Mar 31: Donne's eternal book-jacket photo

Did you know you can get John Donne wallpapers for your computer? This truly is a golden age. Donne, when he wrote, could not inspire himself with Chaucer wallpapers. Unless they were made of actual wallpaper. Maybe that's what they did with the old manuscripts.

All this is because today's reading is, not Donne himself, but Issak Walton on Donne -- specifically, his last days. (Today is --surprise! -- the anniversary of his birth. Or perhaps I should say "anniversarie.")

Donne, as is known, became an Anglican preacher and quite a fervant one in the last part of his life, but, as Walton presents him, there's a little bit of the literary showman left in the dying man. Writing from the country, where he is fighting his last illness, he takes offense at the rumors that he's announced his death to get out of preaching:

It is an unfriendly, and, God knows, an ill-grounded interpretation; for I have always been sorrier when I could not preach than any could be they could not hear me. It hath been my desire, and God may be pleased to grant it, that I might die in the pulpit; if not that, yet that I might take my death in the pulpit; that is, die the sooner by occasion of those labours.
Don't mind me; I'm just dying because I'm pursuing my calling here. And he also comes up with a kind of showman's idea for his memorial:
Several charcoal fires being first made in his large study, he brought with him into that place his winding-sheet in his hand, and having put off all his clothes, had this sheet put on him, and so tied with knots at his head and feet, and his hands so placed as dead bodies are usually fitted, to be shrouded and put into their coffin, or grave. Upon this urn he thus stood, with his eyes shut, and with so much of the sheet turned aside as might show his lean, pale, and deathlike face...
It looked like this when they turned it into sculpture:


Walton summarizes this well: "It is observed that a desire of glory or commendation is rooted in the very nature of man; and that those of the severest and most mortified lives, though they may become so humble as to banish self-flattery, and such weeds as naturally grow there; yet they have not been able to kill this desire of glory, but that like our radical heat, it will both live and die with us; and many think it should do so."

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