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

By Marchette Chute | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWELVE

A YEAR AFTER HE PREACHED THE PENTECOST SERMON IN LINCOLN Cathedral, George Herbert was offered a benefice in the Church of England.

A rectory in southern Wiltshire had become vacant when its nonresident rector, the Bishop of Rochester, was promoted to another see. The King had promoted Dr. Curll and had the right to name his successor; but the rectory was normally in the gift of the Earls of Pembroke, and the new Earl, Philip Herbert, suggested that it be given to his kinsman George.

The benefice consisted of two churches on the highway that linked the Earrs seat at Wilton with the cathedral city of Salisbury. There was the parish church of St. Peter's near the entrance to Wilton House and about a mile away the little chapel of St. Andrew's at Bemerton, built to take care of the extra needs of what had once been a flourishing community. The rector's house was at Bemerton, so neglected that it was almost uninhabitable, and all three buildings were in need of repair.

Herbert hesitated over the offer for more than a month, not because he thought it unworthy of him but because he believed himself unworthy of it. When he was a young man studying divinity at Cambridge, he had worried about his books and his finances but he had apparently never questioned his worthiness to be a minister in the Church of England. Now, twelve years later, he questioned it profoundly. The minister was the deputy of Christ, the accredited instrument to bring men to salvation, and Herbert believed he was not fit for so high an office.

The answer, when it finally came, was the same as before. It was not his private capacities that mattered. He had none. Every

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