Marvell, by John Greenleaf Whittier
Old Portraits and Modern
"They who with a good conscience and an upright heart do their civil
duties in the sight of God, and in their several places, to resist
tyranny and the violence of superstition banded both against them,
will never seek to be forgiven that which may justly be attributed
to their immortal praise."—Answer to Eikon Basilike.
Among, the great names which adorned the Protectorate,—that period of
intense mental activity, when political and religious rights and duties
were thoroughly discussed by strong and earnest statesmen and
theologians,—that of Andrew Marvell, the friend of Milton, and Latin
Secretary of Cromwell, deserves honorable mention. The magnificent prose
of Milton, long neglected, is now perhaps as frequently read as his great
epic; but the writings of his friend and fellow secretary, devoted like
his own to the cause of freedom and the rights of the people, are
scarcely known to the present generation. It is true that Marvell's
political pamphlets were less elaborate and profound than those of the
author of the glorious Defence of Unlicensed Printing. He was light,
playful, witty, and sarcastic; he lacked the stern dignity, the terrible
invective, the bitter scorn, the crushing, annihilating retort, the grand
and solemn eloquence, and the devout appeals, which render immortal the
controversial works of Milton. But he, too, has left his foot-prints on
his age; he, too, has written for posterity that which they "will not
willingly let die." As one of the inflexible defenders of English
liberty, sowers of the seed, the fruits of which we are now reaping, he
has a higher claim on the kind regards of this generation than his merits
as a poet, by no means inconsiderable, would warrant.
Andrew Marvell was born in Kingston-upon-Hull, in 1620. At the age of
eighteen he entered Trinity College, whence he was enticed by the
Jesuits, then actively seeking proselytes. After remaining with them a
short time, his father found him, and brought him back to his studies.
On leaving college, he travelled on the Continent. At Rome he wrote his
first satire, a humorous critique upon Richard Flecknoe, an English
Jesuit and verse writer, whose lines on Silence Charles Lamb quotes in
one of his Essays. It is supposed that he made his first acquaintance
with Milton in Italy.
At Paris he made the Abbot de Manihan the subject of another satire. The
Abbot pretended to skill in the arts of magic, and used to prognosticate
the fortunes of people from the character of their handwriting. At what
period he returned from his travels we are not aware. It is stated, by
some of his biographers, that he was sent as secretary of a Turkish
mission. In 1653, he was appointed the tutor of Cromwell's nephew; and,
four years after, doubtless through the instrumentality of his friend
Milton, he received the honorable appointment of Latin Secretary of the
Commonwealth. In 1658, he was selected by his townsmen of Hull to
represent them in Parliament. In this service he continued until 1663,
when, notwithstanding his sturdy republican principles, he was appointed
secretary to the Russian embassy. On his return, in 1665, he was again
elected to Parliament, and continued in the public service until the
prorogation of the Parliament of 1675.
The boldness, the uncompromising integrity and irreproachable consistency
of Marvell, as a statesman, have secured for him the honorable
appellation of "the British Aristides." Unlike too many of his old
associates under the Protectorate, he did not change with the times. He
was a republican in Cromwell's day, and neither threats of assassination,
nor flatteries, nor proffered bribes, could make him anything else in
that of Charles II. He advocated the rights of the people at a time when
patriotism was regarded as ridiculous folly; when a general corruption,
spreading downwards from a lewd and abominable Court, had made
legislation a mere scramble for place and emolument. English history
presents no period so disgraceful as the Restoration. To use the words
of Macaulay, it was "a day of servitude without loyalty and sensuality
without love, of dwarfish talents and gigantic vices, the paradise of
cold hearts and narrow minds, the golden age of the coward, the bigot,
and the slave. The principles of liberty were the scoff of every
grinning courtier, and the Anathema Maranatha of every fawning dean." It
is the peculiar merit of Milton and Marvell, that in such an age they
held fast their integrity, standing up in glorious contrast with clerical
apostates and traitors to the cause of England's liberty.
In the discharge of his duties as a statesman Marvell was as punctual and
conscientious as our own venerable Apostle of Freedom, John Quincy Adams.
He corresponded every post with his constituents, keeping them fully
apprised of all that transpired at Court or in Parliament. He spoke but
seldom, but his great personal influence was exerted privately upon the
members of the Commons as well as upon the Peers. His wit, accomplished
manners, and literary eminence made him a favorite at the Court itself.
The voluptuous and careless monarch laughed over the biting satire of the
republican poet, and heartily enjoyed his lively conversation. It is
said that numerous advances were made to him by the courtiers of Charles
II., but he was found to be incorruptible. The personal compliments of
the King, the encomiums of Rochester, the smiles and flatteries of the
frail but fair and high-born ladies of the Court; nay, even the golden
offers of the King's treasurer, who, climbing with difficulty to his
obscure retreat on an upper floor of a court in the Strand, laid a
tempting bribe of L1,000 before him, on the very day when he had been
compelled to borrow a guinea, were all lost upon the inflexible patriot.
He stood up manfully, in an age of persecution, for religious liberty,
opposed the oppressive excise, and demanded frequent Parliaments and a
fair representation of the people.
In 1672, Marvell engaged in a controversy with the famous High-Churchman,
Dr. Parker, who had taken the lead in urging the persecution of Non-
conformists. In one of the works of this arrogant divine, he says that
"it is absolutely necessary to the peace and government of the world that
the supreme magistrate should be vested with power to govern and conduct
the consciences of subjects in affairs of religion. Princes may with
less hazard give liberty to men's vices and debaucheries than to their
consciences." And, speaking of the various sects of Non-conformists, he
counsels princes and legislators that "tenderness and indulgence to such
men is to nourish vipers in their own bowels, and the most sottish
neglect of our quiet and security." Marvell replied to him in a severely
satirical pamphlet, which provoked a reply from the Doctor. Marvell
rejoined, with a rare combination of wit and argument. The effect of his
sarcasm on the Doctor and his supporters may be inferred from an
anonymous note sent him, in which the writer threatens by the eternal God
to cut his throat, if he uttered any more libels upon Dr. Parker. Bishop
Burnet remarks that "Marvell writ in a burlesque strain, but with so
peculiar and so entertaining a conduct 'that from the King down to the
tradesman his books were read with great pleasure, and not only humbled
Parker, but his whole party, for Marvell had all the wits on his side.'"
The Bishop further remarks that Marvell's satire "gave occasion to the
only piece of modesty with which Dr. Parker was ever charged, namely, of
withdrawing from town, and not importuning the press for some years,
since even a face of brass must grow red when it is burnt as his has
Dean Swift, in commenting upon the usual fate of controversial pamphlets,
which seldom live beyond their generation, says: "There is indeed an
exception, when a great genius undertakes to expose a foolish piece; so
we still read Marvell's answer to Parker with pleasure, though the book
it answers be sunk long ago."
Perhaps, in the entire compass of our language, there is not to be found
a finer piece of satirical writing than Marvell's famous parody of the
speeches of Charles II., in which the private vices and public
inconsistencies of the King, and his gross violations of his pledges on
coming to the throne, are exposed with the keenest wit and the most
laugh-provoking irony. Charles himself, although doubtless annoyed by
it, could not refrain from joining in the mirth which it excited at his
The friendship between Marvell and Milton remained firm and unbroken to
the last. The former exerted himself to save his illustrious friend from
persecution, and omitted no opportunity to defend him as a politician and
to eulogize him as a poet. In 1654 he presented to Cromwell Milton's
noble tract in Defence of the People of England, and, in writing to the
author, says of the work, "When I consider how equally it teems and rises
with so many figures, it seems to me a Trajan's column, in whose winding
ascent we see embossed the several monuments of your learned victories."
He was one of the first to appreciate Paradise Lost, and to commend it
in some admirable lines. One couplet is exceedingly beautiful, in its
reference to the author's blindness:—
"Just Heaven, thee like Tiresias to requite,
Rewards with prophecy thy loss of sight."
His poems, written in the "snatched leisure" of an active political life,
bear marks of haste, and are very unequal. In the midst of passages of
pastoral description worthy of Milton himself, feeble lines and hackneyed
phrases occur. His Nymph lamenting the Death of her Fawn is a finished
and elaborate piece, full of grace and tenderness. Thoughts in a
Garden will be remembered by the quotations of that exquisite critic,
Charles Lamb. How pleasant is this picture!
"What wondrous life is this I lead!
Ripe apples drop about my head;
The luscious clusters of the vine
Upon my mouth do crush their wine;
The nectarine and curious peach
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on melons as I pass,
Ensnared with flowers, I fall on grass.
"Here at this fountain's sliding foot,
Or at the 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,
And whets and claps its silver wings;
And, till prepared for longer flight,
Waves in its plumes the various light.
"How well the skilful gard'ner drew
Of flowers and herbs this dial true!
Where, from above, the milder sun
Does through a fragrant zodiac run;
And, as it works, the industrious bee
Computes his time as well as we.
How could such sweet and wholesome hours
Be reckoned but with herbs and flowers!"
One of his longer poems, Appleton House, contains passages of admirable
description, and many not unpleasing conceits. Witness the following:—
"Thus I, an easy philosopher,
Among the birds and trees confer,
And little now to make me wants,
Or of the fowl or of the plants.
Give me but wings, as they, and I
Straight floating on the air shall fly;
Or turn me but, and you shall see
I am but an inverted tree.
Already I begin to call
In their most learned original;
And, where I language want, my signs
The bird upon the bough divines.
No leaf does tremble in the wind,
Which I returning cannot find.
Out of these scattered Sibyl's leaves,
Strange prophecies my fancy weaves:
What Rome, Greece, Palestine, e'er said,
I in this light Mosaic read.
Under this antic cope I move,
Like some great prelate of the grove;
Then, languishing at ease, I toss
On pallets thick with velvet moss;
While the wind, cooling through the boughs,
Flatters with air my panting brows.
Thanks for my rest, ye mossy banks!
And unto you, cool zephyrs, thanks!
Who, as my hair, my thoughts too shed,
And winnow from the chaff my head.
How safe, methinks, and strong behind
These trees have I encamped my mind!"
Here is a picture of a piscatorial idler and his trout stream, worthy of
the pencil of Izaak Walton:—
"See in what wanton harmless folds
It everywhere the meadow holds:
Where all things gaze themselves, and doubt
If they be in it or without;
And for this shade, which therein shines
Narcissus-like, the sun too pines.
Oh! what a pleasure 't is to hedge
My temples here in heavy sedge;
Abandoning my lazy side,
Stretched as a bank unto the tide;
Or, to suspend my sliding foot
On the osier's undermining root,
And in its branches tough to hang,
While at my lines the fishes twang."
A little poem of Marvell's, which he calls Eyes and Tears, has the
"How wisely Nature did agree
With the same eyes to weep and see!
That having viewed the object vain,
They might be ready to complain.
And, since the self-deluding sight
In a false angle takes each height,
These tears, which better measure all,
Like watery lines and plummets fall."
"Happy are they whom grief doth bless,
That weep the more, and see the less;
And, to preserve their sight more true,
Bathe still their eyes in their own dew;
So Magdalen, in tears more wise,
Dissolved those captivating eyes,
Whose liquid chains could, flowing, meet
To fetter her Redeemer's feet.
The sparkling glance, that shoots desire,
Drenched in those tears, does lose its fire;
Yea, oft the Thunderer pity takes,
And there his hissing lightning slakes.
The incense is to Heaven dear,
Not as a perfume, but a tear;
And stars shine lovely in the night,
But as they seem the tears of light.
Ope, then, mine eyes, your double sluice,
And practise so your noblest use;
For others, too, can see or sleep,
But only human eyes can weep."
The Bermuda Emigrants has some happy lines, as the following:—
"He hangs in shade the orange bright,
Like golden lamps in a green night."
Or this, which doubtless suggested a couplet in Moore's Canadian Boat
"And all the way, to guide the chime,
With falling oars they kept the time."
His facetious and burlesque poetry was much admired in his day; but a
great portion of it referred to persons and events no longer of general
interest. The satire on Holland is an exception. There is nothing in
its way superior to it in our language. Many of his best pieces were
originally written in Latin, and afterwards translated by himself. There
is a splendid Ode to Cromwell—a worthy companion of Milton's glorious
sonnet—which is not generally known, and which we transfer entire to our
pages. Its simple dignity and the melodious flow of its versification
commend themselves more to our feelings than its eulogy of war. It is
energetic and impassioned, and probably affords a better idea of the
author, as an actor in the stirring drama of his time, than the "soft
Lydian airs" of the poems that we have quoted.
AN HORATIAN ODE UPON CROMWELL'S RETURN FROM IRELAND.
The forward youth that would appear
Must now forsake his Muses dear;
Nor in the shadows sing
His numbers languishing.
'T is time to leave the books in dust,
And oil the unused armor's rust;
Removing from the wall
The corslet of the hall.
So restless Cromwell could not cease
In the inglorious arts of peace,
But through adventurous war
Urged his active star.
And, like the three-forked lightning, first
Breaking the clouds wherein it nurst,
Did thorough his own side
His fiery way divide.
For 't is all one to courage high,
The emulous, or enemy;
And with such to enclose
Is more than to oppose.
Then burning through the air he went,
And palaces and temples rent;
And Caesar's head at last
Did through his laurels blast.
'T is madness to resist or blame
The face of angry Heaven's flame;
And, if we would speak true,
Much to the man is due,
Who, from his private gardens, where
He lived reserved and austere,
(As if his highest plot
To plant the bergamot,)
Could by industrious valor climb
To ruin the great work of time,
And cast the kingdoms old
Into another mould!
Though justice against fate complain,
And plead the ancient rights in vain,—
But those do hold or break,
As men are strong or weak.
Nature, that hateth emptiness,
Allows of penetration less,
And therefore must make room
Where greater spirits come.
What field of all the civil war,
Where his were not the deepest scar?
And Hampton shows what part
He had of wiser art;
Where, twining subtle fears with hope,
He wove a net of such a scope,
That Charles himself might chase
To Carisbrook's narrow case;
That hence the royal actor borne,
The tragic scaffold might adorn,
While round the armed bands
Did clap their bloody hands.
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.
This was that memorable hour,
Which first assured the forced power;
So when they did design
The Capitol's first line,
A bleeding head, where they begun,
Did fright the architects to run;
And yet in that the state
Foresaw its happy fate.
And now the Irish are ashamed
To see themselves in one year tamed;
So much one man can do,
That does best act and know.
They can affirm his praises best,
And have, though overcome, confest
How good he is, how just,
And fit for highest trust.
Nor yet grown stiffer by command,
But still in the Republic's hand,
How fit he is to sway
That can so well obey.
He to the Commons' feet presents
A kingdom for his first year's rents,
And, what he may, forbears
His fame to make it theirs.
And has his sword and spoils ungirt,
To lay them at the public's skirt;
So when the falcon high
Falls heavy from the sky,
She, having killed, no more does search,
But on the next green bough to perch,
Where, when he first does lure,
The falconer has her sure.
What may not, then, our isle presume,
While Victory his crest does plume?
What may not others fear,
If thus he crowns each year?
As Caesar, he, erelong, to Gaul;
To Italy as Hannibal,
And to all states not free
Shall climacteric be.
The Pict no shelter now shall find
Within his parti-contoured mind;
But from his valor sad
Shrink underneath the plaid,
Happy if in the tufted brake
The English hunter him mistake,
Nor lay his hands a near
The Caledonian deer.
But thou, the war's and fortune's son,
March indefatigably on;
And, for the last effect,
Still keep the sword erect.
Besides the force, it has to fright
The spirits of the shady night
The same arts that did gain
A power, must it maintain.
Marvell was never married. The modern critic, who affirms that bachelors
have done the most to exalt women into a divinity, might have quoted his
extravagant panegyric of Maria Fairfax as an apt illustration:—
"'T is she that to these gardens gave
The wondrous beauty which they have;
She straitness on the woods bestows,
To her the meadow sweetness owes;
Nothing could make the river be
So crystal pure but only she,—
She, yet more pure, sweet, strait, and fair,
Than gardens, woods, meals, rivers are
Therefore, what first she on them spent
They gratefully again present:
The meadow carpets where to tread,
The garden flowers to crown her head,
And for a glass the limpid brook
Where she may all her beauties look;
But, since she would not have them seen,
The wood about her draws a screen;
For she, to higher beauty raised,
Disdains to be for lesser praised;
She counts her beauty to converse
In all the languages as hers,
Nor yet in those herself employs,
But for the wisdom, not the noise,
Nor yet that wisdom could affect,
But as 't is Heaven's dialect."
It has been the fashion of a class of shallow Church and State defenders
to ridicule the great men of the Commonwealth, the sturdy republicans of
England, as sour-featured, hard-hearted ascetics, enemies of the fine
arts and polite literature. The works of Milton and Marvell, the prose-
poem of Harrington, and the admirable discourses of Algernon Sydney are a
sufficient answer to this accusation. To none has it less application
than to the subject of our sketch. He was a genial, warmhearted man, an
elegant scholar, a finished gentleman at home, and the life of every
circle which he entered, whether that of the gay court of Charles II.,
amidst such men as Rochester and L'Estrange, or that of the republican
philosophers who assembled at Miles's Coffee House, where he discussed
plans of a free representative government with the author of Oceana, and
Cyriack Skinner, that friend of Milton, whom the bard has immortalized in
the sonnet which so pathetically, yet heroically, alludes to his own
blindness. Men of all parties enjoyed his wit and graceful conversation.
His personal appearance was altogether in his favor. A clear, dark,
Spanish complexion, long hair of jetty blackness falling in graceful
wreaths to his shoulders, dark eyes, full of expression and fire, a
finely chiselled chin, and a mouth whose soft voluptuousness scarcely
gave token of the steady purpose and firm will of the inflexible
statesman: these, added to the prestige of his genius, and the respect
which a lofty, self-sacrificing patriotism extorts even from those who
would fain corrupt and bribe it, gave him a ready passport to the
fashionable society of the metropolis. He was one of the few who mingled
in that society, and escaped its contamination, and who,
"Amidst the wavering days of sin,
Kept himself icy chaste and pure."
The tone and temper of his mind may be most fitly expressed in his own
paraphrase of Horace:—
"Climb at Court for me that will,
Tottering Favor'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.
Who, exposed to other's eyes,
Into his own heart ne'er pries,
Death's to him a strange surprise."
He died suddenly in 1678, while in attendance at a popular meeting of his
old constituents at Hull. His health had previously been remarkably
good; and it was supposed by many that he was poisoned by some of his
political or clerical enemies. His monument, erected by his grateful
constituency, bears the following inscription:—
"Near this place lyeth the body of Andrew Marvell, Esq., a man so
endowed by Nature, so improved by Education, Study, and Travel, so
consummated by Experience, that, joining the peculiar graces of Wit
and Learning, with a singular penetration and strength of judgment;
and exercising all these in the whole course of his life, with an
unutterable steadiness in the ways of Virtue, he became the ornament
and example of his age, beloved by good men, feared by bad, admired
by all, though imitated by few; and scarce paralleled by any. But a
Tombstone can neither contain his character, nor is Marble necessary
to transmit it to posterity; it is engraved in the minds of this
generation, and will be always legible in his inimitable writings,
nevertheless. He having served twenty years successfully in
Parliament, and that with such Wisdom, Dexterity, and Courage, as
becomes a true Patriot, the town of Kingston-upon-Hull, from whence
he was deputed to that Assembly, lamenting in his death the public
loss, have erected this Monument of their Grief and their Gratitude,
Thus lived and died Andrew Marvell. His memory is the inheritance of
Americans as well as Englishmen. His example commends itself in an
especial manner to the legislators of our Republic. Integrity and
fidelity to principle are as greatly needed at this time in our halls of
Congress as in the Parliaments of the Restoration; men are required who
can feel, with Milton, that "it is high honor done them from God, and a
special mark of His favor, to have been selected to stand upright and
steadfast in His cause, dignified with the defence of Truth and public