"Divinitie, and poesie, met" : Herbert, Puttenham, and the craft of the devotional lyric



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Recent scholarship which addresses the presence in George Herbert's poetry of both a rhetoric of courtesy and of Christian piety generally regards the two as incompatible; scholars have sought to show that Herbert renounced this courtly rhetoric entirely, incorporated it somewhat reluctantly into his poetry, or was unable to suppress its global influence on his poetic method. I argue that what previous authors have neglected to consider when accounting for the relationship of courtly rhetoric to Herbert's piety is the analogous function easing anxiety has in both courtesy theory and Reformed approaches to pastoral care. To this end, I aim to demonstrate that Herbert (who was himself a parson) incorporates into his major work, The Temple, a method of easing anxiety that Calvinism obviates: how to gauge and improve one's "rank" or status with regard to election or reprobation. Calvinism, specifically the "experimental predestinarian" tradition in England, transposes matters of agency from the sphere of works to that of faith, to the act of discovering evidence of one's election by close scrutiny of one's disposition toward believing. This, I claim, is similar to courtesy theory's aim to provide a metric for self-advancing conduct. I make the case that the overlap between the therapeutic functions of both predestinarian theology and courtesy theory can be located in the argument for aesthetic discernment found in George Puttenham's poetry manual/courtesy book, The Art of English Poesy. Rather than presenting rules of decorum, Puttenham presents extensive examples that, if one is able to discern from them rules of conduct, argue tacitly for the reader's the requisite faculty of discernment. By presenting a large number of elaborate poetic conceits, I believe that Herbert engages in a process that, by thematizing extensively in his poetry the complexities of Christian conduct, argues in turn for a similarly ingrained faculty of discernment; the ability to discern the "correct" rendering of doctrine in Herbert's poetry functions as evidence of election. Herbert thus works to ameliorate anxieties surrounding matters of election by integrating a pastoral role into his lyrics not wholly at odds with matters of self-advancement.