17 April 1621|
Newton St. Bridget, Brecknockshire, Wales
|Died||23 April 1695
Scethrog, Brecknockshire, Wales
|Notable work(s)||Silex Scintillans|
|Spouse(s)||Catherine Vaughan, Elizabeth Vaughan|
Vaughan and his twin brother, the hermetic philosopher and alchemist Thomas Vaughan, were the sons of Thomas Vaughan and his wife Denise (née Morgan) of 'Trenewydd', Newton, in Brecknockshire, Wales. Their grandfather, William, was the owner of Tretower Court.
Henry Vaughan was born at Newton by Usk in the parish of Llansanffraid (St. Bridget's), Brecknockshire, the eldest known child of Thomas Vaughan (ca.1586-1658) of Tretower, and Denise Jenkin (ca.1593) only daughter and heir of David and Gwenllian Morgan, of Llansanffraid. Vaughan was the elder of twins; his brother was Thomas Vaughan. "The poet's own testimony is precise about the year of his birth, but there is no evidence about the month and day" (Hutchinson,1947, p. 14, citing Martin's first edition, p. 667) Thomas (1621-1666) was also an author, under the pseudonym Eugenius Philalethes. Vaughan could claim kinship with two powerful Welsh families, one Catholic and one Protestant. His paternal grandmother, Frances, was the natural daughter of Thomas Somerset, who spent some twenty-four years in the Tower of London for his adherence to Catholicism:pp. 6-7, 243-4 As she survived into Vaughan's boyhood, there may have been some direct Catholic influence upon his early nurturing. Vaughan shared a common ancestry with the Herbert family through the daughter of the famous warrior of Agincourt Dafydd ap Llywelyn, the 'Davy Gam, esquire' of Shakespeare's Henry V. He is not known to have claimed kinship with George Herbert, but must surely have been aware of the connection.
Thomas later remarked that 'English is a Language the Author was not born to'. Both boys were sent to school under Matthew Herbert, rector of Llangattock, and both wrote tributes to him. Since their interest was so clearly shared, the two brothers' intimate acquaintance with hermeticism may have dated from those years. Herbert doubtless reinforced the devotion to church and monarchy that the boys would have learned at home. Like several others among Vaughan's clerical acquaintances, he was to prove uncompromising during the interregnum, suffering sequestration and imprisonment and narrowly avoiding banishment.: s9, p.21
The buttery books of Jesus College, Oxford show that Thomas was admitted to the college in May 1638, and it has long been assumed that Henry went up at the same time, though Wood states that 'he made his first entry into Jesus College in Michaelmas term 1638, aged 17 years. There is no clear record to establish Henry's residence or matriculation, but the assumption of his association with Oxford, supported by his inclusion in 'Athenae Oxoniensis', is reasonable enough. Recent research in the Jesus College archives suggests that 'Henry did not enter Jesus College before 1641, unless he did so in 1639 without matriculating or paying an admission fee, and left before the record in the surviving buttery books resumes in December of that year. The suggestion that Henry went to Oxford some time after Thomas may be strengthened by a comparison of the poems each wrote for the 1651 edition of the "Comedies, Tragi-Comedies , with Other Poems" of William Cartwright, who had died in 1643. Thomas had clearly attended Cartwright's lectures, which were the great draw of the time. "When He did read, how did we flock to hear!", while Henry apparently had not, since he begins his verses "I did but see thee". This poem, and the one preceding it, celebrate two Royalist volumes which were implicitly "a reaffirmation of Cavalier ideals and a gesture of defiance against the society which had repudiated them".
As the Civil War developed, he was recalled home from London, initially to serve as a secretary to Sir Marmaduke Lloyd, a chief justice on the Brecknockshire circuit and staunch royalist. Vaughan is thought to have served briefly in the Royalist army and, upon his return, began to practise medicine. By 1646, he had married Catherine Wise, with whom he reared a son, Thomas, and three daughters, Lucy, Frances, and Catherine. After his first wife's death, he married her sister, Elizabeth.
Vaughan took his literary inspiration from his native environment and chose the descriptive name "Silurist," derived from his homage to the Silures, the Celtic tribe of pre-Roman south Wales which strongly resisted the Romans. This name is a reflection of the deep love Vaughan felt towards the Welsh mountains of his home in what is now part of the Brecon Beacons National Park and the River Usk valley where he spent most of his early life and professional life.
By 1647 Henry Vaughan, with his wife and children, had chosen life in the country. This is the setting in which Vaughan wrote Olor Iscanus ("the Swan of Usk"). However, this collection was not published until 1651, more than three years after it was written. It is believed that there was great crisis in Vaughan's life between the authorship and publication of Olor Iscanus. During these years, his grandfather William Vaughan died and he was evicted from his living in Llansantffraed. Vaughan later decried the publication, having "long ago condemned these poems to obscurity".
Olor Iscanus is filled with odd words and similes that beg for attention despite its dark and morbid cognitive appeal. This work is founded on crises felt in Vaughan's homeland, Brecknockshire. During the Civil War there was never a major battle fought on the ground of Brecknockshire, but the effects of the war were deeply felt by Vaughan and his surrounding community. The Puritan Parliament visited misfortune on the community, ejecting many of their foes, the Anglicans and Royalists. This was an obvious source of misfortune for Vaughan, who also lost his home at that time.:p40
There is a distinct difference between the atmosphere Vaughan attempts to convey in this work and in his most famous work, Silex Scintillans. Olor Iscanus is a direct representation of a specific period in Vaughan's life, which emphasizes other secular writers and provides allusions to debt and happy living. A fervent topic of Vaughan throughout these poems is the Civil War and reveals Vaughan's somewhat paradoxical thinking that, in the end, gives no clear conclusion to the question of his participation in the Civil War. Vaughan states his complete satisfaction of being clean on "innocent blood" but also provides what seem to be eyewitness accounts of battles and his own "soldiery". Although Vaughan is thought to have been a royalist, these poems express contempt for all current authority and a lack of zeal for the royalist cause.: s9, p.21 His poems generally reflect a sense of severe decline, which possibly means that Vaughan lamented the effects of the war on the monarchy and society. His short poem "The Timber", ostensibly about a dead tree, concludes "thy strange resentment after death / Means only those who broke - in life - thy peace."
The period shortly preceding the publication of Henry Vaughan's Silex Scintillans marked an important period of his life. Certain indications in the first volume and explicit statements made in the preface to the second volume of Silex Scintillans suggest that Vaughan suffered a prolonged sickness that inflicted much pain. Vaughan interprets this experience to be an encounter with death and a wake-up call to his "misspent youth". Vaughan believes he is spared to make amends and start a new course not only in his life but in the literature he would produce. Vaughan himself describes his previous work as foul and a contribution to "corrupt literature". Perhaps the most notable mark of Vaughan's conversion is how much it is credited to George Herbert. Vaughan claims that he is the least of Herbert's many "pious converts". It is during this period of Vaughan's life, around 1650, that he adopts the saying "moriendo, revixi", meaning "by dying, I gain new life".:p132
It was not until Vaughan's conversion and the writing of Silex Scintillans that he received significant acclaim. He was greatly indebted to George Herbert, who provided a model for Vaughan's newly founded spiritual life and literary career, in which he displayed "spiritual quickening and the gift of gracious feeling":p2 derived from Herbert.
Archbishop Trench has proposed that "As a divine Vaughan may be inferior [to Herbert], but as a poet he is certainly superior":p2. Critics praise Vaughan's use of literary elements. Vaughan's use of monosyllables, long-drawn alliterations and his ability to compel the reader place Vaughan as "more than the equal of George Herbert". Yet others say that the two are not even comparable, because Herbert is in fact the Master. While these critics admit that Henry Vaughan's use of words can be superior to Herbert's, they believe his poetry is, in fact, worse. Herbert's profundity as well as consistency are said to be the key to his superiority:p4.
While the superiority or inferiority of Vaughan and Herbert is a question with no distinct answer, one cannot deny that Vaughan would have never written the way he did without Herbert's direction. The explicit spiritual influence of Herbert on Henry Vaughan:p2 is undeniable. The preface to Vaughan's Silex Scintillans does all but proclaim this influence. The prose of Vaughan exemplifies this as well. For instance, The Temple, by Herbert, is often seen as the inspiration and model on which Vaughan created his work. Silex Scintillans is most often classed with this collection of Herbert's. Silex Scintillans borrows the same themes, experience, and beliefs as The Temple. Herbert's influence is evident both in the shape and spirituality of Vaughan's poetry. For example, the opening to Vaughan's poem 'Unprofitableness':
- How rich, O Lord! How fresh thy visits are!
is reminiscent of Herbert's 'The Flower':
- How fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean
- Are thy returns! ev'n as the flowers in spring
Another work of Vaughan's that clearly parallels George Herbert is Mount of Olives, e.g., the passage, Let sensual natures judge as they please, but for my part, I shall hold it no paradoxe to affirme, there are no pleasures in the world. Some coloured griefes of blushing woes there are, which look as clear as if they were true complexions; but it is very sad and tyred truth, that they are but painted. This echoes Herbert's Rose:p2:
- In this world of sugar's lies,
- And to use a larger measure
- Than my strict yet welcome size.
- First, there is no pleasure here:
- Coloure'd griefs indeed there are,
- Blushing woes that look as clear,
- As if they could beauty spare.
Critics have complained that Vaughan is enslaved to Herbert's works, using similar "little tricks" such as abrupt introductions and whimsical titles as a framework for his own work, and that he "failed to learn" from Herbert. Vaughan carried an inability to know his limits and focused more on the intensity of the poem, meanwhile losing the attention of his audience:pp5-6.
However, Alexander Grosart denies that Henry Vaughan was solely an imitator of George Herbert (Grosart, 3). There are moments in Vaughan's writings where the reader can identify Vaughan's true self, rather than an imitation of Herbert. In such passages Vaughan is seen to demonstrate naturalness, immediacy, and ability to relate the concrete through poetry:p63. In some instances, Vaughan derives observations from Herbert's language that are distinctly his own. It is as if Vaughan takes proprietorship of some of Herbert's work, yet makes it completely unique to himself:p66. Henry Vaughan takes another step away from George Herbert in the manner to which he presents his poetry to the reader. George Herbert in The Temple, which is most often the source of comparison between the two writers, lays down explicit instructions on the reading of his work. This contrasts with the attitude of Vaughan, who considered the experience of reading as the best guide to his meanings. He promoted no special method of reading his works :p140.
In these times he shows himself different from any other poet. Much of his distinction derives from an apparent lack of sympathy with the world around him. His aloof appeal to his surroundings detaches him and encourages his love of nature and mysticism, which in turn influenced other later poets, Wordsworth among others. Vaughan's mind thinks in terms of a physical and spiritual world and the obscure relation between the two:p132. Vaughan's mind often moved to original, unfamiliar, and remote places, and this reflected in his poetry. He was loyal to the themes of the Anglican Church and religious festivals, but found his true voice in the more mystical themes of eternity, communion with the dead, nature, and childhood.A poet of revelation who uses the Bible,Nature and his own experience to illustrate his vision of eternity. Vaughan's poetry has a particularly modern sound.
Alliteration (conspicuous in Welsh poetry)is more extensively used by Vaughan than most of his contemporaries writing English verse, noticeably in the opening to 'The Water-fall'.
Vaughan elaborated on personal loss in two well-known poems, "The World" and "They Are All Gone into the World of Light." Another poem, "The Retreat," combines the theme of loss with the corruption of childhood, which is yet another consistent theme of Vaughan's. Vaughan's new-found personal voice and persona are seen as the result of the death of a younger brother.
This is an example of an especially beautiful fragment of one of his poems entitled 'The World':
- I saw Eternity the other night,
- Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
- All calm, as it was bright,
- And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years
- Driv'n by the spheres
- Like a vast shadow mov'd; in which the world
- And all her train were hurl'd.
Death and legacy
As is the case with many great writers and poets, Henry Vaughan was acclaimed less during his lifetime than after his death on April 23, 1695, aged 73. He is buried in the churchyard of St Bridget's, Llansantffraed, Powys. He is recognised "as another example of a poet who can write both graceful and effective prose" and influenced the work of poets such as Wordsworth, Tennyson and Siegfried Sassoon. The American science fiction writer Philip K. Dick even named Vaughan as a key influence.
Vaughan's "The Evening-Watch" was used for the 1924 "The Evening-Watch: Dialogue between Body and Soul" by Gustav Holst.
- Poems with the Tenth Satire of Juvenal Englished
- Olor Iscanus
- Silex Scintillans
- Silex Scintillans II
- Mount of Olives
- Flores Solitudinis
- Hermetical Physics
- The Chemist's Key
- Humane Industry
- Thalia Rediviva
- The World
- The Retreat
- The Evening-Watch
- A Discourse of Coin and Coinage: The first Invention, Use, Matter, Forms, Proportions and Differences, ancient & modern: with the Advantages and Disadvantages of the Rise and Fall thereof, in our own or Neighbouring Nations: and the Reasons. Together with a short Account of our Common Law therein. (1675)
- Powys Literary Links - Henry Vaughan BBC mid Wales, 3 Jan 2006
- VAUGHAN family, of Tretower Court in Welsh Biography Online, at National Library of Wales. William Vaughan's children included THOMAS VAUGHAN (d. 1658), who m. the heiress of Newton in Llansantffraed; Henry Vaughan the Silurist (q.v.) and Thomas Vaughan (q.v.) were their sons.
- Hutchinson, F. E. (1947). Henry Vaughan, A life and Interpretation, Oxford: Clarenden Press.
- 'Works of Thomas Vaughan', Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1984, ed. Alan Rudrum with the assistance of Jennifer Drake-Brockman, a.k.a. Jennifer Speake
- Ward A. W. and Waller A. R. (Ed.) The Sacred Poets in The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol 7
- Brigid Allen, "The Vaughans at Jesus College, Oxford, 1638-48", Scintilla, The Journal of the Usk Valley Vaughan Association, 4:2000, pp.68-78, cited in Alan Rudrum, article on Henry Vaughan in the Oxford English Dictionary of National Biography.
- Rudrum, "Works of Thomas Vaughan," p.582
- Rudrum, "Complete Poems of Henry Vaughan, p.88
- "Upon Mr. Fletcher's Plays, Published ,1647"
- P.W. Thomas, "Sir John Berkenhead 1617-1679. A Royalist Career in Politics and Polemics, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1969", p.177
- Mathias, Roland (J. P. Ward 1975). "In Search of the Silurist". In Roland. Poetry Wales (Swansea: Christopher Davies) 11 (2): 6–35.
- Vaughan, Henry in Welsh Biography Online, at National Library of Wales
- His conversion in The Cambridge History of English and American Literature
- Calhoun, Thomas O. Henry Vaughan: The Achievement of the Silex Scintillans. New Jersey: Associated University Presses, Inc, 1981.
- Grosart, Rev. Alexander B. (ed.). Essay on the Life and Writings of Henry Vaughan, Silurist --in The Works in Verse and Prose Complete of Henry Vaughan, Silurist, Vol. II. London UK: Gale 1995. pp. ix–ci Blackburn, 1871, reprinted in Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800, Vol. 27, ed. Person J E.
- Thomas,Noel K ,Henry Vaughan Poet of Revelation ,Churchman Publishing,Worthing ,1985ISBN 1 85093 042 2
- Henry Vaughn, 'The World' - RPO
- Calhoun, Thomas O Henry Vaughan: The Achievement of the Silex Scintillans. Associated University Presses, Inc, 1981. East Brunswick, New Jersey.
- Fisch Harold The Dual Image. London: World Jewish Library, 1971, p. 41, Katz, Philo-Semitism, pp. 185–86.
- Grosart Rev. Alexander B. (ed.) "Essay on the Life and Writings of Henry Vaughan, Silurist" in The Works in Verse and Prose Complete of Henry Vaughan, Silurist, Vol. II. Blackburn, 1871, pp. ix-ci. Reprinted in Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800, Vol. 27.
- Hutchinson F. E. The Works of George Herbert. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1945; to Henry Vaughan from the edition by The Works of Henry Vaughan, L.C. Martin, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2nd edn., 1957.
- Matar, Nabil I George Herbert, Henry Vaughan, and the Conversion of the Jews. Studies in English Literature (Rice), 00393657, Winter 90, Vol. 30, Issue 1
- Sullivan Ceri The Rhetoric of the Conscience in Donne, Herbert, and Vaughan. Oxford University Press, 2008
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Henry Vaughan|
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- Henry Vaughan (PoetSeers website)
- Index entry for Henry Vaughan at Poets' Corner
- The Sacred Poets. Ch. 9-13 − The Cambridge History of English and American Literature.
- Henry Vaughan at Find a Grave
- Examples of Henry Vaughan's varied poetic forms