Ceremony and self
Belligerent civility in Edward Herbert’s Autobiography
in Edward and George Herbert in the European Republic of Letters
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Where Edward traveled frequently to the Continent, particularly France, and became a part of the European intellectual community, his younger brother George never left England. Written by a sixty-year-old disgruntled courtier under the pressures of a civil war in which the neutrality to which he aspired became impossible to sustain, Edward Herbert’s autobiography is a valuable record of the frivolous, violent, vain, yet strangely familiar world of early modern England. If The Temple is George Herbert’s lyric evidence of his struggles for spiritual submission, the Autobiography is Edward Herbert’s prose narrative of his battles to achieve social mastery. In it, Edward reveals himself to be as attentive to the nuances of social ceremony as George was to the rhythms of devotional liturgy. Both show a fine-tuned sensitivity to the nuances of behavior, appearance, and status. Together, they tell us something valuable about the hazards and prospects of selfhood in early modern Europe and how working for universal peace implied forms of war with oneself and, sometimes, with local social communities.

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