Andrew Marvell Biography

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(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

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 close associates, presumably saw these poems, they seem not to have been widely circulated. Only The 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...

(The entire section is 1,845 words.)