Henry Vaughan (1622-1695). Courtesy Poeticous.

Henry Vaughan
Born April 17, 1622
Newton St. Briget, Brecknockshire, Wales
Died April 23, 1695 (aged 73)
Scethrog, Brecknockshire, Wales
Occupation Poet
Nationality Welsh
Ethnicity Welsh
Period 17th century
Genres Poetry
Notable work(s) Silex Scintillans
Spouse(s) Catherine Vaughan, Elizabeth Vaughan
Relative(s) Thomas Vaughan

Dr. Henry Vaughan (April 17, 1622 - April 23, 1695) was a Welsh poet and physician.[1] He is considered a member of the Metaphysical poets.

Life Edit


Born in the parish of Llansaintffraed, Brecknock, and as a native of the land of the ancient Silures, Vaughan called himself "Silurist." He was at Oxford, studied law in London, but finally settled as a physician at Brecon and Newton-by-Usk. In his youth he was a decided Royalist and, along with his twin brother Thomas, was imprisoned. His 1st book was Poems, with the Tenth satire of Juvenal Englished. It appeared in 1646. Olor Iscanus (the Swan of Usk), a collection of poems and translations, was surreptitiously published in 1651. About this time he had a serious illness which led to deep spiritual impressions, and thereafter his writings were almost entirely religious. Silex Scintillans (Sparks from the Flint), his best known work, consists of short poems full of deep religious feeling, fine fancy, and exquisite felicities of expression, mixed with a good deal that is quaint and artificial. It contains "The Retreat," a poem of about 30 lines which manifestly suggested to Wordsworth his "Ode on the Intimations of Immortality, and "Beyond the Veil," 1 of the finest meditative poems in the language. Flores Solitudinis (Flowers of Solitude) and The Mount of Olives are devout meditations in prose. The 2 brothers were joint authors of Thalia Rediviva: The pastimes and diversions of a country muse (1678), a collection of translations and original poems.[2]


Henry and his brother, Thomas, were born into an ancient Welsh family at Newton St Briget near Scethrog by Usk, Brecknockshire, Wales on 17 April 1622,[3] the sons of Thomas Vaughan and his wife Denise (Morgan)[4] of 'Trenewydd', Newton, in Brecknockshire, Wales. Their grandfather, William, was the owner of Tretower Court,[5]

Anthony a Wood, who is the main authority for Vaughan's biography, says that Henry was entered at Jesus College, Oxford, in 1638, but no corroboration of the statement is forthcoming (although his brother Thomas Vaughan's matriculation is entered), nor does Henry Vaughan ever allude to residence at the university.[1][3]

Henry was sent to London to study law, but turning his attention to medicine, he became a physician.[3]


Henry Vaughan settled 1st at Brecon and later at Scethrog to the practice of his art. He was regarded, says Wood, as an "ingenious person, but proud and humorous." It seems likely that he fought on the king's side in the Welsh campaign of 1645, and was present at the battle of Rowton Heath.[3]

In 1646 appeared Poems, with the Tenth Satyre of Juvenal Englished, by Henry Vaughan, Gent. A 2nd volume of secular verse, Olor Iscanus, which takes its name from the opening verses addressed to the Isca (Usk), was published by a friend, probably Thomas Vaughan, without the author's consent, in 1651.[3]

Henry Vaughan died at Scethrog on 23 April 1695, and was buried in the churchyard of Llansantffraed.[3]


As a poet Vaughan comes latest in the so-called ""meta- physical" school of the 17th century. He is a disciple of John Donne, but follows him mainly as he saw him reflected in George Herbert. He analyses his experiences, amatory and sacred, with excessive ingenuity, striking out, every now arid then, through his extreme intensity of feeling and his close observation of nature, lines and phrases of marvelous felicity.[3]

He is of imagination all compact, and is happiest when he abandons himself most completely to his vision. It is, as Canon H.C. Beeching has said,

undoubtedly the mystical element in Vaughan's writing by Tphich he takes rank as a poet ... it is easy to see that he has a passion for Nature for her own Sake, that he has observed her moods; that indeed the world is to him no less than a veil of the eternal spirit, whose presence may be felt in any, even the smallest part.[3]

Vaughan and HerbertEdit

Henry Vaughan was greatly indebted to George Herbert, who provided a model for Vaughan's newly founded spiritual life and literary career,[6] in which he displayed "spiritual quickening and the gift of gracious feeling"[7]:p2 derived from Herbert.

In the preface to Silex Scintillans; or, Sacred poems and pious ejaculations he says:

The first that with any effectual success attempted a diversion of this foul and overflowing stream (of profane poetry) was the blessed man, Mr George Herbert, whose holy life and verse gained many pious converts, of whom I am the least.[3]

He further expresses his debt to Hebert in "The Match," when he says that his own "fierce, wild blood ... is still tam'd by those bright fires which thee inflam'd." His debt to Herbert extended to the form of his poetry and sometimes to the actual expressions used in it, and a long list of parallel passages has been adduced.[3]

Archbishop Trench has proposed that "As a divine Vaughan may be inferior [to Herbert], but as a poet he is certainly superior"[7]:p2. Critics praise Vaughan's use of literary elements. Vaughan's use of monosyllables, his long-drawn alliterations, and his ability to compel the reader places Vaughan as "more than the equal of George Herbert". Yet others say that the 2 are not even comparable, because Herbert is in fact the Master. While these critics admit that Vaughan's use of words can be superior to Herbert's, they believe his poetry is, in fact, worse. Herbert's profundity as well as consistency are said to be the key to his superiority.[7]:p4


The poems in his 1st volume of Poems (164) are chiefly addressed to "Amoret," and the last is on Priory Grove, the home of the "matchless Orinda," Mrs. Katharine Philips.[3] Olor Iscans (1651) includes 3 prose translations from Latin versions of Plutarch and Maximus of Tyre, and 1 in praise of a country life from Guevara. The preface is dated 1647.[3]

The complete works of Henry Vaughan were edited for the Fuller Worthies Library by A.B. Grosart in 1871. The Poems of Henry Vaughan, Silurist, were edited in 1896 by E.K. Chambers, with an introduction by Canon H.C. Beeching, for the Muses' Library.[3]

Critical introductionEdit

by George Augustus Simcox

Vaughan only began to be a poet when Crashaw’s career was over; and he did not continue to be a poet to any purpose long. Everything he wrote before or after the 2 parts of Silex Scintillans might be spared. He is a mystic, as Herbert is an ascetic and Crashaw a devotee. Herbert’s temptation is the world, Vaughan’s temptation is the flesh; the special service that Herbert does him is to lift his mind from profane love to sacred.

He is quite pathetic in the preface to Silex Scintillans about his early loose love-poetry. He suppressed the worst of it, and adjures his reader to leave the sufficiently harmless collection which escaped him unread. When he was seven and 20 older (he would not have thought wiser) he collected some more of his love verses equally innocent and rather insignificant. Amoret and Etesia are less interesting than Saccharissa and Althea and Castara. Perhaps Etesia’s name implies that she was good to love for a year and no longer.

The long interval of 22 years between the 2nd part of Silex Scintillans and Thalia Rediviva, is filled mainly by little translations of works of edification and a few original prayers. The prayers are rather too like sermons, and the title Silex Scintillans implies that his heart was a stone from which sparks might be struck now and then. He is as full as Herbert of the fluctuations of his own feelings, and as ready to interpret any failure of power as a judgment, as ready too to lecture upon his spiritual experience for the instruction of his reader. In both the lesson is the same, that external disappointments are good for the inner life. For Vaughan too rebelled against his circumstances: after Oxford and a riotous holiday in London, it was dull to settle down at Brecknock: the world had not promised so much to him as to Herbert, but it performed even less. "The Mutiny" reminds us of "The Collar", as "Rules and Maxims" remind us of "The Church Porch". "The Tempest" recalls Providence, and in "Sundays" the coincidence is even closer: again, "The ‘Queer’", as we should now say The Riddle, is obviously suggested by "The Quip". Even the complaint that men inflame themselves with a scarf or glove is borrowed from Herbert, who knew the world better than Vaughan, and gives pointed counsel and criticism, where Vaughan grumbles at the poverty of poets or the weight of a cloak.

On the other hand, he knows nature much better. Herbert has no feeling for anything but the sweetness of flowers and sunshine, Vaughan feels the awe of the freshness of morning among the Welsh mountains. It is in morning walks that he meets God; early rising is the one original recommendation in "Rules and Maxims". The sanctity and insight of childhood are more to him than even to Wordsworth. Many religious writers speak of this life as an exile, Vaughan carries the metaphor through: we are exiles not only from the home we seek but from the home we have left. He even suspects the stars may have something to do with the uncompensated misfortune of birth into a world of time and sense. His twin brother Thomas studied alchemy not as a means to the transmutation of metals, but as a key to the hidden unity of nature.

Cui Bridge kissing gate - - 498442

Interpretation panel highlighting poetry by Henry Vaughan at Cui Bridge Kissing Gate, Powys. Photo by Nick Toulson. Licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy

In his own translations Henry Vaughan uses Neoplatonists quite as familiarly as Jesuits. His prose is rich and musical; his few Latin poems mostly insignificant. His translations from Ovid and Juvenal are rough and cumbrous; he writes decasyllabics very badly compared not only with Sandys but with Crashaw. His translations in octosyllabics from Casimir and Boethius are excellent, especially the poem on the Golden Age from Boethius.[8]


Vaughan is recognized "as another example of a poet who can write both graceful and effective prose"[9] and influenced the work of poets such as Wordsworth, Tennyson and Siegfried Sassoon. American science fiction writer Philip K. Dick named Vaughan as a key influence.

4 of Vaughan's poems ("The Retreat," "Peace," "The Timber," and "Friends Departed") were included in the Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900.[10]

Publications Edit


  • Poems, with the tenth satyre of Ivvenal Englished. London: G. Badger, 1646.
  • Silex Scintillans; or, Sacred poems and private ejaculations. London:T.W. for H. Blunden, 1650.
    • (second edition, enlarged). London:Henry Crips & Lodowick Lloyd, 1655.
    • Silex Scintillans (edited by H.F. Lyte). London: William Pickering, 1847.
  • Olor Iscanus: A collection of some select poems, and translations. London:T.W. for Humphrey Moseley, 1651.
  • Thalia Rediviva: The pass-times and diversions of a country-muse in choice poems on several occasions (with Thomas Vaughan). London:Robert Pawlet, 1678.
  • Poems of Henry Vaughan, Silurist (edited by E.K. Chambers). (2 volumes), London: Routledge; New York: Dutton, 1890. Volume 1, Volume 2.
  • Poems of Henry Vaughan (edited by E.K. Chambers). London: Lawrence & Bullen; New York: Scribner, 1896.
  • Complete Poetry of Henry Vaughan (edited by French Fogel). Garden City, NY: Doubleday / Anchor, 1964.
  • Complete Poems (edited by Alan Rudrum) (Harmondsworth, UK & Baltimore, MD: Penguin, 1976).


  • The Mount of Olives; or, Solitary devotions. London: William Leake, 1652.
  • Flores Solitudinis. Certaine rare and elegant pieces. London: Humphrey Moseley, 1654.

Collected editisionsEdit

  • Works in Verse and Prose Complete of Henry Vaughan, Silurist (edited by Alexander Balloch Grosart). Blackburn, Lancashire, UK: C. Tiplady, 1871.
  • Works (edited by L.C. Martin). (2 volumes), Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1914
    • 2nd edition (1 volume), 1957.
  • George Herbert and Henry Vaughan (edited by Louis Martz). New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.


  • Hermetical Physick: Or, The right way to preserve, and to restore Health. By That famous and faithfull Chymist, Henry Nollivs. Englished by Henry Vaughan, Gent. London: printed for Humphrey Moseley, 1655.
  • The Chymists Key to shut, and to open: Or the True Doctrin of Corruption and Generation, Henry Nollius's De Generatione Rerum naturalium (translated by Vaughan). London: printed by E.B. for L. Lloyd, 1657.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[11]

Poems by Henry VaughanEdit

Corruption by Henry Vaughan

Corruption by Henry Vaughan

Henry Vaughan - THE WATERFALL' poem

Henry Vaughan - THE WATERFALL' poem

The Retreat by Henry Vaughan

The Retreat by Henry Vaughan

  1. The World

See alsoEdit


  • PD-icon.svg Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). "Vaughan, Henry". Encyclopædia Britannica. 27 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 955. . Wikisource, Web, Mar. 15, 2018.
  • Calhoun, Thomas O Henry Vaughan: The Achievement of the Silex Scintillans. Associated University Presses, Inc, 1981. East Brunswick, New Jersey.
  • Fisch Harold The Dual Image. London: World Jewish Library, 1971, p. 41, Katz, Philo-Semitism, pp. 185-186.
  • Grosart Rev. Alexander B. (ed.) "Essay on the Life and Writings of Henry Vaughan, Silurist" in The Works in Verse and Prose Complete of Henry Vaughan, Silurist, Vol. II. Blackburn, 1871, pp. ix-ci. Reprinted in Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800, Vol. 27.
  • Hutchinson F. E. The Works of George Herbert. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1945; to Henry Vaughan from the edition by The Works of Henry Vaughan, L.C. Martin, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2nd edn., 1957.
  • Matar, Nabil I George Herbert, Henry Vaughan, and the Conversion of the Jews. Studies in English Literature (Rice), 00393657, Winter 90, Vol. 30, Issue 1
  • Sullivan Ceri The Rhetoric of the Conscience in Donne, Herbert, and Vaughan. Oxford University Press, 2008


  1. Henry Vaughan, NNDB, Soylent Communications,, Web, May 20, 2012.
  2. John William Cousin, "Vaughan, Henry," A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: Dent / New York: Dutton, 1910, 391. Wikisource, Web, Mar. 15, 2018.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 Britannica 1911, 955.
  4. Powys Literary Links - Henry Vaughan BBC mid Wales, 3 Jan 2006
  5. VAUGHAN family, of Tretower Court in Welsh Biography Online, at National Library of Wales: "William Vaughan's children included THOMAS VAUGHAN (d. 1658), who m. the heiress of Newton in Llansantffraed; Henry Vaughan the Silurist (q.v.) and Thomas Vaughan (q.v.) were their sons."
  6. Ward A.W. and Waller A.R. (Ed.) The Sacred Poets in The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol 7
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Grosart, Rev. Alexander B. (ed.). Essay on the Life and Writings of Henry Vaughan, Silurist --in The Works in Verse and Prose Complete of Henry Vaughan, Silurist, Vol. II. London UK: Gale 1995. pp. ix-ci Blackburn, 1871, reprinted in Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800, Vol. 27, ed. Person J E. 
  8. from George Augustus Simcox, "Critical Introduction: Sandys, Herbert, Crashaw, Vaughan," The English Poets: Selections with critical introductions (edited by Thomas Humphry Ward). New York & London: Macmillan, 1880-1918. Web, Apr. 11, 2016.
  9. Hutchinson F E Henry Vaughan ,A life and Interpretation, Clarenden Press, Oxford 1947.
  10. Alphabetical list of authors: Shelley, Percy Bysshe to Yeats, William Butler, Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900 (edited by Arthur Quiller-Couch). Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1919., Web, May 19, 2012.
  11. Henry Vaughan 1621-1695, Poetry Foundation, Web, July 30, 2012.

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PD-icon.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain, the 1911 Edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica. Original article is at "Vaughan, Henry"

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