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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 mirrorsof 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,” “ Affliction," "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 peculiar 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
proach, at least, great abysses of discovery), may be found in Herbert's verses. “Man," Herbert says, “is everything and
“ more.” He is "a beast, yet is or should be more. a
He is “all symmetry—full of proportions, one limb to another, and all to all the world besides."
“ Head with foot hath private amity,
dismount the highest star:
Find their acquaintance there."
“ More servants wait on Man, Than he'll take notice of: in every path
He treads down that which doth befriend him,
When sickness makes him pale and wan.
Another to attend him.”
How strikingly do these words bring before us the thought of Man the Mystery!“ What a piece of workmanship” verily he is! He is formed as of a thousand lights and shadows. He is compacted out of all contradictions. While his feet touch the dust, and are of miry clay, his head is of gold, and strikes the Empyrean. He is mysteriously linked on the one side to the beasts that perish, and has an affinity as mysterious, on the other, to the angels of God. Nay, inanimate nature itself claims “ acquaintance” with this “quintessence of dust." The periods of his life bear a striking analogy to the seasons; his brain at times moves to the
his heart, as well as cheek, is coloured by the sun; his advancement as a species bears a distinct relation to the changes of the earth's surface and to its place in the heavens; he is the representative of the universe, has imbibed at once its glories and its glooms, has snatched from the star its fire and its mystery, and vibrates like the string of a harp to every breath of the great system with which he is indissolubly connected. Made in the image of God, and having notions of and aspirations
after absolute perfection, he is, and in some measure knows himself to be, a vile sinner. Lord of earth, sea, air, and all their riches, he is a fretful, discontented, hating, hateful, and, on the whole, so far as his present life goes, miserable wretch. He is in one view a whole, and in another a yawning fragment; and, according to the angle at which you see him, resembles now a full moon, now a crescent, and now a waning orb. Able to “ weigh the sun,” span the fields of space, acquainted with the times and seasons of the heavenly bodies, full of “thoughts that wander through eternity,” he is yet doomed to sicken, to die, and to have his low grave kissed, in scorn or pity, by the orbs whose spots he has numbered and whose eclipses he has foretold. Humboldt speaks of the Andes as including the world in their vast sweep, all climates, and seasons, and productions of earth being found between their base and their summit, between the ocean below and the hoary head of Chimborazo above; thus man rises from his dim embryo up to his grey head in age, touching, as he ascends, all conditions of being, and rising in parallel to all gradations of the universe, and remaining in each and all a mystery, having, indeed, all mysteries compounded and compressed in his one mysterious self. “When I consider the heavens,” says David, “what is
?” But may we not with all reverence invert David's statement, although not his spirit, and say, “When we consider man, what (in grandeur, incomprehensibility, and terror) are the heavens ?"
“For us the winds do blow; The earth doth rest, heaven move, and fountains flow.” Many of Herbert's modern admirers, while quoting the rest of these verses on “Man," omit its last stanza, although it seems to contain the moral of the wondrous Fable he had told, the solution of the Great Riddle he had propounded. Man is in a great measure a mystery, because he has forsaken his God; he is a wondrous Palace untenanted by the only Being whose presence can fill the crevices, supply the deficiencies, occupy the vast rooms, glorify the gloomy places, explain the mysteriousness, and fulfil the destiny of the fabric; and when
ON THE POETICAL WORKS OF G. HERBERT.
ever He shall return to it, Man's contradictions shall be reconciled, his controversies ended, all that is now ambiguous about him shall be explained, and while his microcosmal character shall continue, it shall assume a diviner meaning, and become as pure as it is universal.
“Since then, my God, thou hast
Till then, afford us so much wit
And both thy Servants be.” We need not dwell on his minor productions. His Latin poems we have decided to omit, as not calculated to interest the general reader, preferring, rather, to give his collection of “Proverbs," on account of their exceeding richness. We published, indeed, Milton's, but his was an extraordinary case, and his Latin poems stand in the very first category. We have, with former editors, annexed “The Synagogue," a poem written in imitation of “ The Temple,” by Christopher Harvey, which, in piety, if not altogether in poetic genius, forms a proper pendant to Herbert's works, and ranks to it as the
History of Tender Conscience” does to the “ Pilgrim's Progress. Herbert has, besides, written a prose work, entitled, The Priest to the Temple; or, The Country Parson, full of childlike piety and pithy advice, bordering sometimes, indeed, on the superstitious, and sometimes on the austere. Altogether, there are few places on earth nearer Heaven, filled with a richer and holier light, adorned with chaster and nobler ornaments, or where our souls can worship with a more entire forgetfulness of self, and a more thorough realisation of the things unseen and eternal, than in “ The Temple” of George Herbert. You say, as you stand breathless below its solemn arches, “ This is none other than the house of God, it is the gate of Heaven. How dreadful, yet how dear is this place !"