Portrait of George Herbert by Robert White in 1674. From National Portrait Gallery.

When George Herbert on his deathbed entrusted his poems to his friend Nicholas Ferrar for safekeeping and publication, he described them as “a picture of the many spiritual conflicts that have passed betwixt God and my soul,” which might “turn to the advantage of any dejected poor soul.” The depressive nineteenth-century poet William Cowper wrote that while his “malady” could not be cured by Herbert’s verse, it was at least “alleviated” by it. A century later, Coleridge admitted that Herbert afforded him “substantial comfort.”


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