Herbert, Edward

, lord Herbert, of Cherbury in Shropshire, an eminent English writer, was descended from a very ancient family, and born 1581, at Montgomery-­castle in Wales. At the age of fourteen he was entered as a gentleman-commoner at University college, in Oxford, where he laid, says Wood, the foundation of that admirable learning, of which he was afterwards a complete master. In 1600 he came to London, and shortly after the accession of James I. was created knight of the hath. He served the office of high sheriff for the county of Montgomery, and divided his time between the country and the court. In 1608, feeling wearied with the sameness of domestic scenes, he visited the continent, carrying with him some romantic notions on the point of honour, which, in. such an age, were likely to involve him in perpetual quarrels. His advantageous person and manners, and the reputation for courage which he acquired, gained him many friends, among whom was the constable Montmorenci. As a seat of this nobleman he passed several months practising horsemanship, and other manly exercises, in which he became singularly expert. He returned to England in 1609, and in the following, year he quitted it again, in. order that he might have the opportunity of serving with the English forces sent to assist the prince of Orange at the siege of Juliers. Here he signalised himself by his valour, which, in some instances, was carried to the extreme of rashness. After the siege he visited Antwerp and Brussels, and returned to London, where he was looked now upon as one of the most conspicuous characters of the time. An attempt was made to assassinate him, in revenge for some liberties which he took, or was supposed to have taken, with a married lady. In 1614 he went into the Low. Countries to serve under the prince of Orange; after this | he engaged with the duke of Savoy, to conduct from France a body of protestants to Piedmont for his service. In 1616 he was sent ambassador to Louis XIII. of France, to mediate for the relief of the protestants of that realm, but was recalled in July 1621, on account of a dispute between him and the constable de Luines. Camden says that he had treated the constable irreverently; but Walton tells us that “he could not subject himself to a compliance with the humours of the duke de Luines, who was then the great and powerful favourite at court: so that, upon a complaint to our king, he was called back into England in some displeasure; but at his return gave such an honourable account of his employment, and so justified his comportment to the duke and all the court, that he was suddenly sent back upon the same embassy.

Another writer relates this more particularly. Sir Edward, while he was in France, had private instructions from England to mediate a peace for the protestants in France; and, in case of a refusal, to use certain menaces. Accordingly, being referred to de Luines, he delivered to him the message, reserving his threatenings till he saw how the matter was relished. De Luines had concealed a gentleman of the reformed religion behind the curtain; who, heing an ear-witness of what passed, might relate to his friends what little expectations they ought to entertain of the king of England’s intercession. De Luines was very haughty, and asked what our king had to do in this affair. Sir Edward replied, “It is not to you, to whom the king my master owcth an account of his actions; and for me it is enough that I obey him. In the mean time I must maintain, that my master hath more reason to do what he doth, than you to ask why he doth it. Nevertheless, if you desire me in a gentle fashion, I shall acquaint you farther.” Upon this, de Luines bowing a little, said, “Very well.” The ambassador then gave him some reasons; to which de Luines said, “We will have none of your advices.” The ambassador replied, “that he took that for an answer, and was sorry only, that the affection and good-will of the king his master was not sufficiently understood and that, since it was rejected ii> that manner, he could do no less than say, that the king his master knew well enough what to do.” De Luines answered, “We are not afraid of you.” The ambassador smiling a little, replied, “If you had said you had not loved us, I should | have believed you, and given you another answer. In the mean time, all that I will tell you more is, that we know very well what we have to do.” De Luines upon this, rising from his chair with a fashion and countenance a little discomposed, said, “By G, if you were not monsieur the ambassador, I know very well how I would use yon.” Sir Edward Herbert rising also from his chair, said, that “as he was the king of Great Britain’s ambassador, so he was also a gentleman; and that his sword, whereon he laid his hand, should give him satisfaction if he had taken any offence.” After which, de Luines making no reply, the ambassador went on towards the door, and de Luines seeming to accompany him, sir Edward told him, that “there was no occasion to use such ceremony after such language,” and so departed, expecting to hear farther from him. But no message being brought from de Luines, he had, in pursuance of his instructions, a more civil audience from the king at Coignac; where the marshal of St. Geran told him that tf he had offended the constable, and was not in a place of security there:“to which he answered, that” he thought himself to be in a place of security wheresoever he had his sword by him." De Luines, resenting the affront, procured Cadinet his brother, duke of Chaun, with a train of officers, of whom there was not one, as he told king James, but had killed his man, to go as an ambassador extraordinary; who misrepresented the affair so much to the disadvantage of sir Edward, that the earl of Carlisle, who was sent to accommodate the misunderstanding which might arise between the two crowns, got him recalled; until the gentleman who stood behind the curtain, out of a regard to truth and honour, related all the circumstances so as to make it appear, that though de Luines gave the first affront, yet sir Edward had kept himself within the bounds of his instructions and honour. He afterwards fell on his knees to king James, before the duke of Buckingham, requesting that a trumpeter, if not an herald, might be sent to de Luines, to tell him that he had made a false relation of the whole affair; and that sir Edward Herbert would demand satisfaction of him sword in hand. The king answered, that he would take it into consideration; but de Luines died soon after, and sir Edward was sent again ambassador to France.

In 1625 sir Edward was advanced to the dignity of a baron of the kingdom of Ireland, by the title of lord | Herbert of Castle-Island; and, in 1631, to that of lord Herbert of Cherbury in Shropshire. After the breaking out of the civil wars, he adhered to the parliament; and, Feb. 25, 1644, “had an allowance granted him for his livelihood, having been spoiled by the king’s forces,” as Whitelocke says; or, as “Wood relates it,” received satisfaction from the members of that house, for their causing Montgomery castle to be demolished.“In the parliamentary history, it is said that lord Herbert offended the House of lords by a speech in favour of the king, and that he attended his majesty at York. It appears that when he saw the drift of the parliamentary party, he quitted them, and was a great sufferer in his fortune from their vengeance. He died at his house in Queen-street, London, August 20, 1648; and was buried in the chancel of St. Giles’s in the Fields, with this inscription upon a flat marble stone over his grave:” Heic inhumatqr corpus Edvardi Herbert equitis Balnei, baronis de Cherbury et Castle-Island, auctoris libri, cui titulus est, De Veritate. Keddor ut herbae; vicesimo die Augusti anno Domini 1648."

This noble lord was the author of some very singular and memorable works: the first of which was his book “De Veritate,” which is mentioned in his epitaph. It was printed at Paris in 1624, and reprinted there in 1633; after which it was printed in London, in 1645, under this title; “De Veritate, prout distinguitur a revelatione, a verisimili, a possibili, a falso. Cui operi additi sunt duo alii tractatus primus de causis errornm; alter de Religione Laici.” In this he is said to have been the first author who formed deism into a system, and endeavoured to assert the sufficiency, universality, and absolute perfection of natural religion, without the necessity of any extraordinary revelation. He attempted to prove that the light of reason, and the innate principles planted in the human mind, are sufficient to discover the great doctrines of morality, to regulate our actions, and conduct us to happiness in a future state. The fallacy of all this has been ably displayed by Locke, Leland, and many other writers of eminence. But the noble author proved himself the greatest enthusiast, while he affected to combat enthusiasm, and by his own example evinced the absurdity of his system. Having finished the above treatise “De Veritate,” in which revelation is considered as useless, he was desito publish it; but, as the frame of his whole book | differed from all former writings concerning the discovery of truth, he hesitated whether he should suspend the publication: “Being thus doubtful in my chamber,” says lord Herbert, “one fair day in the summer, my casement being open towards the south, the sun shining clear, and no wind stirring, I took my book * De Veritate‘ in my hands, and kneeling on my knees, devoutly said these words: ’ O thou eternal God, author of this light, which now shines upon me, and giver of all inward illuminations, I do beseech thee, of thine infinite goodness, to pardon a greater request than a sinner ought to make. 1 am not satisfied enough, whether I shall publish this book if it be for thy glory, I beseech thee give me some sign from heaven if not, I shall suppress it.’ I had no sooner spoken these words, but a loud, though yet gentle noise, came forth from the heavens, for it was like nothing on earth, which did so chcar and comfort me, that I took my petition as granted, and that I had the sign I demanded; whereupon also I resolved to print my book. This, how strange soever it may seem, I protest before the eternal God, is true: neither am I any way superstitiously deceived herein, since I did not only clearly hear the noise, but in the serenest sky that ever 1 saw, being without all cloud, did, to my thinking, see the place from whence it came. And now I sent my book to be printed in Paris, at my own cost and charges.” It is not possible to reprove the folly and blindness of his conduct in this instance, in warmer terms than those which are employed by his noble editor. “There is no stronger characteristic of human nature than its being open to the grossest contradictions: one of lord Herbert’s chief arguments against revealed religion is, the improbability that Heaven should reveal its will to only a portion of the earth, which he terms particular religion. How could a man who doubted of partial, believe individual revelation What vanity, to think his book of such importance to the cause of truth, that it could extort a declaration of the divine will, when the interest of half mankind could not

The celebrated Gassendi wrote a confutation of this book “De Veritate,” at the desire of Peirescius and Elias Diodati and finished it at Aix, without publishing it: and when lord Herbert paid him a visit in Sept. 1647, Gassendi was surprized to find, that this piece had not been delivered to him, for he had sent him a copy: upon which | he ordered another copy to be taken of it, which that nobleman carried with him to England. It was afterwards published in Gassendi’s works, under the title of “Ad librum D. Edvardi Herberti Angli de Veritate epistola;” but is imperfect, some sheets of the original being lost.

His most useful work, the “History of the Life and Reign of Henry VIII.” was published in 1649, a year after his death, and has always been much admired. Nicolson says, that lord Herbert “acquitted himself in this history with the like reputation, as the lord chancellor Bacon gained by that of Henry Vllth. For in the public and martial part this honourable author has been admirably particular and exact from the best records that were extant; though as to the ecclesiastical, he seems to have looked upon it as a thing out of his province, and an undertaking more proper for men of another profession.” Although it has been considered as a very valuable piece of history, there is not, perhaps, so much candour displayed in every part as could be wished. In 1663, appeared his book “De Religione Gentilium, errorumque apud eos causis.” The first part was printed at London, in 1645; and that year he sent the ms. of it to Gerard Vossius, as appears from a letter of his lordship’s, and Vossius’s answer. An English translation of this work was published in 1705, under this title: “The ancient Religion of the Gentiles, and causes of their errors considered. The mistakes and failures of the Heathen Priests and wise men, in their notions of the Deity and matters of Divine Worship, are examined with regard to their being destitute of Divine Revelation.” Lord Herbert wrote also in 1630, “Expeditio Buckingham! ducis in Ream insulam,” which was published in 1656; and “Occasional Verses,” published in 1665, by his son Henry Herbert, and dedicated to Edward lord Herbert, his grandson; hut they form no claim to the poetical character. Christian Kortholt, on account of his book “De Veritate,” has ranked him with Hobbes and Spinosa, in his dissertation entitled “De tribus impostoribus magnis, Edvardo Herbert, Thoma Hobbes, & Benedicto Spinosa, Liber,” printed at Kilon m 1680. Granger has very aptly described him as a man who was at once wise and capricious: who redressed wrongs, and quarrelled for punctilios; hated bigotry in religion, and was himself a bigot to philosophy; exposed himself to suoh dangers as other men of courage would | have carefully declined and called in question the fundamentals of religion, which none had the hardiness to dispute besides himself. The life of lord Herbert, written by himself, was recovered by the family, after having been long missing, and printed at Strawberry -hill, by lord OrItbrd, in 1764, for private distribution; but was reprinted for sale by Dodsley in 1770, 4to. Lord Orford observes, that it is, perhaps, the most extraordinary account that ever was seriously given by a wise man of himself. 1


Life by himself. Walton’s Life of George Herbert Royal and Noble Authors by Mr. Park. Lloyd’s Memoirs, fol.-aud State Worthies. Ellis’s Specimens. —Leland’s Deistical Writers.