Andrew Marvell: The Chameleon

Blair Worden writes:

To the modern world Andrew Marvell is a poet. Earlier times knew him differently. From his death in 1678 until the late Victorian era he was mainly admired not for his poetry but for his politics. The 18th and 19th centuries commemorated him as the MP and prose-writer who had challenged tyranny and corruption and religious persecution in the reign of Charles II. Though his verse found readers, especially from the time of the Romantic movement, a biographer of 1853 could still suggest that ‘few’ persons had heard Marvell’s ‘name mentioned as a poet’. For most of the 20th century few heard it mentioned as anything else. The change, sharp and swift, was entrenched by the new confidence and autonomy of literary criticism, which separated itself from historical inquiry and preferred itself to it. Lovers of Marvell’s verse, especially his lyric verse, now relegated or even despised his political career, which they viewed as a departure from, if not a betrayal of, his poetic calling.

(LRB 18 November 2010)

Other Titles of Interest