« ZurückWeiter »
Marvell, however, was not a Puritan; and though he assailed the absolutism of Charles I., he was not a Republican. He served Cromwell as Milton's assistant ;* and after the Restoration, as a member of Parliament, would have given his support to the King's ministry, had the King's policy been honest and constitutional. He was as inflexible and as incorruptible as a Roman patriot. Everybody knows the story-how Charles II. once sent to him Danby, the Lord Treasurer, to offer him in return for his advocacy a place at Court and a thousand pounds. The member for Hull was poor, but he could not be induced to stain the whiteness of his soul by accepting a bribe; his only answer to the King's agent was to call his servant to bear witness that for three successive days he had dined on a shoulder of mutton.
As a poet Marvell has grace and fancy, wit and learning; he has some descriptive power and much earnestness of feeling; but he is very unequal, and his wit sometimes degenerates into an idle ingenuity. In his “ Britannia and Raleigh” he struck upon that vein of grave, ironical banter which was afterwards worked to such effect by Swift and Junius. He is seen at his best in “The Garden,” which, of its kind, is perfect; in “The Bermudas,” and “The Horatian Ode on Cromwell's
* In 1650 Marvell became tutor to Mary, the daughter of Sir Thomas Fairfax, the general of the Parliament; and it was probably through this engagement that he became personally known to Milton, who, in 1659, re. commended him to Bradshaw as Assistant-Secretary to the Council of State-speaking of him as a man of good family, well versed in French and Italian, Spanish and Dutch, a good scholar in Greek and Latin, and a man of so much capacity and so many accomplishments that, if he had had any feeling of jealousy or rivalry, he might have been slow to introduce him as a coadjutor. It was not until Cromwell's Protectorate that Marvell received his appointment.
Return from Ireland.” This last contains the wellknown picture of Charles I. on the scaffold :
“While round the armed bands
Did clap their bloody hands :
But with his keener eye
The axe's edge did try ;
Bat bowed his comely head
Down, as apon a bed.” Some good, strong lines occur in his poem upon Milton's “Paradise Lost,” which has a special interest as having been written by one of the poet's friends and intimate associates. “That majesty,” he says,
“That majesty which through thy work doth reign
Draws the devont, deterring the profane;
Rewards with prophecy thy loss of sight.” In the year that witnessed the publication of “Paradise Lost,”—Dryden's “ Annus Mirabilis,”—died Abraham Cowley, whose later life had been spent among the pleasant groves of Chertsey, and within hearing of the murmurous waters of the Thames. Born in 1618, he was the posthumous son of a London stationer. His mother did her best to get him a careful and comprehensive education ; and from Spenser's works, which lay constantly in her parlour, a cherished companion, the boy drank in his first poetical inspiration. While at Westminster School he wrote a pastoral comedy, called “ Love's Riddle ;” and in 1633 appeared his “Poetical Blossoms," with a portrait of the author at the age of thirteen. This juvenile volume contained “The Tragical History of Pyramus and Thisbe," written when he was ten, and “ Constantia and Philetus," written when he was thirteen years old.* From 1636 to 1643 he was a student at Trinity College, Cambridge; and when expelled on account of his royalist sympathies, he entered St. John's, Oxford, and wrote satirical verse against the Puritans. Afterwards he accompanied Queen Henrietta Maria to Paris, where he acted as her Secretary, and conducted
* In this volume we find “The Wish," of which, in mature years, he spoke as verses “ of which I should hardly now be ashamed.” Few boys of thirteen have written with so much gravity, clear judgment, and dignified expression. We quote two or three stanzas, embodying “wishes " which he lived to realize :
“This only grant me, that my means may lie
Some honour I would have
Ramour can ope the grave.
My house a cottage, more
My garden painted o'er
And in this true delight,
But boldly say each night,
the correspondence that passed between her and the
He remained in France until 1656. Returning to England he resided there under surveillance until the death of Cromwell, and published the first folio edition of his Works. He was made an M.D. of Oxford, and began to take up the study of botany, under the impulse of the new love of scientific pursuits which was springing up in England. On the death of Cromwell, apprehensive probably of civil commotion, he rejoined his friends in France; but at the Restoration came back, and took up his abode, first at Barnes, and afterwards at Chertsey. Notwithstanding his well-proven loyalty, the time treated him with neglect; and he owed the means of livelihood to the munificence of Lord St. Albans and the Duke of Buckingham.* His comedy, “ The Cutter of Coleman Street,” had painted with a good deal of freedom the dissolute joviality of the Cavaliers; and he had given offence by an ode in honour of Brutus.
When involved in the work and anxiety of the world, Cowley had breathed many an aspiration for the joys of rural Solitude; yet it is certain that in his retirement at Chertsey he was not altogether happy. Surrey, he soon discovered, was not Arcadian ; and the Restoration had not brought back the Golden Age. There was as little innocence in Chertsey as in London ; his tenants would not pay their rents, and his neighbours turned their cattle every night to pasture freely in his meadows. If Pope may be credited, his death came of an ignominious cause :-“ It was occasioned,” says the poet, “ by
* Through their influence he obtained a lease of some lands belonging to the Queen, worth about £300 per annum.
a mean accident while his great friend Dean Sprat was with him on a visit. They had been together to see a neighbour of Cowley's, who, according to the fashion of those times, made them too welcome. They did not set out for their walk home till it was too late, and had drunk so deep that they lay out in the fields all night. This gave Cowley the fever that carried him off”-on the 28th of July, 1667. His remains were carried by water to Westminster, and interred with much pomp in the Abbey.
In the folio edition of his “ Works” we find them arranged in five divisions: 1, “Miscellanies, including “Anacreontiques;” 2, “The Mistress,” a collection of love poems; 3, “The Davideis," an heroic poem of the troubles of David ; 4, “ Pindarique Odes,” to which were afterwards added, 5, “ Verses on Various Occasions ;” and 6, “Several Discourses by way of Essays in Verse and Prose.” Taken as a whole, the poems are dreary reading; for Cowley, like Wordsworth, thought that whatever he had written must needs be worth preserving; and, therefore, one has to plod wearily through a great stretch of desert to reach an oasis where the leaves are green and the birds sing. In the “Miscellanies” there is much that is mean, much that is forced, but there is also much that is very good as the fine monody on William Hervey and the elegy on Crashaw. The former will bear comparison with Matthew Arnold's “Thyrsis;” the latter contains some weighty lines, familiar to every lover of English Poetry. As, for instance, the couplet :
“His faith, perhaps, in some nice tenets might
Be wrong ; his life, I'm sure, was in the right.”