Andrew Marvell, the Critical Heritage

By Elizabeth Story Donno | Go to book overview

69.

Sainte Beuve on the ‘Horatian Ode’

1864

One of the first among French critics to break out of the straitjacket of neo-classical theories, Charles Augustin Sainte Beuve (1804-69) contributed many critical essays to various papers and periodicals. In commenting (6 June 1864) on Hippolyte Taine’s four-volume History of English Literature, which does not mention Marvell, he introduces remarks on the ‘Horatian Ode, to which he had been introduced by Matthew Arnold’s ‘loving token of remembrance’ (see No. 67).

Extract from the reprinted collection of his essays entitled Nouveaux Lundis (3rd edn, Paris, 1879), VIII, pp. 100-1.

There exists an ode of Andrew Marvell’s1 which belonged to that same movement of the Christian and patriotic Renaissance [as did Milton’s works]. It is in the form, and approaches the rhythms, of the odes of Horace where he celebrates the return of the victorious Augustus: it has for subject and theme the return of Cromwell from his expedition to Ireland in that memorable year 1649 (which was the ’93 of England). It predicts the exploits of the following year and shows us Cromwell hurrying to accomplish his destiny, although still obedient to the laws. Never has the fire of enthusiasm for public matters, never have the grandeur and terror which inspired those great revolutionary deliverers—men of the sword and rapier—found more vibrant and truer accents breaking forth from a candid breast in such a compressed stream: [paraphrases ll. 25-36]. Here one feels that English reality and freedom of tone is with difficulty held in by

1 Echoing Arnold, Sainte Beuve notes: ‘It has long remained unknown to the English themselves; it is to be found on p. 50 of a charming small volume—The Golden Treasurycollected by Francis Turner Palgrave, published in 1861 at Cambridge. This small collection is indeed a treasure of vigorous and mellifluous poetry.

-217-

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