July 13, 2010
Brescia English professor strikes poetry gold by identifying George Herbert poem
London, ON – A nearly 400 year-old case of mistaken identity was solved earlier this year by Dr. James Doelman, professor of English at Brescia University College, when he discovered that the poem – “On the death of Mr. Barker of Hammon, and his wife who dyed both together” – was written by George Herbert (1593-1633).
Doelman made the discovery when he examined the original manuscript in the British Library. “When I was working on another article about one of his Latin poems in The George Herbert Journal, I got nosing around and discovered his initials under another poem,” Doelman recalled.
Those earlier initials were a match with those on his recent discovery. To authenticate his finding, Doelman conducted some scholarly detective work and discovered someone else had misidentified those initials. Doelman also established that the poem was written in 1618 about Herbert’s aunt and uncle who died within months of each other. The poem has never appeared in any anthology or journal as Herbert’s because of the misidentification of those initials, so this was a significant discovery.
“I spent a lot of time with the manuscript because I realized that a lot of the poems were written about the wider family in Shropshire. I looked through a lot of the poems to see if there were others by Herbert before announcing my find. I was excited. It’s one of these moments when you feel like a detective who has found the evidence. I told my wife, but didn’t get into a lot of specifics with other people at first,” he smiled.
After the discovery was authenticated by the scholarly community, Doelman published an article about his finding in the February 19, 2010 issue of the Times Literary Supplement (TLS), a weekly journal of literary culture and reviews. "I published with TLS because part of their job is to edit and verify what they're publishing." Doelman has sent the evidence to other Herbert scholars. The poem will be fully verified when it is included in the next published anthology of Herbert's work.
Herbert was a minister with the Church of England and is famous for his devotional poetry. Doelman said this newly discovered epitaph will be of interest beyond academia because the couplet has been used and applied many times. Now those who recite the words will know where they came from and about whom they were originally written.
“One of the reasons I do so much work with manuscripts is the fact that there are thousands of poems that have never received scholarly attention. It keeps things fresh when we make new discoveries.”
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Brescia University College, Canada’s premier women’s university college, is affiliated with The University of Western Ontario. The 1,100 women registered as either full or part-time students at Brescia study a wide variety of subjects in Arts, Social Sciences, and Foods & Nutrition in an empowering, compassionate, student-centred, and invigorating environment. Degrees are granted by Western. The Catholic College welcomes students from all backgrounds and values diversity. For more current and archived news, a listing of faculty experts, and photos please visit our Online Media Room at http://www.brescia.uwo.ca/media/index.html
For more information, please contact:
Dr. James Doelman