george herbert: writing for god

George-herbertMark Jarman at Hudson Review:

The most curious event in George Herbert’s short life, after its abrupt change of direction, may be his marriage in 1629 to Jane Danvers, a cousin of his stepfather. Her father, Charles Danvers, had, as Drury notes, “a particular fondness for George Herbert,” and the marriage itself seems to have been urged on Jane and George by Danvers. It seems to have been little more than the sanctification of a platonic relationship. As a teenager Herbert had told his mother he would dedicate his life to chastity. In a chapter entitled “The Parson’s State of Life,” in The Country Parson, he claims explicitly “virginity is a higher state than matrimony,” and therefore, the parson is “rather unmarried than married.” This seems to be a Pauline view, but even St. Paul admitted that it was better to marry than to burn. In Herbert’s case, though, not being married presented an impediment to his success as a parson. He notes in the same chapter that, for an unmarried country parson, ministering to women alone, without an audience, can lead to all kinds of rumor and gossip. So, in these circumstances, he concludes, it is probably better for a parson to marry, as long as “the choice of his wife [is] made rather by his ear than by his eye” and that he choose her for “humble and liberal disposition . . . before beauty, riches, or honour.” Jane Danvers and George Herbert were married for only four years, until he died, during which time there were no children. The role he expected of her is clearly laid out in The Country Parson. Six years after Herbert died, Jane Danvers remarried, had a daughter with her second husband, outlived him, too, and died some fifteen years after Herbert’s death. I find it notable that she had a child with her second husband. Though she grieved for her first husband for six years before marrying again, it may have been a welcome change to enter into a conjugal relationship with a willing man.

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