Henry Vaughan

Henry Vaughan: (1622-1695), called the "Silurist", Welsh-English poet and mystic, was born of an ancient Welsh family at Newton St. Bridget near Scethrog by Usk, Brecknockshire, on the 17th of April 1622. His grandfather, Thomas Vaughan, was the son of Charles Vaughan of Tretower Castle, and had acquired the farm of Newton by marriage. From 1632 to 1638 he and his twin brother Thomas Vaughan were privately educated by the Rev. Matthew Herbert, rector of Llangattock, to whom they both addressed Latin verses expressing their gratitude. Anthony a`Wood, who is the main authority for Vaughan's biography, says that Henry was entered at Jesus College, Oxford, in 1638, but no corroboration of the statement is forthcoming, although Thomas Vaughan's matriculation is entered, nor does Henry Vaughan ever allude to residence at the university. 

He was sent to London to study law, but turning his attention to medicine, he became a physician, and settled first at Brecon and later at Scethrog to the practice of his art. He was regarded, says Wood, as an "ingenious person, but proud and humorous." It seems likely that he fought on the king's side in the Welsh campaign of 1645, and was present at the battle of Rowton Heath. In 1646 appeared Poems, with the Tenth Satyre of Juvenal Englished, by Henry Vaughan, Gent. The poems in this volume are chiefly addressed to "Amoret", and the last is on Priory Grove, the home of the "matchless Orinda", Mrs. Katharine Philips. A second volume of secular verse, Olor Iscanus, which takes its name from the opening verses addressed to the Isca (Usk), was published by a friend, probably Thomas Vaughan, without the author's consent, in 1651. The book includes three prose translations from Latin versions of Plutarch and Maximus of Tyre, and one in praise of a country life from Guevara. The preface is dated 1647, and the reason for Vaughan's reluctance to print the book is to be sought in the preface to Silex Scintillans: or Sacred Poems and Pious Ejaculations (1650). There he says: "The first that with any effectual success attempted a diversion of this foul and overflowing stream (of profane poetry) was the blessed man, Mr. George Herbert, whose holy life and verse gained many pious converts, of whom I am the least." He further expresses his debt in "The Match", when he says that his own "fierce, wild blood... is still tam'd by those bright fires which thee inflam'd." His debt to Herbert extended to the form of his poetry and sometimes to the actual expressions used in it, and a long list of parallel passages has been adduced. His other works are The Mount of Olives: or Solitary Devotions, with a translation, Man in Glory, from the Latin of Anselm (1652); Flores Solitudinis (1654), consisting of two prose translations from Nierembergius, one from St. Eucherius, and a life of Paulinus, bishop of Nola; Hermetical Physick, translated from the Naturae Sanctuarium of Henricus Nollius; Thalia Rediviva; The Pass-Times and Diversions of a Country Muse (1678), which includes some of his brother's poems. Henry Vaughan died at Scethrog on the 23rd of April 1695, and was buried in the churchyard of Llansantffraed.

As a poet Vaughan comes latest in the so-called "metaphysical" school of the 17th century. He is a disciple of John Donne, but follows him mainly as he saw him reflected in George Herbert. He analyzes his experiences, amatory and sacred, with excessive ingenuity, striking out, every now and then, through his extreme intensity of feeling and his close observation of nature, lines and phrases of marvelous felicity. He is of imagination all compact, and is happiest when he abandons himself most completely to his vision. It is, as Canon H. C. Beeching has said, "undoubtedly the mystical element in Vaughan's writing by which he takes rank as a poet. It is easy to see that he has a passion for Nature for her own sake, that he has observed her moods; that indeed the world is to him no less than a veil of the eternal spirit, whose presence may be felt in any, even the smallest part." In this imaginative outlook on Nature he no doubt exercised great influence on William Wordsworth, who is known to have possessed a copy of his poems, and it is difficult to avoid seeing in "The Retreat" the germ of the later poet's "Ode on Intimations of Immortality." By this poem, with "The World", mainly because of its magnificent opening stanza, "Beyond the Veil", and "Peace", he is best known to the ordinary reader.