The poet-priest George Herbert is a kind of patron saint of Anglicanism, his poems much loved by readers and imitators from a variety of traditions, secular as well as religious. He is rightly known for his English poems, published posthumously in The Temple (1633). Based on these (with the major exception of "The Church Militant"), many readers imagine Herbert as private, otherworldly, even irenic – and not engaged with the disputes or politics of his time.
This present collection offers another side of George Herbert: the man who exchanged witty, biting poems with Pope Urban VIII and who engaged in impassioned debate with the leading Scottish reformer Andrew Melville. We find public praise both of the new science and of Herbert's friend Francis Bacon. Herbert exchanged moving poems with John Donne as the latter entered the priesthood. (Donne was a close friend of Magdalen Danvers, George Herbert's mother.) Herbert delivered a passionate, prophetic critique of the Thirty Years War. He lamented with haunting beauty and Miltonic grandeur the early death of the great hope of English Protestantism, Prince Henry Stuart. Nor did Herbert fear the use of satire or ridicule. He attacked with anger and stinging humor the arrogant rich and a whole host of human evils. The translations in our volume offer readers a sense of the public Herbert, a man deeply engaged with the central concerns of his time. Complementing our previously published volume translating and commenting on Memoriae Matris Sacrum, Herbert's collection of Latin and Greek poems To the Memory of My Mother: A Consecrated Gift, this volume contains translations and extensive notes on the remainder of his Latin poetry, which includes poems assembled into three volumes and also numerous uncollected poems.
Musae Responsoriae ("Muses in Response")
At the beginning of the reign of King James I, Scottish reformer Andrew Melville wrote a Latin poem attacking the liturgies, devotional practices, theology, and polity of the Church of England and arguing [End Page vii] in favor of more radical reformation. Melville composed his poetic treatise to accompany the Millenary Petition of 1603, so named because it purported to contain the signatures of one thousand English clergymen. The poem was entitled "On Behalf of the Petition Of the Evangelical Ministers in England. To the Most Serene King: A Defense against the Demonic Gorgon of the twin Academy, or Anti-Ox-Bridge-Accusation, with the Author being A. M., An unspoken response." The poem was printed in 1620 (Charles 90) by David Calderwood as part of a movement against the Perth Articles to protest the imposition of English rites on the Church of Scotland (Miller-Blaise, "George Herbert's Distemper" 79, note 65). But Melville's work was circulated in manuscript well before its appearance in print. In a letter dated May 8, 1607, Antoine Le Fèvre de la Broderie wrote to Monsieur de Puiseux that Melville's poem was the subject of wide discussion in London. George Herbert's response is one among many, most of which were circulated in coterie circles and later in print: responders included John Gordon, John Barclay, Joseph Hall, George Eglishem, and Thomas Atkinson (Holloway 257 and note 27). In the first section of his long poem, Melville makes a catalogue of objections to received forms of Anglican worship. This list is a template for the subjects and sequence of Herbert's poems. We therefore have included a translation of Melville's poem to provide historical and rhetorical context and to give easy access to the specifics that are often reference points for Herbert's poems. (For a discussion of Melville's poem and Herbert's response, see Doelman, "Contexts of George Herbert's Musae Responsoriae" and "King James, Andrew Melville and the Neo-Latin Religious Epigram"; Holloway 243-46; and our notes, particularly to Musae Responsoriae 3.10, 4, 12, 16.5-6, 18, 19, and 13.47-48.
Modern critics have agreed that Herbert probably composed the sequence between 1620 and 1622. F.E. Hutchinson concludes that Herbert probably wrote his response shortly after the publication of Melville's work and before his death in 1622, following a long period of exile, though some have speculated that...