so dear a friend as you are my confessor: some irregularities of my life have been so
visible to some men, that though I have, I thank God, made my peace with him by penitential resolutions against them, and, by the assistance of his grace, banished them my affections; yet this, which God knows to be so, is not so visible to men, as to free me from their censures, and it may be, that sacred calling from a dishonour. And besides, whereas it is determined by the best of casuists, that God's glory should be the first end, and a maintenance the second motive to embrace that calling ; and though each man may propose to himself both together, yet the first may not be put last without a violation of conscience, which he that searches the heart will judge. And truly my present condition is such, that if I ask my own conscience, whether it be reconcileable to that rule, it is at this time so perplexed about it, that I can neither give myself nor you an answer.
You know, Sir, who says, Happy is that man whose conscience doth not accuse him for that thing which he does. To these, I might add other reasons that dissuade me: but I crave your favour that I may forbear to express them, and thankfully decline your
offer.” This was his present resolution: but the heart of man is not in his own keeping; and he was destined to this sacred service by a higher hand; a hand so powerful, as at last forced him to a compliance; of which I shall give the reader an account before I shall give a rest to my pen.
Mr. Donne and his wife continued with Sir Francis Wolly till his death; a little before which time, Sir Francis was so happy as to make a perfect reconciliation betwixt Sir George and his forsaken son and daughter; Sir George conditioning by bond to pay to Mr. Donne 8001. at a certain day, as a portion with his wife, or 201. quarterly, for their maintenance, as the interest for it, till the said portion was paid.
Most of those years that he lived with Sir Francis, he studied the Civil and Canon Laws; in which he acquired such a perfection, as was judged to hold proportion with many who had made that study the employment of their whole life.
Sir Francis being dead, and that happy family dissolved, Mr. Donne took for himself a house in Mitcham, (near to Croydon, in Surrey,) a place noted for good air and choice company: there his wife and children remained: and for himself, he took lodgings in London, near to Whitehall, whither his friends and occasions drew him very often, and where he was as often visited by many of the nobility and others of this nation, who used him in their counsels of greatest consideration, and with some rewards for his better subsistence.
Nor did our own nobility only value and favour him, but his acquaintance and friendship was sought for by most ambassadors of foreign nations, and by many other strangers, whose learning or business occasioned their stay in this nation.
He was much importuned by many friends to make his constant residence in London; but he still denied it, having settled his dear wife and children at Mitcham, and near some friends that were bountiful to them and him; for they, God knows, needed it; and that you may the better now judge of the then present condition of his mind and fortune, I shall present you
with an extract collected out of some few of his many letters.
And the reason why I did not send an answer to your last week's letter was, because it then found me under too great a sadness; and at present it is thus with me. There is not one person, but myself, well of my family: I have already lost half a child, and with that mischance of hers, my wife is fallen into such a discomposure, as would