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Izaak Walton (1593–1683). The Lives of John Donne and George Herbert.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Paras. 1–49

The Life of Mr. George Herbert

GEORGE HERBERT was born the third day of April, in the year of our redemption 1593. The place of his birth was near to the town of Montgomery, and in that castle that did then bear the name of that town and county; that castle was then a place of state and strength, and had been successively happy in the family of the Herberts, who had long possessed it; and with it, a plentiful estate, and hearts as liberal to their poor neighbours. A family that hath been blessed with men of remarkable wisdom, and a willingness to serve their country, and, indeed, to do good to all mankind; for which they are eminent: But alas! this family did in the late rebellion suffer extremely in their estates; and the heirs of that castle saw it laid level with that earth that was too good to bury those wretches that were the cause of it.

The father of our George was Richard Herbert, the son of Edward Herbert, Knight, the son of Richard Herbert, Knight, the son of the famous Sir Richard Herbert of Colebrook, in the county of Monmouth, Banneret, who was the youngest brother of that memorable William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, that lived in the reign of our King Edward the Fourth.

His mother was Magdalen Newport, the youngest daughter of Sir Richard, and sister to Sir Francis Newport of High Arkall, in the county of Salop, Knight, and grandfather of Francis Lord Newport, now Controller of his Majesty’s Household. A family that for their loyalty have suffered much in their estates, and seen the ruin of that excellent structure where their ancestors have long lived, and been memorable for their hospitality.

This mother of George Herbert—of whose person, and wisdom, and virtue, I intend to give a true account in a seasonable place—was the happy mother of seven sons and three daughters, which she would often say was Job’s number, and Job’s distribution; and as often bless God, that they were neither defective in their shapes nor in their reason; and very often reprove them that did not praise God for so great a blessing. I shall give the reader a short account of their names, and not say much of their fortunes.

Edward, the eldest, was first made Knight of the Bath, at that glorious time of our late Prince Henry’s being installed Knight of the Garter; and after many years’ useful travel, and the attainment of many languages, he was by King James sent ambassador resident to the then French king, Lewis the Thirteenth. There he continued about two years; but he could not subject himself to a compliance with the humours of the Duke de Luisens, who was then the great and powerful favourite at court: so that upon a complaint to our King, he was called back into England in some displeasure; but at his return he gave such an honourable account of his employment, and so justified his comportment to the Duke and all the court, that he was suddenly sent back upon the same embassy, from which he returned in the beginning of the reign of our good King Charles the First, who made him first Baron of Castleisland, and not long after of Cherbury in the county of Salop. He was a man of great learning and reason, as appears by his printed book De Veritate, and by his History of the Reign of King Henry the Eighth, and by several other tracts.

The second and third brothers were Richard and William, who ventured their lives to purchase honour in the wars of the Low Countries, and died officers in that employment. Charles was the fourth, and died fellow of New College in Oxford. Henry was the sixth, who became a menial servant to the crown in the days of King James, and hath continued to be so for fifty years; during all which time he hath been Master of the Revels, a place that requires a diligent wisdom, with which God hath blessed him. The seventh son was Thomas, who, being made captain of a ship in that fleet with which Sir Robert Mansell was sent against Algiers, did there show a fortunate and true English valour. Of the three sisters I need not say more than that they were all married to persons of worth and plentiful fortunes; and lived to be examples of virtue, and to do good in their generations.

I now come to give my intended account of George, who was the fifth of those seven brothers.

George Herbert spent much of his childhood in a sweet content under the eye and care of his prudent mother, and the tuition of a chaplain, or tutor to him and two of his brothers, in her own family,—for she was then a widow,—where he continued till about the age of twelve years; and being at that time well instructed in the rules of grammar, he was not long after commended to the care of Dr. Neale, who was then Dean of Westminster; and by him to the care of Mr. Ireland, who was then chief master of that school; where the beauties of his pretty behaviour and wit shined, and became so eminent and lovely in this his innocent age, that he seemed to be marked out for piety, and to become the care of heaven, and of a particular good angel to guard and guide him. And thus he continued in that school, till he came to be perfect in the learned languages, and especially in the Greek tongue, in which he after proved an excellent critic.

About the age of fifteen—he being then a King’s scholar—he was elected out of that school for Trinity College in Cambridge, to which place he was transplanted about the year 1608; and his prudent mother, well knowing that he might easily lose or lessen that virtue and innocence which her advice and example had planted in his mind, did therefore procure the generous and liberal Dr. Nevil, who was then Dean of Canterbury, and master of that College, to take him into his particular care, and provide him a tutor; which he did most gladly undertake, for he knew the excellencies of his mother, and how to value such a friendship.

This was the method of his education, till he was settled in Cambridge; where we will leave him in his study, till I have paid my promised account of his excellent mother; and I will endeavour to make it short.

I have told her birth, her marriage, and the number of her children, and have given some short account of them. I shall next tell the reader that her husband died when our George was about the age of four years: I am next to tell, that she continued twelve years a widow; that she then married happily to a noble gentleman, the brother and heir of the Lord Danvers, Earl of Danby, who did highly value both her person and the most excellent endowments of her mind.

In this time of her widowhood, she being desirous to give Edward her eldest son, such advantages of learning, and other education, as might suit his birth and fortune, and thereby make him the more fit for the service of his country, did, at his being of a fit age, remove from Montgomery Castle with him, and some of her younger sons, to Oxford; and having entered Edward into Queen’s College, and provided him a fit tutor, she commended him to his care, yet she continued there with him, and still kept him in a moderate awe of herself, and so much under her own eye, as to see and converse with him daily: but she managed this power over him without any such rigid sourness as might make her company a torment to her child; but with such a sweetness and compliance with the recreations and pleasures of youth, as did incline him willingly to spend much of his time in the company of his dear and careful mother; which was to her great content: for she would often say, “That as our bodies take a nourishment suitable to the meat on which we feed; so our souls do as insensibly take in vice by the example or conversation with wicked company:” and would therefore as often say, “That ignorance of vice was the best preservation of virtue; and that the very knowledge of wickedness was as tinder to inflame and kindle sin and keep it burning.” For these reasons she endeared him to her own company, and continued with him in Oxford four years; in which time her great and harmless wit, her cheerful gravity, and her obliging behaviour, gained her an acquaintance and friendship with most of any eminent worth or learning that were at that time in or near that university, and particularly with Mr. John Donne, who then came accidentally to that place, in this time of her being there. It was that John Donne, who was after Dr. Donne, and Dean of St. Paul’s, London: and he, at his leaving Oxford, writ and left there, in verse, a character of the beauties of her body and mind: of the first he says,

  • No spring nor summer-beauty has such grace,
  • As I have seen in an autumnal face.
  • Of the latter he says,
  • In all her words to every hearer fit,
  • You may at revels, or at council sit.
  • The rest of her character may be read in his printed poems, in that elegy which bears the name of “The Autumnal Beauty.” For both he and she were then past the meridian of man’s life.

    This amity, begun at this time and place, was not an amity that polluted their souls; but an amity made up of a chain of suitable inclinations and virtues; an amity like that of St. Chrysostom’s to his dear and virtuous Olympias; whom, in his letters, he calls his saint: or an amity, indeed, more like that of St. Hierome to his Paula; whose affection to her was such, that he turned poet in his old age, and then made her epitaph; wishing all his body were turned into tongues that he might declare her just praises to posterity. And this amity betwixt her and Mr. Donne was begun in a happy time for him, he being then near to the fortieth year of his age,—which was some years before he entered into sacred orders;—a time when his necessities needed a daily supply for the support of his wife, seven children, and a family. And in this time she proved one of his most bountiful benefactors; and he as grateful an acknowledger of it. You may take one testimony for what I have said of these two worthy persons, from this following letter and sonnet:—

  • “MADAM,
  • “Your favours to me are everywhere: I use them and have them. I enjoy them at London, and leave them there; and yet find them at Mitcham. Such riddles as these become things inexpressible; and such is your goodness. I was almost sorry to find your servant here this day, because I was loth to have any witness of my not coming home last night, and indeed of my coming this morning. But my not coming was excusable, because earnest business detained me; and my coming this day is by the example of your St. Mary Magdalen, who rose early upon Sunday to seek that which she loved most; and so did I. And, from her and myself, I return such thanks as are due to one to whom we owe all the good opinion that they, whom we need most, have of us. By this messenger, and on this good day, I commit the enclosed holy hymns and sonnets—which for the matter, not the workmanship, have yet escaped the fire—to your judgment, and to your protection too, if you think them worthy of it; and I have appointed this enclosed sonnet to usher them to your happy hand.
  • Your unworthiest servant,
  • Unless your accepting him to be so
  • have mended him,
  • July 11, 1607.
  • To the Lady Magdalen Herbert:
  • Of St. Mary Magdalen
  • Her of your name, whose fair inheritance
  • Bethina was, and jointure Magdalo,
  • An active faith so highly did advance,
  • That she once knew more than the Church did know,
  • The Resurrection! so much good there is
  • Delivered of her, that some Fathers be
  • Loth to believe one woman could do this,
  • But think these Magdalens were two or three.
  • Increase their number, Lady, and their fame:
  • To their devotion add your innocence:
  • Take so much of th’ example, as of the name;
  • The latter half; and in some recompense
  • That they did harbour Christ himself, a guest,
  • Harbour these Hymns, to his dear name addrest.
  • J. D.
  • These hymns are now lost to us; but doubtless they were such as they two now sing in heaven.

    There might be more demonstrations of the friendship, and the many sacred endearments betwixt these two excellent persons,—for I have many of their letters in my hand,—and much more might be said of her great prudence and piety; but my design was not to write hers, but the life of her son; and therefore I shall only tell my reader, that about that very day twenty years that this letter was dated and sent her, I saw and heard this Mr. John Donne—who was then Dean of St. Paul’s—weep, and preach her funeral sermon, in the Parish Church of Chelsea, near London, where she now rests in her quiet grave: and where we must now leave her, and return to her son George, whom we left in his study in Cambridge.

    And in Cambridge we may find our George Herbert’s behaviour to be such, that we may conclude he consecrated the first-fruits of his early age to virtue, and a serious study of learning. And that he did so, this following letter and sonnet, which were, in the first year of his going to Cambridge, sent his dear mother for a New Year’s gift, may appear to be some testimony:—

    “…But I fear the heat of my late ague hath dried up those springs by which scholars say the Muses use to take up their habitations. However, I need not their help to reprove the vanity of those many love-poems that are daily writ and consecrated to Venus; nor to bewail that so few are writ that look towards God and heaven. For my own part, my meaning—dear mother—is, in these sonnets, to declare my resolution to be, that my poor abilities in poetry shall be all and ever consecrated to God’s glory: and I beg you to receive this as one testimony.”

  • My God, where is that ancient heat towards thee,
  • Wherewith whole shoals of Martyrs once did burn,
  • Besides their other flames? Doth Poetry
  • Wear Venus’ livery? only serve her turn?
  • Why are not Sonnets made of thee? and lays
  • Upon thine altar burnt? Cannot thy love
  • Heighten a spirit to sound out thy praise
  • As well as any she? Cannot thy Dove
  • Outstrip their Cupid easily in flight?
  • Or, since thy ways are deep, and still the same,
  • Will not a verse run smooth that bears thy name?
  • Why doth that fire, which by thy power and might
  • Each breast does feel, no braver fuel choose
  • Than that, which one day, worms may chance refuse?
  • Sure, Lord, there is enough in thee to dry
  • Oceans of ink; for as the Deluge did
  • Cover the Earth, so doth thy Majesty;
  • Each cloud distils thy praise, and doth forbid
  • Poets to turn it to another use.
  • Roses and lilies speak Thee; and to make
  • A pair of cheeks of them, is thy abuse.
  • Why should I women’s eyes for crystal take?
  • Such poor invention burns in their low mind
  • Whose fire is wild, and doth not upward go
  • To praise, and on thee, Lord, some ink bestow.
  • Open the bones, and you shall nothing find
  • In the best face but filth; when Lord, in Thee
  • The beauty lies in the discovery.
  • G. H.
  • This was his resolution at the sending this letter to his dear mother, about which time he was in the seventeenth year of his age; and as he grew older, so he grew in learning, and more and more in favour both with God and man: insomuch that, in this morning of that short day of his life, he seemed to be marked out for virtue, and to become the care of Heaven; for God still kept his soul in so holy a frame, that he may, and ought to be a pattern of virtue to all posterity, and especially to his brethren of the clergy, of which the reader may expect a more exact account in what will follow.

    I need not declare that he was a strict student, because, that he was so, there will be many testimonies in the future part of his life. I shall therefore only tell, that he was made Minor Fellow in the year 1609, Bachelor of Arts in the year 1611; Major Fellow of the College, March 15th, 1615: and that in that year he was also made Master of Arts, he being then in the twenty-second year of his age; during all which time, all, or the greatest diversion from his study, was the practice of music, in which he became a great master; and of which he would say, “That it did relieve his drooping spirits, compose his distracted thoughts, and raised his weary soul so far above earth, that it gave him an earnest of the joys of heaven, before he possessed them.” And it may be noted, that from his first entrance into the college, the generous Dr. Nevil was a cherisher of his studies, and such a lover of his person, his behaviour, and the excellent endowments of his mind, that he took him often into his own company; by which he confirmed his native gentleness: and if during his time he expressed any error, it was that he kept himself too much retired, and at too great a distance with all his inferiors; and his clothes seemed to prove that he put too great a value on his parts and parentage.

    This may be some account of his disposition, and of the employment of his time till he was Master of Arts, which was anno 1615, and in the year 1619 he was chosen Orator for the University. His two precedent Orators were Sir Robert Naunton and Sir Francis Nethersole. The first was not long after made Secretary of State, and Sir Francis, not very long after his being Orator, was made secretary to the Lady Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia. In this place of Orator our George Herbert continued eight years; and managed it with as becoming and grave a gaiety as any had ever before or since his time. For “he had acquired great learning, and was blessed with a high fancy, a civil and sharp wit; and with a natural elegance, both in his behaviour, his tongue, and his pen.” Of all which there might be very many particular evidences; but I will limit myself to the mention of but three.

    And the first notable occasion of showing his fitness for this employment of Orator was manifested in a letter to King James, upon the occasion of his sending that university his book called Basilicon Doron; and their Orator was to acknowledge this great honour, and return their gratitude to his Majesty for such a condescension; at the close of which letter he writ,

  • Quid Vaticanam Bodleianamque objicis, hospes!
  • Unicus est nobis Bibliotheca Liber.
  • This letter was writ in such excellent Latin, was so full of conceits, and all the expressions so suited to the genius of the King, that he inquired the Orator’s name, and then asked William, Earl of Pembroke, if he knew him? whose answer was, “That he knew him very well, and that he was his kinsman; but he loved him more for his learning and virtue than for that he was of his name and family.” At which answer the King smiled, and asked the Earl leave that he might love him too, for he took him to be the jewel of that university.

    The next occasion he had and took to show his great abilities was, with them, to show also his great affection to that Church in which he received his baptism, and of which he professed himself a member; and the occasion was this: There was one Andrew Melvin, a minister of the Scotch Church, and Rector of St. Andrew’s; who, by a long and constant converse with a discontented part of that clergy which opposed episcopacy, became at last to be a chief leader of that faction; and had proudly appeared to be so to King James, when he was but King of that nation, who, the second year after his coronation in England, convened a part of the bishops, and other learned divines of his Church, to attend him at Hampton Court, in order to a friendly conference with some dissenting brethren, both of this and the Church of Scotland: of which Scotch party Andrew Melvin was one; and he being a man of learning, and inclined to satirical poetry, had scattered many malicious, bitter verses against our Liturgy, our ceremonies, and our Church government; which were by some of that party so magnified for the wit, that they were therefore brought into Westminster School, where Mr. George Herbert, then, and often after, made such answers to them, and such reflections on him and his Kirk, as might unbeguile any man that was not too deeply pre-engaged in such a quarrel. But to return to Mr. Melvin at Hampton Court conference: he there appeared to be a man of an unruly wit, of a strange confidence, of so furious a zeal, and of so ungoverned passions, that his insolence to the King, and others at this conference, lost him both his Rectorship of St. Andrew’s and his liberty too; for his former verses, and his present reproaches there used against the Church and State, caused him to be committed prisoner to the Tower of London; where he remained very angry for three years. At which time of his commitment he found the Lady Arabella an innocent prisoner there; and he pleased himself much in sending, the next day after his commitment, these two verses to the good lady; which I will underwrite, because they may give the reader a taste of his others, which were like these:

  • Casua tibi mecum est communis, carceris, Ara-
  • Bella, tibi causa est, Araque sacra mihi.
  • I shall not trouble my reader with an account of his enlargement from that prison, or his death; but tell him Mr. Herbert’s verses were thought so worthy to be preserved, that Dr. Duport, the learned Dean of Peterborough, hath lately collected and caused many of them to be printed, as an honourable memorial of his friend Mr. George Herbert, and the cause he undertook.

    And in order to my third and last observation of his great abilities, it will be needful to declare, that about this time King James came very often to hunt at Newmarket and Royston, and was almost as often invited to Cambridge, where his entertainment was comedies, suited to his pleasant humour; and where Mr. George Herbert was to welcome him with gratulations, and the applauses of an Orator; which he always performed so well, that he still grew more into the King’s favour, insomuch that he had a particular appointment to attend his Majesty at Royston; where, after a discourse with him, his Majesty declared to his kinsman, the Earl of Pembroke, that he found the Orator’s learning and wisdom much above his age or wit. The year following, the King appointed to end his progress at Cambridge, and to stay there certain days; at which time he was attended by the great secretary of nature and all learning, Sir Francis Bacon, Lord Verulam, and by the ever-memorable and learned Dr. Andrews, Bishop of Winchester, both which did at that time begin a desired friendship with our Orator. Upon whom, the first put such a value on his judgment, that he usually desired his approbation before he would expose any of his books to be printed; and thought him so worthy of his friendship, that having translated many of the Prophet David’s Psalms into English verse, he made George Herbert his patron, by a public dedication of them to him, as the best judge of divine poetry. And for the learned Bishop, it is observable, that at that time there fell to be a modest debate betwixt them two about predestination, and sanctity of life; of both of which the Orator did, not long after, send the Bishop some safe and useful aphorisms, in a long letter, written in Greek; which letter was so remarkable for the language and reason of it, that, after the reading of it, the Bishop put it into his bosom, and did often show it to many scholars, both of this and foreign nations; but did always return it back to the place where he first lodged it, and continued it so near his heart till the last day of his life.

    To this I might add the long and entire friendship betwixt him and Sir Henry Wotton, and Dr. Donne; but I have promised to contract myself, and shall therefore only add one testimony to what is also mentioned in the life of Dr. Donne; namely, that a little before his death he caused many seals to be made, and in them to be engraven the figure of Christ, crucified on an anchor,—the emblem of hope,—and of which Dr. Donne would often say, “Crux mihi anchora.”—These seals he gave or sent to most of those friends on which he put a value; and, at Mr. Herbert’s death, these verses were found wrapt up with that seal, which was by the Doctor given to him:

  • When my dear friend could write no more,
  • He gave this Seal and so gave o’er.
  • When winds and waves rise highest I am sure,
  • This Anchor keeps my faith, that me, secure.
  • At this time of being Orator, he had learned to understand the Italian, Spanish, and French tongues very perfectly: hoping that as his predecessors, so he might in time attain the place of a Secretary of State, he being at that time very high in the King’s favour, and not meanly valued and loved by the most eminent and most powerful of the court nobility. This, and the love of a court conversation, mixed with a laudable ambition to be something more than he then was, drew him often from Cambridge, to attend the King wheresoever the court was, who then gave him a sinecure, which fell into his Majesty’s disposal, I think, by the death of the Bishop of St. Asaph. It was the same that Queen Elizabeth had formerly given to her favourite Sir Philip Sidney, and valued to be worth an hundred and twenty pounds per annum. With this, and his annuity, and the advantage of his college, and of his Oratorship, he enjoyed his genteel humour for clothes, and court-like company, and seldom looked towards Cambridge, unless the King were there, but then he never failed; and, at other times, left the manage of his Orator’s place to his learned friend, Mr. Herbert Thorndike, who is now Prebend of Westminster.

    I may not omit to tell, that he had often designed to leave the university, and decline all study, which he thought did impair his health; for he had a body apt to a consumption, and to fevers, and other infirmities, which he judged were increased by his studies; for he would often say, “He had too thoughtful a wit; a wit like a penknife in too narrow a sheath, too sharp for his body.” But his mother would by no means allow him to leave the university, or to travel; and though he inclined very much to both, yet he would by no means satisfy his own desires at so dear a rate, as to prove an undutiful son to so affectionate a mother; but did always submit to her wisdom. And what I have now said may partly appear in a copy of verses in his printed poems; ’tis one of those that bear the title of Affliction; and it appears to be a pious reflection on God’s providence, and some passages of his life, in which he says,—

  • Whereas my birth and spirit rather took
  • The way that takes the town:
  • Thou didst betray me to a lingering book,
  • And wrapt me in a gown:
  • I was entangled in a world of strife,
  • Before I had the power to change my life.
  • Yet, for I threaten’d oft the siege to raise,
  • Not simpering all mine age;
  • Thou often didst with academic praise
  • Melt and dissolve my rage:
  • I took the sweeten’d pill, till I came where
  • I could not go away, nor persevere.
  • Yet, lest perchance I should too happy be
  • In my unhappiness,
  • Turning my purge to food, thou throwest me
  • Into more sicknesses.
  • Thus doth thy power cross-bias me, not making
  • Thine own gifts good, yet me from my ways taking.
  • Now I am here, what thou wilt do with me
  • None of my books will show.
  • I read, and sigh, and wish I were a tree,
  • For then sure I should grow
  • To fruit or shade, at least some bird would trust
  • Her household with me, and I would be just.
  • Yet, though thou troublest me, I must be meek,
  • In weakness must be stout,
  • Well, I will change my service, and go seek
  • Some other master out;
  • Ah, my dear God! though I am clean forgot,
  • Let me not love thee, if I love thee not.
  • G. H.
  • In this time of Mr. Herbert’s attendance and expectation of some good occasion to remove from Cambridge to court, God, in whom there is an unseen chain of causes, did in a short time put an end to the lives of two of his most obliging and most powerful friends, Lodowick Duke of Richmond, and James Marquis of Hamilton; and not long after him King James died also, and with them all Mr. Herbert’s court hopes: so that he presently betook himself to a retreat from London, to a friend in Kent, where he lived very privately, and was such a lover of solitariness, as was judged to impair his health more than his study had done. In this time of retirement he had many conflicts with himself, whether he should return to the painted pleasures of a court life, or betake himself to a study of divinity, and enter into sacred orders, to which his mother had often persuaded him. These were such conflicts as they only can know that have endured them; for ambitious desires, and the outward glory of this world, are not easily laid aside; but at last God inclined him to put on a resolution to serve at his altar.

    He did, at his return to London, acquaint a court-friend with his resolution to enter into sacred orders, who persuaded him to alter it, as too mean an employment, and too much below his birth, and the excellent abilities and endowments of his mind. To whom he replied, “It hath been formerly judged that the domestic servants of the King of Heaven should be of the noblest families on earth. And though the iniquity of the late times have made clergymen meanly valued, and the sacred name of priest contemptible; yet I will labour to make it honourable, by consecrating all my learning, and all my poor abilities to advance the glory of that God that gave them; knowing that I can never do too much for him, that hath done so much for me as to make me a Christian. And I will labour to be like my Saviour, by making humility lovely in the eyes of all men, and by following the merciful and meek example of my dear Jesus.”

    This was then his resolution; and the God of constancy, who intended him for a great example of virtue, continued him in it, for within that year he was made deacon, but the day when, or by whom, I cannot learn; but that he was about that time made deacon is most certain; for I find by the records of Lincoln, that he was made Prebend of Layton Ecclesia, in the diocese of Lincoln, July 15th, 1626, and that this Prebend was given him by John, then Lord Bishop of that see. And now he had a fit occasion to show that piety and bounty that was derived from his generous mother, and his other memorable ancestors, and the occasion was this.

    This Layton Ecclesia is a village near to Spalden, in the county of Huntingdon, and the greatest part of the parish church was fallen down, and that of it which stood was so decayed, so little, and so useless, that the parishioners could not meet to perform their duty to God in public prayer and praises; and thus it had been for almost twenty years, in which time there had been some faint endeavours for a public collection to enable the parishioners to rebuild it; but with no success, till Mr. Herbert undertook it; and he, by his own, and the contribution of many of his kindred, and other noble friends, undertook the re-edification of it; and made it so much his whole business, that he became restless till he saw it finished as it now stands; being for the workmanship, a costly mosaic; for the form, an exact cross; and for the decency and beauty, I am assured, it is the most remarkable parish church that this nation affords. He lived to see it so wainscotted as to be exceeded by none, and, by his order, the reading pew and pulpit were a little distance from each other, and both of an equal height; for he would often say, “They should neither have a precedency or priority of the other; but that prayer and preaching, being equally useful, might agree like brethren, and have an equal honour and estimation.”

    Before I proceed further, I must look back to the time of Mr. Herbert’s being made Prebend, and tell the reader, that not long after, his mother being informed of his intentions to rebuild that church, and apprehending the great trouble and charge that he was like to draw upon himself, his relations and friends, before it could be finished, sent for him from London to Chelsea,—where she then dwelt,—and at his coming, said, “George, I sent for you, to persuade you to commit simony, by giving your patron as good a gift as he has given to you; namely, that you give him back his prebend; for, George, it is not for your weak body, and empty purse, to undertake to build churches.” Of which, he desired he might have a day’s time to consider, and then make her an answer. And at his return to her the next day, when he had first desired her blessing, and she given it him, his next request was, “That she would, at the age of thirty-three years, allow him to become an undutiful son; for he had made a vow to God, that, if he were able, he would rebuild that church.” And then showed her such reasons for his resolution, that she presently subscribed to be one of his benefactors; and undertook to solicit William Earl of Pembroke to become another, who subscribed for fifty pounds; and not long after, by a witty and persuasive letter from Mr. Herbert, made it fifty pounds more. And in this nomination of some of his benefactors, James Duke of Lenox, and his brother, Sir Henry Herbert, ought to be remembered; as also the bounty of Mr. Nicholas Farrer, and Mr. Arthur Woodnot: the one a gentleman in the neighbourhood of Layton, and the other a goldsmith in Foster Lane, London, ought not to be forgotten: for the memory of such men ought to outlive their lives. Of Mr. Farrer I shall hereafter give an account in a more seasonable place; but before I proceed further, I will give this short account of Mr. Arthur Woodnot.

    He was a man that had considered overgrown estates do often require more care and watchfulness to preserve than get them, and considered that there be many discontents that riches cure not; and did therefore set limits to himself, as to desire of wealth. And having attained so much as to be able to show mercy to the poor, and preserve a competence for himself, he dedicated the remaining part of his life to the service of God, and to be useful to his friends; and he proved to be so to Mr. Herbert; for besides his own bounty, he collected and returned most of the money that was paid for the rebuilding of that church; he kept all the account of the charges, and would often go down to state them, and see all the workmen paid. When I have said that this good man was a useful friend to Mr. Herbert’s father, and to his mother, and continued to be so to him, till he closed his eyes on his death-bed, I will forbear to say more, till I have the next fair occasion to mention the holy friendship that was betwixt him and Mr. Herbert. From whom Mr. Woodnot carried to his mother this following letter, and delivered it to her in a sickness, which was not long before that which proved to be her last:—

  • A Letter of Mr. George Herbert to his mother, in her sickness.
  • “MADAM,
  • “At my last parting from you, I was the better content, because I was in hope I should myself carry all sickness out of your family: but since I know I did not, and that your share continues, or rather increaseth, I wish earnestly that I were again with you; and would quickly make good my wish, but that my employment does fix me here, it being now but a month to our commencement: wherein my absence, by how much it naturally augmenteth suspicion, by so much shall it make my prayers the more constant and the more earnest for you to the God of all consolation. In the meantime, I beseech you to be cheerful, and comfort yourself in the God of all comfort, who is not willing to behold any sorrow but for sin.—What hath affliction grievous in it more than for a moment? or why should our afflictions here have so much power or boldness as to oppose the hope of our joys hereafter? Madam, as the earth is but a point in respect of the heavens, so are earthly troubles compared to heavenly joys; therefore, it either age or sickness lead you to those joys, consider what advantage you have over youth and health, who are now so near those true comforts. Your last letter gave me earthly preferment, and I hope kept heavenly for yourself: but would you divide and choose too? Our college customs allow not that: and I should account myself most happy, if I might change with you; for I have always observed the thread of life to be like other threads or skeins of silk, full of snarles and encumbrances. Happy is he whose bottom is wound up, and laid ready for work in the New Jerusalem. For myself, dear mother, I always feared sickness more than death, because sickness hath made me unable to perform those offices for which I came into the world, and must yet be kept in it; but you are freed from that fear, who have already abundantly discharged that part, having both ordered your family and so brought up your children, that they have attained to the years of discretion, and competent maintenance. So that now, if they do not well, the fault cannot be charged on you, whose example and care of them will justify you both to the world and your own conscience; insomuch that, whether you turn your thoughts on the life past, or on the joys that are to come, you have strong preservatives against all disquiet. And for temporal afflictions, I beseech you consider, all that can happen to you are either afflictions of estate, or body, or mind. For those of estate, of what poor regard ought they to be? since, if we had riches, we are commanded to give them away: so that the best use of them is having, not to have them. But perhaps, being above the common people, our credit and estimation calls on us to live in a more splendid fashion: but, O God! how easily is that answered, when we consider that the blessings in the holy scripture are never given to the rich, but to the poor. I never find ‘Blessed be the rich,’ or ‘Blessed be the noble’; but ‘Blessed be the meek,’ and ‘Blessed be the poor,’ and ‘Blessed be the mourners, for they shall be comforted.’ And yet, O God! most carry themselves so as if they not only not desired, but even feared to be blessed. And for afflictions of the body, dear madam, remember the holy martyrs of God, how they have been burned by thousands, and have endured such other tortures, as the very mention of them might beget amazement; but their fiery trials have had an end; and yours—which, praised be God, are less—are not like to continue long. I beseech you, let such thoughts as these moderate your present fear and sorrow; and know that if any of yours should prove a Goliah-like trouble, yet you may say with David, ‘That God, who hath delivered me out of the paws of the lion and bear, will also deliver me out of the hands of this uncircumcised Philistine.’ Lastly, for those afflictions of the soul; consider that God intends that to be as a sacred temple for himself to dwell in, and will not allow any room there for such an inmate as grief; or allow that any sadness shall be his competitor. And, above all, if any care of future things molest you, remember those admirable words of the Psalmist: ‘Cast thy care on the Lord, and he shall nourish thee.’ To which join that of St. Peter, ‘Casting all your care on the Lord, for he careth for you.’ What an admirable thing is this, that God puts his shoulder to our burden, and entertains our care for us, that we may the more quietly intend his service! To conclude, let me commend only one place more to you: Philipp. iv. 4. St. Paul saith there, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.’ He doubles it, to take away the scruple of those that might say, What, shall we rejoice in afflictions? Yes, I say again, rejoice; so that it is not left to us to rejoice, or not rejoice; but, whatsoever befalls us, we must always, at all times, rejoice in the Lord, who taketh care for us. And it follows in the next verses: ‘Let your moderation appear to all men: The Lord is at hand: Be careful for nothing.’ What can be said more comfortably? Trouble not yourselves; God is at hand to deliver us from all, or in all. Dear madam, pardon my boldness, and accept the good meaning of
  • Your most obedient son,
  • TRIN. COLL., May 25th, 1622.
  • About the year 1629, and the thirty-fourth of his age, Mr. Herbert was seized with a sharp quotidian ague, and thought to remove it by the change of air; to which end he went to Woodford in Essex, but thither more chiefly to enjoy the company of his beloved brother, Sir Henry Herbert, and other friends then of that family. In his house he remained about twelve months, and there became his own physician, and cured himself of his ague, by forbearing to drink, and not eating any meat, no not mutton, nor a hen, or pigeon, unless they were salted; and by such a constant diet he removed his ague, but with inconveniences that were worse; for he brought upon himself a disposition to rheums, and other weaknesses, and a supposed consumption. And it is to be noted that in the sharpest of his extreme fits he would often say, “Lord, abate my great affliction, or increase my patience: but Lord, I repine not; I am dumb, Lord, before thee, because thou doest it.” By which, and a sanctified submission to the will of God, he showed he was inclinable to bear the sweet yoke of Christian discipline, both then and in the latter part of his life, of which there will be many true testimonies.

    And now his care was to recover from his consumption, by a change from Woodford into such an air as was most proper to that end. And his remove was to Dauntsey in Wiltshire, a noble house, which stands in a choice air; the owner of it then was the Lord Danvers, Earl of Danby, who loved Mr. Herbert so very much, that he allowed him such an apartment in it as might best suit with his accommodation and liking. And in this place, by a spare diet, declining all perplexing studies, moderate exercise, and a cheerful conversation, his health was apparently improved to a good degree of strength and cheerfulness. And then he declared his resolution both to marry and to enter into the sacred orders of priesthood. These had long been the desire of his mother and his other relations; but she lived not to see either, for she died in the year 1627. And though he was disobedient to her about Layton Church, yet, in conformity to her will, he kept his Orator’s place till after her death, and then presently declined it; and the more willingly that he might be succeeded by his friend Robert Creighton, who now is Dr. Creighton, and the worthy Bishop of Wells.

    I shall now proceed to his marriage; in order to which, it will be convenient that I first give the reader a short view of his person, and then an account of his wife, and of some circumstances concerning both. He was for his person of a stature inclining towards tallness; his body was very straight, and so far from being cumbered with too much flesh, that he was lean to an extremity. His aspect was cheerful, and his speech and motion did both declare him a gentleman; for they were all so meek and obliging, that they purchased love and respect from all that knew him.

    These, and his other visible virtues, begot him much love from a gentleman of a noble fortune, and a near kinsman to his friend the Earl of Danby; namely, from Mr. Charles Danvers of Bainton, in the county of Wilts, Esq. This Mr. Danvers, having known him long, and familiarly, did so much affect him, that he often and publicly declared a desire that Mr. Herbert would marry any of his nine daughters,—for he had so many,—but rather his daughter Jane than any other, because Jane was his beloved daughter. And he had often said the same to Mr. Herbert himself; and that if he could like her for a wife, and she him for a husband, Jane should have a double blessing: and Mr. Danvers had so often said the like to Jane, and so much commended Mr. Herbert to her, that Jane became so much a platonic as to fall in love with Mr. Herbert unseen.

    This was a fair preparation for a marriage; but, alas! her father died before Mr. Herbert’s retirement to Dauntsey: yet some friends to both parties procured their meeting; at which time a mutual affection entered into both their hearts, as a conqueror enters into a surprised city; and love having got such possession, governed, and made there such laws and resolutions as neither party was able to resist; insomuch, that she changed her name into Herbert the third day after this first interview.

    This haste might in others be thought a love-frenzy, or worse; but it was not, for they had wooed so like princes, as to have select proxies; such as were true friends to both parties, such as well understood Mr. Herbert’s and her temper of mind, and also their estates, so well before this interview, that the suddenness was justifiable by the strictest rules of prudence; and the more, because it proved so happy to both parties; for the eternal lover of mankind made them happy in each other’s mutual and equal affections, and compliance; indeed, so happy, that there never was any opposition betwixt them, unless it were a contest which should most incline to a compliance with the other’s desires. And though this begot, and continued in them, such a mutual love, and joy, and content, as was no way defective; yet this mutual content, and love, and joy, did receive a daily augmentation, by such daily obligingness to each other, as still added such new affluences to the former fullness of these divine souls, as was only improvable in heaven, where they now enjoy it.

    About three months after this marriage, Dr. Curle, who was then Rector of Bemerton, in Wiltshire, was made Bishop of Bath and Wells, and not long after translated to Winchester, and by that means the presentation of a clerk to Bemerton did not fall to the Earl of Pembroke,—who was the undoubted patron of it,—but to the King, by reason of Dr. Curle’s advancement: but Philip, then Earl of Pembroke,—for William was lately dead—requested the King to bestow it upon his kinsman George Herbert; and the King said, “Most willingly to Mr. Herbert, if it be worth his acceptance;” and the Earl as willingly and suddenly sent it him, without seeking. But though Mr. Herbert had formerly put on a resolution for the clergy; yet, at receiving this presentation, the apprehension of the last great account, that he was to make for the cure of so many souls, made him fast and pray often, and consider for not less than a month: in which time he had some resolutions to decline both the priesthood and that living. And in this time of considering, “he endured,” as he would often say, “such spiritual conflicts as none can think, but only those that have endured them.”

    In the midst of these conflicts, his old and dear friend, Mr. Arthur Woodnot, took a journey to salute him at Bainton,—where he then was with his wife’s friends and relations—and was joyful to be an eye-witness of his health and happy marriage. And after they had rejoiced together some few days, they took a journey to Wilton, the famous seat of the Earls of Pembroke; at which time the King, the Earl, and the whole court were there, or at Salisbury, which is near to it. And at this time Mr. Herbert presented his thanks to the Earl for his presentation to Bemerton, but had not yet resolved to accept it, and told him the reason why: but that night, the Earl acquainted Dr. Laud, then Bishop of London, and after Archbishop of Canterbury, with his kinsman’s irresolution. And the Bishop did the next day so convince Mr. Herbert that the refusal of it was sin, that a tailor was sent for to come speedily from Salisbury to Wilton, to make measure, and make him canonical clothes against next day; which the tailor did: and Mr. Herbert being so habited, went with his presentation to the learned Dr. Davenant, who was then Bishop of Salisbury, and he gave him institution immediately,—for Mr. Herbert had been made deacon some years before,—and he was also the same day—which was April 26th, 1630—inducted into the good, and more pleasant than healthful, parsonage of Bemerton, which is a mile from Salisbury.

    I have now brought him to the parsonage of Bemerton, and to the thirty—sixth year of his age, and must stop here, and bespeak the reader to prepare for an almost incredible story, of the great sanctity of the short remainder of his holy life; a life so full of charity, humility, and all Christian virtues, that it deserves the eloquence of St. Chrysostom to commend and declare it: a life, that if it were related by a pen like his, there would then be no need for this age to look back into times past for the examples of primitive piety; for they might be all found in the life of George Herbert. But now, alas! who is fit to undertake it? I confess I am not; and am not pleased with myself that I must; and profess myself amazed when I consider how few of the clergy lived like him then, and how many live so unlike him now. But it becomes not me to censure: my design is rather to assure the reader that I have used very great diligence to inform myself, that I might inform him of the truth of what follows; and though I cannot adorn it with eloquence, yet I will do it with sincerity.

    When at his induction he was shut into Bemerton Church, being left there alone to toll the bell,—as the law requires him,—he stayed so much longer than an ordinary time, before he returned to those friends that stayed expecting him at the church door, that his friend Mr. Woodnot looked in at the church window, and saw him lie prostrate on the ground before the altar; at which time and place—as he after told Mr. Woodnot—he set some rules to himself, for the future manage of his life; and then and there made a vow to labour to keep them.

    And the same night that he had his induction, he said to Mr. Woodnot, “I now look back upon my aspiring thoughts, and think myself more happy than if I had attained what then I so ambitiously thirsted for. And I now can behold the court with an impartial eye, and see plainly that it is made up of fraud and titles, and flattery, and many other such empty, imaginary, painted pleasures; pleasures that are so empty as not to satisfy when they are enjoyed. But in God, and his service, is a fulness of all joy and pleasure, and no satiety. And I will now use all my endeavours to bring my relations and dependants to a love and reliance on him, who never fails those that trust him. But above all, I will be sure to live well, because the virtuous life of a clergyman is the most powerful eloquence to persuade all that see it to reverence and love, and at least to desire to live like him. And this I will do, because I know we live in an age that hath more need of good examples than precepts. And I beseech that God, who hath honoured me so much as to call me to serve him at his altar, that as by his special grace he hath put into my heart these good desires and resolutions; so he will, by his assisting grace, give me ghostly strength to bring the same to good effect. And I beseech him, that my humble and charitable life may so win upon others, as to bring glory to my Jesus, whom I have this day taken to be my master and governor; and I am so proud of his service, that I will always observe, and obey, and do his will; and always call him, Jesus my Master; and I will always contemn my birth, or any title or dignity that can be conferred upon me, when I shall compare them with my title of being a priest, and serving at the altar of Jesus my Master.”

    And that he did so may appear in many parts of his book of Sacred Poems: especially in that which he calls “The Odour.” In which he seems to rejoice in the thoughts of that word Jesus, and say, that the adding these words, my master, to it, and the often repetition of them, seemed to perfume his mind, and leave an oriental fragnancy in his very breath. And for his unforced choice to serve at God’s altar, he seems in another place of his poems, “The Pearl” (Matt. xiii. 45, 46), to rejoice and say: “He knew the ways of learning; knew what nature does willingly, and what, when it is forced by fire; knew the ways of honour, and when glory inclines the soul to noble expressions: knew the court: knew the ways of pleasure, of love, of wit, of music, and upon what terms he declined all these for the service of his master Jesus”: and then concludes, saying:

  • That, through these labyrinths, not my grovelling wit,
  • But thy silk twist, let down from Heaven to me,
  • Did both conduct, and teach me, how by it
  • To climb to thee.
  • The third day after he was made Rector of Bemerton, and had changed his sword and silk clothes into a canonical coat, he returned so habited with his friend Mr. Woodnot to Bainton; and immediately after he had seen and saluted his wife, he said to her—“You are now a minister’s wife, and must now so far forget your father’s house as not to claim a precedence of any of your parishioners; for you are to know, that a priest’s wife can challenge no precedence or place, but that which she purchases by her obliging humility; and I am sure, places so purchased do best become them. And let me tell you, that I am so good a herald, as to assure you that this is truth.” And she was so meek a wife, as to assure him, “it was no vexing news to her, and that he should see her observe it with a cheerful willingness.” And, indeed, her unforced humility, that humility that was in her so original, as to be born with her, made her so happy as to do so; and her doing so begot her an unfeigned love, and a serviceable respect from all that conversed with her; and this love followed her in all places, as inseparably as shadows follow substances in sunshine.

    It was not many days before he returned back to Bemerton, to view the church and repair the chancel: and indeed to rebuild almost three parts of his house, which was fallen down, or decayed by reason of his predecessor’s living at a better parsonage-house; namely, at Minal, sixteen or twenty miles from this place. At which time of Mr. Herbert’s coming alone to Bemerton, there came to him a poor old woman, with an intent to acquaint him with her necessitous condition, as also with some troubles of her mind: but after she had spoke some few words to him, she was surprised with a fear, and that begot a shortness of breath, so that her spirits and speech failed her; which he perceiving, did so compassionate her, and was so humble, that he took her by the hand, and said, “Speak, good mother; be not afraid to speak to me; for I am a man that will hear you with patience; and will relieve your necessities too, if I be able: and this I will do willingly; and therefore, mother, be not afraid to acquaint me with what you desire.” After which comfortable speech, he again took her by the hand, made her sit down by him, and understanding she was of his parish, he told her “He would be acquainted with her, and take her into his care.” And having with patience heard and understood her wants,—and it is some relief for a poor body to be but heard with patience,—he, like a Christian clergyman, comforted her by his meek behaviour and counsel; but because that cost him nothing, he relieved her with money too, and so sent her home with a cheerful heart, praising God, and praying for him. Thus worthy, and—like David’s blessed man—thus lowly, was Mr. George Herbert in his own eyes, and thus lovely in the eyes of others.