1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Traherne, Thomas

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TRAHERNE, THOMAS (1637?-1674), English writer, was, according to Anthony a Wood, a "shoemaker's son of Hereford." He entered Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1652, and after receiving his degree in 1656 took holy orders. In the following year he was appointed rector of Credenhill, near Hereford, and in 1661 received his M.A. degree. He found a good patron in Sir Orlando Bridgeman, lord keeper of the seals from 1667 to 1672. Traherne became his domestic chaplain and also " minister " of Teddington. He died at Bridgeman's house at Teddington on or about the 27th of September 1674. He led, we are told, a simple and devout life, and was well read in primitive antiquity and the fathers. His prose works are Roman Forgeries (1673), Christian Ethics (1675), and A Serious and Patheticall Contemplation of the Mercies of God (1699). His poems have a curious history. They were left in MS. and presumably passed with the rest of his library into the hands of his brother Philip. They then became apparently the possession of the Skipps of Ledbury, Herefordshire. When the property of this family was dispersed in 1888 the value of the MSS. was unrecognised, for in 1896 or 1897 they were discovered by Mr W. T. Brooke on a street bookstall. Dr Grosart bought them, and proposed to include them in his edition of the works of Henry Vaughan, to whom he was disposed to assign them. He left this task uncompleted, and Mr Bertram Dobell, who eventually secured the MSS., was able to establish the authorship of Thomas Traherne. The discovery included, beside the poems, four complete "Centuries of Meditation," short paragraphs embodying reflexions on religion and morals. Some of these, evidently autobiographical in character, describe a childhood from which the "glory and the dream " was slow to depart. Of the power of nature to inform the mind with beauty, and the ecstatic harmony of a child with the natural world, the earlier poems, which contain his best work, are full. In their manner, as in their matter, they remind the reader of Blake and Wordsworth. Traherne has at his best an excellence all his own, but there can be no reasonable doubt that he was familiar both with the poems of Herbert and of Vaughan. The poems on childhood may well have been inspired by Vaughan's lines entitled The Retreat. His poetry is essentially metaphysical and his workmanship is uneven, but the collection contains passages of great beauty.

See Bertram Dobell's editions of the Poetical Works (1906) and Centuries of Meditation (1908).