Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

Andrew Marvell and the Restoration Literary Underground: Printing the Painter Poems

Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

Andrew Marvell and the Restoration Literary Underground: Printing the Painter Poems

Article excerpt

In 1675, Roger L'Estrange, the Surveyor of the Press, drafted a 'Proposition concerning Libells' for the House of Lords Libels Committee. Although this body was usually more concerned with printed libels, L'Estrange began by arguing that

The Question of Libells extends it selfe (I conceive) to manuscripts, as well as Prints; as beeing the more mischievous of the Two: for they are com[m]only so bitter, and dangerous, that not one of forty of them ever comes to ye Presse, and yet by ye help of Transcripts, they are well nigh as Publique.1

According to L'Estrange, manuscript libels were not only far more outspoken than those in print but almost as common as they were because of the efficiency with which scriptoria could generate copies. Nevertheless on the rare occasions when such texts did reach the press then the spectacle of forbidden material in print was attended by an extra frisson. For although print as a medium inherently tended towards compromise and self-censorship, it was sometimes, as Love remarks, capable of 'Promethean' acts of disclosure.2 My aim in this essay is to examine just such an instance of prometheanism by reconstructing how Andrew Marvell's Advice-to-a-painter poems crossed the media divide from manuscript to print. This story, which takes us deep into the London literary underground, that network of radical printers and booksellers which continued to function after the Restoration notwithstanding the efforts of L'Estrange, the King's Messengers, and the officers of the Stationers' Company, remains somewhat conjectural - though much less so than it might have been thanks to the bibliographical, editorial and archival work of Annabel Patterson, Nigel Smith, and Maureen Bell. Even so it remains the case that, as Patterson wrote in 1977, 'our knowledge of the publication history of the Advices-to-the-Painter is full of gaps and unanswered questions'.3 What follows is by way of an attempt to fill in some of those gaps.

The facts as they currently stand are easily summarized. The Second Advice to a Painter and The Third Advice to a Painter, now widely presumed to be the work of Marvell, circulated in manuscript at the height of the Second Dutch War and inaugurated what has been labelled the 'Marvellian' tradition of state satire.4 They were triggered by Edmund Waller's panegyrics on the Duke of York, the brother of Charles II and Lord High Admiral. (The template for Waller's Instructions to Painter, and hence for all the rejoinders, was a 1658 translation of an Italian poem praising a Venetian victory over the Turks in which the poet instructs the painter of the sea-battle, so that the poem becomes in effect a verbal painting.5) When Waller praised the Duke for his victory at Lowestoft in June 1665, Marvell replied with a vicious parody in The Second Advice. And when the Fours Days' Battle of June 1666 was hailed as a victory by the government, Marvell promptly set about exposing it as a near disaster in The Third Advice.

Samuel Pepys saw a copy of the Second Advice on 14 December 1666, and a copy of the Third Advice on 20 January 1667, both presumably in manuscript. On 1 July he read 'several' painter poems with his friends, possibly, by this time, in print.6 The earliest evidence relating to print publication is the testimony given by one William Burden to the secretary of state on 20 July 1667 in which he disclosed that the radical bookseller Francis Smith had 'askt him, if He would let Johnson (a Printer living in the Examinants house) Print 2 or 3 sheets of Verses, wch He called The Second & Third Advice to a Painter; for wch He should be well payd'.7 However, we do not know whether this was the first attempt to print the poems or an attempt to reprint them or indeed whether it ever came to anything at all, since in August Johnson entered three recognizances not to print unlicensed works.8 Other painter poems followed. On 16 September, Pepys saw a Fourth Advice, though not, so far as we know, the Fifth Advice, which was completed before the Earl of Clarendon went into exile at the end of November. …

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