Andrew Marvell

Andrew Marvell

Andrew Marvell, the son of a vicar, was born at Winestead-in-Holderness, in 1621. When he was a child the family moved to Hull and Marvell attended the local grammar school. In 1633 Marvell went to Trinity College, Cambridge.

After leaving university Marvell toured Europe visiting Holland, France, Italy and Spain. Although he spent most of the Civil War out of the country he was a strong supporter of Parliament and in 1650 he wrote a poem praising Oliver Cromwell, entitled Horatian Ode Upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland. Marvel also worked as tutor to the children of Sir Thomas Fairfax. His poem, Upon Appleton House, celebrated the retirement of Fairfax from the world of public affairs.

With the help of his friend, John Milton, Marvell became Assistant Latin Secretary to the Council of State in 1657. Two years later he was elected to the House of Commons where he represented Hull.

After the Restoration Marvell was an outspoken critic of the government of Charles II. Marvell was especially opposed to its failure to promote religious toleration. During this period he spent much of his time living in Russia, Sweden and Denmark.

Marvell wrote several political and religious satires such as Clarindon's Housewarming, The Last Instructions to a Painter, The Loyal Scot, The Statue in Stocks-Market and The Rehearsal Transposed. However, because of his radical views, little of his work was published in his lifetime. Marvell's attack on the monarchy, Account of the Growth of Popery and Arbitrary Government, was published anonymously.

Andrew Marvell died of tertian ague in 1678. Three years later his book, Miscellaneous Poems, was published. This included Marvell's most famous work, the love poem To His Coy Mistress. This was followed by Poems on Affairs of State (1689).

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Andrew Marvell, Captain of the Commonwealth (1655)

Such was that wondrous order and consent,

When Cromwell tuned the ruling instrument;

While tedious statesmen many years did hack,

Framing a liberty that still went back;

Whose numerous gorge could swallow in an hour

That island, which the sea cannot devour:

Then our amphion issues out and sings,

And once he struck, and twice, the powerful strings.

The Commonwealth then first together came,

And each one entered in the willing frame;

All other Matter yields, and may be ruled;

But who the minds of stubborn men can build?

No Quarry bears a Stone so hardly wrought,

Nor with such labour from its centre brought;

None to be sunk in the foundation bends,

Each in the house the highest place contends,

And each the hand that lays him will direct,

And some fall back upon the architect;

Yet all composed by his attractive song,

Into the animated city throng.

The Commonwealth does through their centres all

Draw the Circumference of the public wall;

The grossest spirits here do take their part,

Fastening the contignation which they thwart;

And they, whose nature leads them to divide,

Uphold, this one, and that the other side;

But the most equal still sustain the height,

And they as pillars keep the work upright;

While the resistance of opposed minds,

The fabric as with arches stronger binds,

Which on the basis of a Senate free,

Knit by the roofs protecting weight agree.

When for his foot he thus a place had found,

He hurls ever since the world about him round;

And in his several aspects, like a star,

And in their numbered footsteps humbly tread

The path where holy oracles do lead;

How might they under such a captain raise,

The great designs kept for the latter days!

(2) Andrew Marvell, letter to a friend (1671)

The King having, upon pretence of the great preparations of his neighbours, demanded three hundred thousand pounds for his navy, (though in conclusion he hath not sent out any) and that the Parliament should pay his debts, which the ministers would never particularize to the House of Commons, our house gave several bills. You see how far things were stretched beyond reason, there being no satisfaction how these debts were contracted, and all men foreseeing that what was given would not be applied to discharge the debts, which I hear are at this day risen to four millions.

Nevertheless, such was the number of the constant courtiers, increased by the apostate patriots, who were bought off for that turn, some at six, others at ten, one at fifteen thousand pounds, in money; besides which, offices, lands, and reversions to others, that it is a mercy they gave not away the whole land and liberty of England. The Duke of Buckingham is again one hundred and forty thousand pounds in debt, and, by this prorogation, his creditors have time to tear all his lands in pieces. The House of Commons have run almost to the end of their time, and are grown extremely chargeable to the King, and odious to the people. They have signed and sealed ten thousand pounds a-year more to the Duchess of Cleveland, who has likewise ten thousand pounds out of the excise of beer and ale; five thousand pounds a year out of the post-office; and, they say, the reversion of all the king's leases, the reversion of all the places in the Customhouse, and, indeed, what not? All promotions, spiritual and temporal, pass under her cognizance.

(3) Andrew Marvell, Account of the Growth of Popery and Arbitrary Government in England (1678)

Whatsoever casual good hath been wrought at any time by the assimilation of ambitious, factious, and disappointed members, to the little, but solid, and unbiased party, the more frequent ill effects, and consequences of so unequal a mixture, so long continued, are demonstrable and apparent. For while scarce any man comes thither with respect to the public service, but in design to make and raise his fortune, it is not to be expressed, the debauchery and lewdness, which, upon occasion of election to Parliaments, are now grown habitual throw the nation. So that the vice, and the expense, are risen to such a prodigious height, that few sober men can endure to stand to be chosen on such conditions. From whence also arise feuds, and perpetual animosities, over most of the counties and corporations, while gentlemen of worth, spirit and ancient estates and dependences, see themselves over-powered in their own neighbourhood by the drunkness and bribery of their competitors. But if nevertheless any worthy person chance to carry the election, some mercenary or corrupt sheriff makes a double return, and so the cause is handed to the Committee of elections, who ask no better, but are ready to adopt his adversary into the House if he be not legitimate. And if the gentleman aggrieved seek his remedy against the sheriff of Westminster Hall, and the proofs be so palpable, that the King's Bench cannot invent how to do him injustice, yet the major part of the twelve judges shall upon better consideration vacate the sheriff's fine, and reverse the judgement; but those of them that dare dissent from their brethren are in danger to be turned off the bench without any cause assigned. While men therefore care not thus how they get into the House of Commons, neither can it be expected that they should make any conscience of what they do there, but they are only intent how to reimburse themselves (if their elections were at their own charge) or how to bargain their votes for a place or a pension. They list themselves straightway s into some Court faction, and it is as well known among them, to what Lord each of them retain, as when formerly they wore coats and badges. By this long haunting so together they are grown too so familiar among themselves, that all reverence of their own Assembly is lost, that they live together not like Parliament men, but like so many good fellows met together in a public house to make merry. And which is yet worse, by being so thoroughly acquainted, they understand their number and party, so that the use of so public a counsel is frustrated, there is no place for deliberation, no persuading by reason, but they can see one another's votes through both throats and cravats before they hear them.

(4) Andrew Marvell, To His Coy Mistress (1681)

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

Shouldst 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

Thorough the iron gates of life:

Thus, though we cannot make our sun

Stand still, yet we will make him run.