Volume 1, Number 2 (August 1995)

"Not Onely a Pastour, but a Lawyer also": George Herbert's Vision of Stuart Magistracy

Jeffrey Powers-Beck
East Tennessee State University
Powers-Beck, Jeffrey. "'Not Onely a Pastour, but a Lawyer also': George Herbert's Vision of Stuart Magistracy." Early Modern Literary Studies 1.2 (1995): 3.1-25 <URL: http://www.library.ubc.ca/emls/01-2/beckherb.html>.
Copyright (c) 1995 by the author, all rights reserved. Volume 1.2 as a whole is copyright (c) 1995 by Early Modern Literary Studies, all rights reserved, and may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law. Archiving and redistribution for profit, or republication of this text in any medium, requires the consent of the author and the Editor of EMLS.
  1. "Justice is the ground of charity" sermonized George Herbert in his Country Parson. In fact, Herbert examined judicial matters throughout his pastoral manual, discussing the quarrels of "country people," the crimes of "Rogues," the duties and abuses of Justices of the Peace, and the country parson's persistent concern with justice in his parish. In one striking passage, Herbert argues that it is just and charitable for parishioners to defame criminals: "For in infamy, all are executioners, and the Law gives a malefactour to all to be defamed. . . . Besides, it concerns the Common-Wealth, that Rogues should be known, and Charity to the publick hath the precedence of private charity" (287).[1] This grim regard for justice, indeed, involved much more than the country parson's care for his parishioners' souls: it concerned the judicial offices and official discourses that exercised state power in the Stuart countryside. Yet until rather recently in studies of George Herbert's work, the subject of justice has been a purely spiritual matter, referring to justitia Dei and little else. In Love Known (1983), for example, Richard Strier prefaced his theological reading of Herbert's 'Justice (II)' with an account of Luther's recognition that God's righteousness means to the Christian not a severe standard of punishment, but a gift of justifying faith (116 ff.). Similarly, in Reformation Theology: The Religion of George Herbert (1985), Gene Veith interpreted "Justice (II)" as a theological recognition of the contrast between "the prospect of a horrible judgment [by God] and the release from fear through the imputation of Christ" (76). While these readings of the poem are generally convincing, they are also, like much Protestant Poetics criticism, unfortunately narrow. They focus so keenly on the soteriological meanings of justice that they neglect to see its possible secular meanings.

  2. Thus, it was not until 1991, when Michael Schoenfeldt published his Prayer and Power, that the "torturing engines" in the "Affliction" and "Justice" poems were considered, along with the similarities between the repressive powers of the Stuart King and Herbert's Lord. Schoenfeldt sees everywhere in Herbert's poetry the conflation of God and King, "the fusion of divine and sacred authority underpinning Stuart absolutism" (2). More recently, Douglas Swartz has identified Herbert's country parson as an ideological agent of the Stuart state church, and the pastoral manual as "an attempt to direct the local elaboration of the state church in the reign of Charles I" (191). According to Swartz, this elaboration of state power depends on the parson's central position in the parish: "As interpretive authority, social authority, political authority, even legal . . . authority, the parson occupies a preeminent place in the parish" (194; my emphasis). In making his argument, Swartz also mentions Herbert's support of local magistrates as the King's officers and Herbert's equation of "justice" with payment of the King's levies (196-98).

  3. While Schoenfeldt and Swartz have very much advanced political criticism of The Temple and The Country Parson, they have far from exhausted the subject of Herbert's interests in Stuart magistracy, and especially in judicial authorities and processes in the countryside.[2] In my own view, the poet's "social vision" of the Stuart commonwealth, a vision of ceremonious hierarchy and "mixed monarchy," depended crucially on local magistrates, who held power to elaborate or resist the king's reign.[3] They were the judges that collected King's Charles forced loan of 1627--and also the judges that refused and fomented popular discontent. In the language of Michel Foucault, the commonwealth that Herbert describes in The Country Parson illustrates both how local magistrates function in "mutual engagement" with state apparatuses without losing their "specific character," and how they may sometimes displace state power (270).[4] In this essay, I will detail Herbert's involvement in the administration of justice in his parish, the frequent engagement of his pastoral office with Stuart magistracy, and also his criticism of judicial corruption, manifesting resistance to the state. As I make this argument, I will also comment on Herbert's support of traditional property rights through his practice of the Rogationtide Perambulation, and on the political allegory of Herbert's beast fable, "Humilitie," which represents the poet's vision of magistracy in action.

  4. At first sight, the execution of justice in the parish might seem an unlikely interest for parsons. Herbert was, however, avidly concerned with it. "The Countrey Parson," he wrote, "desires to be all to his Parish, and not onely a Pastour, but a Lawyer also" (259). As he advised country parsons to act as lawyers and judges for their parishes, he recommended "some initiatory treatises in the Law, with Daltons Justice of Peace, and the Abridgements of the Statutes" for their perusal (260). A modern reader who has inspected Michael Dalton's Countrey Justice (1618) may very well be perplexed. Dalton's treatise--with its 370 pages of alphabetized entries on such topics as alehouses, accessories, battery, jurisdiction, mittimus, recognizance, and vagabondage, as well as its examples of warrants, supersedeas, indictments, and other legal documents--is an accessible but daunting reference work. Most parsons, I suspect, would have found the entries on the Poor Laws, on recusancy, and on disturbance of church services useful, but would have left mittimuses and recognizances well alone. Herbert does admit that some "cases of an obscure and dark nature" should be left to trained lawyers, but even so he seems captivated by the thought of them. His interest was both pastoral (i.e., concerning the authority of his office) and personal. The personal interest derived in part from Herbert's family background: his grandfather Edward Herbert, his father Richard Herbert, and many of the Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery had served as JPs. Although the fact is little recognized, John Donne also served briefly as a JP in Kent in 1621; and George's brother Henry would later serve as a Justice in Ribbesford in 1636 (Shuttleworth 2; Gleason 120 ff.).

  5. As to Herbert's pastoral reasons for intervening in legal affairs, they began with apostolic precedent and the parson's own authority. St. Paul had reprimanded the Corinthians for contesting one another in secular courts, and he urged them to resolve their differences with the help of Christian arbiters (1 Cor. 6:1-8). While the country parson acknowledges that he cannot decide all cases, he hopes to keep quarrels about borrowed hoes out of court and to enhance his own authority in the process. Wishing "to be all to his Parish," the parson "endures not that any of his Flock should go to Law; but in any Controversie, that they should resort to him as their Judge" (259). Noting that "there is a Justice in the least things," Herbert commented with apparent exasperation upon the "petty injustices" that country parsons often encountered:
    Behind this exasperation, however, is both a certain condescension toward the "country people" and an assertion of the parson's legal authority over some property matters. Here, the casuist method of "descending into particulars" reflects Herbert's predilection for legal deliberation as well as for examination of conscience.

  6. Promoting church peace and his own authority, the parson addresses local quarrels with the help of "three or four of the ablest of the Parish" (260). The neighbors first deliberate upon the facts and offer their own opinions, and then the parson delivers his judgment. The parson is exacting in his regard for property, ordering "the poorest man of the Parish" to return a pin he has taken from "the richest," but also entreating the rich man "to charity" (260). The country parson's appropriation of legal authority is probably well suited to a small community like Bemerton, where one legal action could splinter the parish. It resembles, perhaps not coincidentally, Mennonite and Anabaptist arrangements to avoid lawsuits among their members, but it also respects the civil authority of courts among Christians. In fact, the parson's condescension toward the "country people," his self- appointment as a local magistrate, and his exactitude in judgment all suggest a "mutual engagement" with the state: an attempt to extend Stuart judicial authority almost to a microscopic level--to matters of spades and pins. Likewise, Swartz has described the country parson preaching as situating "himself in the king-like, and so god-like position of authority" and approximating "the local presence of omniscience" (205).

  7. In conducting his ecclesiastical affairs, it seems, Herbert's country parson is involved in myriad judicial matters. He attends to the Poor Laws, which require pensions for the indigent poor and punishment of vagrants; to the Church canons, which stipulate penalties for parishioners who fail to observe communion; to the king's levies of horses and armour ("He is just to his Countrey," 252); to the selection of church wardens and local justices; to the defamation of malefactors; and to the education of young squires in the law. He advises that the heirs of noblemen "read Books of Law, and Justice; especially the Statutes at large," and that they "frequent the Sessions and Sizes" (276-77). The parson's own role in the Church as "The Deputy of Christ" and his involvement in manifold legal matters in the community give him a quasi-legal status--"not onely a Pastour, but a Lawyer also." This status was consistent with Herbert's attempts to dignify the priesthood (viz. "The Parson in Contempt), and it may also have fit with the Arminian program of enhancing the education and authority of local priests.[5] The rising status and education of rural priests and other county officials enabled (though it never fully accomplished) greater compliance with state directives. Or as Kevin Sharpe says more generally: "In the early modern period a tendency to centralization ran parallel with a growing sense of local identity and loyalty, especially to the county" (87). [6]

  8. Another significant, although less obvious, way in which Herbert demonstrated his concern for justice in the parish was in his leading of the annual Rogationtide procession. In "The Parson's Condescending," Herbert applauds the traditional ceremony of "beating of the bounds": "Particularly, he [the parson] loves Procession, and maintains it" (284). Among the benefits of the perambulation that Herbert lists is "justice in the Preservation of bounds" (284). In a community procession before the springtime feast of the Ascension, the parson and parish old-timers would lead the rest of their neighbors around the boundaries of the parish. This village parade went over every stile, past every marker, along every hedgerow, providing the community with a "mental map of the parish" that could be drawn upon in cases of property dispute (Bushaway 84). It was intended to bless the crops, to reaffirm property rights, and to direct parish attention to the state of its roads and causeways. It was still a strange, if pedestrian ritual, of ambling neighbors and gamboling children, who would strike the boundary markers with willow wands. The Elizabethan "Exhortation" for "Preambulation in Rogation Week" stated that it was charitable to maintain one's property rights and boundaries; it pronounced Mosaic curses on those who moved boundary markers and cheated their neighbors in lawsuits; and it also mourned that neighbors would "fall out into immortall hatred among our selves, for so brittle possessions" (234).

  9. For his part, Herbert required upon threat of penalty that all his parishioners join the procession. His country parson "exacts of all to bee present at the perambulation, and those that withdraw . . ., he mislikes, and reproves . . .; and if they will not reforme, presents them" (284). Considering the Puritan opposition to "popish" ceremonies (the Rogation Days' blessing of the crops was still held annually in Rome), Herbert's affection for the ritual marked him as a formalist and traditionalist, tied to the interests of the landed gentry.[7] One anti-papist, Thomas Newton, inquired in 1586 whether parish priests "have patiently winked at . . . any rites wherein hath been apparent superstition--as gadding and raunging about with procession" (qtd. in Hazlitt 523). Richard Hooker, to the contrary and very much like Herbert, "would by no means omit the . . . Procession, persuading all both rich and poor, if they desired the preservation of love, and their parish-rights and liberties, to accompany him in his perambulation" (Walton 80-81). For similar reasons, George Wither lamented the growing neglect of boundary-stones and of the Rogationtide Procession in the seventeenth century: "But, since neglected, sacred Bounders were, / Most men Incroachers, and Intruders are: / They grieve each other, and their Dues they steale, / From Prince, from Parent, and from Common-weale" (161; ll. 21-24).

  10. In advocating perambulation, Herbert, Hooker, and Wither all supported traditional property rights, not merely for the benefit of individual owners or tenants, but for the sake of manorial and church properties. Wither indulged obvious nostalgia for the late medieval manor, writing that when "our Fathers us'd in reverent Procession . . . to walke their Parish-limits, . . . many brawles, now rife, were then unknowne" (161; ll. 14 ff.). In an analysis of the Rogationtide ceremonies, Bob Bushaway explains that the Rogationtide exhortation "Thou shalt not remove thy neighbor's mark" was "clearly rooted in the late medieval system of open fields and commons in which the distortion of manorial records, through the destruction or obscuring of field boundaries, could threaten the social and economic stability of the entire manor" (82). Yet in the early seventeenth century the open-fields system was deteriorating with the division of manors and enclosure of commons and formerly tenanted land. While Herbert looked backward and idealized the loyal tenant-Lord relationship in such lyrics as "Redemption" and "Love Unknown," he also lamented the present increase of enclosure in "The Church-porch," saying that England's "bleating" gentry "are gone to grass, and in the pasture lost" (l. 96). In both endorsing "old Customes" of the Church, like the Rogationtide Procession, and in censuring enclosure, Herbert was akin to the Arminian faction of the Church of England. Laud saw that enclosure not only impoverished laborers in the countryside, but also tended to reduce tithes to parish churches. Hence, as Christopher Hill points out, Laud's anti-enclosure "social justice policy" was "not entirely altruistic" (71). Nor was Herbert's interest in "justice in the Preservation of bounds," inasmuch as it concerned his parish income and his family relations to aristocratic landowners like the Earls of Pembroke.

  11. Of course, pastoral mediation and Rogationtide walks were by no means adequate to the needs of justice in the country. For the administration of these needs, Herbert looked primarily to the Justices of the Peace. His country parson lauds the JPs highly, appealing to the prerogatives of both the King and of the local gentry in dispensing justice:
    Herbert's description combines two demands of the office that are sometimes in conflict: the justices' obligation as the King's officers to enforce the laws, and their duties as the leaders of the shire to protect the rights of property-owners. Assuming that the local gentry would reconcile their interests with those of the King, Sir Thomas Smith praised the justices similarly: "There was never . . . devised a more wise, a more dulce and gentle, nor a more certaine way to rule the people" (70). King James praised the justices also, but with his own interests more clearly in mind: "For I hold a good Justice of Peace in his Countrey, to doe mee as good service, as hee that waites upon mee in my Privie Chamber, and as ready will I be to reward him" (536). In taking office, the Justice of the Peace took the Oath of Supremacy, testifying that "the Kings Highnesse is the onely supreame governour of this Realme" (Dalton 11). And thus Swartz describes Herbert's view of the JPs as that of "lower-echelon intellectuals charged with the look-out of the King's interest" (198).

  12. In practice, however, the justices sometimes struggled with the King over prerogatives. In the Parliament of 1621, the local gentry secured their rights to oversee alehouses, when the royal patent granted to Sir Francis Mompesson (through Buckingham's agency) was rescinded. To save face, King James disclaimed responsibility for the patent, but he had clearly lost the confrontation with the JPs. In a more famous case, the Forced Loan of 1627, Charles I jailed some seventy men, including many justices, for their failure to collect the subsidies that he had demanded but Parliament had never granted. Herbert's step-father Sir John Danvers served as a Member of Parliament in the stormy session of 1626 and saw the King dissolve and then defy Parliament. Charles did succeed in exacting the forced loan, but it was at a heavy price of discontent among the gentry in some Western counties. Although Herbert generally supported the King's prerogatives, it is reasonable to assume that he would have been sensitive to the complaints of men like his step-father. [8]

  13. Some bishops and all mayors of larger towns became JPs by virtue of their offices, but most JPs were appointed by the Lord High Chancellor (or the Lord Keeper) upon the recommendations of other local judges. In theory, these "Commissioners of the Peace" were all servants to the King, but as James admitted, "The Chancellour under me, makes Justices, and puts them out; but neither I, nor he can tell what they are" (564). Because there were over fifteen hundred JPs in all England, often more than fifty in a single county, and because JPs were recommended by fellow judges, the possibilities of royal oversight and control were limited (Gleason 80 ff.). While the King might refuse a notorious recusant (James refused Sir Lewis Tresham, the brother of the Gunpowder plotter) or put out some rebellious JPs as examples (as Charles did in 1627), the vast body of JPs remained the large landholders and educated elite of the shires. J. H. Gleason described well the imperviousness of these local leaders to royal policy:

  14. Of course, Gleason was making his judgment with the benefit of hindsight. The Stuarts sometimes overestimated the control they had over the county leaders. King James complained bitterly of the Justices who "in every cause that concernes Prerogative, give a snatch against a Monarchie, through their Puritanicall itching after Popularitie" (564), and he hoped the Justices of the Assizes might oversee the Commissioners of the Peace more effectually. It was, in the end, a vain hope. Because the Justices of the Peace were unpaid, they primarily sought the prestige of exercising power in their local communities, as well as the ability to safeguard their own landed interests. Often, as Herbert wished, they worked with the central government to implement policies for the sake of the commonwealth--as in the administration of the Poor Laws. Yet, when they felt the King was forsaking their interests, they worked to displace and resist the directives of the state.

  15. Concerning the demands of the office of JP, Herbert was well informed and agreed with many of his contemporaries. Assuming that strict retribution of criminals was in the best interest of the state, he urged: "Art thou a Magistrate? then be severe" ("The Church-porch," l. 85). Furthermore he advised noblemen to become JPs in order to exercise the powers "to do good, and to restrain all those, who else might both trouble him and the whole State" (276). The landowners, after all, were immediately threatened by the problems of violence, thievery, trespassing, vagabonds, riots, and loitering. In many cases, the JPs prevented discord in their own parishes by transporting vagrants, by taking "sureties for the peace" from trouble makers, and by locking up dangerous criminals until the Quarter Sessions or Assizes. Herbert would agree with Fuller that "the good judge" sacrificed his private interests to "the common cause," but he saw keenly that the protection of land and property was preeminently the concern of the landowners (79). Likewise, Hall described the good magistrate in a paean to aristocratic power: "He is the guard of good laws, the refuge of innocency, the comet of the guilty, the paymaster of good deserts, the champion of justice, the patron of peace, the tutor of the church, the father of his country, and, as it were, another god upon earth" (101). Here, undoubtedly, was an engagement of class and state interests.

  16. As to the disadvantages of the office, Herbert listed three: "The one, the abuse of it, by taking petty Countrey bribes; the other, the casting of it on mean persons, especially in some Shires: and lastly, the trouble of it" (276). Of these three complaints, the last was the most material. The JP opened his doors to constant interruptions-- alehouses not closed by nine, sheep stolen at midnight, vagabonds at breakfast, errant apprentices at dinner. Most JPs accepted the interruptions that came with the office, but few were as sedulous in their duties as Jonson's Adam Overdo. One JP in Somerset, William Capel, expressed his frustration vividly: "It is sessions with me every day all the day long here, and I have no time for my own occasions, hardly to put meat in my mouth" (qtd. in Notestein 211). If a JP were not worrying about these inconveniences, he might well worry about the reputation of the office. While Commissioners of the Peace were generally esteemed, the reputations of justices suffered "especially in some Shires" (as Herbert said) when lesser gentry and courtiers began to dominate the office. The Puritan preacher Samuel Ward also complained of "our straight buttoned, carpet and effeminate Gentry." He said they were not qualified to be judges because they could not "indure to hold out a forenoon or afternoone sitting without a Tobacco baite, or a game at Bowles," and because they were "little acquainted with the tediousness of wise and serious businesse" (17). The last charge of petty graft or "country bribes" also tarnished the reputation of many justices. Ward once again described the problem colorfully, as he berated the "Capon- Justices," the "cheese-bayliffs and lamb-bayliffs," and other such "Muck-wormes of the world" (51-52). For his part, Herbert was also cognizant of these problems, although more subtle in his criticism than Ward. He encouraged diligent Justices to "redeem the Dignity [of the office] either from true faults, or unjust aspersions" (276), and he satirized the corruption of magistrates in his poetic beast-fable, "Humilitie."

  17. Herbert's vision of magistrates at work, "Humilitie" has been read by most critics as a spiritual psychomachia. Strier, for example, has argued that it dramatizes the insufficiency of classical virtues without divine grace. Strier concludes persuasively: "Because of the undermining power of pride, the humanist ideal of control over the passions is possible only through grace; and yet even after grace has been received . . . we nevertheless 'feel . . . abundant cause for humility'" (Ironic 50). And while Strier's argument about the theology of "Humilitie" is impressive, it neglects entirely the rich political implications of the allegory. More recently, Sidney Gottlieb has recognized some of these implications, interpreting "Humilitie" as a political fable of the corruption of the Stuart Court, which had suffered the notorious bribery scandals of Lionel Cranfield and Francis Bacon (469 ff.). Yet, since Gottlieb himself admits that "Herbert does not . . . include the king in his poem" (474), and since the ranked Virtues act in the poem as a judicial body, the court per se, as a cadre of office-seekers and dispensers, is not the precise target of the satire. Rather, it is the Stuart court as a working body of magistrates that is portrayed. Indeed, because the poem allegorizes the corruption of Stuart magistracy--the officials who, like Bacon, often numbered among the court, but who had particular duties to avoid venal judgments--it is darker than any criticism of simple bribes or political favoritism.

  18. The setting of the poem is, after all, on "Session-day" (l. 32)--a day on which magistrates pronounce judgment. It could be the quarterly county Sessions of JPs, or a meeting of the Assizes, or a session of the Star-Chamber itself. Whatever the meeting is precisely about, both ceremonial grandeur and something of a carnival atmosphere surround it. A retinue of beasts has come to the session to present public "tokens of submission" to the magistrates--these are symbolic gifts somewhere between the New Year's Gifts presented to the King and the sugar loafs given to JPs at their Sessions. A fox has also been "kill'd in the way by chance" (l. 16), apparently caught in the heavy traffic en route to the session. Lawrence Stone has described the county Sessions similarly as "a kind of local parliament"; and Alan Everitt has described the Assizes as "a kind of informal county 'parliament'" (qtd. in Holmes 62-63). Since the Assize Judges drew larger crowds, and were accorded more ceremony, I prefer the latter comparison, but the precise identification is unimportant. The significant point is that the ranked Virtues represent magistracy in action.

  19. "Humilitie," then, opens with an idealized vision of the Virtues as magistrates, ceremoniously arranged, receiving a panoply of gifts. The very wording of the first stanza attributes the allegory to a vision:
    The "I saw" opening, like Vaughan's "I saw Eternity the other night," alerts the reader to an allegorical dream-vision. And like Vaughan's first vision of eternity in "The World (I)," this first vision of government is idealized: the personified Virtues sit together, united "hand and hand" like canons in a chapter house. They are enthroned "in sev'rall ranks" upon a celestial dais, with "Humilitie" taking the lowest seat and distributing the animals' tokens to the proper magistrates. The stanza's stately diction as well as the ranking of the retinue of suitors--first the majestic lion, then the trembling hare, then the noisome fowls--reinforces this idealized order. Belonging to the same tradition of the allegory of virtues and vices, this august order recalls the idealized pictorial schemes of the late medieval artist Ambrogio Lorenzetti.

  20. In his majestic fresco Allegory of Good Government in Siena's Palazzo Pubblico (1337-39), Ambrogio presented a similar vision of the Virtues as magistrates upon a dais and in "several ranks" (see Figure 1). While Ambrogio's fresco is remote in time and place from the Stuart court, it provides a helpful analogue to Herbert's poem, illustrating a rhetorical topos ("diligite iustitiamm qui iudicatis terram") that prevailed in Europe into early modern times. The central Jovian figure of Good Government is inspired from above by the theological virtues of Faith, Charity, and Hope; and he is flanked on the dais by the classical virtues of Peace, Fortitude, Magnanimity, Temperance, and Justice. At the feet of Good Government are a large crowd of hooded and frocked burghers, two babes with a maternal wolf representing the founding of cities, a contingent of cavalry and foot soldiers, and a band of sturdy rogues--all well roped and manacled. As in Herbert's allegory, each of Ambrogio's Virtues appears with an iconographic token--Peace with a laurel wreath representing contemplative otium; Temperance with an hourglass manifesting restraint; Justice with a sword and severed head displaying retribution. In Herbert's scheme, however, the Virtues receive contrary "tokens of submission" from the beasts-- Mansuetude receives the Lion's paw, containing aggressive power; Temperance receives the Turkey's "corall-chain," holding onto courtly prestige; Fortitude, who appears with a spear and shield in Ambrogio's fresco, takes the hare's trembling ears in Herbert's poem. Both Ambrogio and Herbert's schemes legitimate the repressive force of good government, though Herbert's does so less starkly, without Ambrogio's medieval caste of mind. Also, while Ambrogio painted Good and Bad Government on separate panels as static entities, Herbert dramatized the dynamic process through which Good Government was corrupted and became Bad Government.

    Figure 1. Detail from Ambrogio Lorenzetti's Allegory of Good Government (photographed during restoration), Palazzo Pubblico, Siena (Pietro and Ambrogio Lorenzetti 70). Click here or on the picture for a view with more context (224 kilobyte, high resolution, jpeg file), and here for a picture of the full panel (592 kilobyte, high resolution, jpeg file).
  21. According to the reverse logic of Herbert's poem, which Strier explains, "each virtue receives a token from the beast it is most suited to control" (Ironic 46). Applied to the government of the soul, the scheme suggests that each virtue must restrain the contrary passion or license will result. Applied to the government of a commonwealth, the scheme suggests that public-minded rulers must restrain private-minded individuals (including themselves) or anarchy will result. Almost from the beginning of the poem, the ideal vision of ordered government seems threatened--perhaps from the rather dissident and grandiloquent rhyme of "throne" and "submissión." As the retinue of suitors approach the throne, "submissión" comes to involve the diversion of public power to private interests. The turkey's red wattle becomes a badge of vanity; the fox's Machiavellian brain gives bad ideas to Justice; and soon all the Virtues fight for the peacock's plume of pride, introduced by that ancient broker of discord, the crow.

  22. When the Virtues cease regarding the tokens as ceremonial privileges of an office (ordained by both God and granted by the community), they begin to see them as bribes to be amassed, and they are transformed into their corresponding Vices. Borrowing a phrase from Shaw, Gottlieb calls them wittily "a kind of subcommittee of . . . 'the Seven Deadly Virtues'" (472). It is not long until the scramble after bribes grows hot and reckless:
    Strier comments that the concept of "grace" as a worldly benefit--rather than as a divine gift--dooms the classical virtues to frustration. Without "the providential death of the fox" and the divine intervention of Humilitie, he says, the soul would be undone by the natural forces of passion (Ironic 48). This interpretation is possible, but as Gottlieb says, "unpersuasive" (469-70). "Providential" road-kill is, after all, a very strange thought. What strikes me about the anarchic scene, however, is that all of the Virtues, except Humilitie, have reverted to the passions they were supposed to restrain. The Virtues have themselves become indistinguishable from the passions, and have deposed themselves by leaping in a frenzy after profit.

  23. In this sense, Humilitie's tearful and shaming retort, "Here it is / For which ye wrangle" (ll. 27-28), reminds the Virtues of their proper roles in government. The Virtues are not to practice Machiavellian virtù--i.e., skill boldly grasping after power--but Christian "Vertue," stolidly accepting their duties to God and to Country, "though the whole world turn to coal." Perhaps Strier is right that, for Herbert, such virtue requires a divine gift. Whatever the theology, however, Humilitie alone is able to restore the Virtues, because, as a servant, Humilitie realizes that all magisterial honors are vain that do not manifest some service of the community. Herbert is not saying that all magistrates must be as altruistic as Humilitie, but that they must not "wrangle" for private interests apart from the public interest: "Neque de priuato agamus bono, sed publico" ["We do not speak of the private good, but of the public good"] (Herbert 448; my translation).[9] Here, the Outlandish Proverb, "At Court, every one for himselfe" is not a good policy for magistrates (347). William Perkins said likewise, "That common saying, Every man for himselfe, and God for us all, is wicked, and is directed against the ende of every calling, or honest kinde of life" (904). Unfortunately, the whole progress of the poem seems to show that aristocratic privileges corrupt, and thus casts doubt upon the Stuart program of centralizing magisterial power.

  24. The tendency of power to corrupt that Lord Acton noted makes the conclusion of "Humilitie" especially unsettling. In response to Humilitie's reproof, the Virtues band together and oust the upstart beasts from their platform of authority. This much is to be expected. Yet, their final judgment upon the beasts is both ambiguous and disturbing. The Virtues, the speaker concludes, "then amerc'd them [the beasts], double gifts to bring / At the next Session-day" (ll. 30-31). Are these magistrates, who were nearly unseated for their venality, punishing graft or encouraging it with further fines upon the beasts? If five gifts caused so much strife at this session, what will ten gifts provoke at the next? Are the "paymasters of good deserts," as Hall calls them, acting again as the merchants of bad conscience? And does "next Session-day" imply God's final judgment on sin or is it simply government's next opportunity for abuse? Gottlieb believes that the phrase "double gifts" hints that "the problems dramatized . . . will accelerate" and "the ritual at the next Session-day may turn out to be even more humiliating and ominous" (475). Thus, Gottlieb reads "Humilitie" as a forthright criticism of the Stuart court and a key lyric in an "anti-court sequence" in The Temple. [10]

  25. In my own view, the "double gifts" at "next Session-day" represent a crucial doubleness in Herbert's own vision of Stuart magistracy. The reader cannot know whether there will be just punishment or more flagrant abuse at "next Session- day" because the poet was himself divided between an idealistic Christian humanism that elaborated Stuart rule, and an otherworldly Christian scepticism that rejected courtly ambitions and corruption. In "Humilitie" Herbert leaves readers with two striking tableaux that are difficult to reconcile: one of ideally ranked magistrates appearing for public service and another of a rapacious and compromised judiciary. The first tableau of "mutual engagement" manifests the unity of divine and state service, and of state and local governance, as when Herbert says that the parson has "no title" to "his heavenly Countrey" or to "his earthly," "except he do good to both" (239). The second tableau of "displacement or resistance" urges the divorce of godly and worldly realms, as when Herbert finds a worm at the root of "The Crown Imperiall" in "Peace" or when he says "Perhaps great places and thy praise / Do not so well agree" ("Submission," ll. 15-16). It is this ambiguous vision, I believe, rather than a pious and complete acceptance of autocratic rule, that makes Herbert so intriguing as a political and religious thinker. Hodgkins has written similarly of Herbert's ambiguous politics: "It is fair to ask why Herbert's egalitarianism is muted and even truncated in The Countrey Parson . . . However, it seems even fairer to ask why this egalitarianism is present at all" (147). "We say amisse, / This or that is," Herbert wrote in "The Flower"--an apt warning to readers about his involved political and religious views, which were bound so subtly and inextricably together.


1. All quotations from Herbert's works are cited from Hutchinson's edition. In working on this article, I have been indebted to Sidney Gottlieb of Sacred Heart University and Douglas Swartz of Indiana University Northeast, who have corresponded with me about their work and have contributed to my thinking on these subjects. I also wish to thank Judith Anderson of Indiana University for commenting on early drafts of this article.
2. Herbert's politics have also been treated significantly in Christopher Hodgkins's Authority, Church, and Society in George Herbert (1993), and in Claude Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth's "The Politics of The Temple" (1984).
3. Here, I use Christopher Hodgkins's phrase "social vision," and I generally concur with Hodgkins's sentiment that Herbert "preferred a constitutionally limited monarchy and episcopacy" (2). I take the phrase "mixed monarchy" from Sir Thomas Smith, Queen Elizabeth's Secretary of State, who discerned that "seldome or never shall you finde common wealthes or governement which is absolutely or sincerely made of any of above named [Democracy, Aristocracy, Monarchy], but always mixed with an other" (5).
4. Foucault says that even in an authoritarian government the strategies of power are "invented and organized from the starting point of local conditions and particular needs," they take shape "in piecemeal fashion," and even when they form in "vast ensembles," they consist of "a complex play of supports in mutual engagement, different mechanisms of power which retain all their specific character" (270).
5. About this point there is disagreement. Swartz contends that The Country Parson is "very much in keeping with the centralizing conformity that characterized Arminianism's governmental program" (194); whereas Hodgkins says that Herbert "preached and ministered in the authoritative plain style of the moderate Puritans, passing important spiritual responsibilities onto laymen" (11).
6. See also Anthony Fletcher's essay, "National and Local Awareness in the County Communities."
7. Patrick Collinson notes well: "'Beating the bounds' . . . was denounced by many puritans as an archaic superstition. Yet it would be a mistake to represent this difference as absolute" (109).
8. Sir John Danvers was, as Joseph Summers and others have pointed out, one of the regicides who signed Charles I's death-warrant in 1649. Although Danvers was a longtime courtier, he was often disaffected. Summers surmises that "the year 1624 seems to mark the beginning of Sir John Danvers's hostility to the Crown" (43). See also The Dictionary of National Biography entry on Danvers, and Mark Noble's Lives of the English Regicides.
9. Here, I am quoting from Herbert's oration to Prince Charles upon his return from failed marriage negotiations with Spain in October 1623. In appealing to Prince Charles for peace with Spain, Herbert distinguished between the private good of war (i.e., the glory of victorious soldiers) and the public evil of war (i.e., wide scale death, injury, and destruction).
10. I am grateful to Professor Gottlieb for sharing with me the manuscript of his forthcoming article, "'Content' to 'Affliction' (III): Herbert's Anti-Court Sequence."

Works Cited

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[RGS; August 31, 1995.]