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George Herbert, Priest and Poet

George Herbert was born in 1593, the fifth son of an eminent Pembroke family. His mother, Magdalen Newport, held great patronage to distinguished literary figures such as John Donne, a close family friend, who dedicated his Holy Sonnets to her. Herbert's father, Sir Richard Newport, died when he was three, leaving his mother with ten children, all of whom she was determined to educate and raise as loyal Anglicans. George Herbert went up to Cambridge in 1614, eventually becoming a fellow of Trinity College. At the age of twenty-five, he became Public Orator in the University and then a Member of Parliament, apparently destined for a life at court.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To everyone's surprise, he decided to be ordained.  After spending a time with his friend Nicholas Ferrar, a fellow Cambridge scholar and Parliamentarian, at Little Gidding, he was made deacon in 1626. He married Jane Danvers in 1629, was priested in 1630 and given the care of souls of the parish of Bemerton, near Salisbury, where he spent the rest of his short life.

 He wrote prolifically, his hymns still being popular throughout the English-speaking world. Herbert's practical manual to country parsons, ‘A Priest to the Temple’, his treatise ,‘The Country Parson’, on the priestly life, and his poetry, especially ‘The Temple’, earned Herbert a leading place in English literature. He never neglected the care of the souls of Bemerton, however, and encouraged attendance at the weekday recitation of the daily office, calling to mind the words of his hymn, 'Seven whole days, not one in seven, I will praise thee'. Herbert's poems have been characterised by a deep religious devotion, linguistic precision, metrical agility, and ingenious use of conceit. Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote of Herbert's diction that "Nothing can be more pure, manly, or unaffected," and he is ranked with Donne as one of the great Metaphysical poets. He died on 27th February in 1633.