Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
 
Critical Introduction by W. P. Ker
Andrew Marvell (1621–1678)
 
[Andrew Marvell (1621–1678) was carried away from his poetry by political interests and controversies. His poems belong for the most part to the two years (1650–1652) which he spent at Nun Appleton as tutor to Lord Fairfax’s daughter Mary. The verse of his later years is in satirical couplets, sometimes vigorous enough, with a spirit unlike that of his contemplative youth. His remarkable prose essays were written in answer to certain pieces of ecclesiastical theory which seemed to Marvell to make too great pretentions. The Rehearsal Transprosed (1672) was an attack on Samuel Parker, Archdeacon of Canterbury (afterwards Bishop of Oxford), for his Ecclesiastical Polity (1670), as well as for other arguments proving “the mischiefs and inconvenience of Toleration.” A number of apologists for Parker came out to punish Marvell, who answered them in a second part of the Rehearsal Transprosed (1672). In 1676 Marvell found another subject in the Master of St. John’s College, Cambridge, who had written Animadversions on the Naked Truth. The Naked Truth, or the True State of the Primitive Church was a plea for reconciliation with Nonconformists, published by Bishop Croft of Hereford in 1675. Marvell’s answer to the Animadversions is the best of his prose writings, the title of which, Mr. Smirke, or the Divine in Mode, was suggested by Etheridge’s new comedy, the Man of Mode, or Sir Fopling Flutter. A Short Historical Essay touching General Councils, Creeds, and Impositions in Religion, forms part of the volume. Marvell also wrote an Account of the Growth of Popery and Arbitrary Government in England, more particularly from the Long Prorogation of November 1675, ending the 15th of February 1676, till the last Meeting of Parliament the 16th of July 1677 (1677); and a defence of John Howe, Remarks upon a late disingenuous Discourse writ by me, T. D——, by a Protestant (1678).  1
  Marvell was elected Member of Parliament for Hull in 1659, and wrote a number of newsletters to his constituents between 1660 and the year of his death. The Poems, Satires, Prose Essays, and Correspondence have been edited by Dr. Grosart in his Fuller Worthies Library (1872–1875).]  2
 
THE Rehearsal Transprosed and Mr. Smirke may still be read, but to come to them from The Garden and from Appleton House, is even a sorrier business than to pass from Milton’s early poems into the thick of the warfare with Salmasius. Marvell can rail as well as Milton, but he has not Milton’s dignity of anger at its highest. Both, in dealing with their adversaries, seem fully possessed by Dante’s opinion that it is courtesy to spurn them in the face; and both seem to be pleased, as Dante is not, with the poor sport. Milton often makes some amends for this by the magnificence of his invective, but Marvell does not attempt to follow him. And even considered as invective, scolding, railing, “flyting” (or whatever may be the right term for this, one of the oldest kinds of literature in the world), the Rehearsal Transprosed is apt to drag and grow wearisome. It is not as good as some things in Marvell’s satiric couplets. The lines on Holland have more of the true Fescennine license in them; none of the jokes in prose are as good as the opening of An Historical Poem:
        “Of a tall stature, and of sable hue,
Much like the son of Kish, that lofty Jew,
Twelve years complete he suffered in exile,
And kept his father’s asses all the while.”
The Proclamation of “Bayes R.”—a Declaration for the tolerating of Debauchery—is the liveliest part of the Rehearsal Transprosed—a travesty of a solemn proclamation, bringing together all the fallacies picked out by Marvell from Parker’s argument, especially, the theory that private vice is rather to be encouraged in the State than Nonconformity.
  3
  The serious part of the case against Parker is too much obscured and overlaid with railing accusations; but sometimes Marvell lets “Bayes” alone, and argues more gravely than usual:—  4
  “But you, not content to have said that the ‘magistrate hath power to make that a particular of the Divine Law which God hath not made so,’ do avowedly and plainly make all human laws that do not countenance vice, or disgrace the Deity, to be particulars of the Divine Law,… and that ‘all laws, civil as well as ecclesiastical, equally oblige the conscience,’ and upon pain of damnation. So that hereby whatsoever is enacted on earth is at the same time enacted in heaven. Every law carries along with it the pain of excommunication. Whatsoever the magistrate binds in earth is bound in heaven: and he delivers every man who transgresses in cart-wheels and the number of horses in his team, or that buries not in flannel, over to Satan.”—Rehearsal Transprosed, Part ii. ed. Grosart, p. 395.)  5
  Here the fencing is good, the attack is not a noisy one. Marvell, in this and in some other places, by his close reasoning, and his self-command, makes his readers wish that Bayes and the Rehearsal had been out of the argument. It is thus, and not by anything like Milton’s solemn denunciations, that Marvell shows his real strength.  6
  The Divine in Mode is very much better than the Rehearsal Transprosed: there is more irony and less irrelevance. The comic invention is more effective: this passage on the author of the Animadversions is redeemed by one phrase from mere commonplace mockery:—  7
  “And indeed the Animadverter hath many times in the day such fits take him, wherein he is lifted up in the air, that six men cannot hold him down; tears, raves, and foams at the mouth, casts up all kind of trash, sometimes speaks Greek and Latin, that no man but would swear he is bewitched.”  8
  There is great comfort also in the allusion to “the primitive times,” “when the Defenders of the Faith were all heathens, and most of them persecutors of Christianity.”  9
  One of the best continuous passages of Marvell’s prose is that which opens the description of Mr. Smirke. The “voluntary humility” of it, the carefulness not to exact too much from the other side, the irony, which one misses in the earlier book, may be found in this one, at any rate in the beginning of it.  10
  “For all are not of my mind, who could never see any elevated to that dignity [of Bishop], but I presently conceived a greater opinion of his wit than ever I had formerly.”  11
  “However it goes with excommunication, they should take good heed to what manner of person they delegate the keys of Laughter. It is not every man that is qualified to sustain the dignity of the Church’s jester.”  12
  This same passage, in praising the original essay of the Bishop of Hereford, rises to one of the few heights of serious eloquence to be found in Marvell’s prose, where for a moment he converses again, in a sudden lull of the storm of controversy, with the Ideas of Truth and Justice, and once again his mind, as in the Platonic rapture of the Garden, “withdraws into its happiness.” Passages of this sort, however, are as uncommon in the prose essays as in the satires of Marvell.  13
  The Account of the Growth of Arbitrary Government is much less emphatic, and at the same time a more elaborate piece of argument and historical exposition, than the earlier treatises. Addressed as it is “to all English Protestants,” it escapes the temptation of the more personal controversies, and can afford to be generous to the old Cavaliers and the English Catholics, contrasting them with “such as lie under no temptation of religion,” “obliged by all the most sacred ties of malice and ambition to advance the ruin of the king and kingdom, and qualified much better than others, under the name of good Protestants, to effect it.”  14
  In the style of Marvell’s prose, as in the style of his satiric couplets, there are the marks of hesitation between two different manners. He is sometimes clear, quick, and succinct, sometimes he falls back into the heavier manner of the older writers. His vocabulary is various. His practice on “Bayes” involved a good deal of slang; his satiric medley is dashed with a number of spices from different languages, even from the Malay. He uses, without distress, the heavier Latin armoury—“it is not wisdom in the Church to pretend to, or however to exercise, that power of angariating men further than their occasions or understandings will permit.” His reference in one place to “the music and cadence of the period” is significant.  15
 
 
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