Although the century which followed Andrew Marvell's death remembered him primarily as a politician and a pamphleteer, this gifted poet is responsible for some of the most brilliant lyric exploration of his time. World Enough and Time is an extensive biography written by Nicholas Murray, a biographer whose literary scholarship and political astuteness matches that of his subject.
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About the Author
Nicholas Murray has written acclaimed biographies of Bruce Chatwin and Matthew Arnold (SMP 1996). He is married and lives in Powys, Wales.
Nicholas Murray has written biographies of Bruce Chatwin, Matthew Arnold, and Andrew Marvell. Born in Liverpool, he now lives in London and Wales.
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World Enough and Time
The Life of Andrew Marvell
By Nicholas Murray
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1999 Nicholas Murray
All rights reserved.
By the Tide of Humber
... a certain Jack Gentleman that was born of pure parents, and bred among Cabin-boys ...
In the early part of the seventeenth century the flat peninsula of Holderness in the East Riding of Yorkshire, which extends south-eastwards between the Humber estuary and the North Sea and ends in the wispy curlicue of land known as Spurn Head, might have looked much as it does today. Changes in agricultural practice combined with the ravages of Dutch elm disease have perhaps left it a little more bare and unwooded, but it is still the peculiarly exposed and low-lying tract of country alluded to in the opening couplet of Chaucer's Somnour's Tale:
Lordinges, ther is in Yorkshire, as I gesse,
A mersshy contree called Holdernesse.
A later Elizabethan satirist, Joseph Hall, referred in his Virgidemiarum, to 'the wastes of Holderness' and Marvell's first modern biographer, Pierre Legouis, would find the landscape, in the 1920s, 'plate et triste'. It is also the landscape of Philip Larkin's poem, 'Here', from The Whitsun Weddings. A saying can still be heard on the lips of local farmers today: 'The plains of Holderness, where the winds whistle.'
It was to this bleak spot that the Reverend Andrew Marvell, father of the poet, came on 23 April 1614 to receive, from Sir Christopher Hildyard, the head of the local landed family, the living of the Church of St Germain, Winestead-in-Holderness. It is a small, dumpy church, twelfth-century in origin, half-hidden behind trees, and it was in the rectory, long since demolished, that Andrew Marvell was born on Easter Eve, 1621. His father had previously held the post of minister at Flamborough, where he had arrived from Cambridgeshire in 1610.
Although the Reverend Andrew Marvell had been born in the Cambridgeshire village of Meldreth, where a half-timbered house called 'The Marvells' (later Meldreth Court) was still standing at the end of the nineteenth century, his ancestors came from the nearby village of Shepreth. In the first of many variations of the family's name, in the sixteenth century 'Merwell' was possibly derived, in that country of meers and fens, from 'meer-well'. In October 1528 a John Marwell left a will that included, for the high altar of All Saints Church, Shepreth, '2 bushells of Barley for tythes forgotten' and also 'a cowe for my yearly memory'. In October 1531 another equally pious provision to the church was made by a John Marvell, together with four sheep for each of his daughters. And Thomas Mervell in February 1543 continued this tradition of family piety with similar bequests. Although these wills appear to indicate a traditional religiosity and Mariolatry, a marked Puritan strain would soon emerge in the Marvells.
The Reverend Andrew Marvell was sent to the most Puritan of Cambridge colleges at that time, Emmanuel, where he took his MA degree in 1608. It seems likely that the clergyman's father was one of a group of local residents who refused to pay a forced loan levied by Charles I without Parliamentary authority in 1627. A list of local defaulters, sent to London on 13 October of that year by one of the county Commissioners for the loan, contains the name of an Andrew Marvell, assessed to pay £2. Written against his name are the words 'Removed into Yorkshire'. This is almost certainly the 'Andrew Marvell, yeoman' whose name is in the burial register at Holy Trinity, Hull for 13 April 1628. The poet's grandfather, who thus died a year after the family moved from Meldreth to Humberside, was patently no Royalist. His grandson would later call that loan, and the ecclesiastical backing for it, one of the major causes of the Civil War.
Marvell later wrote, in the second part of his prose polemic against the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Parker, The Rehearsal Transpros'd (1673):
But as to my Father, he dyed before ever the War broke out, having lived with some measure of reputation, both for Piety and Learning: and he was moreover a Conformist to the established Rites of the Church of England, though I confess none of the most over-running or eager in them.
Thomas Fuller, author of The Worthies of England (1622), wrote of the Reverend Andrew Marvell, as a clergyman, 'for his lifetime he was well beloved. Most facetious in hisdiscourse, yet grave in his carriage, a most excellent preacher, who like a good husband never broached what he had new brewed, but preached what he had pre-studied some competent time before. Insomuch that he was wont to say that he would cross the common proverb which called Saturday the working day, and Munday the holy day of preachers.' Abraham de la Prynne called the poet's father: 'a Verry Learned, Ingenious & Florid Man'. All these comments suggest that the liveliness of humour and anti-Establishment temper, coupled to an underlying seriousness, that characterised the son were qualities also present in the father.
On 22 October 1612, the Reverend Andrew Marvell married Anne Pease at Cherry Burton, near Flamborough. Their first daughter, Anne, was born in 1615, the year after the move to Winestead. Mary was born in 1616, and Elizabeth in 1618. The two elder sisters would later marry into the Hull merchant aristocracy, ensuring good business and parliamentary contacts for their younger brother when he became an MP for the town.
Andrew was born on 31 March 1621, on Holy Saturday, and he was baptised by his father in the thirteenth-century Winestead font on 5 April. His antagonist of adult years, Bishop Samuel Parker, the source of the more vividly disparaging comments we have about Marvell, would call him 'an hunger-starved whelp of a country vicar' (the charitable epithet emerging from the comfort of a well-endowed Kentish rectory) but there is no evidence of any poverty in the family or meagreness in the living. The boy's godfather was John Duncalfe of adjoining Patrington, who later left the sixteen-year-old poet ten shillings in his will. The parson entered his son's name in the church register with the words: 'Andrewe the sonne of Andrew Marvell borne Martij ultimo, being Easter-even, was baptized Apr: 5to.' Although a respected minister to the small flock of thirty families, the Reverend Andrew Marvell had been summoned by the Archbishop in 1619 'for suffering the Winestead chancell to be in ruine, being parson there'. He appeared in person but the case was dismissed when it was stated that he had already made the necessary repairs.
In 1623 a younger brother, John, was born, but he died the following year aged one, ten days before the Reverend Andrew Marvell was appointed to the post of 'lecturer' or assistant preacher at Holy Trinity Church in the centre of Hull. After three years spent in the rectory garden of Winestead, Andrew and his family moved to the city with which he would be associated throughout his life.
In addition to his post as lecturer at Holy Trinity, the Reverend Andrew Marvell was made Master of the Charterhouse charitable foundation, known also as God's House, where his official presentation was sealed on 2 October 1624. The Marvells lived just outside the city walls in the Master's lodgings, an obligation of the Reverend Andrew Marvell's appointment and from where he was not allowed to be absent without first obtaining the permission of the Corporation. Wenceslaus Hollar's engraving of Hull, done in about 1640, shows the Charterhouse as a cluster of buildings with three walled gardens. The site extended to about one and a half acres on the banks of the River Hull, and was once part of a neighbouring Carthusian priory, dissolved in 1539. It was inhabited during the early part of the century by the Alured family. Andrew Marvell would thus live for his first twelve years surrounded by gardens, among 'a prospect of flowers', commuting daily into town to attend lessons at Hull Grammar School. Both the priory and the Charterhouse were demolished in September 1643 by order of Ferdinando, Lord Fairfax, the Governor of the Hull garrison, who feared that the Royalist forces might use them as a siege-point.
That Andrew attended Hull Grammar School seems certain, though no actual record of his attendance exists, the admissions register not having been started until 1635. The school's historian, John Lawson, suggests that 'Andrew Marvell's connection with the school is as probable and as unprovable as Shakespeare's with that at Stratford-on-Avon.' He probably attended the school between 1629 and 1633, and an early legend that his father – in spite of his crowded life as a preacher, charity administrator and performer of good works – was his teacher at the grammar school is clearly unfounded. Marvell himself, in later life, referred in print to his having scanned Latin verses 'at Grammar School' and there was only one grammar school in Hull. In the seventeenth century, about forty or fifty boys attended Hull Grammar School, most of whom lived within walking distance and who were aged from seven or eight years old to fourteen or sixteen. Samuel Parker's later gibes at Marvell's 'first unhappy Education among Boatswains and Cabin-Boys'would seem a little wide of the mark for the curriculum was, as John Lawson describes it, formidable: 'The aim was a simple one: to teach boys to write and speak the best Latin, to read and write Greek, and to a less extent Hebrew, and to season them in the Bible and the doctrines of the Church of England.' The boys read Cicero, Aesop, Ovid's Metamorphoses, Erasmus, Terence, Virgil, Horace, Homer, Hesiod, Aristophanes, Plutarch, and many more. Marvell's wide and easy command of Latin and the classical authors, evident in both poetry and prose, plainly had its origins here, though he conceded that the 'liberal Art' of scanning Latin verses was practised 'before we did, or were oblidged to understand them'.
No doubt the regime was strict, but Marvell cannot have harboured any resentments against his first schooling for he would come to censure those who spent the rest of their lives replaying grievances against their teachers: 'I never remarked so irreconcilable and implacable a spirit as that of Boyes against their Schoolmasters or Tutors,' he wrote in 1672. 'The quarrels of their Education have an influence upon their Memories and Understandings for ever after. They cannot speak of their Teachers with any patience or civility: and their discourse is never so flippant, nor their Wits so fluent, as when you put them upon that Theme.' Instead, games were played in the school garden or along the riverside wharves. He must also have seen the Artillery Yard which he later recalled in a letter to the Hull Corporation: 'I cannot but remember, though then a child, those blessed days, when the youth of our town were trained for your militia.'
Andrew's father seems to have been an efficient and enterprising administrator of the hospital, which was designed to support thirteen men and thirteen women. His duties as lecturer were to preach in the church on the afternoons of alternate Sundays and Wednesdays. Anthony Wood called the preacher 'the facetious, yet Calvinistical, minister of Kingston upon Hull in Yorkshire' and it is clear that, in the religious climate of the day, when attempts were being made to enforce religious conformity against the tendency of 'Calvinistical' preaching, the Reverend Andrew Marvell, though popular with the Hull burgesses who appointed him, was likely to clash with the Church hierarchy eventually. In 1639 he was disciplined by officials of the York diocese for not giving sufficient prominence before his weekly lecture to readings from the Prayer Book, an instrument then being used to curb the perceived excesses of the Puritan party. Shortly before this, however, he had consolidated his reputation by preaching at the funeral of the Mayor of Hull, John Ramsden, who in 1637 had died in the terrible plague that killed nearly half the population of Hull as it raged between 1635 and 1638, with an estimated 2,000 'reduced to beggary'. In addition to performing his duties fearlessly during the plague, the preacher, according to the eighteenth-century Hull historian Thomas Gent, on this occasion 'deliver'd to the mournful weeping congregation a most excellent Funeral Sermon (afterwards printed) in such pathetick moving oratory, that both prepar'd and comforted their hearts chearfully to bear whatever might happen to them in their lamentable condition'. Alexander Grosart, an early biographer and editor of Marvell's works, wrote in 1872, on the basis of some manuscript sermons of the Reverend Andrew Marvell that he claimed to have seen, a vignette of the preacher: 'A fiery-souled, audacious, intense nature, impatient of stupidity, plain-spoken to complacent ignorance and prejudice, wrathful to high-seated "bad" livers, yet withal pitiful and gracious and sparkling with wit'.
As early as 1625 the Reverend Andrew Marvell had clashed with the vicar of Holy Trinity, Richard Perrott, a High Church Anglican whose attempts to repair and revive the use of the church organ were not encouraged by his largely Puritan flock. Evidence of his willingness to engage in an argument – a characteristic his son would learn to share – also comes in letters he exchanged with a local man, Richard Harrington. The source of their quarrel is now obscure but Harrington wrote a splendidly choleric letter to the preacher on 17 April 1632: 'Your later letters are full stufte wth swellinge, (I may justly retorte), snarlinge, bitinge belching termes of disparadginge, false accusinge, rash censuringe, challengeinge, and threatinnge, all of which smell ranklie of a proud (to say noe worse) and hautie spiritt'. The Reverend Andrew Marvell replied laconically: 'Mr Harrington, You teach me to write shorter.'
The Reverend Andrew Marvell was a busy man, with plans for the improvement and development of the Charterhouse. In particular he planned to institute a library for the use of the Master, 'as an incouragement unto me in mine imployments', and for any other approved scholars in the town. 'Scholers,' he wrote to the Corporation, in a conceit worthy of his son, 'are like other tradesmen, they cannot worke w'thout tooles, nor, spider like, weave their web out of their own bellyes.' He offered to donate £35 worth of his own books to start the library off. In his dealings we can see the liberal outlook and shrewd practical spirit, the sheer competence in the administration of affairs that would be passed on to his son. Unfortunately, his life was cut short before his plans could be realised.
The account of the death of the Reverend Andrew Marvell has been improved in the telling and has no independent verification. Fuller's account was the first:
It happened that, Anno Dom. 1640 [1641 in the modern calendar] Jan 23, crossing Humber in a Barrow-boat, the same was sand-warpt, and he (with Mrs. Skinner (daughter to Sir Ed. Coke) a very religious Gentlewoman) drowned therein, by thecarelessness (not to say drunkenness) of the boat-men, to the great grief of all good men.
Thomas Gent, in his History of Hull, adds a further detail about 'a violent storm' that upset the boat and swept away all remains of the preacher and Mrs Skinner. He also introduces into the account, and the boat, 'a young beautiful couple who were going to be wedded'. A later biographer, Hartley Coleridge, attempting to deal with the historical fact that Mrs Skinner did not die in this incident, suggests that it was her daughter who did so. He writes that Mrs Skinner was 'a lady whose virtue and good sense recommended her to the esteem of Mr Marvell' with a dutiful daughter to whom she was so attached that she could not bear to be parted from her. Nonetheless, she agreed to allow her daughter to cross the Humber with the preacher so she could stand godmother to one of his children, an implausible detail since his last living child, Andrew, had been baptised on 5 April 1621, nineteen years previously. On her return the boatmen advised that the weather would make a crossing dangerous, but the young woman, thinking of how anxious her mother would be, insisted. The Reverend Andrew Marvell felt bound to accompany her and, before entering the boat, threw his gold-headed cane ashore with the cry: 'Ho for Heaven!' and, scenting the danger, asked his friends who had come to see him off to ensure that if anything happened to him his son would receive the cane in memory of his father. There is no mention in this account of 'the beautiful couple', unless Mrs Skinner's daughter was accompanied by her betrothed. The only certain fact is that the Reverend Andrew Marvell died, leaving his nineteen-year-old son, then in his last year at Cambridge, fatherless.
Excerpted from World Enough and Time by Nicholas Murray. Copyright © 1999 Nicholas Murray. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Table of Contents
1: By the Tide of Humber,
2: Cringes and Genuflexions,
3: At the Sign of the Pelican,
4: The World's Disjointed Axle,
5: The Batteries of Alluring Sense,
6: Green Thoughts,
7: A Gentleman Whose Name is Marvell,
8: A Fine and Private Place,
9: A Good Man For the State to Make Use Of,
10: I Saw Him Dead,
11: His Majesties Happy Return,
12: A Breach of the Peace,
13: Beyond Sea,
14: Peasants and Mechanicks,
15: Sober English Valour,
16: An Idol of State,
17: The Faults and the Person,
18: Arbitrary Malice,
19: Our Mottly Parliament,
20: A Gracious Declaration,
22: Rosemary and Bays,
23: A Shoulder of Mutton,
24: Tinkling Rhyme,
25: The Late Embezzlements,
26: Divines in Mode,
27: This Sickly Time,
28: No Popery,
29: A Death in Bloomsbury,
30: The Island's Watchful Sentinel,
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