Marvell: The Writer in Public Life

Marvell: The Writer in Public Life

Marvell: The Writer in Public Life

Marvell: The Writer in Public Life


Marvell: The Writer in Public Life is substantially revised from Professor Patterson's well received 1978 study, including a new introduction and new chapter on Marvell and secret history. This important study provides an up to date perspective on a writer still thought of merely as the author of lyric and pastoral poems. It looks at both Marvell's political poetry and his often neglected political prose, revealing Marvell's life long commitment to writing about the values and standards of public life and follows his often dangerous writerly activities on behalf of freedom of conscience and constitutional government.


Twenty years ago, I began the earlier version of this study of Andrew Marvell by quoting what he himself wrote as an introduction to the Second Part of the Rehearsal Transpros’d. It seems even more appropriate now:

Those that take upon themselves to be Writers, are moved to it either
by Ambition or Charity: imagining that they shall do therein something
to make themselves famous, or that they can communicate something
that may be delightful and profitable to mankind. But therefore it is
either way an envious and dangerous imployment. For, how well soever
it be intended, the World will have some pretence to suspect, that the
Author hath both too good a conceit of [her] own sufficiency, and that
by undertaking to teach them, [s]he implicitly accuses their ignorance.
So that not to Write at all is much the safer course of life:

No one was more alert than Marvell to the moral and professional hazards of the writer’s trade; and as someone who practised concealment whenever he could, he would have been doubly amused to hear his own words produced to justify not merely another book about himself, but a reappearance of an older book, on the grounds that it still has something important to tell us. It is impossible to explain this revised edition of Marvell and the Civic Crown, originally published by Princeton University Press in 1978, without making claims for its usefulness that by Marvell’s standards are self-promotional.

Nevertheless (and this is a favourite conjunction in Marvell’s own rhetorical strategy), the Second Part of the Rehearsal Transpros’d was indeed written, and written out of his urgent concern for justice to the Nonconformists during the intolerant 1670s; and I wrote the first version of this book driven by a desire to see justice done to Marvell himself. I wanted to show how unreasonable it was to assume that Marvell either wasted or lost his unique talents when he turned from woods and meadows to political subjects; to prove that he was just as witty in his political satires as in The Garden, just as ‘literary’ in the . . .

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