“Herbert's metrical forms... are both original and varied. To have invented and perfected so many variations in the form of lyrical verse is evidence of native genius, hard work and a passion for perfection... [His poems show] evidence of Herbert's care for workmanship, his restless exploration of variety, and of a kind of gaiety of spirit, a joy in composition which engages our delighted sympathy. The exquisite variations of form in... The Temple show a resourcefulness of invention which seems inexhaustible, and for which I know no parallel in English poetry.” -T.S. Eliot
THE RARE 1633 SECOND EDITION (FOLLOWING THE EXTREMELY SCARCE FIRST EDITION OF THE SAME YEAR) OF ONE OF THE MOST INFLUENTIAL WORKS OF ENGLISH POETRY. A BEAUTIFUL COPY.
“Educated at home, at Westminster School and at Trinity College, Cambridge, [Herbert] was in 1620 elected orator of the university, a position that he described as ‘the finest place in the university.’ His two immediate predecessors in the office had risen to high positions in the state, and Herbert was much involved with the court. During Herbert’s academic career, his only published verse was that written for special occasions in Greek and Latin. By1625 Herbert’s sponsors at court were dead or out of favour, and he turned to the church, being ordained deacon. He resigned as orator in 1627 and in 1630 was ordained priest and became rector at Bemerton. He became friends with Nicholas Ferrar, who had founded a religious community at nearby Little Gidding, and devoted himself to his rural parish and the reconstruction of his church. Throughout his life he wrote poems, and from his deathbed he sent a manuscript volume to Ferrar, asking him to decide whether to publish or destroy them. Ferrar published them with the title The Temple: Sacred Poems and Private Ejaculations in 1633.
“Herbert described his poems as ‘a picture of the many spiritual conflicts that have passed between 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.’ Herbert shares his conflicts with John Donne, the archetypal metaphysical poet and a family friend. As well as personal poems, The Temple includes doctrinal poems, notably ‘The Church Porch,’ the first in the volume, and the last, ‘The Church Militant.’ Other poems are concerned with church ritual.
“The main resemblance of Herbert’s poems to Donne’s is in the use of common language in the rhythms of speech. Some of his poems, such as ‘The Altar’ and ‘Easter Wings,’ are ‘pattern’ poems, the lines forming the shape of the subject... Samuel Taylor Coleridge in the 19th century wrote of Herbert’s diction, ‘Nothing can be more pure, manly, and unaffected.’ Herbert was a versatile master of metrical form and all aspects of the craft of verse” (Britannica).
Enormously popular upon publication, The Temple went through thirteen editions by 1709 and appealed to a readership spanning the political and ecclesiastical spectrum: Charles I read Herbert's poems when imprisoned in Carisbrooke Castle before his execution, while at the same time The Temple was undoubtedly admired by at least one of the regicides (Herbert's own stepfather) and recommended as devotional reading by the chaplain to Oliver Cromwell, Peter Sterry. Herbert's verses were put to an extraordinary variety of uses: The Temple was cited in treatises against Quakers and to reform 'drunkards and tipplers'; parts of it were translated into scholarly Latin while other verses were turned into a devotional alphabet for children; lyrics were set to music by Lawes, Purcell, and Blow, and in 1697 a volume of Select Hymns Taken out of Mr Herbert's ‘Temple’ was published for congregational use (Wilcox, 153–68). The moderate nonconformist Richard Baxter spoke for many seventeenth-century readers when he praised The Temple as a text in which 'Heart-work and Heaven-work' were combined (Baxter, sig. A7r)” (Oxford National Biography).
Herbert’s reputation was further elevated in the 20th century when the Metaphysical Poets were championed by influential literary figures, most notably T.S. Eliot.
Provenance: The Robert S. Pirie copy, bought by Pirie from Seven Gables in 1964; Rufus Greene (inscription on title-page: "London July 23 1728 | Rufus Greene | his Book"); Catharine Amory (inscription on title-page verso: " formerly belonging to her Great Grandfather Rufus Greene").
Cambridge: T. Buck, and R. Daniel, 1633. 12mo (5 3/4 x 3 1/8 in.; 146 x 147 mm), contemporary sheep with blind- and gilt-ruled boards with a gilt angel in the center of each board; edges sprinkled red. Title within a border of printer's ornaments. Binding with only very light wear; text very clean.
AN EXQUISITE COPY IN VERY HANDSOME CONTEMPORARY SHEEP.
Price: $9,500 .