GEORCE HERBERT AND ROBERT HERRICK WERE BORN LESS THAN two years apart and they had several things in common. Both of them graduated from the University of Cambridge, both of them became country clergymen in the same year of 1630, and both of them produced a single book of poems. But the Church of England needed a wide roof to accommodate two men as unlike as the saintly rector of Bemerton and the somewhat pagan vicar of Dean Prior.
Like George Herbert, Robert Herrick was born into a large and closely-knit family, but in his case it was not an aristocratic one. Herrick came from a middle-class background and his ancestors were prominent in the business life of Leicester.
Leicester could not claim the dignity of being called a city since it did not have a cathedral. But it was the richest town in a large district, supplying goods and services to an area heavily populated by sheep and cattle raisers. The old part of town stood behind a circular wall that still followed the Roman pattern, with room for the gardens and orchards of well-to-do people like the Herricks. The poorer families huddled in the crowded suburbs outside the east gate, for even a wealthy market community like Leicester knew something of the poverty that plagued the inland towns of sixteenth-century England. Yet in general it was a prosperous place, with two weekly markets and four annual fairs, and generations of Herricks flourished within its walls.
Most English communities knew how to enjoy themselves, and Leicester was especially skilled in the art. Its company of waits, with the seal of the borough on their badges, might have been matched in almost any town in England, but very few had the