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GEORGE HERBERT was born in 1593 at Montgomery Castle, and educated at Westminster School, and at Trinity College, Cambridge, of which he became fellow. In 1619 he was chosen university orator, which office he held for eight years, much to the satisfaction of his hearers, and particularly of those great personages whom he had occasionally to address. On more than one
occasion he pleased James I. very much, whom he also pleased by his apt and ingenious replies to Andrew Melville, the Presbyterian demagogue, at the Hampton Court conference. His talents recommended him to the notice of the celebrated Andrewes, Bishop of Winchester, and of Lord Bacon, who is said to have entertained such a high opinion of him, as to consult him in his writings before they went to press; he also dedicated to him his translation of some of the Psalms into English verse. Being at this time a favourite with the king, and "not meanly valued and loved by the most eminent and
most powerful of the nobility," he began to cherish hopes of rising at court. With this view he frequently left Cambridge to attend the king, and he seldom visited Cambridge unless when his majesty was there. But, as Walton says, "God, in Whom there is an unseen chain of causes," terminated his hopes of rising at court by the deaths of the Duke of Richmond and the Marquis of Hamilton, his chief patrons, and, about the same time, by that of King James. The loss of these friends appears to have given a new turn to his mind. He now left London, and went to the house of a gentleman in Kent, where he lived in great privacy, and, after having taken a careful retrospect of his past views and hopes, he determined to dedicate himself to the ministry.
"He did on his return," says Isaac Walton, "acquaint a court friend with his resolution to enter into sacred orders, who persuaded him to alter it, as too mean an employment, and too much below his birth, and the excellent abilities and endowments of his mind. whom he replied, It hath been formerly judged that the domestic servants of the King of Heaven should be of the noblest families on earth; and though the iniquity of the late times have made clergymen meanly valued, and the sacred name of priest contemptible, yet I will labour to make it honourable, by consecrating all my learning, and all my poor abilities, to advance the glory of that God that gave them; knowing that I can never do too much for Him that hath done so much for me as to make me a Christian. And I will labour to be like my Saviour, by making humility lovely in the eyes of all men, and by following the merciful and meek example of my dear Jesus.'
"This was then his resolution, and the God of constancy, Who intended him for a great example of virtue, continued him in it; for within that year he was made
deacon, but the day when, or by whom, I cannot learn ; but that he was about that time made deacon is most certain; for I find by the records of Lincoln, that he was made prebend of Layton Ecclesia, in the diocese of Lincoln, July 15, 1626, and that this prebend was given him by John, then lord bishop of that see. And now he had a fit occasion to shew that piety and bounty that was derived from his generous mother and his other memorable ancestors: and the occasion was this.
"This Layton Ecclesia is a village near to Spalden, in the county of Huntingdon, and the greatest part of the parish church was fallen down, and that of it which stood was so decayed, so little, and so useless, that the parishioners could not meet to perform their duty to God in public prayer and praises; and thus it had been for almost twenty years, in which time there had been some faint endeavours for a public collection to enable the parishioners to rebuild it, but with no success, till Mr. Herbert undertook it; and he, by his own, and the contribution of many of his kindred and other noble friends, undertook the re-edification of it, and made it so much his whole business, that he became restless till he saw it finished as it now stands; being, for the work: manship, a costly mosaic; for the form, an exact cross; and for the decency and beauty, I am assured it is the most remarkable parish church that this nation affords. He lived to see it so wainscoated as to be exceeded by none; and by his order the reading-pew and pulpit were a little distant from each other, and both of an equal height; for he would often say, They should neither have a precedency or priority of the other; but that prayer and preaching, being equally useful, might agree like brethren, and have an equal honour and estimation.'
Before I proceed farther I must look back to the time of Mr. Herbert's being made prebend, and tell the
reader, that not long after, his mother being informed of his intentions to rebuild that church, and apprehending the great trouble and charge that he was like to draw upon himself, his relations, and friends, before it could be finished, sent for him from London to Chelsea, (where she then dwelt,) and at his coming, said:George, I sent for you, to persuade you to commit simony, by giving your patron as good a gift as he has given to you; namely, that you give him back his prebend; for, George, it is not for your weak body and empty purse to undertake to build churches.' Of which he desired he might have a day's time to consider, and then made her an answer. And at his return to her the next day, when he had first desired her blessing, and she had given it him, his next request was, 'That she would, at the age of thirty-three years, allow him to become an undutiful son, for he had made a vow to God, that if he were able he would rebuild that church.' then shewed her such reasons for his resolution, that she presently subscribed to be one of his benefactors, and undertook to solicit William, Earl of Pembroke, to become another, who subscribed for fifty pounds; and not long after, by a witty and persuasive letter from Mr. Herbert, made it fifty pounds more."
About 1629 he was seized with a quotidian ague, which obliged him to remove to Woodford, in Essex, for change of air; and when, after his ague had abated, some consumptive appearances were apprehended, he went to Dauntsey, in Wiltshire, the seat of Lord Danvers, Earl of Danby. He afterwards married Jane Danvers, daughter of Mr. Charles Danvers, of Bainton, in Wiltshire. About three months after his marriage, Dr. Curle, who was then rector of Bemerton, in Wiltshire, was made Bishop of Bath and Wells, (and not long after translated to Winchester,) and by that means the presentation of a clerk to Bemerton did not fall to the Earl