1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Andrew Marvell

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 1:342-43.



ANDREW MARVELL (1620-1678) is better known as a prose writer than a poet, and is still more celebrated as a patriotic member of parliament. He was associated with Milton in friendship and in public service. Marvell was born in Hull, where his father, a clergyman, resided. A romantic story is related of the elder Marvell, and of the circumstances attending his death. He embarked in a boat with a youthful pair whom he was to marry in Lincolnshire. The weather was calm, but the clergyman had a presentiment of danger; and on entering the boat, he threw his cane ashore, and cried out, "Ho, for heaven!" His fears were but too truly verified; the boat went down, and the whole party perished. The son was educated at Cambridge, and travelled abroad for some time. Milton and he became acquainted, it is said, in Rome. Marvel was afterwards secretary to the embassy at Constantinople. A letter from Milton to secretary Bradshaw was, in 1823, discovered in the State Paper Office, in which the poet recommends Marvell as a person well fitted to assist himself in his office of Latin secretary, he being a good scholar, and lately engaged by General Fairfax to give instructions in the languages to his daughter. The letter is dated February 1652. Marvell, however, was not engaged as Milton's assistant till 1657. Shortly before the Restoration, he was elected member of parliament for his native city. He was not, like Waller, an eloquent speaker, but his consistency and integrity made him highly esteemed and respected. Marvell is supposed to have been the last English member who received wages from his constituents. Charles II. delighted in his society, and believing, like Sir Robert Walpole, that every man had his price, he sent Lord Danby, his treasurer, to wait upon Marvell, with an offer of a place at court, and an immediate present of a thousand pounds. The inflexible member for Hull resisted his offers, and it is said humorously illustrated his independence by calling his servant to witness that he had dined for three days successively on a shoulder of mutton! When the treasurer was gone, Marvell was forced to send to a friend to borrow a guinea! The patriot preserved his integrity to the last, and satirised the profligacy and arbitrary measures of the court with much wit and pungency.! He died on the 16th of August 1678, without any previous illness or visible decay, which gave rise to a report that he had been poisoned. The town of Hull voted a sum of money to erect a monument to Marvel's memory, but the court interfered, and forbade the votive tribute.

Marvel's prose writings were exceedingly popular in their day, but being written for temporary purposes, they have mostly gone out of mind with the circumstances that produced them. In 1672 he attacked Doctor, afterwards Bishop, Parker, in a piece entitled The Rehearsal Transposed. In this production he vindicates the fair fame of Milton, who, he says, "was and is a man of as great learning and sharpness of wit as any man." One of Marvell's treatises, An Account of the Growth of Popery and Arbitrary Government in England, was considered so formidable, that a reward was offered for the discovery of the author and printer. Among the first, if not the very first, traces of that vein of sportive humour and raillery on national manners and absurdities, which was afterward carried to perfection by Addison, Steele, and others, may be found in Marvell. He wrote with great liveliness, point, and vigour, though often coarse and personal. His poetry is elegant rather than forcible: it was an embellishment to his character of patriot and controversialist, but not a substantive ground of honour and distinction. "There is at least one advantage in the poetical inclination," says Henry Mackenzie, in his Man of Feeling, "that it is an incentive to philanthropy. There is a certain poetic ground on which a man cannot tread without feelings that enlarge the heart. The causes of human depravity vanish before the enthusiasm he professes; and many who are not able to reach the Parnassian heights, may yet approach so near as to be bettered by the air of the climate." This appears to have been the case with Andrew Marvell. Only a good and amiable man could have written his verses on The Emigrants in the Bermudas, so full of tenderness and pathos. His poem on The Nymph Complaining for the Death of her Fawn, is also finely conceived and expressed.