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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

VII. John Bunyan. Andrew Marvell

§ 9. Andrew Marvell

In passing from John Bunyan to Andrew Marvell we are conscious of making a great transition. There is a sense in which they have both been classed as puritans—Bunyan as the great puritan allegorist and Marvell as the one puritan of his age besides Milton who acquired distinction in poetry. They may even, through literary association, have been personally known to each other, for Nathanael Ponder, the first publisher of The Pilgrim’s Progress, was also, about the same time, publisher of the second part of Marvell’s Rehearsal Transprosed. But, if we class both as puritans, we must do so with a difference; for, when Marvell was born, in 1621, his father was parson of the parish of Winestead in Holderness, and all his life, as his son tells us, he was “a conformist to the rules and ceremonies of the Church of England, though, I confess, none of the most over-running and eager in them.” Moreover, this somewhat measured description of the ecclesiastical standing-place of the elder Andrew may very well be applied, also, to that of the younger. It is true that he was for three years tutor in the family of lord Fairfax, the parliamentary general, that he was Milton’s assistant as Latin secretary to Cromwell and that he was in close personal association with many parliamentarians; but it is also true that he numbered among his friends prince Rupert and Richard Lovelace. And, while he wrote an Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland, it must be remembered that in the same ode occur the memorable stanzas descriptive of Charles I’s kingly bearing on the scaffold, recording how

  • He nothing common did, or mean,
  • Upon that memorable scene,
  • But with his keener eye
  • The axe’s edge did try.
  • Nor called the gods with vulgar spite
  • To vindicate his helpless right;
  • But bowed his comely head
  • Down, as upon a bed.
  • Then, too, it may be further said that, though in strenuous and earnest language he resisted the attempts of Parker, afterwards bishop of Oxford, to stir up persecution against nonconformists, he himself expressly declares that he was not in the nonconformist ranks, that he merely wrote, to use his own words, “what I think befits all men in humanity, Christianity, and prudence towards dissenters.”

    Marvell, born 31 March, 1621, was educated at the Hull grammar school, of which his father became master in 1624, and, at the age of twelve, by the aid of an exhibition attached to the school, entered Cambridge, where he matriculated as a sizar of Trinity college, 14 December, 1633. On 13 April, 1638, he was admitted a scholar of his college and took his B.A. degree the same year.