« AnteriorContinuar »
anthems as the angels and he and Mr Ferrar are now singing in heaven.”
On the day of his death, he said to Mr Woodnot, “ I am sorry I have nothing to present to God but sin and miserybut the first is pardoned, and a few hours shall put a period to the second.” Mr Woodnot reminded him of the good deeds he had done; he answered, “They be good works, if they be sprinkled with the blood of Christ, and not otherwise.” After some severe struggles, and having requested his wife and nieces, who were weeping in extreme anguish, to leave the room, he committed his last will to Mr Woodnot's care; and then crying out, “ I am now ready to die; Lord, forsake me not, now my strength faileth, but grant me mercy for the merits of my Jesus. And now, Lord, Lord, now receive my soul!” he breathed his last. May not every one take up the language of his biographer, and say, “I wish, if God be so pleased, that I may die like him "?
It was the year 1633.
Thus, at Bemerton, for three years lived and laboured one of the most thoroughly Christian gentlemen that ever breathed. His piety had a primitive depth and simplicity, and his holiness was blended with mild and gentle elements. His was that “cheerful godliness” which Wordsworth less happily has ascribed to a greater than he. In person he was tall, straight, and thin; he seemed purged, resolute, and stripped, as one who was soon to join a spiritual company.
“The Temple,” after some vexatious delay in this also resembling the “Paradise Lost”) on account of two lines which the licenser objected to—which were these
“Religion stands a-tiptoe in our land,
was at last published in Cambridge—Mr Ferrar superintending the press—and became instantly popular. It was just an alabaster box of ointment suddenly broken, and its perfume, like ointment poured forth, spread near and far. By the time that Izaak Walton wrote the life of the author, twenty thousand copies of the work had been circulated. Since, the issue has been very large, and its reputation is still on the increase.
We come now to criticise “ The Temple," although the term criticism applied to what is a bosom companion rather than a book may seem cold and out of place. We come, then, we shall rather say, to announce our profound love for the work, and to assign certain reasons for that love. We may first, however, allude to the faults with which it has been justly charged. These are, however, venial, and are those not of the
, author so much as of his day. He is often quaint, and has not a few conceits, which are rather ingenious than tasteful. Anagrams, acrostics, verbal quibbles, and a hundred other formulæ, cold in themselves, although indigenous to the age, and greatly redeemed by the fervour his genius throws into them, abound in “ The Temple," and so far suit the theme, that they remind us of the curious figures and devices which add their Arabesque border to the grandeur of old Abbeys and Cathedrals. It was the wild, crude rhythm of the period, and had Herbert not conformed himself to it, he had either been a far less or a far greater poet than he was. Yet, though bound in chains, he became even in durance an alchymist, and turned his chains into gold.
Herbert has, besides, what may be considered more formidable faults than these. He is often obscure, and his allegorising vein is opened too often, and explored too far; so much so, that had we added a commentary or extended notes on “The Temple,” it would have necessarily filled another volume nearly as large as the present. This the plan of our publication, of course, entirely forbids. We may merely premise these advices to those who would care to understand as well as read the succeeding poem :-1st, Let them regard it as in many portions a piece of picture-writing ; 2dly, Let them seek the secret of this, partly by a careful study of the book itself, and partly by reading the similar works of Donne, Quarles, Giles Fletcher, and John Bunyan ; 3dly, Let them believe in Herbert, even when they do not understand him; and, 4thly, Let them rejoice that the great proportion of the
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 sources of formality.” To these qualifications we cannot pretend. But although “constitutionally predisposed” to despise ceremony, we grant, that all the beauty which does exist in these rites and forms has been extracted by Herbert, and that he has added to them a supplemental interest, and shed on them the gentle glow of his own genius. The “ Church,” surrounded by its immemorial trees and quiet grave-stones, hung with its simple belfry, and with its spire peacefully pointing up like a finger to the sky, illuminated within by its painted and storied windows, with its altar, its communion elements, its rustling Prayer-books, its kneeling worship, its deep amens and devout ejaculations, its infants entering to be baptized like new stars to be named of God,” the white surplice of the priest, the solemn tones of the clerk, and the voice of the organ arising ever and anon, like an unearthly accompaniment to the devotion which it seems to gather up in folds of melody and to lift to heaven,—all this stands before us in Herbert's verse, as in the light of an autumnal day—a light which can not only beautify the decayed, and make solitary places glad, and withered leaves seem gold, but which can add a deeper beauty to the beautiful, can not only make the earthly spiritual, but the spiritual appear sacred, and the sacred divine. In what a spirit of filial affection does this Poet, looking to the “ British Church,” say—
“I joy, dear mother, when I view
Both sweet and bright:
When she doth write." So far, unquestionably, he is correct. For if gorgeous but melo-dramatic and meretricious grandeụr distinguish the service of the Church of Rome, and if that of the Presbyterian Church be marked by severe simplicity, approaching, in certain circumstances, to the sublime,-that of the Church of England has unquestionably more beauty why it should be desired. May we not conceive of, and shall there not yet be
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