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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Critical and Biographical Introduction

By Andrew Marvell (1621–1678)

ANDREW MARVELL has been described as of medium height, sturdy and thick-set, with bright dark eyes, and pleasing, rather reserved expression.

He was born in 1621, at Winestead, near Hull, in Yorkshire. His father was master of the grammar school, and there Andrew was prepared for Trinity College, Cambridge. But a boyish escapade led to his expulsion before the completion of his university course, and for several years he lived abroad; visiting France, Holland, Spain, and Italy, and improving his mind “to very good purpose,” as his friend John Milton said admiringly. He returned to become tutor to Lord Fairfax’s young daughter, and lived at Nun Appleton near Hull. He was an ardent lover of nature, finding rest and refreshment in its color and beauty, noting the lilt of a bird or the texture of a blossom with a happy zest which recalls the songs of the Elizabethans. Much of his pastoral verse was written at this period. But his energetic nature soon tired of country calm. His connection with Lord Fairfax had made him known in Roundhead circles, and he left Nun Appleton, appointed by Cromwell tutor to his young ward Mr. Dutton, and afterwards engaged in politics. His native Hull elected him to Parliament three times; and he is said to have been the last member to receive wages—two shillings a day—for his services. So well did he satisfy his constituents that they continued him a pension until his death in 1678. His public career was distinguished for fearless integrity; and an often quoted instance of this describes Lord Treasurer Danby sent by Charles II. to seek out the poet in his poverty-stricken lodgings off the Strand, with enticing offers to join the court party. These Marvell stoutly declined; although the story adds that as soon as his flattering visitor had gone he was forced to send out for the loan of a guinea.

Marvell’s satiric prose was too bitter and too personal not to arouse great animosity, and he was often forced to circulate it in manuscript or have it secretly printed. The vigorous style suggests Swift; and mingled with coarse invective and frequent brutalities there is sledge-hammer force of wit,—much of which, however, is lost to the modern reader from the fact that the issues involved are now forgotten.

The great objects of Marvell’s veneration were Cromwell and Milton. He knew them personally, was the associate of Milton at the latter’s request, and these master minds inspired some of his finest verse. He has been called “the poet of the Protectorate”; and perhaps no one has spoken more eloquently upon Cromwell than he in his ‘Horatian Ode’ and ‘Death of Cromwell.’ It is interesting to note that Milton and Cromwell admired and respected Marvell’s talents, and that the former suggested in all sincerity that he himself might find matter for envy in the achievement of the lesser poet.

Marvell “was eminently afflicted with the gift of wit or ingenuity much prized in his time,” says Goldwin Smith. His fanciful artificialities, reflecting the contemporary spirit of Waller and Cowley, are sometimes tedious to modern taste. But in sincerer moods he could write poems whose genuine feeling, descriptive charm, and artistic skill are still as effective as ever.