“Doing Donne” has proved too much for many scholars. Like God the Father, told repeatedly in Donne’s “Hymn” that “When thou hast done, thou hast not done”, they have struggled to accommodate Donne’s texts and life records in their entirety: these seem too complex and shifting. Back in 1936, I. A. Shapiro assured the Oxford University Press that his edition of Donne’s letters would be delivered in a fortnight – or so I was told by my late mother, his colleague at the University of Birmingham. Shapiro died in March 2004, full of years, the Letters undelivered. In default of such an edition, it has been widely felt that a comprehensive biography could not be written. R. C. Bald, who embarked on one, died suddenly in 1965 after finishing only ten of the eighteen chapters of John Donne: A Life, though the work was ably completed by W. Milgate. First Sir Herbert Grierson, and then Dame Helen Gardner – neither of whose names appears in the index of Donne: The reformed soul by John Stubbs – gained major honours for careers which included long and arduous collation and analysis of the many manuscript texts of Donne’s poems according to classical principles of textual criticism. Barely was Gardner cold in her grave, however, before a team of editors in America, led by Gary A. Stringer, embarked on a great Variorum Edition of the Poetry of John Donne (being published by Indiana University Press), adopting a radically different editorial approach. Time will tell who among us will live to see this project completed. John Stubbs may well do so, for he is not yet thirty.
more from the TLS here.