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A Note on the "Crown Imperiali" in Herbert's "Peace" by R.V. Young Sidney Gottlieb has observed that the devouring "worm" at the root of the "Crown Imperiall" in the third stanza of Herbert's "Peace" is an audaciously political image. Since this flower had figured in masques by Ben Jonson (Love's Triumph Through Callipolis, 1631) and James Shirley (The Triumph ofPeace, 1634) as an emblem of royal power able to provide peace and protection, Gottlieb reasons that Herbert's negative evocation of this blossom must be an ironic comment on the rottenness of the court of King Charles: "Thus, at approximately the same time Caroline poets and artists were creating the fiction of peaceful 'halcyon days,' Herbert seems to have written 'Peace' as a sobering, allegorical but demystifying anti-masque.'* I wish to amplify Gottlieb's observation by pointing out that Herbert's ironic reference to the crown imperial, as well as the favorable references by Jonson and Shirley, may have been reinforced by the prominent place this flower occupies in John Parkinson's Paradisi in Sole, a large folio volume about flowers and gardening published in 1629 with a dedication to the Queen.2 A look at this work reveals further layers of disillusionment in Herbert's choice of the crown imperial as an embodiment of disappointed expectation. Herbert was a man who was likely to have an interest in flowers and gardening and to know something about books on the subject. His stepfather, Sir John Danvers, is regarded by John Dixon Hunt as one of the seminal figures in the development of English gardening: "John Aubrey considered that it was Sir John Danvers 'who first taught us the way of Italian gardens.' " Further, Hunt observes, "John Danvers' Chelsea garden was considered so important by Aubrey that he made a special study of it."3 Amy M. Charles makes the same point about Danvers' enthusiasm for gardening and speculates , not rashly, that Herbert would have been likely to have enjoyed the fruits of his stepfather's horticultural interests: "Between Easter and Trinity terms and between Trinity and Michaelmas terms George Herbert must have come home numerous times to stay with his family and to watch the Thames flowing by to the south and to walk in the gardens to the north of the house."4 90R.V. Young Parkinson's Paradisi in Sole is just the kind of book that would have been appropriate to Danvers' library, so it is conceivable for Herbert to have seen it when it was published in 1629. Although this date allows for the possibility, it of course cannot be determined whether the book influenced "Peace," which does not appear in the Williams manuscript and is presumably a later addition to The Temple. In any case, certain discrepancies between Parkinson's introductory remarks and his specific discussion of the "Crown Imperiali" are rather suggestive. In his epistle "To the Courteous Reader," Parkinson treats garden plants as moral exemplars: Many herbes and flowers that haue small beautie or sauour to commend them, haue much more good vse and vertue: so many men of excellent rare parts and good qualities doe lye hid vnknown and not respected, vntill time and vse of them doe set forth their properties. Againe, many flowers haue a glorious shew of beauty and brauery, yet stinking in smell, or else of no other vse: so many doe make a glorious ostentation , and flourish in the world, when as if they stinke not horribly before God, and all good men, yet surely they haue no other vertue then their outside to commend them, or leaue behind them. (Sig. ':~':"3) Parkinson's preference for "good vse and vertue" over a "glorious shew of beauty and brauery" would seem to be the kind of sentiment that Herbert would favor, but a certain incongruousness emerges in the section of the book called "A Garden of pleasant Flowers," where "The Crowne Imperiall for his stately beautifulness, deserueth the first place in this our Garden of delight" (p. 27). Despite this recommendation, Parkinson tells us that "the whole plant and euery part therof, as well rootes, as leaues and flowers, doe smell somewhat strong...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-1192
Print ISSN
0161-7435
Pages
pp. 89-92
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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