Henry Vaughan was one of twins born to Thomas Vaughan and Denise Vaughan in 1622, ten years after a union that brought the elder Vaughan into possession of house and lands at Trenewydd (Newton-on-Usk). The father of the poet apparently had no calling except that of a gentleman, and in later life, he seems to have been fond of suing and being sued by his relatives. The Vaughan family had resided in the Brecknock region of Wales for generations and traced their line back to David ap Llwellen, known as Davey Gam, who was knighted and slain at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. The poet’s twin, also named Thomas, obtained a greater measure of fame in his own lifetime than Henry did. He was a philosopher of the occult sciences who at one point engaged in a pamphlet war with Henry More, the noted Cambridge Platonist writer. He settled near Oxford and died in 1666. Contemporary scholars have suggested that the elaborate pastoral eclogue, Daphnis, appearing in Thalia Rediviva, was the poet’s farewell to his twin.
As befit the heirs of a minor country gentleman, the twins began their formal studies about 1632 with the rector of Llangatock, Matthew Herbert, continuing until 1638. The poet recalls that Herbert, “Though one man . . . gave me double treasure: learning and love.” Following this tutelage, the twins were sent off to Jesus College, Oxford. They were seventeen; they had grown up steeped in Welsh language and culture. While the record of Thomas Vaughan’s matriculation at Jesus College survives, no similar record exists for the poet. He apparently remained in Oxford until 1640, when he set forth to London with the intention of studying law. Shortly after his arrival, the king’s favorite, the earl of Stafford, and Archbishop Laud were indicted. Stafford was executed by a reluctant monarch in the following May. Perhaps at this time Vaughan began translating Juvenal’s tenth satire on the vanity of human wishes. While at London, Vaughan began his poetic “apprenticeship,” steeping himself in the writings of Ben Jonson and his Cavalier followers such as Thomas Randolph. These efforts were published in the Poems of 1646. One imagines the young Vaughan’s brief tenure in London as preparation for a respectable civic life, perhaps dividing his time between the city and the Welsh countryside. It was not to be.
In the summer of 1642, the first civil war erupted; Vaughan hastened to Wales. There he accepted the post of secretary to the chief justice of the Great Sessions, Sir Marmaduke Lloyd,...
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