Andrew Marvell
by Augustine Birrell
1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

The caret character (^) indicates that the remainder of the word is superscripted. Italicized words or phrases are placed between underscore (_) marks.

English Men of Letters Edited by John Morley




New York The MacMillan Company London: MacMillan & Co., Ltd. 1905 All rights reserved Copyright, 1905, By the MacMillan Company.

Set up and electrotyped. Published September, 1905. Norwood Press J.S. Cushing & Co.—Berwick & Smith Co. Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.


I desire to express my indebtedness to the following editions of Marvell's Works:—

(1) The Works of Andrew Marvell, Esq., Poetical, Controversial, and Political: containing many Original Letters, Poems, and Tracts never before printed, with a New Life. By Captain Edward Thompson. In three volumes. London, 1776.

(2) The Complete Works in Verse and Prose of Andrew Marvell, M.P. Edited with Memorial-Introduction and Notes by the Rev. Alexander B. Grosart. In four volumes. 1872.

(In the Fuller Worthies Library.)

(3) Poems and Satires of Andrew Marvell, sometime Member of Parliament for Hull. Edited by G.A. Aitken. Two volumes. Lawrence and Bullen, 1892.

Reprinted Routledge, 1905.

Mr. C.H. Firth's Life of Marvell in the thirty-sixth volume of The Dictionary of National Biography has, I am sure, preserved me from some, and possibly from many, blunders.


3 NEW SQUARE, LINCOLN'S INN, June 3, 1905.





















The name of Andrew Marvell ever sounds sweet, and always has, to use words of Charles Lamb's, a fine relish to the ear. As the author of poetry of exquisite quality, where for the last time may be heard the priceless note of the Elizabethan lyricist, whilst at the same moment utterance is being given to thoughts and feelings which reach far forward to Wordsworth and Shelley, Marvell can never be forgotten in his native England.

Lines of Marvell's poetry have secured the final honours, and incurred the peril, of becoming "familiar quotations" ready for use on a great variety of occasion. We may, perhaps, have been bidden once or twice too often to remember how the Royal actor

"Nothing common did, or mean, Upon that memorable scene,"

or have been assured to our surprise by some self-satisfied worldling how he always hears at his back,

"Time's winged chariot hurrying near."

A true poet can, however, never be defiled by the rough usage of the populace.

As a politician Marvell lives in the old-fashioned vivacious history-books (which if they die out, as they show some signs of doing, will carry with them half the historic sense of the nation) as the hero of an anecdote of an unsuccessful attempt made upon his political virtue by a minister of the Crown, as a rare type of an inflexible patriot, and as the last member of the House of Commons who was content to take wages from, instead of contributing to the support of, his constituents. As the intimate friend and colleague of Milton, Marvell shares some of the indescribable majesty of that throne. A poet, a scholar, a traveller, a diplomat, a famous wit, an active member of Parliament from the Restoration to his death in 1678, the life of Andrew Marvell might a priori be supposed to be one easy to write, at all events after the fashion in which men's lives get written. But it is nothing of the kind, as many can testify. A more elusive, non-recorded character is hardly to be found. We know all about him, but very little of him. His parentage, his places of education, many of his friends and acquaintances, are all known. He wrote nearly four hundred letters to his Hull constituents, carefully preserved by the Corporation, in which he narrates with much particularity the course of public business at Westminster. Notwithstanding these materials, the man Andrew Marvell remains undiscovered. He rarely comes to the surface. Though both an author and a member of Parliament, not a trace of personal vanity is noticeable, and vanity is a quality of great assistance to the biographer. That Marvell was a strong, shrewd, capable man of affairs, with enormous powers of self-repression, his Hull correspondence clearly proves, but what more he was it is hard to say. He rarely spoke during his eighteen years in the House of Commons. It is impossible to doubt that such a man in such a place was, in Mr. Disraeli's phrase, a "personage." Yet when we look for recognition of what we feel sure was the fact, we fail to find it. Bishop Burnet, in his delightful history, supplies us with sketches of the leading Parliamentarians of Marvell's day, yet to Marvell himself he refers but once, and then not by name but as "the liveliest droll of the age," words which mean much but tell little. In Clarendon's Autobiography, another book which lets the reader into the very clash and crowd of life, there is no mention of one of the author's most bitter and cruel enemies. With Prince Rupert, Marvell was credited by his contemporaries with a great intimacy; he was a friend of Harrington's; it may be he was a member of the once famous "Rota" Club; it is impossible to resist the conviction that wherever he went he made a great impression, that he was a central figure in the lobbies of the House of Commons and a man of much account; yet no record survives either to convince posterity of his social charm or even to convey any exact notion of his personal character.

A somewhat solitary man he would appear to have been, though fond of occasional jollity. He lived alone in lodgings, and was much immersed in business, about a good deal of which we know nothing except that it took him abroad. His death was sudden, and when three years afterwards the first edition of his poems made its appearance, it was prefaced by a certificate signed "Mary Marvell," to the effect that everything in the book was printed "according to the copies of my late dear husband." Until after Marvell's death we never hear of Mrs. Marvell, and with this signed certificate she disappears. In a series of Lives of Poets' Wives it would be hard to make much of Mrs. Andrew Marvell. For different but still cogent reasons it is hard to write a life of her famous husband.

Andrew Marvell was born at Winestead in Holdernesse, on Easter Eve, the 31st of March 1621, in the Rectory House, the elder Marvell, also Andrew, being then the parson of the parish. No fitter birthplace for a garden-poet can be imagined. Roses still riot in Winestead; the fruit-tree roots are as mossy as in the seventeenth century. At the right season you may still

"Through the hazels thick espy The hatching throstle's shining eye."

Birds, fruits and flowers, woods, gardens, meads, and rivers still make the poet's birthplace lovely.

"Loveliness, magic, and grace, They are here—they are set in the world! They abide! and the finest of souls Has not been thrilled by them all, Nor the dullest been dead to them quite. The poet who sings them may die, But they are immortal and live, For they are the life of the world."

Holdernesse was not the original home of the Marvells, who would seem to have been mostly Cambridgeshire folk, though the name crops up in other counties. Whether Cambridge "men" of a studious turn still take long walks I do not know, but "some vast amount of years ago" it was considered a pleasant excursion, either on foot or on a hired steed, from Cambridge to Meldreth, where the Elizabethan manor-house, long known as "the Marvells'," agreeably embodied the tradition that here it was that the poet's father was born in 1586. The Church Registers have disappeared. Proof is impossible. That there were Marvells in the neighbourhood is certain. The famous Cambridge antiquary, William Cole, perhaps the greatest of all our collectors, has included among his copies of early wills those of several Marvells and Mervells of Meldreth and Shepreth, belonging to pre-Reformation times, as their pious gifts to the "High Altar" and to "Our Lady's Light" pleasingly testify. But our Andrew was a determined Protestant.

The poet's father is an interesting figure in our Church history. Educated at Emmanuel College, from whence he proceeded a Master of Arts in 1608, he took Orders; and after serving as curate at Flamborough, was inducted to the living of Winestead in 1614, where he remained till 1624, in which year he went to Hull as master of the Grammar School and lecturer, that is preacher, of Trinity Church. The elder Marvell belonged, from the beginning to the end of his useful and even heroic life, to the Reformed Church of England, or, as his son puts it, "a conformist to the Rites and Ceremonies of the Church of England, though I confess none of the most over-running and eager in them." The younger Marvell, with one boyish interval, belonged all through his life to the paternal school of religious thought.

Fuller's account of the elder Marvell is too good to be passed over:—

"He afterwards became Minister at Hull, where for his lifetime he was well beloved. Most facetious in discourse, yet grave in his carriage, a most excellent preacher who, like a good husband, never broached what he had new brewed, but preached what he had pre-studied some competent time before. Insomuch that he was wont to say that he would cross the common proverb which called Saturday the working-day and Monday the holyday of preachers. It happened that Anno Dom. 1640, Jan. 23, crossing Humber in a Barrow boat, the same was sandwarpt, and he was drowned therein (with Mrs. Skinner, daughter to Sir Edward Coke, a very religious gentlewoman) by the carelessness, not to say drunkenness of the boatmen, to the great grief of all good men. His excellent comment upon St. Peter is daily desired and expected, if the envy and covetousness of private persons for their own use deprive not the public of the benefit thereof."[6:1]

This good man, to whom perhaps, remembering the date of his death, the words may apply, Tu vero felix non vitae tantum claritate sed etiam opportunitate mortis, was married at Cherry Burton, on the 22nd of October 1612, to Anne Pease, a member of a family destined to become widely known throughout the north of England. Of this marriage there were five children, all born at Winestead, viz. three daughters, Anne, Mary, and Elizabeth, and two sons, Andrew and John, the latter of whom died a year after his birth, and was buried at Winestead on the 20th September 1624.

The three daughters married respectively James Blaydes of Sutton, Yorkshire, on the 29th of December 1633; Edmund Popple, afterwards Sheriff of Hull, on the 18th of August 1636; and Robert More. Anne's eldest son, Joseph Blaydes, was Mayor of Hull in 1702, having married the daughter of a preceding Mayor in 1698. The descendants of this branch still flourish. The Popples also had children, one of whom, William Popple, was a correspondent of his uncle the poet's, and a merchant of repute, who became in 1696 Secretary to the Board of Trade, and the friend of the most famous man who ever sat at the table of that Board, John Locke. A son of this William Popple led a very comfortable eighteenth-century life, which is in strong contrast with that of his grand-uncle, for, having entered the Cofferers' Office about 1730, he was made seven years later Solicitor and Clerk of the Reports to the Commissioners of Trade and Plantations, and in 1745 became in succession to a relative, one Alured Popple, Governor of the Bermudas, a post he retained until his death, which occurred not

"Where the remote Bermudas ride In the ocean's bosom unespied,"

but at his house in Hampstead. So well placed and idle a gentleman was almost bound to be a bad poet and worse dramatist, and this William Popple was both.

Marvell's third sister, Elizabeth, does not seem to have had issue, a certain Thomas More, or Moore, a Fellow of Magdalen College, Cambridge, whose name occurs in family records, being her stepson.

In the latter part of 1624 the elder Marvell resigned the living of Winestead, and took up the duties of schoolmaster and lecturer, or preacher, at Hull. Important duties they were, for the old Grammar School of Hull dates back to 1486, and may boast of a long career of usefulness, never having fallen into that condition of decay and disrepute from which so many similar endowments have been of late years rescued by the beneficent and, of course, abused action of the Charity Commissioners. Andrew Marvell the elder succeeded to and was succeeded by eminent headmasters. Trinity Church, where the poet's father preached on Sundays to crowded and interested congregations, was then what it still is, though restored by Scott, one of the great churches in the north of England.

The Rev. Andrew Marvell made his mark upon Hull. Mr. Grosart, who lacked nothing but the curb upon a too exuberant vocabulary, a little less enthusiasm and a great deal more discretion, to be a model editor, tells us in his invaluable edition of The Complete Works in Verse and Prose of Andrew Marvell, M.P.,[8:1] that he had read a number of the elder Marvell's manuscripts, consisting of sermons and miscellaneous papers, from which Mr. Grosart proceeds:—

"I gather three things.

"(1) That he was a man of a very brave, fearlessly outspoken character. Some of his practical applications in his sermons before the Magistrates are daring in their directness of reproof, and melting in their wistfulness of entreaty.

"(2) That he was a well-read man. His Sermons are as full of classical and patristic allusions and pat sayings from the most occult literatures as even Bishop Andrewes.

"(3) That he was a man of tireless activity. Besides the two offices named, he became head of one of the Great Hospitals of the Town (Charter House), and in an address to the Governors placed before them a prescient and statesmanlike plan for the better management of its revenues, and for the foundation of a Free Public Library to be accessible to all."

When at a later day, and in the midst of a fierce controversy, Andrew Marvell wrote of the clergy as "the reserve of our Christianity," he doubtless had such men as his father in his mind and memory.

It was at the old Grammar School of Hull, and with his father as his Orbilius, that Marvell was initiated into the mysteries of the Latin grammar, and was, as he tells us, put to his

"Montibus, inquit, erunt; et erant submontibus illis; Risit Atlantiades; et me mihi, perfide, prodis? Me mihi prodis? ait.

"For as I remember this scanning was a liberal art that we learn'd at Grammar School, and to scan verses as he does the Author's prose before we did or were obliged to understand them."[8:2]

Irrational methods have often amazingly good results, and the Hull Grammar School provided its head-master's only son with the rudiments of learning, thus enabling him to become in after years what John Milton himself, the author of that terrible Treatise on Education addressed to Mr. Hartlibb, affirmed Andrew Marvell to be in a written testimonial, "a scholar, and well-read in the Latin and Greek authors."

Attached to the Grammar School there was "a great garden," renowned for its wall-fruit and flowers; so by leaving Winestead behind, our "garden-poet," that was to be, was not deprived of inspiration.

Apart from these meagre facts, we know nothing of Marvell's boyhood at Hull. His clerical foe, Dr. Parker, afterwards Bishop of Oxford, writes contemptuously of "an hunger-starved whelp of a country vicar," and in another passage, which undoubtedly refers to Marvell, he speaks of "an unhappy education among Boatswains and Cabin-boys," whose unsavoury phrases, he goes on to suggest, Marvell picked up in his childhood. But truth need not be looked for in controversial pages. The best argument for a married clergy is to be found, for Englishmen at all events, in the sixty-seven volumes of the Dictionary of National Biography, where are recorded the services rendered to religion, philosophy, poetry, justice, and the empire by the "whelps" of many a country vicar. Parsons' wives may sometimes be trying and hard to explain, but an England without the sons of her clergy would be shorn of half her glory.

Marvell's boyhood seems to have been surrounded with the things that most make for a child's happiness. A sensible, affectionate, humorous, religious father, occupying a position of authority, and greatly respected, a mother and three elder sisters to make much of his bright wit and early adventures, a comfortable yet simple home, and an atmosphere of piety, learning, and good fellowship. What more is wanted, or can be desired? The "Boatswains" and "Cabin-boys" of Bishop Parker's fancy were in the neighbourhood, no doubt, and as stray companions for a half-holiday must have had their attractions; but it is unnecessary to attribute Andrew Marvell's style in controversy to his early acquaintance with a sea-faring population, for he is far more likely to have picked it up from his great friend and colleague, the author of Paradise Lost.

Marvell's school education over, he went up to Cambridge, not to his father's old college, but to the more splendid foundation of Trinity. About the date of his matriculation there is a doubt. In Wood's Athenae Oxonienses there is a note to the effect that Marvell was admitted "in matriculam Acad. Cant. Coll. Trin." on the 14th of December 1633, when the boy was but twelve years old. Dr. Lort, a famous master of Trinity in his day, writing in November 1765 to Captain Edward Thompson, of whom more later on, told the captain that until 1635 there was no register of admissions of ordinary students, or pensioners, as they are called, but only a register of Fellows and Foundation Scholars, and in this last-named register Marvell's name appears as a Scholar sworn and admitted on the 13th of April 1638. As, however, Marvell took his B.A. degree in 1639, he must have been in residence long before April 1638. Probably Marvell went to Trinity about 1635, just before the register of pensioners was begun, as a pensioner, becoming a Scholar in 1638, and taking his degree in 1639.

Cambridge undergraduates do not usually keep diaries, nor after they have become Masters of Art are they much in the habit of giving details as to their academic career. Marvell is no exception to this provoking rule. He nowhere tells us what his University taught him or how. The logic of the schools he had no choice but to learn. Molineus, Peter Ramus, Seton, Keckerman were text-books of reputation, from one or another of which every Cambridge man had to master his simpliciters, his quids, his secundum quids, his quales, and his quantums. Aristotle's Physics, Ethics, and Politics were "tutor's books," and those young men who loved to hear themselves talk were left free to discuss, much to Hobbes's disgust, "the freedom of the will, incorporeal substance, everlasting nows, ubiquities, hypostases, which the people understand not nor will ever care for."

In the life of Matthew Robinson,[11:1] who went up to Cambridge a little later than Marvell (June 1645), and was probably a harder reader, we are told that "the strength of his studies lay in the metaphysics and in those subtle authors for many years which rendered him an irrefragable disputant de quolibet ente, and whilst he was but senior freshman he was found in the bachelor schools, disputing ably with the best of the senior sophisters." Robinson despised the old-fashioned Ethics and Physics, but with the new Cartesian or Experimental Philosophy he was inter primos. History, particularly the Roman, was in great favour at both Universities at this time, and young men were taught, so old Hobbes again grumbles, to despise monarchy "from Cicero, Seneca, Cato and other politicians of Rome, and Aristotle of Athens, who seldom spake of kings but as of wolves and other ravenous beasts."[12:1] The Muses were never neglected at Cambridge, as the University exercises survive to prove, whilst modern languages, Spanish and Italian for example, were greedily acquired by such an eager spirit as Richard Crashaw, the poet, who came into residence at Pembroke in 1631. There were problems to be "kept" in the college chapel, lectures to be attended, both public and private, declamations to be delivered, and even in the vacations the scholars were not exempt from "exercises" either in hall or in their tutors' rooms. Earnest students read their Greek Testaments, and even their Hebrew Bibles, and filled their note-books, working more hours a day than was good for their health, whilst the idle ones wasted their time as best they could in an unhealthy, over-crowded town, in an age which knew nothing of boating, billiards, or cricket. A tennis-court there was in Marvell's time, for in Dr. Worthington's Diary, under date 3rd of April 1637, it stands recorded that on that day and in that place that learned man received "a dangerous blow on the Eye."[12:2]

The only incident we know of Marvell's undergraduate days is remarkable enough, for, boy though he was, he seems, like the Gibbon of a later day, to have suddenly become a Roman Catholic. This occurrence may serve to remind us how, during Marvell's time at Trinity, the University of Cambridge (ever the precursor in thought-movements) had a Catholic revival of her own, akin to that one which two hundred years afterwards happened at Oxford, and has left so much agreeable literature behind it. Fuller in his history of the University of Cambridge tells us a little about this highly interesting and important movement:—

"Now began the University (1633-4) to be much beautified in buildings, every college either casting its skin with the snake, or renewing its bill with the eagle, having their courts or at least their fronts and Gatehouses repaired and adorned. But the greatest alteration was in their Chapels, most of them being graced with the accession of organs. And seeing musick is one of the liberal arts, how could it be quarrelled at in an University if they sang with understanding both of the matter and manner thereof. Yet some took great distaste thereat as attendancie to superstition."[13:1]

The chapel at Peterhouse, we read elsewhere, which was built in 1632, and consecrated by Bishop White of Ely, had a beautiful ceiling and a noble east window. "A grave divine," Fuller tells us, "preaching before the University at St. Mary's, had this smart passage in his Sermon—that as at the Olympian Games he was counted the Conqueror who could drive his chariot wheels nearest the mark yet so as not to hinder his running or to stick thereon, so he who in his Sermons could preach near Popery and yet no Popery, there was your man. And indeed it now began to be the general complaint of most moderate men that many in the University, both in the schools and pulpits, approached the opinions of the Church of Rome nearer than ever before."

Archbishop Laud, unlike the bishops of Dr. Newman's day, favoured the Catholic revival, and when Mr. Bernard, the lecturer of St. Sepulchre's, London, preached a "No Popery" sermon at St. Mary's, Cambridge, he was dragged into the High Commission Court, and, as the hateful practice then was, a practice dear to the soul of Laud, was bidden to subscribe a formal recantation. This Mr. Bernard refused to do, though professing his sincere sorrow and penitence for any oversights and hasty expressions in his sermon. Thereupon he was sent back to prison, where he died. "If," adds Fuller, "he was miserably abused in prison by the keepers (as some have reported) to the shortening of his life, He that maketh inquisition for blood either hath or will be a revenger thereof."[14:1]

By the side of this grim story the much-written-about incidents of the Oxford Movement seem trivial enough.

Not a few Cambridge scholars of this period, Richard Crashaw among the number, found permanent refuge in Rome.

The story of Marvell's conversion is emphatic but vague in its details. The "Jesuits," who were well represented in Cambridge at the time, are said to have persuaded him to leave Cambridge secretly, and to take refuge in one of their houses in London. Thither the elder Marvell followed in pursuit, and after search came across his son in a bookseller's shop, where he succeeded both in convincing the boy of his errors and in persuading him to return to Trinity. An odd story, and not, as it stands, very credible; but Mr. Grosart discovered among the Marvell papers at Hull a fragment of a letter without signature, address, or date, which throws some sort of light on the incident. This letter was evidently, as Mr. Grosart surmises, sent to the elder Marvell by some similarly afflicted parent. In its fragmentary state the letter reads as follows:—

"Worthy S^r,—M^r Breerecliffe being w^th me to-day, I related vnto him a fearfull passage lately at Cambridg touching a sonne of mine, Bachelor of Arts in Katherine Hall, w^ch was this. He was lately inuited to a supper in towne by a gentlewoman, where was one M^r Nichols a felow of Peterhouse, and another or two masters of arts, I know not directly whether felowes or not: my sonne hauing noe p'ferment, but liuing meerely of my penny, they pressed him much to come to liue at their house, and for chamber and extraordinary bookes they promised farre: and then earnestly moued him to goe to Somerset house, where they could doe much for p'ferring him to some eminent place, and in conclusion to popish arguments to seduce him soe rotten and vnsauory as being ouerheard it was brought in question before the heads of the Uniuersity: Dr. Cosens, being Vice Chancelor noe punishment is inioined him: but on Ash-wednesday next a recantation in regent house of some popish tenets Nicols let fall: I p'ceive by M^r Breercliffe some such prank vsed towards y^r sonne: I desire to know what y^u did therin: thinking I cannot doe god better seruice then bring it vppon the stage either in Parliament if it hold: or informing some Lords of the Counsail to whom I stand much oblieged if a bill in Starchamber be meete To terrify others by making these some publique spectacle: for if such fearfull practises may goe vnpunished I take care whether I may send a child ... the lord."[15:1]

The reference to Dr. Cosens, or Cosin, being Vice-Chancellor gives a clue to the date, for Cosin was chosen Vice-Chancellor on the 4th of November 1639.[15:2]

Though we can know nothing of the elder Marvell's methods of re-conversion, they were more successful than the elder Gibbon's, who, as we know, packed the future historian off to Lausanne and a Swiss pastor's house. What Gibbon became on leaving off his Romanism we can guess for ourselves, whereas Marvell, once out of the hands of these very shadowy "Jesuits," remained the staunchest of Christian Protestants to the end of his days.

This strange incident, and two college exercises or poems, one in Greek, the other in Latin, both having reference to an addition to the Royal Family, and appearing in the Musa Cantabrigiensis for 1637, are all the materials that exist for weaving the story of Marvell, the Cambridge undergraduate. The Latin verses, which are Horatian in style, contain one pretty stanza, composed apparently before the sex of the new-born infant was known at Cambridge.

"Sive felici Carolum figura Parvulus princeps imitetur almae Sive Mariae decoret puellam Dulcis imago."

After taking his Bachelor's degree in 1639, Marvell, being still a Scholar of the college, must have gone away, for the Conclusion Book of Trinity, under date September 24, 1641, records as follows:—

"It is agreed by y^e Master and 8 seniors y^t M^r Carter and D^r Wakefields, D^r Marvell, D^r Waterhouse, and D^r Maye in regard y^t some of them are reported to be married and y^t others look not after y^eir days nor Acts shall receave no more benefitt of y^e Coll and shall be out of y^ier places unless y^ei shew just cause to y^e Coll for y^e contrary in 3 months."

Dr. Lort, in his amiable letter of 1765, already mentioned, points out that this entry contains no reflection on Marvell's morals, but shows that he was given "notice to quit" for non-residence, "then much more strictly enjoined than it is now." The days referred to in the entry were, so the master obligingly explains, "the certain number allowed by statute to absentees," whilst the "acts mean the Exercises also enjoyned by the statutes." Dr. Lort adds, "It does not appear, by any subsequent entry, whether Marvell did or did not comply with this order." We may now safely assume he did not. Marvell's Cambridge days were over.

The vacations, no inconsiderable part of the year, were probably spent by Marvell under his father's roof at Hull, where his two elder sisters were married and settled. It is not to be wondered at that Andrew Marvell should, for so many years, have represented Hull in the House of Commons, for both he and his family were well known in the town. The elder Marvell added to his reputation as a teacher and preacher the character of a devoted servant of his flock in the hour of danger. The plague twice visited Hull during the time of the elder Marvell, first in 1635 and again in 1638. In those days men might well pray to be delivered from "plague, pestilence, and famine." Hull suffered terribly on both occasions. We have seen, in comparatively recent times, the effect of the cholera upon large towns, and the plague was worse than the cholera many times over. The Hull preacher, despite the stigma of facetiousness, which still clings to him, stuck to his post, visiting the sick, burying the dead, and even, which seems a little superfluous, preaching and afterwards printing "by request" their funeral sermons. A brave man, indeed, and one reserved for a tragic end.

In April 1638 the poet's mother died. In the following November the elder Marvell married a widow lady, but his own end was close upon him. The earliest consecutive account of this strange event is in Gent's History of Hull (1735):—"This year, 1640, the Rev. Mr. Andrew Marvell, Lecturer of Hull, sailing over the Humber in company with Madame Skinner of Thornton College and a young beautiful couple who were going to be wedded; a speedy Fate prevented the designed happy union thro' a violent storm which overset the boat and put a period to all their lives, nor were there any remains of them or the vessel ever after found, tho' earnestly sought for on distant shores."

Thus died by drowning a brave man, a good Christian, and an excellent clergyman of the Reformed Church of England. The plain narrative just quoted has been embroidered by many long-subsequent writers in the interests of those who love presentiments and ghostly intimations of impending events, and in one of these versions it is recorded, that though the morning was clear, the breeze fair, and the company gay, yet when stepping into the boat "the reverend man exclaimed, 'Ho for Heaven,' and threw his staff ashore and left it to Providence to fulfil its awful warning."

So melancholy an occurrence naturally excited great attention, and long lingered in local memories. Everybody in Hull knew who was their member's father.

There is an obstinate tradition quite unverifiable that Mrs. Skinner, the mother of the beautiful young lady who was drowned with the elder Marvell, adopted the young Marvell as a son, sending to Cambridge for him after his father's death, and providing him with the means of travel, and that afterwards she bequeathed him her estate. Whether there is any truth in this story cannot now be ascertained. The Skinners were a well-known Hull family, one of them, a brother of that Cyriac Skinner who was urged by Milton in immortal verse to enjoy himself whilst the mood was on him, having been Mayor of Hull. The lady, doubtless, had money, and Andrew Marvell was in need of money, and appears to have been supplied with it. It is quite possible the tradition is true.


[6:1] Fuller's Worthies (1662), p. 159.

[8:1] "The Fuller Worthies Library," 4 vols., 1872. Hereafter referred to as Grosart.

[8:2] Mr. Smirke or the Divine in Mode.—Grosart, iv. 15.

[11:1] Autobiography of Matthew Robinson. Edited by J.E.B. Mayor, Cambridge, 1856.

[12:1] Behemoth, Hobbes' Works (Molesworth), vol. vi., see pp. 168, 218, 233-6.

[12:2] Worthington's Diary, vol. i. p. 5 (Chetham Society).

[13:1] Fuller, History of Cambridge University (1655), p. 167.

[14:1] Fuller, p. 166.

[15:1] Grosart, I., xxviii.

[15:2] See Worthington's Diary, vol. i. p. 7.



The seventeenth century was the century of travel for educated Englishmen—of long, leisurely travel. Milton's famous Italian tour lasted fifteen months. John Evelyn's Wander-Jahre occupied four years. Andrew Marvell lived abroad in France, Spain, Holland, and Italy from 1642 to 1646, and we have Milton's word for it that when the traveller returned he was well acquainted with the French, Dutch, Spanish, and Italian languages. Andrew Marvell was a highly cultivated man, living in a highly cultivated age, in daily converse with scholars, poets, philosophers, and men of very considerable scientific attainments. In reading Clarendon and Burnet, and whilst turning over Aubrey's delightful gossip, it is impossible not to be struck with the width and variety of the learning as well as with the wit of the period. Intellectually it was a great age.

No record remains of Marvell's travels during these years. Up and down his writings the careful reader will come across pleasant references to foreign manners and customs, betokening the keen humorous observer, and the possession of that wide-eyed faculty that takes a pleasure, half contemplative, half the result of animal spirits, in watching the way of the world wherever you may chance to be. Of another and an earlier traveller, Sir Henry Wotton, we read in "Walton's Life."

"And whereas he was noted in his youth to have a sharp wit and apt to jest, that by time, travel, and conversation was so polished and made useful, that his company seemed to be one of the delights of mankind."

In all Marvell's work, as poet, as Parliamentarian, as controversialist, we shall see the travelled man. Certainly no one ever more fully grasped the sense of the famous sentence given by Wotton to Milton, when the latter was starting on his travels: "I pensieri stretti ed il viso sciolto."

Marvell was in Rome about 1645. I can give no other date during the whole four years. This, our only date, rests upon an assumption. In Marvell's earliest satirical poem he gives an account of a visit he paid in Rome to the unlucky poetaster Flecknoe, who was not in Rome until 1645. If, therefore, the poem records an actual visit, it follows that the author of the poem was in Rome at the same time. It is not very near, but it is as near as we can get.

Richard Flecknoe was an Irish priest of blameless life, with a passion for scribbling and for printing. His exquisite reason for both these superfluous acts is worth quoting:—

"I write chiefly to avoid idleness, and print to avoid the imputation (of idleness), and as others do it to live after they are dead, I do it only not to be thought dead whilst I am alive."[20:1]

Such frankness should have disarmed ridicule, but somehow or another this amiable man came to be regarded as the type of a dull author, and his name passed into a proverb for stupidity, so much so that when Dryden in 1682 was casting about how best to give pain to Shadwell, he devised the plan of his famous satire, "MacFlecknoe," where in biting verse he describes Flecknoe (who was happily dead) as an aged Prince—

"Who like Augustus young Was called to empire and had governed long; In prose and verse was owned, without dispute, Through all the realms of nonsense absolute."

Dryden goes on to picture the aged Flecknoe,

"pondering which of all his sons was fit To reign and wage immortal war with Wit,"

and fixing on Shadwell.

"Shadwell alone my perfect image bears, Mature in dulness from his tender years; Shadwell alone, of all my sons, is he Who stands confirmed in full stupidity: The rest to some faint meaning make pretence, But Shadwell never deviates into sense."

Thus has it come about that Flecknoe, the Irish priest, whom Marvell visited in his Roman garret in 1645, bears a name ever memorable in literature.

Marvell's own poem, though eclipsed by the splendour of Glorious John's resounding lines, has an interest of its own as being, in its roughly humorous way, a forerunner of the "Dunciad" and "Grub Street" literature, by which in sundry moods 'tis "pleasure to be bound." It describes seeking out the poetaster in his lodging "three staircases high," at the sign of the Pelican, in a room so small that it seemed "a coffin set in the stair's head." No sooner was the rhymer unearthed than straightway he began to recite his poetry in dismal tones, much to his visitor's dismay:—

"But I who now imagin'd myself brought To my last trial, in a serious thought Calm'd the disorders of my youthful breast And to my martyrdom prepared rest. Only this frail ambition did remain, The last distemper of the sober brain, That there had been some present to assure The future ages how I did endure."

To stop the cataract of "hideous verse," Marvell invited the scarecrow to dinner, and waits while he dresses. As they turn to leave, for the room is so small that the man who comes in last must be the first to go out, they meet a friend of the poet on the stairs, who makes a third at dinner. After dinner Flecknoe produces ten quires of paper, from which the friend proceeds to read, but so infamously as to excite their author's rage:—

"But all his praises could not now appease The provok't Author, whom it did displease To hear his verses by so just a curse That were ill made, condemned to be read worse: And how (impossible!) he made yet more Absurdities in them than were before: For his untun'd voice did fall or raise As a deaf man upon the Viol plays, Making the half-points and the periods run Confus'der than the atoms in the sun: Thereat the poet swell'd with anger full,"

and after violent exclamations retires in dudgeon back to his room. The faithful friend is in despair. What is he to do to make peace? "Who would commend his mistress now?" Marvell

"counselled him to go in time Ere the fierce poet's anger turned to rhyme."

The advice was taken, and Marvell, finding himself at last free from boredom, went off to St. Peter's to return thanks.

This poem is but an unsatisfactory souvenir de voyage, but it is all there is.

What Marvell was doing during the stirring years 1646-1650 is not known. Even in the most troubled times men go about their business, and our poet was always a man of affairs. As for his opinions during these years, we can only guess at them from those to which he afterwards gave expression. Marvell was neither a Republican nor a Puritan. Like his father before him, he was a Protestant and a member of the Reformed Church of England. He stood for both King and Parliament. Archbishop Laud he distrusted, and it may well be detested, but good churchmen have often distrusted and even detested their archbishops. Mr. Gladstone had no great regard for Archbishop Tait. Before the Act of Uniformity and the repressive legislation that followed upon its heels had driven English dissent into its final moulds, it was not doctrine but ceremonies that disturbed men's minds; and Marvell belonged to that school of English churchmen, by no means the least distinguished school, which was not disposed to quarrel with their fellow-Christians over white surplices, the ring in matrimony, or the attitude during Holy Communion. He shared the belief of a contemporary that no system is bad enough to destroy a good man, or good enough to save a bad one.

The Civil War was to Marvell what it was to most wise men not devoured by faction—a deplorable event. Twenty years after he wrote in the Rehearsal Transprosed:—

"Whether it be a war of religion or of liberty it is not worth the labour to inquire. Whichsoever was at the top, the other was at the bottom; but upon considering all, I think the cause was too good to have been fought for. Men ought to have trusted God—they ought to have trusted the King with that whole matter. The arms of the Church are prayers and tears, the arms of the subject are patience and petitions. The King himself being of so accurate and piercing a judgment would soon have felt it where it stuck. For men may spare their pains when Nature is at work, and the world will not go the faster for our driving. Even as his present Majesty's happy Restoration did itself, so all things else happen in their best and proper time, without any heed of our officiousness."[24:1]

In the face of this passage and many another of the like spirit, it is puzzling to find such a man, for example, as Thomas Baker, the ejected non-juring Fellow and historian of St. John's College, Cambridge (1656-1740), writing of Marvell as "that bitter republican"; and Dryden, who probably knew Marvell, comparing his controversial pamphlets with those of Martin Marprelate, or at all events speaking of Martin Marprelate as "the Marvell of those times."[24:2] A somewhat anti-prelatical note runs through Marvell's writings, but it is a familiar enough note in the works of the English laity, and by no means dissevers its possessor from the Anglican Church. But there are some heated expressions in the satires which probably gave rise to the belief that Marvell was a Republican.[24:3]

During the Commonwealth Marvell was content to be a civil servant. He entertained for the Lord-Protector the same kind of admiration that such a loyalist as Chateaubriand could not help feeling for Napoleon. Even Clarendon's pedantic soul occasionally vibrates as he writes of Oliver, and compares his reputation in foreign courts with that of his own royal master. When the Restoration came Marvell rejoiced. Two old-established things had been destroyed by Cromwell—Kings and Parliaments, and Marvell was glad to see them both back again in England.

Some verses of Marvell's attributable to this period (1646-1650) show him keeping what may be called Royalist company. With a dozen other friends of Richard Lovelace, the Cavalier poet and the author of two of the most famous stanzas in English verse, Marvell contributed some commendatory lines addressed to his "noble friend, Mr. Richard Lovelace, upon his Poems," which appeared with the poems themselves in that year of fate, 1649. "After the murder of the King," says Anthony Wood, "Lovelace was set at liberty, and having by that time consumed all his estate, grew very melancholy, became very poor in body and purse, was the object of charity, went in ragged clothes (whereas when he was in glory he wore cloth of gold and silver), and mostly lodged in obscure and dirty places, more befitting the worst of beggars and poorest of servants."

Then it was that Lucasta made its first appearance. When the fortunes of the gallant poet were at their lowest and never to revive, Marvell seizes the occasion to deplore the degeneracy of the times, a familiar theme with poets:—

"Our civil wars have lost the civic crown, He highest builds who with most art destroys, And against others' fame his own employs."

He then glances scornfully at the new Presbyterian censorship of the press:—

"The barbed censurers begin to look Like the grim consistory on thy book, And on each line cast a reforming eye,"

and suggests that Lucasta is in danger because in 1642 its author had been imprisoned by order of the House of Commons for presenting a petition from Kent which prayed for the restoration of the Book of Common Prayer. This danger is, however, overcome by the ladies, who rise in arms to defend their favourite poet.

"But when the beauteous Ladies came to know That their dear Lovelace was endangered so, Lovelace that thaw'd the most congealed breast, He who lov'd best and them defended best, They all in mutiny, though yet undrest, Sally'd."

One of them challenged Marvell as to whether he had not been of the poet's traducers, but he answered No!

"O No, mistake not, I reply'd, for I In your defence or in his cause would die. But he, secure of glory and of time, Above their envy or my aid doth climb. Him, bravest men and fairest nymphs approve, His book in them finds Judgment, with you, Love."

Lovelace did not live to see the Restoration, but died in a mean lodging near Shoe Lane in April 1658, and was buried in St. Bridget's Church. Let us indulge the hope that the friends who occupied so many of the introductory pages of Lovelace's Lucasta occasionally enlivened the solitude and relieved the distress of the poet whose praises they had once sung with so much vigour. As Marvell was undoubtedly a friendly man, and one who loved to be alone with his friends, and had never any house of his own to keep up, living for the most part in hired lodgings, it would be unkind to doubt that he at least did not forget Lovelace in his poverty and depression of spirit.

In 1649 thirty-three poets combined to weep over the early grave of the Lord Henry Hastings, the eldest son of the sixth Earl of Huntingdon, who died of the smallpox in the twentieth year of his age. Not even this plentiful discharge of poets' tears should rob the young nobleman of his claim to be regarded as a fine example of the great learning, accomplishments, and high spirits of the age. We can still produce the thirty-three poets, but what young nobleman is there who can boast such erudition as had rewarded the scorned delights and the laborious days of this Lord Hastings? We have at least the satisfaction of knowing that did such a one exist he probably would not die of the smallpox. Among the poets who wept on this occasion were Herrick, Sir John Denham, Andrew Marvell, and John Dryden, then a Westminster schoolboy, whose description of the smallpox is as bad as the disease.

Marvell's verses begin very prettily and soon introduce a characteristic touch:—

"Go, stand betwixt the Morning and the Flowers, And ere they fall arrest the early showers, Hastings is dead; and we disconsolate With early tears must mourn his early fate."

In 1650 Marvell, then in his twenty-ninth year, went to live with Lord Fairfax at Nunappleton House in Yorkshire, as tutor to the only child and daughter of the house, Mary Fairfax, aged twelve years (born 30th July 1638). This proved to be a great event in Marvell's life as a poet, and it happened at an epoch in the distinguished career of the famous Parliamentarian general

"Whose name in arms through Europe rings."

Lord Fairfax, though he had countenanced, if not approved, the trial and deposition of the king, had resolutely held himself aloof from the proceedings which, beginning on Saturday the 20th of January 1649, terminated so dismally on Tuesday the 30th. The strange part played by Lady Fairfax on the first day of the so-called trial (though it was no greater a travesty of justice than many a real trial both before and after) is one of the best-known stories in English history. There are several versions of it. Having provided herself with a seat in a small gallery in Westminster Hall, just above the heads of the judges, when her husband's name was called out as one of the commissioners, the intrepid lady (no Cavalier's dame, be it remembered, but a true blue Presbyterian), a brave soldier's daughter, cried out, "Lord Fairfax is not here; he will never sit among you. You do wrong to name him as a sitting Commissioner." This is Rushworth's version, and he was present. Clarendon, who was not present, being abroad at the time, reports the words as, "He has more wit than to be here."

Later on in the day, when the President Bradshaw interrupted the king and peremptorily bade him to answer the charges exhibited against him "in the name of the Commons of England assembled, and of the people of England," Lady Fairfax again rose to her feet and exclaimed, "It's a lie! Not half the people. Where are they and their consents? Oliver Cromwell is a traitor."

Lieutenant-Colonel Axtell, who during the trial was in command of a regiment in Westminster and charged by his military superior, Lord Fairfax himself, with the duty of maintaining order, hearing this disturbance, went forward and told Lady Fairfax to hold her tongue, sound advice which she appears to have taken. After the Restoration Axtell was put to his trial as a "regicide." His defence, which was, that as a soldier he obeyed his orders, and was no more guilty than his general, Lord Fairfax, was not listened to, and he was sentenced to death, a fate which he met like the brave man he was.

Although Fairfax did not immediately resign his command after the king's death, from that moment he lost heart in the cause. Lady Fairfax, whose loyalty to Charles may have been quickened by her dislike of Oliver, had great influence with him, and it may well be that his conscience pricked him. The rupture came in June 1650, when Charles's son made his appearance in Scotland and his peace with the Presbyterians, subscribing with inward emotions it would be unkind to attempt to describe the Solemn League and Covenant, and attending services and listening to sermons the length of which, at least, he never forgot. War was plainly imminent between the two countries. The question was, who should begin? Cromwell, who had hurried home from Ireland, Lambert, and Harrison were all keen to strike the first blow. Fairfax felt a scruple, and in those days scruples counted. Was there, he asked, a just cause for an invasion of Scotland? A committee was appointed, consisting of the three warriors above-named with St. John and Whitelock, to confer with the Lord-General and satisfy him of the lawfulness of the undertaking. The six met, and having first prayed—Oliver praying first—they proceeded to a discussion which may be read at length in Whitelock's Memorials, vol. iii. p. 207. The substance of their talk was as follows: Fairfax's scruple proved to be that both they and the Scots had joined in the Solemn League and Covenant, and that, therefore, until Scotland assumed the offensive, there was no cause for an invasion. Cromwell's retort, after a preliminary quibble, was practical enough. "War is inevitable. Is it better to have it in the bowels of another's country or in one's own? In one or other it must be." Fairfax's scruple, however, withstood this battery, though it was strongly enforced by Harrison, who, in reply to the Lord-General's question, "What was the warrant for the assumption that Scotland meant to fall upon England?" inquired, if Scotland did not mean to invade England, for whose benefit were levies being made and soldiers enlisted.

Fairfax proved immovable. "Every man," said he, "must stand or fall by his own conscience"; and as he offered to lay down his command, there was nothing for it but to accept the resignation and appoint his successor. This was speedily done, and on the 28th of June 1650 "Oliver Cromwell, Esquire," was appointed Captain-General and Commander-in-chief of all the forces. On 16th July Cromwell crossed the Tweed, and on the 3rd of September the Lord delivered Leslie into his hands at Dunbar.

It was in these circumstances that Lord Fairfax and his energetic lady and only child went back to their Yorkshire home in the midsummer of 1650, taking Marvell with them to instruct the Lady Mary in the tongues.

Nunappleton House is in the Ainstey of York, a pleasant bit of country bounded by the rivers Ouse, Wharfe, and Nidd. The modern traveller, as his train rushes north, whilst shut up in his corridor-carriage with his rug, his pipe, and his novel, passes at no great distance from the house on the way between Selby and York. The old house, as it was in Marvell's time, is thus described by Captain Markham, who had a print to help him, in his delightful Life of the Great Lord Fairfax:—

"It was a picturesque brick mansion with stone copings and a high steep roof, and consisted of a centre and two wings at right angles, forming three sides of a square, facing to the north. The great hall or gallery occupied the centre between the two wings. It was fifty yards long, and was adorned with thirty shields in wood, painted with the arms of the family. In the three rooms there were chimney-pieces of delicate marble of various colours, and many fine portraits on the walls. The central part of the house was surrounded by a cupola, and clustering chimneys rose in the two wings. A noble park with splendid oak-trees, and containing 300 head of deer, stretched away to the north, while on the south side were the ruins of the old Nunnery, the flower-garden, and the low meadows called ings extending to the banks of the Wharfe. In this flower-garden the General took especial delight. The flowers were planted in masses, tulips, pinks, and roses, each in separate beds, which were cut into the shape of forts with five bastions. General Lambert, whom Fairfax had reared as a soldier, also loved his flowers, and excelled both in cultivating them and in painting them from Nature. Lord Fairfax only went to Denton, the favourite seat of his grandfather, when the floods were out over the ings at Nunappleton, and he also occasionally resorted to his house at Bishop Hill in York."[31:1]

In this garden the muse of Andrew Marvell blossomed like the cherry-tree.

Lord Fairfax, though furious in war, and badly wounded in many a fierce engagement, was, when otherwise occupied, a man of quiet literary tastes, and a good bit of a collector and virtuoso. Some of the rare books and manuscripts he had around him at Nunappleton are now in the Bodleian, the treasures of which he had protected in troubled times. He loved to handle medals and coins, and knew the points of old engravings. He wrote a history of the Christian Church down to our own ill-conducted Reformation, and composed a complete metrical version of the Psalms of David and of the Song of Solomon. These and many other productions, which he characterised as "The Employment of my Solitude," still remain in his own handwriting. Amongst them, Yorkshire men will hear with pleasure, is a "Treatise on the breeding of the Horse."

Of the quality of his wife we have already had a touch. She was one of the four daughters of Lord Vere of Tilbury, who came of a fine fighting family, and whose daughters had a roughish bringing-up, chiefly in the Netherlands. None of the daughters were reckoned beautiful, either in face or figure, and it may well be that Lady Fairfax had something about her of the old campaigner; but of her courage, sincerity, and goodness there can be no question. Her loyalty was no sickly fruit of "Church Principles," for her strong intelligence rejected scornfully the slavish doctrines, alien to our political constitution, of divine right and passive obedience; but a loyalty, none the less, it was, of a very valuable kind. She was fond of argument, and with Lady Fairfax at Nunappleton there was never likely to be any dearth of sensible talk and lively reminiscence. The tragedy of the 30th of January could never be forgotten, and it is possible that Marvell's most famous verses, so nobly descriptive of the demeanour of the king on that memorable occasion, derived their inspiration from discourse at Nunappleton.

Of the Lady Mary, aged twelve, we have no direct testimony. When she grew up and had her portrait painted she stands revealed as a stout young woman with a plain good-natured face. The poor soul needed all the good-nature heaven had bestowed upon her, for she had to bear the misery and disgrace which were the inevitable marriage-portion of the woman whose ill-luck it was to become the wife of George Villiers, second Duke of Buckingham. Somebody seems to have taught her philosophy, for she bore her misfortunes as best became a great lady, living as one who had sorrow but no grievance. The duke died in 1688; she lived on till 1704. She was ever a good friend to another ill-used solitary wife, Catherine of Braganza. Marvell had every reason to be proud of his pupil.

Beside the actual inmates of the great house, the whole countryside swarmed with Fairfaxes. At the Rectory of Bolton Percy was the late Lord-General's uncle, Henry Fairfax, and his two sons, Henry, who succeeded to the title, and the better-known Brian, the biographer of the Duke of Buckingham. At Stenton, four miles off, lived the widow of the gallant Sir William Fairfax, who died, covered with wounds, in 1644 before Montgomery Castle. There were two sons and two daughters at Stenton, whilst Charles Fairfax, another uncle, and the lawyer and genealogist of the family, lived at no great distance with no less than fourteen children. There were also sisters of Lord Fairfax, with families of their own, all settled in the same part of the county.

Such were the agreeable surroundings of our poet for two years, 1650-1652. I must leave it to the imaginations of my readers to fill up the picture, for excepting the poems, which we may safely assume were written at Nunappleton House, and—who can doubt it?—read aloud to its inmates, there is nothing more to be said.

Before considering the Nunappleton poetry, a word must be got in of bibliography. College exercises and complimentary verses excepted, Marvell printed none of his verse under his own name in his lifetime. So far as his themes were political there is no need to wonder at this. Indeed, the wonder is how, despite their anonymity, their author kept his ears; but why the Nunappleton verse should have remained in manuscript for more than thirty years is hard to explain.

Until Pope took his muse to market, poetry, apart from the drama, had no direct commercial value, or one too small to be ranked as a motive for publication. None the less, the age loved distinction and appreciated wit, and to be known as a poet whose verses "numbered good intellects" was to gain the entree to the society of men both of intellect and fashion, and also, not infrequently, snug berths in the public service, and secretaryships to foreign missions and embassies. Thus there was always, in addition to natural vanity, a strong motive for a seventeenth-century poet to publish his poems. To-day one would hesitate to recommend a young man who wanted to get on in the world to publish a volume of verse; but the age of "wit" and "parts" is over.

It was not till 1681—three years after Marvell's death—that the small folio appeared with a fine portrait, still dear to the collector, which contains for the first time what may be called the "garden-poetry" of our author, together with some specimens of his political and satirical versification.

Marvell's most famous poem—The Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland—is not included in the 1681 volume, and remained in manuscript until 1776, as also did the poem upon Cromwell's death.

The remainder of the political poems, which had made their first appearance as broadsheets, were reprinted after the Revolution in the well-known Collection of Poems on Affairs of State.[35:1] These verses were never owned by Marvell, and it is probable that some of them, though attributed to him, are not his at all. We have only tradition to go by. In the case of political satires, squibs, epigrams, rough popular occasional rhymes flung off both in haste and heat to be sold with old ballads in the market-place, we need not seek for better evidence than tradition, which indeed is often the only external evidence we have for the authorship of much more important things.

Now to return to the Nunappleton poetry.

In a poem of 776 lines Marvell tells the story and describes the charms of the house which Lord Fairfax built for himself during the war, and to which, as just narrated, he retired in the summer of 1650. The story is only too familiar a one, being writ large over many a fine property. Appleton House was Church loot. In the time of Henry, "the majestic lord that burst the bonds of Rome," the old house at Nunappleton was a Cistercian nunnery, a religious house. In 1542 the community was suppressed and its property appropriated by the great-grandfather of the Lord-General—one Sir Thomas Fairfax. The religious buildings were pulled down and a new secular house rose in their place. In these bare and sordid facts there is not much room for poetry, but there is a story thrown in. Shortly before 1518 a Yorkshire heiress, bearing the unromantic name of Isabella Thwaites, was living in the Cistercian abbey, under the guardianship of the abbess, the Lady Anna Langton. Property under the care of the Church is always supposed to be in danger, and the Lady Anna was freely credited with the desire to make a nun of her ward, and so keep her broad acres in Wharfedale and her messuages in York for the use of Mother Church. None the less, the young lady was allowed to go about and visit her neighbours, and whilst so doing she fell in love with Sir William Fairfax, or he fell in love with her or with her estates. Thereupon, so the story proceeds, the abbess kept her ward a close prisoner within the nunnery walls. Legal proceedings were taken, but in the end the privacy of the nunnery was invaded, and Miss Thwaites was abducted and married to Sir William Fairfax at the church of Bolton Percy. The lady abbess had to submit to vis major, but worse days were in front of her, for she lived on to see the nunnery itself despoiled, and the fair domains she had during a long life preserved and maintained for religious uses handed over to the son of her former ward, Isabella Thwaites.

Our poet begins by referring to the modest dimensions of the house, and the natural charms of its surroundings:—

"The house was built upon the place, Only as for a mark of grace, And for an inn to entertain Its Lord awhile, but not remain. Him Bishop's-hill or Denton may, Or Billborow, better hold than they: But Nature here hath been so free, As if she said, 'Leave this to me.' Art would more neatly have defac'd What she had laid so sweetly waste In fragrant gardens, shady woods, Deep meadows, and transparent floods."

And then starts the story:—

"While, with slow eyes, we these survey, And on each pleasant footstep stay, We opportunely may relate The progress of this house's fate. A nunnery first gave it birth, (For virgin buildings oft brought forth) And all that neighbour-ruin shows The quarries whence this dwelling rose. Near to this gloomy cloister's gates, There dwelt the blooming virgin Thwaites, Fair beyond measure, and an heir, Which might deformity make fair; And oft she spent the summer's suns Discoursing with the subtle Nuns, Whence, in these words, one to her weav'd, As 'twere by chance, thoughts long conceiv'd: 'Within this holy leisure, we Live innocently, as you see. These walls restrain the world without, But hedge our liberty about; These bars inclose that wilder den Of those wild creatures, called men, The cloister outward shuts its gates, And, from us, locks on them the grates. Here we, in shining armour white, Like virgin amazons do fight, And our chaste lamps we hourly trim, Lest the great Bridegroom find them dim. Our orient breaths perfumed are With incense of incessant prayer; And holy-water of our tears Most strangely our complexion clears; Not tears of grief, but such as those With which calm pleasure overflows; Or pity, when we look on you That live without this happy vow. How should we grieve that must be seen Each one a spouse, and each a queen, And can in heaven hence behold Our brighter robes and crowns of gold! When we have prayed all our beads, Some one the holy Legend reads, While all the rest with needles paint The face and graces of the Saint; Some of your features, as we sewed, Through every shrine should be bestowed, And in one beauty we would take Enough a thousand Saints to make. And (for I dare not quench the fire That me does for your good inspire) 'Twere sacrilege a man to admit To holy things for heaven fit. I see the angels in a crown On you the lilies showering down; And round about you glory breaks, That something more than human speaks. All beauty when at such a height, Is so already consecrate. Fairfax I know, and long ere this Have marked the youth, and what he is; But can he such a rival seem, For whom you heaven should disesteem? Ah, no! and 'twould more honour prove He your devoto were than Love. Here live beloved and obeyed, Each one your sister, each your maid, And, if our rule seem strictly penned, The rule itself to you shall bend. Our Abbess, too, now far in age, Doth your succession near presage. How soft the yoke on us would lie, Might such fair hands as yours it tie! Your voice, the sweetest of the choir, Shall draw heaven nearer, raise us higher, And your example, if our head, Will soon us to perfection lead. Those virtues to us all so dear, Will straight grow sanctity when here; And that, once sprung, increase so fast, Till miracles it work at last.'"

What reply was given by the heiress to these arguments, and others of a still more seductive hue, the poet does not tell, but turns to the eager lover who asks, What should he do? He hints that a nunnery is no place for a virtuous maid, and that the nuns (unlike himself, I hope) are only thinking of her property. He complains that though the Court has authorised him to use either peace or force, the nuns still stand upon their guard.

"Ill-counselled women, do you know Whom you resist or what you do?"

Using a most remarkable poetic licence, the poet refers to the fact that this barred-out lover is to be the progenitor of the great Lord Fairfax.

"Is not this he, whose offspring fierce Shall fight through all the universe; And with successive valour try France, Poland, either Germany, Till one, as long since prophesied, His horse through conquered Britain ride?"

The lover determines to take the place by assault. It was not a very heroic enterprise, as Marvell describes it.

"Some to the breach, against their foes, Their wooden Saints in vain oppose; Another bolder, stands at push, With their old holy-water brush, While the disjointed Abbess threads The jingling chain-shot of her beads; But their loud'st cannon were their lungs, And sharpest weapons were their tongues. But waving these aside like flies, Young Fairfax through the wall does rise. Then the unfrequented vault appeared, And superstition, vainly feared; The relicks false were set to view; Only the jewels there were true, And truly bright and holy Thwaites, That weeping at the altar waits. But the glad youth away her bears, And to the Nuns bequeathes her tears, Who guiltily their prize bemoan, Like gypsies who a child have stol'n."

The poet then goes on to glorify the results of this union and to describe happy days spent at Nunappleton by the descendants of Isabella Thwaites.

"At the demolishing, this seat To Fairfax fell, as by escheat; And what both nuns and founders willed, 'Tis likely better thus fulfilled. For if the virgin proved not theirs, The cloister yet remained hers; Though many a nun there made her vow, 'Twas no religious house till now. From that blest bed the hero came Whom France and Poland yet does fame; Who, when retired here to peace, His warlike studies could not cease; But laid these gardens out, in sport, In the just figure of a fort, And with five bastions it did fence, As aiming one for every sense. When in the east the morning ray Hangs out the colours of the day, The bee through these known alleys hums, Beating the dian with its drums. Then flowers their drowsy eyelids raise, Their silken ensigns each displays, And dries its pan, yet dank with dew, And fills its flask with odours new. These as their Governor goes by In fragrant volleys they let fly, And to salute their Governess Again as great a charge they press: None for the virgin nymph; for she Seems with the flowers a flower to be. And think so still! though not compare With breath so sweet, or cheek so fair! Well shot, ye firemen! Oh, how sweet And round your equal fires do meet, Whose shrill report no ear can tell, But echoes to the eye and smell! See how the flowers, as at parade, Under their colours stand displayed; Each regiment in order grows, That of the tulip, pink and rose. But when the vigilant patrol Of stars walk round about the pole, Their leaves, which to the stalks are curled, Seem to their staves the ensigns furled. Then in some flower's beloved hut, Each bee, as sentinel, is shut, And sleeps so too, but, if once stirred, She runs you through, nor asks the word.

Oh, thou, that dear and happy isle, The garden of the world erewhile, Thou Paradise of the four seas, Which heaven planted us to please, But, to exclude the world, did guard With watery, if not flaming sword,— What luckless apple did we taste, To make us mortal, and thee waste? Unhappy! shall we never more That sweet militia restore, When gardens only had their towers And all the garrisons were flowers, When roses only arms might bear, And men did rosy garlands wear? Tulips, in several colours barred, Were then the Switzers of our guard; The gardener had the soldier's place, And his more gentle forts did trace; The nursery of all things green Was then the only magazine; The winter quarters were the stoves, Where he the tender plants removes. But war all this doth overgrow: We ordnance plant, and powder sow.

The arching boughs unite between The columns of the temple green, And underneath the winged quires Echo about their tuned fires. The nightingale does here make choice To sing the trials of her voice; Low shrubs she sits in, and adorns With music high the squatted thorns; But highest oaks stoop down to hear, And listening elders prick the ear; The thorn, lest it should hurt her, draws Within the skin its shrunken claws. But I have for my music found A sadder, yet more pleasing sound; The stock-doves, whose fair necks are graced With nuptial rings, their ensigns chaste, Yet always, for some cause unknown, Sad pair, unto the elms they moan. O why should such a couple mourn, That in so equal flames do burn! Then as I careless on the bed Of gelid strawberries do tread, And through the hazels thick espy The hatching throstle's shining eye, The heron, from the ash's top, The eldest of its young lets drop, As if it stork-like did pretend That tribute to its lord to send.

Thus I, easy philosopher, Among the birds and trees confer; And little now to make me, wants, Or of the fowls, 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 was but an inverted tree. Already I begin to call In their most learn'd original, And where I language want, my signs The bird upon the bough divines, And more attentive there doth sit Than if she were with lime-twigs knit, No leaf does tremble in the wind, Which I returning cannot find. One of these scattered Sibyls' leaves Strange prophecies my fancy weaves, And in one history consumes, Like Mexique paintings, all the plumes; What Rome, Greece, Palestine e'er said, I in this light mosaic read. Thrice happy he, who, not mistook, Hath read in Nature's mystic book! And see how chance's better wit Could with a mask my studies hit! The oak-leaves me embroider all, Between which caterpillars crawl; And ivy, with familiar trails, Me licks and clasps, and curls and hales. Under this Attic cope I move, Like some great prelate of the grove; Then, languishing with ease, I toss On pallets swoln of velvet moss, While the wind, cooling through the boughs, Flatters with air my panting brows. Thanks for your 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, Where beauty, aiming at the heart, Bends in some tree its useless dart, And where the world no certain shot Can make, or me it toucheth not, But I on it securely play And gall its horsemen all the day. Bind me, ye woodbines, in your twines Curl me about, ye gadding vines, And oh so close your circles lace, That I may never leave this place! But, lest your fetters prove too weak, Ere I your silken bondage break, Do you, O brambles, chain me too, And, courteous briars, nail me through!

Oh what a pleasure 'tis to hedge My temples here with heavy sedge, Abandoning my lazy side, Stretched as a bank unto the tide, Or to suspend my sliding foot On the osier's undermined root, And in its branches tough to hang, While at my lines the fishes twang? But now away, my hooks, my quills, And angles, idle utensils! The young MARIA walks to-night;

'Tis she that to these gardens gave That wondrous beauty which they have; She straightness 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, straight, and fair Than gardens, woods, meads, rivers are.

This 'tis to have been from the first In a domestic heaven nursed, Under the discipline severe Of FAIRFAX, and the starry VERE; Where not one object can come nigh But pure, and spotless as the eye, And goodness doth itself entail On females, if there want a male."

This poem, having a biographical value, I have quoted at, perhaps, too great length. Other poems of this garden-period of Marvell's life are better known. His own English version of his Latin poem Hortus contains lovely stanzas:—

"How vainly men themselves amaze To win the palm, the oak, or bays; And their uncessant labours see Crowned from some single herb or tree, Whose short and narrow-verged shade Does prudently their toils upbraid; While all the flowers and trees do close, To weave the garlands of Repose!

Fair Quiet, have I found thee here, And Innocence, thy sister dear? Mistaken long, I sought you then In busy companies of men. Your sacred plants, if here below, Only among the plants will grow; Society is all but rude To this delicious solitude.

No white nor red was ever seen So amorous as this lovely green.

What wond'rous 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, Insnared with flowers, I fall on grass.

Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less, Withdraws into its happiness;— The mind, that ocean where each kind Does straight its own resemblance find;— Yet it creates, transcending these, Far other worlds, and other seas, Annihilating all that's made To a green thought in a green shade."[46:1]

Well known as are Marvell's lines to his Coy Mistress, I have not the heart to omit them, so eminently characteristic are they of his style and humour:—

"Had we but world enough and time, This coyness, lady, were no crime. We would sit down and think which way To walk, and pass our long love's day. Thou by the Indian Ganges' side Should'st rubies find: I by the tide Of Humber would complain. I would Love you ten years before the Flood, And you should, if you please, refuse Till the conversion of the Jews. My vegetable love should grow Vaster than empires and more slow. An hundred years should go to praise Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze; Two hundred to adore each breast, But thirty thousand to the rest; An age at least to every part, And the last age should show your heart. For, lady, you deserve this state, Nor would I love at lower rate. But at my back I always hear Time's winged chariot hurrying near, And yonder all before us lie Deserts of vast eternity. Thy beauty shall no more be found, Nor in thy marble vault shall sound My echoing song; then worms shall try That long-preserved virginity, And your quaint honour turn to dust, And into ashes all my lust. The grave's a fine and private place, But none, I think, do there embrace. Now, therefore, while the youthful hue Sits on thy skin like morning dew, And while thy willing soul transpires At every pore with instant fires, Now, let us sport us while we may; And now, like amorous birds of prey, Rather at once our time devour, Than languish in his slow-chapt power! Let us roll all our strength, and all Our sweetness up into one ball; And tear our pleasures with rough strife, Through the iron gates of life! Thus, though we cannot make our sun Stand still, yet we will make him run."

Mr. Aitken's valuable edition of Marvell's poems and satires can now be had of all booksellers for two shillings,[47:1] and with these volumes in his possession the judicious reader will be able to supply his own reflections whilst life beneath the sun is still his. Poetry is a personal matter. The very canons of criticism are themselves literature. If we like the Ars Poetica, it is because we enjoy reading Horace.


[20:1] For an account of Flecknoe, see Southey's Omniana, i. 105. Lamb placed some fine lines of Flecknoe's at the beginning of the Essay A Quakers' Meeting.

[24:1] Grosart, vol. iii. p. 175.

[24:2] See preface to Religio Laici, Scott's Dryden, vol. x. p. 27.

[24:3] Jeremy Collier in his Historical Dictionary (1705) describes Marvell, to whom he allows more space (though it is but a few lines) than he does to Shakespeare, "as to his opinion he was a dissenter." In Collier's opinion Marvell may have been no better than a dissenter, but in fact he was a Churchman all his life, and it was Collier who lived to become a non-juror and a dissenter, and a schismatical bishop to boot.

[31:1] Life of Lord Fairfax, by C.R. Markham (1870), p. 365.

[35:1] The fifth edition is dated 1703.

[46:1] Many a reader has made his first acquaintance with Marvell on reading these lines in the Essays of Elia (The Old Benchers of the Inner Temple).

[47:1] Poems and Satires of Andrew Marvell, 2 vols. Routledge, 1905.



When Andrew Marvell first made John Milton's acquaintance is not known. They must both have had common friends at or belonging to Cambridge. Fairfax may have made the two men known to each other, although it is just as likely that Milton introduced Marvell to Fairfax. All we know is that when the engagement at Nunappleton House came to an end, Marvell, being then minded to serve the State in some civil capacity, applied to the Secretary for Foreign Tongues for what would now be called a testimonial, which he was fortunate enough to obtain in the form of a letter to the Lord-President of the Council, John Bradshaw. Milton seems always to have liked Bradshaw, who was not generally popular even on his own side, and in the Defensio Secunda pro populo Anglicano extols his character and attainments in sonorous latinity. Bradshaw had become in February 1649 the first President of the new Council of State, which, after the disappearance of the king and the abolition of the House of Lords, took over the burden of the executive, and claimed the right to scrape men's consciences by administering to anybody it chose an oath requiring them to approve of what the House of Commons had done against the king, and of their abolition of kingly government and of the House of Peers, and that the legislative and supreme power was wholly in the House of Commons.

Before the creation of this Council the duties of Latin Secretary to the Parliament had been discharged by Georg Rudolph Weckherlin, a German diplomat who had married an Englishwoman. He retired in bad health at this time, and Milton was appointed to his place in 1649. When, later on, the sight of the most illustrious of all our civil servants failed him, Weckherlin returned to the office as Milton's assistant. In December 1652 ill-health again compelled Weckherlin's retirement.[49:1]

Milton's letter to Bradshaw, who had made his home at Eton, is dated February 21, 1653, and is as follows:—

"MY LORD,—But that it would be an interruption to the public wherein your studies are perpetually employed, I should now and then venture to supply thus my enforced absence with a line or two, though it were onely my business, and that would be no slight one, to make my due acknowledgments of your many favours; which I both do at this time and ever shall; and have this farther, which I thought my part to let you know of, that there will be with you to-morrow upon some occasion of business a gentleman whose name is Mr. Marvile, a man whom both by report and the converse I have had with him of singular desert for the State to make use of, who also offers himself, if there be any employment for him. His father was the Minister of Hull, and he hath spent four years abroad in Holland, France, Italy, and Spain to very good purpose, as I believe, and the gaining of these four languages, besides he is a scholer and well-read in the Latin and Greek authors, and no doubt of an approved conversation, for he now comes lately out of the house of the Lord Fairfax, who was Generall, where he was intrusted to give some instructions in the languages to the Lady, his daughter. If upon the death of Mr. Weckerlyn the Councell shall think that I shall need any assistance in the performance of my place (though for my part I find no encumbrance of that which belongs to me, except it be in point of attendance at Conferences with Ambassadors, which I must confess in my condition I am not fit for) it would be hard for them to find a man so fit every way for that purpose as this gentleman: one who, I believe, in a short time would be able to do them as much service as Mr. Ascan. This, my Lord, I write sincerely without any other end than to perform my duty to the publick in helping them to an humble servant; laying aside those jealousies and that emulation which mine own condition might suggest to me by bringing in such a coadjutor; and remain, my Lord, your most obliged and faithful servant, JOHN MILTON.

"Feb. 21, 1652 (O.S.)."

Addressed: "For the Honourable the Lord Bradshawe."

No handsomer testimonial than this was ever penned. It was unsuccessful. When Milton wrote to Bradshaw, Weckherlin was in fact dead, and on his retirement in the previous December, John Thurloe, the very handy Secretary of the Council, had for the time assumed Weckherlin's duties, and obtained on that score an addition to his salary. No actual vacancy, therefore, occurred on Weckherlin's death. None the less, shortly afterwards, Philip Meadows, also a Cambridge man, was appointed Milton's assistant, and Marvell had to wait four years longer for his place.

When Marvell's connection with Eton first began is not to be ascertained. His friend, John Oxenbridge, who had been driven from his tutorship at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, by Laud in 1634 to

"Where the remote Bermudas ride,"

but had returned home, became in 1652 a Fellow of Eton College. Oliver St. John, who at this time was Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, and had married Oxenbridge's sister, was known to Marvell, and may have introduced him to his brother-in-law. At all events Marvell frequently visited Eton, where, however, he had the good sense to frequent not merely the cloisters, but the poor lodgings where the "ever memorable" John Hales, ejected from his fellowship, spent the last years of his life.

"I account it no small honour to have grown up into some part of his acquaintance and conversed awhile with the living remains of one of the clearest heads and best prepared breasts in Christendom."[51:1]

Hales died in 1656, and his Golden Remains were first published three years later. Marvell's words of panegyric are singularly well chosen. It is a curious commentary upon the confused times of the Civil War and Restoration that perhaps never before, and seldom, if ever, since, has England contained so many clear heads and well-prepared breasts as it did then. Small indeed is the influence of men of thought upon their immediate surroundings.

The Lord Bradshaw, we know, had a home in Eton, and on the occasion of one of Marvell's evidently frequent visits to the Oxenbridges, Milton entrusted him with a letter to Bradshaw and a presentation copy of the Secunda defensio. Marvell delivered both letter and book, and seems at once to have informed the distinguished author that he had done so. But alas for the vanity of the writing man! The sublime poet, who in his early manhood had composed Lycidas, and was in his old age to write Paradise Lost, demanded further and better particulars as to the precise manner in which the chief of his office received, not only the book, but the letter which accompanied it. Nobody is now left to think much of Bradshaw, but in 1654 he was an excellent representative of the class Carlyle was fond of describing as the alors celebre. Prompted by this desire, Milton must have written to Marvell hinting, as he well knew how to do, his surprise at the curtness of his friend's former communication, and Marvell's reply to this letter has come down to us. It is Marvell's glory that long before Paradise Lost he recognised the essential greatness of the blind secretary, and his letter is a fine example of the mode of humouring a great man. Be it remembered, as we read, that this letter was not addressed to one of the greatest names in literature, but to a petulant and often peevish scholar, living of necessity in great retirement, whose name is never once mentioned by Clarendon, and about whom the voluminous Thurloe, who must have seen him hundreds of times, has nothing to say except that he was "a blind man who wrote Latin letters." Odder still, perhaps, Richard Baxter, whose history of his own life and times is one of the most informing books in the world, never so much as mentions the one and only man whose name can, without any violent sense of unfitness, be given to the age about which Baxter was writing so laboriously.

1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse