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

By Marchette Chute | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER FOUR

GEORGE HERBERT WAS AN IDEAL STUDENT FROM THE POINT OF view of the University authorities -- an aristocratic young man who was willing to work and a clever young man who was willing to be obedient. He. was neither a worldling nor a radical, and the master of Trinity College took him under his wing and gave him special attention. Dr. Nevile suffered a paralytic stroke when Herbert was twenty-two and died soon afterwards, but by that time his protégé was well launched on his university career.

The only area where George Herbert seems to have ignored the rules was in the matter of dress. The ideal of both universities was a monastic one, and the students were supposed to wear their hair short and their gowns reaching to the ankles. The ideal of dress in the young men themselves was a fantastic glitter of laces and silks and buttons and bows, and they saw no reason to leave their curls and their feathers behind them when they went to college. A Cambridge undergraduate who paid three shillings for his surplice paid eight shillings for a satin collar and four times that amount for a pair of garters and roses. Herbert apparently dressed expensively and well. Almost too well, for Izaak Walton says that his "clothes seemed to prove, that he put too great a value on his parts and parentage."

Walton was also obliged to admit that Herbert's behavior at Trinity College was not of the friendliest. "He kept himself too much retired, and at too great a distance with all his inferiors." In fairness to Herbert, however, it must be remembered that he lived in a period when the maintenance of social distinctions was part of a gentleman's duty. As Henry Peacham. put it, "To be overfree and familiar with inferiors argues a baseness of spirit and begetteth contempt." It is also fair to remember that the

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