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Letter by John Donne

This letter, written by the 17th-century poet to his father-in-law, is one of 13 in the Folger collection, representing about a third of Donne’s surviving letters.

Full page of handwritten text in black ink on beige paper with large left-hand margin and three horizontal creases. The signature is in the lower right corner of the page, a significant gap between it and the closing statement.

John Donne. Letter to Sir George More, March 1601/1602. Folger call number L.b. 532.

This is one of 14 letters by the 17th-century poet John Donne held at the Folger, a collection that makes up more than a third of his surviving letters. Eight of them, including this one, illuminate a crisis in Donne’s life triggered by his secret marriage in late 1601 to Anne More, daughter of Sir George More of Loseley Park. By marrying Anne without her father’s permission, Donne offended against both the civil and the canon laws. He soon found himself in prison and barred from communication with his bride. 

Donne responded with an outpouring of eloquent, pleading letters to Sir George More. In this one, Donne writes movingly of Anne, “whose good ys dearer to me by much than my lyfe.” The poet’s appeals were eventually heeded, and on April 27, 1602, the court of the archbishop of Canterbury confirmed the marriage. Despite some financial difficulties brought on by the scandal, the marriage was apparently a happy one. When Anne died in 1617, she was survived by her husband and seven children.

Read the letter