Andrew Marvell

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Andrew Marvell was born on March 31, 1621, at Winestead-in-Holderness, Yorkshire. He was the fourth child and only surviving son of Andrew Marvell, Sr., a clergyman. In late 1624, the Reverend Marvell became lecturer at Holy Trinity Church in Hull, to which the family moved. The poet grew up there and was for the rest of his life associated with Hull, representing the city in Parliament for the last eighteen years of his life. On December 14, 1633, the young Marvell entered Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1637, Marvell was converted by Jesuits and ran away to London, whence his father retrieved him and returned him to Cambridge. Sometime in 1641, Marvell left Cambridge, having received the B.A. degree but without completing the requirements for the M.A.

Marvell may then have spent some time working in the commercial house of his brother-in-law, Edmund Popple, in Hull. His activities during the turbulent 1640’s are not well recorded, but it is known that during that period he spent four years abroad, learning Dutch, French, Italian, and Spanish. He studied the gentlemanly art of fencing in Spain, and in Rome, he paid a visit to the impoverished English Catholic priest, Flecknoe, whom John Dryden would make the butt of a satiric poem. Engaged in this Grand Tour, Marvell seems to have avoided any direct part in the English Civil War. Marvell returned to England in the late 1640’s, publishing a congratulatory poem (probably written in 1647) for a volume of Richard Lovelace’s verse in 1649, and contributing one poem to a volume lamenting the death of the young Lord Hastings in June, 1649. From 1650 to 1652, Marvell was tutor to Mary Fairfax, daughter of the parliamentary general, Lord Fairfax, whose resignation in June, 1650, left Cromwell dominant. That same month, Marvell must have composed “An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland,” in which he applauds Cromwell’s activities up to that point and anticipates his success in the coming campaign against the Scots. Because the poem also shows great sympathy and regard for the late King Charles in the brief passage dealing with his execution, a good deal of critical attention has been paid to the question of whether Marvell’s praise of Cromwell is genuine, ironic, or intended to create an image toward which it might be hoped that the real Cromwell would gravitate. Marvell is elsewhere so prone to see more than one side of a question that it does not really seem remarkable that he may have recognized good qualities in both King Charles and Cromwell. “Upon Appleton House” and “Upon the Hill and Grove at Bill-borow,” which describe two Fairfax estates, must be presumed to date from Marvell’s days with the Fairfaxes; it is likely that a number of the lyrics, including “The Garden” and the Mower poems, also date from that period.

In 1653, Marvell left the Fairfax employ and sought, through John Milton, a position with the Commonwealth government. When his association with Milton began is uncertain, but it is known that they became and remained very close friends. In September, 1657, Marvell received a government post, becoming Latin Secretary, sharing (with Milton) responsibility for correspondence with foreign governments. He retained this post until the dissolution of the Commonwealth government. During the Cromwell years, Marvell wrote a number of poems in praise of Cromwell. These include “An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland,” The First Anniversary of the Government Under His Highness the Lord Protector , 1655, and “A Poem upon the Death of His Late Highness the Lord Protector.” Although Cromwell and his son, and perhaps...

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close associates, presumably saw these poems, they seem not to have been widely circulated. OnlyThe First Anniversary of the Government Under His Highness the Lord Protector was printed, and that anonymously.

In 1659, the Corporation of Hull chose Marvell to represent them in Parliament. He remained a member for the rest of his life, being twice reelected. He seems to have made the transition to the Restoration of Charles II with relative ease, and from his position in Parliament joined other friends of Milton in protecting that poet from serious harm under the new regime. During this period Marvell’s satiric talents blossomed. His satiric verse included three “advice to a painter” poems parodying a poem by Edmund Waller and lampooning various influential persons and their policies. More important by far were his prose pamphlets, especially the first, The Rehearsal Transpros’d. This was an attack on the pamphlets of Samuel Parker, a rising Church of England divine, who strongly supported conformity and had tangled in print with the nonconformists, especially John Owen. The question of toleration versus conformity was a very important one in the politics of 1672, with Charles II, for his own reasons, trying to put through a policy of toleration. Marvell’s powerful and witty book quickly went through multiple editions. Parker strongly counterattacked with a new pamphlet, causing Marvell (despite an anonymous threat to cut his throat) to reply with The Rehearsal Transpros’d: The Second Part. Parker did not reply further. Marvell’s last three pamphlets are of considerably less importance. Mr. Smirke: Or, The Divine in Mode used with less success and for a less crucial cause the techniques of the two parts of The Rehearsal Transpros’d. Next, An Account of the Growth of Popery and Arbitrary Government in England evoked the government offer of a reward for the name of the author, who died before action was taken on an informer’s report. The title of this work precisely indicates the concerns that Marvell voiced in it, suggesting that leading government figures were involved in a plot to make England Catholic again. By 1674, Marvell himself was involved in clandestine activities as a member of a pro-Dutch “fifth column,” apparently operating under the name of “Mr. Thomas” and making secret trips to Holland. Marvell’s death, on August 16, 1678, was the result of his physician’s treatment of a fever and not, as was suspected by some, a political murder. His last pamphlet, Remarks upon a Late Disingenuous Discourse is his least readable work and is of little importance.


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Andrew Marvell was born in Winestead-in-Holderness, Yorkshire, England, on March 31, 1621. His father, Andrew Marvell, was a local vicar, and in 1624 the family moved to Hull, where Marvell’s father had been appointed lecturer at Holy Trinity Church. Marvell was educated at Hull Grammar School, and in 1633 he left Hull for Trinity College, Cambridge. At Cambridge, Marvell read widely; his studies included the works of Roman poets such as Horace and Juvenal, which would influence Marvell’s own later poems. In 1637, his first verses, in Latin and Greek, were published. During this year, he also experienced a brief conversion to Roman Catholicism and ran away from Cambridge to London. His father, however, found him and forced him to return to the university. He received his B.A. and left Cambridge after his father’s death in 1641. For the next several years, Marvell traveled extensively, visiting Holland, France, Italy, and Spain. In Rome, he visited the English Catholic priest and poetaster, Richard Flecknoe, who was to become the subject of satirical poems by both Marvell and, later, John Dryden. Although few details are known about Marvell’s life during the 1640’s, it appears that his lengthy travels abroad kept him from taking any direct part in the bloody and divisive English Civil War.

In 1650, Marvell took a position as tutor to Mary Fairfax, the young daughter of Lord Thomas Fairfax, a Parliamentary general who resigned from military service in June of that year. Marvell lived for two years with the Fairfax family in their home, Nun Appleton House, in Yorkshire. It was during this time that Marvell is thought to have written much of his finest lyric poetry, including a lengthy poem celebrating the virtues of the Fairfax home and its master. John Milton, a friend and mentor, recommended Marvell for an appointment as Latin secretary to the Council of State, but the post was not awarded to Marvell until four years later. In the meantime, Marvell was appointed tutor to William Dutton, who would later become a ward of Oliver Cromwell, the English soldier and statesman. During Cromwell’s years as lord protector, Marvell wrote poems in praise of Cromwell and his government, including “An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland” (commonly known as “An Horatian Ode”) and The First Anniversary of the Government Under His Highness the Lord Protector (1655). Despite Marvell’s admiration for Cromwell, both as a man and as a political force, and his enjoyment of Cromwell’s favor, Marvell was not a fanatical partisan or a Puritan zealot, and he seems to have weathered the Restoration of the monarchy without difficulty. Marvell was instrumental in protecting Milton, who had been a vocal anti-Royalist, from retribution under the restored monarchy.

Marvell was elected to Parliament as a representative for Hull in 1659. He remained a member of Parliament for the rest of his life, a span of nearly twenty years. During his tenure in Parliament, he continued to travel widely, accompanying the earl of Carlisle on a tour of Russia, Sweden, and Denmark, returning to England in 1665. Though Marvell is little remembered today as a politician, he was in his day an active and conscientious supporter of his constituents’ interests, as his numerous letters to the mayor and aldermen of Hull show. After the Restoration, Marvell was sometimes outspoken in his criticism of Charles II’s government, and in 1667 he wrote “Last Instructions to a Painter,” a poem satirizing various politicians and political affairs of the day, particularly the conduct of the 1667 naval campaign against the Dutch. He also gained some notoriety as a political pamphleteer, most notably for his two-part The Rehearsal Transpros’d (1672-1673), a clarion call for religious tolerance in the face of a campaign for religious conformity being waged by Samuel Parker, a Church of England divine. In the early 1670’s, it was feared that Charles II was conspiring with the Catholic Louis XIV of France to curtail the religious and political freedom of his subjects; in reaction, Marvell, operating under an assumed name, took part in a clandestine, pro-Protestant campaign designed to influence English foreign policy and compel Charles and the English forces to conclude hostilities with the Dutch. When Marvell died on August 16, 1678, in London as a result of a physician’s mistreatment of a fever, it was rumored that he was the victim of a political murder.

During Marvell’s life, few of his poems were published, and he was known in his day primarily for his pamphlets and a few verse and prose satires. In 1681, three years after his death, a collection that included many of his lyrical pastoral poems was published from papers brought forward by his housekeeper, Mary Palmer, who claimed to be his wife. Although these poems enjoyed some popularity at their publication, Marvell remained relatively unknown as a poet until his “rediscovery” by later writers such as Charles Lamb and Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in the nineteenth century and T. S. Eliot in the twentieth.