A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature/Traherne, Thomas

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Traherne, Thomas (1636?-1674). -- Poet and theological writer, s. of a shoemaker at Hereford where, or at Ledbury, he was probably b. Very few facts concerning him have been preserved, and indeed his very existence had been forgotten until some of his MS. were discovered on a bookstall in 1896, without, however, anything to identify the author. Their discoverer, Mr. W.T. Brooke, was inclined to attribute them to Henry Vaughan (q.v.), in which he was supported by Dr. Grosart (q.v.), and the latter was about to bring out a new ed. of Vaughan's poems in which they were to be included. This was, however, prevented by his death. The credit of identification is due to Mr. Bertram Dobell, who had become the possessor of another vol. of MS., and who rejecting, after due consideration, the claims of Vaughan, followed up the very slender clues available until he had established the authorship of Traherne. All the facts that his diligent investigations were successful in collecting were that T. was "entered as a commoner at Brasenose Coll., Oxf., in 1652, took one degree in arts, left the house for a time, entered into the sacred function, and in 1661 was actually created M.A. About that time he became Rector of Crednell, near Hereford ... and in 1669 Bachelor of Divinity;" and that after remaining there for over 9 years he was appointed private chaplain to the Lord Keeper, Sir Orlando Bridgeman, who on his retirement from office retained him as a member of his household at Teddington until his death in 1674, T. himself dying three months later. T. also appears to have been incumbent of Teddington, or perhaps more probably, curate to a pluralist incumbent. The complete oblivion into which T. had fallen is the more remarkable when the quality of his poetry, which places him on a level with Herbert, Vaughan, and Crashaw, is considered; and that he appears in his own day to have had some reputation as a scholar and controversialist. His Roman Forgeries (1673) achieved some note. His next work, Christian Ethics, which was not pub. until after his death, appears to have fallen dead, and is extremely rare: it is described by Mr. Dobell as "full of eloquence, persuasiveness, sagacity, and piety." Centuries of Meditations consists of short reflections on religious and moral subjects, etc. The Poems constitute his main claim to remembrance and, as already stated, are of a high order. With occasional roughness of metre they display powerful imagination, a deep and rich vein of original thought, and true poetic force and fire. It has been pointed out that in some of them the author anticipates the essential doctrines of the Berkeleian philosophy, and in them is also revealed a personality of rare purity and fascination.