Two Gentle Men: The Lives of George Herbert and Robert Herrick

By Marchette Chute | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE

GEORGE HERBERT FOUND NO CHANGE IN HIS LIFE WHEN HE went to Cambridge. It continued to be an orderly and disciplined existence, dedicated, in the words of his matriculation oath, to "piety and good letters."

The atmosphere was the matriarchal one he had already known. It was not for nothing that the University was called the fostering mother, the alma mater, and Herbert once remarked that he pictured her as "a matron holy, reverend, of antique and august countenance." When John Donne wished to describe the way Magdalen Herbert had installed her sons in the universities, he said that she "recompensed to them the loss of a father in giving them two mothers." The function of this second mother, according to the Privy Council, was to "bring up youth in the knowledge and fear of God, and in all manner of good learning and virtuous education." In return the student was expected to give the same absolute obedience he gave his own parents.

Magdalen introduced her son to Cambridge in the same way she had introduced him to Westminster School, taking him direct to the head of Trinity College. As Izaak Walton put it, "His prudent mother, well knowing that he might easily lose or lessen that virtue and innocence, which her advice and example had planted in his mind, did therefore procure the generous and liberal Dr. Nevile, who was then . . . master of that college, to take him into his particular care, and provide him with a tutor; which he did most gladly undertake; for he knew the excellencies of his mother, and how to value such a friendship." This was the same Dr. Nevile who had been so uncooperative on Election Day, and by this time he had changed his mind about young George Herbert.

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