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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

III. Political and Ecclesiastical Satire

§ 14. Prose Satires: The Rehearsal Transpros’d

Meanwhile, a straggling and feebler race of prose satires existed under the shadow of the poems and ballads. Its comparatively scanty numbers and its weakly condition were, may be, due to the fact that prose satire could not be disentangled without difficulty from sober argument. The sixteenth century pamphleteer kept no terms with his political or ecclesiastical adversaries. His reasoning is interlarded with invective, and, if possible, with ridicule. Yet the serious content of his tract may remain obvious, and a few traits of satire are not sufficient to change its classification. In tracing the course of pure satire, therefore, we are left mostly to a series of second-rate pamphlets, the authors of which, it would seem, were distrustful of their argumentative powers and unable to employ the more popular device of rime.

One amphibious contribution, The Rehearsal Transpros’d (1672–3), of Andrew Marvell, deserves mention on its satiric aspect. Though that book belongs essentially to the region of serious political controversy, its author’s design of discrediting his opponent by ridicule and contumely is too apparent throughout for it to be excluded from satire. As such, it possesses undeniable merits. Marvell understood the difficult art of bantering the enemy. He rakes up Parker’s past history, sometimes with a subdued fun—as when he says that his victim, in his puritan youth, was wont to put more graves in his porridge than the other fasting “Grewellers”—sometimes with a more strident invective. He can rise to a fine indignation when he describes Parker’s ingratitude to Milton. And there is a shrewdness in his humour which brings over the reader to his side. Yet, with all this, the wit of his book is the elder cavilling wit of the chop-logic kind. It is a succession of quips, which need a genius not possessed by Marvell to keep their savour amidst a later generation. That he had high powers in humorous comedy was shown in his parody of Charles II, His Majesty’s Most Gracious Speech to Both Houses of Parliament (1675). Its audacious mockery and satiric grasp of a situation preserve its fun from evaporating, and exhibit a dramatic faculty we barely expect in the musing poet of The Garden.