1882 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Andrew Marvell

Epes Sargent, in Harper's Cyclopaedia of British and American Poetry (1882) 111.



The friend of Milton, and his assistant in the Latin Secretaryship, Marvell (1620-1678) was born in Lincolnshire, and educated at Cambridge. His education was superior. He wrote both poetry and prose, and was Member of Parliament for Hull. A man of inflexible integrity, he was a strenuous foe of the Roman Catholic religion, and as a political pamphleteer took a high rank. Repeatedly threatened with assassination, he died suddenly — from the effects of poison, it was believed. There is a vein of elegance and pathos in his poems, and they reveal the genuine, high-hearted thinker. His Latin poems are his best. The familiar poem, The Spacious Firmament on High, is confidently attributed by many to Marvell. That he was equal to it is evident; but the proofs are insufficient to authorize us to take from Addison what has so long been ascribed to him. The simplicity and directness of the style are Addisonian rather than Marvellian. The piece first appeared anonymously in the Spectator, edited by Addison. The Spectator was begun in 1711, and Marvell died in 1678. If the piece was from his pen, what good reason was there, after his death, for withholding his name? It was in no spirit of boasting that, in a letter to one of his correspondents, Marvell wrote:

Disce, puer, virtutem ex me, verumque laborem;
Fortunam ex aliis.