Henry Vaughan Biography


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

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,...

(The entire section is 1040 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

A number of seventeenth century poets won new popularity in the mid-twentieth century in the wake of a revived interest in the Metaphysical poetry of John Donne. Among them is Henry Vaughan (vawn), whose works reflect the influence of the religious lyrics of Donne and his disciple George Herbert.

Vaughan came from a middle-class Welsh family. He was born in 1622 in Newton-on-Usk, Brecknockshire, and, with his twin brother Thomas, received his early education from Matthew Herbert, a clergyman who lived in a nearby village. The two young men probably entered Jesus College, Oxford, together in 1638; the records of Thomas’s matriculation, but not of Henry’s, are still extant.

Thomas Vaughan remained in Oxford to receive his degree and was later ordained a priest in the Church of England, but Henry went on to London in 1640 to study law. There is little factual evidence of his activities at that time, but he probably took advantage of the opportunity to become familiar with contemporary literature. His first volume of poetry reveals his knowledge of the works of many of the Cavalier poets of the court of Charles I.

Vaughan seems to have abandoned his legal studies about 1642 with the outbreak of the Civil Wars, and he served in King Charles’s army. He was also employed as clerk to Sir Marmaduke Lloyd, chief justice of the Brecon Circuit, Vaughan’s home district.

Vaughan’s first book of poems was published in 1646. The verses included in it, polished love lyrics addressed to his lady, Amoret, are full of classical allusions and Platonic sentiments in the Caroline tradition of Thomas Carew, John Suckling, and Thomas Randolph. Vaughan wrote other such poems, but they were not published until later decades, partly because of unpopular political references; the Puritans controlled South...

(The entire section is 749 words.)