Izaak Walton (15931683). The Lives of John Donne and George Herbert. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
The Life of Mr. George Herbert
At his return that night to his wife at Bainton, he gave her an account of the passages betwixt him and the poor woman; with which she was so affected, that she went next day to Salisbury, and there bought a pair of blankets, and sent them as a token of her love to the poor woman; and with them a message, that she would see and be acquainted with her, when her house was built at Bemerton.
There be many such passages both of him and his wife, of which some few will be related: but I shall first tell, that he hasted to get the parish church repaired; then to beautify the chapel, which stands near his house,and that at his own great charge. He then proceeded to rebuild the greatest part of the parsonage-house, which he did also very completely, and at his own charge; and having done this good work, he caused these verses to be writ upon, or engraven in, the mantel of the chimney in his hall.
We will now, by the readers favour, suppose him fixed at Bemerton, and grant him to have seen the church repaired, and the chapel belonging to it very decently adorned at his own great charge,which is a real truth;and having now fixed him there, I shall proceed to give an account of the rest of his behaviour, both to his parishioners, and those many others that knew and conversed with him.
Doubtless Mr. Herbert had considered, and given rules to himself for his Christian carriage both to God and man, before he entered into holy orders. And tis not unlike, but that he renewed those resolutions at his prostration before the holy altar, at his induction into the church of Bemerton: but as yet he was but a deacon, and therefore longed for the next ember-week, that he might be ordained priest, and made capable of administering both the sacraments. At which time the Reverend Dr. Humphrey Henchman, now Lord Bishop of London,who does not mention him but with some veneration for his life and excellent learning,tells me, He laid his hand on Mr. Herberts head, and, alas! within less than three years lent his shoulder to carry his dear friend to his grave.
And that Mr. Herbert might the better preserve those holy rules which such a priest as he intended to be ought to observe; and that time might not insensibly blot them out of his memory, but that the next year might show him his variations from this years resolutions; he therefore did set down his rules, then resolved upon, in that order as the world now sees them printed in a little book, called The Country Parson; in which some of his rules are:
The Parsons knowledge.
The Parson arguing.
The Parson on Sundays.
The Parson condescending.
The Parson praying.
The Parson in his journey.
The Parson preaching.
The Parson in his mirth.
The Parsons charity.
The Parson with his Church-wardens.
The Parson comforting the sick.
The Parson blessing the people.
And his behaviour towards God and man may be said to be a practical comment on these, and the other holy rules set down in that useful book: a book so full of plain, prudent, and useful rules, that that country parson that can spare twelve pence, and yet wants it, is scarce excusable; because it will both direct him what he ought to do, and convince him for not having done it.
At the death of Mr. Herbert this book fell into the hands of his friend Mr. Woodnot; and he commended it into the trusty hands of Mr. Barnabas Oley, who published it with a most conscientious and excellent preface; from which I have had some of those truths, that are related in this life of Mr. Herbert. The text of his first sermon was taken out of Solomons Proverbs, chap. iv. 23, and the words were, Keep thy heart with all diligence. In which first sermon he gave his parishioners many necessary, holy, safe rules for the discharge of a good conscience, both to God and man; and delivered his sermon after a most florid manner, both with great learning and eloquence; but, at the close of this sermon, told them, That should not be his constant way of preaching; for since Almighty God does not intend to lead men to heaven by hard questions, he would not therefore fill their heads with unnecessary notions; but that, for their sakes, his language and his expressions should be more plain and practical in his future sermons. And he then made it his humble request, That they would be constant to the afternoons service, and catechising; and showed them convincing reasons why he desired it; and his obliging example and persuasions brought them to a willing conformity to his desires.
The texts for all his future sermonswhich God knows were not manywere constantly taken out of the gospel for the day; and he did as constantly declare why the Church did appoint that portion of scripture to be that day read; and in what manner the collect for every Sunday does refer to the gospel, or to the epistle then read to them; and, that they might pray with understanding, he did usually take occasion to explain, not only the collect for every particular Sunday, but the reasons of all the other collects and responses in our Church service; and made it appear to them that the whole service of the Church was a reasonable, and therefore an acceptable sacrifice to God: as namely, that we begin with Confession of ourselves to be vile, miserable sinners; and that we begin so, because, till we have confessed ourselves to be such, we are not capable of that mercy which we acknowledge we need, and pray for: but having, in the prayer of our Lord, begged pardon for those sins which we have confessed; and hoping, that as the priest hath declared our absolution, so by our public confession, and real repentance, we have obtained that pardon; then we dare and do proceed to beg of the Lord, to open our lips, that our mouth may show forth his praise; for till then we are neither able nor worthy to praise him. But this being supposed, we are then fit to say, Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; and fit to proceed to a further service of our God, in the collects, and psalms, and lauds, that follow in the service.
And as to the psalms and lauds, he proceeded to inform them why they were so often, and some of them daily, repeated in our Church service; namely, the psalms every month, because they be an historical and thankful repetition of mercies past, and such a composition of prayers and praises, as ought to be repeated often, and publicly; for with such sacrifice God is honoured and well-pleased. This for the psalms.
And for the hymns and lauds appointed to be daily repeated or sung after the first and second lessons are read to the congregation; he proceeded to inform them, that it was most reasonable, after they have heard the will and goodness of God declared or preached by the priest in his reading the two chapters, that it was then a seasonable duty to rise up, and express their gratitude to Almighty God for those his mercies to them, and to all mankind; and then to say with the Blessed Virgin, that their souls do magnify the Lord, and that their spirits do also rejoice in God their Saviour: and that it was their duty also to rejoice with Simeon in his song, and say with him, That their eyes have also seen their salvation; for they have seen that salvation which was but prophesied till his time: and he then broke out into these expressions of joy that he did see it; but they live to see it daily in the history of it, and therefore ought daily to rejoice, and daily to offer up their sacrifices of praise to their God, for that particular mercy. A service, which is now the constant employment of that Blessed Virgin and Simeon, and all those blessed saints that are possessed of heaven: and where they are at this time interchangeably and constantly singing, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God; glory be to God on high, and on earth peace. And he taught them that to do this was an acceptable service to God, because the Prophet David says in his Psalms, He that praiseth the Lord honoureth him.
He made them to understand how happy they be that are freed from the encumbrances of that law which our forefathers groaned under: namely, from the legal sacrifices, and from the many ceremonies of the Levitical law; freed from circumcision, and from the strict observation of the Jewish Sabbath, and the like. And he made them know, that having received so many and great blessings, by being born since the days of our Saviour, it must be an acceptable sacrifice to Almighty God, for them to acknowledge those blessings daily, and stand up and worship, and say as Zacharias did, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he hathin our daysvisited and redeemed his people; andhe hath in our daysremembered, and showed that mercy, which by the mouth of the prophets he promised to our forefathers; and this he has done according to his holy covenant made with them. And he made them to understand that we live to see and enjoy the benefit of it, in his birth, in his life, his passion, his resurrection, and ascension into heaven, where he now sits sensible of all our temptations and infirmities; and where he is at this present time making intercession for us, to his and our Father: and therefore they ought daily to express their public gratulations, and say daily with Zacharias, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, that hath thus visited and thus redeemed his people. These were some of the reasons by which Mr. Herbert instructed his congregation for the use of the psalms and hymns appointed to be daily sung or said in the Church service.
He informed them also when the priest did pray only for the congregation, and not for himself; and when they did only pray for him; as namely, after the repetition of the creed before he proceeds to pray the Lords Prayer, or any of the appointed collects, the priest is directed to kneel down and pray for them, saying, The Lord be with you; and when they pray for him, saying, And with thy spirit; and then they join together in the following collects: and he assured them, that when there is such mutual love, and such joint prayers offered for each other, then the holy angels look down from heaven, and are ready to carry such charitable desires to God Almighty, and he is ready to receive them; and that a Christian congregation calling thus upon God with one heart, and one voice, and in one reverent and humble posture, looks as beautifully as Jerusalem, that is at peace with itself.
He instructed them also why the prayer of our Lord is prayed often in every full service of the Church; namely, at the conclusion of the several parts of that service; and prayed then, not only because it was composed and commanded by our Jesus that made it, but as a perfect pattern for our less perfect forms of prayer, and therefore fittest to sum up and conclude all our imperfect petitions.
He instructed them also, that as by the second commandment we are required not to bow down, or worship an idol, or false God; so, by the contrary rule, we are to bow down and kneel, or stand up and worship the true God. And he instructed them why the Church required the congregation to stand up at the repetition of the creeds; namely, because they thereby declare both their obedience to the Church, and an assent to that faith into which they had been baptized. And he taught them, that in that shorter creed or doxology, so often repeated daily, they also stood up to testify their belief to be, that the God that they trusted in was one God, and three persons; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; to whom they and the priest gave glory. And because there had been heretics that had denied some of those three persons to be God, therefore the congregation stood up and honoured him, by confessing and saying It was so in the beginning, is now so, and shall ever be so, world without end. And all gave their assent to this belief, by standing up and saying Amen.
He instructed them also what benefit they had by the Churchs appointing the celebration of holy-days and the excellent use of them, namely, that they were set apart for particular commemorations of particular mercies received from Almighty God; andas Reverend Mr. Hooker saysto be the landmarks to distinguish times; for by them we are taught to take notice how time passes by us, and that we ought not to let the years pass without a celebration of praise for those mercies which those days give us occasion to remember, and therefore they were to note that the year is appointed to begin the 25th day of March; a day in which we commemorate the angels appearing to the Blessed Virgin, with the joyful tidings that she should conceive and bear a son, that should be the redeemer of mankind. And she did so forty weeks after this joyful salutation; namely, at our Christmas; a day in which we commemorate his birth with joy and praise: and that eight days after this happy birth we celebrate his circumcision; namely, in that which we call New Years day. And that, upon that day which we call Twelfth day, we commemorate the manifestation of the unsearchable riches of Jesus to the Gentiles: and that day we also celebrate the memory of his goodness in sending a star to guide the three wise men from the east to Bethlehem, that they might there worship, and present him with their oblation of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And heMr. Herbertinstructed them that Jesus was forty days after his birth presented by his blessed mother in the temple; namely, on that day which we call The Purification or the Blessed Virgin, Saint Mary. And he instructed them that by the Lent-fast we imitate and commemorate our Saviours humiliation in fasting forty days; and that we ought to endeavour to be like him in purity: and that on Good Friday we commemorate and condole his crucifixion; and on Easter commemorate his glorious resurrection. And he taught them that after Jesus had manifested himself to his disciples to be that Christ that was crucified, dead and buried; and by his appearing and conversing with his disciples for the space of forty days after his resurrection, he then, and not will the, ascended into heaven in the sight of those disciples; namely, on that day which we call the ascension, or Holy Thursday. And that we then celebrate the performance of the promise which he made to his disciples at or before his ascension; namely, that though he left them, yet he would send them the Holy Ghost to be their comforter; and that he did so on that day which the Church calls Whitsunday. Thus the Church keeps an historical and circular commemoration of times, as they pass by us; of such times as ought to incline us to occasional praises, for the particular blessings which we do, or might receive, by those holy commemorations.
He made them know also why the Church hath appointed emberweeks; and to know the reason why the commandments, and the epistles and gospels, were to be read at the altar or communion table: why the priest was to pray the Litany kneeling; and why to pray some collects standing: and he gave them many other observations, fit for his plain congregation, but not fit for me now to mention; for I must set limits to my pen, and not make that a treatise which I intended to be a much shorter account than I have made it; but I have done, when I have told the reader that he was constant in catechising every Sunday in the afternoon, and that his catechising was after his second lesson, and in the pulpit; and that he never exceeded his half-hour, and was always so happy as to have an obedient and full congregation.
And to this I must add, that if he were at any time too zealous in his sermons, it was an reproving the indecencies of the peoples behaviour in the time of divine service; and of those ministers that huddle up the Church prayers, without a visible reverence and affection; namely, such as seemed to say the Lords Prayer or a collect in a breath. But for himself, his custom was to stop betwixt every collect, and give the people time to consider what they had prayed, and to force their desires affectionately to God, before he engaged them into new petitions.
And by this account of his diligence to make his parishioners understand what they prayed, and why they praised and adored their Creator, I hope I shall the more easily obtain the readers belief to the following account of Mr. Herberts own practice; which was to appear constantly with his wife and three niecesthe daughters of a deceased sisterand his whole family, twice every day at the Church prayers in the chapel, which does almost join his parsonage-house. And for the time of his appearing, it was strictly at the canonical hours of ten and four: and then and here he lifted up pure and charitable hands to God in the midst of the congregation. And he would joy to have spent that time in that place, where the honour of his master Jesus dwelleth; and there, by that inward devotion which he testified constantly by an humble behaviour and visible adoration, he, like Joshua, brought not only his own household thus to serve the Lord; but brought most of his parishioners, and many gentlemen in the neighbourhood, constantly to make a part of his congregation twice a day: and some of the meaner sort of his parish did so love and reverence Mr. Herbert, that they would let their plough rest when Mr. Herberts saints-bell rung to prayers, that they might also offer their devotions to God with him; and would then return back to their plough. And his most holy life was such, that it begot such reverence to God, and to him, that they thought themselves the happier when they carried Mr. Herberts blessing back with them to their labour. Thus powerful was his reason and example to persuade others to a practical piety and devotion.
And his constant public prayers did never make him to neglect his own private devotions, nor those prayers that he thought himself bound to perform with his family, which always were a set form, and not long; and he did always conclude them with a collect which the Church hath appointed for the day or week. Thus he made every days sanctity a step towards that kingdom, where impurity cannot enter.
His chiefest recreation was music, in which heavenly art he was a most excellent master, and did himself compose many divine hymns and anthems, which he set and sung to his lute or viol: and though he was a lover of retiredness, yet his love to music was such, that he went usually twice every week, on certain appointed days, to the Cathedral Church in Salisbury; and at his return would say, That his time spent in prayer, and cathedral-music, elevated his soul, and was his heaven upon earth. But before his return thence to Bemerton, he would usually sing and play his part at an appointed private music-meeting; and, to justify this practice, he would often say, Religion does not banish mirth, but only moderates and sets rules to it.
In one of his walks to Salisbury, he overtook a gentleman, that is still living in that city; and in their walk together, Mr. Herbert took a fair occasion to talk with him, and humbly begged to be excused, if he asked him some account of his faith; and said, I do this the rather because though you are not of my parish, yet I receive tithe from you by the hand of your tenant; and, sir, I am the bolder to do it, because I know there be some sermonbearers that be like those fishes that always live in salt water, and yet are always fresh.
After which expression, Mr. Herbert asked him some needful questions, and having received his answer, gave him such rules for the trial of his sincerity, and for a practical piety, and in so loving and meek a manner, that the gentleman did so fall in love with him, and his discourse, that he would often contrive to meet him in his walk to Salisbury, or to attend him back to Bemerton; and still mentions the name of Mr. George Herbert with veneration, and still praiseth God for the occasion of knowing him.
In another of his Salisbury walks he met with a neighbour minister; and after some friendly discourse betwixt them, and some condolement for the decay of piety, and too general contempt of the clergy, Mr. Herbert took occasion to say:
And another cure would be for themselves to restore the great and neglected duty of catechising, on which the salvation of so many of the poor and ignorant lay-people does depend; but principally, that the clergy themselves would be sure to live unblamably; and that the dignified clergy especially which preach temperance would avoid surfeiting and take all occasions to express a visible humility and charity in their lives; for this would force a love and an imitation, and an unfeigned reverence from all that knew them to be such. (And for proof of this, we need no other testimony than the life and death of Dr. Lake, late Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells.) This, said Mr. Herbert, would be a cure for the wickedness and growing atheism of our age. And, my dear brother, till this be done by us, and done in earnest, let no man expect a reformation of the manners of the laity; for tis not learning, but this, this only that must do it; and, till then, the fault must lie at our doors.
In another walk to Salisbury he saw a poor man with a poorer horse, that was fallen under his load: they were both in distress, and needed present help; which Mr. Herbert perceiving, put off his canonical coat, and helped the poor man to unload, and after to load, his horse. The poor man blessed him for it, and he blessed the poor man; and was so like the good Samaritan, that he gave him money to refresh both himself and his horse; and told him, That if he loved himself he should be merciful to his beast. Thus he left the poor man: and at his coming to his musical friends at Salisbury, they began to wonder that Mr. George Herbert, which used to be so trim and clean, came into that company so soiled and discomposed: but he told them the occasion. And when one of the company told him He had disparaged himself by so dirty an employment, his answer was, That the thought of what he had done would prove music to him at midnight; and that the omission of it would have upbraided and made discord in his conscience, whensoever he should pass by that place: for if I be bound to pray for all that be in distress, I am sure that I am bound, so far as it is in my power, to practise what I pray for. And though I do not wish for the like occasion every day, yet let me tell you, I would not willingly pass one day of my life without comforting a sad soul, or showing mercy; and I praise God for this occasion. And now lets tune our instruments.
Thus, as our blessed Saviour, after his resurrection, did take occasion to interpret scripture to Cleopas, and that other disciple, which he met with and accompanied in their journey to Emmaus; so Mr. Herbert, in his path toward heaven, did daily take any fair occasion to instruct the ignorant, or comfort any that were in affliction; and did always confirm his precepts by showing humility and mercy, and ministering grace to the hearers.
And he was most happy in his wifes unforced compliance with his acts of charity, whom he made his almoner, and paid constantly into her hand a tenth penny of what money he received for tithe, and gave her power to dispose that to the poor of his parish, and with it a power to dispose a tenth part of the corn that came yearly into his barn: which trust she did most faithfully perform, and would often offer to him an account of her stewardship, and as often beg an enlargement of his bounty; for she rejoiced in the employment: and this was usually laid out by her in blankets and shoes for some such poor people as she knew to stand in most need of them. This as to her charity.And for his own, he set no limits to it: nor did ever turn his face from any that he saw in want, but would relieve them; especially his poor neighbours; to the meanest of whose houses he would go, and inform himself of their wants, and relieve them cheerfully, if they were in distress; and would always praise God, as much for being willing, as for being able to do it. And when he was advised by a friend to be more frugal, because he might have children, his answer was, He would not see the danger of want so far off: but being the scripture does so commend charity, as to tell us that charity is the top of Christian virtues, the covering of sins, the fulfilling of the law, the life of faith; and that charity hath a promise of the blessings of this life, and of a reward in that life which is to come: being these, and more excellent things are in scripture spoken of thee, O charity! and that, being all my tithes and Church dues are a deodate from thee, O my God! make me, O my God! so far to trust thy promise, as to return them back to thee; and by thy grace I will do so, in distributing them to any of thy poor members that are in distress, or do but bear the image of Jesus my master. Sir, said he to his friend, my wife hath a competent maintenance secured her after my death; and therefore, as this is my prayer, so this my resolution shall, by Gods grace, be unalterable.
This may be some account of the excellencies of the active part of his life; and thus he continued, till a consumption so weakened him as to confine him to his house, or to the chapel, which does almost join to it; in which he continued to read prayers constantly twice every day, though he were very weak: in one of which times of his reading his wife observed him to read in pain, and told him so, and that it wasted his spirits, and weakened him; and he confessed it did, but said, his life could not be better spent than in the service of his master Jesus, who had done and suffered so much for him. But, said he, I will not be willful; for though my spirit be willing, yet I find my flesh is weak; and therefore Mr. Bostock shall be appointed to read prayers for me to-morrow; and I will now be only a hearer of them, till this mortal shall put on immortality. And Mr. Bostock did the next day undertake and continue this happy employment till Mr. Herberts death. This Mr. Bostock was a learned and virtuous man, an old friend of Mr. Herberts, and then his curate to the church of Fulston, which is a mile from Bemerton, to which church Bemerton is but a chapel of ease. And this Mr. Bostock did also constantly supply the Church service for Mr. Herbert in that chapel, when the music-meeting at Salisbury caused his absence from it.
About one month before his death, his friend Mr. Farrer,for an account of whom I am by promise indebted to the reader, and intend to make him sudden payment,hearing of Mr. Herberts sickness, sent Mr. Edmund Dunconwho is now rector of Friar Barnet in the county of Middlesexfrom his house of Gidden Hall, which is near to Huntingdon, to see Mr. Herbert, and to assure him he wanted not his daily prayers for his recovery; and Mr. Duncon was to return back to Gidden, with an account of Mr. Herberts condition. Mr. Duncon found him weak, and at that time lying on his bed, or on a pallet; but at his seeing Mr. Duncon he raised himself vigorously, saluted him, and with some earnestness inquired the health of his brother Farrer; of which Mr. Duncon satisfied him, and after some discourse of Mr. Farrers holy life, and the manner of his constant serving God, he said to Mr. Duncon,Sir, I see by your habit that you are a priest, and I desire you to pray with me: which being granted, Mr. Duncon asked him, What prayers? To which Mr. Herberts answer was, O sir! the prayers of my mother, the Church of England: no other prayers are equal to them! But at this time I beg of you to pray only the Litany, for I am weak and faint: and Mr. Duncon did so. After which, and some other discourse of Mr. Farrer, Mrs. Herbert provided Mr. Duncon a plain supper, and a clean lodging, and he betook himself to rest. This Mr. Duncon tells me; and he tells me that, at his first view of Mr. Herbert, he saw majesty and humility so reconciled in his looks and behaviour, as begot in him an awful reverence for his person; and says, his discourse was so pious, and his motion so genteel and meek, that after almost forty years, yet they remain still fresh in his memory.
The next morning Mr. Duncon left him, and betook himself to a journey to Bath, but with a promise to return back to him within five days; and he did so: but before I shall say anything of what discourse then fell betwixt them two, I will pay my promised account of Mr. Farrer.
Mr. Nicholas Farrerwho got the reputation of being called St. Nicholas at the age of six yearswas born in London, and doubtless had good education in his youth; but certainly was, at an early age, made Fellow of Clare Hall in Cambridge; where he continued to be eminent for his piety, temperance, and learning. About the twenty-sixth year of his age he betook himself to travel: in which he added to his Latin and Greek a perfect knowledge of all the languages spoken in the western parts of our Christian world; and understood well the principles of their religion, and of their manner, and the reasons of their worship. In this his travel he met with many persuasions to come into a communion with that Church which calls itself Catholic; but he returned from his travels as he went, eminent for his obedience to his mother, the Church of England. In his absence from England, Mr. Farrers fatherwho was a merchantallowed him a liberal maintenance; and, not long after his return into England, Mr. Farrer had, by the death of his father, or an elder brother, or both, an estate left him that enabled him to purchase land to the value of four or five hundred pounds a year; the greatest part of which land was at Little Gidden, four or six miles from Huntingdon, and about eighteen from Cambridge; which place he chose for the privacy of it, and for the hall, which had the parish church or chapel belonging and adjoining near to it; for Mr. Farrer, having seen the manners and vanities of the world, and found them to be, as Mr. Herbert says, a nothing between two dishes, did so contemn it, that he resolved to spend the remainder of his life in mortifications, and in devotion, and charity, and to be always prepared for death. And his life was spent thus:
He and his family, which were like a little college, and about thirty in number, did most of them keep Lent and all ember-weeks strictly, both in fasting and using all those mortifications and prayers that the Church hath appointed to be then used: and he and they did the like constantly on Fridays, and on the vigils or eves to be fasted before the saints days: and this frugality and abstinence turned to the relief of the poor: but this was but a part of his charity; none but God and he knew the rest.
This family, which I have said to be in number about thirty, were a part of them his kindred, and the rest chosen to be of a temper fit to be moulded into a devout life; and all of them were for their dispositions serviceable, and quiet, and humble, and free from scandal. Having thus fitted himself for his family, he did, about the year 1630, betake himself to a constant and methodical service of God; and it was in this manner:He, being accompanied with most of his family, did himself use to read the common prayersfor he was a deaconevery day, at the appointed hours of ten and four, in the parish church, which was very near his house, and which he had both repaired and adorned; for it was fallen into a great ruin, by reason of a depopulation of the village before Mr. Farrer bought the manor. And he did also constantly read the matins every morning at the hour of six, either in the church, or in an oratory, which was within his own house. And many of the family did there continue with him after the prayers were ended, and there they spent some hours in singing hymns, or anthems, sometimes in the church, and often to an organ in the oratory. And there they sometimes betook themselves to meditate, or to pray privately, or to read a part of the New Testament to themselves, or to continue their praying or reading the psalms; and in case the psalms were not always read in the day, then Mr. Farrer and others of the congregation did at night, at the ringing of a watch-bell, repair to the church or oratory, and there betake themselves to prayer and lauding God, and reading the psalms that had not been read in the day: and when these, or any part of the congregation, grew weary or faint, the watch-bell was rung, sometimes before and sometimes after midnight; and then another part of the family rose, and maintained the watch, sometimes by praying, or singing lauds to God, or reading the psalms; and when, after some hours, they also grew weary or faint, then they rung the watch-bell and were also relieved by some of the former, or by a new part of the society, which continued their devotionsas hath been mentioneduntil morning. And it is to be noted, that in this continued serving of God, the psalter or the whole book of psalms, was in every four and twenty hours sung or read over, from the first to the last verse: and this was done as constantly as the sun runs his circle every day about the world, and then begins again the same instant that it ended.
Thus did Mr. Farrer and his happy family serve God day and night; thus did they always behave themselves as in his presence. And they did always eat and drink by the strictest rules of temperance; eat and drink so as to be ready to rise at midnight, or at the call of the watch-bell, and perform their devotions to God. And it is fit to tell the reader, that many of the clergy, that were more inclined to practical piety and devotion than to doubtful and needless disputations, did often come to Gidden Hall, and make themselves a part of that happy society, and stay a week or more, and then join with Mr. Farrer and the family in these devotions, and assist and ease him or them in their watch by night. And these various devotions had never less than two of the domestic family in the night; and the watch was always kept in the church or oratory, unless in extreme cold winter nights, and then it was maintained in a parlour, which had a fire in it; and the parlour was fitted for that purpose. And this course of piety, and great liberality to his poor neighbours, Mr. Farrer maintained till his death, which was in the year 1639.
Mr. Farrers and Mr. Herberts devout lives were both so noted, that the general report of their sanctity gave them occasion to renew that slight acquaintance which was begun at their being contemporaries in Cambridge; and this new holy friendship was long maintained without any interview, but only by loving and endearing letters. And one testimony of their friendship and pious designs may appear by Mr. Farrers commending the Considerations of John Valdessoa book which he had met with in his travels, and translated out of Spanish into Englishto be examined and censored by Mr. Herbert before it was made public: which excellent book Mr. Herbert did read, and return back with many marginal notes, as they be now printed with it; and with them, Mr. Herberts affectionate letter to Mr. Farrer.
This John Valdesso was a Spaniard, and was for his learning and virtue much valued and loved by the great Emperor Charles the Fifth, whom Valdesso had followed as a cavalier all the time of his long and dangerous wars: and when Valdesso grew old, and grew weary both of war and the world, he took his fair opportunity to declare to the Emperor that his resolution was to decline his Majestys service, and betake himself to a quiet and contemplative life, because there ought to be a vacancy of time betwixt fighting and dying. The Emperor had himself, for the same, or other like reasons, put on the same resolution: but God and himself did, till then, only know them; and he did therefore desire; Valdesso to consider well of what he had said, and to keep his purpose within his own breast, till they two might have a second opportunity of a friendly discourse; which Valdesso promised to do.
In the meantime the Emperor appoints privately a day for him and Valdesso to meet again; and after a pious and free discourse, they both agreed on a certain day to receive the blessed sacrament publicly; and appointed an eloquent and devout friar to preach a sermon of contempt of the world, and of the happiness and benefit of a quiet and contemplative life; which the friar did most affectionately. After which sermon, the Emperor took occasion to declare openly, That the preacher had begot in him a resolution to lay down his dignities, and to forsake the world, and betake himself to a monastical life. And he pretended he had persuaded John Valdesso to do the like: but this is most certain, that after the Emperor had called his son Philip out of England, and resigned to him all his kingdoms, that then the Emperor and John Valdesso did perform their resolutions.
This account of John Valdesso I received from a friend, that had it from the mouth of Mr. Farrer. And the reader may note that in this retirement John Valdesso writ his Hundred and Ten Considerations, and many other treatises of worth, which want a second Mr. Farrer to procure and translate them.
After this account of Mr. Farrer and John Valdesso, I proceed to my account of Mr. Herbert and Mr. Duncon, who according to his promise returned from Bath the fifth day, and then found Mr. Herbert much weaker than he left him; and therefore their discourse could not be long: but at Mr. Duncons parting with him, Mr. Herbert spoke to this purpose: Sir, I pray you give my brother Farrer an account of the decaying condition of my body, and tell him I beg him to continue his daily prayers for me; and let him know that I have considered, that God only is what he would be; and that I am, by his grace, become now so like him, as to be pleased with what pleaseth him; and tell him, that I do not repine but am pleased with my want of health: and tell him, my heart is fixed on that place where true joy is only to be found; and that I long to be there, and do wait for my appointed change with hope and patience. Having said this, he did, with so sweet a humility as seemed to exalt him, bow down to Mr. Duncon, and with a thoughtful and contented look, say to him, Sir, I pray deliver this little book to my dear brother Farrer, and tell him he shall find in it a picture of the many spiritual conflicts that have passed betwixt God and my soul, before I could subject mine to the will of Jesus my master: in whose service I have now found perfect freedom. Desire him to read it; and then, if he can think it may turn to the advantage of any dejected poor soul, let it be made public; if not, let him burn it; for I and it are less than the least of Gods mercies. Thus meanly did this humble man think of this excellent book, which now bears the name of The Temple: or, Sacred Poems and Private Ejaculations; of which Mr. Farrer would say, There was in it the picture of a divine soul in every page: and that the whole book was such a harmony of holy passions, as would enrich the world with pleasure and piety. And it appears to have done so; for there have been more than twenty thousand of them sold since the first impression.
And this ought to be noted, that when Mr. Farrer sent this book to Cambridge to be licensed for the press, the Vice-Chancellor would by no means allow the two so much noted verses,
Religion stands a tiptoe in our land,
Ready to pass to the American stand,
to be printed; and Mr. Farrer would by no means allow the book to be printed and want them. But after some time, and some arguments for and against their being made public, the Vice-Chancellor said, I knew Mr. Herbert well, and know that he had many heavenly speculations, and was a divine poet: but I hope the world will not take him to be an inspired prophet, and therefore I license the whole book. So that it came to be printed without the diminution or addition of a syllable, since it was delivered into the hands of Mr. Duncon, save only that Mr. Farrer hath added that excellent preface that is printed before it.
At the time of Mr. Duncons leaving Mr. Herbert,which was about three weeks before his death,his old and dear friend Mr. Woodnot came from London to Bemerton, and never left him till he had seen him draw his last breath, and closed his eyes on his death-bed. In this time of his decay, he was often visited and prayed for by all the clergy that lived near to him, especially by his friends the Bishop and Prebends of the Cathedral Church in Salisbury; but by none more devoutly than his wife, his three nieces,then a part of his family,and Mr. Woodnot, who were the sad witnesses of his daily decay; to whom he would often speak to this purpose: I now look back upon the pleasures of my life past, and see the content I have taken in beauty, in wit, in music, and pleasant conversation, are now all passed by me like a dream, or as a shadow that returns not, and are now all become dead to me, or I to them; and I see, that as my father and generation hath done before me, so I also shall now suddenly (with Job) make my bed also in the dark; and I praise God I am prepared for it; and I praise him that I am not to learn patience now I stand in such need of it; and that I have practised mortification, and endeavoured to die daily, that I might not die eternally; and my hope is, that I shall shortly leave this valley of tears, and be free from all fevers and pain; and, which will be a more happy condition, I shall be free from sin, and all the temptations and anxieties that attend it: and this being past, I shall dwell in the New Jerusalem; dwell there with men made perfect; dwell where these eyes shall see my master and Saviour Jesus; and with him see my dear mother, and all my relations and friends. But I must die, or not come to that happy place. And this is my content, that I am going daily towards it: and that every day which I have lived, hath taken a part of my appointed time from me; and that I shall live the less time, for having lived this and the day past. These, and the like expressions, which he uttered often, may be said to be his enjoyment of heaven before he enjoyed it. The Sunday before his death, he rose suddenly from his bed or couch, called for one of his instruments, took it into his hand, and said,
Thus he continued meditating, and praying, and rejoicing, till the day of his death; and on that day said to Mr. Woodnot, My dear friend, I am sorry I have nothing to present to my merciful God but sin and misery; but the first is pardoned, and a few hours will now put a period to the latter; for I shall suddenly go hence, and be no more seen. Upon which expression Mr. Woodnot took occasion to remember him of the re-edifying Layton Church, and his many acts of mercy. To which he made answer, saying, They be good works, if they be sprinkled with the blood of Christ, and not otherwise. After this discourse he became more restless, and his soul seemed to be weary of her earthly tabernacle; and this uneasiness became so visible, that his wife, his three nieces, and Mr. Woodnot stood constantly about his bed, beholding him with sorrow, and an unwillingness to lose the sight of him, whom they could not hope to see much longer. As they stood thus beholding him, his wife observed him to breathe faintly, and with much trouble, and observed him to fall into a sudden agony; which so surprised her, that she fell into a sudden passion, and required of him to know how he did. To which his answer was, that he had passed a conflict with his last enemy, and had overcome him by the merits of his master Jesus. After which answer he looked up, and saw his wife and nieces weeping to an extremity, and charged them, if they loved him, to withdraw into the next room, and there pray every one alone for him; for nothing but their lamentations could make his death uncomfortable. To which request their sighs and tears would not suffer them to make any reply; but they yielded him a sad obedience, leaving only with him Mr. Woodnot and Mr. Bostock. Immediately after they had left him, he said to Mr. Bostock, Pray, sir, open that door, then look into that cabinet, in which you may easily find my last will, and give it into my hand: which being done, Mr. Herbert delivered it into the hand of Mr. Woodnot, and said, My old friend, I here deliver you my last will, in which you will find that I have made you my sole executor for the good of my wife and nieces; and I desire you to show kindness to them, as they shall need it: I do not desire you to be just; for I know you will be so for your own sake; but I charge you, by the religion of our friendship, to be careful of them. And having obtained Mr. Woodnots promise to be so, he said, I am now ready to die. After which words he said, Lord, forsake me not now my strength faileth me: but grant me mercy for the merits of my Jesus. And now, LordLord, now receive my soul. And with those words he breathed forth his divine soul, without any apparent disturbance, Mr. Woodnot and Mr. Bostock attending his last breath, and closing his eyes.
Thus he lived, and thus he died, like a saint, unspotted of the world, full of alms-deeds, full of humility, and all the examples of a virtuous life; which I cannot conclude better, than with this borrowed observation:
Mr. George Herberts have done so to this, and will doubtless do so to succeeding generations. I have but this to say more of him: that if Andrew Melvin died before him, then George Herbert died without an enemy. I wishif God shall be so pleasedthat I may be so happy as to die like him.
She continued his disconsolate widow about six years, bemoaning herself, and complaining, that she had lost the delight of her eyes; but more that she had lost the spiritual guide for her poor soul; and would often say, O that I had, like holy Mary, the mother of Jesus, treasured up all his sayings in my heart! But since I have not been able to do that, I will labour to live like him, that where he now is I may be also. And she would often say,as the prophet David for his son Absalom,O that I had died for him! Thus she continued mourning till time and conversation had so moderated her sorrows, that she became the happy wife of Sir Robert Cook, of Highnam, in the county of Gloucester, Knight. And though he put a high value on the excellent accomplishments of her mind and body, and was so like Mr. Herbert, as not to govern like a master, but as an affectionate husband; yet she would even to him often take occasion to mention the name of Mr. George Herbert, and say, that name must live in her memory till she put off mortality. But Sir Robert she had only one child, a daughter, whose parts and plentiful estate make her happy in this world, and her well using of them gives a fair testimony that she will be so in that which is to come.
Mrs. Herbert was the wife of Sir Robert eight years, and lived his widow about fifteen; all which time she took a pleasure in mentioning and commending the excellencies of Mr. George Herbert. She died in the year 1663, and lies buried at Highman: Mr. Herbert in his own church, under the altar, and covered with a gravestone without any inscription.