Man of letters and Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, A. C. Benson (1862-1925) was a prolific critic and essayist. The essay on Marvell first appeared anonymously in Macmillan’s Magazine and was later reprinted in his Essays (1896).
Extract from Macmillan’s Magazine, 65 (January, 1892), pp. 194-203.
Few poets are of sufficiently tough and impenetrable fibre as to be able with impunity to mix with public affairs. Even though the spring of their inspiration be like the fountain in the garden of grace ‘drawn from the brain of the purple mountain that stands in the distance yonder, ’ that stream is apt to become sullied at the very source by the envious contact of the world. Poets conscious of their vocation have generally striven sedulously, by sequestering their lives somewhat austerely from the current of affairs, to cultivate the tranquillity and freshness on which the purity of their utterance depends. If it be hard to hear sermons and remain a Christian, it is harder to mix much with men and remain an idealist. And if this be true of commerce in its various forms, law, medicine, and even education, it seems to be still more fatally true of politics. Of course the temptation of politics to a philosophical mind is very great. To be at the centre of the machine; to be able perhaps to translate a high thought into a practical measure; to be able to make some closer reconciliation between law and morality, as the vertical sun draws the shadow nearer to the feet, —all this to a generous mind has an attraction almost supreme.