Who was Thomas Traherne?

Our understanding of Thomas Traherne’s life and contribution is growing as his works continue to be discovered and studied. In brief, Traherne was a 17th century English philosopher, poet, priest, and theologian. A.M. Allchin observed that “The quality which strikes everyone who comes across the famous passages of Traherne’s poetic prose is their joy and delight in God’s creation.” His most famous works were not discovered until the end of the 19th century and he was best known throughout the 20th century for his prose work, Centuries of Meditations, and secondarily for Christian Ethics. Many more of his works were discovered in the latter half of the 20th century and continue to be published.

Some excellent biographical resources concerning Traherne are available on the Web . The Wikipedia entry is very accurate and thorough: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Traherne. And the wonderful site published by the Traherne Association in the UK (www.thomastraherneassociation.org) has a helpful Traherne biography along with other resources: http://www.thomastraherneassociation.org/who_was_traherne.php.

Denise Inge, probably the leading Traherne scholar in the last 30 years, continued to flesh out the details of Traherne’s life and thinking from his many newly discovered works that she helped to make available to the public. Her book, Happiness and Holiness, is the best available survey of his background and writings.

A.M. (Donald) Allchin, one of the most generous and enthusiastic authorities on Traherne up until his death in 2010, summarized in his Landscapes of Glory: Daily Readings with Thomas Traherne:

We know very little for certain about the outward facts of Traherne’s life. He was born in 1637 in or near Hereford, the son of a shoemaker. His parents seem to have died while he was still young. In 1653 at the age of fifteen he became a student at Brasenose College in Oxford, taking his degree in 1656. In the following year he was appointed rector of the parish of Credenhill four miles north-west of Hereford. In 1660, on the restoration of the monarchy and of the episcopal order in the Church of England, Traherne was ordained and reappointed to Credenhill.

Sometime towards the end of the 1660s he became private chaplain to Sir Orlando Bridgeman, a prominent figure at the court of King Charles II, and it was at his house at Teddington that Traherne died in the autumn of 1674 at the age of thirty-seven.

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