In 1633, two years after his death, a small volume of Donne’s poetry was printed and it was enough to take him out of the coterie he had been confined to all his adult life. Although in the subsequent years, his poetry was undervalued compared to Cowley’s imitations of him, Donne influenced a number of poets sufficiently for the term ‘Metaphysical school’ to have arisen. But not until Coleridge championed him in the early eighteenth century, and later Browning, did his unique qualities begin to be fully appreciated. The Victorians also prized him for his prose, especially his sermons, but it was T.S. Eliot who, in the early years of the twentieth century, injected the critical impetus needed to push Donne to the front rank as an English poet. Sir Herbert Grierson published the first authoritative edition of Donne’s entire poetical output in 1912, and it remains the definitive edition, although the steady rise in Donne’s popularity has fuelled new editions and collections. In this chapter we will look at that critical history and bring it absolutely up to date.
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