The few bits of information known about Thomas Traherne’s life come principally from John Aubrey’s Miscellanies (1696), which reveals that Traherne was twice visited by apparitions, and from Anthony à Wood’s Athenae Oxoniensus (1691-1692), where he is identified as a son of John Traherne, a shoemaker who was related to Philip Traherne, twice mayor of Hereford. Traherne also had a brother Philip, who revised and edited some of his poems. Traherne was educated at Brasenose College, Oxford, where he took his B.A. degree on October 13, 1656. He was ordained and, on December 30, 1657, was appointed to the Rectory at Credenhill, County Hereford. While at Credenhill, Traherne became spiritual adviser to Susanna Hopton. She had become a Roman Catholic after the execution of Charles I but rejoined the Church of England after the Restoration and became the center of a religious society for which Traherne wrote Centuries of Meditations. Hopton’s niece married Traherne’s brother Philip. Traherne returned to Oxford to take his M.A. on November 6, 1661, and his B.D. (Bachelor of Divinity) on December 11, 1669. In 1667, he became chaplain to Sir Orlando Bridgman, Keeper of the Seals in the Restoration. Traherne’s death occurred three months after his patron’s, and he was buried beneath the reading desk in the church at Teddington on October 10, 1674. Roman Forgeries, the equivalent of a modern B.D. thesis, was his only work published in his lifetime, although he was preparing Christian Ethicks for publication at the time of his death. There may yet be more works of Traherne to be discovered; manuscripts of his works have come to light in 1964, 1981, and 1996-1997.
The seventeenth century meditative religious poet Thomas Traherne(truh-HURN) did not acquire literary fame until the late nineteenth century, for the poems and the prose reflections, Centuries of Meditations, on which his reputation rests, were lost for more than two hundred years after his death, reappearing finally at a London bookseller’s in 1897. Consequently, little is known about the poet’s quiet life. Most of the extant information was recorded by Anthony à Wood, a seventeenth century man of letters, in his Athenae Oxoniensis (1691-1692), a collection of brief biographical sketches of all the Oxford graduates he considered noteworthy.
Traherne was the son of a shoemaker who had come from a once-prominent Welsh family. His Celtic heritage links Traherne with Henry Vaughan, another seventeenth century religious poet whose works reveal a mystical concept of the relationship between humans and nature as well as a soul seeking to return to its original state of innocence when it was one with God.
Both Thomas and his elder brother, Philip, were provided with financial support for a good education, apparently by another Philip Traherne, a wealthy innkeeper of their village, who was probably a relative. Thomas entered Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1652. He was granted the degree of bachelor of arts in 1656 and received his master of arts in 1661, after his ordination to the priesthood in the Church of England in December, 1657. He...
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