Andrew Marvell

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Andrew Marvell (1621–1678) was an English poet and politician who is almost as enigmatic now as he was in his lifetime. Periods of his life are virtually unknown, and he wrote little that was self-revelatory. He composed love poetry, but had no known liaisons, unless with the woman who after his death claimed to have been married to him. His writings praised and mocked both sides in the English Civil War, and the only consistency that can be detected is a disposition to religious toleration. He was suspected to be the author of various anonymous verse satires (some still of disputed authorship), though he had also written beautiful lyrics and other poems not published till after his death. The one famous publication he put his name to in his life was a controversial prose work.[1]

He was born on 31 March 1621 in the East Riding of Yorkshire, the fourth child and first son of a clergyman, who three years later moved to become a lecturer (a clergyman without a living, paid for by voluntary contributions) at Kingston upon Hull. He attended Trinity College, Cambridge, where he is known to have written Latin and Greek poetry. His mother died in 1638 and his father in 1640. In 1641 or 1642 he is known to have gone abroad for about four years, probably as tutor to a gentleman's son. He was said to have gone to the Low Countries, France, Italy and Spain, and one of his satires is based in Rome.[2] Nothing more is known of him for several years.

In 1649 the Cavalier poet Richard Lovelace published his Lucasta, and Marvell contributed a poem. Other poems show (rather detached) Royalist sympathies, but it is probable that it was only in the next year that he wrote his Horatian Ode on Cromwell's Return from Ireland, which praised Cromwell but also showed sympathy to the executed king, Charles I. The ode was not published during his lifetime. Certainly it was in 1650 that he became tutor to Lord Fairfax's daughter Mary. Fairfax had recently resigned as Lord General of the Parliamentary forces and gone to live at Nun Appleton, his Yorkshire house. It is here that Marvell probably wrote his "garden" and "mower" poems.[3][4] In 1653 (ns) he is to be found in London, making use of Milton's help in soliciting a post under the Commonwealth. It is not known how he became acquainted with Milton. He did not get an official post but was soon appointed to be tutor to William Dutton, intended son-in-law and effectively the ward of Cromwell, being based at Eton in a puritan environment for this purpose. His poem on the first anniversary of Cromwell's rule was published immediately, but anonymously, in 1655. He and Dutton were at Saumur in France in 1656. In the following year he became Latin Secretary to the Protectorate, effectively Milton's assistant. Marvell's poem on Cromwell's death, showing a personal sorrow, was another that was published.[5][6]

In 1659 Marvell was elected M P for Hull, and though he was not elected to the next Parliament he was returned again in 1660 and continued in that position till the end of his life. In return for financial support from the city he wrote diligently to the Mayor giving an account of each day's business. Following the Restoration he spoke up for Milton, who was in danger as a defender of regicide, and appears to have been generally in favour of toleration. For a while he was secretary of an unsuccessful embassy to Russia and Scandinavia, but his correspondents in Hull would have approved of this prolonged absence, as it was seeking trade concessions. It is certain that he wrote a number of anonymous verse satires, attacking the king's ministers and later (probably) the king himself, but there is uncertainty as to which ones. He seems to have had a reputation for being hot-headed but not corruptible. In 1672 he wrote The Rehearsal Transpros'd, a mocking attack on the opponents of toleration, as exemplified by Samuel Parker, archdeacon of Canterbury.[7][8] In the course of this he again defended Milton.[9] He put his name to a second edition of the Rehearsal, with a second part defending himself.

He died on 16 August 1678.

Corpus and reputation

Marvell has been called "the most reticent of poets, reluctant to publish and unwilling even to circulate his verse beyond his trusted friends".[10] The work that came out in his lifetime was mostly published anonymously.

After his death his former landlady or housekeeper, Mary Palmer, successfully claimed to have been married to him, and published his poems, most of which were previously unknown to the reading public. At first little attention was paid to these, but more interest began to be shown after some of them were included in Palgrave's Golden Treasury in 1861.[11] Greater critical attention and acclaim followed the lead given by Grierson, who included him in his account of the Metaphysical poets and T.S. Eliot[12][13]


  1. Hunt, J D. Andrew Marvell: His Life and Writings. Elek Books. 1978
  2. Fleckno, an English Priest at Rome
  3. Hunt
  4. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  5. Hunt
  6. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  7. Hunt
  8. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  9. Hill, C. Milton and the English Revolution. Faber and Faber. 1977
  10. Parry, G. The Seventeenth Century: The Intellectual and cultural context of English literature. Longman. 1989
  11. Hunt
  12. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  13. Drabble, M, ed. The Oxford Companion to English Literature. Oxford University Press. 1995