1753 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Andrew Marvell

Anonymous, in Cibber-Shiels, Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) 4:124-45.



This ingenious gentleman was the son of Mr. Andrew Marvel, Minister and Schoolmaster of Kingston upon Hull in Yorkshire, and was born in that town in the year 1620. He was admitted into Trinity College in Cambridge December 14, 1633, where he had not been long before his studies were interrupted by the following accident:

Some Jesuits with whom he familiarly conversed, observing in him a genius beyond his years, used their utmost efforts to proselyte him to their faith, which they imagined they could more easily accomplish while he was yet young. They so far succeeded as to seduce him from the college, and carry him to London, where, after some months absence, his father found him in a Bookseller's shop, and prevailed upon him to return to the college.

He afterwards pursued his studies with the most indefatigable application, and in the year 1638, took the degree of bachelor of arts, and the same year was admitted scholar of the house, that is, of the foundation at Trinity College. We have no farther account of him for several years after this, only that he travelled through the most polite parts of the world, but in what quality we are not certain, unless in that of secretary to the embassy at Constantinople.

While our author was in France, he wrote his poem entitled Cuidam, qui legendo Scripturam, descripsit Formam, Sapientiam, Sortemque Authoris. Illustrissimo Viro Domino Lanceloto Josepho de Maniban Grammatomanti.

The person to whom he addresses these verses was an Abbot, famous for entering into the qualities of those whom he had never seen, and prognosticating their good, or bad fortune from an inspection of their hand-writing.

During the troubles of the Republic we find him tutor to one Mr. Dutton, a young gentleman; as appears from an original letter of his to Oliver Cromwel. This letter sent to so extraordinary a person by a man of Mr. Marvel's consequence, may excite the reader's curiosity, with which he shall be gratified. It carries in it much of that stiffness and pedantry peculiar to the times, and is very different from the usual stile of our author.

"May it please your Lordship,

It might perhaps seem fit for me to seek out words to give your excellence thanks for myself. But indeed the only civility, which it is fit for me to practise with so eminent a person, is to obey you, and to perform honestly this work which you have set me about. Therefore I shall use the time that your lordship is pleased to allow me for writing, only to that purpose for which you have given me it, that is, to render you some account of Mr. Dutton. I have taken care to examine him several times in the presence of Mr. Oxenbridge, as those who weigh and tell over money, before some witnesses e'er they take charge of it; for I thought that there might be possibly some lightness in the coin, or error in the telling, which hereafter I might be bound to make good. Therefore Mr. Oxenbridge is the best to make your excellence an impartial relation thereof; I shall only say, that I shall strive according to my best understanding to increase whatsoever talent he may hare already. Truly he is of a gentle, and waxen disposition; and, God be praised, I cannot say that he hath brought with him any evil impression; and I hope to set nothing upon his spirit, but what shall be of a good sculpture. He hath in him two things, which make youth most easily to be managed, modesty, which is the bridle to vice, and emulation, which is the spur to virtue. And the care which your excellency is pleased to take of him, is no small encouragement, and shall be represented to him, but above all, I shall labour to make him sensible of his duty to God, for then we begin to serve faithfully, when we consider that he is our master; and in this both he and I owe infinitely to your lordship, for having placed in so godly a family as that of Mr. Oxenbridge, whose doctrine and example are like a book and a map, not only instructing the ear, but demonstrating to the eye which way we ought to travel. I shall upon occasion henceforward inform your excellency of any particularities in our little affairs. I have no more at present but to give thanks to God for your lordship, and to beg grace of him, to approve myself

* * *."

Mr. Marvel's first appearance in public business at home, was, in being assistant to Milton as Latin secretary to the Protector. He himself tells us, in a piece called The Rehearsal Transposed, that he never had any, not the remotest relation to public matters, nor correspondence with the persons then predominant, until the year 1657, when indeed, says he, "I entered into an employment, for which I was not altogether improper, and which I considered to be the most innocent, and inoffensive towards his Majesty's affairs of any in that usurped, and irregular government, to which all men were then exposed; and this I accordingly discharged, without disobliging any one person, there having been opportunities, and endeavours since his Majesty's happy return, to have discovered, had it been otherwise."

A little before the Restoration, he was chosen by his native town, Kingston upon Hull, to sit in that Parliament which began at Westminster April 25, 1660, and again after the Restoration for that which began at the same place May 8, 1661. In this station our author discharged his trust with the utmost fidelity, and always shewed a peculiar regard for those he represented; for he constantly sent the particulars of every proceeding in the House, to the heads of the town for which he was elected; and to those accounts he always joined his own opinion. This respectful behaviour gained so much on their affections, that they allowed him an honourable pension to his death, all which time he continued in Parliament.

Mr. Marvel was not endowed with the gift of eloquence, for he seldom spoke in the house; but was however capable of forming an excellent judgment of things, and was so acute a discerner of characters, that his opinion was greatly valued, and he had a powerful influence over many of the Members without doors. Prince Rupert particularly esteemed him, and whenever he voted agreeable to the sentiments of Mr. Marvel, it was a saying of the opposite party, he has been with his tutor. The intimacy between this illustrious foreigner, and our author was so great, that when it was unsafe for the latter to have it known where he lived, on account of some mischief which was threatened him, the prince would frequently visit him in a disguised habit. Mr. Marvel was often in such danger of assassination, that he was obliged to have his letters directed to him in another name to prevent any discovery that way. He made himself obnoxious to the government, both by his actions, and writings, and notwithstanding his proceedings were all contrary to his private interest, nothing could ever shake his resolution, of which the following is a notable instance, and transmits our author's name with lustre to posterity.

One night he was entertained by the King, who had often been delighted with his company: his Majesty next day sent the lord treasurer Danby to find out his lodging; Mr. Marvel, then rented a room up two pair of stairs, in a little court in the Strand, and was writing when the lord treasurer opened the door abruptly upon him. Surprized at the sight of so unexpected a visitor, Mr. Marvel told his lordship, that he believed he hat mistaken his way; the lord Danby replied, not now I have found Mr. Marvel: telling him that he came with a message from his Majesty, which was to know what he could do to serve him? his answer was, in his usual facetious manner, that it was not in his Majesty's power to serve him: but coming to a serious explanation of his meaning, he told the lord treasurer, that he well knew the nature of courts, and that whoever is distinguished by a Prince's favour, is certainly expected to vote in his interest. The lord Danby told him, that his Majesty had only a just sense of his merits, in regard to which alone, he desired to know whether there was any place at court he could be pleased with. These offers, though urged with the greatest earnestness, had no effect upon him; he told the lord treasurer, that he could not accept it with honour, far he must either be ungrateful to the King by voting against him, or betray his country by giving his voice against its interest, at least what he reckoned so. The only favour therefore which he begged of his Majesty, was, that he would esteem him as dutiful a subject as any he had, and more in his proper interest in rejecting his offers, than if he had embraced them. The lord Danby finding no arguments would prevail, told him, the King had ordered a thousand pounds for him, which he hoped he would accept, 'till he could think what farther to ask of his Majesty. This last temptation was resisted with the same stedfastness of mind, as the first.

The reader must have already taken notice that Mr. Marvel's chief support was the pension allowed him by his constituents, that his lodgings were mean, and consequently his circumstances at this time could not be affluent. His resisting these temptations therefore in such a situation, was perhaps one of the most heroic instances of patriotism the Annals of England can furnish. But his conduct will be still heightened into a more amiable light, when it is related, that as soon as the lord treasurer had taken his leave, he was obliged to send to a friend to borrow a guinea. As the most powerful allurements of riches, and honour, could never seduce him to relinquish the interest of his country, so not even the most immense dangers could deter him from pursuing it. In a private letter to a friend from Highgate, in which he mentions the insuperable hatred of his foes to him, and their design of murthering him, he has these words, Praeterea magis occidere metuo quam occidi, non quod vitam tanti aestimem, sed ne imperatus moriar, i.e. "Besides, I am more apprehensive of killing, than being killed, not that I value life so much, but that I may not die unprepared." Mr. Marvel did not remain an unconcerned member of the state, when he saw encroachments made upon it both by the civil, and ecclesiastical powers. He saw that some of the bishops had formed an idea of protestantism very different from the true one, and were making such advances towards popery, as would soon issue in a reconciliation. Amongst these ecclesiastics, none was so forward as Dr. Samuel Parker, who published at London 1672 in 8vo. bishop Bramhal's Vindication of himself and the Episcopal Clergy, from the Presbyterian charge of Popery, as it is managed by Mr. Baxter in his Treatise on the Grotian Religion. Dr. Parker likewise preached up the doctrine of Non resistance, which slavish principle is admirably calculated to prepare the people for receiving any yoke. Marvel, whose talent consisted in drollery, more than in serious reasoning, took his own method of exposing those opinions. He wrote a piece called The Rehearsal Transposed, in which he very successfully ridiculed Dr. Parker. This ludicrous essay met with several answers, some serious, and others humorous; we shall not here enumerate all the Rejoinders, Replies, and Animadversions upon it. Wood himself confesses, who was an avowed enemy to Marvel, "that Dr. Parker judged it more prudent rather to lay down the cudgels, than to enter the lists again, with an untowardly combatant, so hugely well versed, and experienced in the then newly refined art of sporting, and jesting buffoonery." And bishop Burnet tells us in the History of his own Time, "That Dr. Parker, after he had for some years entertained the nation with several virulent books, was attacked by the liveliest droll of the stage, who wrote in a burlesque stile, but with so peculiar, and entertaining a conduct, that from the King down to the tradesman, his book was read with great pleasure. This not only humbled Parker, but the whole part for the author of The Rehearsal Transposed, had all the men of wit on his side." Dr. Swift likewise in his Apology for Tale of a Tub, speaking of the usual fate of common answerers to books, and how short-lived their labours are, observes, "That there is indeed an exception, when any great genius thinks it worth his while to expose a foolish Piece; so we still read Marvel's answer to Parker with pleasure, though the book it answers be sunk long ago."

The next controversy in which we find Mr. Marvel engaged, was with an antagonist of the pious Dr. Croft, bishop of Hereford, who wrote a discourse entitled The Naked Truth, or A True State of the Primitive Church: By an humble Moderator. Dr. Turner, fellow of St. John's College, wrote Animadversions upon this book; Mr. Marvel's answer to these Animadversions, was entitled Mr. Smirk, or The Divine in Mode; being certain Annotations upon the Animadversions on The Naked Truth, together with a Short Historical Essay concerning General Councils Creeds, and Impositions in Matters of Religion, printed 1676.

Our author's next work was an Account of the Growth of Popery, and Arbitrary Government in England; more particularly from the long prorogation of November 1675, ending February, 1676, 'till the meeting of Parliament July 15, 1677, printed in folio 1678. Our author in a letter dated June 10 1678, wrote thus; "There came out about Christmas last here, a large book concerning the growth of Popery, and Arbitrary Government. There have been great rewards offered in private, and considerable, in the Gazette, to any, who would inform of the author and Printer, but not yet discovered. Three or four printed books since have described (as near as was proper to go, the man being a member of Parliament) Mr. Marvel to be the author, but if he had, he surely could not have escaped being questioned in Parliament, or some other place." This book was so offensive to the court at that time, that an order was published in these words,

"Whereas there have been lately printed, and published several seditious, and scandalous libels against the proceedings of both Houses of Parliament, and other his Majesty's Courts of Justice, to the dishonour of his Majesty's government, and the hazard of the public peace, these are to give notice, that what person soever shall discover unto one of the secretaries of state, the printer, publisher, author, or hander to the press of any of the said libels, so that full evidence may be made thereof to a Jury, without mentioning the informer, especially one libel, entitled An Account of the Growth of Popery; and another called A Reasonable Argument to all the Grand Juries, &c. the discoverer shall be rewarded as follows; he shall have fifty pounds for such discovery as aforesaid, of the printer or publisher of it from the press, and for the hander of it to the press, one hundred pounds."

Mr. Marvel begins this book with a panegyric on the constitution of the English government, shewing how happy the people are under such wholesome laws, which if faithfully observed, must make a people happy, and a monarch great. He observes, that the king and the subject are equally under the laws; and that the former is no longer king than he continues to obey them. "So that, says he, the kings of England, are in nothing inferior to other princes, save in being more abridg'd from injuring their own subjects, but have as large a field as any of external felicity, wherein to exercise their own virtue, and to reward and encourage it in others. In short there is nothing that comes nearer the divine perfection, than when the monarch, as with us, enjoys a capacity of doing all the good imaginable to mankind, under a disability of all that is evil."

After slightly tracing popery from earlier times, he begins with the Dutch war in 1665; but dwells most upon the proceedings at Rome, from November 1675, to July 1677. He relates the occasion of the Dutch war, shews that the papists, and the French in particular, were the true springs of all our councils; and draws the following picture of popery.

"It is such a thing, as cannot but for want of a word to express it, be called a religion; nor is it to be mentioned with that civility, which is otherwise decent to be used in speaking of the differences of human opinions about divine matters; were it either open Judaism, or plain Turkery, or honest Paganism, there is yet a certain Bona Fides in the most extravagant belief, and the sincerity of an erroneous profession may render it more pardonable: But this is a compound of all the three, an extract of whatever is most ridiculous or impious in them, incorporated with more peculiar absurdities of its own, in which those were deficient; and all this deliberately contrived, and knowingly carried on, by the solid imposture of priests, under the name of Christianity."

This great man died, not without strong suspicions of being poisoned, August 16, 1678, in the 58th year of his age, and was interred in the church of St. Giles's in the Fields; and in the year 1688 the town of Kingston upon Hull contributed a sum of money to erect a monument over him, in St. Giles's church, for which an epitaph was composed by an able hand; but the minister of that church, piously forbad both the inscription and monument to be placed there.

Mr. Wood tells us, that in his conversation, he was very modest, and of few words; and Mr. Cooke observes, "that he was very reserved among people he did not very well know; but a most delightful, and improving companion amongst his friends."

In the year 1680, his miscellaneous poems were published, to which is prefixed this advertisement. "These are to certify every ingenious reader, that all these poems, as also the other things in this book contained, are printed according to the exact copies of my late dear husband, under his own hand writing, both found since his death, among his other papers. Witness my hand, MARY MARVEL."

But Mr. Cooke informs us, "that these were published with a mercenary view; and indeed not at all to the honour of the deceased, by a woman with whom he lodged, who hoped by this strategem to share in what he left behind him."

He was never married, and the same gentleman observes in another place, that in the editions of 1681, there are such gross errors, especially in the Latin Poems. as make several lines unintelligible; and that in the volume of Poems on Affairs of State, the same mistakes are as frequent, and in those, same pieces are attributed to our author, which he never wrote. Most of his Poems printed in Dryden's Miscellanies are so imperfect, that whole stanzas are omitted in many places.

These Mr. Cooke has restored in his edition of the works of Andrew Marvel, Esq; printed at London 1726, in two volumes, and corrected such faults as in either of the two former editions obscure the sense: in this edition are also added some poems from original manuscripts. Great care has likewise been taken by Mr. Cooke, to retrench such pieces as he was sure were not genuine.

Mr. Marvel, considered as a statesman, makes a more conspicuous figure than any of the age in which he lived, the preceding, or the subsequent: he possessed the first quality of a statesman, that is, inviolable integrity, and a heart so confirmed against corruption, that neither indigence, a love of pomp or even dangers the most formidable, could move his settled purpose, to pursue in every respect the interest of his country.

That Marvel understood the true interest of his country, is abundantly clear, from the great reverence paid to his opinion, by such persons as were most able to discern and most disposed to promote its welfare.

He has succeeded to a miracle in the droll way of writing; and when he assumes a severity, and writes seriously, his arguments and notions are far removed from imbecility.

As a poet, I cannot better delineate his character than in the words of Mr. Cooke, "There are few of his poems (says he) that have not something very pleasing in them, and some he must be allowed to have excelled in; most of them seem to be the effect of a lively genius, and manly sense, but at the same time seem to want that correctness he was capable of making. His most finished pieces are upon Milton's Paradise Lost, and upon Blood's stealing the crown; the latter of which is very satirical."

ON BLOOD'S STEALING THE CROWN.
When daring Blood, his rent to have regain'd,
Upon the English diadem distrain'd;
He chose the cassoc, circingle, and gown,
The fittest mask for one that robs the crown:
But his lay-pity underneath prevail'd,
And, while he sav'd the keeper's life, he fail'd.
With the priest's vestment had he but put on
The prelate's cruelty, the crown had gone.

"In his state Poems, is contained much of the secret history of king Charles the IId, in which time they were all written. They were composed on various occasions, and chiefly to expose a corrupt ministry, and the violence of those who were for persecuting all who differed from them in opinion. He has several Poems in Latin, some of which he translated into English, and one in Greek. They have each their proper merit; he discovers a great facility in writing the Latin tongue."

There are some small pieces of his in prose, which ought not to escape observation. From his letter to Sir John Trott, there seems to have been a friendly correspondence between him and that gentleman. By his Familiar Letters, we may easily judge what part of his works are laboured, and what not. But of all his pieces in Prose, the King's Mock Speech to both Houses of Parliament, has most of spirit, and humour. As it will furnish the best specimen of Mr. Marvel's genius for drollery, as well as the character of that prince and ministry, we shall here insert it, as a performance of the most exquisite humour we have ever seen [eight pages of quotations from Marvell's prose and verse omitted].

We shall conclude the life of Mr. Marvel, by presenting the reader with that epitaph, which was intended to be inscribed upon his tomb, in which his character is drawn in a very masterly manner.

Near this place
Lieth the body of ANDREW MARVEL, Esq;
A man so endowed by nature,
So improved by education, study, and travel,
So consummated, by experience and learning;
That joining the most peculiar graces of wit
With a singular penetration and strength of judgment,
And exercising all these in the whole course of his life,
With unalterable steadiness in the ways of virtue,
He became the ornament and example of his age,
Beloved by good men, fear'd by bad, admired by all,
Tho' imitated, alas! by few;
And scarce paralleled by any.
But a tombstone can neither contain his character,
Nor is marble necessary to transmit it to posterity.
It is engraved in the minds of this generation,
And will be always legible in his inimitable writings.
Nevertheless
He having served near twenty-years successively in parliament,
And that, with such wisdom, integrity, dexterity, and courage,
As became a true patriot,
The twon of Kingston upon Hull,
From whence he was constantly deputed to that Assembly,
Lamenting in his death the public loss,
Have erected this monument of their grief and gratitude,
1688.
He died in the 58th year of his age
On the 16th day of August 1678.

Heu fragile humanum genus! heu terrestria vana!
Heu quem spectatum continent urna virum!