Графични страници
PDF файл

versity one of his pedantic books, entitled Basilicon Doron, and our hero was appointed to acknowledge the gift. He did so, in a Latin letter still extant, with so much elegance, such agreeable flattery, and with a mixture of conceits so suitable to James's capacity and taste, that he was delighted, made particular inquiry about the orator, and declared him to be the jewel of the university. George Buchanan or John Milton would not have told James, Liber hic vester summovet oceanum ambientem, adeo ut qui non subjiciuntur ditioni, eruditioni vestræ obtemperent; per hunc imperas orbi universo, victoriæque gloriam absque crudelitate effusi sanguinis, delibas." But George Herbert, with all his excellencies, was, partly by temperament and partly by position, very much of a courtier, and held lofty notions of prerogative, alike in church and state. Hence, when the brave and witty Andrew Melville assailed the liturgy, ceremonies, and government of the Church, in divers bitter versicles, Herbert strained his genius and Latinity to reply, in the “ Angli Musæ Responsariæ,” to be found in some editions of his poems. He lavished not a little flattery, too, upon Prince Charles, and on Lord Bacon, the latter of whom became intimate with, and dedicated his translation of some of David's Psalms to, his “very good friend, Mr George Herbert." He included, also, among his warm friends, Dr Andrews, Bishop of Winchester, Sir Henry Wotton, and Dr Donne, who left him, at his death, a precious seal, bearing the figure of Christ crucified upon an anchor, with the inscription-Cruz mihi anchora. During the first years of his oratorship, Herbert was far from idle. He studied Italian, Spanish, and French, very carefully, the more that he entertained the ambition of being made Secretary of State. Latterly, in the prosecution of this aim, and from love of the court life, he was seldom to be found in Cambridge, except when the king was there, and when panegyrics, eloquent and overdone as laureates' odes, were always forthcoming. His delight was in London. The king had given him a handsome sinecure of £120. a-year, which had once belonged to Sir Philip Sydney; and with this, and the annuity he had from his family, and the proceeds of his college and his oratorship, he, according to

[ocr errors]

Walton, enjoyed his genteel humour for clothes, and for court-like company, leaving one Herbert Thorndike to be his substitute at the university. It is curious to think of the author of “ The Temple” as a fop, learned in varieties of velvet doublets, laden with alderman-like chains of gold, and profound in questions referring to the buckles and hose of the period! But it is as curious, and far more pleasing to notice, that his biographers and friends have never hinted that the purity he had retained at Cambridge in youth was lost in London in manhood. Often as in “ The Temple” he accuses himself, his allusions seem rather to point to frivolities and vanities, than to faults or vices.

He was, however, subject to infirmities and illnesses of various sorts—now scorched by severe fever, and now threatened by consumption, and always worn out by the edge of intense study. His wit, he used to say, was like a “pen-knife in too narrow a sheath, too sharp for his body.” This bred in him a strong desire to leave the university, to decline all study for a season, and to travel in foreign parts. To this, however, his mother, doubtless for satisfactory reasons, was decidedly opposed ; and, with a spirit rare in grown-up children, he cheerfully submitted to her pleasure.

While Herbert, instead of travelling abroad, was dancing attendance at Court, and expecting promotion, two of his principal friends, the Duke of Richmond and the Marquis of Hamilton, died. They were followed to the grave by King James himself, and with him expired all Herbert's ambitious hopes. He retired to the neighbourhood of London, where,

he communed with his own heart and was still. The question was, should he return to the painted pleasures of a court, or enter into sacred orders "? He soon made up his mind to the latter step, induced partly by his mother's earnest wish, partly perhaps by disappointment and chagrin, but principally by a deep and growing sense of the vanity of earthly things, and of the grandeur and reality of the things above. He had come at last completely within the attraction of heaven, and all the rest of his short life was spent in revolving in narrowing circles around the great orb.

for a season,

No sooner

had he formed the resolution than he proceeded to put it in practice. Within a year he was made deacon, and in July 1626 he was appointed Prebendary of Layton Ecclesia in the diocese of Lincoln. The church at this place he found in a ruinous condition, and his first step was to raise a subscription for repairing it. He succeeded, it is said, in making it a very gem.

In the year 1627, being thirty-four years of age, he was seized with a quotidian ague, and in order to remove it by change of air, he went to Woodford in Essex, where some of his friends, and his brother Sir Henry, were residing. There, in the course of a year, by following a strict dietary regimen, he was completely cured of the ague, although, in its place, a consumptive tendency began more decidedly to discover itself. In the sharpest of his fits he would sometimes cry, “Lord, abate my great affliction or increase my patience; but, Lord, I repine not; I am dumb, Lord, before thee, because thou doest it.” His next remove was to Dauntsey in Wiltshire, "a noble house in a choice air," owned by Lord Danvers. Here, by spare diet, exercise, and avoiding all study, he became so well and strong, that he determined on two important steps—to marry, and to enter on the order of priest in the English Church. These had long been the two main wishes of his mother's heart, but she was not permitted to see the accomplishment of either, having died in 1627. · At her death he had resigned his oratorship.

His marriage was singular and even romantic in its circumstances. He had a friend in Wilts, named Charles Danvers, who had a family of nine daughters, and who had often publicly expressed a desire that Mr Herbert should marry one of

‘ them, but especially his daughter Jane, because Jane was his beloved daughter. He had often spoken of the subject to Herbert, and often to Jane, so that she fell in love with him before she had ever seen his face, and he, it would seem, was very favourably disposed toward her. Her father, unfortunately, died before they met, but some friends procured an interview, and certainly Love never did his work in a more rapid and masterly style than on this occasion, nor did ever Marriage




tread more closely on Love's heels ;-in three days they were one, and Herbert might have boasted, Veni, vidi, vici, were it not that he had conquered long before he came. This princelike mode of courtship seems to have had a happy issue ; Walton says, quaintly and beautifully, “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 fulness of these divine souls, as was only improvable in heaven, where they now enjoy it.”

Soon after his marriage, the rectory of Bemerton fell vacant, and, through the influence of the Earl of Pembroke, Herbert was presented with it. After many searchings of heart, he was, at last, on the 26th of April 1630, inducted into the pleasant parsonage of Bemerton, which is about a mile from Salisbury. He had just entered his thirty-eighth year. At his induction he was, according to a custom then prevalent, shut up in the church alone and left to toll the bell ; but as he stayed longer than usual, his friend Mr Woodnot looked in at the window and saw him lying prostrate in prayer on the ground before the altar, pouring out, it was found, passionate prayers for Divine aid, and ejaculating rules for the future management of his life-prayers which were heard, and rules which were rigidly observed. On the night of his induction he told Mr Woodnot that he was “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.” On the third day after he was made rector, he exchanged his sword and gay clothing for a canonical habit, and returning to Bainton, where his wife's relations resided,

he saluted his wife, and reminded her of the new position she now occupied, and of the new duties—particularly increased humility–which were now incumbent on her. Like a meek and brave disciple of Jesus Christ, she accepted, and afterwards fully sustained, the gracious burden her husband thus gave her to bear.

And now began a career of labour, so short, so sweet, and 80 splendid in its holy lustre, that we can best compare it to an autumnal day in the close of October, when the union of." the softest of suns and the meekest of earths is as brief as it is bright and perfect, reminding us of that beautiful strain of the Poet himself

“Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,

The bridal of the earth and sky;
The dew shall weep thy fall to-night;

For thou must die.”

He commenced his ministerial work, as at Layton, by: repairing the church, the chancel, and the parsonage. He began, too, immediately to care for the poor, to visit the sick, and, in the grand, simple, immortal language of Burke, "to remember the forgotten.He next bound himself by a set of written resolutions, which we find now condensed in his little book called the Country Parson, to perform his duties in regular system and series. His first text was, “Keep thy heart with all diligence;" and it soon became apparent that he: meant it to apply to himself as much as to his parishioners. His first sermon was elaborate, flowered with many of his: after “Temple” ornaments, and delivered with much eloquence. But he soon found that a rich feather does not always imply a strong wing, and that the force of a shaft is not always in proportion to the plumage which surrounds it. He became, as all true preachers become at length, much more practical and simple; he tried, too, to get his audience to realise the meaning of the English Church service; and, as it was said of Augustus that he found Rome brick and left it marble, so let Herbert have this praise, that he found religion in his parish an empty form, and left it an earnest

« ПредишнаНапред »