CM: This Portrait of George Herbert was engraved by William John Alais after an original engraving by Robert White of 1674, kept at the National Portrait Gallery in London (Robert White's engravings were published in some numbers - there are in fact three impressions of George Herbert in the National Portrait Gallery's collection and others elsewhere including the British Museum).
George Herbert (3 April 1593 - 1 March 1633) was an English poet, orator and a priest. Being born into an artistic and wealthy family he received a good education which led on to him holding prominent positions at Cambridge University and Parliament. In his late thirties he gave up his secular ambitions and took holy orders in the Church of England, spending the rest of his life as a rector in Bemerton, near Salisbury. Throughout his life he wrote religious poems characterized by a precision of language, a metrical versatility, and an ingenious use of imagery or conceits that was favored by the metaphysical school of poets.
George Herbert was born in Montgomery in Wales. His family was wealthy, eminent, intellectual and fond of the arts. His mother Magdalen was a patron and friend of John Donne and other poets; his older brother Edward, later Lord Herbert of Cherbury, was an important poet and philosopher, often referred to as 'the father of English deism'. Herbert's father died when George was three, leaving a widow and ten children. After graduating from Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge (where he achieved degrees with distinction), Herbert was elected a major fellow of his college. In 1618 he was appointed Reader in Rhetoric at Cambridge and in 1620 he was elected to the post of 'public orator', whose duties would be served by poetic skill. He held this position until 1628. In 1624 he became a Member of Parliament, representing Montgomeryshire. While these positions were suited to a career at court, and James I had shown him favor, circumstances worked against him: the King died in 1625, and two influential patrons of Herbert died later in the decade.
George Herbert took up his duties in Bemerton, a rural parish in Wiltshire, about 75 miles southwest of London in 1630. Here he preached and wrote poetry; also helping to rebuild the church out of his own funds. In 1633 Herbert finished a collection of poems entitled The Temple, which imitates the arhitectural style of churches through both the meaning of the words and their visual layout. The themes of God and love are treated by Herbert as much as psychological forces as metaphysical phenomena. Suffering from poor health, Herbert died of consumption only three years after taking holy orders. On his deathbed, he gave the manuscript of The Temple to Nicholas Ferrar, the founder of a semi-monastic Anglican religious community at Little Gidding (a name best known today through the poem Little Gidding by T.S. Eliot), telling him to publish the poems if he thought they might "turn to the advantage of any dejected poor soul", and otherwise, to burn them. In less than 50 years, The Temple had gone through thirteen printings.
All of George Herbert's surviving poems are religious, and some have been used as hymns. They are characterised by directness of expression and some conceits which can appear quaint. Many of the poems have intricate rhyme schemes, and variations of lines within stanzas. Herbert also wrote A Priest to the Temple or The Country Parson offering practical advice to country parsons. In it, he advises that "things of ordinary use" such as ploughs, leaven, or dances, could be made to "serve for lights even of Heavenly Truths". Richard Baxter said, "Herbert speaks to God like one that really believeth a God, and whose business in the world is most with God. Heart-work and heaven-work make up his books". Dame Helen Gardner adds "head-work" because of his "intellectual vivacity". Herbert influenced his fellow metaphysical poet Henry Vaughan who - in turn - influenced William Wordsworth.
[Megakles Rogakos 07/2006]
ROGAKOS, MEGAKLES Silent Dialogues: Multimedia Portraits Throughout Time 2008 The American College of Greece - ACG Art, Athens