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Reviews Christopher Hodgkins, Authority, Church, and Society in George Herbert: Return to the Middle Way. Columbia: Univ. of Missouri Press, 1993. xiii + 231 pp. $39.95. by Joseph Summers This is a remarkably good book. Hodgkins' title and subtitle tell most of the story: in the midst of the confusing voices which attempt to claim (often anachronistically) Herbert as an "Anglo-Catholic" or as a "Puritan," Hodgkins claims that Herbert was fully and consciously an upholder of the Elizabethan settlement of the Church of England. Early in the volume he makes explicit his complex judgments on Herbert's religious and political positions: My fundamental claim is that as the gap widened between Puritan "Non-Conformist" and William Laud's "New Conformists," Herbert walked the increasingly lonely way of the Elizabethan "Old Conformists." To be painfully precise: in the conflict between Arminian absolutist high-church Episcopalians (New Conformists) and Calvinist antiabsolutist low-church Presbyterians (NonConformists ), Herbert kept to the "middle way" of his boyhood church, as a Calvinist non-absolutist lower-church Episcopalian (Old Conformist). He emphasized God's loving, unconditional, irresistible grace — the Strength that "makes his guest" ... ; he preferred a powerful but constitutionally limited monarchy and episcopacy; he preached and ministered in the authoritative plain and practical style of the moderate Puritans, passing important spiritual responsibility onto laymen; and he advocated simple, scriptural intelligibility in liturgy, church architecture, and poetry, (p. 11) 72Book Reviews Such a precise description may be painful to those who are chiefly interested in more general literary theory; but for a reader who loves Herbert's poetry and understands something of the complexity of the religious and political issues of Herbert's time, it will probably seem splendidly clarifying. Hodgkins' formulations strike me as essentially correct in almost every detail. A student of Richard Strier's, Hodgkins knows the Herbert scholarship as well as the historical backgrounds — and he is frequently incisive and witty: "Fish misunderstands the marrow of Herbert's Calvinist theology as the obliteration rather than the redemption of the distinct self — as if the corollary of the divine I AM were YOU AREN'T . . ." Schoenfeldt "seems to regard Herbert's frequent prostrations before the divine throne as selfempowerment tactics — as if Herbert believed that King Jesus, like King James, really could be flattered" (p. 6). Later, he remarks, " 'Flattery' is flattery only when the giver of praise does not believe it and the object of praise does not deserve it" (p. 140). The only places where I think Hodgkins goes wrong are in his Chapter III: "Power Disabled: Limited Authority in Herbert's 'Lent.' " He does not argue that "Lent" is one of Herbert's best poems, but he thinks it is weakened "as he continued to avoid the primary objection against Laudian authority — that it is disabling itself" (p. 78). He bases his arguments on his reading of lines 16-18: Unless Authoritie, which should increase The obligation in us, makes it lesse, And Power it self disable. But I think Herbert's "should" makes clear that he was citing this as an ultimate absurdity — not as what he thought was happening in the Church. In the same poem, Hodgkins also argues for a doubtful Fishian reading of lines 25-27: . . . those same pendant profits, which the spring And Easter intimate, enlarge the thing And goodnesse of the deed. Maintaining his stress on profit-mindedprudence, he slips into the language of witty spiritual paradox, Book Reviews73 speaking of "pendant profits," the strange "spring" fruit of the final resurrection and glorification of the body. This "profit" is "intimated" by the change of seasons and by Christ's own Easter resurrection. To portray the relationship between fasting and these "profits," Herbert employs a grammatical pun, by which the "pendant profits" both intransitively "enlarge" while the penitent fasts and transitively "enlarge the thing / And goodnesse of the deed." (p. 77) But I do not believe that "grammatical pun" is possible: there is no punctuation or line break that allows the reader to pause between the verb "enlarge" and its object, "the thing / And goodnesse." But most of the time Hodgkins' readings seem sensible and accurate. And he frequently makes interesting observations or reminds the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-1192
Print ISSN
0161-7435
Pages
pp. 71-75
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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