Andrew Marvell finds Fair Quiet in “The Garden”

Andrew Marvell, steel engraving (1821). The Granger Collection, New York.

Marvell had pronounced Puritan sympathies and became comfortable as a republican, although not at first. But he could keep his own counsel enough to keep from endangering himself in dangerous times.

His father was a Church of England clergyman who became, when Marvell was 3, a lecturer at Holy Trinity Church in Kingston upon Hull. Marvell enrolled at the age of 12 in Trinity College, Cambridge as a sizar (i.e., a student who financed his tuition by performing menial chores). He evidently didn’t have to commit for Parliament or King at the crisis, because he was in Europe at the time the war began. He stayed abroad, perhaps as tutor or secretary for a young gentleman making a Grand Tour or just escaping the Civil War.

He had the ability to please people of all political stripes even though he was ambivalent towards their politics. When he returned to England he wrote an Ode to Cromwell, the “Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland,” in which he lauded Cromwell’s victory in the Ireland campaign (although he referred to this republican agent of Parliament as a “Caesar,” prophetically but probably not wisely), while at the same time painting a doleful picture of the king’s beheading. Nevertheless, he was hired by Lord Fairfax as a tutor for his daughter. His success as tutor (hiring a tutor, especially during a Civil War, was probably a hit or miss matter then) put him in contact with the greats of the time, including Cromwell in 1653 (by the time now truly like Caesar) and John Milton. For both of them he acted as tutor for near connections. Milton’s sponsorship of him earned Marvell in 1657 the position as assistant to the Latin secretary to the Council of State, where he worked closely with and was befriended by Milton.

Andrew Marvell being offered a commission by a courtier of King Charles II: The Temptation of Andrew Marvell by William Vandyke Patten. Watercolour on paper (1860).

Upon the Restoration, Marvel not only survived his association with the republicans and commonwealth men, he was able to influence the Court against punishing his friend Milton for his outspoken republicanism. This was no small achievement because the returning Monarchy was not disposed to forgive beyond what it was required to. Marvel’s skill in dealing with those he fundamentally disagreed with was in evidence when he was sent as part of embassies to Holland and Russia for the Court. He spent much of the rest of his life as a proto-Whig member of Parliament (from Hull), in the interest of the so-call Country party (which opposed the Court party). He wrote scathing indictments of the corruption and debauchery of the Court of Charles II, which, because of the King’s power over political opponents, were published anonymously.

His poetry almost entirely ended when his political career began. His political verse was all satire. He wrote stinging verse character assassinations of numerous Court dependents, including the Queen, which described her immorality thus:

She, nak’d, can Archimedes self put down,
For an experiment upon the crown,
She pérfected that engine, oft assayed,
How after childbirth to renew a maid,
And found how royal heirs might be matured
In fewer months than mothers once endured.

He also wrote a prefatory poem for the second printing of John Milton’s great epic born of political defeat and the despair of human failure, “Paradise Lost.” Marvell’s verse, “On Mr. Milton’s Paradise Lost,” in light of the vast scope, profound thought and deep insight of Milton’s masterpiece, seems somewhat superficial in its two main points: that Milton’s poem does not disrespect the biblical subject matter and its lack of rhyming does not lessen its value as poetry.

Thomas Fairfax and daughter Mary by Robert Walker (1645). Count de Grammont would say of Mary, as Duchess of Buckingham: “a most virtuous and pious lady, in a vicious age and court.”

Almost all of Marvell’s poetry-making took place in Lord Fairfax’s employ as tutor for young Mary. Thomas Fairfax was a great military hero for Parliament. Although he (and his father) had fought with Charles I in both Bishops’ Wars in Scotland and was knighted for his service, he (also with his father) declared for Parliament. Fernando Fairfax sat as member of parliament for the Boroughbridge, Yorkshire during the six parliaments from 1614-29 and during the Short Parliament of 1640. That year he succeeded to the title as Second Lord of Fairfax and was elected in November to what would turn out to be the Long Parliament. After the king set up his standard and war broke out, Lord Fairfax was proclaimed the leader of the Northern Parliamentarians and Sir Thomas was made his second, lieutenant-general of the horse. Yorkshire was a hotbed of royalists, and the year 1643 produced indecisive fighting, then near disaster: first the humiliating route at Seacroft Moor near Leeds, then the spectacular victory against heavy odds at Wakefield, followed by the defeat at Adwalton Moor in June which required the Fairfaxes to fight their way in the retreat to Hull, where they fortified themselves.

In September Sir Thomas set out from Hull and led a body of cavalry in a series of engagements in conjunction with other Parlimentarian forces at Winceby (where he first fought in collaboration with Colonel Oliver Cromwell), Gainborough (with Sir John Meldrum), Nantwich (to relieve the siege), and finally in March 1644 with Lord Fairfax and Colonel Lambert at Selby. All of this led up to the decisive victory of Marsten Moor (on July 2, 1644), which proved the decisive battle that turned the north permanently in the Parliament’s favor with the fall of York.

During these battles and after Sir Thomas displayed a boldness and intrepidity that garnered him great acclaim. He was shot through the wrist in his retreat to Hull and through the shoulder at the siege of Helmsley Castle right after the fall of York. But he kept returning to the field. In January 1645 Parliament offered him the command of the New Model Army. As an army designed to reward merit rather than patronage it was given over to the commander most meritorious. Cromwell was to be his lieutenant-general and cavalry commander. In June Fairfax led repeated charges at Naseby and personally captured the colours of Prince Rupert’s Bluecoat regiment. Naseby proved back-breaking to the royalists cause, and the king fled to Wales. Fairfax then used his Army to reduce western England. Fairfax returned to London to acclamation. The king tried to rally his forces but was eventually captured, and it was Fairfax who brought him prisoner.

When the king violated his agreement and recruited his army from men on their parole, Fairfax was again depended on. Though afflicted with gout, he led the seige of Colchester. John Milton, sometime before August 17, 1647, while the campaign was still in progress, wrote his sonnet XV: “On the Lord General Fairfax at the Siege of Colchester,” in which he acknowedged “Thy firm unshak’n virtue ever brings / Victory home, though new rebellions raise / Their hydra heads, and the false north displays / Her brok’n league, to imp their serpent wings.” But he requests of Fairfax a “nobler Task” to ensure that “Truth and Right from Violence be freed, / And Public Faith clear’d from the shameful brand / Of Public Fraud.”

When Fairfax finally reduced Colchester, he ordered on his own authority the execution of the leaders of this second rebellion, Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle. But despite Milton’s poetic suggestion, Fairfax was not suited for politics. Parliament appointed him commissioner of the High Court of Justice, but he had no taste to be a regicide. When his name was called at trial, his wife supposedly said: “He hath more wit than to be here.” Stephen C. Manganiello, The Concise Encyclopedia of the Revolutions and Wars of England, Scotland and Ireland, 1639-1660 (NY: Scarecrow Press: c2004), p 194. During the execution he was kept at a prayer meeting by Cromwell so as not to interfere.

He lost his stomach for the war and resigned his commission in 1650 after refusing to invade Scotland to attack Charles II’s forces. His daughter Mary (whom Marvell tutored) would marry in 1657, the Duke of Buckingham, who was secretly in communication with Charles II. Fairfax would be among the Parliamentarians who invited Charles II to return in 1660, but he was outraged when the newly installed court violated the remains of Cromwell. He retired from public life in 1661.

Inscription above dial window at Nun Appleton Hall from Ovid’s Remedia Amoris: “Qui non est hodie, {cras minus aptus erit}” Those not fit {for Love} today will be less so hereafter.

This larger than life character was Marvell’s employer in 1650. At Fairfax’s Yorkshire seat, Nun Appleton House, Marvell wrote nearly all of his serious poetry. It gave him the opportunity to contemplate freely and offered protection from the chaos and revolutions of the day. Where could there be more safety than at the estate of the man who feared neither king nor parliament? In fact, one of Marvell’s most important poems was an appreciation of the estate, “Upon Appleton’s House,” written in the summer of 1651. The poem uses the convention of an odd form of patronage poetry–the so-called country house poem–which praises the patron’s lodgings. It was as ancient a genre as Ben Jonson’s “To Penshurst” in 1616. Marvell uses the form as a means to unfold his own meditations with pastoral references and biblical images. It is a tour de force of metaphysical poetry, but alas its 97 stanzas make it impractical to include here.

Instead, I selected a shorter poem that also uses the devices of pastoral in order to describe an interior reflection.

The Garden

[text from Matthew W. Black (ed.), Elizabethan and Seventeenth-Century Lyrics (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co: 1938) pp 373-375.]

by Andrew Marvell

How vainly men themselves amaze
To win the palm, the oak, or bays;
And their uncessant labors see
Crowned from some single herb or tree,
Whose short and narrow-vergèd shade
Does prudently their toils upbraid;
While all the flowers and trees do close
To weave the garlands of repose.

Fair Quiet, have I found thee here,
And Innocence, thy sister dear!
Mistaken long, I sought you then
In busy companies of men:
Your sacred plants, if here below,
Only among the plants will grow;
Society is all but rude,
To this delicious solitude.

No white nor red was ever seen
So amorous as this lovely green;
Fond lovers, cruel as their flame,
Cut in these trees their mistress’ name.
Little, alas, they know or heed,
How far these beauties hers exceed!
Fair trees! wheresoe’er your barks I wound
No name shall but your own be found.

When we have run our passion’s heat,
Love hither makes his best retreat:
The gods who mortal beauty chase,
Still in a tree did end their race.
Apollo hunted Daphne so,
And Pan did after Syrinx speed,
Not as a nymph, but for a reed.

What wondrous life is this I lead!
Ripe apples drop about my head;
The luscious clusters of the vine
Upon my mouth do crush their wine;
The nectarine and curious peach
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on melons as I pass,
Insnared with flowers, I fall on grass.

Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness:
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find;
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas;
Annihilating all that’s made
To a green thought in a green shade.

Here at the fountain’s sliding foot,
Or at some fruit-tree’s mossy root,
Casting the body’s vest aside,
My soul into the boughs does glide:
There like a bird it sits and sings,
Then whets and combs its silver wings;
And, till prepared for longer flight,
Waves in its plumes the various light.

Such was that happy garden-state,
While man there walked without a mate:
After a place so pure and sweet,
What other help could yet be meet!
But ’twas beyond a mortal’s share
To wander solitary there:
Two paradises ’twere in one
To live in Paradise alone.

How well the skillful gard’ner drew
Of flowers and herbs this dial new;
Where from above the milder sun
Does through a fragrant zodiac run;
And, as it works, th’ industrious bee
Computes its time as well as we.
How could such sweet and wholesome hours
Be reckoned but with herbs and flowers!

It was of course beyond Marvell’s mortal share to live in a solitary paradise for very long. He would leave the cocoon of Nun Appleton to enter the world of Puritan politics. Such is the lot of tutors to move on when their charges grow up. Puritan politics would become a sufficient enough world for Marvell, given that John Milton was his mentor. After its defeat, it splintered into a thousand different things. Some of the Saints became mystics removing themselves further from the world. (The Quakers, for instance, gave up war as a Saintly policy). The version that Marvell followed would take up the language of English whiggery.

At Nun Appleton Marvell was too content and too literate to describe his own Puritan longings. It would take his association with John Milton before he committed his Puritan longings to verse. And significantly those longings were, even in the height of Saints’ Triumphalism in England, to sail to a New Land. In this case it was Bermuda, and not New England, but that was perhaps more owing to circumstances–he was living in the house of a divine, John Oxenbridge, who had twice visited Bermuda. In any event Oxenbridge would find his way to New England in a voyage of religious liberation during the Restoration, while Marvell would find himself only in political opposition.


[Text from G. A. Aitken (ed.), The Poems of Andrew Marvell (London: Lawrence & Bullen: 1892) pp 39-40]

by Andrew Marvell

Where the remote Bermudas ride,
In the ocean’s bosom unespied,
From a small boat, that rowed along,
The listening winds received this song:

“What should we do but sing His praise
That led us through the watery maze,
Unto an isle so long unknown,
And yet far kinder than our own?
Where He the huge sea-monsters wracks,
That lift the deep upon their backs;
He lands us on a grassy stage,
Safe from the storms, and prelate’s rage.
He gave us this eternal spring,
Which here enamels every thing,
And sends the fowls to us in care,
On daily visits through the air;
He hangs in shades the orange bright,
Like golden lamps in a green night,
And does in the pomegranates close
Jewels more rich than Ormus shows;
He makes the figs our mouths to meet,
And throws the melons at our feet;
But apples plants of such a price,
No tree could ever bear them twice;
With cedars chosen by His hand,
From Lebanon, He stores the land,
And makes the hollow seas, that roar,
Proclaim the ambergris on shore;
He cast (of which we rather boast)
The Gospel’s pearl upon our coast,
And in these rocks for us did frame
A temple where to sound His name.
Oh !  let our voice His praise exalt,
Till it arrive at Heaven’s vault,
Which, thence (perhaps) rebounding, may
Echo beyond the Mexique Bay.”

Thus sung they, in the English boat,
An holy and a cheerful note;
And all the way, to guide their chime,
With falling oars they kept the time.

    • Variety, Spice, Life
    • February 8th, 2011

    A dazzlingly exquisite blog ( and not only because we share some interests).

  1. January 28th, 2011

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