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Reason's Muse: Andrew Marvell, R. Fletcher, and the Politics of Poetry in the Engagement Debate*

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Andrew Marvell's “An Horatian ode upon Cromwel's return from Ireland” may not be the most famous seventeenth-century poem but it is perhaps the most enigmatic. Its elusive, haunting quality defies any strict interpretation, and, as Blair Worden has recently indicated, the poem refuses to fall neatly into any simple “royalist” or “Cromwellian” category. Rather, the “Horatian Ode” has the aspect of a cultural artifact, having captured and held the historical moment that tore asunder two ages: the pre-1649 past of hereditary monarchy with its confidence in the traditions bequeathed by time, and the immediate post-1649 future, when the English state was to be governed by brute strength and naked power. As such, it has become a testament to the “fundamental shift in English civilization, that when every reservation has been made, the middle of the seventeenth century brought about.” For Worden “An Horatian Ode,” with its ambivalent stance of neither approval nor condemnation of the rise of Cromwell, epitomizes the state of Renaissance poetry before T. S. Eliot's much lamented “disassociation of sensibility” took place.

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Copyright © North American Conference on British Studies 1991

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An earlier version of this paper was read at the Conference on Seventeenth-Century Studies, Durham, England, in July 1989. I wish to acknowledge the School of Graduate Studies, Queen's University at Kingston, Ontario, which helped finance the journey to England, and the audience at Durham for bringing to my attention several points that till then had escaped me. My expression of thanks must also go to those who read and commented on an earlier draft of this paper: Professors S. E. Sprott, David Wootton, Paul Christianson, Daniel Woolf, and Blair Worden — who are all, it should be added, to be exculpated from the interpretations I set forth here.


1 Worden, Blair, “The Politics of Marvell's Horatian Ode,” Historical Journal 27 (1984): 525–47CrossRefGoogle Scholar; idem, “Andrew Marvell, Oliver Cromwell, and the Horatian Ode,” in Politics of Discourse: The Literature and History of Seventeenth-Century England, ed. K. Sharpe and S. Zwicker (Berkeley, 1987), 147–80 (hereafter cited as “Andrew Marvell”). Keeping up with the scholarship on the Ode is a daunting task. Since work on this article began at least two more studies that complement its tenor have appeared: Wilding, Michael, Drayton's Teeth: Literature in the English Revolution (Oxford, 1987), ch. 5Google Scholar; and Norbrook, David, “Marvell's ‘Horatian Ode’ and the Politics of Genre,” in Literature and the English Civil War, ed. Healy, Thomas and Sawday, Jonathan (Cambridge, 1990), pp. 147–69Google Scholar.

2 Worden, , “Andrew Marvell,” pp. 178, 173Google Scholar.

3 Wallace, J. M., Destiny His Choice: The Loyalism of Andrew Marvell (Cambridge, 1968), chs. 1, 2Google Scholar.

4 Idem, “The Engagement Controversy 1649–1652: An Annotated List of Pamphlets,” Bulletin of the New York Public Library 68 (1964): 384–405.

5 Worden, , “Andrew Marvell,” p. 150Google Scholar.

6 A point well documented by Wedgwood, C. V., Poetry and Politics Under the Stuarts (Cambridge, 1960)Google Scholar; and by Doody, Margaret, The Daring Muse: Augustan Poetry Reconsidered (Cambridge, 1985), esp. ch. 2Google Scholar. Cf. Skinner, Quentin, “Conquest and Consent: Thomas Hobbes and the Engagement Controversy,” in The Interregnum: The Quest for Settlement, ed. Aylmer, G. E. (London, 1972), pp. 79–98, 8182Google Scholar. Judson, Margaret, From Tradition to Political Reality: A study of ideas set forth in support of the Commonwealth Government in England 1649–1653 (Hamden, Conn., 1980)Google Scholar, includes some poetry as well as prose in her study examining the secularization of political thought during these years.

7 Cleveland was one of the most prolific anti-Parliament poets whose poems were included in Rump: Or an Exact Collection of the Choycest Poems and Songs relating to the Late Times…. (London, 1662)Google Scholar. Denham wrote “Cooper's Hill” in the early 1640s, and revised and republished it at least twice in the next decade. See O'Hehir, Brendan, Expans'd Hieroglyphicks: A Critical Edition of Sir John Denham's Cooper's Hill (Los Angeles, 1968)Google Scholar. For Lovelace, see Miner, Earl, The Cavalier Mode from Jonson to Cotton (Princeton, N.J., 1971)Google Scholar.

8 For the growth of the partisan press, see Frank, Joseph, The Beginnings of the English Newspaper 1620–1660 (Cambridge, Mass., 1961)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

9 Cf. Sharpe, Kevin, Criticism and Compliment: The Politics of Literature in the England of Charles I (Cambridge, 1987), p. 9Google Scholar.

10 See Smuts, R. Malcolm, Court Culture and the Origins of a Royalist Tradition in Early Stuart England (Philadelphia, 1987)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Miner, The Cavalier Mode; Pickle, Margaret B., Charles I as Patron of Poetry and Drama (London, 1936)Google Scholar.

11 The Grasshopper” is reprinted in Miner, , The Cavalier Mode, pp. 317–18Google Scholar.

12 Wedgwood, , Poetry and Politics Under the Stuarts, p. 2Google Scholar.

13 Mercurius Pragmalicus (For Charts II), May 29, 1649, p. 1Google Scholar.

14 On political thought during the years of the first two Stuarts, see Judson, Margaret, The Crisis of the Constitution: An Essay in Constitutional and Political Thought, 1603–45 (New Brunswick, 1949)Google Scholar; Sommerville, J. P., Politics and Ideology in England 1603–1640 (London, 1986)Google Scholar; Paul Christianson, Ancient Constitutions in the Age of Sir Edward Coke and John Selden” (forthcoming). For a convincing challenge to the view that a radical critique of monarchy did not emerge until the late 1640s, see Wootton, David, “From Rebellion to Revolution: The Crisis of the Winter of 1642/3 and the Origins of Civil War Radicalism,” English Historical Review 105 (1990):654–59CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

15 Worden, , “Andrew Marvell,” p. 173Google Scholar. Cf. Small, Christopher, The Printed Word: An Instrument of Popularity (Aberdeen, 1982)Google Scholar; Frank, J., ed., Hobbled Pegasus: A Descriptive Bibliography of Minor English Poetry, 1641–1660 (Albuquerque, 1968)Google Scholar.

16 Much of the analysis that follows is based on Doody, The Daring Muse, ch. 2. For her discussion on the shift to popular poetry, and the quotation, see p. 30.

17 Ibid., pp. 32–36.

18 See Smuts, Court Culture, ch. 1; Pickle, Charles J as Patron; Sharpe, and Zwicker, , Politics of Discourse, pp. 1314Google Scholar.

19 See Sharpe, Criticism and Compliment. But for a more critical analysis of the aims and means of public poetry during this period, see Norbrook, David, Poetry and Politics in the English Renaissance (London, 1984)Google Scholar; and for a different perspective, Martines, Lauro, Society and History in English Renaissance Verse (Oxford, 1985)Google Scholar. For a discussion of the early modern debate on poetry as the highest form of moral philosophy, see Levy, F. J., Tudor Historical Thought (San Marino, Calif., 1967), p. 242Google Scholar.

20 Cf. Eagleton, Terry, An Introduction to Literary Theory (Minneapolis, 1983), ch. 1Google Scholar.

21 Worden, Blair, The Rump Parliament 1648–1653 (Cambridge, 1974), p. 172CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

22 Ibid.; see also, Underdown, David, Pride's Purge: Politics in the Puritan Revolution (London, 1971)Google Scholar.

23 The following tracts are to be found among the Thomason Collection at the British Library and are cited according to the identification numbers in Fortescue, G. K., ed., Catalogue of the Pamphlets-Collected by George Thomason, 1640–1661, 2 vols. (London, 1908)Google Scholar. [Nathaniel Ward] A religious demurrer, concerning submission to the present power, B.L., E530 (19); [Edward Gee] An exercitation concerning usurped powers wherein the difference betwixt civill authority and usurpation is stated, B.L., E585 (2); for the views of William Prynne, who also contested the validity of the Engagement on these terms (as well as on grounds of the ancient constitution), see Lamont, William, Marginal Prynne (London, 1968)Google Scholar.

24 See Wallace, “The Engagement Controversy”; Judson, From Tradition to Political Reality, chs. 1–2.

25 [Robert Sanderson] A resolution of conscience, (by a learned divine)…, B.L., E584 (8); [Edward Reynolds] The humble proposals of sundry learned and pious divines…, B.L., E585 (6).

26 The Royall Diurnall (For King Chairs II), March 18–26, 1650, p. 1Google Scholar.

27 See the editorial commentary that follows in ibid.

28 Lines from Fairfax's lament for the king are cited in Wedgwood, , The Trial of Charles I (Harmondsworth, 1983), p. 195Google Scholar.

29 The Man in the Moon, January 9–16, 1650, p. 297Google Scholar.

30 For example, “On the happy Memory of Alderman Hoyle that hang'd himself,” and other verses collected in Rump (see n. 7).

31 The royalist alliance included Levellers, whose opposition to the Commonwealth, however, emphasized the illegal actions that brought it into being. See, Worden, Rump Parliament.

32 Francis Rous, The lawfulness of obeying the present government, B.L., E551 (22). For the importance of Rous' argument, see Skinner, , “Conquest and Consent,” pp. 8387Google Scholar.

33 Cf. C. V. Wedgwood, who observes that royalists' writings “were not the prelude to action; they were the substitute for it” (Trial of Charles I, p. 212).

34 Commonwealth poets like Fisher Paine and George Wither, not to mention John Milton, appear to have abstained from such verse polemics.

35 Sharpe, and Zwicker, , Politics of Discourse, p. 10Google Scholar.

36 Worden, , “Andrew Marvell,” p. 179Google Scholar; for Marvell's close connection with Lovelace and other royalist poets, see Patterson, Annabel, Marvell and the Civic Crown (Princeton, 1978)Google Scholar. Interestingly, Hobbes also had an opinion on the proper concerns and the preferred style of poetry: see Hobbes, Thomas, “The Answer…to D'avenant's Preface,” Discourse upon Gondibert, in Taylor, E. W., ed., Literary Criticism of Seventeenth-Century England (New York, 1967), pp. 279–90Google Scholar.

37 Quoted in Frank, , Beginnings of the English Newspaper, p. 232Google Scholar.

38 After June 1650, the arguments concerned with the Engagement become heavily pro-Commonwealth. See Wallace, “The Engagement Controversy,” where only six disclaimers are listed among the twenty-seven pamphlets that address the issue in the final period of the debate.

39 He is probably Robert Fletcher, author of Ex Otio Negolium. See, however, Woodward, D. H., ed., The Poems and Translations of Robert Fletcher (Gainsville, Fla., 1970), pp. 410Google Scholar.

40 “Mercurius Heliconicus (Numb. 1), Or The Result of a Safe Conscience: Whether it be necessary to subscribe to the government now in being,” B.L., E622(14), II. 1–5. The other poems are: “Mercurius Heliconicus (Numb. 2), Or, a Short Reflection of Moderne Policy,” B.L., E623(13); “Radius Heliconicus, Or The Resolution of a Free State,” B.L., 669 f.15 (83).

41 Nedham, Marchamont, The Case of the Commonwealth of England (London, 1650)Google Scholar.

42 Rous, The Lawfulness of obeying the present government; Dury, A case of conscience resolved: concerning ministers meddling with state-matters in their sermons, B.L., E548 (29). The tenor of arguments of Rous and Dury differed, with Rous stressing the legitimacy of the Commonwealth and Dury suggesting that civilians should let government take care of itself. See also, Skinner, “Conquest and Consent.”

43 See Ascham, Anthony, Of the Confusions and Revolutions of Governments (London, 1649)Google Scholar, excerpts of which are included in Divine Right and Democracy: An Anthology of Political Writings in Stuart England, ed. Wootton, David (Harmondsworth, 1986), 340–53Google Scholar. Quotation at p. 350.

44 The flippant and “cavalier” attitude taken by many royalists provoked an outcry from William Prynne, who quoted “a most wicked and base maxime of theirs, lately taken up among them, that, he is a fool that will not take it, and he is a knave that will not brake it” (Prynne, , A brief apology for all nonsubscribers [London, 1650], p. 14Google Scholar). Lord Lisle believed, however, that all royalists should take the Engagement, for, as he reasoned, “if things should break now, we which are the engagers, should carry a very ill character upon us, but if it grow general, it will grow nothing” (Underdown, , Pride's Purge, p. 264Google Scholar).

45 The internal evidence of the “Horatian Ode” suggests that it was written in the summer of 1650. Although the poem was not published until after Marvell's death, we can safely assume that it circulated in manuscript among Marvell's friends, who included not only Cavalier poets but also supporters of the Rump Parliament. See Patterson, Marvell and the Civic Crown; Worden, , “Classical Republicanism and the Puritan Revolution,” in History and Imagination: Essays in Honour of H. R. Trevor-Roper, eds. Lloyd-Jones, H., Pearl, V., and Worden, B. (London, 1981), p. 191Google Scholar. For a not too favorable assessment of “Radius Heliconicus,” see Wallace's remarks in “The Engagement Controversy,” p. 404.

46 See Worden, , “Classical Republicanism and the Puritan Revolution,” pp. 186–87Google Scholar.

47 Lipsius was the main impetus behind the growth of neostoicism, but other European writers were also influential in its spread, particularly the Frenchman Pierre Charron. See Oestreich, Gerhard, Neostoicism and the early modern state, trans. McLintock, David (Cambridge, 1982)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and the introductory essay in Kirk, Rudolf, ed., Tvvo Bookes of Constancie Written in Latin by Iustus Lipsius Englished by Sir John Stradling (New Brunswick, N.J., 1939)Google Scholar.

48 Lipsius, De constantia.

49 I argue elsewhere that Lipsius rescued the principle of similitudo temporum from the assaults resulting from the advance of humanist techniques and the skeptical challenge of writers like Montaigne. This argument owes much to Grafton, Anthony, “Portrait of Justus Lipsius,” American Scholar 56 (19861987): 382–90Google Scholar. Cf. Burke, Peter, “A Survey of the Popularity of Ancient Historians, 1450–1700,” History and Theory 5 (1966): 135152CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also Levy, F. J., “Hayward, Daniel, and the Beginnings of Politic History in England,” Huntington Library Quarterly 50 (1987): 134CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

50 Lipsius', Sixe Bookes of Politikes, trans. Jones, W. (London, 1594)Google Scholar, was instrumental in creating a neostoic political philosophy, as was Charron's, De la sagesse (1601)Google Scholar.

51 See Croll, Morris M., “Attic Prose: Lipsius, Montaigne and Bacon,” in Seventeenth-Century Prose: Modern Essays in Criticism, ed. Fish, Stanley E. (New York, 1971), pp. 325Google Scholar.

52 Since Fletcher's verse resembles both prose apologias and the neostoic political view, it is probable that writers like Nedham and Ascham were influenced by that tradition. As such, their condemnation by later commentators could well be misinformed and the result of anachronistic assumptions. See, for instance, Coltman, Irene, Private Men and Public Causes: Philosophy and Politics in the English Civil War (London, 1962)Google Scholar, whose assessment of Ascham was contested by Wallace in “The Engagement Controversy.”

53 Williamson, George, “Senecan Style in the Seventeenth Century,” in Fish, , Seventeenth-Century Prose, pp. 112–46Google Scholar; Williamson, George, The Senecan Amble (London, 1948)Google Scholar.

54 See Croll, “Attic Prose,” and Williamson, “Senecan Style.”

55 Salmon, J. H. M., “Stoicism and Roman Example: Seneca and Tacitus in Jacobean England,” Journal of the History of Ideas 50, 2 (1989): 199225CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

56 Røstvig, Maren-Sophie, The Happy Man (Oslo, 1954)Google Scholar.

57 In my doctoral dissertation, Neostoicism in England, 1584–1650” (Queens University, 1991)Google Scholar, the active component of neostoicism is established through a comparative study of the writings and politics of Raleigh, Bacon, Greville, Jonson, and Joseph Hall. Cf. Salmon, , “Seneca and Tacitus in Jacobean England,” pp. 213–20Google Scholar.

58 Williamson, , “Senecan Style,” pp. 117–18Google Scholar.

59 Cf. Worden, Blair, “Constancy,” London Review of Books, 20 January-3 February, 1983, p. 14Google Scholar.

60 See Patterson, Annabel, Censorship and Interpretation: The Conditions of Writing and Reading in Early Modern England (Madison, Wisconsin, 1984)Google Scholar, in which the changing experience of literature, its writers, and its readers, are charted along with the development of the “repressive culture” that arose in seventeenth-century England. See also, Grafton, Anthony and Jardine, Lisa, From Humonism to the Humanities: Education and the Liberal Arts in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century Europe (Cambridge, Mass., 1986), ch. 7Google Scholar.

61 Wedgwood, Poetry and Politics Under the Stuarts; Miner, The Cavalier Mode; Partridge, A. C., The Tribe of Ben: Pre-Augustan Classical Verse in England (London, 1966)Google Scholar; McEuen, Katheryn A., Classical Influence Upon The Tribe Of Ben: A study of classical elements in the non-dramatic poetry of Ben Jonson and his circle (Ames, Ia., 1939)Google Scholar. Lipsius' personal motto, Moribus Antiquis, was tacitly adopted by Jonson (Britain's Roman Poet,” in Parry, Graham, Seventeenth-Century Poetry: The Social Context, [London, 1985]Google Scholar).

62 Cleveland, , “The Rebel Scot,” in Seventeenth-Century Prose and Poetry, ed. Witherspoon, A. M. and Warnke, F. J. (2nd. ed.; New York, 1963), pp. 934–35Google Scholar.

63 One prominent English neostoic who was critical of Lipsius' own practice of dissimulation was Bishop Joseph Hall. The latest study of Hall, however, denies he was a neostoic (McCabe, Richard A., Joseph Hall: A Study in Satire and Meditation [Oxford, 1982]Google Scholar).

64 Wallace, , “The Engagement Controversy,” p. 404Google Scholar.

65 The influence of Nedham's Case of the Commonwealth is much to the fore in terms of the content of this poem.

66 See Worden, , “Andrew Marvell,” pp. 150–51Google Scholar; Everett, Barbara, “The Shooting of the Bears: Poetry and Politics in Andrew Marvell,” in Andrew Marvell: Essays on the tercentenary of his death, ed. Brett, R. L. (Oxford, 1979), pp. 62–103, & 77Google Scholar.

67 Miner, The Cavalier Mode; McEuen, Classical Influence Upon the Tribe of Ben.

68 Worden, in “Andrew Marvell,” draws suggestive parallels between the position in which Horace found himself after the defeat of Roman republican forces and that expressed by Marvell in the “Ode.” Other interesting contrasts include Machiavelli and Marvell's contemporary James Harrington (pp. 162–68). David Norbrook, in “Marvell's ‘Horatian Ode’ and the Politics of Genre,” demonstrates that the Horatian legacy was by no means solely attuned to a Cavalier and Royalist audience (Healy, and Sawday, , ed., Literature and the English Civil War, pp. 148–53Google Scholar).

69 Rebholz, Ronald A., The Life of Fulke Greville (Oxford, 1971)Google Scholar, makes this point clearly.

70 See Worden, , “Andrew Marvell,” pp. 169–72Google Scholar. For some incisive remarks on authorial intention, and commentary upon how contemporaries might well miss such ironical allusions, see Patterson, , Censorship and Interpretation, pp. 149–57Google Scholar, where Abraham Cowley's use of the historical/figurative Brutus in the 1650s is discussed. For Patterson's interpretation of the Horatian Ode,” see Marvell and the Civic Crown, pp. 5968Google Scholar.

71 For Essex, see below, n. 73 and 74. For Sidney, see Worden, , “Classical Republicanism and the Puritan Revolution,” pp. 186–87Google Scholar.

72 Ibid., for the perserverance and influence of this idea, see Fink, Z. S., The Classical Republicans (Evanston, 1945)Google Scholar.

73 For discussions of this problem, see Levy, “The Beginnings of Politic History in England,” and Salmon, “Seneca and Tacitus in Jacobean England.”

74 Ibid.; for a more detailed discussion of this phenomenon, see Grafton, Anthony and Jardine, Lisa, “‘Studied for Action’: How Gabriel Harvey Read his Livy,” Past and Present 129 (November 1990): 3078Google Scholar.

75 As his annotations in his copy of the works of Tacitus (edited by Lipsius) reveal. The volume has survived and is held in the British Library, shelf-mark, C. 142e 13.

76 Cf. Burke, Peter, “Tacitism,” in Tacitus, ed., Dorey, T. A. (New York, 1969), 149–71, esp. 162–67Google Scholar; see also, Bradford, Alan T., “Stuart Absolutism and the ‘Utility’ of Tacitus,” Huntington Library Quarterly 46 (1983): 127–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar, where King James' distrust of Tacitist history is clearly depicted.

77 In this instance, Marvell's appeal to Horace might profitably be compared to Fletcher's; also Norbrook, “Marvell's ‘Horatian Ode,’” and for Horace, Charles Newton Smiley, Horace: His Poetry and Philosophy (New York, 1945)Google Scholar.

78 The precept of prudentia mixta was widely debated among the first generation of Lipsian neostoics. Raleigh argued that only specific circumstances — such as war — warranted its practice; but Fulke Greville fully subscribed to it, although in his portrait of Sir Philip Sidney private and public virtue were neatly harmonized, with the consequence that dissimulation was made redundant.

79 Mazzeo, J. A., “Cromwell as Machiavellian Prince in Marvell's ‘Horatian Ode,’” Journal of the History of Ideas 21 (1960): 117CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also Worden, , “Andrew Marvell,” pp. 162–65Google Scholar, and Norbrook, , “Marvell's ‘Horatian Ode,’” pp. 157–62Google Scholar.

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