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Review: A Ufe of George Herbert by Amy Charles by David Novarr Anyone who sinkscomfortablyinto an easy chair for a cozy evening's read of Amy M. Charles's A Lite of George Herbert (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1977; 242 pp.) won't stay there long. This is a formidable book. Pages 1 1 2 - 22, for instance, are reprinted from Professor Charles's article, "George Herbert, Deacon" {MP, 72 [ 1 975], 272-76), with some small changes and with the addition of paragraphs on what brought Herbert and Bishop Williams together, on John Hacket's assessment of Williams, and on Williams' standards for men who sought ordination and his care in appointing to livings. The book is made up of forty-six such pieces, most of them somewhat shorter than this one. Professor Charles modestly calls her bookA Life, not The LHe; in her preface, she calls the book a biography. Biography, to be sure, accommodates innumerable approaches and countless forms; it opens up all kinds of possibilities, and whenever a critic is silly enough to say that one of these won't work, a good writer will prove him wrong. In one regard, at least, Professor Charles's approach is conventional enough. Her arrangement is generally chronological, though she proceeds past Herbert's death, to 1662 and beyond. But she is herself aware that she has not written "a biographical sketch" or "a dramatic representation" (p. 201 ), the sort of work that the terms "life" and "biography" normally denote. Rather, she has helped to provide a sound basis for one by examining "all the documents and records that in any way relate to a life of Herbert" (p. 6), both those which have been used by other biographers and scholars and those which she has herself found. She treats the life as a number of research problems, and her approach is by topics, a technique guaranteed to interfere with straight narration, to say nothing of its effect on dramatic representation. The reader interested in all of Herbert's life will find himself referring constantly to the Chronology wisely provided at the beginning of the book and to the Index, which is not completely dependable, and he had better have Hutchinson's Works at hand for documents which are excerpted. Professor Charles's pages of acknowledgements only begin to indicate the extent of her labors. She refers to books, articles, and theses which I1 for one, was not aware of. She has examined all the 49 David Novarr relevant documents and many that have not heretofore been thought to be relevant. Only a throwaway reference to Mistress Barbara Gamage (p. 85) shows that she must even have investigated the relations among the Herbert, Johnes, and Sidney families. I stopped being surprised by footnotes like "See also the MS volume "The Descent of the Herberts,"!. 5, p. 67, Stone Passage , Lacquer Bookcase, Powis Castle" (p. 22) and "Wybunbury Parish Registers, P37/1/1 , Cheshire Record Office" (p. 168). When Professor Charles names Herbert's second curate at Bemerton as John Hayes (p. 1 62 ). silently correcting Hutchinson's guess that he might be a certain William Hayes (Works, p. 587), and says that John Hayes and Nathanael Bostocke conveyed the will of Dorothy Vaughan to London for probate ip 1 55), I am sure she is right, though she does not here document her information. She has worn on her thumb the ring which Walton says that Donne gave to Herbert and knows which bank vault it's now kept in, and she can even speculate that if the handprints on the Williams MS. are Herbert's - and she has examined film copies of these - "his fingers were long and slender, as one would expect" (p 218) If Professor Charles has not found any dark ladies in Herbert's life or even a new letter, they probably don't exist. Let me try to indicate the new information and suggestions that she sets forth about Herbert's life, about his works, and about people close to him. She very effectively uses the material in her ELR article ("Mrs. Herberts Kitchin Booke" ELR. 4 [1974], 164-73), to sketch the nature...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-1192
Print ISSN
0161-7435
Pages
pp. 49-62
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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