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book is perfectly clear and plain, to Christians by experience, to poets by imaginative sympathy, to all men in general by the power of conscience, the sense of guilt, and that fear of the terrors and that hope of the joys of a future state of being, by which all hearts at times are moved.
Yet, Herbert, although his mind wrought in a superinduced atmosphere of mysticism, and although he is commonly classed with those whom Dr Johnson calls the metaphysical poets, was by no means naturally or generally a mystic. The form of his writing was sometimes dark and involved, but the substance and matter of it were generally clear. His views of religion, at least, seem to us to have been exceedingly explicit and distinct. He belonged neither to Paul (the metaphysical), nor altogether to Cephas (the ceremonial), nor to Apollos (the rhetorical), nor even, although he resembled him much, to John (that lovely flower on the breast of Christ), but to Jesus himself, whom he so often calls his “Master, and whom he loved with a love passing the love of women. Emphatically, he was a worshipper of Jesus Christ; and all his nature, and all his genius, spread out their full riches only to the magnet of the God-Man of Nazareth. His love to him amounted to a personal passion. It is said of Robert Hall, that in prayer he sometimes seemed absolutely to see Christ, and so probably it was with Herbert. But it was not the glorified Christ that he saw, so much as the pale sufferer at Calvary crowned with thorns, bleeding, forsaken, with his eyes full of a far look of love and sorrow, as they gazed down on his murderers, and with his lips now uttering the awful question to his Father, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” and now asking heaven, earth, and hell, Was ever grief like mine ?” The atonement was his favourite doctrine, and how heavily does he lean all the weight of his hope upon the Cross !
Next to the person of Christ, Herbert's passion was the Church of England. Coleridge justly remarks, that fully to appreciate him, the critic must be “ an affectionate and dutiful child of the Church, and from habit, conviction, and a constitutional predisposition to ceremoniousness in piety, as in
manners, find her forms and ordinances aids of religion, not
“I joy, dear mother, when I view
Both sweet and bright :
When she doth write."
realised, a still better form of worship than any of the three,
- better, because combining all their merits without their defects, the simple psalmody and unformal prayers of Scottish devotion, blended or alternated with the rich music and the outward reverence of the English, and relieved and beautified by a few of the pictorial glories which have exerted such power in the Roman Catholic service, and which might be redeemed and devoted to other ends?
“ The Temple," looking at it more narrowly, may be viewed in its devotional, in its poetical, and in its philosophical aspects, which we may figure as its altar, its painted window, and its floor and foundation. First, as a piece of devotion it is a Prayer-book in verse. We find in it all the various parts of prayer. Now like a seraph he casts his crown at God's feet, and covers his face with his wings, in awful adoration. Now he looks up in His face, with the happy gratitude of a child, and murmurs out his thanksgiving. Now he seems David the penitent, although fallen from an inferior height, and into pits, not nearly so deep and darksome, confessing his sins and shortcomings to his Heavenly Father. And now he asks, and prays, and besieges heaven for mercy, pardon, peace, grace, and joy, as with “groanings that cannot be uttered.” We find in it, too, a perpetual undersong of praise. It is a Psalter, no less than a Prayer-book. And how different its bright sparks of worship going up without effort, without noise, by mere necessity of nature, to heaven, from the majority of hymns which have since appeared! No namby-pambyism, no false unction, no nonsensical raptures, are to be found in them; their very faults and mannerisms serve to attest their sincerity, and to shew that the whole man is reflected in them. Even although the poem had possessed far less poetic merit, its mere devotion, in its depth and truth, would have commended it to Christians, as, next to the Psalms, the finest collection of ardent and holy breathings to be found in the world.
But its poetical merit is of a very rare, lofty, and original order. It is full of that subtle perception of analogies which is competent only to high poetical genius. All things, to
Herbert, appear marvellously alike to each other. The differences, small or great, whether they be the interspaces between leaves, or the gulfs between galaxies, shrivel up and disappear. The ALL becomes one vast congeries of mirrors of similitudes--of duplicates
“ Star nods to star, each system has its brother,
This principle, or perception, which is the real spring of all fancy and imagination, was very strong in Herbert's mind, and hence the marvellous richness, freedom, and variety of his images. He hangs upon his “ Temple” now flowers and now stars, now blossoms and now full-grown fruit. He gathers glories from all regions of thought—from all gardens of beauty—from all the history, and art, and science then accessible to him,—and he wreathes them in a garland around the bleeding brow of Immanuel. Sometimes his style exhibits a clear massiveness like one of the Temple pillars, sometimes a dim richness like one of the Temple windows; and never is there wanting the Temple music, now wailing melodiously, now moving in brisk, lively, and bird-like measures, and now uttering loud pæans and crashes of victorious sound. It has been truly said of him, that he is “inspired by the Bible, as its vaticinators were inspired by God.”
It is to him not only the “Book of God, but the God of Books.” He has hung and brooded over its pages, like a bird for ever dipping her wing in the sea; he has imbibed its inmost spirit—he has made its divine words “the men of his counsel, and his song in the house of his pilgrimage,” till they are in his verse less imitated than reproduced. In this, as in other qualities, such as high imagination, burning zeal, quaint fancy, and deep simplicity of character he resembles that “ Child-Angel,” John Bunyan, who was proud to be a babe of the Bible, although his genius might have made him without it a gigantic original.
We might have quoted many passages corroborating our impressions of the surpassing artistic merit of George
But the book, as well as the criticism,
is now in the reader's hands, and he is called upon to judge for himself. We may merely recommend to his attention, as especially beautiful and rich, “ The Church-Porch,” “ The Agony,” “Redemption,” “Easter,” “Sin,” “Prayer," “Whitsunday,” “Afiction," " Humility,” “ To all Angels and Saints,” “Vanity," " Virtue” (which contains the stanza
" so often quoted, “Sweet Day,” &c.), “ The British Church," " The Quip,” and “Peace.' Many more will detain and fascinate him as he goes along --some by their ingenious oddity, some by their tremulous pathos, some by the pecu-, liar profundity of their devotional spirit; and the rest by the sincerity and truth which burn in every line.
We have spoken of the philosophy of “The Temple.” We do not mean by this, that it contains any elaborately constructed, distinctly defined, or logically defended system, but simply that it abounds in glimpses of philosophic thought of a very profound and searching cast. The singular earnestness of Herbert's temperament was connected with—perhaps we should rather say created in him-an eye which penetrated below the surface, and looked right into the secrets of things. In his peculiarly happy and blessed constitution, piety and the philosophic genius were united and reconciled; and from those awful depths of man's mysterious nature, which few have more thoroughly, although incidentally, explored than he, he lifts up, not a howl of despair, nor a curse of misanthropy, nor a cry of mere astonishment, but a hymn of worship. We refer especially to those two striking portions of the poem entitled “Man" and “ Providence." The first is a fine comment on the Psalmist's words, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Herbert first saw, or at least first expressed in poetry, the central position of man to the universe—the fact that all its various lines find a focus in him—that he is a microcosm ! to the All, and that every part of man is, in its turn, a little microcosm of him. The germ of some of the abstruse theories propounded by Swedenborg, and since enlarged and illustrated by the author of The Human Body, Considered in its Relation to Man (a treatise written with a true Elizabethan richness of style and thought, and which often seems to ap