In the Anniversaries (1612), a trio of elegiac poems in honor of the fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Drury, John Donne inverts the usual priorities of Renaissance historiography—“what Caesar did, yea, and what Cic’ro said”—by commemorating a young girl who did and said nothing in particular before her premature death. Early modern historians took for granted that time is linear, that effects can be traced back to causes, and that human nature remains constant over the centuries. By contrast, Donne’s unorthodox history of Elizabeth Drury presents two conflicting and irreconcilable temporalities. In the first temporal scheme, time conforms to historians’ understanding of it; in the second, Drury’s death has destroyed the natural order, including the order of time, and rendered impossible the writing of traditional histories, which “measur[e] future things from things before.” Many scholars have attempted to resolve the temporal paradoxes of the Anniversaries, but the speaker suggests that honoring Drury’s memory means accepting that two mutually exclusive temporalities can exist simultaneously within a single text. The willingness to dwell in unresolvable paradox is characteristic of Pyrrhonian skepticism, which teaches its adherents to, in Donne’s phrase, “[d]o not so much as not believe a man.” Only when readers have achieved this state can they participate in writing Drury’s history by allowing her virtue to inhabit their actions in the world.


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pp. 101-123
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