The Country Parson; The Temple

By John N. Wall; George Herbert | Go to book overview
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INTRODUCTION

"Thus he lived and thus he died like a Saint, unspotted of the World, full of Alms' deeds, full of Humility, and all the examples of a virtuous life": So Izaak Walton, his most famous biographer, summed up the earthly career of George Herbert, seventeenth-century Anglican priest, poet, and essayist of the parson's life. 1. Even if, in recent years, we have come to question Walton's accuracy in recounting some of the details of Herbert's biography, 2. we still have every reason to accept the justness of his overall assessment. For, after all, he was not the first to make it; Nicholas Ferrar, in introducing the volume of Herbert's religious poems he saw through the press shortly after Herbert's death, noted that Herbert's "faithful discharge [of his priestly calling] was such, as may make him justly a companion to the primitive Saints, and a pattern or more for the age he lived in." 3. To Henry Vaughan, Herbert was "a most glorious true Saint," whose "holy life and verse gained many pious Converts," of whom, Vaughan wrote, "I am the least." 4. From a very different perspective, Richard Crashaw, who subordinated one of his own volumes of poetry to Herbert's by entitling it Steps to the Temple, found "Divinest love" in Herbert's verse:

When your hands untie these strings,
Think you have an Angel by th' wings.
One that gladly will be nigh,

____________________
1.
In his Life of George Herbert (1670; reprinted Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1973), p.
319. Hereafter referred to as Life. As with all quotations from primary sources in this
book, I have taken the liberty of modernizing spelling according to the principles fol-
lowed in the texts of Herbert's writings, outlined on p. 47 of this volume.
2.
See especially Amy Charles, A Life of George Herbert (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press, 1977), and David Novarr, The Making of Walton's Lives (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press, 1958) for assessments of the accuracy of Walton's portrait of Herbert.
3.
Reprinted in The English Poems of George Herbert, ed. C. A. Patrides (London: Dent, 1974), pp. 30-31.
4.
In The Works of Henry Vaughan, ed. L. C. Martin, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1957), pp. 186, 391.

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