Thomas Traherne - Posthumous Success

Posthumous Success

As so little of Traherne's work had (apparently) survived his death, Traherne was previously labeled a "missing person" in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. In 2004, thanks to a number of additional discoveries, his status changed so much that he is no longer labeled a "missing person." He is now highly regarded, such that if there were a picture of him (no portrait of Traherne has been authenticated), he would be put next to other well-knowns such as Wordsworth.

The discoveries responsible for his renewed vindication as a theologian, beside the poems, are the Centuries of Meditations, a collection of short paragraphs or meditations reflecting on Christian life and ministry, philosophy, happiness, desire and childhood. These are gathered in groups of a hundred, four complete centuries and an unfinished fifth. Some of these, evidently autobiographical in character, describe a childhood from which the "glory and the dream" was slow to depart. Of the power of nature to inform the mind with beauty, and the ecstatic harmony of a child with the natural world, the earlier poems, which contain his best work, are full. In their manner, as in their matter, they remind the reader of William Blake and William Wordsworth. He quotes George Herbert's "Longing" in the newly discovered Lambeth Manuscript.

His poems were published in The Poetical Works (1903) and Poems of Felicity (1910). The Centuries appeared in 1908; The Select Meditations were only published in 1997. In 1996 and 1997, another of Traherne’s manuscripts were discovered in the Folger Library in Washington DC by Julia Smith and Laetitia Yeandle. A second was discovered in Lambeth Palace Library in London by Jeremy Maule. The Ceremonial Law, from the Folger library, is an unfinished epic poem of over 1,800 lines. The Lambeth Manuscript contains four, and a fragmentary fifth, mainly prose works known as: Inducements to Retiredness, A Sober View of Dr Twisse, Seeds of Eternity, The Kingdom of God and the fragment Love. For accounts of these discoveries see the Times Literary Supplement articles by Julia Smith and Laetitia Yeandle (7 November 1997) and Denise Inge and Cal Macfarlane (2 June 2000). These two finds are a primary contributing factor to why Traherne is now being considered as much as a theologian as a poet.

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