Andrew Marvell

Andrew Marvell

Andrew Marvell (31 March 1621 – 16 August 1678) was an English metaphysical poet, and the son of a Church of England clergyman (also named Andrew Marvell). As a metaphysical poet, he is associated with John Donne and George Herbert. He was a colleague and friend of John Milton.

Marvell was born in Winestead-in-Holderness, East Riding of Yorkshire, near the city of Kingston upon Hull. The family moved to Hull when his father was appointed Lecturer at Holy Trinity Church there, and Marvell was educated at Hull Grammar School. A secondary school in the city is now named after him.

His most famous poems include "To His Coy Mistress" (to which T. S. Eliot makes reference in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and "The Waste Land"), "The Garden", An Horatian Ode, and the Country House Poem, "Upon Appleton House".

Early life

At the age of twelve, Marvell attended Trinity College, Cambridge and eventually received his BA degree. Afterwards, Marvell served as a tutor for an aristocrat on the Grand TourFact|date=May 2008. While England was embroiled in the civil war, Marvell remained on the continent until 1647. It is not known exactly where his travels took him, except that he was in Rome in 1645 and Milton later reported that Marvell had mastered four languages, including French, Italian and SpanishFact|date=May 2008.

First poems and Marvell's time at Nun Appleton

Marvell's first poems, which were written in Latin and Greek and published when he was still at Cambridge, lamented a visitation of the plague and celebrated the birth of a child to King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria. He only belatedly became sympathetic to the successive regimes during the Interregnum after Charles I's execution, 30 January 1649. His famous 'Horatian Ode', often cited as one of the greatest political poems in EnglishWho|date=May 2008, responds with sorrow to the execution of Charles I even as it praises Cromwell’s return from Ireland.

Circa 1650-52, Marvell served as tutor to the daughter of the Lord General Thomas Fairfax, who had recently relinquinshed command of the Parliamentary army to Oliver Cromwell. He lived during that time at Nun Appleton House, near York, where he continued to write poetry. One poem, "Upon Appleton House, To My Lord Fairfax", uses a description of the estate as a way of exploring Fairfax's and Marvell's own situation in a time of war and political change. Probably the best-known poem he wrote at this time was "To His Coy Mistress".

Anglo-Dutch War and employment as Latin secretary

During the period of increasing tensions leading up to the First Anglo-Dutch War of 1653, Marvell wrote the satirical "Character of Holland," repeating the then current stereotype of the Dutch as "drunken and profane": "This indigested vomit of the Sea,/ Fell to the Dutch by Just Propriety".

He became a tutor to Cromwell’s ward, William Dutton, in 1653, and moved to live with his pupil at the house of John Oxenbridge in Eton. Oxenbridge had made two trips to Bermuda, and it is thought that this inspired Marvell to write his poem "Bermudas". He also wrote several poems in praise of Cromwell, who was by this time Lord Protector of England.

In 1657, Marvell joined Milton, who by that time had lost his sight, in service as Latin secretary to Cromwell's Council of State at a salary of £200 a year, which represented financial security at that time. In 1659 he was elected to Parliament from his birthplace of Hull in Yorkshire, and was paid a rate of 6 shillings, 8 pence per day during sittings of parliament, a financial support derived from the contributions of his constituency [John Stuart Mill, "Considerations on Representative Government", Chapter X, last paragraph (p.369 Oxford World's Classic edition, "On Liberty And Other Essays", 1991, reed. 1998 ] . This was a post Marvell soon lost in the changes that occurred to parliament in 1659, only to regain it in 1660, whereafter he held it until his death.

After The Restoration

Oliver Cromwell died in 1658. He was succeeded as Lord Protector by his son Richard, but in 1660 the monarchy was restored to Charles II. Marvell eventually came to write several long and bitterly satirical verses against the corruption of the court. Although they circulated in manuscript form, and some found anonymous publication in print, they were too politically sensitive and thus dangerous to be published under his name until well after his death. Nevertheless, Marvell's political manoeuvring must have been skillfulWho|date=May 2008, because he not only avoided all punishment for his cooperation with republicanism but helped convince the government of Charles II not to execute John Milton for his antimonarchical writings and revolutionary activities. The closeness of the relationship between the two former office mates is indicated by the fact that Marvell contributed an eloquent prefatory poem to the second edition of Milton's famous epic "Paradise Lost".

In his longest verse satire, "Last Instructions to a Painter", written in 1667, Marvell responded to the political corruption that had contributed to English failures during the Second Anglo-Dutch War. The poem did not find print publication until after the Revolution of 1688-9. The poem instructs an imaginary painter how to picture the state without a proper navy to defend them, led by men without intelligence or courage, a corrupt and dissolute court, and dishonest officials. Of another such satire, Samuel Pepys, himself a government official, commented in his diary, "Here I met with a fourth Advice to a Painter upon the coming in of the Dutch and the End of the War, that made my heart ake to read, it being too sharp and so true."

From 1659 until his death in 1678, Marvell was a conscientious member of Parliament, steadily reporting on parliamentary and national business to his constituency and serving as London agent for the Hull Trinity House, a shipmasters' guild. He went on two missions to the continent, one to Holland and the other encompassing Russia, Sweden, and Denmark. He also wrote anonymous prose satires criticizing the monarchy and Catholicism, defending Puritan dissenters, and denouncing censorship. A recent study by Derek Hirst and Steven Zwicker of Washington University in St. Louis, has speculated that Marvell's lifelong struggle for individual rights may have been a result of his own inner struggle with homosexuality in a repressive societyFact|date=May 2008. Vincent Palmieri noted that Marvell is sometimes known as the "British Aristides" for his incorruptible integrity in life and poverty at death.

Although Marvell became a Parliamentarian, he was not a Puritan. He had flirted briefly with Catholicism as a youth, and was described in his thirties as "a notable English Italo-Machiavellian"Who|date=May 2008. During his lifetime, his prose satires were much better known than his verseFact|date=May 2008. Indeed, many of his poems were not published until 1681, two years after his death, from a collection owned by Mary Palmer, his housekeeper, who after Marvell's death lay dubious claim to having been his wife.

Marvell's poetic style

Marvell’s poetry is often witty and full of elaborate conceits in the elegant style of the metaphysical poets. Many poems were inspired by events of the time, public or personal. "The Picture of Little TC in a Prospect of Flowers" was written about the daughter of one of Marvell's friends, Theophila Cornwell, who was named after an elder sister who had died as a baby. Marvell uses the picture of her surrounded by flowers in a garden to convey the transience of spring and the fragility of childhood.

Others were written in the pastoral style familiar to students of the classical Roman authors. Even here, Marvell tends to place a particular picture before us. In "The Nymph Complaining for the Death of her Fawn", the nymph weeps for the little animal as it dies, and tells us how it consoled her for her betrayal in love.

Marvell gained his place in the history of celebrated English poets due to his keen eye for perspectiveFact|date=May 2008, and by exploring the options that genre presented him with. His pastoral poems, including "Upon Appleton House" achieve originality and a unique tone through his reworking and subversion of the pastoral genre, essentially attempting to create something new and interesting from an inherited form that had been used and reused repeatedly for centuries.


External links

* [ Andrew Marvell's Grave]
*gutenberg|no=17388|name=Andrew Marvell by Augustine Birrell

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  • Marvell, Andrew — (1621 1678)    He was born at Winestead in Holderness, Yorkshire, was educated under his father at the grammar school in Hull, graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1637, and left sometime before September 1641. He traveled in Europe,… …   British and Irish poets

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