Andrew Marvell, the Critical Heritage

By Elizabeth Story Donno | Go to book overview

73.

Charles Cowden Clarke on Marvell

1871

Friend of Keats, the schoolmaster Charles Cowden Clarke is best remembered for his Recollection of Writers (1878), written in collaboration with his wife Mary. In 1871 he contributed a series of articles ‘On the Comic Writers of England’ to the Gentleman’s Magazine.

Extract from No. VIII, ‘English Satirists, ’ Gentleman’s Magazine, 231 (November 1871), pp. 691, 695-7.

Satirical writing is a class of composition attractive to the million, because its object is to expose the weaknesses, follies, or vices of our species; upon the same principle as Drawcansir criticism1 is always more popular than dispassionate judgment; for the majority would rather read a rough and detracting article upon the production of a popular author than a well-digested analytical treatise on its merits; in the former case, the egotism and self-love (not to say the envy) of mankind are gratified by the thought that great mental structures have their assailable points for attack; and common minds believe that their own position rises in proportion as the higher natures suffer from detraction. Rochefoucauld says, ‘There is a something in the misfortunes of our friends that is not wholly displeasing to us. ’ This ‘something’ is the vital principle and the aliment of satire. The well-known aphorism upon slanderers is applicable to the satirist: ‘Like flies, they pass over the healthy parts of a beast, and fix upon its sores. ’

No class of composition is so uninteresting, and even worthless, as mediocre satire. Indeed, it has no medium; it is like an olive—if not palatable, it is disgusting. Flabby satire is a satire upon satire; a scorpion that turns its sting upon itself. It commits suicide in

1 Draw-Can-Sir, a character in Buckingham’s Rehearsal, is a fierce hero, who frights his mistress, snubs up kings, baffles armies, and does what he will without regard to good manners, justice, or numbers (IV. i). Marvell terms Parker ‘the Ecclesiastical Draw-Can-Sir’ (RT I, p. 21).

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