JOHN DONNE was born into a Roman Catholic family in 1572, when practice of that religion was outlawed in England. When he was 21 years old, his brother Henry was arrested for harbouring a Catholic priest, William Harrington, whom Henry betrayed under torture. Harrington was tortured on the rack, hanged until not quite dead, then was subjected to disembowelment. Henry Donne died in Newgate prison of bubonic plague. This series of events lead to John Donne’s questioning of his Catholic faith and eventual conversion to the Anglican religion.
EDGAR ALLAN POE was born Edgar Poe in Boston, Massachusetts in 1809. He was orphaned young when his mother died shortly after his father abandoned the family. Poe was taken in by John and Frances Allan, of Richmond Virginia- but they never formally adopted him. He attended the University of Virginia for one semester and left due to lack of money. After enlisting in the Army and later failing as an officer’s cadet at West Point, Poe parted ways with the Allans. His publishing career began humbly, with an anonymous collection of poems, Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827), credited only to “a Bostonian”.
WILLIAM BLAKE died on August 12, 1827. It is said that on the day he died, he turned to his wife, who was in tears by his bedside and cried, “Stay Kate! Keep just as you are- I will draw your portrait- for you have ever been an angel to me.” Having completed this portrait (now lost), Blake laid down his tools and began to sing hymns and verses. At six that evening, after promising his wife that he would be with her always, he died. Blake was buried on the eve of his 45th wedding anniversary.
On the day of his wife Catherine’s death, she was as calm and cheerful as William and is said to have called out to him, “as if he were only in the next room, to say she was coming to him and it would not be long now”.
EMILY DICKINSON was thought of as an eccentric by her neighbors and became known for her penchant for white clothing and her reluctance to greet guests or, later in life, even leave her room. Most of her friendships were carried out by correspondence.