restricted access Report of a lecture on George Herbert
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[ 617 Report of a lecture on George Herbert The Salisbury and Winchester Journal (27 May 1938) 12 TSE delivered the lecture in the Chapter House of Salisbury Cathedral on 25 May 1938, as reported under the heading “Mr. T. S. Eliot on ‘George Herbert’ / Brilliant Lecture to Friends of Salisbury Cathedral / ‘A Tough Man in a Tough Age.’” The typescript of the lecture has not survived; TSE may have given it to the reporter, as he had done on other occasions. The following descriptive summary of the occasion and participants preceded the lengthy quotation from the address: Mr. T. S. Eliot, the poet and author of “Murder in the Cathedral,” gave a lecture on “George Herbert,” the 17th century poet-priest of Bemerton, at the Chapter House, Salisbury, on Wednesday morning. This was one of the special events arranged by the Dean of Salisbury (the Very Rev. E. L. Henderson) in connection with the annual festival of the Friends of Salisbury Cathedral, and it followed the annual business meeting of the Association, which, with other events of the festival, is reported separately on another page. The Bishop of Salisbury (Dr. E. Neville Lovett) presided. In addition to the Friends there were also present at the lecture students of the Salisbury Diocesan Training College and girls from the Godolphin school. Mr. Eliot, after his introductory remarks on Herbert’s local associations, said: “I have been reading the poetry of Herbert’s period, over a long enough span of years to be able to observe a considerable development in my own appreciation and judgment.1 It is not only greater familiarity, but, I hope, greater maturity of mind and sensibility – for sensibility as well as intelligence should mature – which has brought me, to concede to Herbert as a religious poet a pre-eminence among his contemporaries and followers. I am, therefore, at the stage of asking for a revision of his reputation; feeling, as I do, that he has been not so much critically as implicitly underrated. “For the degree of appreciation which is yielded to Herbert we owe much to the great critic whose revolutionary activity appears in many directions – Coleridge.2 But at the time of Coleridge there was still something lacking for the proper understanding of George Herbert; and that was a thorough understanding of Anglican theology in the first part of the seventeenth century . Here, again, I must hasten to add, we owe much to Coleridge, and to the prolongation and development of his curiosity through the Oxford Movement. But more time had to elapse before Herbert could be presented, not merely as the charming versifier of Jacobean and Caroline theology Essays, Reviews, Commentaries, and Public Letters: 1938 618 ] and devotion, but as one of the authors whom we should study in order to understand the spirit of that theology. “Herbert is not merely a charming poet who happened, from the circumstances of his life, to choose to write on religious subjects. From what little we know of his life, we can be pretty sure that he was deeply read in Christian theology, and not merely in that of his own time; that his poetry is completely saturated in his theology to such an extent as to make him the poet of Anglicanism. “That is to put him in a class by himself. I am aware that to assert that he is, as a religious poet, superior to Donne, is to cross the border of judgment into personal opinion; is to make a claim that cannot be proved. I would not venture to put any one poem of Herbert against any one of Donne and say that it is better. It is only in reading the religious poetry of Herbert as a whole, and that of Donne as a whole, that I am left with the conviction that religious poetry was more incidental for Donne, and more essential for Herbert. The border-line between making use of religious thought and feeling in order to write poetry, and using one’s poetic gifts to the glory of God, cannot be clearly defined; yet I think that Donne inclines to one side, and Herbert to the other. “And if one compares Herbert with other religious poets in English, and with more modern ones, the peculiar quality becomes clearer and appears more marvellous. Herbert is, I think, the most intellectual of all our religious poets; which does not at all mean that he is the least ardent. His followers, Vaughan and...