John Stubbs

Songs of Praise

Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert

By

Allen Lane The Penguin Press 394pp £25 order from our bookshop

Twice a week in the early 1630s, a group of worshippers would remain behind after Evensong for a ‘private Musick meeting’ in Salisbury Cathedral. A regular member of the group was the poet George Herbert, rector of the nearby Wiltshire parish of Bemerton. One evening Herbert is said to have arrived with gown and breeches bespattered and rumpled, attracting comment and some disapproval from fellow musicians. On the road, he explained, he had encountered ‘a poor man with a poorer horse, that was fall’n under his Load’. Wiry, consumptive and, though a good walker, unsuited to physical labour, Herbert had helped this unfortunate traveller repack his burden and given him some money for the journey ahead. One member of the cathedral group remarked that ‘so dirty an employment’ was hardly becoming of Herbert. He is said to have replied ‘that the thought of what he had done, would prove Musick to him at Midnight’. The phrase has lent a title to John Drury’s outstanding new account of Herbert’s life and art.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'One of the reasons for its longevity is that it has virtually nothing to say about science and technology at all,… ,
    • 'The characters in many of these stories are trapped in the obsessive present tense of their own thoughts; in the m… ,
    • 'Libraries, for much of their existence, have embodied in microcosm many of the characteristics of the totalitarian… ,
    • 'Moss and Cynthia buy several properties through which to launder their ill-gotten gains, take lots of drugs, have… ,
    • 'Never mind the imperial cult. This is the cult of Boris. What happened to Rome?' From the LR archive:… ,
    • Thirty-two years ago this month, we published Muriel Spark's short story, 'A Playhouse Called Remarkable' Read it… ,
    • Time travel, bicycles and white horses populate @WomackPhilip's roundup of children's books by @marcussedgwick,… ,