Double Tongued

Blair Worden

  • Andrew Marvell: The Chameleon by Nigel Smith
    Yale, 400 pp, £25.00, September 2010, ISBN 978 0 300 11221 4

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.

Now his reputation is changing again. Nigel Smith’s biography belongs to a series of early 21st-century publications which, aided by other recent scholarship, have brought the verse-writer and the prose-writer together. In 2003 there appeared fresh versions of Marvell’s writings: Smith’s own richly annotated edition of The Poems of Andrew Marvell and, in two volumes under the general editorship of Annabel Patterson, The Prose Works of Andrew Marvell, most of which had been barely available outside copyright libraries. It was Patterson’s premise that ‘Marvell’s prose was at least as important to civilisation as his poetry.’ In 2005 Nicholas von Maltzahn’s An Andrew Marvell Chronology, an essential handbook, brought the often murky or recalcitrant biographical materials to order and gave us the first rounded picture of his literary and political career.

Not that Marvell will ever be easy to know. In some ways the new perspective has made him less fathomable than ever. To set the lyric poetry beside the Restoration tracts is to wonder what coherence of mind or personality can have underlain writings so various in tenor and subject and genre. Chronological complications have arisen too. His literary life used to seem to have a trajectory. Whereas the prose belongs to the Restoration, his lyric verse was assumed to be the product of youth or relative youth, written in retreat from the civil wars. Admittedly there was political verse on both sides of 1660, when he was 39, but the start of his career as an MP a year before the king’s return did seem to have marked a shift from the poet to the politician. It could be explained by the drying up of poetic inspiration in middle age; or by the superannuation of his metaphysical technique as the ordered classicism of the Restoration advanced; or, according to the interpreter’s perspective, by either the responsibilities of public business or its reductive impact on his imagination. In the mid-18th century the poet William Mason, like Marvell a native of Hull, proudly remembered how after 1660 Marvell’s ‘daring genius’ rose to ‘loftier heights’ than ‘beauty’s praise, or plaint of slighted love’, and ‘led the war’ against ‘freedom’s foes’. By the 1890s the same transition was held to have ‘sullied’ his poetic inspiration and ‘buried’ it in ‘the dust of politics’.

Now the transition is itself in doubt. Marvell’s poems were not widely known in his lifetime. Few of them were published, and it has been possible to date most of the others only by vulnerable speculation. Now scholars find evidence that one of the best loved of his lyrics, ‘The Garden’, where the poet flees ‘busy companies of men’ and finds ‘innocence’ and ‘delicious solitude’ in ‘a green thought in a green shade’, is not the early poem it was long taken to be. It seems to have been written not, as appeared likely, at or around the time of Marvell’s stay at Nun Appleton, the Yorkshire estate of the Fairfax family where he tutored the retired general’s daughter, but nearly 20 years later, in a respite from his parliamentary duties, perhaps in Buckinghamshire at the residence of a political patron. If ‘The Garden’ is a late poem, how many other lyrics are too?

Rudimentary chronological uncertainties are a biographer’s despair. Understandably Smith bypasses a few of them. He assigns a date to ‘To His Coy Mistress’, or to Marvell’s first meeting with his friend Milton, or to the initial impact on Marvell’s mind of another friend, the political thinker James Harrington, that is but one of the possibilities. In the main, however, he scrupulously reports the difficulties and adroitly absorbs them into the narrative they complicate. Elusiveness, he sees, has to be not so much the problem of Marvell’s biography as its thread. How secretive he was. Did he marry the woman who claimed to be his wife, or didn’t he? On his Continental travels, before and after the Restoration, was he a spy or wasn’t he, and, if he was, in whose cause? It seems fitting that we cannot agree which syllable of his surname to stress, and that it attracted a variety of spellings exotic even by 17th-century standards: Marvell, Marvel, Marvelle, Marvil, Marvill, Marvaile, Mervel, Mervell, Mervil, Mervill, Merveil, Merveill, Merveille, Marvin, Marvynn, Mervin.

Then there are the problems of literary attribution. Most of his poems were, like his prose works, anonymous. It is hardest of all to identify his contributions to the collaborative campaigns of underground satirical verse that were aimed at the Restoration court. Even when we can say what he wrote and when he wrote it, his character masks or contradicts itself. Phrases and images that voice one viewpoint in one writing are turned to an opposite end in another. Both Puritanism and Catholicism have been found in his love poems. A contemporary critic of his prose called him ‘double tongued’, ‘begot by some Proteus of a chameleon, an Oedipus cannot riddle him’. We have a heap of letters that he wrote to his constituents in Hull, but they are mostly cagey, written with an eye to what the town fathers will want to hear. His tracts, exercises in persuasion, adjust his convictions, and perhaps distort them, to tactical ends. John Aubrey, a friend, wrote that Marvell was ‘of very few words’, and that though he stoked his muse with wine he was careful not to give himself away by drinking in company. Yet he had a violent temper which got him into humiliating trouble in the Commons – and which in turn stands oddly beside the Marvell who elsewhere deploys and pleads for civility and moderation and poise.

To Smith, Marvell’s verse was ‘a form of escape’, where he found refuge in ‘indecipherability’ and ‘irresolvable ambiguities’. Behind it Smith detects anguish, misery, vulnerability, and perhaps sexual confusion. In the Restoration Marvell more than once lamented the ineffectuality of his life. His sense of unfulfilment merges in Smith’s depiction with resentment at the successes of less talented contemporaries. Poor and indebted, Marvell lodged in an improvised succession of inns and spare rooms. Smith finds a connection between his hardship and his fluctuations of demeanour. He had ‘no choice but to be someone’s servant’ and to turn acceptable faces to his masters: first as a menial undergraduate at Cambridge; then as a private tutor during the civil wars; then as a civil servant under Cromwell; finally as an MP straitened enough to depend, as the gentry beside him on the benches did not, on a constituency wage.

Outside his writing there were no success stories. It took him years to get employment in Cromwell’s government, in spite of Milton’s backing. He does not seem to have been offered a parallel post after the Restoration. He did gain a temporary appointment as an aide on a diplomatic mission to Moscow and the Baltic in 1663-65, but it failed after the Russians had taken disingenuous exception to his phrasing in state documents. In Parliament, where he was a rare and awkward speaker, he saw himself among a beleaguered and impotent minority. The 18th century, which admired his parliamentary career for its moral superiority to the evils of the age, could not discover anything it had done to lessen them. Misfortune attended him to the last, for his death at the age of 57 was apparently caused by medical incompetence.

The novelty and vividness of Smith’s portrait are achieved by an exceptional combination of literary and historical expertise. Though a professor of literature, he will carry the historians with him most of the way. In fact the historical map he offers has a clearer outline than the literary one. Though he aims to reach ‘the widest possible readership’, his analyses of the poems and their sources, written in close-up, supply a specialised perspective on the literary scene. Marvell’s habits of poetic imitation and allusiveness, stressed by Smith, may leave a lay audience wanting a wider understanding of his engagement with Ovid and other masters, and broader light on the relations of his writings to those of such contemporaries as Cowley and Cleveland and Denham.

Smith’s is only the second ambitious life of Marvell. The first, published in 1928, was an astonishing feat of pioneering excavation, written outside the critical mainstream and almost out of the blue, by the Frenchman Pierre Legouis. He translated it into English only in 1965, and then in a heavily abbreviated edition. He did not have to change his facts much, for little had been discovered about Marvell’s life in the interim, though the movement to contextualise his writing would begin three years later with the publication of John Wallace’s book Destiny His Choice. In the middle third of the century New Criticism and explication de texte raised Marvell’s poetry above history and, Legouis feared, risked discrediting it by overpraise. Legouis judged Marvell an uneven and ‘lazy’ writer. He complained that his compositions can pall, especially the longer ones, which, in verse and prose alike, accumulate rather than cohere. His poetry, Legouis judged, had only ‘rare successes’.

Yet how often in a lifetime has any poet attained the perfection of ‘The Garden’ or ‘An Horatian Ode’ or ‘To His Coy Mistress’ or ‘Bermudas’? It is against such achievements, before which deconstruction quails, that Patterson’s unspecified claim for the importance of his prose to ‘civilisation’ has to be measured. Who that could choose them for a desert island would take Marvell’s tracts in their place? Legouis was not altogether intolerant of the ‘prolix pamphlets’, but he was dispirited by their ‘dirt’ and ‘indecency’, by the ‘coarsening’ stamp of ‘political life’, and by Marvell’s descent from the spiritual flights of the verse. More fundamentally, he regretted that in his wittiest prose work, The Rehearsal Transpros’d, the droll satirical tract of 1672 that did battle for the Puritan Nonconformists against the Anglican clergyman Samuel Parker, Marvell ‘sacrificed permanence to popularity’. Swift, early in the next century, might praise the book, but would surpass it by creating timeless images of human absurdity, whereas Marvell’s ambition had been confined to local and ephemeral debate. ‘Nobody,’ Legouis observed, ‘nowadays cares whether he refuted Parker’s theses properly: they no longer deserve refutation.’ In other words, Marvell’s duty was not to fight for religious toleration. It was to secure literary immortality. Most 20th-century critics would have axiomatically concurred. The group of publications to which Smith’s biography belongs makes us think again.

In their opposite ways the political worship of Marvell before 1900, and the aesthetic worship of him after it, were anaesthetising impulses. The 18th century made him a plaster saint, who rose ‘disinterestedly’ above the pressures of faction and corruption. It missed his agitated political manoeuvres, his sense of the limits of the possible, his compromises with the necessary. The 20th century admired the ‘impersonality’ of his verse, and contrived to find ‘detachment’ and ‘impartiality’ even in the emotional intensity of his Cromwell poems. At least the 18th century could sense, as the 20th could not, why Marvell’s later years were devoted to an urgent political cause. He risked charges of seditious libel, even of treason, and feared assassination. His political patrons went to the Tower. His most influential tract, the furtively published An Account of the Growth of Popery and Arbitrary Government, in 1678, would surely have led to his own arrest had he not died later in the year. Soon after his death a friend and poet, perhaps recalling the tribute in Paradise Lost to the solitarily defiant angel Abdiel, hailed Marvell as ‘this island’s watchful sentinel’, who defied ‘arbitrary power’ and ‘stood in the gap, and bravely kept his post’.

Marvell’s principal target in the Restoration was the bishops. He saw them as promoters of religious persecution, subverters of political stability and decency, and creators of a separate interest in the state that threatened the health and liberty of the nation’s mind. In 1641-42 the bishops had been Milton’s target too. To assail them he turned, as Marvell would do in the last six years of his life, from verse to pamphleteering. For two decades, through most of the Puritan upheaval, Milton set his highest poetic ambitions aside. His prose took still greater risks than Marvell’s. He exulted in the regicide, with the result that in 1660, with Paradise Lost only half-written, he narrowly escaped a hideous execution (reportedly with Marvell’s help, in which case Marvell’s parliamentary career achieved something after all). The two men’s literary choices are unintelligible if we impose on the 17th century the supposition that a poet’s first responsibility is to the permanence of poetry. To Milton and Marvell writing was a social and political instrument. Its purpose was to affect men’s character and conduct and to shape events. Sometimes it had to meet immediate needs of persuasion. Marvell’s and Milton’s prose was written in desperate times, which would not wait upon their muses.

In neither religion nor politics was Marvell as radical as Milton. Smith, who like other literary analysts of 17th-century literature is free with the adjective ‘republican’, thinks that Marvell carried into the Restoration the political sympathies of the 1650s. His adversaries, using standard smears, said so too. That Marvell strove to anticipate or deflect such charges by distancing his past and his views from memories of Roundhead rule and of the regicide, that ‘horrid catastrophe’, is no disproof of Smith’s suggestion, but evidence for it is hard to find. Marvell’s Interregnum verse hails not the republican rule of 1649-53 but Cromwell, who destroyed it and ruled in its place. Marvell became a state employee, as secretary to the protector’s secretary of state, in September 1657, the time of the conservative reorganisation of the regime that made Cromwell king in all but name and was meant to consign the sectarian convulsions of the decade to the past. In 1659, under Richard Cromwell, Marvell obtained his parliamentary seat as a court nominee sent from Whitehall to defeat a powerful republican candidate. When the Parliament met he savoured the defeat of the republicans and of their ‘maxim’ that ‘all power is in the people.’ On the king’s return he welcomed the termination of military rule and supported Charles II’s promise of religious toleration. Public opinion had associated the principle of free conscience with Puritan sectarianism. Charles’s brave attempt to identify it instead with humanity and common sense suited Marvell’s perspective. It was not the restoration of monarchy that distressed him but what followed it.

Marvell’s generation, which reached maturity amid a national chaos not of its making, looked to the Restoration to end it. The return of kingship brought back the institutional norms, but the political frenzy persisted. The issues that had provoked civil war endured, and the divisions over them, instead of healing, were exacerbated by grievance and revenge. A sense of degeneration and dislocation seeped through the body politic. The nation that under Puritan rule had been mighty abroad was abased, first by the Dutch navy and then by the subordination of domestic and foreign policy to the aggrandisement of Louis XIV’s France, the development at the heart of Marvell’s protest against popery and arbitrary government at the end of his life.

The Restoration Marvell wrote more about religion than about politics. Nothing distressed him more than the defeat of the royal policy of toleration and the consequent polarisation of religious conflict. How he hated the ‘cruelty and tyranny’, so offensive to sociability and ‘so pernicious to the public quiet’, of punishing people for their religious beliefs. Or anyway for Protestant beliefs: Marvell had mixed feelings about toleration for Catholicism, a religion associated in his as in most Protestant minds with tyranny in church and state. With others he was thrown off balance by the king’s wish to accommodate both denominations. He wanted no mercy for treasonous Catholic priests. But the targeting of Nonconformist worship in the Conventicle Act of 1670 he called a ‘terrible’ step, ‘the quintessence of arbitrary malice’. He was distressed on behalf of the Scottish Covenanters, whose patience ‘under their oppressions is not to be paralleled in any history’. Smith pinpoints Marvell’s dislike of ‘bullying’, and Marvell himself acknowledged an instinctive sympathy for underdogs. In the late 1640s he was angry – vengefully angry – on behalf of defeated royalists who suffered under intolerant Presbyterian rule. From 1660 he befriended Nonconformists who endured intolerant Anglican rule.

Like other biographers before him, Smith treads uncomfortably before Marvell’s complex relations with the Puritans. He was never one of them. The ceremonialism of the Church of England, idolatrous in their eyes, was in his merely unnecessary. He disliked the rigidities of Puritan doctrine. His last work, even though written amid the hostility to Nonconformity that animated the attacks on his other prose, rebuked the addiction of its hard-liners to ‘peevish questions … wherewith men’s minds are only rent and entangled’, and which sacrificed ‘practical Christian virtues’ to ‘speculative opinion’. Nonconformist dogmatists, he intimated, were as ‘unfit for conversation’ as the intolerant bishops. A broad-church, low-church Anglicanism would have suited him. His theological heroes were the latitudinarian Anglicans of the Great Tew circle of the 1630s, for whom the essential truths of Christianity were few and simple, and for whom faith was the ally of reason, charity, civility.

He nonetheless shared, or anyway respected, the Nonconformists’ commitment to sobriety of conduct, their dismay at the ‘debauchery’ of Restoration society, their submission to divine providence and disparagement of ‘the overweening of ourselves and our own things that raises us against’ it, their conviction that ‘every man is bound to work out his own salvation with fear and trembling.’ Those were not exclusively Nonconformist positions, but he came closer to a Nonconformist voice in his calls for an ecclesiastical ‘reformation’, in his insistence on the primacy of the Bible and of a preaching ministry, and in his revulsion against Catholic teachings and practices. Smith, foreshadowed by Legouis, suggests that late in life Marvell moved from Puritanism towards freethinking or deism, but the point is not proven. What we can say is that Marvell’s Protestantism always mingled with secular concerns. It was barely distinguishable from his sense of Englishness, from his feeling for the nation’s ‘ancient sobriety and seriousness’, and from his concern for England’s honour and greatness. Keenly and at times belligerently he recommended the pan-Protestant foreign policy which Cromwell aimed at Catholic Spain and which Marvell wanted Charles II to launch against Catholic France.

‘Marvell,’ Smith concludes, ‘stands for liberty.’ On it depended the exercise of the mind and the candour of human relations. But whereas Marvell’s concern for religious liberty is easily demonstrated, his commitment to political liberty is a complicated story. He did indeed hate oppression in the state as in the church. In 1670, the year of his protest against the Conventicle Act, he remarked fearfully that ‘no king since the Conquest’ had been ‘so absolutely powerful at home’, and described a move in the Lords to give statutory recognition to that extended authority as ‘never so compendious a piece of absolute tyranny’. It was in the same year, ‘so bewitched a time’ as Marvell said, that Charles II promised, in the Secret Treaty of Dover, to convert to Catholicism in return for Louis XIV’s assistance in suppressing the domestic resistance the move would provoke, an initiative that was hidden from Marvell’s associates but smelled by them. Well might the Restoration Marvell fear that ‘the whole land and liberty of England’ would be ‘given away’ and that the ancient mixed constitution would yield to ‘unlimited monarchy’, a principle he judged ‘against all law’. He wanted to ‘eternise the memory’ of the MPs who had framed the Petition of Right in 1628. The blame for the civil wars, he maintained, lay not with the parliamentarians but with the ecclesiastical sponsors of divine-right monarchy who, then as in the Restoration, insinuated ‘a strangeness and misunderstanding betwixt the king and his people’. There could, he said, be no healthy government without free and frequent parliaments.

From 1660 he watched the erosion of Parliament’s authority. Before the civil wars the problem had been the crown’s reluctance to summon it. Now it was its capacity to corrupt it. The swelling of the state’s resources and bureaucracy had enlarged the potential for electoral bribery and for the award of offices or ‘places’. In the Parliament of 1659, as a court-party member, Marvell had enjoyed the defeat of the republicans, even though ‘they have much the odds in debate,’ by the ‘number’ of the government’s routine followers. In the Restoration his wording underwent one of its characteristic reversals. Now a backbencher himself, he complained that the party of independent virtue around him was succumbing to the ‘number’ of Whitehall’s mercenary adherents. ‘We are all venal cowards,’ he observed, ‘except some few.’ Thanks to the ‘libidinous desire for places’, he concluded, ‘the use’ of Parliament, ‘so public a council’, had become ‘frustrated’. His sense that he ‘lived to so little purpose’ was connected to that development. He called, in vain, for a ‘place bill’ that would disqualify state employees from Westminster.

In all this he established the credentials that, together with his arguments for toleration, would earn his adulation by Whig posterity. Yet there was a transparent practical problem. If corruption had rendered Parliament impotent, what point was there in seeking reform or toleration through it? Under personal monarchy, hopes for change must begin not with Parliament but with the royal person. From 1660 Marvell knew that Charles, if he would only show fixity of purpose, was toleration’s friend, Parliament its enemy. Its attainment required not more parliamentary power but less. The king needed to be free of the ministers who controlled and corrupted MPs and who, with that following, curbed the crown. Marvell’s verse satire of 1667, ‘The Last Instructions to a Painter’, written after the Dutch invasion of the Medway, turned to the ancient topos, which Sidney and Spenser had used in equally fraught circumstances a century earlier, of the sleeping prince, whose leonine majesty, once awoken, would by solitary exertion purge and cure the land. In 1672, along with other friends to toleration whom at other times we find opposing royal absolutism, Marvell backed the king’s decision to secure toleration by the Declaration of Indulgence, which stretched the prerogative and bypassed statute.

The choice between monarchical power and monarchical limitation was not normally so stark. Again with others, Marvell was repeatedly caught between them. Amid the bottomless complexities of court politics, shifts of royal favour induced alternate hope and fear among the tolerationists. Tied to the service of others, Marvell could only adapt himself to the ‘seasons and junctures’ at court which, he recognised, must be ‘catched or waited’. Consistent in his ends, he veered in his means. At one moment he claims that the representative function of the Commons entitles it to greater influence than the Lords: at another, in the cause of toleration, he allies with peers in the hope of outflanking the Commons. He joins the attack on the king’s leading minister, the Earl of Clarendon, but then opposes Clarendon’s impeachment as an intrusion on the king’s rights. Much of his conduct, then as through his career, might be explained if we could show him to have been a client of the family of Clarendon’s enemy the Duke of Buckingham, who had his own intricate motives for stopping short of impeachment, and who combined a consistent commitment to toleration with zig-zag positions on the prerogative. But Smith, who presses the hypothesis resourcefully, sees where the evidence falls tantalisingly short of proof. So many hypotheses about Marvell do.

The ‘double tongued’ Rehearsal Transpros’d and its sequel of 1673, The Second Part, expose Marvell’s dilemma. He has to argue against the powers that intolerant churchmen want Charles to exercise in their cause, but in favour of ones he should use in Marvell’s. His mind was not new to opposing political imperatives. In the ‘Horatian Ode’ of 1650, which confronted the prospect of a Cromwellian kingship with bitterly divided feelings, line after line can be read either straightforwardly or ironically, as predicting either benign or sinister rule. Now, in The Second Part, he did the same in prose. We strain to catch his expression when, as an inducement to benevolent rule, he gives this advice to Charles: if only the king and his immediate successors would rule in their subjects’ interests, the opposition to the crown would gradually cease and ‘the very memory or thoughts of any such thing as public liberty would, as it were by consent, expire and be extinguished for ever.’ By 1678 there was no longer a call for doubleness or ambivalence. Having lost hope of the king, Marvell wrote An Account not for royal policy but against it. Another of his phraseological reversals accordingly followed. The Declaration of Indulgence, he now straightforwardly explained, had been part of a conspiracy to enable kings ‘to enact what they will, till there should be no further use for the consent of the people in parliament’.

Smith brings out Marvell’s debts to Ben Jonson, the 17th-century author who, alongside Milton, made the most exalted claims for the public duty of writers. Jonson and Milton followed Sidney in urging literature’s capacity to teach by ‘delight’. Marvell urged it too, but with a difference. Although the first person singular runs through his prose and verse, it never has the self-regard of Jonson or Milton, those elevated monitors of the nation. He is candid about the motive of personal ‘ambition’ which may coexist with an author’s more uplifting aims. He nonetheless knows a writer’s duty to be ‘delightful and profitable to mankind’. His wit, which like Jonson’s moves between Horatian poise and Juvenalian fury, is like Jonson’s an instrument of instruction, of what Smith terms an ‘ethical’ project. He repeated Jonson in commending the ‘few’ who resist the current of the age towards corruption and tyranny. Through the persuasive power of wit their numbers might be increased. In The Rehearsal Transpros’d, to sway its courtly and public audiences, he adopts the classical stance of joco-serio or ‘jest in earnest’. It was a delicate challenge, which gave him some apprehension. He had to be ‘merry and angry … without profaning those things which are and ought to be most sacred’. But it worked. The king could not put the book down. The Puritan divine Richard Baxter, in whose godly cause it was written, called it ‘so exceeding jocular, as thereby produced abundance of readers’. Pepys, reading one of the group of verse satires to which ‘The Last Instructions’ belonged, found that it made his ‘heart to ache to read it, it being too sharp and so true’. The government’s alarm at Marvell’s political writings testifies to the ‘popularity’ to which, Legouis complained, Marvell sacrificed permanence.

Legouis, little interested in the political pressures under which Marvell wrote his prose, in the demands of haste and collaboration and last minute adjustment, thought it might have come closer to immortality had he ‘taken more pains’ over it. It is here that Smith’s insistence on the re-creation of historical circumstance and detail is most amply vindicated, and that Patterson’s assertion about ‘civilisation’ might be particularised. In the bleakest political moments there may be higher priorities than literary perfection. Verse may have to be set aside. In his prose of 1649 Milton had gone so far as to portray the escapism of poetry as a tool of tyranny: in The Rehearsal Transpros’d, as Neil Keeble has observed, rhyme is linked to the absurd, prose to sense. Ultimately wit might have to be discarded too, or anyway subordinated. In An Account the gravity of the political situation, which after Marvell’s death would develop into the epic battle over the Catholic succession, demanded a corresponding manner. Though An Account deploys irony, it in large measure drops wit for fact. It wins authority as history, as a documentary reconstruction of the court’s plot against Protestantism and liberty. The crisis in which it was written was the most testing moment for royal authority since 1649, when Milton, who had likewise aimed the joco-serio method at the bishops, likewise dropped it. In Eikonoklastes he exchanged literary display for factual allegation, and supplied a history of Charles I’s reign that is paralleled by Marvell’s narrative of Charles II’s. In the face of tyranny and persecution a poet might achieve most not by delight but by its sacrifice; and delicious solitude, and green thoughts in green shades, might seem an indulgence.