Crossed Lines of the Bard of Hull
Purkiss, Diane, The Independent (London, England)
ANDREW MARVELL: THE CHAMELEON by Nigel Smith Yale, Pounds 20, 400pp Pounds 18 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Andrew Marvell was a great poet, but not an especially nice man. He had few friends, and did not trust people easily. He was also an angry man, and his immediate posthumous reputation was based on a series of sharp satires. As Nigel Smith shows in this profound and often moving biography, Marvell's anger came from hurt and disappointment. He grew up a clever clergyman's son in flourishing Hull, where he went to school with richer boys. Marvell's life illustrates the idea that to become a great poet some setbacks in youth are required. The loss of his father in 1641 in a boating accident left him desolate; he never entirely recovered.
Nor was his career straightforward. The safe choice was the church, but at Cambridge he fell into disciplinary trouble, possibly connected with his brief flirtation with Roman Catholicism. As in much else, Smith has uncovered compelling new evidence here, and has given us a Marvell who is a man of Europe, who learned fencing in Spain and studied in the Dutch Republic.
Marvell's lyrics can be obdurate as a shut door: beautiful, strange, and so difficult to pin down that only the most confident will even attempt to connect the poems with the life. Smith's confidence is hard-won and comes from his deep scholarship. He suggests that the fleeing Daphne and pursuing Apollo of "The Garden" flow from the exquisite Bernini sculpture Marvell could have seen in Rome, while Marvell's funny Flecknoe, his first piece of furious anti-Popery, comes from his troubled encounter with the poet at Rome.
Such reveries were intersected by the violence of the English Civil War, which saw Marvell involved first in Royalist literary circles, and then in Fairfax's moderate circles, then in Milton's circles, and then in Oliver Cromwell's own circles, leading to what Smith rightly calls the greatest political poem in English, the "Horatian Ode on Cromwell's Return From Ireland". Horatian indeed, for Rome's lyricist and satirist had also switched sides in a civil war. Marvell's own chameleon shifts were authorised by his classical role-model.
Most readers of Smith's biography will know the lyric poet, but most readers of Marvell close to his own times knew the furious satirist. MP for Hull from January 1659, Marvell was made furious by the secret Papists he believed were threatening freedom. As the rights of nonconformists were eclipsed, he came to connect his own powerlessness with the growing might of Popery at court.
He was alarmed by the king's pro-French stance. But while …
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Publication information: Article title: Crossed Lines of the Bard of Hull. Contributors: Purkiss, Diane - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: November 12, 2010. Page number: 28. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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