George Herbert


Amy Charles's Life

Amy M. Charles, A Life of George Herbert, (Ithaca & London, 1977).


The Complete Works in Verse and Prose of George Herbert, ed. Alexander B. Grosart, 3 vols (London, 1874).


The Works of George Herbert, ed. F. E. Hutchinson (Oxford, 1941; reprinted 1967).

McCloskey & Murphy

The Latin Poetry of George Herbert: A Bilingual Edition, trans. Mark McCloskey and Paul R. Murphy (Athens, Ohio, 1965).


The English Works of George Herbert, ed. George Herbert Palmer, 3 vols (London, 1905).


The Principal Manuscripts

There are two important manuscripts of Herbert's poems. One is the Dr Williams Manuscript (Dr Williams's Library MS Jones B. 62), containing early versions of 78 English poems and a series of Latin poems, and which is the onely collection of Herbert's poems bearing the poet's own handwriting. The other is the Tanner Manuscript (Bodleian MS Tanner 307), a scribal manuscript containing 167 poems which were subsequently published as The Temple (Cambridge 1633), this manuscript possibly prepared for obtaining a licence for that edition. Both manuscripts have claims to authority and both appear to have passed through the hands of Nicholas Ferrar (1593-1637), of the Little Gidding community, who was in effect Herbert's literary executor. Neither of these manuscripts is the ‘little Book’ which, according to Herbert's biographer, Izaak Walton (1670), Herbert gave on his death-bed to Edmund Duncon to convey to Ferrar for printing.

Other manuscript copies of poems by Herbert, the majority probably transcribed from printed sources, occur chiefly in commonplace books and miscellanies. These are evidence of the considerable popularity of Herbert's poems until well into the eighteenth century. Among other quite extensive copies of Herbert's poems, a particularly notable example is the 236-page transcript of most of The Temple, made in 1681-2, with the texts adapted for hymns to be sung to Psalm tunes. This manuscript is now at Harvard (MS Eng 1544 (Lobby X.1.1)) and given entries below.

The Canon

The canon of Herbert's poems accepted for present purposes is based on Hutchinson, with the addition of six more recently discovered poems. Four of these are Latin poems largely written when Herbert was Public Orator at Cambridge (HrG 314, HrG 326-327.5), together with an epitaph on Edward Gale which is ascribed to ‘G: H’ and may possibly be by him (HrG 314.5). Besides Herbert's other Latin poems and some English poems in the Williams MS that were not published in The Temple but included in Hutchinson, a few English poems that are attributed to Herbert (or ‘G. H.’) elsewhere were cautiously categorised by him as ‘Doubtful Poems’ and are accordingly given entries below as ‘English Poems of Uncertain Authorship’ (HrG 290.2-301.5), to which may be added a ‘new’ poem ‘suppos'd by Mr Geo Herbert’ given the entry HrG 290.1.


Besides the Dr Williams Manuscript, a relatively small number of known examples of Herbert's handwriting take the form of letters and documents. They can be briefly recorded as follows.

An autograph letter by Herbert (the address in another hand), to Sir Robert Harley, 26 December 1618, is now among the Portland Manuscripts in the British Library (Add.MS 70001, f. 157r-v; formerly Loan MS 29/202). The text is edited in Hutchinson, pp. 367-9, and a facsimile of the first page iappears in IELM, I.ii (1980), Facsimile XX, p. 188.

An undated Latin epistle to Lancelot Andrewes, Bishop of Winchester, probably written in the autumn of 1619, is in the British Library (Sloane MS 118, ff. 34r-5v). It is edited in Hutchinson, pp. 471-3, and a facsimile example is in Greg, English Literary Autographs, Plate XLIX(d-e).

A letter now among the Ferrar Papers at Magdalene College, Cambridge, is a memorandum written in October 1631 for one or more members of the Little Gidding community on ‘Reasons for Arth. Woodenoths Liuing wth Sr Jhon Dauers’. It is printed in Hutchinson, pp. 380-1, and was first discussed in Bernard Blackstone, ‘A Paper by George Herbert’, TLS (15 August 1936), p. 664. A facsimile of the first page appears in The Ferrar Papers, ed. B. Blackstone (Cambridge, 1938), facing p. 269.

The texts of three other letters by Herbert are edited in Hutchinson, pp. 378-9, 470-1, from copies made by the antiquary Thomas Baker preserved in Cambridge University Library (MS Mm. 1. 46, ff. 410r-11r) and by another copyist in Dr Williams's Library (MS Jones B. 57, pp. 378-9, 470-1). The texts of fifteen more letters by Herbert are edited in Hutchinson (pp. 363-7, 369-77, 379, and also 304-5) from printed texts.

Hutchinson also prints (pp. 456-69) sixteen official letters in Latin written by Herbert during his period as Praelector and Public Orator at Cambridge (1618-29). These letters were copied by a scribe into the official orator's book, Epistolae Academiae, Tom. II, preserved in the Cambridge University Archives (Lett. 2). Herbert's personal attention to these copies is witnessed by his autograph annotations: for instance, a note at the top of p. *537/280 and a three-line signed inscription, dated ‘19 Jan. 1619’ [i.e. 1619/20], on p. *532.

A copy of a series of six formal academic letters in Latin, written by Herbert as Public Orator at the University of Cambridge, to Buckingham, to Sir Robert Naunton, to Fulke Greville, to Francis Bacon (2), and to Thomas Coventry and Bacon, and Lionel Cranfield together, dated from 1619 to 1620/1, and transcribed by the Rev. William Cole, FSA (1714-82), antiquary, from ‘Sancroft MSS.’, is in the British Library, Add. MS 5873, ff. 105v-8r.


Certain other academic and ecclesiastical documents bear Herbert's signature or inscriptions and are for the most part listed in Amy Charles's Life, pp. 211-12. They are as follows.

The Admission Books at Trinity College, Cambridge, contain his signatures on 3 October 1614 (as a minor fellow), on 15 March 1615/16 (as a major fellow), and on 2 October 1617 (as a sublector fourth class).

On 26 February 1628/9 he signed his Marriage License Bond, now preserved in the Salisbury Diocesan Record Office.

At his Institution to Bemerton Rectory (26 April 1630) and at his Ordination (19 September 1630) he made appropriate entries in the Bishop's first Subscription Book (ff. 95v, 99r), also preserved in the Salisbury Diocesan Record Office. These subscriptions are edited in Amy Charles's Life, pp. 147, 153, and are reproduced in Palmer, III, facing pp. 6 and 64.

Herbert also signed an official transcript of the Bemerton parish register for 1631, which is similarly preserved in the Salisbury Diocesan Record Office. The original parish register is preserved in the Wiltshire and Swindon Archives (WRO 930/1) but bears no trace of Herbert's hand.

Elsewhere Herbert's name appears as witness to the will of his niece Dorothy Vaughan (proved 19 October 1632), now in the National Archives, Kew (PROB 1/35).

For Herbert's own will, see HrG 330.5-330.8.

Lost Manuscripts

Some other manuscripts of works by Herbert that have been reported at various times since his death remain untraced. At the time of his edition of 1941 Hutchinson had failed to discover the whereabouts of a Little Gidding story book containing a copy of Outlandish Proverbs, one recorded by John Jones (1700-70). He also failed to find the whereabouts of four of Herbert's letters which were published in 1818 by Rebecca Warner: see F.E. Hutchinson, ‘Missing Herbert Manuscripts’, TLS (15 July 1939), p. 421.

Herbert's personal papers were bequeathed to his widow, who, according to Izaak Walton, intended to make them public. However, ‘they and Highnam House were burnt together by the late rebels’ in the Civil War. According to John Aubrey (Brief Lives, ed. Andrew Clark (Oxford, 1898), I, 309-10), those papers included ‘a folio in Latin’ which, because the parson of Highnam ‘could not read’ it, was ‘condemned’ by Herbert's widow ‘to the uses of good houswifry’. Although perhaps an indication of the fate of so many seventeenth-century manuscripts, Aubrey's account is viewed with scepticism by Amy Charles (Life, p. 180), who thinks it likely that any manuscripts of consequence (like the ‘little Book’ given to Edmund Duncon) were sent by Herbert to Nicholas Ferrar and that it was only family papers and letters that were retained by his widow until destroyed in the Civil War.


A printed exemplum of King James's Works (London, 1616), alleged to be signed by both George Herbert and his brother Edward Herbert of Cherbury, was offered in Kerslake's sale catalogue, February 1860, item 247, and was sold at Puttick & Simpson's, 10 July 1861, to Jones.

Typescript notes for the edition of Herbert's poems by George Herbert Palmer (1842-1933), c.1905, are at Harvard (MS Eng 1559).

The printed exemplum of the 1862 edition of Herbert's Poems that was owned by the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, and inscribed by him to other members of his family, was sold at Sotheby's, 13 December 1990, lot 115, and is illustrated in the sale catalogue.

Peter Beal