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J.STUART'S review of Marvell in the Muses' Library Series, 1892

J.STUART'S review of Marvell in the Muses' Library Series, 1892

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But the chiefest offender is Mr. Goldwin Smith,1 who drives the

parallel between the river in Monmouth and the river in Macedon

beyond the limits of reasonable argument. Some of his statements

would be astonishing if they came from any one but Mr. Goldwin


Again, when Mr. Goldwin Smith described Marvell as ‘a

satellite, paler, yet bright,’ of Milton, ‘the central orb of that

intellectual lustre which was produced by the union of classical

culture and ancient love of liberty with Puritan enthusiasm’ [II, p.

380, 1908 edn], he ought to have been aware that he was indulging

in fanciful and not very elegant criticism. Happily, Mr. Aitken’s

valuable edition is free from such blemishes. He has issued a

faultless text, with careful and extensive annotations. And he is,

we believe, the first of Marvell’s biographers who has conquered

the temptation to write ecstatic platitudes about the Miltonic

factor, if the expression be permitted, in Marvell’s history. True,

the criticism of the poems and satires is not of much account,

because Mr. Aitken refrains from comparisons, which are the salt

of criticism, finding more to interest him in facts about the recluse

student who turned politician. These facts, however, are presented

with skill and tact, in a readable fashion. We have no hesitation

in declaring Mr. Aitken’s to be the only life of the poet that can

serve the impartial investigator.

Marvell was thoroughly in touch with the thought of his time, a

man righteous in conduct, with scarce a spark of originality. He might

be fitly described as an honest little fellow; the phrase, though chosen,

is less than choice, yet everything we know of him establishes its

justice. He was not of the race that graduates in rebellious Liberalism,

not was he, in the strictest sense of the word, a Puritan. Indeed, in

many of his poems there is ‘clearly wantonness,’ and one of them

(‘Daphnis and Chloe’) is quite as immoral or non-moral as the average

Restoration lyric. But he had a lively notion of probity and decency

both in public and in private life. At no time did he belong to the

Roundheads. Of the Civil War he wrote: ‘I think the cause was too

good to have been fought for. Men ought to have trusted God; they

ought and might have trusted the king in this matter’ [RT I, p. 135]….


Smith contributed the prefatory notice on Marvell in the English Poets (4 vols,

1880), edited by T.H.Ward.



It is easy to see that Marvell’s admiration for Cromwell was but the

homage which the reflective temperament almost inevitably renders

to the strong man, the man of blood and iron. There is every reason

for supposing that his acquiescence in the Protectorate came of a

mistaken belief that the institutions established by Cromwell’s adroit

control of an excited public would outlast both his omnipotent

personality and the popular excitement. He had no delusions about

divine right nor the inherent sacredness of a republic. As a loyal

patriot, he accepted the order of things, and did the best he could for

the state and himself. After the Restoration he seems to have fallen

into line with the Country party and the older Cavaliers (‘Dialogue

between Two Horses,’ 78–82; ‘Last Instructions to a Painter,’ 285–

294). As he advanced in life he became blunter and more audacious

in his speech; but he was always with the moderate section of the

opposition, and rarely spoke even severely of the king. The references

to Charles in his satires are never maliciously republican, like

Rochester’s. He attacked Hyde, he had no patience with the reprobate

courtiers, he dreaded and mistrusted the Duke of York. But his utmost

aspirations would have been satisfied by the king’s observance of

the Declaration of Breda.

The satires make but indifferent reading—not that ‘the meanness

of Restoration politics and the dirtiness of Restoration thought’ take

away from their value, as Mr. Goldwin Smith insinuates. Mr. Aitken

has no difficulty in showing their design to be honourable and their

manner comparatively temperate. But they are loosely conceived,

and something casual and diffuse in execution. The language is

vigorous invariably, but Marvell continually lost sight of the central

motive and wandered away from his point. There are brilliant

passages, smart touches of portraiture, and a curious vein of irony.

Setting aside ‘Flecnoe’ and ‘Tom May,’ which are merely unreadable,

‘The Character of Holland’ is the most amusing; but the ‘Two Horses’

and ‘Britannia and Raleigh’ show so marvellous an advance in

restraint and power as to suggest that their author died before he

had ‘come to his own.’ His poems, likewise, have been often

monstrously overrated. In no element do they resemble Milton’s.

They are the work of a young and not too thoroughly equipped

writer, who has some fancy at command, and is largely influenced

by the fashions of the day. Often the conceits are no less than

ludicrous. When he was old enough to know better, Marvell addressed

the king thus:—



And you, great Sir, that with him empire share,

Sun of our world, as he the Charles is there.

[‘Last Instructions to a Painter,’ ll. 955–6]

In one of his best-known works he writes:

The sun himself, of her aware,

Seems to descend with greater care,

And, lest she see him go to bed,

In blushing clouds conceals his head.

[‘Appleton House,’ ll. 661–4]

Nothing could exceed the solemn frivolity of ‘Eyes and Tears.’ Yet

even his worst poems are worth reading because of stray lines, ‘simple,

sensuous, and passionate.’1 In the midst of lumbering, pointless

metaphors the reader sometimes happens upon the most radiant

felicities of diction. But the ‘Golden Treasury’ contains all of his

work that is worth more than a single reading—the few poems

wherein his taste has attained a complete control over his delicate

and sometimes splendid fancies.


Milton, Of Education, Works (New York, 1931), IV, p. 286.


81. Sir E.K.Chambers’s review of

Marvell in the Muses’ Library Series


In contrast with No. 80, the review of Aitken’s edition by the

critic and scholar E.K.Chambers (1866–1954) heralds the true

beginnings of positive reassessment of the poetry. There is, first

of all, concern for the lyrical poetry to the exclusion of the

satires. There is, second, an emphasis on the nature poetry,

particularly the Mower poems. Finally, there is an acceptance,

when not ‘merely fantastical,’ of the conceited style.

Extract from the Academy, 42 (17 September 1892), pp. 230–1.

The calling of the publisher, no longer merely a trade, begins to

take place among the fine arts. Truly this is a thing to be thankful

for, more than we are aware. The present book illustrates the

blessings thereof. For the better part of the century Marvell was

attainable only in the imperfect editions of incapable and ignorant

men. So that he was represented to the ordinary reader by

selections; and in especial by two ill-understood stanzas of the

Horatian Ode, wherein is set forth the theatrical bearing of Charles

I., ‘the royal actor,’ upon his day of execution. About twenty years

ago Marvell was edited—badly—by Dr. Grosart. Who, indeed,

has escaped being edited—badly—by Dr. Grosart? And Dr.

Grosart’s edition is moreover a limited issue, a thing dear to the

bibliophile, and unspeakably hateful to the lover of literature….

For the historical side of his work, which must have meant

considerable labour, and for the brief but perfectly sufficient

biography, Mr. Aitken deserves great credit. His critical notes are

not quite so happy, and at times he seems to have fallen into error

by blindly borrowing from Dr. Grosart. And one would have been

glad of some more elaborate attempt to appreciate the place of

Marvell in English literature. That is a task which an editor has

never a right to shirk; and in the present case it was more than



usually necessary, for I cannot but think that these volumes will

come as a discovery to many who did not quite know the greatness

of this half-forgotten poet.

Marvell holds a unique place in the seventeenth century. He stands

at the parting of the ways, between the extravagancies of the lyrical

Jacobeans on the one hand, and the new formalism initiated by Waller

on the other. He is not unaffected by either influence. The modish

handling of the decasyllable couplet is very marked here and there.

You have it, for instance, in the poem on Blake:

Bold Stayner leads; this fleet’s designed by fate

To give him laurel, as the last did plate. [ll. 117–18]

And elsewhere, of course, he has conceits which cry aloud in their

flagrancy. But his real affinities are with a greater than Waller or

Suckling. Milton in those days ‘was like a star, and dwelt apart’;

but of all who ‘called him friend,’ Marvell is the one who can claim

the most of spiritual kinship. The very circumstances of their lives

are curiously similar. Each left poetry for statecraft and polemic:

for Milton the flowering time came late; for Marvell, never. And

their poetic temper is one: it is the music of Puritanism,—the

Puritanism of Spenser and Sidney, not uncultivated, not ungracious,

not unsensuous even, but always with the same dominant note in

it, of moral strength and moral purity. Marvell is a Puritan; but his

spirit has not entered the prison-house, nor had the key turned on

it there. He is a poet still, such as there have been few in any age.

The lyric gift of Herrick he has not, nor Donne’s incomparable

subtlety and intensity of emotion; but for imaginative power, for

decent melody, for that self-restraint of phrase which is the fair

half of art, he must certainly hold high rank among his fellows.

The clear sign of this selfrestraint is his mastery over the octosyllable

couplet, a metre which in less skilful hands so readily becomes

diffuse and wearisome.

Marvell writes love poems, but he is not essentially a love poet.

He sings beautifully to Juliana and Chlora, but they themselves are

only accidents in his song. His real passion—a most uncommon

one in the seventeenth century—is for nature, exactly as we moderns

mean nature, the great spiritual influence which deepens and widens

life for us. How should the intoxication of meadow, and woodland,

and garden, be better expressed than in these two lines—



Stumbling on melons, as I pass,

Insnared with flowers, I fall on grass. [‘The Garden,’ ll. 39–40]

unless indeed it be here—

I am the mower Damon….

[Quotes ll. 41–8.]

These mower-idylls, never found in the anthologies, are among the

most characteristic of Marvell’s shorter poems. I cannot forbear to

quote two stanzas from ‘The Mower to the Glowworms.’

[Quotes ll. 1–8.]

Observe how Marvell makes of the nightingale a conscious artist, a

winged diva. Elsewhere he speaks of her as sitting among the ‘squatted

thorns,’ in order ‘to sing the trials of her voice.’

I must needs see in Marvell something of a nature-philosophy

strangely anticipative of George Meredith. For the one, as for the

other, complete absorption in nature, the unreserved abandonment

of self to the skyey influences, is the really true and sanative wisdom.

Marvell describes his soul, freed of the body’s vesture, perched like a

bird upon the garden boughs—

Annihilating all that’s made

To a green thought in a green shade.

The same idea is to be found in the lines ‘Upon Appleton House,’ a

poem which will repay careful study from all who wish to get at the

secret of Marvell’s genius. It shows him at his best—and at his worst,

in the protracted conceit, whereby a garden, its flowers and its bees,

are likened to a fort with a garrison. And here I am minded to enter a

plea against the indiscriminate condemnation of conceits in poetry.

After all, a conceit is only an analogy, a comparison, a revealing of

likeness in things dissimilar, and therefore of the very essence of poetic

imagination. Often it illumines, and where it fails it is not because it is

a conceit, but because it is a bad conceit; because the thing compared

is not beautiful in itself, or because the comparison is not flashed upon

you, but worked out with such tedious elaboration as to be ‘merely

fantastical.’ Many of Marvell’s conceits are, in effect, bad; the well269


known poem, ‘On a Drop of Dew,’ redeemed though it is by the last

line and a half, affords a terrible example.1 But others are shining

successes. Here is one, set in a haunting melody, as of Browning.

[Quotes ‘Daphnis and Chloe,’ ll. 85–8.]

Next to green fields, Marvell is perhaps happiest in treating of death.

His is the mixed mode of the Christian scholar, not all unpaganised,

a lover of heaven, but a lover of the earthly life too. There is the

epitaph on a nameless lady, with its splendid close:

Modest as morn, as mid-day bright,

Gentle as evening, cool as night:

’Tis true: but all too weakly said;

’Twas more significant. She’s dead.

[‘An Epitaph upon—,’ ll. 17–20]

There is the outburst on the death of the poet’s hero, the great


O human glory vain! O Death! O wings!

O worthless world! O transitory things! [ll. 255–6]

And to crown all, there are these lines, which remind me, for their

felicities, their quaintness, and the organ-note in them, of the


[Quotes ‘To His Coy Mistress,’ ll. 21–32.]

I have left myself no room to speak of the Satires. They are not a

subject to dwell upon with pleasure. One sees that they were

inevitable, that a man of Marvell’s strenuous moral fibre, in all the

corruption of the Restoration court, could not but break forth into

savage invective; yet one regrets them, as one regrets the Defensio

and Eikonoklastes. It may, however, be well to remind anyone, who

is tempted by the beauty of Messrs. Lawrence and Bullen’s book to

buy it for a love-gift to his mistress, that the first volume, containing

the Poems, is alone suitable to his purpose.


Indicative of the change in sensibility, cf. the view of Goldwin Smith in The

English Poets, ed. T.H.Ward (1880): while commending the ‘play of intellectual fancy,’

he calls the concluding lines with their stroke of ‘wit’ about the manna ‘a sad fall’

(1908 reprint, II, p. 382).


82. Richard Garnett on Marvell


Biographer, critic, and minor poet, Richard Garnett (1835–

1906) published The Age of Dryden in 1895.

Extract from The Age of Dryden (1932 reprint), pp. 49–53.

Andrew Marvell was a virtuous man whose good qualities contrast

so forcibly with the characteristic failings of his age, that he appears

by contrast even more virtuous than he actually was. His integrity

made him the hero of legend, for, although the Court would no

doubt have been glad to gain him, it is hardly credible that the

prime minister should by the king’s order have personally waited

upon him ‘up two pair of stairs in a little court in the Strand.’ But

the apocryphal anecdote attests the real veneration inspired by his

independence in a venal age. Born in the neighbourhood of Hull on

March 31st, 1621, he studied at Cambridge, travelled for some

years on the Continent, and settled down about 1650 as tutor to

the daughter of Lord Fairfax. At this period he wrote his exquisite

poem, The Garden, and other pieces of a similar character. He also

wrote in 1650 the poem on Cromwell’s return from Ireland, which

may have gained for him in 1653 the appointment of tutor to

Cromwell’s ward, William Dutton. Other pieces of a like description

followed, and in 1657 Marvell became joint Latin secretary with

Milton, an office for which Milton had recommended him four

years previously. His poem on the Protector’s death in the following

year is justly declared by Mr. Firth to be ‘the only one distinguished

by an accent of sincerity and personal affection.’1 He was elected

for Hull to Richard Cromwell’s Parliament, and continued to sit

for the remainder of his life. He was the last Member of Parliament

who received a salary from his constituents, to whose interests he

in return attended so diligently that upwards of three hundred letters


C.H.Firth (1857–1936), historian and literary critic, contributed the article on

Marvell to the DNB.



from him upon their concerns and general politics are extant in the

Hull archives.

Marvell could scarcely be called a republican. He had been devoted

to the Protectorate, and would probably have been easily reconciled

to the Restoration if the government had been ably and honestly

conducted. In wrath at the general maladministration he betook

himself to satires, which circulated in manuscript. At first he attacked

Clarendon, but eventually concluded that the only remedy would be

the final expulsion of the house of Stuart. In 1672 and 1673 he

appeared in print as a prose controversialist with The Rehearsal

Transprosed, a witty attack on a work by Parker, Bishop of Oxford,

wherein, in the author’s own words, ‘the mischiefs and inconveniences

of toleration were represented, and all pretences pleaded in behalf of

liberty of conscience fully answered.’ He silenced his opponent, and

escaped being himself silenced through the interposition of Charles

II., whose native good sense and easiness of temper inclined him to

toleration, and who promoted the freedom of Nonconformists as a

means of obtaining liberty for the Church of Rome. Marvell, however,

was not to be reconciled, and in 1677 put forth an anonymous

pamphlet to prove, what was but too true, that a design had long

been on foot to establish absolute monarchy and subvert the

Protestant religion. His sudden death on August 18th, 1678, was

attributed to poison, but, according to a physician who wrote some

years afterwards, was occasioned by that prejudice of the faculty

against Peruvian bark which is recorded by Temple and Evelyn.

As a writer of prose, Marvell is both powerful and humorous, but

is not a Junius or a Pascal to impart permanent interest to transitory

themes, and make the topics of the day topics for all time.1 As a poet

he ranks with those who have been said to be stars alike of evening

and of morning. His earliest and most truly poetical compositions

belong in spirit to the period of Charles I., when the strains of the

Elizabethan lyric were yet lingering. After passing through a transition

stage of manly verse still breathing a truly poetical spirit, but mainly

concerned with public affairs, he settles down as a satirist endowed

with all the vigour, but, at the same time, with all the prosaic hardness

of the Restoration. His most inspired poem, Thoughts in a Garden,

written under the Commonwealth, and originally composed in Latin,


Cf. ‘Junius must have formed his style, in a great measure, upon that of Marvell’

(see No. 51).



nevertheless rings like a voice from beyond the Civil Wars. Here are

the three loveliest of nine lovely stanzas:

[Quotes ll. 33–56.]

‘These wonderful verses,’ says Mr. Palgrave of the entire poem, ‘may

be regarded as a test of any reader’s insight into the most poetical

aspects of poetry.’

As a satirist it is Marvell’s error to confound satire with lampoon.

He has the saeva indignatio [from Swift’s epitaph] which makes the

avenger, but spends too much of it upon individuals. Occasionally

some fine personification gives promise of better things, but the poet

soon relapses into mere personalities. This may be attributed in great

measure to the circumstances under which these compositions

appeared. They could only be circulated clandestinely, and the writer

may be excused if he did not labour to exalt what he himself regarded

as mere fugitive poetry. The most celebrated of these pieces are the

series of Advices to a Painter, in which the persons and events of the

day are described to an imaginary artist for delineation in fitting,

and therefore by no means flattering, colours. It is to Marvell’s honour

that he succeeds best with a fine subject. When, in his poems on the

events of the Commonwealth, he escapes from mere sarcasm and

negation, and speaks nobly upon really noble themes, he soars far

above the Marvell of the Restoration, though even here his verse is

marred by lapses into the commonplace, and by his besetting infirmity

of an inability to finish with effect, leaving off like a speaker who

sits down rather from the failure of his voice than the exhaustion of

his theme. The panegyric on Cromwell’s anniversary, and the poem

on his death, abound nevertheless with fine, though faulty passages,

of which the following may serve as an example.

[Quotes ‘On the Death of O.C.,’ ll. 255–76.]


83. An anonymous comment on the



This anonymous comment, stressing Marvell’s nature poetry,

forecasts a developing appreciation.

Extract from the Academy, 51 (1 May 1897), p. 478.

ANDREW MARVELL was a gentleman who wrote with ease; and

though the body of his poetical work is of the most slender, his place

among the amateur poets, or poets whose primary idea in singing is

to please themselves or their friends, is with the highest. He is

remarkable chiefly for distinction of intellect; remarkable incidentally

in being almost the last poet, until Crabbe and Cowper came, to

look at nature for himself. After Marvell the artificial period set in

like a frost, and held the fields and lawns with an iron grasp. Marvell’s

little handful of out-of-door poems—‘Upon Appleton House,’ ‘The

Garden,’ ‘Upon the Hill and Grove at Billborow,’ ‘The Bermudas’—

are as felicitous and debonair as anything in the language. In the

presence of yew hedges and boxwood walks, the spreading hands of

cedars and the fragrance of roses, the plashings of the fountain and

the silent reminder of the sundial, he was sensitive and impressionable

to his fingertips: in a garden after his own heart he could annihilate

‘all that’s made to a green thought in a green shade.’ Later in life he

fell a victim to the snare of politics, but once he could ask:

Unhappy! shall we never more

That sweet militia restore,

When gardens only had their tow’rs,

And all the garrisons were flow’rs,

When roses only arms might bear,

And men did rosie garlands wear?

Tulips, in several colours barr’d….1


This approving citation of the garden compared with a fortress is to be contrasted

with the disapproval of A.C.Benson and E.K.Chambers (Nos 79, 81).


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