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This article is taken from PN Review 246, Volume 45 Number 4, March - April 2019.

Pictures from a Library

Pictures from the Rylands Library
43: Expressive Forms: the Temples of George Herbert
Stella Halkyard
IN 1633 GEORGE HERBERT, the twenty­-third rector of the parish of St Andrew in the village of Bemerton, lay dying. He called to his side Edmund Duncon, a Hertfordshire clergyman of his acquaintance, saying: ‘Sir, I pray you deliver this little book to my dear brother Ferrar… if he can think it may turn to the advantage of any dejected poor soul, let it be made public; if not let him burn it.’

George Herbert's The Temple

Straightway, Duncon took Herbert’s fragile morsel of paper, containing the inky scrapings of the text of his English poems, to Little Gidding, where Nicholas Ferrar and his family had established a religious community. Many and many a time over Ferrar reads the poems, which plot, ‘the many spiritual conflicts that have passed betwixt God and [Herbert’s] soul’ and confirms them to be ‘most worthy in the hands and hearts of all true Christians’ (Izaac Walton).  And so within the year Herbert’s poems are published on the press at the University of Cambridge under the title of The Temple.

Meanwhile, in nearby Leighton Bromswold, the Ferrars were completing the renovation of an actual church under Herbert’s direction. On being granted the prebendary of St Mary’s in 1626, Herbert determined to restore it from a state of dereliction. The result is ‘eloquent of Herbert’s churchmanship: pulpit and prayer desk on either side of the aisle balanced in equal height, pews all on a level, and abundant light’ (John Drury).

So, Herbert’s temples reach ...


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