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

By Marchette Chute | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

THE MANUSCRIPT THAT GEORGE HERBERT SENT TO FERRAR AS HE lay dying was not a miscellaneous collection of verses. It was a book, shaped with the same care as the individual poems within it, and when Herbert gave permission to have it burned he was giving up the last and most legitimate of all his prides -- the pride of a good workman. He had made the book as perfect as he could; but now he possessed nothing, not even his own poetry.

The book had one value in Herbert's eyes. It was a record of what he had gone through before he found peace, "a picture of the many spiritual conflicts that had passed betwixt God and my soul, before I could subject mine to the will of Jesus my Master, in whose service I have now found perfect peace." If such a record could help anyone else in his own struggle, Herbert was willing to have the book published. But for the rest, he had ceased to care about anything "that might seem to tend any way to his own honour," and he was quite content to leave it to its fate.

This had not always been his intention. He had obviously planned the book for publication and even worked out its basic pattern before he entered the ministry. There is in existence a small manuscript, with corrections in Herbert's own hand, which contains sixty-nine of the poems and the skeleton structure of the final version; and since none of the poems mentions the ministry it seems safe to assume that this manuscript was in existence before he went to Bemerton.

In this earlier version Herbert had already planned the shape his book would take, opening with a rather witty study of Christian behavior called "The Church Porch" and closing with

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