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'Full of all knowledg'

'Full of all knowledg': George Herbert's Country Parson and Early Modern Social Discourse

Ronald W. Cooley
  • Book Info
    'Full of all knowledg'
    Book Description:

    George Herbert is best known as a seventeenth-century sacred poet, often associated with such writers as John Milton and John Donne, but it is Herbert's portrait of an idealized rural clergyman inThe Country Parsonwhich perhaps best shows Herbert's engagement in a wide range of complex social debates. InFull of all knowledg', Ronald Cooley examines the 1632 pastoral manual through four distinct lenses, each representing the perspective of a particular historical sub-specialty: church history, the history of the 'learned professions' (law and medicine), local and agricultural history, and the history of the patriarchal nuclear family.

    Cooley argues that in Herbert's portrait of the clergyman who is 'full of all knowledge,' and who counsels parishioners on matters of faith, law, health, agriculture, and family obligation, Herbert engages with contemporary cultural and social ideals, and offers today's scholar a unique opportunity for synthetic literary-historical study. Through his investigation ofThe Country Parsonand a selection of Herbert's later poems, Cooley shows how traditionalist rhetoric and appeals to customary wisdom facilitated innovative practices in agricultural, professional, social, and domestic affairs, and he provides new illumination of the mental and material world of the seventeenth century cleric and poet. In positioning George Herbert as a spokesman for a legal-rational social order, and in placingThe Country Parsonin its cultural milieu, Cooley reveals a new dimension to Herbert's work and provides a valuable tool for future study of Herbert and seventeenth-century culture and history.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7512-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. chapter one Introduction
    (pp. 3-24)

    This study is an attempt to situate a single text, George Herbert’s 1632 pastoral manual,A Priest to the Temple, or The Country Parson His Character and Rule of Holy Life, in the network of discourses through which people in early seventeenth-century England understood their social world. WhileThe Country Parsonhas received more serious scholarly attention in the last ten or fifteen years than ever before, most Herbert scholars have continued to find Herbert’s ‘Chartre of the Priesthood’ less engaging than his playful and enigmatic sacred verse.² Nevertheless, in the wake of the ‘new historicism’ in literary studies, and...

  5. chapter two The Country Parson and the Early Stuart Church
    (pp. 25-53)

    As Christopher Hodgkins and Daniel Doerksen have demonstrated, a careful reading ofThe Country Parsoncan contribute a great deal to an understanding of George Herbert’s theology and ecclesiastical politics. Yet such an approach also presents difficulties.The Country Parsonis not a theological treatise, so any attempt to draw conclusions about Herbert’s theology from it involves ‘[c]atching the sense at two removes.’ Moreover, the book was composed, presumably with an eye to publication, during a period of considerable uncertainty in the Church of England, the early years of the Arminian ascendancy.¹ Herbert’s comments on ecclesiastical matters must be read...

  6. chapter three The Country Parson and the Enclosure of Professional Fields
    (pp. 54-80)

    In the last chapter, I describedThe Country Parsonas an intricate texture of discursive appropriations in which Herbert deploys the customary terms, phrases, and ideological allegiances of various ecclesiastical and theological parties and postures in the service of a Jacobean-style Calvinist conformity. But as I also suggested,The Country Parsonis no straightforward statement of certain ecclesiological and theological positions. What conclusions can be drawn in these areas must be extracted from the book’s pursuit of its central objective: to describe the character of an emerging early-modern clerical profession. To better understandThe Country Parsonas an exercise in...

  7. chapter four The Country Parson and the Parson’s Country
    (pp. 81-111)

    George Herbert’s contradictory attempt to embrace a new clerical professionalism, while resisting the professional claims of law and medicine, is part of a larger pattern of ambivalence, contradiction, and paradox in early modern social discourse. Such paradoxes, even when they partake of both sides of a social debate, are seldom ideologically neutral. Often the forging of discursive links between the familiar and the disruptive serves to disable conservative resistance to social change. In ‘The Parson’s Consideration of Providence,’ for example, Herbert creates a simultaneous sense of cosmic stability and uncertainty, attributing this paradoxical condition to the interplay between God’s ‘sustaining...

  8. chapter five Pastor as Patriarch: Gender, Family, and Social Order in The Country Parson
    (pp. 112-134)

    As I suggested in chapter 4, and as critics from Leah Marcus to Jeffrey Powers-Beck have noticed, Herbert understands his place in the social and cosmic hierarchies, and communicates that understanding, through the discourse of parent-child relations. Not surprisingly, this understanding permeates his account of pastoral dignity and duty: ‘the Countrey Parson is ... a father to his flock.’ But Herbert’s parable of the child and the apple in chapter XXX ofThe Country Parsonalso reveals a bifurcation in that ideology. As Marcus observes, contending forces in Herbert’s culture both idealized and repudiated childhood: ‘Conservative Anglican and royalist theorists...

  9. chapter six The Country Parson and The Temple: Enabled Readings
    (pp. 135-168)

    George Herbert’s ‘Affliction’ [I] and ‘The Priesthood’ are both vocation poems. Both express a speaker’s yearning to be useful to God and to his fellow creatures, or in the resonant word from ‘Love’ [III],’ to ‘serve.’ ‘Affliction’ [I], probably an early poem, is overwrought with the anxieties for which Herbert is famous. It concludes with a desperate prayer, the cryptic and arresting couplet: ‘Ah my deare God! though I am clean forgot, / Let me not love thee, if I love thee not.’ Everything is in God’s hands, and everything remains uncertain. ‘The Priesthood,’ probably composed much later, is very...

  10. chapter seven Modernity, Teleology, and The Country Parson
    (pp. 169-178)

    How modern was early modern England? To some extent, even posing the question presumes a ‘“discontinuist” interpretation of ... social development ... [in which] modern social institutions are [understood as] ... unique-distinct in form from all types of traditional order.’¹ Such interpretations are more in favour among social scientists and literary critics than historians these days. For many, such ‘discontinuist’ readings of early modern English history have become less and less tenable, as the consensus among historians has shifted away from accounts of the English Civil War as a bourgeois revolution and the early Stuart period as a pre-revolutionary era....

  11. Notes
    (pp. 179-208)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 209-230)
  13. Index
    (pp. 231-238)