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Andrew Marvell

About Andrew Marvell

Andrew Marvell was born on March 31, 1621, and grew up in the Yorkshire town of Hull where his father, Rev. Andrew Marvell, was a lecturer at Holy Trinity Church and master of the Charterhouse. At age twelve Marvell began his studies at Trinity College, Cambridge. Four years later, two of Marvell’s poems, one in Latin and one in Greek, were published in an anthology of Cambridge poets. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1639, Marvell stayed on at Trinity, apparently to complete a master’s degree. In 1641, however, his father drowned in the Hull estuary and Marvell abandoned his studies. During the 1640’s he travelled extensively on the continent, adding Dutch, French, Spanish, and Italian to his Latin and Greek—missing the English civil wars entirely.

Marvell spent most of the 1650s working as a tutor. Scholars believe that Marvell’s greatest lyrics were written during this time. In 1657, due to the poet John Milton’s efforts on his behalf, Marvell was appointed Milton’s Latin secretary, a post Marvell held until his election to Parliament in 1660.

Marvell held political office in Cromwell’s government and represented Hull in Parliament during the Restoration. His public position in a time of political turmoil and upheaval almost certainly interrupted his writing. Nothing escaped Marvell’s satirical eye; he criticized and lampooned both the court and Parliament, but most of his work was unpublished in his lifetime.

Marvell used his political status to free Milton, who was jailed during the Restoration, and quite possibly saved the elder poet’s life. In the early years of his tenure, Marvell made two diplomatic journeys: to Holland (1662-1663) and to Russia, Sweden, and Denmark (1663-1665). In 1678, after 18 years in Parliament, Marvell died suddenly of a fever. Gossip of the time suggested that the Jesuits (a target of Marvell’s satire) had poisoned him.

Marvell is now considered one of the greatest poets of the seventeenth century . Although he published a few poems in anthologies, a collection of his work did not appear until 1681, three years after his death, when his nephew compiled and found a publisher for Miscellaneous Poems. The circumstances surrounding the publication of the volume aroused some suspicion: a person named “Mary Marvell,“ who claimed to be Marvell’s wife, wrote the preface to the book. “Mary Marvell” was, in fact, Mary Palmer—Marvell’s housekeeper—who posed as Marvell’s wife, apparently, in order to keep Marvell’s small estate from the creditors of his business partners. Her ruse, of course, merely contributes to the mystery that surrounds his life. Marvell died on August 16, 1678