Vaughan, Henry (1622-1695) (DNB00)
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Vaughan, Henry (1622-1695)
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VAUGHAN, HENRY, ‘Silurist’ (1622–1695), poet, was born at Newton-by-Usk in the parish of Llansaintffraed, Brecknockshire (Anthony à Wood MSS. Ff. 39, f. 216). He and his twin-brother Thomas [q. v.] were born on 17 April 1622 (Sloane MS. 1741). Their father, Thomas Vaughan (d. August 1658), was the representative of an ancient and honourable Welsh family, the Vaughans of Tretower Castle, descended from Sir Roger Vaughan of Bredwardine, who had fallen at Agincourt. Vaughan's mother was Denys Gwillims, heiress of Newton. John Aubrey [q. v.] was his cousin. ‘Their grandmother,’ Aubrey wrote of the twins, ‘was an Aubrey; their father a coxcombe, and no honester than he should be—he cosened me of 50s. once.’ Although the relationship cannot be precisely traced, Henry must indubitably have been akin in blood as well as in mental constitution to the ‘Mr. Vaughan’ (born 1605) whose nativity appears in Gadbury's ‘Collectio Geniturarum’ (1663), and who ‘was subject to believe that he conversed with angels and spirits many times in the likeness of scarabees, who informed him of unhappiness that attended either himself or his family.’
The two brothers, Henry and Thomas, always affectionately united throughout life, received their first regular education from Matthew Herbert, rector of Llangattock, and in 1638 proceeded to Jesus College, Oxford. Henry left Oxford without a degree, and spent some time in London studying law at the wish of his father, but ultimately turned his attention to medicine. When or where he obtained a medical diploma has not been ascertained, but about 1645 he began to practise as a physician in Brecknock, whence in or about 1650 he removed to his native place, continuing to practise. Writing to Aubrey towards the end of his life, he says: ‘My profession allso is physic, which I have practised now for many years with good successe (I thanke God) and a repute big enough for a person of greater parts than myselfe’ (Wood MS. F. 39, f. 227). According to Antony à Wood he became eminent for his medical skill, ‘and was esteemed by scholars an ingenious person, but proud and humorous’ [whimsical]. He suggests in his elegy on the death of ‘R. W.’ that he was present at the battle of Rowton Heath, possibly as a surgeon with the king's army.
Vaughan had published a small volume, entitled ‘Poems, with the Tenth Satyre of Juvenal Englished’ (London, 8vo), in 1646; and another volume, ‘Olor Iscanus: a Collection of some select Poems and Translations’—deriving its title from the principal poem, a eulogy on the River Usk, and accompanied with prose translations from Plutarch, Maxi- mus Tyrius, and Guevara—was probably ready for the press in December 1647, the dedication to Lord Digby bearing that date. It did not appear, however, until 1651 (London, 8vo; reissued 1679), when it was published by Thomas Vaughan, with an address to the reader hinting that it would, but for his intervention, have been destroyed by the author. There is nothing objectionable in the book, and it can only be concluded that a revolution had in the meantime occurred in the poet's mind, which had rendered his secular poetry distasteful to him. The nature of this revolution may be deduced from the book he had published in the meantime, ‘Silex Scintillans: or Sacred Poems and private Ejaculations, by Henry Vaughan, Silurist’ (London, 1650, 8vo), which evinces deep traces of the influence of George Herbert, the effect rather than the cause of the spiritual visitation which he had clearly been experiencing. Some allusions in the poems seem to connect this with the death of a brother, which, being also alluded to in the preface to Thomas Vaughan's ‘Anthroposophia Theomagica’ (1650) as having occurred during the composition of that book, must have taken place between 1647 (when Thomas, deprived of his living, removed to Oxford) and 1650. The composition of the whole of the first part of ‘Silex Scintillans’ may thus be fairly placed between 1647 and 1650, and the number, no less than the merit of the poems, indicates the strength of the spiritual influence which had overpowered Vaughan and raised him to a far greater height as a poet than was promised by his early compositions. The impulse continued some time, for in 1655 a second part of ‘Silex Scintillans’ appeared, appended to what professed to be a reprint of the first, but was in fact only a reissue. This second part, though in general scarcely equal to the first, contains the crown of all Vaughan's poetry—‘They are all gone into the world of light.’ Vaughan had published, February 1652, a small volume of devotion, entitled ‘The Mount of Olives … with an excellent discourse of the blessed state of Man in Glory, written by Father Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, and now done into English,’ and in 1654 ‘Flores Solitudinis,’ three religious tracts—two translated from the Jesuit Nierembergius, and another from St. Eucherius, with a life of St. Paulinus of Nola compiled by himself. The title-page speaks of a period of sickness, which seems to have been about 1652. In 1655 Vaughan published ‘Hermetical Physick’ (London, 12mo), a collection of extracts translated from the ‘Naturæ Sanctuarium’ of Henricus Nollius (Frankfort, 1619).
Nothing more is heard of Henry Vaughan until 1678, when ‘J. W.,’ an Oxford M.A. who has not been identified, printed ‘Thalia Rediviva: the pass-times and diversions of a Countrey Muse;’ here, along with poems by the ‘Silurist,’ are pieces by Vaughan's brother Thomas, who had died thirteen years previously. Some of Henry Vaughan's are apparently juvenile compositions; but others, by their subjects and the greater regularity of the versification, seem to be later than ‘Silex Scintillans.’ The friend ‘C. W.’ who is celebrated in a fine poem in ‘Thalia’ was Vaughan's cousin and neighbour, Charles Walbeoffe of Llanhamlach. The existence of three known copies (in the Brit. Mus., in Rowfant Library, and a private library at Brecon) has led to the conjecture that the publication was unauthorised, and that Vaughan suppressed it; but copies of the ‘Mount of Olives’ and ‘Hermeticall Physick’ are hardly less rare than ‘Thalia Rediviva.’ In truth, Vaughan's writings could afford little but waste paper for his own generation. He was a man of the past, as misplaced in the Restoration era as formerly among the puritans. He died, aged 73, according to his epitaph, on 23 April 1695, and was interred in Llansaintffraed churchyard. His neglected gravestone has been recently restored (January 1896).
Vaughan was twice married. His first wife was Catherine, daughter of Charles Wise, by whom he had three daughters—Lucy, Catherine, and Frances—and one son, Thomas. He married, secondly, his first wife's sister Elizabeth, who survived him and administered his estate. By her he had three daughters—Grizel, Lucy, and Rachael—and one son, Henry, rector of Penderyn (Vaughan of Newton pedigree in Harl. MS. 2289). Having died intestate, administration was granted on 29 May 1695 to his widow, ‘Eliza’ (Genealogist, iii. 33–6).
Vaughan's position among English poets is not only high, but in some respects unique. The pervading atmosphere of mystic rapture, rather than isolated fine things, constitutes the main charm of his poems; yet two, ‘The Retreat’ and ‘They are all gone into the world of light,’ rank among the finest in the language, and, except the poems on scripture history and church festivals, there is scarcely one without some memorable thought or expression, though frequently kindling, to use his own simile, like ‘unanticipated sparks from a flinty ground.’ He not unfrequently lapses into absurdity, misled by the affectation of wit and ingenuity which beset the poetry of his time; but his taste is on the whole better than Herbert's, and much better than Crashaw's. It is natural to compare Vaughan with Herbert, to whom he was so much indebted; the resemblance is evident, but so is the dissimilarity. Perhaps this may be best expressed if we define Herbert as theistic, and Vaughan as pantheistic. Herbert is devout according to recognised methods, Vaughan is a devout mystic. Herbert visits the spiritual world as a pious pilgrim, but Vaughan is never out of it.
As a writer of prose, of which his ‘Mount of Olives’ is the most important instance, Vaughan commands a rich and melodious style, somewhat disfigured by the passion for antithesis habitual in his day. His translations of Greek and Spanish authors are probably made from Latin versions. Guevara's ‘Praise and Happinesse of the Countrie-Life’ (ap. ‘Olor Iscanus’) has dwindled to a mere abridgment in his hands, although reinforced by interpolations of his own. The fugitive pieces of verse and the translations scattered through his prose works have been brought together by Dr. Grosart, as an appendix to his edition of Vaughan's writings in 1871, under the title ‘Aurea Grana.’
The title of ‘Silurist’ which Vaughan assumed had a topographical significance. ‘Silures,’ Aubrey explains, ‘contayned Breconockshire, Herefordshire, &c.’ (Aubrey, Lives, ed. 1898).
Vaughan's poems remained practically unknown until, towards the end of the eighteenth century, a copy came into the hands of Wordsworth, whose ‘Ode on the Intimations of Immortality’ and ‘Happy Warrior’ exhibit traces of his influence. Campbell names him only to disparage him. Some striking parallels between Tennyson and Vaughan's poetry have been noted, but Tennyson declared that he had read nothing of Vaughan's work but ‘They are all gone into the world of light.’ Dr. John Brown, F. T. Palgrave, Archbishop Trench, George Macdonald, Miss Guiney, and his editors have done much for him in various ways, and it may safely be said that there is now (after Milton) no poet of the Caroline period, except Herbert and Herrick, who is more widely known, and not one whose reputation is more solidly established.
Vaughan's ‘Silex Scintillans’ was edited by the Rev. H. F. Lyte in 1847. The book was reprinted in 1858, and in a revised form in 1883 and 1891. In 1871 Dr. Grosart printed in the ‘Fuller Worthies' Library’ in four volumes a complete edition of everything of Vaughan's recoverable, a large proportion from unique copies. A facsimile reprint of the first part of ‘Silex Scintillans,’ edited by the Rev. W. Clare, appeared in 1885, and an edition of the complete poetical works, in two volumes, was edited for the ‘Muses Library’ in 1896 by Mr. E. K. Chambers, with an introduction by the Rev. H. C. Beeching. Vaughan's secular poems, with some pieces by his brother Thomas, were edited in 1893 by J. R. Tutin. A selection of the sacred poems, with decorations by Mr. C. S. Ricketts, appeared in 1897.[The memoirs in the modern editions cited above are the principal authorities for Vaughan's life; but see also Aubrey's Brief Lives, ed. A. Clark, 1898, ii. 268–9; Julian's Dict. of Hymnology; Masson's Milton, vi. 312, 388; Jones's Hist. of Brecknockshire, 1805–9, ii. 544 sq.; Sloane MS. 1741, f. 89. The fullest critical estimates of Vaughan, apart from those in the standard editions, are that in Dr. John Brown's Horæ Subsecivæ, originally published in the North British Review, and that by Miss L. I. Guiney, in the Atlantic Monthly for May 1894 (reprinted in her Little English Gallery, 1894). For the restoration of Vaughan's grave, see the Athenæum for 12 Oct. 1895 and 18 Jan. 1896; and the Daily Graphic, 8 Nov. 1895, with a reduced facsimile of the inscription.]