Henry Vaughan (17 April 1621 – 23 April 1695) was a Welsh metaphysical poet, author and translator writing in English, and a medical physician. His religious poetry appeared in ''Silex Scintillans'' in 1650, with a second part in 1655.''Oxford Companion to English Literature'', s. v. Henry Vaughan. In 1646 his ''Poems, with the Tenth Satire of Juvenal Englished'' was published. Meanwhile he had been persuaded by reading the religious poet George Herbert to renounce "idle verse". The prose ''Mount of Olives'' and ''Solitary Devotions'' (1652) show his authenticity and depth of convictions. Two more volumes of secular verse followed, ostensibly without his sanction, but it is his religious verse that has been acclaimed. He also translated short moral and religious works and two medical works in prose. In the 1650s he began a lifelong medical practice.

Early life

Henry Vaughan was born at Newton by Usk in the Llansantffraed (St. Bridget's) parish of Brecknockshire, the eldest known child of Thomas Vaughan (c. 1586–1658) of Tretower and Denise Jenkin (born c. 1593), the only daughter and heir of David and Gwenllian Morgan of Llansantffraed. Vaughan had a twin brother, Thomas Vaughan, who became a
philosopher A philosopher is a person who practices or investigates philosophy. The term ''philosopher'' comes from the grc, φιλόσοφος, , translit=philosophos, meaning 'lover of wisdom'. The coining of the term has been attributed to the Greek t ...
and alchemist. Vaughan was kin to two powerful Welsh families, one Catholic, one Protestant. His paternal grandfather, William, owned Tretower Court. His paternal grandmother, Frances, was the natural daughter of Thomas Somerset, who spent some 24 years in the
Tower of London The Tower of London, officially His Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London, is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London. It lies within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, which is sep ...
for adhering to Catholicism. As she survived into Vaughan's boyhood, there may have been some direct Catholic influence on his early nurturing. Vaughan shared ancestry with the Herbert family through the daughter of a famous Welsh knight, Dafydd Gam, slain at Agincourt, the "Davy Gam, esquire" of
William Shakespeare William Shakespeare ( 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet and actor. He is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's natio ...
's '' Henry V''. He is not known to have claimed kinship with George Herbert, but may have been aware of the tie.


Thomas Vaughan later remarked that "English is a Language the Author was not born to." Both boys were sent to school under Matthew Herbert, Rector of Llangattock, to whom both wrote tributes. Matthew Herbert may have reinforced a devotion to church and monarchy the boys had learnt at home. Like several of Vaughan's clerical acquaintances, he later proved uncompromising during the
interregnum An interregnum (plural interregna or interregnums) is a period of discontinuity or "gap" in a government, organization, or social order. Archetypally, it was the period of time between the reign of one monarch and the next (coming from Latin '' ...
. He was imprisoned, his property was seized, and he narrowly avoided banishment.A. W. Ward and A. R. Waller, ed
The Sacred Poets
''The Cambridge History of English and American Literature'', Vol 7.
The buttery books of
Jesus College, Oxford Jesus College (in full: Jesus College in the University of Oxford of Queen Elizabeth's Foundation) is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. It is in the centre of the city, on a site between Turl Street, Ship ...
show Thomas Vaughan being admitted in May 1638. It is thought that Henry went up at the same time; Anthony Wood states, "He made his first entry into Jesus College in
Michaelmas term Michaelmas term is the first academic term of the academic year in a number of English-speaking universities and schools in the northern hemisphere, especially in the United Kingdom. Michaelmas term derives its name from the Feast of St Mich ...
1638, aged 17 years. There is no clear record to establish Henry's residence or matriculation, but the assumption of his association with Oxford, supported by his inclusion in ''Athenae Oxoniensis'', is reasonable enough." Recent research in the Jesus College archives, however, suggests that Henry did not enter Jesus College before 1641, unless he did so in 1639 without matriculating or paying an admission fee, and left before the record in the surviving buttery books resumes in December of that year. It has been suggested that Henry went to Oxford later, after Thomas, based on poems each wrote for a 1651 edition of the ''Comedies, Tragi-Comedies, with Other Poems'' of William Cartwright, who had died in 1643. Thomas had clearly attended Cartwright's lectures, which were a draw at the time: "When He did read, how did we flock to hear!" Henry apparently had not, as his poem "Upon the poems and plays of the ever-memorable Mr William Cartwright" begins with the words, "I did but see thee." This and the 1647 poem "Upon Mr Fletcher's plays" are celebrations of Royalist volumes that implied "a reaffirmation of Cavalier ideals and a gesture of defiance against the society which had repudiated them." As the
Civil War A civil war or intrastate war is a war between organized groups within the same state (or country). The aim of one side may be to take control of the country or a region, to achieve independence for a region, or to change government poli ...
developed, Vaughan was recalled home from London, initially to serve as a secretary to Sir Marmaduke Lloyd, a chief justice on the Brecknockshire circuit and staunch royalist. Vaughan is thought to have served briefly in the Royalist army. On his return, he began to practise medicine. By 1646, Vaughan had married Catherine Wise, with whom he reared a son, Thomas, and three daughters, Lucy, Frances, and Catherine. His courtship with his first wife is reflected in "Upon the Priory Grove", in his first volume of poetry, ''Poems, with the Tenth Satire of Juvenal Englished'' (1646). After his first wife's death, he married her sister, Elizabeth, probably in 1655.

Secular works

Vaughan took his literary inspiration from his native environment and chose the descriptive name "Silurist", derived from his homage to the
Silures The Silures ( , ) were a powerful and warlike tribe or tribal confederation of ancient Britain, occupying what is now south east Wales and perhaps some adjoining areas. They were bordered to the north by the Ordovices; to the east by the Dobun ...
, a
Celt The Celts (, see pronunciation for different usages) or Celtic peoples () are. "CELTS location: Greater Europe time period: Second millennium B.C.E. to present ancestry: Celtic a collection of Indo-European peoples. "The Celts, an ancient ...
ic tribe of pre-Roman south
Wales Wales ( cy, Cymru ) is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It is bordered by England to the east, the Irish Sea to the north and west, the Celtic Sea to the south west and the Bristol Channel to the south. It had a population in 20 ...
that strongly resisted the Romans. The name reflects the love Vaughan felt for the Welsh mountains of his home, in what is now part of the
Brecon Beacons National Park The Brecon Beacons National Park ( cy, Parc Cenedlaethol Bannau Brycheiniog) is one of three national parks in Wales, and is centred on the Brecon Beacons range of hills in southern Wales. It includes the Black Mountain ( cy, Y Mynydd Du) in ...
and the
River Usk The River Usk (; cy, Afon Wysg) rises on the northern slopes of the Black Mountain (''y Mynydd Du''), Wales, in the westernmost part of the Brecon Beacons National Park. Initially forming the boundary between Carmarthenshire and Powys, it fl ...
valley, where he spent most of his early and professional life. By 1647, Vaughan with his wife and children had chosen life in the countryside. This was the setting in which Vaughan wrote ''Olor Iscanus'' (The Swan of Usk). However, it was not published until 1651, over three years after it was written, which presumably reflects some crisis in Vaughan's life. During those years, his grandfather William Vaughan died and he was evicted from his living in Llansantffraed. Vaughan later decried the publication, having "long ago condemned these poems to obscurity." ''Olor Iscanus'' is filled with odd words and
simile A simile () is a figure of speech that directly ''compares'' two things. Similes differ from other metaphors by highlighting the similarities between two things using comparison words such as "like", "as", "so", or "than", while other metaphors c ...
s that beg attention, despite its dark and morbid cognitive appeal. It is founded on crises felt in Vaughan's homeland, Brecknockshire. No major battle was fought there in the Civil War, but the effects of the war were deeply felt by him and his community. The Puritan Parliament visited misfortune, ejecting
Anglican Anglicanism is a Western Christian tradition that has developed from the practices, liturgy, and identity of the Church of England following the English Reformation, in the context of the Protestant Reformation in Europe. It is one of th ...
s and Royalists. Vaughan also lost his home at that time. There is a marked difference in the atmosphere Vaughan attempts to convey in this work and in his most famous work, ''Silex Scintillans''. ''Olor Iscanus'' represents a specific period in Vaughan's life, which emphasises other secular writers and provides allusions to debt and happy living. A fervent topic of Vaughan throughout the poems is the Civil War, and it reveals Vaughan's somewhat paradoxical thinking, which ultimately fails to show whether he took part or not. Vaughan states complete satisfaction at being clean of "innocent blood", but also provides seemingly eyewitness accounts of battles and his own "soldiery". Although Vaughan is thought to have been a Royalist, these poems express contempt for all current authority and show a lack of zeal for the Royalist cause. His poems generally reflect a sense of severe decline, which may mean he lamented the effects of the war on the monarchy and society. His short poem "The Timber", ostensibly about a dead tree, concludes: "thy strange resentment after death / Means only those who broke – in life – thy peace." ''Olor Iscanus'' includes translations from the Latin of
Ovid Pūblius Ovidius Nāsō (; 20 March 43 BC – 17/18 AD), known in English as Ovid ( ), was a Roman poet who lived during the reign of Augustus. He was a contemporary of the older Virgil and Horace, with whom he is often ranked as one of the ...
Boethius Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, commonly known as Boethius (; Latin: ''Boetius''; 480 – 524 AD), was a Roman senator, consul, '' magister officiorum'', historian, and philosopher of the Early Middle Ages. He was a central figure in the tr ...
, and the Polish poet Casimir Sarbiewski.

Conversion and sacred poetry

It was not until the writing of ''Silex Scintillans'' that Vaughan received significant acclaim. The period shortly preceding the publication of the first volume of the work (1650) marked an important period of his life. Certain indications in the first volume and explicit statements in the preface to the second volume (1655) suggest that Vaughan suffered a prolonged sickness that inflicted much pain. Vaughan interprets this experience as an encounter with death that alerted him to a "misspent youth". Vaughan believed he had been spared to make amends and start a new course not only in his life but in the literature he would produce. He described his previous work as foul and a contribution to "corrupt literature". Perhaps the most notable mark of Vaughan's conversion is how much it is credited to George Herbert. Vaughan claims he is the least of Herbert's many "pious converts". It was during this period of Vaughan's life, around 1650, that he adopted the saying "Moriendo, revixi" – by dying, I gain new life. The first volume of ''Silex Scintillans'' was followed by ''The Mount of Olives, or Solitary Devotions'' (1652), a prose book of devotions providing prayers for various stages in the day, for prayer in church and for other purposes. It appears as a "companion volume" to the
Book of Common Prayer The ''Book of Common Prayer'' (BCP) is the name given to a number of related prayer books used in the Anglican Communion and by other Christian churches historically related to Anglicanism. The original book, published in 1549 in the reig ...
, to which it alludes frequently, although it had been outlawed under the
Commonwealth A commonwealth is a traditional English term for a political community founded for the common good. Historically, it has been synonymous with "republic". The noun "commonwealth", meaning "public welfare, general good or advantage", dates from th ...
. The work was also influenced by Lancelot Andrewes's ''Preces Privatae'' (1615) and John Cosin's ''Collection of Private Devotions'' (1627). ''Flores Solitudinis'' (1654) contains translations from the Latin of two works by the Spanish Jesuit Juan Eusebio Nieremberg, one by a 5th-century Bishop of Lyon, Eucherius, and by Paulinus of Nola, of whom Vaughan wrote a prose life. Vaughan practised medicine, perhaps as early as the 1640s. He attached to the second volume of ''Silex Scintillans'' (1655) a translation of Henry Nollius's ''Hermetical Physick''. He went on to produce a translation of Nollius's ''The Chymists Key'' in 1657.

Poetic influences

Vaughan was much indebted to George Herbert, who provided a model for his new-found spiritual life and literary career, showing a "spiritual quickening and the gift of gracious feeling" derived from Herbert. Archbishop Trench took the view, "As a divine Vaughan may be inferior o Herbert but as a poet he is certainly superior." Critics praise Vaughan's use of literary elements. His monosyllables, long-drawn alliterations and ability to compel the reader to rate him as "more than the equal of George Herbert". Yet others say the two are not even comparable, as Herbert is in fact the Master. While these commentators admit that Henry Vaughan's use of words can be superior to Herbert's, they believe his poetry is, in fact, worse. Herbert's superiority is said to rest on his profundity and consistency. Certainly Vaughan would have never written the way he did without Herbert's posthumous direction. (The latter had died in 1633.) The explicit spiritual influence here is all but proclaimed in the preface to ''Silex Scintillans''. The prose of Vaughan exemplifies this as well. For instance, Herbert's ''The Temple'' is often seen as the inspiration and model on which Vaughan created his work. ''Silex Scintillans'' is most often classed with this collection of Herbert's, as it borrows the same themes, experience and beliefs. Herbert's influence is evident in the shape and the spirituality of Vaughan's poetry. For example, the opening to Vaughan's poem "Unprofitableness" – "How rich, O Lord! How fresh thy visits are!" – recalls Herbert's 'The Flower': :How fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean :Are thy returns! ev'n as the flowers in spring Another work of Vaughan's that parallels Herbert is ''Mount of Olives'', for example in the passage, "Let sensual natures judge as they please, but for my part, I shall hold it no paradoxe to affirme, there are no pleasures in the world. Some coloured griefes of blushing woes there are, which look as clear as if they were true complexions; but it is very sad and tyred truth, that they are but painted." This echoes Herbert's ''Rose'': :In this world of sugar's lies, :And to use a larger measure :Than my strict yet welcome size. :First, there is no pleasure here: :Coloure'd griefs indeed there are, :Blushing woes that look as clear, :As if they could beauty spare. Critics have argued that Vaughan is enslaved to Herbert's works, using similar "little tricks" such as abrupt introductions and whimsical titles as a framework for his work, and "failing to learn" from Herbert. Vaughan was said to be unable to know his limits and focus more on the intensity of the poem, meanwhile losing the attention of his audience. Yet Alexander Grosart denies that Vaughan was solely an imitator of Herbert. There are moments when the reader can see Vaughan's true self, where he shows naturalness, immediacy and ability to relate the concrete through poetry. In some cases he draws observations from Herbert's language that are distinctly his own. It is as if Vaughan takes proprietorship of some of Herbert's work, yet makes it unique to himself. Vaughan takes another step away from Herbert in his presentation. Herbert in ''The Temple'' – often the source of comparison between the two writers – lays down explicit instructions on its reading. This contrasts with Vaughan's attitude that the experience of reading is the best guide to his meanings, so that he promoted no special reading method. At these times Vaughan shows himself different from any other poet. Much of the distinction comes from an apparent lack of sympathy with the world about him. His aloof appeal to his surroundings detaches him and displays his love of nature and mysticism. This in turn influenced later poets such as Wordsworth. His mind thinks in terms of a physical and spiritual world and the obscure relation between the two, often moved to original, unfamiliar, remote places reflected in his poetry. He was loyal to the themes of the Anglican Church and religious festivals, but found his true voice in the more mystical themes of eternity, communion with the dead, nature, and childhood. He was a "poet of revelation" who used the Bible, Nature and his own experience to illustrate his vision of eternity. This gives Vaughan's poetry a particularly modern sound. Alliteration, conspicuous in Welsh poetry, is more commonly used by Vaughan than by most of his contemporaries in English, noticeably in the opening to "The Water-fall".F. E. Hutchinson, 1947. ''Henry Vaughan, A life and Interpretation'', Oxford: Clarenden Press. Vaughan drew on personal loss in two well-known poems: "The World" and "They Are All Gone into the World of Light". Another, "The Retreat", combines the theme of loss with the corruption of childhood, which is yet another consistent theme of his. Vaughan's new-found personal voice and persona are seen to result of the death of a younger brother. This is an example of an especially beautiful fragment of one of his poems entitled 'The World': :I saw Eternity the other night, :Like a great ring of pure and endless light, ::All calm, as it was bright, :And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years ::Driv'n by the spheres :Like a vast shadow mov'd; in which the world ::And all her train were hurl'd.

Death and legacy

Henry Vaughan was acclaimed less in his lifetime than after his death, on 23 April 1695 aged 74. He was buried in the churchyard of St Bride's, Llansantffraed, Powys, where he had spent most of his life. The grave is visited by enthusiasts and has been the inspiration for other poets, including
Siegfried Sassoon Siegfried Loraine Sassoon (8 September 1886 – 1 September 1967) was an English war poet, writer, and soldier. Decorated for bravery on the Western Front, he became one of the leading poets of the First World War. His poetry both descri ...
, Roland Mathias and Brian Morris. Vaughan is recognised as an "example of a poet who can write both graceful and effective prose". He influenced the work of poets such as Wordsworth, Tennyson and
Siegfried Sassoon Siegfried Loraine Sassoon (8 September 1886 – 1 September 1967) was an English war poet, writer, and soldier. Decorated for bravery on the Western Front, he became one of the leading poets of the First World War. His poetry both descri ...
. The American science fiction writer Philip K. Dick also named Vaughan as a key influence.

Musical settings

Several poems by Vaughan from ''Silex Scintillans'' have been set to music, including: *"The Evening-Watch: Dialogue between Body and Soul" by
Gustav Holst Gustav Theodore Holst (born Gustavus Theodore von Holst; 21 September 1874 – 25 May 1934) was an English composer, arranger and teacher. Best known for his orchestral suite '' The Planets'', he composed many other works across a range ...
(1924) *The Eucharistic poem "Welcome, sweet and sacred feast" set by Gerald Finzi as the anthem ''Welcome, sweet and sacred feast'' in ''Three anthems'', Op. 27 (1953) *''Peace'', set as the first of Hubert Parry's '' Songs of Farewell'' (1916–1918): "My soul, there is a country". *Several poems set by Daniel Jones in his cantata ''The Country Beyond the Stars'' *"Christ's Nativity" and "Peace" set by the American composer Timothy Hoekman in his 1992 sequence of three songs entitled ''The Nativity'' for soprano and orchestra *"They Are All Gone into the World of Light" set by the British composer Howard Goodall in his 2004 choral work "As Angels in some brighter dreams" and first performed b
The Shrewsbury Chorale
on 5 June 2004


*''Poems, with the Tenth Satire of Juvenal Englished'' (1646), includes a translation of a ''
Satire Satire is a genre of the visual, literary, and performing arts, usually in the form of fiction and less frequently non-fiction, in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, often with the intent of shaming ...
'' by the Latin poet
Juvenal Decimus Junius Juvenalis (), known in English as Juvenal ( ), was a Roman poet active in the late first and early second century CE. He is the author of the collection of satirical poems known as the '' Satires''. The details of Juvenal's lif ...
. *''Olor Iscanus'' (1647, published 1651) *''Silex Scintillans'' (1650 and 1655) *''Mount of Olives, or Solitary Devotions'' (1652) *''Flores Solitudinis'' (1654) *''Hermetical Physics'' (1655), translated from the Latin of Henry Nollius *''The Chymists Key'' (1657), translated from the Latin of Henry Nollius *Several translations from the Latin contributed to Thomas Powell's ''Humane Industry'' (1661) *''Thalia Rediviva'' (1678), a joint collection of poetry with his brother Thomas Vaughan, after Thomas's death''Oxford Companion to English Literature'', s.v. Henry Vaughan; T. O. Calhoun, ''The achievement of ''Silex Scintillans, East Brunswick, New Jersey, 1981, p. 235.]

See also

* Physician writer#17th century, Physician writer



* * Katz, Philo-Semitism, pp. 185–186. *Rev. Alexander B. Grosart (ed.): "Essay on the Life and Writings of Henry Vaughan, Silurist", in ''The Works in Verse and Prose Complete of Henry Vaughan, Silurist, Vol. II''. Blackburn, 1871, pp. ix–ci. Reprinted in ''Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800'', Vol. 27 * * * *

Further reading

* Grant, Patrick. 1974. ''The Transformation of Sin: Studies in Donne, Herbert, Vaughan, and Traherne''. Montreal:McGill-Queen's University Press.

External links

* * *
Henry Vaughan
(PoetSeers website)
The Sacred Poets. Ch. 9–13
− The Cambridge History of English and American Literature. * *Examples of Henry Vaughan's varied poetic form

{{DEFAULTSORT:Vaughan, Henry 1621 births 1695 deaths 17th-century Welsh medical doctors 17th-century Welsh poets 17th-century Christian mystics Anglo-Welsh poets Alumni of Jesus College, Oxford Protestant mystics Welsh twins Welsh male poets 17th-century male writers