death of Harvey is a striking instance of literary excellence without literary style, just as ‘Lycidas’ is a proof that style alone may confer immortality. After reading the former poem it is difficult to remember the expression, and it is impossible to forget the feelings expressed; after reading the latter the expression seems to have absorbed into itself the whole value of the work, so that there is nothing else upon which the mind can dwell. Pace Mr. Birrell, Marvell belongs as clearly to the Miltonic type as Cowley does not. His poems possess the crowning quality of style, —their meaning has become an integral and inseparable part of the words by which it is expressed.
[Quotes ‘To His Coy Mistress, ’ ll. 21-4, 37-44. ]
It is impossible to think of the sentiments conveyed by these lines expressed in any other form; alter the form, and the meaning itself, like the subtly compounded elixir of an alchemist, vanishes to nothing. Who can deny, after reading ‘The Garden, ’ and ‘Bermudas, ’ and the ‘Coy Mistress, ’ that Marvell was one of the greatest of alchemists, or, in other words, that he was—what Mr. Birrell will not allow him to be—a ‘finished master of his art’?
The Catholic poet Francis Thompson (1859-1907) is best known for his Hound of Heaven. He was a frequent contributor to the Athenaeum and the Academy, where his review of Birrell appeared anonymously (see the bibliography in his Literary Criticisms, ed. Terrence L. Connolly, New York, 1948).
Extract from the Academy, 69 (23 September 1905), pp. 976-7.
From the death of Cromwell in 1658 to his own death just twenty years after, Marvell was struggling continuously in the toils of