"THE SPOKESMAN BEFORE GOD OF A VIRILE, UNCONQUERABLE HUMANITY": RARE FIRST EDITIONS OF JOHN DONNE'S LXXX SERMONS (1640) AND FIFTY SERMONS (1649), BOUND TOGETHER IN CONTEMPORARY CALF
DONNE, John. LXXX Sermons Preached by that Learned and Reverend Divine, John Donne… BOUND WITH: Fifty Sermons… London: Printed for Richard Royston et al., 1640, 1649. Two volumes bound as one. Thick folio (9 by 13-1/4 inches), contemporary full brown calf, raised bands, ink manuscript spine lettering. $22,000.
Extremely rare first editions of the first two separately published collections of sermons by "the outstanding preacher of his day" and one of the greatest poets in the language (Baugh, et al., 613), two landmarks of English literature and piety bound together in contemporary calf, with engraved additional title page by Merian featuring a portrait of Donne.
John Donne, Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral, is remembered as "one of the most celebrated preachers of his age as well as its greatest non-dramatic poet" (Drabble, 283). "Thou shalt yield no precedence, but of time," wrote poet Thomas Carew on Donne's death. In 1919, T.S. Eliot praised Donne for possessing "uncommon dignity and beauty—a style which gives at times what is always uncommon in the sermon, a direct personal communication… [He was] an artist doing the traditional better than any one else had done it… putting into the sermon here and there what no one else had put into it" ("The Preacher as Artist"). Of Donne's estimated 180 sermons, 160 survive, "and they demand reading and study not just as the major productions of his maturity but also as intricate and beautiful pieces of prose… [They demonstrate that] his concern during his ministry was most often to seek edification—of his auditors and of the English church—and, while criticizing those whom he regarded as sectarians, both Puritan and Roman Catholic, to find some form of accommodation with elements of both. As Donne preaches to congregations ranging from the inhabitants of Blunham to the members of the courts of James I and Charles I, he can be seen to be mapping out a middle way that offers at the same time a strong vision of a church still seeking identity and a voice with which its ministers can speak both with and to authority" (DNB). "The sermons are not only rich in learning and curious lore: they are characteristically personal and powerful in their phrasing… At his most characteristic, [Donne] is the spokesman before God of a virile, unconquerable humanity" (Norton Anthology, 918).
LXXX Sermons is the first of three folio volumes issued after Donne's death by his son between 1640 and 1660. Prefixed to LXXX Sermons is the first appearance in print (later published separately in expanded form) of Izaak Walton's account of Donne's life, which describes him as a "Preacher in earnest, weeping sometimes… preaching to himself like an Angell from a cloud." Donne's son delayed the publication of the second volume, Fifty Sermons, "apparently for fear of persecution from the Commonwealth government" (Grolier Club 64); it is "a considerably scarcer book than the LXXX Sermons" (Keynes 30). It includes Sermon XLIII, the powerful and controversial "Gunpowder Plot" sermon. Donne preached it in St. Paul's on November 5, 1622—only a year after his appointment as Dean—to mark the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, in which Catholic conspirators attempted to assassinate King James I. The sermon represents a potent tension in Donne's career: raised by a mother passionately committed to the Catholic faith, Donne struggled to reconcile that upbringing with hopes of a diplomatic career under a monarchy that contested papal authority. This volume also collects "sermons which he delivered at Lincoln's Inn [that] are among the most ingenious and thoughtful of any which have come down to us… They will always rank as among the noblest examples of pulpit oratory which the 17th century has bequeathed to posterity" (DNB). Donne's sermons "are now very rare" (Allibone, 513). With ornamental woodcut initials, head- and tailpieces. Bound with initial and final blanks. STC 1738; Wing D1862. Keynes 29, 30. Grolier Club 62, 64. Lowndes, 660. Bookplate. Owner signature.
Text clean. Hinges cracked, cords holding firm. An exceptional and desirable copy in contemporary calf.