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Autograph Hands

John Donne's Letter to Sir George More

John Donne. Letter to Sir George More. Manuscript, 1 March 1602

Manuscripts are in a sense living extensions of their authors—the intimacy of handwriting brings us closer to understanding the process of composition. The materiality and subject matter of the manuscripts shown in this section, written in the hands of four well-known Renaissance writers and one composer, make it possible to imagine the circumstances of their production: Edmund Spenser adding his transcriptions of two poems and a letter to a blank page in a printed book; Gabriel Harvey filling the margins of a book with his overflowing observations; John Dowland copying out music for a young lute student; John Donne pleading with his father-in-law for forgiveness for secretly marrying his daughter; Thomas Traherne struggling to finish a long poem after being urged by a friend to continue.


John Donne sent this passionate letter to Sir George More during one of the greatest crises of his life. Three weeks earlier, More had learned of Donne's secret marriage to his daughter Ann. Initially Donne was imprisoned, and More persuaded Donne's employer to dismiss him from his service. In this letter, Donne humbly importunes More for forgiveness, writing, "In all the world is not more true sorrow than in my heart." As a result, Donne and Ann More were reunited, but her father refused to contribute to her support. This letter is part of the most substantial and important body of letters by Donne known to survive.


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