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SACRED POETS OF THE SEVENTEENTH
ALL who have read Isaak Walton's “ Lives," remember the following incident :-“In a 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 lean, 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 shewing mercy; and I praise God for this occasion. And now let's tune our instruments.””
that massacre, which is still fresh in our memories, will find it very hard to determine how many degrees of innocency and good nature, or of coldness and indifferency in religion, are necessary to overbalance the fury of a blind zeal and a misguided conscience.
I doubt not but Papists are made like other men. Nature hath not generally given them such savage and cruel dispositions, but their religion hath made them so. Whereas true Christianity is not only the best, but the best-natured institution in the world; and so far as any Church is departed from good nature, and become cruel and barbarous, so far is it degenerated from Christianity. I am loth to say it, and yet I am confident
I it is very true, that many Papists would have been excellent persons, and very good men, if their religion had not hindered them; if the doctrines and principles of their Church had not perverted and spoiled their natural dispositions.
I speak not this to exasperate you, worthy patriots and the great bulwark of our religion, to any unreasonable or unnecessary, much less unchristian severities against them : no, let us not do like them; let us never do anything for religion that is contrary to it. But I speak it to awaken your care thus far, that if their priests will always be putting these pernicious principles into the minds of the people, effectual provision may be made that it may never be in their power again to put them in practice. We have found by experience, that ever since the Reformation they have been continually pecking at the foundations of our peace and religion; when, God knows, we have been so far from thirsting after their blood, that we did not so much as desire their disquiet, but in order to our own necessary safety, and indeed to theirs.
What a fine picture of the genuine man, the Christian gentleman! A heartless blockhead—and wooden heads have usually hearts to correspond - would have laughed at the poor man's perplexities; a dandy would not have soiled his fine clothes; a mere sentimentalist would have gone home and written a sonnet; and the magistrate or clergyman, conservative of his dignity, would, commander-wise, have directed the packman what to do, or at best would have sent to his assistance the first labourer he met. But the rector of Bemerton was a good Samaritan. After the canonical coat was off, there still remained a hero—that next thing to a saint--the man who loves his neighbour as himself, and who feels that whatsoever in itself is right, is always sufficiently respectable. What made the action all the more beautiful was the performer's rare refinement. Born in the ancestral castle of Montgomery, the brother of a peer, himself for many years the frequenter of the court, the guest and favourite of the king, he had withal, what courtiers sometimes lack, a noble mind, and it was within a palatial, princely homestead that his fancy lived and moved. On this occasion he was on his way to the cathedral to enjoy a feast of music—possibly composing a stanza for “The Temple," as he paced across the plain; and it is one of the rarest and loveliest combinations when practical beneficence co-exists with an exquisite idealism-when, on a moment's warning, the seraph can become the ministering spirit, and from amidst the inusic of the spheres he can at once descend to such deeds of mercy as are needed on our world's highways.
The incident is an epitome of Herbert's pastoral life, and it is the key to most of his poetry, in which the beauty of holiness is made to invest the most common objects and actions, and in which this world and the next are joined together in a blessed harmony.
In keeping, too, with such a life, was his departure out of it. He had reached his fortieth year, and on the Sunday be
fore he died, he rose suddenly from his bed, and, calling for his lute, he said
My God, my God,
Shall have his attribute to sing."
“ The Sundays of man's life,
More plentiful than hope.” And thus, as Walton records, "he continued meditating, and praying, and rejoicing till the day of his death.” On that day he said to his friend, Mr Woodnot, who had come from London to see him, “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,” Mr Woodnot reminded him of the church which he had rebuilt, and his many other deeds of beneficence, to which the dying Christian replied, "They be good works, if they be sprinkled with the blood of Christ, and not otherwise." Afterwards he appeared to be in great agony, and when his wife asked what ailed him, he said, “I have passed a conflict with my last
enemy, but have overcome him by the merits of my Master, Jesus.” His last words were, “Lord, forsake me not, now my strength faileth me; but grant me mercy for the merits of my Jesus. And now, Lord-Lord, now receive my soul;" words which were hardly uttered when his spirit passed away.
Herbert was born April 3, 1593. He studied at Cambridge, became a Fellow of Trinity, and was chosen public orator to the University, in which office he obtained the notice and the