A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature/Herbert, of Cherbury, Edward, 1st Lord

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Herbert, of Cherbury, Edward, 1st Lord (1583-1648). -- Philosopher and historian, was the eldest s. of Richard H., of Montgomery Castle, and was b. there or at Eyton, Shropshire. He was at Oxf., and while there, at the age of 16, he m. a kinswoman four years his senior, the dau. of Sir William H. Thereafter he returned to the Univ. and devoted himself to study, and to the practice of manly sports and accomplishments. At his coronation in 1603 James I. made him a Knight of the Bath, and in 1608 he went to the Continent, where for some years he was engaged in military and diplomatic affairs, not without his share of troubles. In 1624 he was cr. an Irish, and a few years later, an English, peer, as Baron H., of Cherbury. On the outbreak of the Civil War he sided, though somewhat half-heartedly, with the Royalists, but in 1644 he surrendered to the Parliament, received a pension, held various offices, and d. in 1648. It was in 1624 that he wrote his treatise, De Veritate, "An empirical theory of knowledge," in which truth is distinguished from (1) revelation, (2) the probable, (3) the possible, (4) the false. It is the first purely metaphysical work written by an Englishman, and gave rise to much controversy. It was reprinted in 1645, when the author added two treatises, De Causis Errorum (concerning the Causes of Errors), and De Religione Laici (concerning the Religion of a Layman). His other chief philosophical work was De Religione Gentilium (1663), of which an English translation appeared in 1705, under the title of The Ancient Religion of the Gentiles and Cause of their Errors considered. It has been called "the charter of the Deists," and was intended to prove that "all religions recognise five main articles -- (1) a Supreme God, (2) who ought to be worshipped, (3) that virtue and purity are the essence of that worship, (4) that sin should be repented of, and (5) rewards and punishments in a future state." Among his historical works are Expeditio Buckinghamii Ducis (1656), a vindication of the Rochelle expedition, a Life of Henry VIII. (1649), extremely partial to the King, his Autobiography, which gives a brilliant picture of his contemporaries, and of the manners and events of his time, and a somewhat vainglorious account of himself and his doings. He was also the author of some poems of a metaphysical cast. On page 188the whole his is one of the most shining and spirited figures of the time.

Autobiography ed. by S. Lee (1886). Poems ed. by J. Churton Collins, etc.