A true sacrifice of worship, if not a garland of praise! The disciple would have his works tried by the fire, not only that the gold and the precious stones may emerge relucent, but that the wood and hay and stubble may perish. The will of God alone, not what we may have effected, deserves our care. In the perishing of our deeds they fall at his feet: in our willing their loss we crown his head.
A MOUNT OF VISION—HENRY VAUGHAN.
We have now arrived at the borders of a long, dreary tract, which, happily for my readers, I can shorten for them in this my retrospect. From the heights of Henry Vaughan’s verse, I look across a stony region, with a few feeble oases scattered over it, and a hazy green in the distance. It does not soften the dreariness that its stones are all laid in order, that the spaces which should be meadows are skilfully paved.
Henry Vaughan belongs to the mystical school, but his poetry rules his theories. You find no more of the mystic than the poet can easily govern; in fact, scarcely more than is necessary to the highest poetry. He develops his mysticism upwards, with relation to his higher nature alone: it blossoms into poetry. His twin-brother Thomas developed his mysticism downwards in the direction of the material sciences—a true effort still, but one in which the danger of ceasing to be true increases with increasing ratio the further it is carried.
They were born in South Wales in the year 1621. Thomas was a clergyman; Henry a doctor of medicine. Both were Royalists, and both suffered in the cause—Thomas by expulsion from his living, Henry by imprisonment. Thomas died soon after the Restoration; Henry outlived the Revolution.
Henry Vaughan was then nearly thirty years younger than George Herbert, whom he consciously and intentionally imitates. His art is not comparable to that of Herbert: hence Herbert remains the master; for it is not the thought that makes the poet; it is the utterance of that thought in worthy presence of speech. He is careless and somewhat rugged. If he can get his thought dressed, and thus made visible, he does not mind the dress fitting awkwardly, or even being a little out at elbows. And yet he has grander lines and phrases than any in Herbert. He has occasionally a daring success that strikes one with astonishment. In a word, he says more splendid things than Herbert, though he writes inferior poems. His thought is profound and just; the harmonies in his soul are true; its artistic and musical ear is defective. His movements are sometimes grand, sometimes awkward. Herbert is always gracious—I use the word as meaning much more than graceful.
The following poem will instance Vaughan’s fine mysticism and odd embodiment:
Father of lights! what sunny seed,
What glance of day hast thou confined
Into this bird? To all the breed
This busy ray thou hast assigned;
Their magnetism works all night,
And dreams of Paradise and light.