1830 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Andrew Marvell

George Barrell Cheever, in Studies in Poetry ... A copious Collection of Elegant Extracts (1830) 72-73.



A character in all respects, private, literary, and patriotic, so uncommonly excellent and noble as that of Marvell, can rarely be met with, either in the annals of history or the record of poetical biography.

He was educated at Cambridge, and afterwards travelled over a considerable part of Europe, and for some time was secretary to the English Embassy at Constantinople. He was one of Milton's most intimate friends, the champion of his reputation, and his assistant for nearly two years in his office of Latin Secretary to the Protector.

He defended the principles of freedom in his prose writings with great vigor of eloquence and liveliness of humour. He mingled a playful exuberance of fancy and figure not unlike that of Burke, with a keenness of sarcastic wit, which has been imitated, but rarely equalled in the writings of Swift.

From the year 1660 till his death he sat in parliament as one of the representatives of his native city of Hull. "His attendance in the House of Commons," says the poet Campbell, "was uninterrupted, and exhibits a zeal in parliamentary duty that was never surpassed. Constantly corresponding with his constituents, he was at once earnest for their public rights and for their local interests. After the most fatiguing attendances, it was his practice to send them a minute statement of public proceedings, before he took either sleep or refreshment. Though he rarely spoke, his influence in both houses was so considerable, that when Prince Rupert, who often consulted him, voted on the popular side, it used to be said that the prince had been with his tutor. He was one of the last members who received the legitimate stipend for attendance, and his grateful constituents would often send him a barrel of ale as a token of their regard.

"The traits that are recorded of his public spirit and simple manners give an air of probability to the popular story of his refusal of a court-bribe. Charles the second, having met with Marvell in a private company, found his manners so agreeable, that he could not imagine a man of such complacency to possess inflexible honesty; he accordingly, as it is said, sent his lord-treasurer Danby to him the next day, who, after mounting several dark staircases, found the author in a very mean lodging, and proffered him a mark of his majesty's consideration. Marvell assured the lord-treasurer that he was not in want of the king's assistance, and humorously illustrated his independence by calling his servant to witness that he had dined for three days successively on a shoulder of mutton; at the same time giving a dignified and rational explanation of his motives to the minister."

His poetical productions are few, but they display a fancy lively, tender, and elegant; "there is much in them that comes from the heart warm, pure, and affectionate."