Editorial Conventions

The following set out the basic editorial principles underlying The Oxford Edition of the Sermons of John Donne. Please note that this is not an exhaustive record of our editorial strategy, but rather an introduction to the Edition.


Editors will extensively research their volumes’ place of preaching in order to set their sermons in their proper context.  This approach will be superior to the placement of the many undated sermons in the chronological scheme attempted by Potter & Simpson (further 'P&S') because it will put each sermon in the company of others which share a place of delivery.  Continuities between sermons are most often between those preached to the same congregation, and not between those that are calendrically sequential but for different auditories.  Hence, Donne’s carefully constructed links between sermons composed as a series for the same audience over large periods of time -- to the Benchers of Lincoln’s Inn over academic terms, at court during Donne’s annual month of service, or the extended series on his prebendal Psalms at St Paul’s -- are obscured when arranged chronologically with intervening sermons from other venues.  Each venue also had its own distinctive physical setting and congregational character.  Understanding Donne’s career will be better achieved by an edition that allows scrutiny of how Donne addressed these specific congregations over time. 


A foundational principle of the edition, in keeping with its emphasis on original place of preaching, is to present texts of Donne's sermons that are as close as possible to their form at the time of preaching.  This diverges significantly from P&S's unilateral preference for the latest revised forms of the sermons preserved in the three posthumous folios (1640, 1649, 1660).  A majority of the new edition's copy will necessarily still be these great folios.  However, new scrutiny of all other witnesses will see many texts based on either earlier quartos, or on manuscripts which verifiably pre-date the folios.  Work with these two categories of textual witnesses is, briefly summarised, as follows:

  1. Print Witnesses.  P&S’s collational work was limited to an unacceptably small number of copies, often inadequately identified. Moreover, their account of press variants was ignorant of the importance of type-setting and correction of ‘formes’ (vs. leaves), and collation seems to have been done using only the naked eye.  The Oxford Edition will remedy this by collating a far larger number of copies of chosen copy texts. A ‘pump-priming’ grant from the John Fell OUP Fund  at Oxford has secured purchase of two portable optical collators ('Hayley's Comets') for this work.  Collation uses as base-copy photographic images of a copy identified for its completeness and suitability for photographing all openings. To date, collation has focussed on the 'third folio', or 'F26' (1660), using images of the copy held by the English Faculty Library, Oxford University. ‘Target’ copies collated against these base-texts are of course restricted to use in their various repositories. The General Editor and Research Associate have compiled censuses of all known copies of the print witnesses; they have chosen for collation, where possible, copies other than those collated by P&S, and efficiently concentrated in single locations (Oxford, Cambridge, London, and New England universities).  
  2. Manuscripts. Full descriptions and semi-diplomatic transcriptions of all manuscript witnesses have been made by the Contributing Editors and Research Associate. In addition to being used by the the Editors for collation with print witnesses and in the choice and establishment of copy text, the semi-diplomatic transcriptions will be, over time, converted into fully 'tagged', TEI-compliant XML documents and added to this site as a unique contribution to scholars and students for their own use. 


The edition takes as its model Lancelot Andrewes: Selected Sermons and Lectures (ed. McCullough, 2005), the most recent OUP edition of texts comparable to Donne's. Salient features of the primary text presentation in published form are:

  • Old spelling
  • Critical apparatus (foot of page) documenting all readings supplied from texts other than the chosen copy, as well as all rejected substantive variants
  • Preservation of marginal apparatus of original copy

'Back of book' commentary for each sermon, keyed to page and line number of main text, to include:

  • Systematic headnote for each sermon covering date, occasion, textual history, and selected further reading.
  • Annotation and documentation of sources, allusions, obsolete diction, loci communes, non-English words and phrases