Career: Poet, essayist, attorney, minister, and sermon writer
Donne was born in London in 1572. His family was of Roman Catholic faith (his mother was a relative of the Catholic martyr Sir Thomas More), and he grew up experiencing the religious discrimination of the Anglican majority in England against Catholics. It has been speculated that it was this very discrimination that prevented Donne from completing his studies at Oxford University. After leaving Oxford, he studied law in London and received his degree in 1596. Seeking adventure, Donne sailed with the English expeditions against the Spanish, and his experiences inspired the poems "The Storm," "The Calm," and "The Burnt Ship." The following year, Donne returned to London and became secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton. In December, 1601, he clandestinely married Egerton's sixteen-year-old niece Ann More. When the news became public, More's father unsuccessfully endeavored to annul the marriage, but did succeed in imprisoning Donne for a short period of time. In 1602 Donne was released and, now unemployed, spent the next thirteen years trying to gain financial security for his family. Eventually, he converted from Roman Catholicism to Anglicism, and was enlisted by Sir Thomas Morton to aid him in writing anti-Catholic pamphlets. In 1610 he published his first work, Pseudo-Martyr, which attempted to induce English Catholics to repudiate their allegiance to Rome (home of the Catholic Church) and take an oath of allegiance to the British crown. From 1611 to 1612 Donne accompanied Sir Robert Drury to France on a long diplomatic mission, during which he composed some of his most acclaimed verse letters, funeral poems, holy sonnets and love poems, in particular "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning." Returning to England in 1612, Donne considered becoming an Anglican minister, but hesitated because of self-doubt. He was finally ordained in early 1615 and quickly became one of the most respected clergymen of his time. He was elected dean of St. Paul's in 1621 and devoted the majority of his life to writing sermons and other religious works until his death in 1631.