To a twentieth-century reader who thinks of Andrew Marvell in terms of poetic achievement, the history of his literary fortunes may occasion surprise. The single edition of the poetry published in the seventeenth century, and posthumously at that, had its promptings in his reputation as a witty satirist and incorruptible patriot. Established during the last few years of his life and lasting for nearly two centuries, this reputation was primarily determined by the impact of the controversial writings in prose. Editions in the eighteenth century did indeed keep the poetry in public view, but the same motivation for publication continued to obtain, as the assertions of the editors, together with their inclusion of the letters and prose pieces, attest. In order to trace the development of Marvell’s reputation chronologically, comments on the works which determined this public image appear first. To establish a context for them, a summary of each controversy introduces the comments; to elucidate often remote topical allusions, some notes are appended.
The remaining critical items focus on the emergence of the poet, first in conjunction with the persistent image of satirist and patriot, then within the double frame of his achievement as poet and prose writer. Finally, at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, comes the singular stress on his achievement as poet.
E. S. D.