Donne wanted to have a life-size monument placed above his grave, and commissioned an artist to his deathbed. After taking off all of his clothes, he dressed in the death shroud that would be placed over his actual corpse. He even knotted the head and foot. Donne spared no detail and did his very best to simulate what he would look like in death. At the time, only his face was shown as he turned toward the east to symbolize dawning resurrection. He then closed his eyes and stiffened his jaw to simulate rigor mortis.
The artist positioned himself on a plank of wood measuring six feet that Donne had provided. The artist created a sketch that would later be used to sculpt the realistic monument that the writer had requested. Donne kept the sketch by his sickbed. A few days had passed after the session with the artist and Donne said goodbye to his family and friends. He asked that the executor of his will would finish up all legal transactions by “Saturday next, for after that day he would not mix his thoughts with any thing that concerned the world.”
The final words that the writer uttered was “I were miserable if I might not die. They Kingdom come, Thy Will be done.” When Donne died, he was mentally alert and still able to speak as he stared at the sketch of his impending death. It was several days past Saturday and he was still speaking of death. He died on March 31 and his will was read on April 5 , two days after his funeral was held.
His cash estate totaled $8,000. Each of his six surviving children received about $1,000. The balance was then equally divided amongst Donne’s servants, including the coachman, houseboy, manservant, and maids in the kitchen and parlor. He designated people to receive valuable books, such as his “great French Bible with prints.” However, he did not specify who would receive his own literary works.
Because of this, the remaining family members began to argue amongst themselves. John Donne Jr. felt that the unpublished poems, sermons, and prose writings of their father should go to him since he was the eldest son. John Jr. printed the materials and took the profits as his own. Because of the quick action and greed of the son, literary historians have given him praise. If the papers had remained in the clutches of the executor of the will, they would have very well disappeared and the world would have never experienced his talent.
Henry King served as the executor of the will. Several years had passed after Donne’s death and King found that his home had been ransacked and most of his property destroyed or stolen.
Interestingly, Donne had written a poem entitled, “The Will.” It starts off: “Before I sigh my last gasp, let me breathe,/ Great Love, some legacies.”