Our power of rightly understanding an author is always greatly increased by knowledge of the circumstances under which his works were produced; and when we are dealing with a man who took a keen interest in the life around him, it is absolutely necessary to know something both of the writer’s personal history and of the course of public affairs. The information respecting Andrew MarvelPs life is, unfortunately, meagre, but though we should be glad to know more, what we have is sufficient to enable us to understand the causes that influenced him at the various stages of his career. Early in the sixteenth century members of a family of the name of Marvell, Mervell, or Marwell were living at Shepereth, in Cambridgeshire, while others were to be found at the neighbouring village of Meldreth. It is at Meldreth, where there is an old manor-house called “The Marvells,” that Marvell’s father, Andrew Marvell, is supposed to have been born, in 1586. He went to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and took the degree of M.A. in 1608. He was “minister” at Flamborough, in Yorkshire, in 1610, and “curate” in the following year. There is an entry in the registers at Cherry Burton, under the date Oct. 22, 1612, of the marriage of “Andrew Marvell and Anne Pease,” and there can be no doubt that we have here the record of the marriage of Marvell’s parents, the more especially because we know from other sources that the name of Marvell’s mother was Anne, and that the Peases of Hesslewood were connected by marriage with descendants of Marvell’s sister Anne.*
* Colonel J. W, Pease, M. P., is connected with the family through Elizabeth Blaydes, granddaughter of Anne Marvell. In the will of William Thompson, of Hull, Gent., 1637, there is mention of “my father-in-law Mr. George Pease,” and “ my cousin Mr. Andrew Marvell.” This George Pease would thus appear to have been brother-in-law to the Rev. Andrew Marvell.
Two years after his marriage, in 1614, the Rev. Andrew Marvell was presented to the living of Winestead, in Holderness. There three daughters were born, Anne in 1615, Mary, 1616, and Elizabeth, 1618; and they were followed, on the 31st of March, 1621, “being Easter-even,” by a son, Andrew Marvell. The old font in which he was baptized, on April 5, has of late been restored to its proper place in the church, after having been long used for unworthy purposes; and repairs necessary for the preservation of the church itself have been carried out. A second son, John, was born in 1623, but he died in the following year, and was buried at Winestead on the 20th of September. Of Andrew Marvell’s sisters it is sufficient to say that Anne married James Blaydes, J. P., of Sutton, in 1633; and had a son Joseph, who was Mayor of Hull in 1702, and married Jane Mould, whose father had been Mayor in 1698. From them Mr. F. A. Blades, of Hockliffe Lodge, Leighton Buzzard, and the Blades–Thompsons trace their descent. William, another son of Anne Marvell, was the ancestor of the Blades–Haworths; and Lydia, a daughter, married Robert Nettleton, who was Mayor of Hull in 1697, and had one son Robert, who died without issue. Andrew Marvell’s second sister, Mary, married, in 1636, Edmund Popple, Sheriff of Hull in 1638, and died in 1678, on or about the same day as her brother. Among her descendants were William Popple, Secretary to the Lords Conunissioners of Trade and Plantations, and Alured, his son, who was Governor of Bermuda. The third sister, Elizabeth, married, in 1636, Robert More, father by another wife of Thomas More.
Towards the end of 1624, after ten years’ work at Winestead, the Rev. Andrew Marvell was appointed Master of the Grammar School at Hull, and soon afterwards Lecturer at the neighbouring Holy Trinity Church, and Master of the Charter House. There is abundant evidence that he performed his various duties with zeal, and was an accomplished man. Fuller says that “the lessons of the pulpit he enforced by the persuasive eloquence of a devoted life,” while Echard calls him “ the facetious Calvinistical Minister of Hull.” His son would doubtless be taught by him from his early years at the old Grammar School,* which remained almost unchanged until 1875. The building has now been converted into a Mission and Clergy House, but the restoration that it has undergone — necessary as it no doubt was — cannot but be painful to those who remember its former picturesque if dilapidated appearance.
* In “Mr. Smirke” (1676), Marvell remarks that he learned at the Grammer School the liberal art of “scanning”.
The boys, like all boys at a seaport, would often haunt the neighbouring harbour; and years afterwards Bishop Parker, in imputing to Marvell “rude and uncivil language,” attributed it to his “first unhappy education among boatswains and cabin-boys.”
At the age of twelve Marvell went to Cambridge, aided by the Exhibition that was attached to the Grammar School. He matriculated on December 14, 1633, as a Sizar of Trinity College; but he soon fell into the hands of some Jesuits, who persuaded him to go to London. There, after some months, he was found by his father, and taken back to Cambridge. Two poems by Marvell, one in Greek, the other in Latin, addressed to the King, appeared in the “Musa Cantabrigiensis” in 1637; and on April 13, 1638, he was admitted a Scholar of Trinity College (“Andreas Marvell, discipulus juratus et admissus”). He took his B.A. degree in the same year, and in the year 1639–40 “Mervile” was one of the “Discipuli Dnse Bromley,” and got four quarters “liberatura,” that is, money paid as part of the Scholarship money, and designed to clothe the scholar. Marvell’s mother had died in April, 1638, a few days after he obtained his Scholarship, and now he lost his father. The Rev. Andrew Marvell had married, as his second wife, in November, 1638, Lucy Alured widow of William Harris, and had rendered noble service during the plague in Hull in 1635 and 1638–39. His death was caused by drowning, while he was escorting to her home at Thornton College, on the opposite side of the Humber, the daughter of Mrs. Skinner, who was related to the Cyriack Skinner to whom Milton addressed two of his sonnets. The whole party perished, and it is pleasant to believe the tradition that Mrs. Skinner adopted young Marvell, and made ample provision for him. It is certain that he was not without means during the ensuing years.
It is doubtful whether Marvell returned to Cambridge after his father’s death; all we know is that there is an entry in the Conclusion Book of Trinity College, dated Sept. 24, 1641, to the effect that, as Marvell and others did not attend their days or acts, or were married, they should have no more benefit of the College unless they showed cause to the contrary within three months. Marvell seems to have set out shortly afterwards on a four years’ tour through France, Holland, Switzerland, Spain, and Italy. It is probable that he met Richard Flecknoe at Rome in 1645, and returned to England in the following year. That he had Royalist friends is evident from the lines upon Lord Hastings in the “Musarum Lacrymae,” and the verses to Richard Lovelace, both published in 1649, the year of the execution of Charles I. In the lines upon Thomas May, written in 1650, Marvell spoke of “great Charles’s death,” and in the same year, in an ode upon Cromwell’s return from Ireland, he did not hesitate to say of Charles —
He nothing common did, or mean,
Upon that memorable scene,
But with his keener eye
The axe’s edge did try;
Nor called the gods with vulgar spite
To vindicate his helpless right,
But bowed his comely head
Down, as upon a bed.
Years afterwards, in the “Rehearsal Transprosed,” he spoke of the evil that had come of Laud’s bad advice to Charles, “a prince truly pious and religious “; and of the Civil War he said, “I think the cause was too good to have been fought for. Men ought to have trusted God; they ought and might have trusted the King with that whole matter Even as his present Majesty’s happy restoration did itself, so all things else happen in their best and proper time, without any need of our officiousness.” We shall see that throughout his life Marvell maintained his loyal feeling for the King, bad as that King might be, and had for his constant aim the removal of the evil counsellors who led him astray. But after the death of Charles I., Cromwell was the one strong man who could safely guide the country, and Marvell, though no Roundhead, could not but admire and give him his adherence.
It was, however, not Cromwell, but the great Lord Fairfax with whom Marvell first came in contact. Lord Fairfax, who acted as Parliamentary General during the Civil War, did not approve of the King’s execution, and refused, on conscientious grounds, to take the command against the Scotch in 1650. He retired to Nunappleton, his Yorkshire seat, and there Marvell went as tutor to Lord Fairfax’s daughter Mary (afterwards Duchess of Buckingham), then in her twelfth year. During the two happy years that he spent at this house Marvell wrote most, if not all, of the beautiful poems of the country which form so important a part of his works.
This period of quiet communing with nature, and intercourse with his noble-minded host and his young pupil, must have greatly influenced the character of a young man of twenty-nine or thirty.
A still more important connection was soon to be formed. On February 21, 1652–53, John Milton, who had perhaps made Marvell’s acquaintance through Lord Fairfax, gave him a letter of introduction to President Bradshaw, in which he said, “There will be with you tomorrow, upon some occasion of business, a gentleman whose name is Mr. Marvile; a man who is, both by report and the converse I have had with him, of singular desert for the State to make use of; who also offers himself, if there be any employment for him. His father was the minister of Hull; and he hath spent four years abroad, in Holland, France, Italy, and Spain, to very good purpose, as I believe, and the gaining of those four languages; besides, he is a scholar, and well read in the Latin and Greek authors; and no doubt of an approved conversation, for he comes now lately out of the house of Lord Fairfax, who was General, where he was intrusted to give some instructions in the languages to the lady his daughter.” And then, after recommending Marvell as well suited to be his assistant, Milton continued, “This, my Lord, I write sincerely, without any other end than to perform my duty to the public, in helping them to an humble servant, laying aside those jealousies, and that emulation, which mine own condition” — his blindness — “might suggest to me, by bringing in such a coadjutor.”
Marvell had to wait some time for his appointment, but Milton’s recommendation was not forgotten.
Early in 1653 Marvell wrote the “Satire upon Holland,” and in 1654 he carried to Bradshaw from Milton a copy of the “Defensio Secunda.” The account of the reception of the book which he sent to his “most honoured friend” was written at Eton, where Bradshaw was living; and from the mention made of John Oxenbridge, it would seem that Marvell was already living with that well-known preacher. Oxenbridge had paid two visits to the Bermudas, and his experience of the people who had sought refuge in those islands from religious persecution probably suggested to Marvell one of the most familiar of his poems. In 1655 Marvell addressed a second poem to Cromwell, “The First Anniversary of the Government under His Highness the Lord Protector”; and he is mentioned by Edward Phillips as one of the “particular friends” who, having a “a high esteem for him,” frequently visited Milton during these years at his house in Petty France.
In the summer of 1657 Cromwell’s nephew, Mr. Button, came to live at Oxenbridge’s house at Windsor, and Marvell acted as his tutor. But this arrangement was short-lived, for in September Marvell obtained the post for which he had been recommended in 1653, and became Milton’s colleague in the Latin secretaryship. His salary was the same as Milton’s, £200 a. year, but it was not, like Milton’s, a life pension, and he was more subordinate than Milton to Thurloe. Two or three letters written “by direction of Mr. Secretary “ to English representatives abroad are in the British Museum. In one of these Marvell speaks of an agent of “C. Steward,” the future Charles II.; and in another, of the members who opposed the proclamation of Richard Cromwell as Protector. “They have much the odds in speaking, but it is to be hoped that our justice, our affection, and our number, which is at least two-thirds, will wear them out at the long run.”
In July and August, 1658, Thurloe alludes to Marvell, acting as Milton’s substitute, going down the Thames to welcome an ambassador, receiving a political agent at Whitehall. In another month Cromwell passed away. Marvell had known him well, publicly and privately, while he was himself naturally an adherent to the monarchial system. His “Poem upon the Death of his late Highness the Lord Protector”— the third important poem that he had written in Cromwell’s praise, carries, therefore, all the more weight. From regret for Cromwell’s death he passed to the happy presages that accompanied Richard Cromwell’s accession to power. Richard Cromwell’s reign, however, was short, but after his fall Milton and Marvell remained Latin Secretaries until December, 1659. Only twice is Marvell mentioned in the existing Domestic State Papers for this period. On September 7, 1658, the Council approved of a list of persons who were appointed to have mourning for Cromwell, and among them were the Latin Secretaries, John Milton and Andrew Marvell; but the supply that had been proposed — nine yards — was reduced to six. On July Mi 1659, the Council agreed that Marvell, among others, should have lodgings in Whitehall.
In the meantime, in January, 1659, Marvell and John Ramsden had been elected members of Parliament for Hull. Marvell’s early connection with the town had, as we have seen, been maintained by the marriage of his sisters with members of well-known families in the neighbourhood, and his constituents never found cause to regret their choice. In 1660 came the restoration of Charles II. and the punishment of many of Cromwell’s friends. Milton escaped somewhat mysteriously from evil consequences, and his nephew, Edward Phillips, afterwards said that this immunity was due to the intercession of friends; “particularly, in the House of Commons, Mr. Andrew Marvell, a member for Hull, acted vigorously in his behalf, and made a considerable party for him.” We shall see that Marvell defended until the very end the great poet to whose influence he owed so much. In 1660 and 1661 Marvell was re-elected for Hull, and from November, 1660, until a few days before his death, he sent regularly to the Mayor and Corporation a concise description of what passed in Parliament. There were no reports of the proceedings of the House until long after this time, and the risk attaching to letters of a public nature compelled Marvell to confine himself as a rule to a bare recital of facts. The few letters of a private nature that we have are far more interesting, yet the series of public letters is a valuable storehouse of information; and even here, especially during the later years of his life, Marvell did not hesitate to hint at the fears with which the actions of the King or his advisers filled his mind. He was a model representative, most regular in his attendance, but rarely speaking, and his constituents showed their complete confidence in him, not only by a regular payment, which was then customary, of 6s. 8d. a day while Parliament sat, but by frequent presents, generally of barrels of ale, for which he returned his hearty thanks. “If I wanted my right hand,” he wrote on one occasion, “yet I would scribble to you with my left rather than neglect your business.” Marvell was a member of the Corporation of the Trinity House, both at London and Hull, and he was always ready to help forward their interests by the exercise of his business powers, which were often shown in interviews with the leading men of the day. Shortly before his death he was chosen a younger Warden of the London Trinity House.*
* Historical MSS. Commission, Eighth Report, Pt. I. pp. 255–6; and letters on the afiairs of the Trinity House; in Dr. Grosart’s edition.
Occasionally Marvell went abroad, sometimes on private business, of which we know nothing. Once, when he had been in Holland for a year and a half, Lord Belasyse, High Steward of Hull, requested that a new member should be elected; but the corporation replied that Marvell was not far off, and would return when they desired it. They accordingly warned him, in a “prudent and courteous letter,” of the proposal to fill up his place, and he came back at the beginning of April, 1663. But in the following June it was decided to send Lord Carlisle as ambassador extraordinary to Muscovy, Sweden, and Denmark, and that nobleman, as Marvell told his constituents, “used his power, which ought to be very great with me, to make me go along with him, as secretary in these embassages.” “You may be sure,” he added, “I will not stir without special leave of the House, so that you may be freed from any possibility of being importuned, or tempted, to make any other choice in my absence. However, I cannot but advise with you, desiring also to take your assent with me, so much esteem I have both for your prudence and friendship.” The House having granted the leave required, and the constituents given their approval, Marvell set out with the mission in July, “with the order and good liking of his Majesty” and did not return until January, 1665. A full account of the mission, with various allusions to Marvell, is given in “A Relation of three Embassies from his sacred Majestie Charles II.,” &c., by “G. M.,” published in 1669. Two months after Marvell’s return war was declared against Holland, and on June 3, 1665, the Duke of York obtained a victory over the Dutch fleet, but was unable to follow up his success. Dryden wrote “Verses to Her Royal Highness the Duchess on the Memorable Victory,” and Waller celebrated the event in a poem which was the forerunner of many satires by Marvell and others. The title was “Instructions to a Painter, for the drawing of the Posture and Progress of His Majesties Forces at Sea, under the command of His Royal Highness; together with the Battel and Victory obtained over the Dutch, June 3, 1665.” There was high praise of the “valiant Duke,” whose clothes were dyed with the blood of those who fell near him, and the “illustrious Duchess.” The friends of those who were killed by the Duke’s side were thus consoled:—
Happy to whom this glorious death arrives
More to be valued than a thousand lives!
On such a theatre as this to die,
For such a cause, and such a witness by!
Who would not thus a sacrifice be made,
To have his blood on such an altar laid?
In lines “To the King,” at the end of the poem, Waller said of Charles:—
You for these ends whole days in council sit.
And the diversions of your youth forget.
A year passed, notable for the great Plague of London, and on June 3, 1666, the anniversary of the battle which had given Waller the opportunity of uttering these audacious lines, Monck was defeated in the Downs. In 1667 Louis XIV. deserted the Dutch, and entered into a secret treaty with Charles; but the grants which had been made in Parliament for carrying on the war had, to a great extent, been appropriated by the King for the benefit of his mistresses, and it was found impossible to fit out the navy. The result was that in June the Dutch fleet sailed up the Thames and Medway, burned the shipping at Chatham, and threatened London itself. Next month a treaty of peace was signed at Breda.
During the course of these disasters, Denham, who had all the reasons of an injured husband for hating the Duke of York, issued four “Directions” — or “Advices,” as they are sometimes called — “to a Painter,” in imitation of Waller’s poem.* Like Waller, he added earnest lines “To the King”:—
Let justice only awe, and battle cease;
Kings are but cards in war; they’re gods in peace.
. . . .
Here needs no fleet, no sword, no foreign foe;
Only let vice be dammed, and justice flow.
* Pepys, writing on Sept 14, 1667, says, “I met with a ‘Fourth Advice to the Painter upon the coming in of the Dutch to the River, and end of the War,’ that made my heart ache to read, it being too sharp, and so true.”
The House of Commons elected in 1661 was strongly Royalist, but the disgraceful events that had marked the six years during which it had now sat had led to the formation of a powerful Opposition. The Corporation Act of 1661 was followed by the Act of Uniformity of 1662, the persecutions in Scotland, the Conventicle Act of 1664, and the Five Mile Act of 1665. The Earl of Clarendon, the King’s chief adviser during these years, was an ardent supporter of the Monarchy and of the Church of England; while Charles II. cared little for anything so long as his own pleasures were gratified. His sympathies, indeed, lay rather with the Roman Catholics, and his brother, the Duke of York, who had married Clarendon’s daughter, was known to belong to that Church. Clarendon was unpopular with both Catholics and Nonconformists, and upon his head fell the blame for the position of dependency upon France in which England was placed. To the feeling of shame was added the indignation of the more respectable classes of the people at the glaring debauchery of the Court.
It would at first sight seem impossible to believe the accounts of the depravity of Charles II. and his courtiers which we find in the works of contemporary satirists; but the information that we have from many sources shows that Marvell and other writers of the time rarely exaggerated. It is curious how completely the various accounts corroborate each other. It might be said that Pepys, representing the middle classes, repeated much gossip which was without warrant; or that Evelyn, the representative of the old-fashioned gentry, was easily offended. But Pepys’s own views on morality were not strait-laced, while Evelyn was an earnest supporter of Church and State; and both of them had ready access to the Court, and could see for themselves how the King lived.
The truth of what they say is, moreover, proved beyond a doubt by the tone adopted by Dryden and other Royalist writers; by the unblushing memoirs of those who, like the Count de Grammont, were on the most familiar terms with the King; by the correspondence between the French ambassadors and their master; and by various journals and memoirs too numerous to mention. In the very year to which we have now come Milton published “Paradise Lost” and had in his mind what he heard from those around him when he described Belial, who loved vice for its own sake:—
In courts and palaces he also reigns,
And in luxurious cities, where the noise
Of riot ascends above their loftiest towers.
And injury and outrage.
Parliament was summoned in July, 1667, but was at once prorogued until October. In the interval the King, influenced by the Duke of Buckingham and the reigning mistress, Lady Castlemaine, took the seals of office from Clarendon, who was afterwards impeached and banished. In August or September, at the time of Clarendon’s fall, Marvell produced his longest poem, the “Last Instructions to a Painter,” modelled upon the pieces by Waller and Denham. Of this terrible impeachment of those who misled the King we shall have to speak again; here it is sufficient to notice that in the closing lines Marvell disavowed all intention to attack Charles himself. His muse, he said, blamed only those who restrained the Court, and wished to reign where all England served. They who would separate the kingdom from the crown were bold and accursed:—
As Ceres corn, and Flora is the spring,
As Bacchus wine, the country is the King.
Let the King seek better counsellors, virtuous wealthy, courageous:—
Where few the number, choice is the less hard;
Give us this Court, and rule without a guard.
The change that followed Clarendon’s fall was not for the better, though Marvell felt hopeful, and was grateful to the King. The Cabal ministry endeavoured to please the people by entering into an alliance with Holland and Sweden against France; but Charles continued his private negotiations with Louis XIV., and determined to be free, if possible, of the control of Parliament. With this object in view a secret treaty was signed at Dover in 1670, by which Charles accepted from Louis a pension of £200,000 a year and 6,000 French troops, and undertook to re-establish Roman Catholicism in England, to help Louis against Holland, and to support his claim to the Spanish succession. In private letters written in the spring Marvell had spoken of the imperious attitude taken up by Charles as a last resort in his pressing need for money; of the terrible Conventicle Bill, “the quintessence of arbitrary malice”; and of the wish of the King, who seemed all-powerful, to set aside his marriage. “In such a conjuncture, dear Will, what probability is there of my doing anything to the purpose?” Charles menaced the House of Lords by attending from day to day throughout the sittings; “the Parliament was never so embarrassed, beyond recovery. We are all venal cowards, except some few.”
Before long people became aware to some extent of the arrangement with Louis XIV., and early in 1671 Marvell wrote his “Farther Instructions to a Painter.” These lines are concerned chiefly with the brutal attack, in the preceding December, upon Sir John Coventry, who had ventured to use plain words about the King’s immoral life in a debate upon playhouses. A strong Bill was at once passed against such crimes, with the result that Parliament was prorogued in April for nearly two years. At this time Marvell thought that he might be sent “on an honest fair employment into Ireland,” but we hear nothing more of it. In January, 1672, Charles obtained money by the act of national bankruptcy known as the stopping of the Exchequer, and in March war was declared against Holland. Marvell’s “Poem on the Statue in Stocks Market” was written immediately after the undecisive fight in Southwold Bay on the 28th of May. The statue referred to was one of Sobieski, which was being altered to represent Charles II.; but Marvell said the workmen would never arrive at an end, “For it is such a king as no chisel can mend.” Yet, he added, “we’d rather have him than his bigotted brother.”
When Parliament met in 1673 the opposition to the Declaration of Indulgence which had been issued in the preceding year was so great — owing to the fear of Popery — that the King found it necessary to withdraw the Declaration. The passing of the Test Act, which followed soon afterwards, compelled Clifford, Arlington, and the Duke of York to resign office, and brought about the fall of the Cabal ministry. Shaftesbury and Buckingham joined the Opposition, and peace was concluded with Holland early in 1674. To this period belong Marvell’s “Historical Poem,” “Advice to a Painter,” and “Britannia and Raleigh.” The “Historical Poem” is directed chiefly against the Duke of York, and ends with the significant lines:—
Be wise, ye sons of men, tempt God no more
To give you kings in’s wrath to vex you sore:
If a king’s brother can such mischiefs bring,
Then how much greater mischiefs such a king?
The “Advice to a Painter “ also is an attack on the Papists, with grave lines “To the King,” warning him of danger from his ambitious brother:—
Great Charles, who full of mercy might’st command,
In peace and pleasure, this thy native land.
At last take pity of thy tottering throne,
Shook by the faults of others, not thine own;
Let not thy life and crown together end.
Destroyed by a false brother and false friend.
“Britannia and Raleigh” give a terrible picture of those who surrounded Charles:—
A colony of French possess the Court;
Pimps, priests, buffoons, in privy-chamber sport.
They perverted the King’s mind, and choked his good intentions. It seemed vain to endeavour to divide the Stuart from the tyrant; yet Marvell urged, in noble words which Raleigh addresses to Britannia:—
Once more, great Queen, thy darling strive to save,
Snatch him away from scandal and the grave;
Present to’s thoughts his long-scorned Parliament,
The basis of his throne and government.
In his deaf ears sound his dead father’s name:
Perhaps that spell may’s erring soul reclaim:
Who know’s what good effects from thence may spring?
’Tis God-like good to save a falling king.
Sir Thomas Osborne, created Earl of Danby in 1674, now held the reins of office, and he had at any rate the merit of hating the King’s alliance with France. But he had no sympathy with popular government, and he endeavoured, by various arbitrary means, and by the aid of bribery, to give the King more absolute power. He is often attacked in Marvell’s remaining satires, which all seem to have been written in 1674 and 1675; but these pieces do not call for detailed notice here, except the “Dialogue between Two Horses,” the statue of Charles II. at Wool-church, and that of Charles I. at Charing Cross. The writer was remarkably plain-spoken, as the following lines will show:—
To see Dei Gratia writ on the throne,
And the King’s wicked life say, God there is none.
That he should be styled “Defender of the Faith,”
Who believes not a word what the Word of God saith.
That the Duke should turn Papist and that church defy
For which his own father a martyr did die.
. . . .
The debauched and cruel since they equally gall us,
I had rather bear Nero than Sardanapalus.
One of the two tyrants must still be our case,
Under all who shall reign of the false Stuart race.
. . . .
But canst thou devise when things will be mended?
When the reign of the line of Stuarts is ended.
And then, at the end, in reference to the closing of the coffee-houses because public affairs where there freely discussed, come these ominous lines:—
When they take from the people the freedom of words,
They teach them the sooner to fall to their swords.
So great was the outcry that in less than six weeks it was found necessary to revoke the proclamation against coffee-houses. Thirteen years were yet to pass before the expulsion of the Stuarts at the Revolution.
We need say little more of politics. In a private letter at South Kensington, dated November 5, 1674, and addressed to Edward Thompson, afterwards Mayor and M.P. for York, Marvell half-jestingly wrote: “I am glad that Clergy begin to show their good affection to King killing and Emperor killing.” Early in 1677 he represented himself to Edward Thompson’s elder brother. Sir Henry Thompson, as one who had no employment but idleness, and who “am so oblivious that I should forget my own name did I not see it sometimes in a friend’s superscription.”* On March 6, 1677, Marvell wrote in a letter to his constituents: “God direct all counsels to the true remedy of the urgent condition of this poor nation, which I hope there is no reason to despair of.”
* The original is in the collection of Mr. Alfred Morrison.
On the 20th of March a debate took place upon a Bill for securing the Protestant religion. This Bill required the Sovereign to take an oath that he did not believe in transubstantiation, but he could refuse on condition that he handed over to the bishops the filling up of ecclesiastical vacancies. Marvell opposed this which was really a compromise between the Church and the Duke of York. It was, he said, premature; the King was not in a declining age, “Whatever prince God gives us, we must trust him.” If men were taught really to live up to the Protestant religion they would then be established against the temptations of Popery, or a prince Popishly affected. Marvell added that he was not used to speak in the House, and he spoke abruptly. The Bill was committed, but “died away, the Committee disdaining & not daring publicly to enter upon it.”
On the 29th there was a debate upon the alleged striking of Sir Philip Harconrt by Marvell, who had stumbled over Harcourt’s foot. Both parties declared it was an accident, a thrust made out of their great familiarity, the Speaker had noticed the incident, and Sir Job Charlton, supported by Colonel Sandys — both of whom Marvell had attacked in his satires — moved that Marvell should be sent to the Tower. The matter was ultimately allowed to drop. At Christmas, 1677, Marvell published an important historical pamphlet called “Account of the Growth of Popery and Arbitrary Government,” written, as he said, “with no other intent than of mere fidelity and service to his Majesty; and God forbid that it should have any other effect than that the mouth of all iniquity and of flatterers may be stopped, and that his Majesty, having discerned the disease, may, with his healing touch, apply the remedy.” About the same time appeared a piece often attributed to Marvell, called “A Seasonable Argument to persuade all the Grand Juries in England to petition for a New Parliament.” This pamphlet gave brief and uncomplimentary characters of a number of the supporters of the Government, and the London Gazette for March 21 to 25, 1678, contained an offer of a reward of £10 for the discovery of the printer or publisher, and £100 for the handers to the press of those “seditious and scandalous libels.”* In a letter written in June, Marvell says that great rewards were offered in private, but that he was not questioned, though it was hinted in several books that he was the author. In 1682 Dryden, in ihe Epistle to the Whigs prefixed to “The Medal,” spoke of “your dead author’s pamphlet called ‘The Growth of Popery.’”
* Both pieces are attributed to “Andrew” in a quarto pamphlet of 1678 called “A Letter from Amsterdam to a Friend in England.” The writer says, “’Tis well he is now transprosed into politics; they say he had much ado to live upon poetry.” The two MSS. of “A Seasonable Argument” in the British Museum (Lansdowne MSS. 805, f. 83, and Addl. MSS. 4106, f. 166), differ considerably.
On July 29, 1678, Marvell had an interview with the Corporation at Hull, and on August 16, three weeks later, he died in London.*
* “Andrew Marvell died yesterday of apoplexy” (Col. Grosvenor to G. Treby, M.P., Aug. 17, 1678. — Hist. MSS. Comm., 13(h Repon. Ft. VI. p. B). He was buried on the 18th (“Life of Anthony Wood,” ed. Clark, II. 414).
Some believed that he had been poisoned; but according to an account given in Dr, Richard Morton’s “Pyretologia” (1692), Marwell had tertian ague, and the doctor gave him a great febrifuge, a draft of Venice treacle, and caused him to be covered with blankets. He was then seized with deep sleep and sweats, and twenty-four hours later passed away while in a comatose state. He was buried under the pews on the south side of the church of St. Giles-in-the-Fields; the sexton afterwards told Aubrey that the grave was under the window which contains a red lion. The town of Hull voted £50 for the funeral, and in 1688 his late constituents collected money for the erection of a monument, but the Royalist Rector would not allow it to be put up.
On March 29, 1679, letters of administration were granted to Mary Marvell, relict, and John Greene, creditor of Andrew Marvell late of St. Giles-in-the-Fields. Nothing more is known of Marvell’s wife, save that she did all she could to preserve her husband’s fame, by carefully collecting such of his verses as were not of a controversial nature, and publishing them in a folio volume, dated 1681, with the following notice: “To the Reader: These are to certify every ingenious reader that all these poems, as also the others things in this book, are printed according to the exact copies of my late dear husband, under his own handwriting, being found since his death among his other papers. Witness my hand this 15th day of October, 1680. Mary Marvell.”
Limits of space have caused the omission of details respecting Marvell’s prose works. But a few words must be said about the part he took in two of the Church controversies of his day.
In 1670 Samuel Parker, a young man of thirty, who, after being brought up as a Puritan, had joined the Church of England at the Restoration, and become chaplain to Archbishop Sheldon, and Archdeacon of Canterbury, published his “Discourse of Ecclesiastical Polity, wherein the authority of the Civil Magistrate over the consciences of subjects in matters of external religion is asserted, themischiefs and inconvenience of Toleration are represented, and all pretences pleaded in behalf of Liberty of Conscience are fully answered.” In this book Parker maintained that the supreme magistrate should have power to direct the consciences of his subjects in affairs of religion, and that princes could with less danger give liberty to men’s vices than to their consciences. John Owen, who replied, was attacked in “A Defence and Continuation of the Ecclesiastical Polity,” and in a Preface by Parker to a work of Bishop Bramhall’s. Then Marvell took up the cudgels, and in 1672 published “The Rehearsal Transprosed.” The tide was taken from a speech by Bayes in the Duke of Buckingham’s play, “The Rehearsal,” then recently produced. This attack abounds with wit which Swift admired, but it is wit applied to high ends. The skill with which ridicule was poured upon Parker caused the book to be read by all classes, thus secured attention for the earnest matter which Marvell was in reality speaking. He had all the laughers on his side, says Burnet, from the King downwards. A very interesting and unexpected deposition of Roger L’Estrange, the licencer, has been printed in the Seventh Report of the Historical MSS. Commission, from which it appears that L’Estrange did not hear of the book until the printing of the second impression had been begun, in January 1672–3.* Two sheets had been seized, when L’Estrange was summoned to Lord Anglesey’s house, with Ponder, who acknowledged himself to be the printer. Lord Anglesey said, “Look you, Mr. L’Estrange, there is a book come out, ‘The Rehearsal Transposed’ [sic]; I presume you have seen it; I have spoken to his Majesty about it, and the King says he will not have it suppressed, for Parker has done him wrong, and this man has done him right, and I desired to speak with you to tell you this; and since the King will have the book to pass, pray give Mr. Ponder your licence to it, that it may not be printed from him.” Of course L’Estrange had to give way, but obtained leave to alter certain passages. Afterwards the Clerk to the Stationers’ Company objected to the book, in spite of the licence L’Estrange had been obliged to give. The Clerk’s scruples were overcome only by a threat from Lord Anglesey to bring the matter before the King and Council. L’Estrange afterwards complained that the book was not printed according to the corrected copy he had licensed.
* There were to be 1,500 copies of the second impression, and John Darby, a printer, gave evidence that Marvell was the author (Hist. MSS. Commission, Fourth Report, p. 234).
There were several answers to Marvell’s book, in which an attempt was made to write in a similar style of banter and invective, and though, they are of little value, they must be read by any one who wishes to understand the allusions in Marvell’s work. It is impossible here to say more than that among the titles were “Rosemary and Bayes,” “The Transproser Rehearsed,” “S’too him, Bayes,” “Gregory Father Greybeard,” by Edmund Hickeringill, in which much use is made of the words “marvel” and “marvellous,” and Parker’s “A Reproof to the Rehearsal Transprosed,” a dreary book of over 500 pages, in which Marvell was advised to betake himself to his “own proper trade of lampoons and ballads,” and was reminded that the consequence of his malcontentedness might be the rod, axe, whipping-post, galleys, or pillory. The Government was advised “to crush the pestilent wit, the servant of Cromwell and the friend of Milton.”
Marvell’s rejoinder, published in 1673 under his own name, has for title-page “The Rehearsal Transprosed: The Second Part. Occasioned by two letters; the first printed by a nameless author, entitled, A Reproof, etc. The second a letter left for me at a friend’s house, dated Nov. 3rd. 1673, subscribed J. G., and concluding with these words, ‘If thou darest to print or publish any lie or libel against Dr. Parker, by the Eternal God, I will cut thy throat.’ Answered by Andrew Marvell.” This book brought the controversy to a close, though Parker, who became Bishop of Oxford, attacked Marvell after his death in the “History of his own Times.”
Of the innumerable passages of interest in the “Rehearsal Transprosed” reference must once more he made to the satirical account of the evil effects of a free press (Grosart’s edition, 7–9); to the hearty praise of Butler’s “excellent wit,” though his choice of subject might be regretted (35); to the character of John Hales (125–6); and to the account of the events that led to the Civil War (21 1 — 1 3), where he says, “The arms of the Church are prayers and tears; the arms of the subjects are patience and petitions”; yet the fatal consequences of that Rebellion should “serve as sea-marks unto wise princes to avoid the causes.” The most interesting passages in Marvell’s “Second Part” are the references to his father (322); to the unequal distribution of the revenues of the church (336–7); to Parker’s own impure life (428–9); to “Hudibras” (496), of which he spoke again “with that esteem which an excellent piece of wit upon whatsoever subject will always merit”; and, above all, to Milton (498–500), who was suspected of helping Marvell. “By chance I had not seen him of two years before; but after I undertook writing I did most carefully avoid either visiting or sending to him, lest I should anyway involve him in my consequences.” At the Restoration, Milton and Parker had both partaken of the Royal clemency, and it was at Milton’s house, where Parker was in those days often to be found, that Marvell had met Parker. The attack on the old poet was therefore inhuman and inhospitable, and was a warning to avoid “a man that creeps into all companies, to jeer, trepan, and betray them.”
The other Church controversy in which Marvell took part need not detain us long. In 1675 Dr. Croft, the good Bishop of Hereford, endeavoured, in a pamphlet called “The Naked Truth, or the True State of the Primitive Church, by a Humble Moderator,” to secure forbearance between Churchmen and Nonconformists. The High Church party was indignant, and Dr. Francis Turner, Master of St. John’s College, Cambridge, published, in 1676, “Animadversions on the Naked Truth.” Then Marvell brought out a witty pamphlet called “Mr. Smirke, or, the Divine in Mode,” in which he ridiculed Turner by comparing him with the chaplain in Etherege’s play, the “Man of Mode,” and showed his thorough knowledge of the matter under discussion in an appendix called “A Short Historical Essay, touching General Councils, Creeds, and Impositions in Religion.” Dr. Croft thanked Marvell for his aid, and Marvell sent an admirable reply.
Aubrey says that Marvell was “of a middling stature, pretty strong set, roundish-faced, cherry-cheeked, hazel eye, brown hair. He was in his conversation very modest, and of very few words. Though he loved wine, he never would drink hard in company.” Aubrey was very far from implying that he was a “drunken buffoon,” as Parker, in his anger, called him. Marvell’s integrity is illustrated by the well-known story of the visit of Lord Danby to his room, and his refusal of the bribe which the Lord Treasurer found many rich men only too ready to accept! “I live here,” said Marvell, “to serve my constituents; the ministry may seek men for their purpose; I am not one.” As Marvell tells us there were so many courtiers and apostate patriots in the House that money was granted to the King with the full knowledge that it would not be applied to the purpose for which it asked, and further large grants were made to the Duchess of Cleveland, under whose cognisance all promotions, spiritual as well as moral, passed. In 1674 Marvell waited Duke of Monmouth, Governor of Hull, with the then customary present of six broad pieces from the Corporation. The Duke would have returned the gold to Marvell, had he not prevented him. The money regularly sent from Hull far exceeded Marvell’s expenses; as for this present, therefore, he desired the Corporation “to make use of it, and of me, upon any other opportunity.”
Many poets have written in eulogy of Marvell, but our space will not allow of quotation. Mason, who had himself been a student at Marvell’s old school, praised his genius and his character in the “Ode to Independency,” and Wordsworth associated him with some of the noblest names of the time:—
Great men have been among us; hands that penned
And tongues that uttered wisdom — belter none!
The later Sidney, Marvell, Harrington,
Young Vane, and others who called Milton friend.
It is needless to dwell further upon Marvell’s high sense of duty. The more we learn of the corruption of those around him, the more are we impressed by the honesty, purity, and brotherly charity of the man who was in every way worthy to be a friend of that greater poet whose “soul was like a star, and dwelt apart.”
The late Mr. C. D. Christie reviewed Dr. Grosart’s edition of Marvell’s Poems in both the Saturday Review and the Spectator, and in each case spoke very severely of the Satires, which he stigmatized as obscene, and full of filth and scurrility. The writer of a recent anonymous article in Macmillan’ss Magazine, who follows Mr. Christie’s example, seems unable to find pleasure in anything of Marvell’s except certain of the early poems, upon which he makes some interesting remarks, and, what is worse, he insinuates his want of belief in any high motives in Marvell’s actions. In the poems on Cromwell he sees the working of “Milton’s poisonous advice”! and he cannot perceive any in Marvell’s political life. His untiring labour for his constituents “cannot be certainly imputed to any higher motive than to stand well with his employers.” Marvell abandoned poetry for public life; “it seems that,” says this writer, quoting from Browning,
Just for a handfull of silver he left us,
Just for a ribbon to stick in his coat.
A less happy quotation could not have been found. They who take up the attitude that Marvell adopted are hardly the men who receive the rewards or decorations given successfull statesmen.
It cannot be denied that coarse passages; to be found in Marvell’s satires; but we must remember the circumstances under which they were written. Parker, whom Mr. Christie gravely quoted against Marvell, says that “out of the House, when he could do it with impunity, he vented himself with the greatest bitterness, and daily spewed infamous libels out of his filthy mouth against the King himself.” It is true that there is often plain-speaking of the King, but that King was Charles II.; and loyal as he was, Marvell’s love for his country was too great to allow him to pass over in silence the infamous state of affairs that he saw around him. Every form of uncleanness, bribery, and corruption was practised openly at the Court, and behind this apparent surrendering of all else to the pleasures of the moment there was a plot to sacrifice the country and the national religion for private and selfish ends. In speaking plainly of such things the poet could hardly fail sometimes to write coarsely or unmercifully.
The more we study the writings of Marvell’s contemporaries, the more we realize the accuracy of the numerous uncomplimentary allusions to people of the day in these satires. When any one who dared to speak of a royal intrigue, well known to all, was liable to a brutal assault at the hands of soldiers under command of the King’s son, it was impossible to write otherwise than anonymously, and the charge of cowardice or unmanliness is absurd. Perhaps there is no attack in these satires that we need much regret except that upon Anne Hyde, the Duke of York’s first wife; but even in this case Marvell may have had good reason for knowing that her enemies were right in asserting that the connection she had with the Duke before her marriage was not the only slip she made. The Duke of York himself was a profligate and an intriguer against his country’s best interests, and well deserved all that Marvell said of him.
Of the earlier satires the “Character of Holland” is the best, and the vigorous, rollicking humour and careless, unpremeditated style have often been compared with Butler’s; but there is an earnest feeling throughout of love for England, “dariing of Heaven, and of men the care,” and of admiration for those who in troublesome limes watched over the Commonwealth. Among the Latin poems the piece upon Joseph de Maniban illustrates Marvell’s wit in its lighter vein. His scholarship was of no mean order, and his reading was wide.
It is pleasant to turn to the poems upon which Marvell’s fame chiefly rests. They were all, with one exception, written before the Restoration, and none would realize more than Marvell how great a sacrifice he made when he abandoned the higher forms of art to attack the vices that he saw around him. He had a real love of Nature for its own sake, which was then rare even among poets, and he made the best use of the opportunity for studying the beauties of the country that was afforded during his sojourn at Lord Fairfax’s. He was the about thirty years of age, and the poems “Upon the Hill and Grove at Billborow” and “Appleton House” show that he loved to wander in the grounds and country lanes and woods, watching the birds and flowers with a discerning eye, but not forgetting the human element in the world and the relations of the whole to its Creator:—
Thus I, easie Philosopher,
Among the Birds and Trees confer:
And little now to make me, wants
Or of the Fowles, or of the Plants.
. . . .
Thrice happy he who, not mistook,
Hath read in Natures mystick Book.
And then he gracefully attributes the beauty of it all to his young pupil, for whom he evidently felt a great affection, which often influenced his verse:—
She yet more pure, sweet, straight, and fair
Than gardens, woods, meads, rivers are.
In “The Nymph complaining for the Death of her Fawn,” the fawn, left by a faithless lover, is described as finding all its pleasure in the nymph’s garden, which was overgrown with roses and lilies. Here, as in other pieces, there are some of the far-fetched conceits so often found in Donne and his contemporaries.
Had it lived long, it would have been
Lilies without, roses within.
Yet, as Mr. Palgrave says in the “Golden Treasury,” “perhaps no poem in this collection is more delicately fancied, more exquisitely finished. The poet’s imagination is justified in its seeming extravagance by the intensity and unity with which it invests his picture.” The poems relating to the Mower are of great interest, and illustrate what Lamb called the “witty delicacy” of Marvell. “The Garden,” “A Drop of Dew,” and “The Coronet,” all of them full of earnest thought, are among the most beautiful of seventeenth century poems. To these must be added “Eyes and Tears,” though in it there is an unusual number of the quaint conceits of which we have spoken. Those conceits however, when used by Marvell, always add a graceful turn to the verse, and below the surface there is a deeper meaning.
In “Clorinda and Damon” we have, in the form of an idyl, the picture of a man fortified against temptation by his knowledge of God, the “mighty Pan” of Milton’s “Ode on the Nativity.” Clorinda, urging Damon to seek present ease, describes a cave hard by in which a trickling fountain makes music. But, says Damon,
Might a soul bathe there and be clean,
Or slake its drought?
What is’t you mean?
Clorinda, pastures, caves and springs.
These once had been enticing things.
And what late change?
The other day
Pan met me.
What did great Pan say?
Words that transcend poor shepherd’s skill;
But he e’er since my songs does fill,
And his name swells my slender oat.
With a lighter but equally perfect touch Marvell wrote such lines as “Ametas and Thestylis making Hay-ropes,” or “The Picture of Little T. C.,” or “The Fair Singer,” or “To his Coy Mistress,” where light fancy turns at the close to a deeper passion. The graceful lines “Young Love,” — “Come, little infant, love me now” — may well be contrasted with Prior’s charm- ing verses, “To a Child of Quality, five years old,” written half a century later. The exquisite “Bermudas” is perhaps the most widely known of Marvell’s poems. One of the noblest is the “Dialogue between the Resolved Soul and Created Pleasure”; and we must not forget “An Epitaph,” with its touching end:—
Modest as morn, as midday bright,
Gentle as evening, cool as night:
’Tis true; but all too weakly said:
’Twas more significant, she’s dead.
Throughout these earlier poems there is a wonderful combination of delicate sentiment, wealth of fancy, graceful form, simplicity combined with depth of thought, imagination and originality. Marvell’s mind was like the garden he described, where he found feir Quiet and Innocence, and whereevery form of finit pressed itself upon him as he walked. But the mind, retiring into its own happiness, created other worlds and seas, transcending those of the natural world.
During the period of the Commonwealth Marvell produced a series of important poems on events in our national history. The first was the “Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland” in 1650, which Mr. Lowell called “the most truly classic in our language,” and “worthy of its theme.” As Archbishop Trench remarked, Marvell was conscious of his powers when he called this ode “Horatian”; it is like Horace at his best. We have already seen that in this his most finished work, Marvell did not hesitate to utter noble words in praise of Charles I., even when writing of Cromwell.
Next followed, in 1655, “The First Anniversary of the Government under His Highness the Lord Protector,” in which the poet described the troubles through which Cromwell with heavenly aid had guided the country:—
Tis not a freedom that, where all command,
Nor tyranny, where one does them withstand;
But who of both the bounders knows to lay,
Him, as their father, must the state obey.
Three years later came the “Poem upon the Death of His Royal Highness the Lord Protector,” noble in its tenderness. We are the more struck with the absolute sincerity of the poet’s grief when we compare the piece with what Dryden and Waller wrote on the same occasion, and we think more highly of Cromwell when we see how he was loved by a man like Marvell.
I saw him dead: a leaden slumber lies.
And mortal sleep over those wakeful eyes;
Those gentle rays under the lids were Red,
Which through his looks that piercing sweetness shed.
. . . . . . . .
So shall his praise to after times increase
When truth shall be allow’d and faction cease.
In the year preceding Cromwell’s death Marvell had celebrated the great victory obtained by Blake at Santa Cruz, and ten years later he described the heroic death of Captain Douglas, who refused to leave his ship when it had been set on fire by the Dutch. In this piece, too, he remonstrated against the bad feeling between England and Scotland, fanned by the persecutions under Lauderdale and Sharp: “Tis Holy Island parts us, not the Tweed.” He would not blame the King:—
One king, one faith, one language, and one isle,
English and Scotch, ’tis all but cross and pile.
Charles, our great soul, this only understands,
He our affections both, and wills, commands.
The well-known lines on “Paradise Lost,” the last tribute that he was to pay to the poet whom he so greatly reverenced, hardly rank with the best of Marvell’s work, in spite of the fine opening, “When I beheld the poet blind yet bold”; but the thoughts and aim are worthy, as they always were, of the subject, however great that subject might be. In the following year, after Milton’s death. Marvell promised Aubrey to write a notice of his friend for the use of Wood, who was then preparing his “Athenae Oxonienses,” but the undertaking was never carried out.
Marvell expressed his ideal of happiness in lines translated from Seneca:—
Climb at court, for me, that will,
Tottering favour’s pinnacle;
All I seek is to lie still.
Settled in some secret nest
In calm leisure let me rest,
And, far off the public stage,
Pass away my silent age.
Thus when, without noise, unknown,
I have lived out all my span,
I shall die, without a groan.
An old honest countryman.
It was a gain to his country that circumstances impelled him to pass his later years in the turmoil of public life, though not in seeking favour at court; but it was none the less a loss to the Muses.
G. A. AITKEN.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:11