George Herbert

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George Herbert
George Herbert.jpg
Portrait by Robert White in 1674 (National Portrait Gallery)
Born (1593-04-03)3 April 1593
Montgomery, Wales
Died 1 March 1633(1633-03-01) (aged 39)
Bemerton, Wiltshire, England
Alma mater Trinity College, Cambridge
Occupation Poet, priest, theologian, orator
Notable work(s) The Temple, The Country Parson, Jacula Prudentum
Style metaphysical poetry, theology
Religion Christian
Denomination Anglicanism

George Herbert (3 April 1593 – 1 March 1633) was a Welsh-born English poet, orator and Anglican priest. Herbert's poetry is associated with the writings of the metaphysical poets, and he is recognized as "a pivotal figure: enormously popular, deeply and broadly influential, and arguably the most skillful and important British devotional lyricist."[1]

Born into an artistic and wealthy family, Herbert received a good education that led to his admission in 1609 as a student at Trinity College, Cambridge, Herbert excelled in languages, rhetoric and music. He went to university with the intention of becoming a priest, but when eventually he became the University's Public Orator he attracted the attention of King James I and may well have seen himself as a future Secretary of State.[citation needed] In 1624 and briefly in 1625 he served in Parliament.[2] After the death of King James, Herbert's interest in ordained ministry was renewed. In his mid-thirties he gave up his secular ambitions and took holy orders in the Church of England, spending the rest of his life as the rector of the little parish of Fugglestone St Peter with Bemerton, near Salisbury. He was noted for unfailing care for his parishioners, bringing the sacraments to them when they were ill, and providing food and clothing for those in need. Henry Vaughan called him "a most glorious saint and seer".[3] Never a healthy man, he died of consumption at the early age of 39.

Throughout his life, he wrote religious poems characterized by a precision of language, a metrical versatility, and an ingenious use of imagery or conceits that was favoured by the metaphysical school of poets.[4] Charles Cotton described him as a "soul composed of harmonies".[5] Some of Herbert's poems have endured as popular hymns, including "King of Glory, King of Peace" (Praise): "Let All the World in Every Corner Sing" (Antiphon) and "Teach me, my God and King" (The Elixir).[6] Herbert's first biographer, Izaak Walton, wrote that he composed "such hymns and anthems as he and the angels now sing in heaven".[7]

Biography[edit]

Early life and education[edit]

George Herbert was born 3 April 1593 in Montgomery, Powys, Wales, the son of Richard Herbert, Lord of Cherbury (d. 1596) and his wife Magdalen née Newport, the daughter of Sir Richard Newport (1511–70). He was one of ten children. The Herbert family was wealthy and powerful in both national and local government, and George was descended from the same stock as the Earls of Pembroke. His father was a Member of Parliament, a justice of the peace, and later served for several years as high sheriff and later custos rotulorum (keeper of the rolls) of Montgomeryshire. His mother, Magdalen, was a patron and friend of clergyman and poet John Donne and other poets, writers and artists. As George's godfather, Donne stood in after Lord Herbert died when George was three years old.[8][9] Herbert's elder brother Edward (who assumed his late father's barony) became a soldier, diplomat, historian, poet, and philosopher whose religious writings led to his reputation as the "father of English deism".[10]

Herbert entered Westminster School at or around the age of 12 as a day pupil,[11] although later he became a residential scholar. He was admitted on scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1609, and graduated first with a Bachelor's and then with a Master's degree in 1616 at the age of 23.[12] Subsequently, Herbert was elected a major fellow of his college and then appointed Reader in Rhetoric. In 1620 he stressed his fluency in Latin and Greek and attained election to the post of the University's Public Orator, a position he held until 1628.[13]

In 1624, supported by his kinsman the 3rd Earl of Pembroke, Herbert became a Member of Parliament, representing Montgomery.[14] While these positions normally presaged a career at court, and King James I had shown him favour, circumstances worked against Herbert: the King died in 1625, and two influential patrons also died at about the same time. However, his parliamentary career may have ended already because, although a Mr Herbert is mentioned as a committee member, the Commons Journal for 1625 never mentions Mr. George Herbert, despite the preceding parliament's careful distinction.[15]

Priesthood[edit]

St Andrew's Church in Bemerton, Wiltshire, where George Herbert served as rector and in which he was buried

In 1629, Herbert decided to enter the priesthood and was appointed rector of the small rural parish of Fugglestone St Peter with Bemerton, near Salisbury in Wiltshire, about 75 miles south west of London. Here he lived, preached and wrote poetry; he also helped to rebuild the Bemerton church and rectory out of his own funds.[16]

While at Bemerton, Herbert revised and added to his collection of poems entitled The Temple. He also wrote a guide to rural ministry entitled A Priest to the Temple or, The County Parson His Character and Rule of Holy Life, which he himself described as "a Mark to aim at", and which has remained influential to this day. Having married shortly before taking up his post, he and his wife gave a home to three orphaned nieces. Together with their servants, they crossed the lane for services in the small St Andrew's church twice every day.[7] Twice a week Herbert made the short journey into Salisbury to attend services at the Cathedral, and afterwards would make music with the cathedral musicians. [17]

But his time at Bemerton was short. Having suffered for most of his life from poor health, in 1633 Herbert died of consumption only three years after taking holy orders.[18] Shortly before his death, he sent the manuscript of The Temple to Nicholas Ferrar, the founder of a semi-monastic Anglican religious community at Little Gidding (a name best known today through the poem Little Gidding by T. S. Eliot), reportedly telling him to publish the poems if he thought they might "turn to the advantage of any dejected poor soul", otherwise to burn them. Thanks to Ferrar, they were published not long after his death.

Writings[edit]

Herbert's "Easter Wings", a pattern poem in which the work is not only meant to be read, but its shape is meant to be appreciated. In this case, the poem was printed (original image here shown) on two facing pages of a book, sideways, so that the lines suggest two birds flying upward, with wings spread out.

Herbert wrote poetry in English, Latin and Greek. In 1633 all of Herbert's English poems were published in The Temple: Sacred Poems and Private Ejaculations, with a preface by Nicholas Ferrar. The book went through eight editions by 1690.[19] According to Walton, when Herbert sent the book to Ferrar he said that "he shall find in it a picture of the many spiritual conflicts that have passed between God and my soul, before I could subject mine to the will of Jesus, my Master".[7] The poems imitate the architectural style of churches through both the meaning of the words and their visual layout. The themes of God and love are treated by Herbert as psychological forces as much as metaphysical phenomena.

All of Herbert's surviving English poems are religious, and some have been used as hymns. They are characterised by directness of expression and some conceits which can appear quaint. Many of the poems have intricate rhyme schemes, and variations of lines within stanzas; according to Helen Vendler, "a cascade of form floats through the temple".[20] William Cowper said of them "I found in them a strain of piety which I could not but admire".[21]

An example of Herbert’s religious poetry is “The Altar.” A "pattern poem” in which the words of the poem itself form a shape suggesting an altar, and this altar becomes his conceit for how one should offer himself as a sacrifice to the Lord. He also makes allusions to scripture, such as Psalm 51:17, where it states that the Lord requires the sacrifice of a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

Herbert's only prose work, A Priest to the Temple (usually known as The Country Parson), offers practical advice to rural clergy. In it, he advises that "things of ordinary use" such as ploughs, leaven, or dances, could be made to "serve for lights even of Heavenly Truths". It was first published in 1652 as part of Herbert's Remains, or Sundry Pieces of That Sweet Singer, Mr. George Herbert, edited by Barnabas Oley. The first edition was prefixed with unsigned preface by Oley, which was used as one of the sources for Izaak Walton's biography of Herbert, first published in 1670. The second edition appeared in 1671 as A Priest to the Temple or the Country Parson, with a new preface, this time signed by Oley.

Like many of his literary contemporaries, Herbert was a collector of proverbs. His Outlandish Proverbs[22] was published in 1640, listing over 1000 aphorisms in English, but gathered from many countries (in Herbert's day, 'outlandish' meant foreign). The collection included many sayings still repeated to this day, for example "His bark is worse than his bite" and "Who is so deaf, as he that will not hear?". All these plus a further 150 proverbs were included in a later collection entitled Jacula Prudentum (sometimes seen as Jacula Prudentium), dated 1651 and published in 1652 as part of Oley's Herbert's Remains.

Richard Baxter said, "Herbert speaks to God like one that really believeth a God, and whose business in the world is most with God. Heart-work and heaven-work make up his books". Dame Helen Gardner adds "head-work" because of his "intellectual vivacity".

Legacy[edit]

George Herbert is commemorated on 27 February throughout the Anglican Communion and on 1 March of the Calendar of Saints of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

There are stained glass windows depicting Herbert or his poetry in several churches and cathedrals, including Westminster Abbey.[23] St Andrew's church in Bemerton has a memorial window portraying Herbert and Nicholas Ferrar. Several of his poems have been set to traditional English and new tunes by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

The West Front of Salisbury Cathedral has a statue of George Herbert [24] in niche 188.

Works[edit]

Scan of the poem "Anagram" from the 1633 edition of George Herbert's The Temple
  • 1623: Oratio Qua auspicatissimum Serenissimi Principis Caroli.
  • 1627: Memoriae Matris Sacrum, printed with A Sermon of commemoracion of the ladye Danvers by John Donne... with other Commemoracions of her by George Herbert (London: Philemon Stephens and Christopher Meredith).
  • 1633: The Temple, Sacred Poems and Private Ejaculations. (Cambridge: Printed by Thomas Buck and Roger Daniel).
  • 1652: Herbert's Remains, Or, Sundry Pieces Of that sweet Singer of the Temple consisting of his collected writings from A Priest to the Temple, Jacula Prudentum, Sentences, & c., as well as a letter, several prayers, and three Latin poems.(London: Printed for Timothy Garthwait)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "George Herbert 1593–1633", (biography), The Poetry Foundation, retrieved 11 April 2013 .
  2. ^ Charles 1977, p. 104.
  3. ^ Vaughan, Henry (1652), Mount of Olives 
  4. ^ Gardner, Helen The Metaphysical Poets Penguin Books,1957 ISBN 0-14-042038-X
  5. ^ Schmidt, Michael, Poets on Poets [essay on George Herbert], Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1997 ISBN 1-85754-339-4
  6. ^ The Baptist Hymn Book, London: Poems and Hymn Trust, 1962
  7. ^ a b c Walton, Izaak Life of George Herbert, 1670
  8. ^ Patrick Moore (19), School for Teachers, 2006 .
  9. ^ Charles 1977, p. 28.
  10. ^ Waligore, Joseph. [doi:10.1080/17496977.2012.693742 "The Piety of the English Deists"], Intellectual History Review 22:2 (July 2012), 181–97. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  11. ^ Charles 1977, p. 52.
  12. ^ Charles 1977, p. 71.
  13. ^ "Herbert, George (HRBT609G)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  14. ^ Williams, WR, Parliamentary History of the Principality of Wales, Archive, p. 149 .
  15. ^ Charles 1977, p. 110.
  16. ^ Charles 1977, p. 154.
  17. ^ Charles 1977, p. 163.
  18. ^ Herbert, George (1629 - 1633) at kcl.ac.uk
  19. ^ Cox, Michael, ed. (2004), The Concise Oxford Chronology of English Literature, Oxford University Press, p. 92, ISBN 0-19-860634-6 
  20. ^ Vendler H, The Poetry of George Herbert, Harvard University Press, 1975 ISBN 978-0-674-67959-7
  21. ^ Cowper, William (1816), Memoirs of the Early Life of William Cowper, written by Himself .
  22. ^ Herbert, George, Outlandish Proverbs, Google Books .
  23. ^ Dunton, Larkin (1896). The World and Its People. Silver, Burdett. p. 35. 
  24. ^ Salisbury Cathedral, at georgeherbert.org.uk 

Sources[edit]

  • Charles, Amy M. (1977), A Life of George Herbert, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, ISBN 0-8014-1014-2 .

Further reading[edit]

Editions
  • 1941: The Works of George Herbert, ed. F. E. Hutchinson.
  • 2007: The English Poems of George Herbert, ed. Helen Wilcox. Cambridge University Press
Studies
  • Clarke, Elizabeth, Theory and Theology in George Herbert's Poetry: "Divinitie, and Poesie, Met", Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997. ISBN 978-0-19-826398-2
  • Drury, John, Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert, Allen Lane, 2013.
  • Falloon, Jane Heart in Pilgrimage: a study of George Herbert, Milton Keynes: AuthorHouse, 2007. ISBN 978-1-4259-7755-9
  • Lewis-Anthony, Justin "If You Meet George Herbert on the Road, Kill Him": Radically re-thinking priestly ministry, an exploration of the life of George Herbert as a take-off for a re-evaluation of the ministry within the Church of England. Mowbray, August 2009. ISBN 978-1-906286-17-0
  • Sullivan, Ceri. The Rhetoric of the Conscience in Donne, Herbert, and Vaughan. Oxford University Press, 2008.
  • Orrick, Jim, A Year with George Herbert: a guide to fifty-two of his best loved poems. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011.
  • Sheldrake, Philip (2009) Heaven in Ordinary: George Herbert and his writings. Canterbury Press ISBN 978-1-85311-948-4

External links[edit]