Memorialising an author: Herbert’s Temple

A book that is also an edifice, George Herbert’s The Temple, originally published in 1633 offers a sequence of devotional poems that mimic in both their content and their visual presentation a progression through the architectural features of a church, while simultaneously offering a spiritual allegory for that material experience. The inclusion of Christopher Harvey’s The Synagogue, or the Shadow of the Temple, a work that describes itself as ‘in imitation of’ Herbert, enforces Herbert’s place in a developing literary history of devotional poetry by casting his book retroactively as a typological fulfillment analogous to the Gospel. A number of other additions make this edition of 1674 a compelling landmark in literary history: the engraved illustrations not only enhance the book’s existing visual elements but elevate both its prestige and its commercial value, while the inclusion of Izaak Walton’s life of Herbert contributes a biographical dimension to Herbert’s poetic corpus, suggesting that the memorialisation of the man and the continued production and reading of his poems have some intrinsic relationship to one another. The ecclesiastical structure of The Temple becomes a kind of literary funeral monument for its author. BW

The Temple: sacred poems and private ejaculations. By Mr. George Herbert. […] Together with his life (London: W. Godbid for R. S. and John Williams, 1674).

CUL: Syn.8.67.45

Further Reading

Rosemond Tuve, A Reading of George Herbert (Chicago, 1952).

Andrea Walkden, ‘The Servant and the Grave Robber: Walton’s Lives in Early Modern England’, in Kevin Sharpe and Steven N. Zwicker (eds.), Writing Lives: Biography and Textuality, Identity and Representation in Early Modern England (Oxford, 2012 edn.), pp. 319-336.

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