In This Article George Herbert

  • Introduction
  • Bibliographies
  • Concordance
  • Journals
  • Editions
  • Data Sources
  • Books on Herbert and Donne
  • Comparative Study and Psychology
  • Technical Studies
  • Collected Essays
  • The Country Parson (Also Known as A Priest to the Temple)
  • International Perspectives
  • Editing George Herbert
  • Teaching George Herbert

British and Irish Literature George Herbert
by
Chauncey Wood
  • LAST MODIFIED: 20 September 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0077

Introduction

A few months after George Herbert’s death in 1633 his friend Nicholas Ferrar took a manuscript of his English poems to the Cambridge University Press, where they were published as The Temple. The book never went out of print during the remainder of the century, and versions of it continued almost without interruption up to the present day. In 2007, some three hundred seventy-four years after the first edition, Cambridge University Press brought out a new edition of The Temple along with Herbert’s other English poems. While the first edition was a small, modest book, interest in Herbert, both scholarly and general, has increased enormously, and this later edition, by Helen Wilcox, extends over more than seven hundred pages with text and apparatus. Herbert’s prose work, The Country Parson (sometimes called A Priest to the Temple), has also enjoyed success and is now included with several popular editions of the poems. The major modern edition of Herbert’s entire works, including Latin poems, letters, his will, and more, is by Canon F. E. Hutchinson and was first published in 1941. Herbert’s life has also attracted attention, and there have been three biographies of him published in the past sixty years, as well as a deeper study in the Literary Lives series. In addition, there is a book about the entire Herbert family. Scholarly interest in Herbert has grown substantially since the 1950s. More than forty books on Herbert have appeared in that time, and chapters on Herbert have appeared in a great many books on poetry in the early modern period. In 1977 the George Herbert Journal began publication, and it continues to the present day. Regular academic conferences devoted solely to Herbert began in 2007 and are now held on a three-year cycle—the next scheduled for 2014. That the priest of a rural parish, whose English poetry was circulated but not published in his lifetime, should make such a mark is astonishing in one way but understandable in another. His devotional poetry is technically brilliant and emotionally powerful—clear on first reading, yet dense enough to draw the reader back for further contemplation. His prose treatise on The Country Parson has forceful prose, practical advice, and conveys a strong sense of commitment to his purpose. Simply put, Herbert was a great writer, and great writers last.

General Overviews

Because Herbert was primarily a devotional poet, all general books about him offer some consideration of his religion, which is inseparable from his poetry. By the same token, a religious poet has led a religious life, so discussions of Herbert’s life are regularly a feature of these books. Books that concentrate on his religion, or that foreground his religion for an approach to his poetry, are treated in a different section. Because of the general sameness of approach to Herbert, these general books are divided chronologically; no other division will work. Note that several titles in this section that use religious language in their subtitles are nevertheless included here because they are judged to be general approaches.

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