In the early 19th century there were three overlapping interpretative communities in which John Donne's name had currency. One was made up of readers who, although they were familiar with Dr Donne from Alexander Pope's satires and Samuel Johnson's Life of Cowley, dismissed his poetry without actually reading it. Another consisted of a growing number of admirers of Izaak Walton's Lives, of which ‘The Life of Dr John Donne’ proved the most popular. There were also the writers whom we now call the Romantics, several of whom read Donne's sermons and poems with pleasure, often in one another's company. In bringing out an edition of the Works in 1839 Henry Alford and John W. Parker sought to unite the interests of these three groups and to make available a more ample picture of the writer than any living person had glimpsed. This chapter looks at Donne's poetical works and their interpretations by different personalities, notably Samuel Taylor Coleridge who read the poems with theological insights.
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