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The Politics of Marvell's Horatian Ode

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2009

Blair Worden
St Edmund Hall, Oxford


Andrew Marvell's ‘An Horatian ode upon Cromwel's return from Ireland’ is the most private of political poems. It may be a solitary meditation; it may be written, after Horace, for a forward youth now unknown to us; but it scarcely seems addressed to the public audience of Marvell's tribute to Cromwell in ‘The first anniversary’. We enter an imaginative landscape beyond politics, outside the movement of history, where the figures of the ode – restless Cromwell, the royal actor, the clapping soldiers, the frighted architects, the tamed Irish, the luring falconer, the hunted Pict – appear stilled as upon some ancient vase. Yet the poem's transcendence of events need not be taken for detachment from them, nor its privacy for retreat. I want to suggest that the celebrated poise and urbanity of the ode have been created from energy and urgency of feeling. Marvell has given timelessness to a desperate and portentous moment in his country's history, the arrival of Cromwell in England in the summer of 1650. Language has been immortalized too: the language of ephemeral tracts and newspapers, which is close enough to the surface of the poem to suggest a younger Marvell as politically engaged as the restoration M.P. and whig pamphleteer.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1984

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1 Having received help beyond the ordinary in the preparation of this essay, I particularly wish to thank (but not to implicate) Miss Susan Brigden, Mrs Elsie Duncan-Jones, Mr Michael Gearin-Tosh, Mr John Morrill, Professor Quentin Skinner and Mr Peter Thomas. Marvellians will recognize my debt to MissEverett's, Barbara essay, ‘The shooting of the bears: poetry and politics in Andrew Marvell’, in Brett, R. L. (ed.), Andrew Marvell: essays on the tercentenary of his death (Hull and Oxford, 1979), pp. 62103Google Scholar.

2 The royalism of Lachrymae Musarum is established by Gearin-Tosh, Michael, ‘Marvell's “Upon the Death of the Lord Hastings”’, Essays and Studies (1981), pp. 105–22Google Scholar.

3 For this paragraph see my The rump parliament, 1648–1653 (Cambridge, 1974), ch. xi, esp. pp. 224–6Google Scholar.

4 See e.g. The Man in the Moon 9 Jan.–14 02 1650, pp. 297, 315, 324, 330Google Scholar; Mercurius Pragmaticus 8–15 01 1650, pp. 56, 30 Apr.–7 May 1650, p. 2Google Scholar; Mercurius Elencticus 6–13 05 1650, p. 4Google Scholar.

5 Abbott, W. C., Writings and speeches of Oliver Cromwell (4 vols. Cambridge, Mass. 19371947), 11, 193, 221, 237, 253–5Google Scholar; and the sources there cited.

6 See my The rump parliament, pp. 357–8.

7 Abbott, Writings and speeches, 11, 38–9.

8 Historical manuscript commission report, De L'Isle and Dudley, VI (1966), 472Google Scholar.

9 Whitelocke, B., Memorials of the English affairs (4 vols. 1853), III, 183Google Scholar.

10 Sutherland, J. (ed.), Memoirs of the life of Colonel Hutchinson (Oxford, 1973), p. 202Google Scholar.

11 It is printed in Abbott, Writings and speeches, 11, 231–5.

12 Perfect Diurnal, 27 May–3 06 1650, p. 278Google Scholar.

13 Abbott, Writings and speeches, 11, 261–2.

14 Ibid., 11, 38–9.

15 A Brief Relation 18–25 12 1649 p. 188Google Scholar; R. Elton, Complete body, pp. 8, 12, 132, 181. Cf. Perfect Diurnal 10–24 06 1650, pp. 302, 308Google Scholar; Impartial Scout 12–19 07 1650, p. 248Google Scholar; and see The Man in the Moon 20–27 02 1650, p. 350Google Scholar, and Royal Diurnal 25 02 1650, p. 2Google Scholar. For the recruitment drive of 1650, which was widely discussed in the press, see Reece, Henry, ‘The military presence in England, 1649–1660’, D.Phil, thesis, University of Oxford (1981)Google Scholar.

16 Wallace, J. M., Destiny his choice: the loyalism of Andrew Marvell (Cambridge, 1968), chs. 1, 11Google Scholar; Skinner, Q., ‘Conquest and consent: Thomas Hobbes and the engagement controversy’, in Aylmer, G. E. (ed.), The Interregnum: the quest for settlement, 1646–1660 (1972), pp. 99120Google Scholar.

17 Cf. Perfect Diurnal 20 May–10 06 1650, pp. 278–9, 283Google Scholar; Hull Corporation Bench Book, v, 842; my The rump parliament, p. 83; Marvell, , The rehearsal transpros'd (ed. Smith, D. I. B., Oxford, 1971), pp. 209–10Google Scholar.

18 Duncan-Jones, E. E., ‘The erect sword of Marvell's Horatian ode’, Etudes Anglaises (1962), pp. 172–4Google Scholar.

19 Here (as often) I must dissent from Frank, Joseph, Cromwell's press agent: a critical biography of Marchamont Nedham, 1620–1678 (University Press of America, 1980), p. 128Google Scholar. For glimpses of Nedham in 1649–50 see Gardiner, D. (ed.), The Oxinden and Peyton letters, 1642–1670 (1937)Google Scholar . In the second edition of Lachrymae Musarum, Marvell's poem appears next to that of the very forward youth John Hall, whose career Marvell's often paralleled, and who followed Cromwell's army to Scotland in 1650.

20 See my ‘Classical republicanism and the puritan revolution’, in Lloyd-Jones, H., Pearl, V. and Worden, B. (eds.), History and imagination: essays in honour of H. R. Trevor-Roper (1981)Google Scholar. Livy is quoted from Philemon Holland's translation in E. S. Donno (ed.), Andrew Marvell: the complete poems (Penguin, repr. 1981), p. 240.

21 Royal Diurnal 14–23 04 1650, p. 10Google Scholar; Mercurius Elencticus 22–29 04 1650, p. 8Google Scholar; cf. The Man in the Moon 6–13 05 1650, p. 4Google Scholar and Merlinus Anglicus (1650), preface. The royalist writers may have been mocking a government-sponsored statement which I have not been able to find. Marvell's lines draw on a long prophetic tradition. For their proximity to apocalyptic predictions of 1650 see Hill, Christopher, The world turned upside down (1972), pp. 77–8Google Scholar; Macfarlane, A. (ed.), The diary of Ralph Josselin (1976), pp. 219–20, 264, 268–70, 289, 300–1Google Scholar.

22 Nedham, M., The case of the commonwealth of England, stated (ed. Knachel, P. A., Virginia, 1969), P. 13Google Scholar.

23 A Brief Relation 9–16 July 1650, pp. 712–13; cf. Several proceedings 11–18 07 1650, p. 616Google Scholar.

24 Mazzeo, J. A., ‘Cromwell as Machiavellian prince in Marvell's “An Horatian Ode”’, Journal of the History of Ideas (1960), pp. 117Google Scholar, reprinted in Mazzeo's Renaissance and seventeenth-century studies (New York, 1964), pp. 166–82; Raab, F., The English face of Machiavelli (1964)Google Scholar; Pocock, J. G. A., The Machiavellian moment (Princeton, 1975)Google Scholar; Pocock's, edition of The political works of James Harrington (Cambridge, 1977)Google Scholar.

25 Raab, The English face of Machiavelli, pp. 130–54.

26 Cruttwell, P., The Shakespearean moment, (1970), pp. 189ffGoogle Scholar.

27 Pocock, The political works of James Harrington, pp. 4–5, treats this story of the inspiration and composition of Oceana with understandable but in my view excessive scepticism.

28 Raab, The English face of Machiavelli, pp. 146–54. Clarendon describes Cromwell's character in the History, X, paras. 169–73, an XV, paras. 147–56.

29 Compare too lines 50–5 of the ode with the account of Cromwell's, ‘mischief out of Machiavelli’ in Philo regis: the right picture of King Oliver (1649), pp. 45Google Scholar. We can only guess whether Marvell, whom Milton believed to know Italian, would have read Machiavelli in the original or in translation.

30 The prince (ed. G. Bull, Penguin, repr. 1963), p. 131; The Discourses (ed. Crick, B., Penguin, 1970), p. 430Google Scholar.

31 For Marvell and time, see particularly Shrapnel, Susan, ‘The poetry of Andrew Marvell in relation to his contemporaries and to contemporary history’, Ph.D. thesis, University of Nottingham (1972), p. 133Google Scholar.

32 The prince, p. 133.

33 Ibid. pp. 130, 134, 138.

34 The discourses, p. 159.

35 The prince, pp. 133–4.

36 Miss Everett writes beautifully about the metre in ‘The shooting of the bears’, pp. 74–5, 82.

37 Ibid. p. 76.

38 Quoted by Dame Helen Gardner in her edition of The metaphysical poets (Penguin, repr. 1972), p. 16.

39 We might recall Eliot's, T. S. statement, in the wake of war and the shadow of democracy, that ‘it appears likely that poetry in our civilisation, as it exists at present, must be difficult’ (Selected essays (1932), p. 289)Google Scholar. The quotation is from Eliot's essay ‘The metaphysical poets’, which appeared in 1921, the year when Eliot wrote his momentous essay on Marvell.

40 There are two familiar strands to the argument. The first detects echoes of the ode in a poem by one presbyterian clergyman, Robert Wild, on the execution of another, Christopher Love (who, although he died for conspiring to restore Chares II, was hardly a ‘royalist’). The echoes seem faint, and could in any case be explained by a common dependence on a satire on Francis Quarles which was published in March 1650 as Somnium Cantabrigiense, and which resembles the ode more frequently than Wild's poem does. Secondly, it is observed that the unusual metrical arrangement of the ode resembles that of a translation of an ode of Horace published by the royalist Richard Fanshawe in 1652, as well as that of a poem by the royalist Thomas Stanley in 1651; but even if we deduce from these interesting similarities that Marvell was in touch with Cavalier poets in 1650, literary co-operation need not be evidence of shared political loyalties.

41 The polarization is sensitively described in Cruttwell, The Shakespearean moment, ch. VII; Shrapnel, ‘The poetry of Andrew Marvell’, ch. 1; and Thomas, P. W., Sir John Berkenhead (Oxford, 1969)Google Scholar.

42 The panegyrical properties of the Cromwell poems are discussed by Nevo, Ruth, The dial of virtue (Princeton, 1963)Google Scholar. It is conceivable that Cromwell inflicts rather than suffers the ‘Scars’, although the lines would still be inaccurate.

43 News from Ireland (1650), p. 22Google Scholar.

44 Whitelocke, Memorials, 1, 182, 196. In June 1982, when Argentine troops were being shipped back to the mainland, reports reached Britain of the tributes paid by them to the courage, the humanity and the skill of their British conquerors. No one seemed surprised.

45 Nedham, The case of Ike commonwealth, p. 79.

46 On the authorship see Frank, Joseph, The beginnings of the English newspaper, 1620–1660 (Harvard, 1961), p. 194CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also Mercurius Pragmaticus 21–28 May 1650.

47 See Coolidge, John S., ‘Marvell and Horace’, Modern Philology (11. 1965), pp. 112–13Google Scholar.

48 The prince, pp. 132–3; Raab, The English face of Machiavelli, p. 143.

49 The Man in the Moon 26 Dec. 1649–2 Jan. 1650, pp. 285–6.

50 See e.g. The lawfulness of obeying the present government (1649), p.7Google Scholar; A combat between two seconds (1649), p. 7Google Scholar; cf. Wallace, Destiny his choice, p. 98.

51 Mercurius Elencticus 27 May–3 June 1650, p. 4; Perfect Diurnal 27 May–3 June 1650, p. 258 (with which cf. A brief relation 21–28 May 1650, p. 592, and Several proceedings 13–20 june 1650, P.541

52 A brief relation 9–16 April 1650, pp. 483–4. Cf. A full relation of…the late great victory (1650), p. 1Google Scholar; Royal Diurnal 25 Feb.4 Mar. 1650, pp. 7–8; British Library, Thomason tracts, E594(10), MS. elegy on Charles I, I.4.

53 For royalist incitements to arms, see especially The declaration of Mqjor-General Massey (1650); A Declaration of…Lord Hoplon (1650); The Man in the Moon 29 03 5 06 1650, pp. 425– 8Google Scholar (a source with interesting parallels to the ode). Cf. Mercurius Elencticus 27 033 06 1650, p. 1Google Scholar.

64 Traytors deciphered (1650), p. 86Google Scholar.

55 Ibid. p. 47.

56 See particularly The declaration of Major-General Massey, p. 6; Thomason Tracts, E594.110).

57 Traytors deciphered, pp. 82, 86.

58 Carey, J., Milton (1969), p. 12Google Scholar.

59 Margoliouth, H.M., Poems and letters of Andrew Marvell (3r d edn, Oxford, 1971), II(Letters), 166Google Scholar.

60 Ibid. pp. 93, 175, 312; The rehearsal transpros'd, pp. 136, 241; A short historical essay touching general councils’, in Grosart, A. (ed.), The complete works in verse and prose of Andrew Marvell (4 vols. 18721875),III, 115Google Scholar.

61 The rehearsal transprosd, p. 135; Margoliouth, Letters, 324.

62 Margoliouth, Letters, p. 177.

63 Ibid. p. 313.

64 Ibid. pp. 312, 383–4.

65 Everett, 'The shooting of the bears', p. 80.

66 Trevor-Roper, H. R., ‘The elitist politics of Milton’, Times Literary Supplement, 1 06 1973Google Scholar.

67 See Shrapnel, ‘The poetry of Andrew Marvell’, pp. 15–16.

68 Margoliouth, Letters, p. 2.

69 On the limitations of royalist elegies see Shrapnel, ‘The poetry of Andrew Marvell’ ch. 1.

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