1845 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Andrew Marvell

John Holland, "Andrew Marvell" Poets of Yorkshire; comprising Sketches of the Lives, and Specimens of the Writings of those Children of Song (1845) 43-47.



Andrew Marvell was born at Winestead, in Holderness, on the 15th of Nov., 1620. His father, whose name was also Andrew was a native of Cambridge, and M.A. of Emanuel College. Having taken orders, be obtained the rectory of Winestead; he was afterwards elected master of the grammar school at Hull; and in 1624 became lecturer of Trinity Church in that town. He appears to have been a man of some wit and the most inflexible integrity; one who would pursue the straight path of duty, no matter what might be the consequences.

After obtaining the rudiments of education at the Grammar School of Hull, our poet, who evinced in early youth a decided taste for the acquisition of letters, was at the age of fifteen, or, as some assert, thirteen years of age, admitted a student of Trinity College, Cambridge. He had not, however, been long there before he was enticed from his studies by the Jesuits and taken to London. The disciples of Loyola were at that time actively engaged in making proselytes among the youth of the Universities; and no doubt the talents of Marvell made the prospect of his conversion to their principles, a desirable object. Fortunately his father got early intelligence of this seduction; and finding him in a bookseller's shop, persuaded him to return to college. On the 13th of December, 1638, Andrew was re-admitted at College, where he applied to his studies again with great assiduity, and took the degree of B.A., when little more than eighteen years of age; but continued at the University until the death of his father, in 1640.

The circumstances attending the death of the elder Marvell are of so melancholy and romantic a character, but at the same time so characteristic of the man, that the reader will pardon our breaking for a few moments the thread of our narrative of the son's career in order to relate the particulars: — "On the shore of the Humber, opposite to Kingston-upon-Hull, lived a lady of exemplary virtue and good sense, between whom and Mr. Marvell, the father, a close friendship subsisted; and this lady had an only daughter, the emblem of her mother, for every laudable accomplishment, which made her so fond of this darling child, that she could scarcely bear to let her go out of her sight. Yet, upon the earnest request of her friend, Mr. Marvell, she permitted her to go to Kingston to stand godmother to one of his children, though she knew she must be absent at least one night. The next day, when the young lady came down to the waterside, in order to return home, she found the wind very high, and the passage so dangerous, that the watermen earnestly dissuaded her from crossing. But she, having never willingly disobliged her mother, and knowing that she would be miserable till she saw her again, resolved to hazard her life rather than prolong the anxiety of a fond parent; upon which, Mr. Marvell, having with difficulty prevailed on some watermen to attempt the passage, accompanied the young lady; and just as they put off, apprehensive of the consequence, he flung his gold-headed cane on shore, desiring some friends who had attended them, if he perished, to give that cane to his son, and bid him remember his father. His fears were too just; for the boat soon overset and they both perished. The mother of the young lady was for some time inconsolable; but, when her grief subsided she reflected on young Marvell's loss, and determining supply to him the want of a father, made him her heir."

Shortly after the death of his father, young Marvell left College to indulge his inclination for travelling. His first satirical Poem, "Flecknoe, an English Priest at Rome," was written in the "Eternal City;" and here it was that Marvell first met Milton, and an acquaintance was then formed between these illustrious men, which soon ripened into friendship. In 1652, ten years after Marvell's return to England, Milton wrote for him a letter of recommendation to President Bradshaw, in which he speaks of the patriotic Poet as a person well fitted to assist himself in his office of Latin Secretary, being a good scholar, lately engaged by General Fairfax, to give instruction in the languages to his daughter; and "a man of singular desert for the State to make use of." This letter, however, failed to procure as immediate appointment; although it no doubt paved the way to Cromwell's engaging him in 1653, as preceptor to his nephew, a young gentleman of the name of Dutton. In 1654, when Milton's famous defence of the people o England, in reply to Salmasius, appeared, Marvell was commissioned to present the Book to the Protector; and in 1657, when Milton was Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, he was appointed Assistant Latin Secretary to that Commonwealth.

On the deaths of the Protector, our Poet was elected a Member of the Parliament, which met April 25th, 1660, took his seat as Representative of his native town, and commenced that career which has so often been described with applause. Our business, however, is rather with his literary than with his political character.

During the whole of Marvell's Parliamentary career, he appears to have regularly corresponded with his constituents, and his letters are preserved in the Archives of the Corporation and the Trinity House at Hull. As a specimen of his epistolary style, when pouring out his thoughts in unrestrained freedom, we give the following passage from a letter written to console a friend in affliction: — "I know the contagion of grief, and infection of tears; and especially when it runs in a blood. And I myself could sooner imitate than blame these innocent relentings of nature, so that they spring from tenderness only, and immunity, not from an implacable sorrow. The tears of a family may flow together like those little drops that compact the rainbow, and, if they be placed with the same advantage towards Heaven, as those are to the sun, they, too, have their splendour; and like that bow, while they unbend into seasonable showers, yet they promise that there shall not be a second flood."

In the year 1667, Milton's "Paradise Lost" appeared, accompanied by some commendatory lines from Marvell's pen; and in 1672 our Poet again took occasion in his "Rehearsal Transposed," to vindicate the fair fame of Milton; who, he says, "was and is a man of as great learning and sharpness of wit as any man." These incidents show the friendship subsisting between two illustrious men, who, perhaps, at the time, little foresaw that their names would not only descend together to posterity, but be placed at the head of two classes of individuals who have at all times commanded the admiration of mankind — the incorruptible Patriot and the true Poet.

It is greatly to be lamented that the times in which Marvell lived, should have, by their leading events, tended to foster that satirical spirit which animates the whole of his prose writings, and some portions also of his poetry. The history of his controversial tracts belongs not to this work: indeed, a catalogue of their titles cannot be given. Perhaps, on the whole, Marvell, as a politician, has had rather more, as a poet, somewhat less than his due meed of praise. He died suddenly, in London, August 16, 1678, at a crisis of violent party strife, and "not," say some of his biographers, "without suspicion of poison." He was buried at St. Giles in time Fields. Who would imagine that the following gentle verses were the outpourings of a mind schooled in the obstreperous din of political activity?

THOUGHTS IN A GARDEN.
How vainly men themselves amaze,
To win the palm, the oak, or bays:
And their incessant labours see
Crown'd from some single herb, or tree,
Whose short and narrow-verged shade
Does prudently their toils upbraid;
While all the flowers, and trees, do close,
To weave the garlands of repose.

Fair Quiet, have I found thee here;
And Innocence, thy sister dear?
Mistaken long, I sought you then
In busy companies of men.
Your sacred plants, if here below,
Only among the plants will grow.
Society is all but rude
To this delicious solitude.

No white nor red was ever seen
So am'rous as this lovely green.
Fond lovers, cruel as their flame,
Cut in these trees their mistress' name,
Little, alas, they know or heed,
How far these beauties her exceed!
Fair trees! where'er your barks I wound,
No name shall but your own be found.

What wond'rous life is this I lead!
Ripe apples drop about my head;
The luscious clusters of the vine
Upon my month do crash their wine.
The nectarine, and envious peach,
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on melons, as I pass,
Insnared with flowers, I fall on grass.

Meanwhile the mind from pleasure less
Withdraws into its happiness;
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find;
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds and other seas;
Annihilating all that's made
To a green thought in a green shade.

There at the fountain's sliding foot,
Or at some fruit-tree's mossy root,
Casting the body's vest aside,
My soul into the boughs does glide;
There, like a bird, it sits and sings,
Then whets and claps its silver wings,
And, till prepared for longer flight,
Waves in its plumes the various light.