Andrew Marvell, the Critical Heritage

By Elizabeth Story Donno | Go to book overview
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Sir Herbert Grierson on the metaphysical lyric


The first professor of English at Aberdeen University and later successor to Saintsbury at Edinburgh, Sir Herbert Grierson (1866-1960) did much to stimulate interest in the metaphysical poets with his two-volume edition of Donne and other works.

Extract from the Introduction to Metaphysical Lyrics and Poems of the Seventeenth Century (Oxford, 1921), pp. xxix-xxxi, xxxvii-xxxviii, reprinted by permission of Oxford University Press.

It was among the younger generation of Courtiers that Donne found the warmest admirers of his paradoxical and sensual audacities as a love-poet, as it was the divines who looked to Laud and the Court for Anglican doctrine and discipline who revered his memory, enshrined by the pious Izaak Walton, as of a divine poet and preacher. The ‘metaphysicals’ were all on the King’s side. Even Andrew Marvell was neither Puritan nor Republican. ‘Men ought to have trusted God, was his final judgement on the Rebellion, ‘they ought to have trusted the King with the whole matter’ [RT I, p. 135]. They were on the side of the King, for they were on the side of the humanities; and the Puritan rebellion, whatever the indirect constitutional results, was in itself and at the moment a fanatical upheaval, successful because it also threw up the John Zizka of his age; its triumph was the triumph of Crom-well’s sword.

[Quotes the ‘Horatian Ode, ll. 115-20. ]

To call these poets the ‘school of Donne’ or ‘metaphysical’ poets may easily mislead if one takes either phrase in too full a sense. It is not only that they show little of Donne’s subtlety of


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