Dr Donne, Drury Lane (Early 17th Century)
Dr John Donne (Born 1573 – Died 1631) was a Dean of St Paul’s and a poet, who had a strange experience which could be considered a crisis apparition. The following account of this experience was published in ‘The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain’ (1897) by John Ingram.
In Isaak Walton’s life of the well-known Dean of St. Paul’s is a very strange family legend, that is none the less worthy of quotation that it has been so often told. According to the old piscatorial biographer, Dr. Donne and his wife were living at one time in the house of Sir Robert Drury, in Drury Lane. The Lord Haye being about to depart to the Court of Henry IV. of France, on an Embassy from James I. of England, Sir Robert Drury resolved to accompany him to the French Court, and to be present at his audience there. No sooner had Sir Robert formed this resolution, than he determined Dr. Donne should be his companion on the journey. This desire having been made suddenly known to Mrs. Donne, “who was not only in very bad health, but also expecting her speedy confinement, she was so distressed, and protested so earnestly against her husband’s departure, saying that she had a presentiment that some ill would occur in his absence, that finally the doctor laid aside all thoughts of his projected journey, and determined to stay at home.
When Sir Robert heard of this he exerted himself to the utmost to alter Dr. Donne’s determination; and the doctor, fearing that after all the many benefits he had received from his friend, he should be deemed unthankful if he so persistently declined to accompany him, told his wife so; who, therefore, with very great reluctance, at last gave way, and most unwillingly assented to her husband’s departure. The visit was to last for two months, and was begun within a little while after Mrs. Donne’s consent had been gained.
The party reached Paris safely. Two days after their arrival there, Donne was left alone in the room where Sir Robert and he, with some others, had dined. About half-an-hour after his departure, Sir Robert returned, and found Dr. Donne where he had left him, but in such a state of agitation, and so strangely altered in his looks, that he was perfectly amazed at him, and earnestly desired him to inform him what had happened during the short space of time in which he had been left. At first Donne was not sufficiently collected to reply, but after a long and perplexed pause, answered:
“I have seen a dreadful vision since I saw you. I have seen my dear wife pass twice by me through this room, with her hair hanging about her shoulders, and a dead child in her arms; this I have seen since I saw you.’:
To this Sir Robert responded:
“Surely, Sir, you have slept since I saw yon, and this is the result of some melancholy dream, which I desire you to forget, for you are now awake.”
Dr. Donne’s reply to this was:
“I cannot be surer that I now live, than that I have not slept since I saw you, and am sure that at her second appearing she stopped and looked me in the face and vanished.”
Nothing would alter Dr. Donne’s opinion that he had had a vision, and the next day he was more than ever confirmed in his idea, affirming it with such a deliberate confidence that he finally persuaded Sir Robert that there must be some truth in the vision. Determined to learn the truth as speedily as possible, the knight sent a special messenger back to England, to learn how it fared with Mrs. Donne: whether still alive, and, if alive, in what state. On the twelfth day the messenger returned to Paris with the information that he had found and left Mrs. Donne very ill in bed, and that, after a long and dangerous confinement she had been delivered of a dead child; the date and hour of the child’s birth having proved to have been, so it is alleged, identical with that at which Dr. Donne affirmed he had seen the apparition pass by him in the room.
Sir Robert Drury (Born 1575 – Died 1615), was of Hawstead, Suffolk and Drury House, Westminster. Drury Lane had originally taken its name from his father’s town house which was situated there near The Strand. It was here that Dr Donne was staying with his wife.
Drury House, from which the lane originally took its name, stood at the west end of Wych Street. It was built by Sir William Drury, who is reported to have been not only the head of a great family, but Knight of the Garter. He held a command in the Irish wars in the reign of Elizabeth, and showed great ability as an officer. He unfortunately fell in a duel with a Sir John Burroughes, about a foolish quarrel for precedency. The house deserves to be remembered as the place where the rash friends of the Queen’s favourite, the Earl of Essex, devised those wild schemes which led to the ruin of himself and his adherents. The “Account of St. Clement’s in 1734,” to which we have so often referred, speaks of it as “a very large house, or which may rather be termed several houses. The entrance,” adds the writer, “is through a pair of gates, which leadeth into a large yard for the reception of coaches.” At the back of the house was a handsome garden. “In the following century, “says Allen, in his “History of London,” “it was possessed by the heroic Lord Craven, who rebuilt it. It was lately a large brick pile, concealed by other buildings, and turned into a public-house bearing the sign of the ‘Queen of Bohemia,’ the earl’s admired mistress, whose battles he fought, animated at once by love and duty. When on the death of her husband he could aspire to her hand, he is supposed to have succeeded; at all events history says that they were privately married, and that he built for her the fine seat at Hampstead Marshal, in Berkshire, afterwards destroyed by fire. “The services rendered by Lord Craven to London, his native city, are worthy of being recorded here. He was so indefatigable in preventing the ravages of fire, that it is said “his horse would smell the outbreak of a fire, and neigh to give the alarm. “He and Monk, Duke of Albemarle, stayed in London throughout the visitation of the Great Plague in 1665, and at the hazard of their own lives preserved order in the midst of the horrors of the time. Allen adds that there used to be in Craven Buildings a very good fresco portrait of this heroin armour, mounted on a white horse, and with his truncheon in hand, and on each side an earl’s and a baron’s coronet, with the letters “W. C.” (William Craven). This painting, though several times recoloured in oils, has long since perished; but an engraving of it is preserved in Smith’s “Antiquities of London.”
It deserves to be recorded of Sir Robert Drury that he for some time entertained, as a welcome and honoured guest at his mansion in Drury Lane, the amiable and learned Dr. John Donne, afterwards Dean of St. Paul’s, when he was young and poor, having contracted marriage with a young lady of high connections, against the will, or at all events without the consent, of her relatives. It is added that he not only gave him and his wife the free use of apartments, but also was “a cherisher of his studies, and such a friend as sympathised with him and his in all their joys and sorrows. “Such friends, no doubt, were rare then; as rare, perhaps, as now-a-days; but it is a pleasure to record such an act of genuine friendship. – [‘The Strand: Drury Lane and Clare Market’, Old and New London: Volume 3 (1878)]
Dr Donne’s wife died on 15 August 1617 during childbirth. She was thirty two years old and they had been married for sixteen years. Together they had twelve children, five of which preceded her to the grave.