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turn back to the Moorish poetry of Spain, and endeavour to mark its influence on that of the peninsula in general; after which, we shall go pretty extensively into the merits of the Trobadores; and lastly, trace the progress of Castilian poetry in its different epochs, down to the golden age of Spanish literature.
ART. II.-The Temple, Sacred Poems, and private Ejaculations,
by Mr. George Herbert, late Orator of the University of Cambridge.-Seventh Edition. London, 1656.
The poems of George Herbert would present such a mass of uninviting and even repulsive matter to modern readers of poetry, who are accustomed to look for sonnets, and not sermons or tabernacle canticles, in a volume dedicated to the Muses, that we really think we shall be doing them service, as well as performing a duty to the memory of an excellent and most ingenious man, by making a selection of a few of his happiest thoughts in verse.-George Herbert is best known to the world, as having been the intimate friend of Sir Henry Wotton, and as having met with an able biographer in the celebrated Isaac Walton. His career was closed just before the contests between Charles the First and his parliament had reached their height. The part he would have taken, therefore, in the scenes which followed, can be only conjectured; but his great attachment to Episcopacy, and to the services of the church of England, would in all probability have retained him, along with Jeremy Taylor, a faithful though perhaps quiet adherent to the crown. In his early days, indeed, he seems to have had no dislike of worldly honours. While orator of the University of Cambridge, his biographer has fairly told us“ 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 management of his orator's place, to his learned friend Mr. Herbert Thorndike, who is now prebend of Westminster.”—This love of princely favour met its due reward, and James gave him a sinecure—the same, as it happened, by a remarkable coincidence, as that which Queen Elizabeth had formerly given to her favourite Sir Philip Sidney, and worth £120 per annum.
For the mortification of Herbert's worldly desires, and the increase of his heavenly ones, he soon after lost his two most powerful friends, the Duke of Richmond, and the Marquis of Hamilton. These losses were followed by the death of King James himself, and with him died Mr. Herbert's court hopes.
Not, it should candidly be owned, for want of aliment, for he still retained many friends among the rich and great; but from the confirmation which these changes brought to a mind, naturally reflective, and formed for something much better than to be a mere admirer of royal greatness, of the uncertainty of worldly expectations. His mother's wishes and entreaties had long secretly influenced his desires towards the ministry; and at length, after some sharp conflicts between his love of a court-life, and his sense of the importance of the clerical character, he resolved to take orders. “ I will labour," said he to one who opposed this resolution, “I will labour to make the name of a priest 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.”-From this resolution it does not appear that he ever swerved. In 1626, he was made Prebend of Layton Ecclesia. The parish church of this place was almost fallen down, and so out of repair, that the parishioners could not meet for the performance of public worship. Thus it had been for twenty years—till Mr. Herbert set himself to work to re-build it. His mother, alarmed at the expense and trouble he was bringing upon himself, sent for him to Chelsea, where she lived. “ George,” said she, “I sent for you, to persuade you to commit simony, by giving your patron as good a gift as he has given 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,”—Herbert, however, carried his point, and showed his mother such reasons for his resolution, that he fully satisfied her on the subject, and appears to have completed his work without involving himself or her in any difficulties.His orator's place he gave up, upon her death in 1627. Soon after, he married, took orders, and was presented to the Rectory of Bemerton by the particular desire of Dr. afterwards Archbishop Laud, and Dr. Davenant, Bishop of Salisbury. Herbert was now thirty-six years of age. His life, which lasted but three years longer from this time, appears to have united the sanctity of a devotee, with the activity of a philanthropist. “ At his induction to the Rectory of Bemerton,” says Isaac Walton, “being left in the church alone, to toll the bell, (as the law requires) he staid so much longer than an ordinary time, before he returned to those friends that staid 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.”—The account of his life, as a country clergyman, given by his own bio
grapher, does not offer much variety. It appears to have been passed in exercises of piety, such as would be thought extravagant by the strictest of the strict in our times, and in performing the most humble and self-denying offices of charity to all within his reach. Here he wrote“ The Country Parson,” a little prose work, containing his own views of the duty of a clergyman, which was after his death printed.—His poems were published during his life-time, and with considerable success.—After a lingering and painful illness, Herbert died, breathing out pious and cheerful ejaculations to Heaven with his latest breath." I wish,” says Isaac Walton,“ if God shall be so pleased, that I may be so happy as to die like him.”—
To pass from the consideration of his private life, to the discussion of his literary claims. He appears to have been an excellent scholar. As a Greek student, indeed, his merit was acknowledged by many of the first scholars of his own and foreign countries. His long literary and private friendship with Sir Henry Wotton and Dr. Donne, show the estimation in which he was held by them. He was cotemporary for some years with Cowley ; but we are not informed whether these men had formed any personal friendship ; probably not, as Cowley, though very early known to fame, had hardly finished his university education at the period of Herbert's death.-Dr. Donne, whose peculiar style of composition Johnson has so ably criticized in his life of Cowley, probably was Herbert's model, as well as friend; but, if it were so, the natural genius of the latter occasionally burst forth into strains far sweeter and more natural than those of the worthy Doctor. The following lines on Virtue, though defaced by a vulgar expression or two, are, on the whole, both beautiful and polished.
Sweet day! so cool, so calm, so bright!
For thou must die.
And thou must die.
And all must die.
Then chicfly lives.
Herbert's poems are, as might be expected, almost entirely on the graver realities of this life, or the weighty concerns of another. He probably destroyed the productions of his courtly days. Of them, at least, none have reached us. He alludes to the devotional turn of his poetry in the following piece entitled “Jordan,” which commences with a very fantastical stanza.
Who says that fictions only and false hair
Not to a true, but painted chair?
Catching the sense at two removes.
Who only plainly say, “My God, any king.”—
This is more in the style of Waller, and is worth quoting.
Nipt in the bud :
At thy great doom.
The stuff with thee.
But with delays.
All things are busy: only I
To water these.
To my poor reed.
Some of the stanzas in the devotional pieces are neatly finished, and have much point-as these :
“ All may of thee partake,
Nothing can be so mean,
Will not grow bright and clean.
That turneth all to gold.
Cannot for less be told.
His longest poem, “ The Church Porch,” is for the most part written in an uncouth and ungraceful style—yet, though we smile at its quaintness, who but must admire the good sense of the exhortation in the following stanzas on conversation ?
If thou be master-gunner, spend not all
As if thou mad'st thy will-A civil guest
Will no more talk all, than eat all the feast.
In love I should, but anger is not love,
Nor wisdom neither : therefore gently move.
Truth dwells not in the clouds: the bow that's there