This Newsletter was published on Wednesday 7 August 2013

Review of Stephen Bardle’s “The Literary Underground in the 1660s”

By Alex Garganigo

STEPHEN BARDLE. The Literary Underground in the 1660s: Andrew Marvell, George Wither, Ralph Wallis, and the World of Restoration Satire and Pamphleteering. Pp. 208. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. Hardback, $110 (£60).

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literary-underground-in-1660s-andrew-marvell-george-wither-stephen-bardle-hardcover-cover-artStephen Bardle’s compact book on the Restoration’s “literary underground” follows in the footsteps of Richard Greaves, Neil Keeble, David Norbrook, Sharon Achinstein, Harold Love, Martin Dzelzainis, Nigel Smith, and Nicholas von Maltzahn, among others. While demonstrating the enduring value of Jurgen Habermas’s concept of the public sphere for literary and cultural analysis, it heeds the call of Habermas’s critics for recognizing the crucial role played by religion in the Restoration’s intermittently expanding public sphere. Although the government tried to use censorship to make the public sphere contract, the literary underground, consisting of writers like Wither, Wallis, and eventually Marvell, as well as networks of “entrepreneurial,” “risk-friendly” printers and publishers, was collectively “a thorn in the government’s side” and helped expand the public sphere, especially at times when Parliament was in session. It expanded enough to include micro-public spheres in towns like Wallis’s Gloucester as well as in the prisons where he, Wither, Bunyan, and many other Dissenters were confined for extended periods. Collectively, Bardle’s three authors contributed to the survival of the public sphere by writing both for it and in a sense about it.

After emphasizing the comparative fragility of the Restored regime, which failed to stamp out the revolutionary ideas of the 1640s and 50s, only sending them underground, Bardle’s Introduction uses Steve Pincus and Peter Lake’s religion-friendly account of the public sphere to mount an argument that Wither, Wallis, and Marvell intervened in the public sphere in the 1660s via manuscript and print in order to advocate religious toleration. Accordingly, the rest of the book divides into three chapters, each of which focuses on an important phase in that decade’s politics of religion, pairing Marvell with one or both of the other two authors: 1) the creation of the Clarendon Code (“Resisting Uniformity 1660-1664”), 2) the religion-based responses to plague, fire, and war at mid-decade (“The Second Anglo-Dutch War 1664-1667”), and 3) the brief opportunity for reform between Clarendon’s fall and the reinforcement of the Clarendon Code and uniformity at decade’s end (“The Second Conventicle Act 1667-1670”). While this chronological structure makes for a more readable book than the Oxford dissertation from which it springs, Bardle’s contributions to Marvell studies emerge most clearly in the juxtapositions he creates between the classically trained MP from Hull and his fellow writers (in line with the author-based organization of the thesis).

How do these juxtapositions change our view of Marvell’s career after the Restoration? His politics look slightly more oppositional and noble if slightly less radical, even though Bardle tries to portray him as a radical in the broad sense recently employed by David Como: as one who “challenged or threatened to subvert existing orthodoxies, power arrangements, institutions or hierarchies (whether spiritual or temporal) and … threatened in turn to redistribute power, authority or resources outwards and downwards.” In the first half of the decade, Bardle contends, Marvell did not really participate in the literary underground since he was trying to rise within the establishment by pursuing a diplomatic career, ultimately without success. While the plain-speaking Wither pushed in his prison writings for religious-political “Vnion without uniformitie,” and the “unreformed civil war radical” Wallis advocated in his homey and Marprelate-inspired dialogues for a civic Protestantism, Marvell, pace later Whig legends of the tireless public servant diligently defending his constituents at Hull from the Center’s popish depredations, was not at first disenchanted with the restored regime. “Keen to create a space separate from his constituency duties in which he could pursue [his career] ambitions,” Marvell concealed the radical connections Blair Worden thinks he may have had in the 1650s and used his gift for foreign tongues to serve patrons such as George Downing in Holland and the Earl of Carlisle on the disastrous trip to Russia, even as he had come to see much of political life through the lens of interest theory. However, the Russian debacle may have left hitherto unnoticed traces of an early preference on Marvell’s part for moderate royal power and greater religious toleration. Marvell may have declared his views in speeches he ghostwrote for Carlisle to deliver to the Czar, speeches that allegedly contain echoes of Marvell’s earlier Cromwellian poetry and hints of later lyrics in phrases like “a greener shade.” If Marvell was indeed the author or co-author of Carlisle’s speeches and dispatches, they may have subtly built upon Charles II’s conciliatory language in the Declaration of Breda and Act of Oblivion in order to project a “far more moderate conception of kingship” that “was far away from the political reality back in England, where the king was unable or unwilling to intervene in the retributive legislation passed by the Cavalier Parliament” against Dissenters. Marvell may have also had some hand in publishing translations of these speeches in Guy Miège’s account of the journey in 1669.

The treatment in Chapter 2 of the mid-1660s contrasts Wither’s anti-imperialist, at times republican-inflected, and formally innovative responses to the Second Dutch War in MS with what appears to be Marvell’s initial support for the war in the revised version of “The Character of Holland” (printed in 1665). If Marvell approved of its publication and indeed was responsible for updating the poem’s second half to reflect 1665’s (rather than 1653’s) case for war with the tippling Dutch, this would be all of a piece with Marvell’s alleged preference for what Jonathan Scott calls “state building” (not quite the same thing as “empire”)—a preference Marvell may have shared with Downing. It would also have aligned him with those Dissenters who wished to prove their loyalty to the nation by beating the drums for and fighting in the war. However, Marvell apparently changed his tune very quickly, because the Restoration state proved itself incapable of rebuilding its navy and recovering its former glory under the Commonwealth, leading to a series of embarrassments culminating in the Chatham raid. In less than a year, Marvell became an opponent of the war and a fierce critic of the corruption and mismanagement that had led to defeat. The advice-to-a-painter poems reflect this new position, even allowing in “The Second Advice to a Painter” “a certain grudging admiration,” in David Norbrook’s words, for the republican Dutch—an admiration that a contemporary thought was itself a disloyal republican argument for the Good Old Cause. Be that as it may, Bardle turns to a profitable reading of “The Last Instructions to a Painter,” showing that its elegy to the “loyal Scot,” the Catholic Archibald Douglas, constitutes a subtle argument for religious toleration and in effect upbraids Restoration England for failing to memorialize its true war heroes properly, even as the poem as a whole hints that the spectating Duke of Albemarle might become a hero once again if only he would escape the Court’s endemic corruption. Finally, Bardle lends support to Nicholas von Maltzahn’s explanation of the apparent contradiction between Marvell’s attacking the Earl of Clarendon in the poem as emblem of such corruption while defending him weeks later in Parliament. As client of the Duke of Buckingham, Marvell may have been doing Buckingham’s work both in attacking his archrival Clarendon in early Fall 1667 and in supporting him again in the late Fall. Why? Because Buckingham was now pursuing an alliance with Clarendon against Arlington.

Chapter 3 contrasts Marvell with Wallis in the aftermath of Clarendon’s fall. One of the Restoration’s “most effective” satirists, Wallis exemplifies the underexplored “radical moment” from late 1667 to mid-1668—radical in political as well as religious terms. While Wallis, in his guise as the Cobbler of Gloucester, espoused religious toleration, as Marvell and others did during these years, he balked at their route towards it: the royal prerogative. If the Cavalier Parliament would not comprehend Dissenters by allowing them into a roomier Church of England, perhaps the King could make an end run around Parliament and unilaterally indulge Dissenters by permitting them to worship outside it. In the event, the Parliament foisted a Second Conventicle Act on Charles in 1670 as a price for new tax revenues, and the King’s Declaration of Indulgence a few years later had to be withdrawn within a year and replaced by the Test Act. In due course Bardle raises the difficult issue of Marvell’s religion: was he a Nonconformist? Probably not a practicing one, Bardle thinks. Then, turning back to the painter poems, Bardle argues that Marvell was the animating force behind the print publication of his and other poems in the Directions to a Painter volume in 1668.

The chapter concludes with a consideration of lyrics Marvell may have composed during these years. He accepts Alan Pritchard’s dating of “The Garden” after the Restoration; and to von Maltzahn’s invocation of Lord Wharton’s garden at Winchendon as a context for the poem Bardle adds Marvell’s own garden at Highgate. There was a definite politics to the argument for retreating to a garden in the late 1660s in that to retreat to the country was to reject the unmanly luxuries of Charles II’s court. In this light Bardle seizes upon the opening phrase of “The Mower against Gardens” (“Luxurious man”) and declares the poem an allegory of the sexual misbehaviors of that most luxurious of men, the bastard-producing Charles II. This is a misstep, since “Luxurious man” lacks an article. It’s not “The luxurious man” or “A luxurious man,” but luxurious mankind. So while the poem might have recalled for some readers Charles II’s sexual and botanical luxuries, its primary purpose is to voice the point of view of a mower who resents not just the institution of the garden as an unnatural class preserve, but perhaps even the Italianate or French garden styles recently imported to England. Somewhat more plausibly, Bardle runs with the evidence noted by von Maltzahn in the Andrew Marvell Chronology that “The Dialogue between the Resolved Soul and Created Pleasure” was circulating among Dissenters in 1678. The poem could easily have spoken to godly opponents of the Court’s debaucheries (represented by Pleasure). But it is more of a stretch to say that “Marvell had decided to compose and circulate the poem in the Restoration as an oppositional text designed to shore-up Nonconformist resistance to the king’s duplicitous offers of toleration.” Surely an offer of religious toleration, however spurious and however compromised by its originating in a pleasure-seeker like Charles II, isn’t something that can be allegorized as “Pleasure.” This is to confuse the message with its sender.

There are a few other blemishes in an otherwise good book. A few sentences require better editing, and a few claims are thinly documented. Some critics will find the argument for a late date for “The Garden” unconvincing and see Marvell as echoing, rather than anticipating, this poem in the speech to the Czar—if, in fact, Marvell was Carlisle’s speechwriter as well as translator and amanuensis. Likewise, the case for Marvell as a prophet of state building, if not empire, as evidenced by the printing and revision of “The Character of Holland” in 1665 could be better substantiated. More importantly, the book could engage more directly with its implications for rereading the prose works of the 1670s. How, for example, does one reconcile Marvell’s apparent call for an expanding, powerful state in the 1660s with his attack on the expanding, French-style absolutist state in the 1670s (e.g., An Account of the Growth of Popery and Arbitrary Government)? Perhaps the intervening events had changed his mind; perhaps he was only ventriloquizing the views of his latest patron (Shaftesbury rather than Buckingham). One would also like to hear more about the influence of Wallis’s Marprelatery on Marvell’s in The Rehearsal Transpros’d. Nevertheless, The Literary Underground advances Marvell studies by attending to his underexplored early Restoration career and offering astute new readings of the poems he wrote during this turbulent decade.

Austin College