George Herbert (1593 – 1633) was a Welsh-born poet, orator and Anglican priest. Herbert’s poetry is associated with the writings of the metaphysical poets, and he is recognised as “one of the foremost British devotional lyricists.”
Born into an artistic and wealthy family, Herbert was largely raised in England and received there a good education that led to his admission in 1609 as a student at Trinity College, Cambridge. He went there at first with the intention of becoming a priest, but when eventually he became the University’s Public Orator he attracted the attention of King James I. In 1624 and briefly in 1625 he served in the Parliament of England.
After the death of King James, Herbert’s interest in ordination renewed. In his mid-thirties he gave up his secular ambitions and took holy orders in the Church of England, spending the rest of his life as the rector of the little parish of St Andrews Church, Lower Bemerton, Salisbury. He was noted for unfailing care for his parishioners, bringing the sacraments to them when they were ill, and providing food and clothing for those in need. Henry Vaughan called him “a most glorious saint and seer”. Never a healthy man, he died of consumption at the early age of 39.
Reginald Heber (1783 – 1826) was an English bishop, traveller, man of letters and hymn-writer who, after working as a country parson for 16 years, served as the Bishop of Calcutta until his sudden death at the age of 42.
The son of a wealthy landowner and cleric, Heber gained an early reputation at the University of Oxford as a poet. After graduation, he expanded his view of the world by undertaking, at the height of the Napoleonic Wars, an extended tour of Scandinavia, Russia and central Europe. He was ordained in 1807, and took over his father’s old parish of Hodnet in Shropshire. He combined his pastoral duties with other church offices, hymn-writing, and more general literary work which included a critical study of the complete works of the 17th-century cleric Jeremy Taylor.
Heber was consecrated Bishop of Calcutta in October 1823. During his short episcopate he travelled widely in the areas of India within his diocese, and worked hard to improve the spiritual and general living conditions of his flock. A combination of arduous duties, hostile climate and indifferent health brought about his collapse and death while visiting Trichinopoly (now Tiruchirappalli), after less than three years in India. Monuments were erected in his memory in India and in St Paul’s Cathedral, London. A collection of his hymns was published shortly after his death; one of these, “Holy, Holy, Holy”, is a popular and widely known hymn for Trinity Sunday.