Houghton Library, Harvard University, MS Eng. 966.4

The Dobell manuscript is the only extant manuscript that contains Donne’s sermons, poetry, and some of the juvenilia: as a result, it is one of the most diverse and extensive of contemporary anthologies of Donne’s writing. It appears that the scribe carefully organised its contents, distinguishing between Donne’s poetry and prose, and between several types of poems (grouping together, for instance, the elegies, satires, divine poems, and epigrams). Given this generic arrangement, it is possible that all of ff. 1-78 was meant to contain sermons, but that only three were copied, one at the start and two at the end of this section (ff. 2r-8v; ff. 56r-78v). The intervening section (ff. 9-55) was left blank, and perhaps the scribe could not obtain further copies of Donne’s sermons, or abandoned his manuscript for another reason.

In the later seventeenth century, Dob had come into the possession of Dr William Balam (1651-1726) of Ely, Cambridgeshire, who used the manuscript extensively as a commonplace book for a great variety of draft documents, filling margins and blank pages, but also, for instance, providing titles to Donne’s poems, or writing short commentaries on, or a paraphrase of, the poems. This makes Balam one of Donne's earliest appreciative literary critics. Balam did in fact scribble full the margins of some sermons but he did not, however, comment on them in any way.