Due to the inconsistencies and ambiguities within his work and the scarcity of information about his personal life, Andrew Marvell has been a source of fascination for scholars and readers since his work found recognition in the early decades of the twentieth century. Born in 1621, Marvell grew up in the Yorkshire town of Hull where his father, Reverend 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 B.A. in 1639, Marvell stayed on at Trinity, apparently to complete an M.A. degree. In 1641, however, his father drowned in the Hull estuary and Marvell abandoned his studies. During the 1640's Marvell traveled extensively on the Continent, adding Dutch, French, Spanish, and Italian, to his Latin and Greekmissing the English civil wars entirely.
Marvell spent most of the 1650's working as a tutor, first for Mary Fairfax, daughter of a retired Cromwellian general, then for one of Cromwell's wards. Scholars believe that Marvell's greatest lyrics were written during this time. In 1657, due to Milton's efforts on his behalf, Marvell was appointed Milton's Latin secretary, a post Marvell held until his election to Parliament in 1660.
A well-known politician, Marvell held office in Cromwell's government and represented Hull to Parliament during the Restoration. His very public positionin a time of tremendous political turmoil and upheavalalmost certainly led Marvell away from publication. No faction escaped Marvell's satirical eye: he criticized and lampooned both the court and parliament. Indeed, had they been published during his lifetime, many of Marvell's more famous poemsin particular, "Tom May's Death," an attack on the famous Cromwellianwould have made him rather unpopular with Royalist and republican alike.
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 extraordinary diplomatic journeys: to Holland (1662-1663) and to Russia, Sweden, and Denmark (1663-1665). In 1678, after 18 years in Parliament, Marvell died rather suddenly of a fever. Gossip of the time suggested that the Jesuits (a target of Marvell's satire) had poisoned him. After his death he was remembered as a fierce and loyal patriot.
Andrew Marvell (1621-1678), now considered one of the greatest poets of the seventeenth century, published very little of his scathing political satire and complex lyric verse in his lifetime. Although Marvell published a handful of poems in anthologies, a collection of Marvell's 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 PalmerMarvell's housekeeperwho 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 the life of this great poet.