Henry Vaughan 1621-1695

Henry Vaughan was born into a powerful Welsh family in Newton by Usk in South Wales, the older of twin boys, and was probably bilingual in English and Welsh. The boys were taught by Matthew Herbert, the rector of Llangattock and Henry and his brother both went on to Jesus College, Oxford, but Henry left without taking a degree. He went on to study law at The Inns of Court but was recalled home after the Civil War broke out in 1642. The family were staunch Royalists and Henry probably served for a time in the Royalist army. Neither he nor his brother benefitted from their sympathies, his brother being evicted from the parish in 1650.

He then served as secretary to Sir Marmaduke Lloyd, a Wesh Judge and later practised medicine, only giving this up in 1693, two years before his death. By 1646 he was married to Catherine Wise with whom he had four children. His poem Upon the Priory Grove, contained in his first volume of poetry, published in 1646, reflects his courtship with Catherine. After she died he married her sister Elizabeth in 1655 and had four more children with her.

Between 1650 and 1655 he published his most famous collection of religious poems, Silex Scintillans (The Gleaming Flint), a collection of meditative and religious poems which convey the depth of his faith and the sadness of lost innocence. He published a prose work, The Mount of Olives or Solitary Devotions in 1652, and in 1678 Thalia Rediviva, a collection of poems written much earlier by himself and his brother, who had become a doctor, philosopher, and alchemist and who had died in 1666. He also translated short moral and religious tracts and two medical works from Latin.

Henry Vaughan was a prolific writer who published four volumes of poetry during his lifetime, mostly on religious themes, strongly influenced by George Herbert, or secular and nature themes which reflect his love for the beauty of his native Wales. His poetry, which was largely disregarded in his own day and for a century after his death, is remarkable for the range and intensity of his spiritual intuitions. His works were edited in 1914 by L C Martin and a second edition published in 1957. Because of his pride in his Welsh origins he liked to be known as the Silurist after the Silures, one of the ancient tribes which formerly inhabited Brecknockshire. He is now regarded as the major Welsh poet of the Commonwealth period.

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