The Principles of Augustine

In his attempt to help us in our reading of Traherne’s Centuries, Louis Martz asks, “Can the principles of Augustine also be used to explore the full extent and progress of the Centuries, and to measure the degree of its success in achieving the action of an organic work?” (The Paradise Within, p. 55) The answer is ‘Yes’, and for Martz those principles are most clearly and succinctly laid out by Bonaventure.

The principles can be experienced through a journey of the mind in three stages. Martz explains, “The first stage (the first pair of wings) consists in finding God by his traces in the external world; the second consists in finding God within the self, through discovering his image in man; and the third consists in contemplation of the essential attributes of God and the Trinity.” (TPW, p. 56)

These same principles – this journey – can help me deepen my experience of reading Traherne. It will help me see the world through clearer lenses.

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Traherne’s Augustinian Quest to Find the Paradise Within

Professor Louis Martz intuited Traherne’s essence as well as anyone. That essence was formed by the triad of the Bible, Nature, and the Self. Martz explains that these were “the three ‘books’ cultivated by the medieval Augustinians, and especially by St. Bonaventure, the Book of Scripture, the Book of Nature, and the Book of the Soul.” (The Paradise Within [TPW], p. 17)

These three ‘books’ can help us regain the ‘Paradise within’ by uncovering and developing the inner forms of truth and good. Martz explains that “Traherne’s Centuries assert that this Paradise, this Similitude and Presence [of God], still stand in the midst of man, and that therefore man still walks in the midst of a Paradise to be found in the whole Creation.” (TPW, p. 39)  This is the essence that “is found in the style, the method of meditation, and the total progress of [Traherne’s] Centuries.” (TPW, p. 39)

Martz dedicates over 60 pages in The Paradise Within to unraveling this method of meditation, and serves as a worthy guide through the Centuries.

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Reading Traherne with Professor Louis Martz

Professor Louis Martz is a treasure who, not unlike Traherne, has been overlooked by the publishing world. In other words, such works of his as The Poetry of Meditation and The Paradise Within have been out of print for some time. But these two books are invaluable companions to reading Traherne’s Centuries. The Poetry of Meditation is an unequalled introduction to the kind of meditative poetry that resulted  from hundreds of years of meditative practices in Europe. Traherne is a shining example of that kind of meditative, poetic writing. The Paradise Within provides one of the best structural studies of Traherne’s Centuries. Martz argues convincingly of Traherne’s indebtedness to the Augustinian quest as best articulated in Bonaventure’s study in The Mind’s Road to God.

So, some more details about Louis Martz. . . .  He was a much beloved professor at Yale University for four decades, from the 1950’s through the 1980’s. His friend and colleague Dwight Culler noted that, “As a scholar, his greatest impact was on the study of 17th-century metaphysical poetry through his book ‘The Poetry of Meditation’ (1954), which proved that the structure of these poems was deeply influenced by popular handbooks of religious devotion.” (Yale Bulletin & Calendar, January 18, 2002, Volume 30, Number 15). While he mentions Traherne several times in The Poetry of Meditation, Martz devotes 68 pages to Traherne’s Centuries in The Paradise Within: Studies in Vaughan, Traherne, and Milton.

Professor Martz can help us meditate our way through Traherne’s Centuries, from cover to cover. As well as anyone, he gives us the context for Traherne’s powerful, joyful method of meditation.

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H.M. Margoliouth and Questions about Modernizing Traherne

H.M. Margoliouth, a prominent 20th century literary scholar and editor, raised important questions about whether or not Traherne’s text should be modernized, and, if so, how. Margoliuoth was no stranger to these questions. Thirty-one years before Margoliouth’s edition of Traherne’s Centuries and Poems was published by Oxford University Press, the same press had published Margoliouth’s 2-volume critical edition of The Poems and Letters of Andrew Marvell. Marvell was of course another great 17th century English metaphysical poet and contemporary of Traherne. In his Marvell publications, Margoliouth explained why he had created a “trustworthy text.” In some cases, he faithfully followed the text of the original printed editions and in some cases he felt obligated to follow manuscript versions. (see “To Modernize or Not to Modernize: Is It a Question?”, Joan Faust, Vol. 1 No.2 – Winter 2009, Andrew Marvell Society Newsletter).

Both at the beginning and end of Margoliouth’s edition of Traherne’s Centuries, Poems, and Thanksgivings, he elaborates on the editorial principles he has chosen for his edition. At the beginning of his Introduction, he explains, “In the present edition Traherne’s spelling, capitalization, and punctuation are retained. The numerous changes he made in his text are recorded in the notes, which also aim at giving as many references as possible.”

However, in the end of the book, Margoliouth humbly admits:

“This edition is, of course, not one which any seventeenth-century publisher would have produced. Such a publisher would, in the main, have introduced his own spelling and punctuation. He would have produced a book more readable in some respects than an attempt to reproduce the author’s manuscript literatum (except for abbreviations) and punctuatim. He would have done for his age exactly what Dobell did in 1908. I take this opportunity of saying that, though I have found some mistakes of transcription in Dobell, they are neither many nor serious. Dobell’s modernized text can safely be recommended to the ‘general reader’. Its existence has, of course, saved me much labour.”

While Margoliouth painstakingly dedicated himself to an edition that was not modernized, he prized the modernized edition that first introduced him to Traherne. So, as we journey with Traherne, do we have room in our packs for several editions of Traherne? Is that even necessary or helpful? Do varying editions of Traherne enable us to better experience Traherne’s message? These are useful questions. It is probably a good thing that we have options, some better than others.

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Reading Traherne’s Centuries with H. M. Margoliouth

In 1958, a significant publishing event occurred in the history of Thomas Traherne’s Centuries of Meditations and his Poems. At this time, fifty years after Dobell’s modernized edition of Traherne’s text introduced the world to Traherne’s unique voice, Oxford University Press published H. M. Margoliouth’s critical, scholarly edition of Traherne’s Centuries and Poems. Dobell would always be the person who put Traherne on the map and made him accessible, but Margoliouth began to build authoritatively around that cornerstone.

Margoliouth’s Introduction, Notes, and Text are invaluable to any student of Traherne who wants to drill down deeper into his Centuries and Poems. Margoliouth’s 33-page introduction positions Traherne’s Centuries in a precise context and provides a reliable, if technical, introduction to Traherne and his writings that had been discovered up until 1958.

His edition of Centuries is accurate, complete, and faithful to the original manuscript. Margoliouth explains in the Introduction, “In the present edition Traherne’s spelling, capitalization, and punctuation are retained. The numerous changes he made in his text are recorded in the notes, which also aim at giving as many references as possible.”

In the beginning of his Notes on the Centuries, following the complete text, Margoliouth dedicates two pages to explaining his ‘Transcription of the Text.’ He clarifies Traherne’s approach to capitalization, punctuation, and spelling, and even acknowledges that it’s not the kind of text that a 17th century publisher would have produced:

“This edition is, of course, not one which any seventeenth-century publisher would have produced. Such a publisher would, in the main, have introduced his own spelling and punctuation. He would have produced a book more readable in some respects than an attempt to reproduce the author’s manuscript literatim (except for appreviations) and punctuatim.” (p. 233)

So, what value can Margoliouth’s edition have over or alongside of Dobell’s edition for a general reader. Professor Louis Martz provides one answer to this question in The Paradise Within: Studies in Vaughan, Traherne, and Milton (New Haven and London: Yale University Press: 1964):

“Margoliouth’s transcription, quoted throughout this study, (Thomas Traherne, Centuries, Poems, and Thanksgivings, ed. H. M. Margoliouth, 2 vols. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1958) preserves the irregularities of spelling, capitalization, and punctuation found in Traherne’s manuscript; the effect may at first seem strange, but the irregularities gradually produce a significant impression related to the style and meaning of the work: the effect that one is watching and participating in the natural, intimate action of the meditative mind.”

Margoliouth’s critical edition of Centuries of Meditation will always be an important foundational resource, even as many other editions flow from the powerful experience that other readers have with Traherne’s writing in their own context.

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C.S. Lewis and His Dobell Edition of Traherne’s Centuries

In my last entry, I wrote about Bertram Dobell’s role in the first-ever publication of Traherne’s Centuries in 1908. If one had happened to read Traherne’s Centuries between 1908 and 1958, it was probably from Dobell’s edition. There is one story in particular that highlights the impact of this edition.

On July 8, 1930, C.S. Lewis was relaxing before preparing for ten days of exams. In addition to his studies, he was enjoying other personal reading. At this time of his life, he wrote his close friend, Arthur Greeves, at least once a week. Halfway through his letter on this day, Lewis wrote, “Almost ever since the Vac. began I have been reading a little every evening in Traherne’s Centuries of Meditations (Dobell. About 7/-. Lovely paper). I forget whether we have talked of it or not.” He then goes on to share several quotes:

“What do you think of the following ; – ‘The world. . . is the beautiful frontispiece to Eternity’ – ‘You never enjoy the world aright till the sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars. . . till you can sing and rejoice and delight in God as misers do in gold’ – ‘I must lead you out of this into another world to learn your wants. For till you find them you will never be happy’ – ‘They (i.e. Souls) and are dark and vain and comfortless till they do it. Till they love they are idle or misemployed. Till they love they are desolate.’”

And then Lewis pays Traherne the ultimate compliment: “But I could go on quoting from this book forever.”

This was the beginning of Lewis’s lifelong enjoyment of Traherne.

What a perfect example of Lewis’s senses blending with his intellect. His sharing this description of Traherne’s book and Dobell’s ‘lovely paper’ with Greeves (mind you, these are two adult, highly-educated men) could not help but evoke in me a similar vivid image of two men sitting at a pub with their cigars. They pass the cigars slowly under their noses, taking in the aroma before lighting them and launching into a long thoughtful discussion. They puff away on their cigars while sipping on their beer-filled mugs. The senses and the intellect and the spirit and human relationships co-mingling.. And, ah, Dobell’s ‘lovely paper.’

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Reading Traherne’s Centuries with Bertram Dobell

Bertram Dobell was born 200 years after Thomas Traherne, but Traherne’s greatest literary contribution would not have made its way into the hands of the general public except through Dobell. Dobell’s life is a classic Victorian story that exemplifies the universal power of great literature available to all people regardless of profession or social status. Dobell was the first publisher of Traherne’s poetry and Centuries of Meditations in the early 20th century and he played a critical role in the discovery of, and literary detective work on, Traherne’s manuscripts at the end of the 19th century.

In order to properly position Dobell in the context of Traherne’s Centuries, I feel it is worthwhile to include the following account of the discovery and publication of Centuries as eloquently told by the great Columbia University professor and literary scholar, Gilbert Highet:

Towards the close of the last century, in 1897, a book lover was turning over the dirty, neglected, and usually worthless volumes on a street bookstall in London. These institutions scarcely exist in the United States; they are far below the level of regular second-hand bookshops, and they are not even so ambitious as the stalls along the Seine in Paris; usually they are barrows or shacks containing old volumes of sermons, obsolete guidebooks, much-used school and college texts, ancient volumes of hand-written poems or diaries. If a book stays on one of these rickety wooden counters for a few months without being sold, it is usually disposed of as waste paper, pulped, and forgotten. Still, one can sometimes find curious and potentially valuable things among all the trash. The English book lover did. His name was Brooke. He was a specialist in religious poetry, and he came upon two volumes of religious lyrics written by hand, poems which he had never seen or heard of, and which (being unknown to him although he was an expert) had apparently never been published. The handwriting looked like the script of the seventeenth century. Brooke bought the volumes for the equivalent of a few cents, and read them carefully.

He found that they were full of delightful poems by one of the happiest of men, a religious mystic who (unlike most mystics) loved both God and the world, who, in sincere and energetic stanzas, expressed the rapture of being alive, and who, enjoying his life on this earth, enjoyed his link with God as son to father. ‘How like an Angel,’ cried the poet, in the same words as Hamlet but with a far holier continuation:

How like an Angel came I down!
How Bright are all Things here!
When first among his Works I did appear
O how their GLORY me did Crown!
The World resembled his Eternitie,
In which my Soul did Walk;
And evry Thing that I did see,
Did with me talk.

That is the beginning of a noble poem in which the unknown author spoke with infectious delight of his vision of this world as the reflection of God’s home illuminated by God’s love. But who was he, and why had his poems remained unknown for over two centuries?

Brooke guessed that he was the Welsh physician and mystical writer, Henry Vaughan. He passed the poems to an eminent critic, who was convinced that they were Vaughan’s. However, before they could be published under Vaughan’s name, the critic died, and the manuscript was sold to a bibliophile called Bertram Dobell. (Dobell was an intense lover of books. Born in poverty, he worked as a delivery boy, collected old books from the bookstalls with his scanty savings, set up as a book dealer himself, and eventually became not only a critic but something of a poet.) Dobell, after reading the poems with eager enthusiasm, decided that they could not be by Henry Vaughan. Their subjects and metrical patterns were often the same as Vaughan’s, but they were warmer than his calm, meditative lyrics, they accepted and welcomed where Vaughan was apt to criticize and even to doubt. Vaughan, as a medical man, shrank from excitement; this poet was an enthusiast. Who was the real author? Surely he had published something during his lifetime. There must be some poetry or prose issued in the time of King Charles II or thereabouts, which bore his name.

Brooke now remembered that, some time before, he had discovered in the British Museum a little old book of religious poems with a title almost as large as itself, A Serious and Patheticall (i.e. emotional) Contemplation of the Mercies of God, in Several Most Devout and Sublime Thanksgivings for the Same, and that the poems in it looked like some of those by the unknown author. Dobell read them, and agreed. But the book in the British Museum had no author’s name, either. (In case this surprises you, remember that devoutly religious authors sometimes wish to remain anonymous: prostrate at the feet of God, they feel too humble to give their own private name to their songs of praise and of ecstasy.)

Still, there was one clue. The preface to the Devout and Sublime Thanksgivings said that they had been written by the private chaplain of a well-known statesman of King Charles II’s time, Sir Orlando Bridgman. A contemporary book of gossip and backstairs history (Anthony a Wood’s biographical dictionary, Athenae Oxonienses) identified the private chaplain. He was called Thomas Traherne, and he was quite unknown to fame, except that he had published two religious books in prose: a polemic work called Roman Forgeries, and a moral treatise called Christian Ethics. Brooke and Dobell now got Christian Ethics and read it. In it they found an unusual little poem praising the infinite power of God for having made things finite in size although not therefore finite in value. The same poem, with a few variations in phrasing, appeared in one of the manuscript volumes. Therefore the poems without the name were the work of Thomas Traherne; as such they were published by Bertram Dobell in 1903, and most recently in a sumptuous two-volume Oxford edition by H. M. Margoliouth.

(The Powers of Poetry, Oxford University Press, 1960, pp. 53-56)

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Worthy Companions As We Read Traherne

We live during an ideal time for enjoying Thomas Traherne. We’ve had nearly 120 years of Traherne manuscript discoveries and enough time for great thinkers and writers to have reflected on his writings and offer their own meditations and analyses. Among the most valuable contributions are those of Bertram Dobell, H.M. Margoliouth, Louis Martz, A.M. Allchin, and Denise Inge.

These contributors come from a variety of professions, from book sellers to literary scholars to professors to clergy. Yet, they all possess literary and spiritual sensibilities of the highest degree. Each of them has an angle on Traherne’s writing that can enhance our own experience. Their contributions span the early 20th century, the mid 20th century, the late 20th century, and the early 21st century. They are part of a consistent, continuous thread.

In the next few blog posts, I will be reflecting briefly on some of the contributions each of these writers has made to my own experience of Traherne.

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Traherne and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

It is not difficult to make connections between Thomas Traherne and cognitive therapy. Denise Inge, the foremost Traherne scholar, observed in a 2009 Book Depository interview (Inge interview) that Traherne’s “invitation to choose happiness is very much like what we now call cognitive therapy.” She points us to PJ Kavanagh, who claimed that, “Traherne was a psychotherapist before the word was invented.” (Kavanagh review)

That brings me to an author and fellow Traherne enthusiast whom I have been grateful to come across recently: Jules Evans. Mr. Evans has written a book, Philosophy for Life, which wisely and thoroughly traces cognitive therapy to the ancient Greeks and classic philosophers. He posted an insightful and valuable piece on his blog recently titled, “Why I love Thomas Traherne” (Jules Evans blog). He begins with some helpful personal notes about his personal journey and then launches into an exceptional introduction to Traherne. Here are some of his summary points that I believe are spot on:

  1. He emphasizes Traherne’s understanding and love of the great philosophers before him, namely the Greeks. Evans says, “First of all, like all Anglicans of that era, he really knows and loves Greek philosophy.” This begins with the Stoic wisdom and then extends to Plato, who viewed our desire, love, wanting, and yearning as good things.
  2. He highlights Traherne’s prophetic contribution to the current therapeutic discipline known as cognitive behavioral therapy. Evans goes as far as to suggest that “the entire Centuries is really a contemplative manual, a therapeutic course, to try and help us see aright, value aright, and enjoy aright.”
  3. Only after establishing Traherne’s deep philosophical roots does Evans highlight his likeness to the English metaphysical poets and the Romantics who were to follow.
  4. Evans then weaves in Traherne’s primary themes of infinite love, grace, and Jesus’ love.

Evans’ blog posting gives me hope that more writings will explore Traherne’s prophetic contribution to the valuable tools available through cognitive therapy. In the meantime, I look forward to enjoying Evans’ Philosophy for Life.

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Tribute to Denise Inge & Her Work on Thomas Traherne, Part II

Denise Inge’s writings about Traherne are a treasure of scholarship and general reading because they are immersed in (1) all of Traherne’s writings including the Lambeth manuscripts, and (2) the full breadth of Traherne scholarship from the early 20th century up until 2009.

David Ford summarized beautifully in his Foreword to Dr. Inge’s Wanting Like a God:

“Dr. Inge has over many years steeped herself in Traherne and the rapidly growing literature about him, has written on him, and has recently edited a reader that covers the range of his works and is the best available introduction to them. The present study shows where all that has been heading. It reveals a fine scholar and theologian stretching her mind and imagination to engage with all the main aspects of Traherne’s varied life and work.”

In her “trilogy” (Thomas Traherne: Poetry and Prose, Happiness and Holiness, and Wanting Like a God), Dr. Inge has given us a place to stand, no matter the degree of one’s previous exposure to Traherne. She offers the best introductory volume on Traherne’s works, the best extensive biography and topical sampling from all of Traherne’s writings, and one of the broadest and most mellifluous scholarly works on the primary themes across Traherne’s writings.

We will never be able to repay our debt to Denise Inge for her work, but, like Traherne, we will be able to enjoy her gifts for centuries.

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