Like many people, my introduction to George Herbert was at school singing ‘Teach me my God and King in all things thee to see’ during assembly. Drury’s love of Herbert’s poetry and his analysis of its role and place in Herbert’s understanding of God, the nature of the church, and his vocation is both detailed and incisive. The introduction on ‘Herbert’s World’ provides the important contextual ground work for understanding and appreciating both the subject of the book, and the characters who occupy it.
Drury offers his work in three parts: The first provides us with an insight into George Herbert’s formative years, his struggles with vocation and his relationship to God. The second part begins with the beguiling chapter entitled ‘Lost in a humble way’, articulating Herbert’s ongoing questioning of the nature of God, and his seeking to understand ‘What does God want?’ This section continues with ‘Bring a Country Parson’, the account of his ministry at Bemerton. Here we are offered insights into his relationship with his wife; his self understanding of being a pastor, as well as his questioning of whether he is ‘A Priest to the Temple or a Country Parson.’ ‘Herbert’s Death’ after little more than three years at Bemerton, and just short of his fortieth year, provides a sobering reflection on mortality. He died having uttered the words, “Lord receive my soul”, and ‘expired without any apparent disturbance.’
Drury bids us reflect on the brevity of Herbert’s ‘Days and Years’ in the light of ‘Christ’s own redemptive dying for love (that) has changed the look of everything.’ Prayer, the liturgy and the observation of the church’s year are what sustained Herbert’s life and provide the substance of his legacy and continued place in Anglican polity. This final chapter of the second part leads to Drury’s third section reflecting on the content, nature and impact of Herbert’s poetry, perception and pastoral legacy. It is the comprehensive nature of Drury’s analysis and understanding of Herbert’s work and influence that ultimately reveals Herbert’s restlessness in his desire both to experience and comprehend the ‘conception of Christian love.’
This is a very modern biography, despite its subject. Here we face a human being, albeit a privileged and academically able one, struggling with many of the questions that beset us moderns. I recall that shortly after his stroke the presenter and journalist Andrew Marr spoke of the significance of Drury’s book in helping him to address the circumstances in which he now found himself. I suspect it will be a book that really will find an increasing point of reference as faculties fail, mortality is faced, and the wisp of unanswered questions increasingly demand attention.
Reviewd by the Rt. Rev Peter B.Price
Special price of £8.99 in the shop (posted out for free) or £6.99 + postage online from www.sarumcollegebookshop.co.uk between 1st and 30th September 2014. RRP £9.99.