Of Paradise and Light: Essays on Henry Vaughan and John Milton in Honor of Alan Rudrum

By Donald R. Dickson; Holly Faith Nelson | Go to book overview

The “true, practic piety” of “holy writing”:
Henry Vaughan, Richard Crashaw,
Christopher Harvey, and The Temple

Robert Wilcher


I

HENRY VAUGHAN'S SILEX SCINTILLANS APPEARED BEFORE THE public in 1650 with the same subtitle that had been attached to George Herbert's posthumously printed collection of verse, The Temple, in 1633: “Sacred Poems and Private Ejaculations.” When an augmented second edition was published in 1655, Vaughan made his discipleship explicit in “The Author's Preface to the Following Hymns, ” dated 30 September 1654, in which he launched an extended attack against “vicious verse” by writers who wallowed “in impure thoughts and scurrilous conceits.” Having admitted that he had himself once “languished of this very sickness,” he urged “gifted persons” to seek a remedy for “this pleasing and prevailing evil” by “a wise exchange of vain and vicious subjects, for divine themes and celestial praise”; and he offered as an inspiration and model, “the blessed man, Mr. George Herbert, whose holy life and verse gained many pious converts, (of whom I am the least).” 1 Among such converts, however, none had approached the achievement of Herbert as a religious poet, and Vaughan went to some lengths to explain why this should be so:

After him followed diverse, —Sed non passibus aequis; they had more of fashion, than force: and the reason of their so vast distance from him, besides differing spirits and qualifications (for his measure was eminent) I suspect to be, because they aimed more at verse, than perfection; as may be easily gathered by their frequent impressions, and numerous pages: Hence sprang those wide, those weak, and lean conceptions, which in the most inclinable reader will scarce give any nourishment or help to devotion; for not flowing from a true, practic piety, it was impossible they should effect those things abroad, which

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