jueves, 3 de noviembre de 2016

Henry Vaughan, Silurist

From George Saintsbury's Short History of English Literature (1907)


The contrast between Crashaw and Herbert is repeated in that between Herbert and Vaughan (NOTE 1), but with certain variations. Henry Vaughan—"Silurist," as he called himself, from the seat of his family in South Wales, "Swan of Usk," Olor Iscanus, from the river on whose banks he lived—was born in or about 1622, at a place called Newton, St. Bridget. He and his twin brother Thomas (a poet likewise and a diligent writer on occult and "Hermetic" subjects) went to Jesus College, Oxford. He seems to have begun the study of law in London, but to have turned to that of medicine. He may have actually served in the Royalist forces during the Rebellion, and was certainly a strong partisan of the King's cause. He retired quietly to Brecon during the usurpation and there practised physic. Hardly anything is known of his long life. He may have had two wives; he certainly had one, who survived him at his death, on St. George's Day, 1695. He was the last of the Caroline school proper.

NOTE 1. The Poems of Vaughan, after being completely accessible only in one of Dr. Grosart's privately printed editions, have been at last edited by Mr. E. K. Chambers in two volumes of "The Muses' Library" (London, 1896). The Sacred Poems were provided long since in the Aldine series (ed. Lyte, often reprinted), and there is an edition of the Secular Poems by J. R. Tutin (Hull, 1893).

His poetry as originally published is contained in four volumes—Poems, chiefly secular, in 1646; Silex Scintillans, his principal book, and wholly sacred, in 1651; Olor Iscanus, also sacred, a year later; and Thalia Rediviva, many years afterwards, in 1678, which retruns to the secular. There is no doubt (we have his word for it, and without his word there could not be any) that Vaughan was greatly influenced in all the more remarkable part of his work by Herbert whose poems were published twenty years before Silex Scintillans.  The relation between the two men is altogether that of master and pupil, but in divers ways. Often Vaughan copies Herbert directly. But the spirit of the two was different and resulted differently. Vaughan is not more or less pious than Herbert, but his piety is much more mystical; his thoughts are deeper and farther brought. And his expression is much less equable. He is seldom fantastic to frigidity, but he is often meditative to dulness. He never disgusts, but he sometimes tires, because he has not cared, or has not been able, to give his thought clear poetic expression.

There was no real reason on the moral side for the compunction which Vaughan felt, late in life, expressed for his early secular poems. But as a profane poet he has nothing above the average of dozens of half or wholly forgotten versifiers of his time, and is often below that average. His love-poems to Amoret and Efesia are sometimes pretty, though never distinguished; and in octossyllables, where he chiefly follows the manner of Jonson, he is at about his happiest. His decasyllabic couplets are, as Mr. Chambers has justly observed, based on Donne, and on the worst part of Donne, the designedly crabbed form of the Satires and some of the Epistles. It is as the author of the Silex Scintillans that Vaughan holds his place. And the title itself, which is explained in the frontispiece—a heart of flint burning and bleeding under the stroke of a thunderbolt from a cloud—is approopriate in more than the pious sense. At times there is in Vaughan genuine blood and fire; but it is by no means always, or even very often, that the flint is kindled and melted to achieved expression. His most famous and successful things, "They are all gone into the world of light"; "The World," with its magificent opening—

I saw Eternity the other night
Like a great ring of pure and endless light
      All calm as it was bright;

"The Retreat," with its suggestions of Wordsworth's great ode; "The Storm," with its intensely realised imagery; the quaint and pleasant piece beginning, "I walked the other day to spend my hour"; the beautiful "Joy"; "The Garland," with its wonderfully striking picture of youthful delusions, and the sharp turn, "I met with a dead man, Who thus to me began"; "The Waterfall", with its Miltonic richness and appropriateness of epithet, and a marvellous adaptation of sound to sense—these and some othe things are not merely in company unworthy of them as far as the achieved expression goes, but are even for the most part unworthy of themselves. But this inequality of expression is redeemed by the almost constant presence of a rare and precious tone of thought. The great age of the Church of England finds in Vaughan, at his best, its best poetical exponent. He stops short of the almost maudlin intoxication with divinity which carried Crashaw out of the Church altogether, and he far transcends the decent piety of Herbert.

The pair chosen to follow this trio is in general character strangely contrasted with it, though a certain bridge of transition exists in Herrick's "Divine" poems. Both Herrick and Carew are far greater artists than any of the three just mentioned. But despite of this and of the fact that their temper is far more mundane, they are still alike.


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