Notes and Queries,
March 1998 v45 i1 p40(4)
Learning as wine-press in George Herbert's 'The Pearl.'.
Abstract: English poet George Herbert's verse 'The Pearl' opens with a reference to learning imaged as a wine-press. Yet the wine-press is and was not in Herbert's day a standard image for learning. The image for learning was traditionally associated with the crucifixion, which Herbert uses in his poem 'The Agonie,' where God is 'pressed' to produce sweet wine from the law's sour juice. The issue therefore arises of just what it was that lay behind Herbert's application of a normally
sacred image to an essentially worldly occupation.
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1998 Oxford University Press
'The pearl' opens with a reference to learning imaged as a wine-press:
I know the wayes of Learning; both the head And pipes that feed the presse, and make it runne(1)
In the parable alluded to by the title, Christ compares the kingdom of heaven with a 'pearl of great price'; the merchant who seeks it has to sell 'all that he has' in order to purchase it.(2) In Herbert's poem learning turns out to be the first of three as it were lesser jewels, which are sacrificed for the sake of union with Christ.
The wine-press is not and was not in Herbert's day a standard image for learning.(3) The image was traditionally associated with the crucifixion - thanks chiefly to its use in Isaiah 63 and Numbers 13 - and we find it employed for Christ's agony on the cross in Herbert's own poems 'The Agonie' ('Sinne is that presse and vice, which forceth pain/To hunt his cruell food through ev'ry vein', lines 11-12) and 'The Bunch of Grapes' (in which the pressing of 'God Himself' is said to produce 'sweet
wine' from 'the Laws sowre juice', lines 27-8).(4) What lies behind Herbert's application of this normally sacred image to an essentially worldly occupation?
The answer, or part of the answer, to this question may be the contemporary preaching of Lancelot Andrewes (who was a friend of the Herbert family's, and who is thought both to have sponsored George's entry to Westminster School and to have been his teacher there(5)). For his sermon preached before James I on Easter Day 1623, Andrewes took as his text Isaiah 63:1-3:
Who is this That cometh from Edom, with red garments from Bosrah? He is glorious in His apparel, and walketh in great strength; I speak in righteousness, and am mighty to save.
Wherefore is Thine apparel red, and Thy garments like him that treadeth in the winepress?
I have trodden the winepress alone, and of all the people there was none with Me; for I will tread them in Mine anger, and tread them under foot in My wrath, and their blood shall be sprinkled upon My garments, and I will stain all My raiment.(6)
Identifying the one 'That cometh from Edom' as Christ, Andrewes goes on to interpret his stained garments ('His colours', 'this tincture'(7)) in two quite traditional ways. There were, Andrewes says, 'two winepresses' - 'the winepress of redemption' and 'the other winepress of vengeance'.(8) Christ's garments testify to, first, his own suffering - on Good Friday - in the first wine-press ('In the former, He was Himself trodden and pressed; He was the grapes and clusters Himself'(9)), and
secondly to His vanquishment of His enemies - during the descent into Hell - in the second wine-press ('In this latter here, He that was trodden on before, gets up again, and doth here tread upon and tread down . . . upon some others, as it might be the Edomites'(10)).
But Andrewes introduces a third interpretation, and it is this which is of particular interest in connection with 'The Pearl'. Investigating what he takes to be Christ's reply to the prophet/questioner, 'I speak in righteousness, and am mighty to save', Andrewes describes that reply as falling into two parts. The second part ('mighty to save') refers to Christ's act of salvation; the first - the part that is significant for our purposes here - refers to his 'word and promise'.(11) Elaborating on
Christ as the Word (and speaker of the truth) Andrewes moves to the depiction of Christ as preacher (and so teacher):
Speaking refers to His office of Priest: 'the Priest's lips to preserve knowledge'; - the law of righteousness to be required at his mouth.
Righteousness He spake, by His preaching.
From His speaking we receive knowledge of His truth, against error.(12)
When further on in his sermon Andrewes returns to the words 'I speak in righteousness', he reinterprets Christ's red-stained garments in accordance with his teaching function:
Loquens justitiam, is to wear red . . . . . To whom is this colour given? Scarlet is allowed the degree of Doctors. Why? for their speaking righteousness to us, the righteousness of God, that which Christ spake. Nay, even they which speak but the righteousness of man's law, they are honoured with it too.(13)
(Andrewes goes so far as to call the red garments Christ's 'Doctor's Weed'.(14)) Andrewes adds weight to his argument by citing the striking image of the lamb in Revelations, who 'took [the book with seven seals] opened the seals, read it, read out of it a lecture of righteousness to the whole world'.(15)
While this development creates a general association between learning and Christ, and thus between learning and the wine-press, it does not explicitly identify the process of learning with the pressing of grapes. But Andrewes does eventually establish this precise identification. Asserting that in both parts of Christ's statement ('I speak in righteousness and am mighty to save') 'there is . . . a kind of winepress', he continues:
In 'mighty to save', it is evident; trodden in one press, treading in another. Not so evident in 'the speaking of righteousness'. Yet even in that also, there is a press going. For when we read, what do we but gather grapes here and there; and when we study what we have gathered, then are we even in torculari [in the wine-press], and press them we do, and press out of them that which daily you taste of.(16)
There is in the word of righteousness a saving power. 'Take the word', saith St. James, 'graft it in you, it is able to save your souls'; even that wherein we of this [priestly] calling in a sort participate with Christ, while 'by attending to reading and doctrine we save both ourselves and them that hear us'; we tread down sin, and save sinners from 'seeking death in the error of their life'.(17)
Here we see Andrewes, having laid the necessary foundation by representing Christ as both Word and expounder of the Word, developing an account of the Christian not merely as a consumer of the sacraments, but as a reader and student, trying to interpret what he reads in, presumably, the Bible.(18) To press the grapes and drink the wine is to learn (and know Christ). Andrewes appears to have in mind two (overlapping) types of Christian; there is the priest like himself ('we study', 'we of this
calling') who must study texts in order to preach, and the congregation ('you taste of'; 'them that hear us'), which must attend to the preacher's words.
It is clear, then, that Andrewes supplies an analogue and perhaps even a source for Herbert's application of the metaphor of the winepress to learning. Precisely how that analogue illuminates 'The Pearl' is another question, however. Herbert's 'wayes of Learning', though wide-ranging, do not seem to include the devotionally oriented study which Andrewes clearly had in mind.(19) But it is perhaps in his very difference from Herbert that Andrewes is most revealing. To explain: Andrewes is
consistently Christological in his elaboration of the wine-press - whether he is thinking of Christ as the Sacrament (to be drunk) or Christ as the Word (to be heard or read). Herbert's narrator's strikingly non-Christological application of the wine-press image could be meant as an ironic reminder of the diametric opposition between the vintage of knowledge for its own sake, and the vintage of salvation which comes from studying the Word. One could say that the relative emptiness of secular
learning is thrown into relief by the associations of the wine-press image, even before Christ is mentioned. And it is after all reasonably obvious that Herbert wanted to oppose and distinguish secular and devotional learning; the poem begins with the former, and ends with a reference to Christ as a teacher ('thy silk twist . . . Did both conduct and teach me', lines 39-40(20)).
Andrewes's adaptation of the wine-press image is interesting for its own sake, of course. While preserving what we might think of as a Catholic emphasis on the value of the sacrament of communion, Andrewes seems to be trying to take almost simultaneous account of the protestant estimation of the importance of scripture and understanding. In his Christmas Day sermon of 1611, Andrewes's text was 'And the word was made flesh' (John 1:14). When he invited his congregation to take communion at the
end of his sermon, Andrewes (acknowledging his theme, the combination of Word with flesh) depicted Christ's flesh as the reservoir into which the Word flows, and from which the 'pipes' of the sacrament extend to us:
how may we better establish our hearts with grace, or settle our minds in the truth of His promise, than by partaking these the conduit-pipes of His grace, and seals of His truth unto us? Grace and truth now proceeding not from the Word alone, but even from the flesh thereto united; the fountain of the Word flowing into the cistern of His flesh, and from thence deriving down to us this grace and truth, to them that partake Him aright.(21)
At what stage (if at all) pressing is implicit in this picture is hard to tell, but Andrewes does seem to have a wine-press in mind - a winepress fed by the Word. It may have been by attempting to take account of Christ as Word in the context of communion that Andrewes began to conceive of a 'wine-press of learning'.
KATHRYN WALLS Victoria University of Wellington
1 Quoted from The Works of George Herbert, ed. F. E. Hutchinson (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1941), 88. Hutchinson (507) suggests that the press is an allusion to Zech. 4:12, a vision of (among other things) two olive trees 'which through . . . two golden pipes empty . . . golden oil out of themselves'; the oil is fed into seven lamps (verse 14 explains that the trees stand for 'the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth'). But Zechariah's vision does not actually include a
press. Hutchinson also cites Beeching's suggestion that Herbert may have had the printing press in mind; I feel uneasy about the idea, because Herbert's reference to the 'feeding' of the press seems inapplicable to the printing press.
2 Matt. 13:45.
3 For a survey of emblems of learning see Robert J. Clements, Picta Poesis: Literary and Humanistic Theory in Renaissance Emblem Books (Rome, 1960), ch. V, 85 ff. The wine-press does not figure in Clements's survey (although Clements does cite an association between learning and grapes in a late seventeenth-century Spanish text, 74 n. 59).
4 For the tradition, see Rosemary Woolf, English Religious Lyric in the Middle Ages (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968), 199-202. The image is also associated with the wrath of God; see Rev. 14:18-20, 19:15.
5 For contact between Herbert and Andrewes, see Amy M. Charles, A Life of George Herbert (Cornell: Cornell University Press, 1997), 45, 49, 50, 52-3, 69, 91, 100, 119, 180, 210.
6 Sermon XVII in The Works of Lancelot Andrewes: Ninety-Six Sermons, ed. J. P. Wilson, III (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1850), 60.
7 p. 62.
8 p. 62.
9 p. 70.
10 p. 70.
11 p. 67.
12 p. 68.
13 p. 76.
14 p. 76.
15 p. 76.
16 p. 77. Italics mine.
17 p. 77.
18 I say 'presumably' because Andrewes is vague, probably purposefully so - since he was not a Puritan; the 'vintage' pressed by his ideal student would have included the Bible, but would not have been restricted to it.
19 Cf. Richard Strier, Love Known: Theology and Experience in George Herbert's Poetry (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), 88: 'Learning [in the poem] is not study or contemplation, but the attempt to bring under human control ever larger realms of experience.' It might be added that Herbert's poem makes no specific reference to the study of texts (although one would of course have to have resorted to books to know 'laws and policie', line 5, and the like).
20 Italics mine.
21 Ninety-Six Sermons, I (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1841), Sermon VI, 100.