George MacDonald.

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And so farewell to the very lovable Robert
Herri ck.

Francis Quarles was born in 1592. I have not much
to say about him, popular as he was in his own day,
for a large portion of his writing takes the shape of
satire, which I consider only an active form of nega-
tion. I doubt much if mere opposition to the false is
of any benefit. Convince a man by argument that the
thing he has been taught is false, and you leave his
house empty, swept, and garnished ; but the expulsion
of the falsehood is no protection against its re-entrance
in another mask, with seven worse than itself in its
company. The right effort of the teacher is to give
the positive — to present, as he may, the vision of
reality, for the perception of which, and not for the
discovery of falsehood, is man created. This will not
only cast out the demon, but so people the house that
he will not dare return. If a man might disprove
all the untruths in creation, he would hardly be a
hair's breadth nearer the end of his own making.
It is better to hold honestly one fragment of truth
in the midst of immeasurable error, than to sit alone,
if that were possible, in the midst of an absolute
vision, clear as the hyaline, but only repellent of
falsehood, not receptive of truth. It is the positive
by which a man shall live. Truth is his life. The
refusal of the false is not the reception of the true.
A man may deny himself into a spiritual lethargy,
without denying one truth, simply by spending his
strength for that which is not bread, until he has
none left wherewith to search for the truth, which


alone can feed him. Only when subjected to the
positive does the negative find its true vocation.

I am jealous of the living force cast into the slough
of satire. No doubt, either indignant or loving rebuke
has its end and does its work, but I fear that wit,
while rousing the admiration of the spiteful or the like
witty, comes in only to destroy its dignity. At the
same time, I am not sure whether there might not be
such a judicious combination of the elements as to
render my remarks inapplicable.

At all events, poetry favours the positive, and from
the Emblems named of Quarles I shall choose one in
which it fully predominates. There is something in
it remarkably fine.


Will 't ne'er be morning? Will that promised light
Ne'er break, and clear those clouds of night ?
Sweet Phosphor, bring the day,
Whose conquering ray
May chase these fogs : sweet Phosphor, bring the day.

How long, how long shall these benighted eyes

Languish in shades, like feeble flies
Expecting spring ? How long shall darkness soil

The face of earth, and thus beguile
Our souls of sprightful action? When, when will day

Begin to dawn, whose new-born ray
May gild the weathercocks of our devotion.

And give our unsouled souls new motion ?
Sweet Phosphor, bring the day :
The light will fray
These horrid mists ; sweet Phosphor, bring the day.


Let those whose eyes, like owls, abhor the light —
Let those have night that love the night :
Sweet Phosphor, bring the day.
How sad delay
Afflicts dull hopes ! Sweet Phosphor, bring the day.

Alas ! my light-in-vain-expecting eyes

Can find no objects but what rise
From this poor mortal blaze, a dying spark

Of Vulcan's forge, whose flames are dark, —
A dangerous, dull, blue-burning light,

As melancholy as the night :
Here's all the suns that glister in the sphere

Of earth : Ah me ! what comfort's here !
Sweet Phosphor, bring the day.
Haste, haste away
Heaven's loitering lamp : sweet Phosphor, bring the day.

Blow, Ignorance. O thou, whose idle knee

Rocks earth into a lethargy.
And with thy sooty fingers hast benight

The world's fair cheeks, blow, blow thy spite ;
Since thou hast puffed our greater taper, do

Puff on, and out the lesser too.
If e'er that breath-exiled flame return.

Thou hast not blown as it will bum.
Sweet Phosphor, bring the day :
Light will repay
The wrongs of night : sweet Phosphor, bring the day.

With honoured, thrice honoured George Herbert
waiting at the door, I cannot ask Francis Quarles to
remain longer: I can part with him without regret,
worthy man and fair poet as he is.




But, with my hand on the lock, I shrink from
opening the door. Here comes a poet indeed ! and
how am I to show him due honour ? With his book
humbly, doubtfully offered, with the ashes of the
poems of his youth fluttering in the wind of his priestly
garments^ he crosses the threshold. Or rather, for I
had forgotten the symbol of my book, let us all go
from our chapel to the choir, and humbly ask him
to sing that he may make us worthy of his song.

In George Herbert there is poetry enough and to
spare : it is the household bread of his being. If I
begin with that which first in the nature of things ought
to be demanded of a poet, namely, Truth, Revelation —
George Herbert offers us measure pressed down and
running over. But let me speak first of that which
first in time or order of appearance we demand of
a poet, namely music. For inasmuch as verse is for
the ear, not for the eye, we demand a good hearing
first. Let no one undervalue it. The heart of poetry
is indeed truth, but its garments are music, and the
garments come first in the process of revelation. The


music of a poem is its meaning in sound as distin-
guished from word — its meaning in solution, as it
were, uncrystallized by articulation. The music goes
before the fuller revelation, preparing its way. The
sound of a verse is the harbinger of the truth con-
tained therein. If it be a right poem, this will be
true. Herein Herbert excels. It will be found im-
possible to separate the music of his words from the
music of the thought which takes shape in their sound.

I got me flowers to strow thy way,

I got me boughs off many a tree ;
But thou wast up by break of day,

And brought'st thy sweets along with thee.

And the gift it enwraps at once and reveals is, I
have said, truth of the deepest. Hear this song of
divine service. In every song he sings a spiritual
fact will be found its fundamental life, although I
may quote this or that merely to illustrate some
peculiarity of mode.

The Elixir was an imagined liquid sought by the
old physical investigators, in order that by its means
they might turn every common metal into gold, a
pursuit not quite so absurd as it has since appeared.
They called this something, when regarded as a solid,
the Philosopher's Stone. In the poem it is also called
a tincture.


Teach me, my God and King,

In all things thee to see ;
And what I do in anything,

To do it aa for thee ;


Not rudely, as a beast,

To run into an action ;
But still to make thee prepossest,

And give it his perfection. its.

A man that looks on glass,

On it may stay his eye ;
Or, if he pleaseth, through it pass,

And then the heaven spy.

All may of thee partake :

Nothing can be so mean,
Which with his tincture— ;/i?r thy sake — its.

Will not grow bright and clean.

A servant with this clause

Makes drudgery divine :
Who sweeps a room as for thy laws,

Makes that and the action fine.

This is the famous stone

That tumeth all to gold ;
For that which God doth touch and own

Cannot for less be told.

With a conscience tender as a child's, almost
diseased in its tenderness, and a heart loving as a
woman's, his intellect is none the less powerful. Its
movements are as the sword-play of an alert, poised,
well-knit, strong-wristed fencer with the rapier, in
which the skill impresses one more than the force,
while without the force the skill would be valueless,
even hurtful, to its possessor. There is a graceful
humour with it occasionally, even in his most serious
poems adding much to their charm. To illustrate
all this, take the following, the title of which means
The Retort.



The merry World did on a day

With his train-bands and mates agree

To meet together where I lay,
And all in sport to jeer at me.

First Beauty crept into a rose ;

Which when I plucked not — "Sir," said she,
" Tell me, I pray, whose hands are those ? " ^

Bui thou shalt answer. Lord, for me.

Then Money came, and, chinking still —
" What tune is this, poor man ? " said he :

*' I heard in music you had skill."
But thou shalt answer^ Lordf for me.

Then came brave Glory puffing by

In silks that whistled — who but he ?
He scarce allowed me half an eye ;
But thou shalt answer^ Lord, for me.

Then came quick Wit-and-Conversation,

And he would needs a comfort be,
And, to be short, make an oration :

But thou shalt answer^ Lord^ for me.

Yet when the hour of thy design
To answer these fine things, shall come,

Speak not at large — say I am thine ;
And then they have their answer home.

Here is another instance of his humour. It is the
first stanza of a poem to Death. He is glorying over
Death as personified in a skeleton.

Death, thou wast once an uncouth, hideous thing —
Nothing but bones.
The sad effect of sadder groans :
Thy mouth was open, but thou couldst not sing.

1 Equivalent to " What are those hands of yours for ? '*

S.L. IV. N


No writer before him has shown such a love to
God, such a childHke confidence in him. The love is
like the love of those whose verses came first in my
volume. But the nation had learned to think more,
and new difficulties had consequently arisen. These,
again, had to be undermined by deeper thought,
and the discovery of yet deeper truth had been the
reward. Hence, the love itself, if it had not strength-
ened, had at least grown deeper. And George Her-
bert had had difficulty enough in himself; for, born
of high family, by nature fitted to shine in that
society where elegance of mind, person, carriage, and
utterance is most appreciated, and having indeed
enjoyed something of the life of a courtier, he had
forsaken all in obedience to the voice of his higher
nature. Hence the struggle between his tastes and
his duties would come and come again, augmented
probably by such austere notions as every conscien-
tious man must entertain in proportion to his ina-
bility to find God in that in which he might find him.
From this inability, inseparable in its varying degrees
from the very nature of growth, springs all the
asceticism of good men, whose love to God will be
the greater as their growing insight reveals him in his
world, and their growing faith approaches to the
giving of thanks in everything.

When we have discovered the truth that whatsoever
is not of faith is sin, the way to meet it is not to for-
sake the human law, but so to obey it as to thank
God for it. To leave the world and go into the desert
is not thus to give thanks : it may have been the only


way for this or that man, in his blameless blindness,
to take. The divine mind of George Herbert, how-
ever, was in the main bent upon discovering God

The poem I give next, powerfully sets forth the
struggle between liking and duty of which I have
spoken. It is at the same time an instance of wonder-
ful art in construction, all the force of the germinal
thought kept in reserve, to burst forth at the last.
He calls it — meaning by the word, Gods Restraint —


I struck the board, and cried * * No more ! —

I will abroad.
What ! shall I ever sigh and pine ?
My lines and life are free — free as the road,
Loose as the wind, as large as store.

Shall I be still in suit ?
Have I no harvest but a thorn
To let me blood, and not restore
What I have lost with cordial fruit ?
Sure there was wine
Before my sighs did dry it ! There was com
Before my tears did drown it !
Is the year only lost to me

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Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldEngland's antiphon → online text (page 11 of 19)