Renaissance Quarterly, Winter 1996 v49 n4 p803(21)

"By Lucan driv'n about": A Jonsonian Marvell's Lucanic Milton. Shifflett, Andrew.

Abstract: Andrew Marvell wrote 'On Paradise Lost' as a tribute to poet John Milton. Unknown to many, this poem was patterned after Ben Jonson's 'To my chosen Friend,' a commendation of Thomas May's popular 'Lucan's Pharsalia' (The Civill Warres of Rome). The striking similarities between the poems are their rhetorical approach and the subjects. Some critics, however, believe that Marvell's style was not based on Jonson's Lucanic poem but on Milton's 'Paradise Lost' itself.

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1996 Renaissance Society of America

Specialists may recall Andrew Marvell's defense of John Milton in The Second Part of The Rehearsall Transpros'd against the attacks of Samuel Parker, once an associate of sorts but by 1673 a champion of religious intolerance. Parker had written in his Reproof that The Rehearsall Transpros'd afforded "as good Precedents for Rebellion and King-killing, as any we meet with in the writings of J.M.";(1) and toward the end of The Second Part Marvell makes a point of rebutting this claim as yet another instance of Parker's malicious immoderation. He allows that it was Milton's "misfortune, living in a tumultuous time, to be toss'd on the wrong side, and [that] he writ Flagrante bello certain dangerous Treatises." With the tumults of the 1640s and 1650s now past, however, Milton has become a perfect example of Stoic constantia: "At His Majesties happy Return, J.M. did partake, even as you your self did for all your huffing, of his Regal Clemency and has ever since expiated himself in a retired silence."(2) This may seem rather too moderate, coming from a friend, but it does provide grounds for an effective attack on a common enemy. Indeed, Marvell is able to turn the language of Stoicism and its "retired silence" to political advantage. The running allusion to the Duke of Buckingham's burlesque, The Rehearsal (1672), is braced here by the moral world of Jonsonian satire; Parker is both Mr. Bayes and a modern-day Sir Politic Would-Be, a man more interested in verba than res, one like the vain "stirrer" who, in Jonson's pun, can do nothing but "die late."(3) He had once "wander'd up and down Moorfields Astrologizing upon the duration of His Majesties Government" and "frequented J.M. incessantly and haunted his house day by day."(4) Milton, however, has always patiently accepted "misfortune" and the consequences of being "toss'd on the wrong side." Having like Marvell made destiny his choice, Milton was uncompromised in the company of the inconstant, "astrologizing" Parker in the early 1660s, and is untouched by his attacks now.(5)

Milton is a silent Stoic in Marvell's prose defense, but by 1673 this "retired silence" had produced Paradise Lost (1667), Paradise Regain'd (1671), and Samson Agonistes (1671). Of course, the fact that Milton needs to be defended at all suggests that there is a rhetoric to such "silence" and, quite likely, a politics to it as well. Within the controversial context shared by Marvell, Milton, and Parker, such retirement is a function, not of actual withdrawal - "Death to the Muses, and a real literal quitting of this World," as the royalist poet Abraham Cowley had imagined it in 1656 - but of controversy itself.(6) Indeed, the "retired silence" of Marvell's Milton has a secure place in a politically charged tradition of Stoic resistance that seventeenth-century readers understood much better than we, one that reaches back to the censored eloquence of Tacitus's republican martyrs for inspiration. "Punitis ingeniis gliscit auctoritas," wrote Tacitus of the doomed republican historian Cremutius Cordus in Annals 4.35 - a thought nicely translated by Ben Jonson in Sejanus his Fall (1605): "the punishment / Of wit, doth make th'authoritie [of wit] increase."(7) "Regal Clemency" was a king's politic alternative to outright punishment; but honor and authority could still be gained in the study when not in the forum, and the traditional Stoic critique of the tyrant's generosity as worthless translated powerfully for censured republicans and nonconformists in the wake of civil war and a still disputed settlement. Thus, although the "retired silence" that Marvell claims for Milton is allowed and indeed enforced by the king's "Regal Clemency," it could also be a direct challenge to that clemency.(8)

It has not been generally recognized, however, that Marvell's Stoic and Stoically republican attitudes toward Milton ran deeper than the rhetoric of this prose defense. While some readers will be familiar with the passages quoted above, no one to my knowledge has noted that Marvell's "On Paradise Lost," the famous commendatory poem of "misdoubting" prefixed to the 1674 edition of Milton's epic, has a clear model in an earlier commendatory poem in the Stoic tradition: Ben Jonson's "To my chosen Friend, The learned Translator of Lucan, Thomas May, Esquire." The translation referred to in Jonson's title is Thomas May's popular Lucan's Pharsalia: or The Civill Warres of Rome (1627), a work that, though obscure to twentieth-century eyes, caught the attention of both Jonson and the critically and politically savvy Marvell. "To My Chosen Friend" welcomes readers to every edition of Lucan's Pharsalia, and it is reasonable to think that Marvell knew the commendation as well as he knew the epic.(9) In their larger outlines, Jonson's poem on May and Lucan's Pharsalia and Marvell's longer poem on Milton and Paradise Lost share the unusual rhetorical procedure of severe "misdoubt" followed by enthusiastic approbation of form and content. In praising Milton and his "vast Design," Marvell adopts the critical language used by Jonson in praising the heroic coherence of Lucan's "whole frame"; in praising Milton as a poet who "above humane flight dost soar aloft," Marvell follows Jonson's commendation of May's success as a translator who faithfully "interpreted" the gods Phoebus and Hermes. Verbal, formal, and philosophical similarities link these poems, and, as I shall show in the latter pages of this essay, these links were likely to function as political commentary in 1674. John Aubrey notes that May's "translation of Lucan's excellent poeme made him in love with the republique, which tang stuck by him."(10) The same "tang" pervades both "To My Chosen Friend" and "On Paradise Lost." Lucan's Pharsalia brought the wars and ideas of Caesar, Pompey, and Cato home to English readers during years when they could relate directly to the experience of civil war. To praise Milton in a Jonsonian manner is, in this outstanding case, to praise him for having written a Lucanic poem.(11)

In "On Paradise Lost" Marvell writes:

When I beheld the Poet blind, yet bold, In slender Book his vast Design unfold, Messiah Crown'd, Gods Reconcil'd Decree, Rebelling Angels, the Forbidden Tree, Heav'n, Hell, Earth, Chaos, All; the Argument Held me a while misdoubting his Intent, That he would ruine (for I saw him strong) The sacred Truths to Fable and old Song, (So Sampson groap'd the Temples Posts in spight) The World o'rewhelming to revenge his Sight.

Yet as I read, soon growing less severe, I lik'd his Project, the success did fear; Through that wide Field how he his way should find O'er which lame Faith leads Understanding blind; Lest he perplext the things he would explain, And what was easie he should render vain.

Or if a Work so infinite he spann'd, Jealous I was that some less skilful hand (Such as disquiet alwayes what is well, And by ill imitating would excell) Might hence presume the whole Creations day To change in Scenes, and show it in a Play.

Pardon me, mighty Poet, nor despise My causeless, yet not impious, surmise. But I am now convinc'd, and none will dare Within thy Labours to pretend a Share. Thou hast not miss'd one thought that could be fit, And all that was improper dost omit: So that no room is here for Writers left, But to detect their Ignorance or Theft.

That Majesty which through thy Work doth Reign Draws the Devout, deterring the Profane. And things divine thou treatst of in such state As them preserves, and Thee inviolate. At once delight and horrour on us seize, Thou singst with so much gravity and ease; And above humane flight dost soar aloft, With Plume so strong, so equal, and so soft. The Bird nam'd from that Paradise you sing So never Flags, but alwaies keeps on Wing.

Where couldst thou Words of such a compass find? Whence furnish such a vast expense of Mind? Just Heav'n Thee, like Tiresias, to requite, Rewards with Prophesie thy loss of Sight.

Well mightst thou scorn thy Readers to allure With tinkling Rhime, of thy own Sense secure; While the Town-Bays writes all the while and spells, And like a Pack-Horse tires without his Bells. Their Fancies like our bushy Points appear, The Poets tag them; we for fashion wear. I too transported by the Mode offend, And while I meant to Praise thee, must Commend. Thy verse created like thy Theme sublime, In Number, Weight, and Measure, needs not Rhime.(12)

Perhaps the most striking aspect of this poem is its analytical rigor, Marvell's willingness to revise the generic conventions of commendatory verse by repeatedly straining praise through a sieve of doubt.(13) But whatever they think of his motives, critics have assumed that Marvell had models - that the poem did not spring unbidden from his forehead. Reasonably enough, the most popular place to look for models has been Paradise Lost itself. "The first passage of the poem," according to Rosalie L. Colie, "is written in a formal Miltonic syntax."(14) This may be true, but if Marvell adopted a Miltonic style in "On Paradise Lost," the result is Milton blended with a heavy dose of Jonson.

Compare "On Paradise Lost" with "To My Chosen Friend":

When, Rome, I reade thee in thy mighty paire, And see both climing up the slippery staire Of Fortunes wheele by Lucan driv'n about, And the world in it, I begin to doubt, At every line some pinn thereof should slacke At least, if not the generall Engine cracke. But when againe I view the parts so peiz'd, And those in number so, and measure rais'd, As neither Pompey's popularitie, Caesar's ambition, Cato's libertie, Calme Brutus tenor start; but all along Keepe due proportion in the ample song, It makes me ravish'd with just wonder, cry What Muse, or rather God of harmony Taught Lucan these true moodes! Replyes my sence What godds but those of arts, and eloquence? Phoebus, and Hermes? They whose tongue, or pen Are still th'interpreters twixt godds, and men! But who hath them interpreted, and brought Lucans whole frame unto us, and so wrought, As not the smallest joynt, or gentlest word In the great masse, or machine there is stirr'd? The selfe same Genius! so the worke will say. The Sunne translated, or the Sonne of May.

Your true friend in Judgement and Choise


Certainly "To My Chosen Friend" is a much less ambitious poem than "On Paradise Lost." Marvell can, of course, stand on his own. Nevertheless, if the allusive structure that I see is not chimerical, I am convinced that it is not a coincidence, not simply a matter of generic tradition working itself out without respect to particular exemplary texts. If Marvell imitates Jonson he does so by practicing an imitative poetic close to Jonson's own, one in which, as Richard S. Peterson writes, "the poet's materials are not inert and suppressed 'sources,' merely a part of the genesis of the poem, but allusions meant to be recognized - signs in the finished work that its originality, organization, and continuing life depend on suggestive links to the great writers of antiquity."(16) This describes Jonson's approach to the classics, but much the same may be said of Marvell's approach to Jonson.

The basic link between the poems is the similarity of their rhetorical occasions - occasions that are, in a sense, their subjects as well. Jonson begins with "When, Rome, I reade thee in thy mighty paire" and builds arrestingly to "I begin to doubt, / At every line"; and that doubt is followed two lines later with a reconsideration beginning "But . . . . "Marvell follows the outlines of this sequence when he writes: "When I beheld the Poet blind, yet bold, / In slender Book his vast Design unfold, / . . . the Argument / Held me a while misdoubting his Intent"; and then follows this five lines later with a reconsideration beginning "Yet . . . . "The occasion that Marvell represents - the temporal process of doubting and discrimination when reading another's texts, a process so characteristic of Marvell - is also a recurrent concern for Jonson. Indeed, metaphor describing this process is one of Jonson's favorite poetic tropes, and a thoroughly Stoic habit of "defensive self-affirmation" runs throughout his prose Discoveries as well.(17) Jonson's habit has a rhetorical model and philosophical grounding in Seneca's Epistulae morales, in which Seneca treats Epicurus's sayings as "gifts" that must be handled with great care: properly used, they are salutary to the novice Stoic; improperly used, they are dangerous.(18) But how does this critical process work in "To My Chosen Friend," and what was there for Marvell to notice most when he wrote of Milton?

Perhaps the first thing to notice about "To My Chosen Friend" is that the "misdoubt" posed and then answered in regard to form and decorum is associated - as such doubt so often is in Jonson's texts - with serious ethical and political misgivings. It is remarkable that the title and first line indicate different addressees, the former being discarded for the latter throughout most of the poem. For when Jonson begins "to doubt, / At every line," he is addressing not Thomas May, but Rome "When . . . I reade thee." Literally speaking to Roman political history, not a "Chosen Friend," Jonson addresses a state overwhelmed by civil war and the ambitions of "thy mighty paire," Caesar and Pompey, to climb "the slippery staire / Of Fortunes wheele." The historical subject becomes interchangeable with Lucan's poem as a formal construct, although Jonson's "strong lines" - Lucanic in the use of the comma to shape rhythm and sense - make it difficult to say exactly how this happens.(19) "Some pinn thereof" and "the generall Engine" that may "cracke" seem to refer to "Fortunes wheele," "the world in it," and finally to the poetic "world" of the Pharsalia itself. The situation is dramatic. Jonson had used similar language in Catiline his Conspiracy (1611); there Catiline wishes, with perverse Senecan egotism, "That I could reach the axell, where the pinnes are, / Which bolt this frame; that I might pull 'hem out, / And pluck all into chaos, with my selfe."(20) Paradoxically enough, such extreme language is the special domain of the Stoic, whose studied detachment is, as Gordon Braden writes, "continuous and deeply involved with the most paralytic kind of anger."(21) Jonson's ideal reader fears that Lucan's formal, ethical, and political construct is in danger of a similar "slacke" and "cracke"; and perhaps that reader also fears the "slippery staire" of the reading process itself. Thus, Jonson may be suggesting, "When I read this unusual poem about violent civil war I worry that my own critical skills may fail, that I may be overcome by the narrative, and that I may draw unwise political conclusions."

Finally, however, there is a characteristic Jonsonian turn: "But when againe I view the parts so peiz'd, / And those in number so, and measure rais'd / . . . . It makes me ravish'd with just wonder, cry . . . !" In the course of this long exclamation, Jonson argues that the ethical and political claims of Pompey, Caesar, Cato, and Brutus "all along / Keepe due proportion in the ample song"; and he suggests that the poet, having studied with a "God of harmony," has attained heroic status himself in holding the difficult, centrifugal subject together. Pompey, Caesar, Cato, and Brutus - along with their "popularitie," "ambition," "libertie," and "tenor" - remain uncompromised in their resolute differences. The task has not been easy. With "parts so peiz'd," Jonson suggests that the various "parts" of the poem have been balanced as one balances weights on a scale and also hints, recalling "the Muses anvile" of his poem on Shakespeare, that they have been shaped by terrific force as if hammered in a forge.(22) It has been a balancing act at once delicate and fierce, a task fit for a poetic Hercules or Cato. It is significant that Jonson, who had written commendatory poems for the 1609 edition of Sir Clement Edmondes's Observations upon Caesars Commentaries, does not choose one hero over the others, "so peiz'd."(23) Indeed, he suggests that to do so would be to disregard the true formal achievement of Lucan's poem, the "due proportion" that the handling of the various themes does in fact "Keepe."(24)

Returning to the first few lines of "On Paradise Lost" - to Marvell's description of the vast subject of Milton's poem - one can see that he has been reading Jonson all along. Milton writes of "Messiah Crown'd, Gods Reconcil'd Decree, / Rebelling Angels, the Forbidden Tree, / Heav'n, Hell, Earth, Chaos, All." Although Marvell's lengthy sentence with its enjambed lines and many breathless participles has been taken by some critics to be a close imitation of Milton's style in Paradise Lost, it is just as close, and perhaps closer, to the "climing" and "driv'n" verse used by Jonson when he first describes the Pharsalia. Indeed, Messiah, God, angels - linked by asyndeton as Jonsonian as it is Miltonic - take the place of Jonson's four Lucanic characters; and "Heav'n, Hell, Earth, Chaos, All" are thrust together, or apart, as violently as are the elements of Lucan's "world."

As I have suggested above, the second sentence of "To My Chosen Friend" concludes with an exclamation that raises the question of divine inspiration: "What Muse, or rather God of Harmony / Taught Lucan these true moodes!" For Jonson, of course, this is a rhetorical, not a theological, question. It is a fitting topic of praise, and answering it takes the form of more rhetorical questions: "Replyes my sence / What godds but those of arts, and eloquence? / Phoebus, and Hermes?" And Jonson says that Thomas May, in turn, artfully and eloquently interprets them. But Marvell takes these rhetorical questions and doubts and turns them into another question: given that Milton deals with "The sacred Truths to fable and old Song" in Paradise Lost, can a careful, critical reader be sure that Milton has been a faithful interpreter, as it were, "twixt godds, and men"? The problem is all the more serious since Jonson's "God of harmony" has been supplanted by a God whose ways, Milton thought, needed to be justified.

As we have seen, Marvell has initially described his subject in Jonson's terms, and so he seems to have found hints for his answer to this religious and political "misdoubt" not in theological tracts, but in Jonson's poem as well. Marvell's answer recalls "To My Chosen Friend" in two ways: the first centers on issues of formal decorum and the second on translation and prophecy. His praise of Milton's mastery of form - "Thou hast not miss'd one thought that could be fit, / And all that was improper dost omit" - recalls Jonson's claim that May has brought "Lucans whole frame unto us, and so wrought, / As not the smallest joynt, or gentlest word / In the great masse, or machine there is stirr'd." Similarly, Marvell's final couplet - "Thy verse created like thy Theme sublime, / In Number, Weight, and Measure, needs not Rhime" - echoes Jonson when he views "againe ... the parts so peiz'd, / And those in number so, and measure rais'd." Although Jonson and Marvell share a common source for these lines in the Wisdom of Solomon - "thou hast ordered all things in measure, and number, and weight" (11:20) - I suspect that Marvell's use of this verse may have followed from a belief that Jonson had used it well in "To My Chosen Friend." And so, while at first glance it may seem that Marvell follows Jonson closely in only his first thirty lines - that is, his poem divides into a Jonsonian section running to line 30 and an utterly original section beginning at line 31 - it is actually the case that Marvell draws on Jonson throughout his poem.

Mastery of decorum can be so crucial only if the subject matter is felt to be profound, and indeed both poems tell of writers faced with great and mysterious originals. Although Jonson is writing about a translation and Paradise Lost is obviously not a translation, Marvell does seem to have thought of Milton's "Project" as in some respects being the task of a translator. This appears to lie behind his "misdoubting" as it is elaborated in the second verse paragraph, where Marvell says that he "did fear" Milton's "success," "Lest he perplext the things he would explain, / And what was easie he should render vain." Both May and Milton are praised for daring to "render" divine "things," and for doing so successfully.

Much as Jonson elevates May's translation of Lucan's "great masse" to a matter of communication with the classical "godds ... of arts, and eloquence," so Marvell in his fifth and sixth verse paragraphs shifts the perspective that he takes on Milton's "Project" from the arena of those writers who "by ill imitating would excell" to the realm of the gods - or rather God - and prophecy. This poet, Marvell claims, "above humane flight dost soar aloft, / With Plume so strong, so equal, and so soft." But how, he asks, is such writing possible? "Where couldst thou Words of such compass find? / Whence furnish such a vast expense of Mind?" Jonson's answer to his analogous doubt in "To My Chosen Friend" - "but who hath them [Phoebus and Hermes] interpreted?" - had been provided by a pun on the names of Hermes, the son of Maia, and Thomas May. Jonson exclaims: "The selfe same Genius! so the worke will say. / The Sunne translated, or the Sonne of May." Marvell could not completely follow Jonson's witty example and identify Milton with God, but he does suggest that his old friend has special privileges of access: "Just Heav'n Thee, like Tiresias, to requite, / Rewards with Prophesie thy loss of Sight." Of course, this answer recalls Milton's reference in Paradise Lost to Homer, Thamyris, Teiresias, and Phineus, the "Prophets old" who, though blind to lesser things, could see greater ones; they are for Milton "equall'd with me in Fate" though superior in "renown."(25) It is interesting that Marvell singles out for comparison Teiresias, the sage who tells the hard truths of fate to Oedipus and Creon; inspired by Milton's career and perhaps also by Jonson's vision of "the slippery staire / Of Fortunes wheele," Marvell affirms the Stoic location of divine knowledge - and political responsibility for that knowledge - within an autonomous self.

The point of this reading is not simply that Marvell imitates Jonson in "On Paradise Lost." That would not be so remarkable. What must be recognized is that Marvell takes one special route among other possibilities within the capacious Jonsonian tradition, a route that Jonson himself laid down, line by line, in quiet protest against the vices of arbitrary rule. "To My Chosen Friend" is not itself a poem of protest, but it may be allied with those poems, written in honor of the texts of admired and trusted contemporaries, that engage in substantial ethical and political criticism. Unlike many of Jonson's less serious commendatory poems, it eschews witty satire at the expense of the object of praise. It rivals in sincerity the much longer poems to Sir Henry Savile on his translation of Tacitus (1591) and to Sir John Selden on his Titles of Honour (1614).(26) This is the historicist and political Jonson, the grave author of Sejanus his Fall and Catiline his Conspiracy, a man more than once accused of sedition.(27)

Indeed, "To My Chosen Friend" is perfectly at home in a politically charged, oppositional context. It follows naturally after a dedication to William Cavendish, second Earl of Devonshire, in which May writes provocatively of Rome at "that unhappy height, in which she could neither retaine her fredome without great troubles nor fall into a Monarchy but most heavy and distastfull."(28) Jonson would have known Lucan's tragic personal history as well: his early literary fame and remarkable public distinctions; his part in Calpurnius Piso's failed conspiracy against Nero; his suicide at the age of twenty-five.(29) In suicide Lucan took what was the best of a limited range of options open to senatorial dissidents during the principate. "The Roman could do no more than turn in upon himself," writes Frederick M. Ahl, "following the example of Cato, transforming the act of self-destruction into a symbolic defiance of temporal authority."(30) Such symbolism was not likely lost on the Stoic Jonson who, as witnessed in Sejanus his Fall and elsewhere, was quite willing to regard suicide, not as a matter of defeat or self-hatred, but as a final act of self-control that can secure lasting honor.(31) The point is emphasized by May in lines comparing Lucan to Virgil: "twas an act more great, and high to moove / A Princes envy, then a Princes love."(32) And in "The Life of Marcus Annaeus Lucanus" May relates the story of the dying Lucan who recites verses from the Pharsalia on a wounded soldier while his own hands and feet grow cold - thus turning poetry into death and death into poetry.(33) Similarly, the Lucan of "To My Chosen Friend" lives on in the history of his text and translator. Jonson uses a conventional topic of praise, of course, but in this case literary tradition is at odds with the tradition of hereditary monarchy.

Long after Jonson's death - and even after May's death in 1650 - Lucan's Pharsalia was still enjoying praise along these lines. It was especially appreciated by those "classical republicans" who dominated literary and political discourse from the execution of Charles I in 1649 to the dissolution of the Long Parliament in 1653 - men with whom one may associate Marvell and identify both May and Milton.(34) (Their favorable opinion was no doubt encouraged by May's deft combination of historical objectivity and party bias in The History of the Parliament of England [1647], an important source for Milton when he wrote Eikonoklastes.)(35) Marchamont Nedham, editor of Mercurius Politicus, quotes twenty-eight lines from Lucan's Pharsalia in November 1651 to show that "it was the glory of Pompey ... that both in Peace and War he approved himself the grand Patron of Publick Liberty," and that "it is not fortune, but a just and noble Cause, that makes men truely great, even after the greatest miseries and misfortunes."(36) Pompey's "character," Nedham writes, has been "translated to the life by the best of Poets, Thomas May our English Lucan, more excellent than the Roman."(37) In January 1652 Nedham links luxury and tyranny as cause and effect, and quotes a "copy of old Catos countenance, as it was drawn by Lucan" - thirteen lines from Lucan's Pharsalia - as a corrective; after Caesar's rise to power, "onely Cato remained as a monument of that Temperance, Vertue, and Freedom, which Flourished under the Government of the people."(38) But even the most stridently republican Lucanic discourse is never far from knowledge of the poet's precocious and dramatic suicide; it encouraged elegiac response in poetry and prose and an iconography appropriate to what may be termed the republican sublime.(39) Lucan's blood flows freely above Caesar, Pompey, and their battling armies on the title page of Lucan's Pharsalia in 1627, 1631, and 1635. A monumental bust depicting his burial "at Rome in his owne most faire and sumpteous gardens" is the subject of the frontispiece in 1650.(40) His ghost haunts the frontispiece to the 1650 edition of May's Continuation of Lucan's Historicall Poem till the Death of Julius Caesar. In "The Mind of the Picture Or, Frontispiece," appended to this edition, the Muse fills a cup with sacrificial blood, gives it to "her dear Poets Ghost," and makes this "command":

Thou, once the Glorie of th'Aonian Wood, But now their sorrow, Lucan, drink this Bloud. No other Nectar Phoebus gives thee now; Nor can the Fates a second life bestow; A second voice by this charm'd cup they may, To give some progress to that stately Lay Thou left'st unfinish'd. End it not until The Senates swords the life of Caesar spill; That he, whose conquests gave dire Nero Reign, May as a sacrifice to thee be slain. The Ghost receiv'd the cup in his pale hand, Drunk, and fulfill'd Calliopes command.(41)

Lucan's spirit thus speaks through May, a "second voice," and the Continuation brings to the Pharsalia a formal, historical, and political coherence that it had not possessed before.(42) And, in a sense, Marvell's "On Paradise Lost" extends these continuities to include John Milton, yet another epic "voice."

Marvell evidently read Jonson's poem with great care, but he never simply lays his attitudes toward his own "Chosen Friend" at Jonson's feet. The political situation demanded a response much more complex than that. For in writing "On Paradise Lost" Marvell was guided, not only by "To My Chosen Friend," as I have shown, and Paradise Lost, as others have shown. He was also guided - sometimes to satirical response - by the language of Milton's political adversaries. For instance, the immediate political context of Marvell's ascription of prophetic powers to the blind Milton included royalist attacks asserting that he had been requited by heaven for his efforts in The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates (1649), Eikonoklastes, Pro populo Anglicano defensio (1651), and Pro populo Anglicano defensio secunda (1654) with humiliating blindness and nothing more.(43) The temporal and ethical disjunctions among Marvell's literary models (Lucan, Jonson, May, and Milton) and the immediate political context were not causes for Marvell to blame those models or show them up as being inadequate to the situation. On the contrary, the disjunctions figure productively: in this case an old poem by Jonson in praise of Lucan and May could be an effective beginning for a poem in praise of Milton. "To My Chosen Friend" gave Marvell a point of departure for responding to contemporary attacks on Milton by suggesting that Milton's unfortunate political situation could be placed within a subtle, intertextual history running from Lucan through Jonson and May (a noted Stoic and two Neostoics) to Milton himself. This move was by no means a retreat from those attacks: it was rather a political strategy itself. "No room is here for Writers left," one might have said at the time, knowing that many of the writers in question were pamphleteers like Samuel Parker.

And although this intertextual history is heavy with feelings of political discontent, it is also, as in much of Jonson's work, a coming-to-terms with discontent. Praise of Lucan was necessarily circumspect, of May virtually impossible, after the Restoration.(44) Marvell was, I think, quite sure of what he was doing, and he took care not to play his cards too openly. When recollections of "To My Chosen Friend" do appear in "On Paradise Lost," they do so most clearly at its beginning and end. Jonson's poem serves, then, as a kind of frame for the various themes that concern Marvell - a "whole Frame" that gives the poem a special perspective on contemporary events and characters. A formalist critic could say with good reason that without this Jonsonian frame Marvell's "On Paradise Lost" would be merely topical, or certainly a good deal more topical than it is. It would be an interesting poem, to be sure, but mainly as a document in the history of poetic taste and for its attack on John Dryden, "the Town-Bays." As it stands, however, the various topical matters take on added significance for their relation to Jonson's rigorous Stoic ethos and its republican posterity. For instance, when Marvell refers to "That Majesty which through thy Work doth Reign," he is asserting in literary terms the Stoic preference for rule of the passions over rule of the state and is also, as Christopher Hill argues, having "a good joke" with his republican friend.(45) Indeed, he may have recalled that the same Stoic preference is expressed by Jesus in Paradise Regained.(46) Similarly, Marvell's criticism of rhyme in the last verse paragraph - "Well mightst thou scorn thy Readers to allure / With tinkling Rhime, of thy own Sense secure" - follows the Stoic identification of linguistic purity with moral integrity so characteristic of Jonson and also directs attention to the note on "The Verse" of Paradise Lost, where Milton claims to have recovered "ancient liberty" for the English epic.(47)

Marvell's use of Jonson's "To My Chosen Friend" is a matter, then, not so much of borrowings patched together as an allusive intertext meant to communicate to knowing readers a political and critical style. Although the Stoic often claims to be most secure among others when using a private language - as when Milton is of his "own Sense secure" - it is quite likely that Marvell expected that at least some of his readers would see the closeness of his poem to Jonson's poem and, by profound extension, the closeness of Milton's poem to Lucan's.(48) One may also conclude from this intertextual strategy that Jonson, in spite of his services to James I and Charles I, could be readily interpreted through what Annabel Patterson has termed the "vocabulary" of the Good Old Cause.(49) The sticking point here, of course, is a fascinating poem of uncertain date that may or may not have been written by Marvell, "Tom May's Death," in which Jonson's ghost is made to condemn May as, among other things, "Most servil' wit, and Mercenary Pen."(50) Indeed, the political stakes of Marvell's association of Lucan, Jonson, May, and Milton in 1674 may have been set by Marvell himself more than twenty years earlier. But situations, as Marvell knew, are critical. Civil war was no longer the problem: a reactionary political climate that could barely suffer the existence of an elderly poet was the problem. Marvell's manner of engaging with the texts of his culture was always open and dynamic, and Marvellians will always be at work gathering the evidence. In regard to Lucan's Pharsalia and "To My Chosen Friend," his critical engagement may be said to have run from "Tom May's Death," through the ambivalent "Hotarian Ode upon Cromwel's Return from Ireland," to "On Paradise Lost," in which Jonson's May comes to serve in some respects as a positive model for Marvell's Milton. Thus, those who admire both Jonson and Marvell may now say happily that if Marvell looked to Jonson's legacy for authoritarian prescriptions in the early 1650s, he could see something much more expansive and liberating in it when he set about to praise Milton in 1674. And whatever Marvell thought of May as a person, he had evidently concluded in the 1670s that certain political themes and literary examples from the Stoic tradition - a tradition that May had done much to popularize - were worth preserving. They were worth preserving, at the very least, for the sake of preserving Milton against reactionary attacks.

Marvell's defense of Milton in The Second Part of The Rehearsall Transpros'd and the intertextual poetic tradition that he constructs in "On Paradise Lost" are very much of a piece. Temporally, of course, they are close and impose an artful period on Milton's long career. Moreover, both interpretations of Milton and his work celebrate aspects of ethical and formal balance that Marvell apparently had come to associate with Stoic wisdom, qualities that must have held profound poetic and political significance for him in the 1670s. In this case, I am sure that we can learn a great deal from Andrew Marvell, a poet who, as Colie thought, wrote a Poetry of Criticism. For, if Marvell's imitation of Jonson's "To My Chosen Friend" sheds new light on Marvell himself in the 1670s, it should also be taken as an invitation to consider more closely Milton's own engagements with Stoic tradition. Following the lead of Marvell's Lucanic Milton, I have argued elsewhere that allusions to characters and episodes of the Pharsalia are crucial to Milton's literary and political strategies in Paradise Regain'd - Jesus's Stoic indifference to Satan's "Stoic severe" notwithstanding.(51) But there is much more work to be done. Aubrey says that Lucan's republican "tang stuck by" Thomas May, and we should not be surprised that Jonson, Marvell, Milton, and their most sympathetic readers were "by Lucan driv'n about" as well.


1 Parker, 212.

2 Marvell, 1673, 378-79.

3 "To . . . Sir Lucius Cary, and Sir H. Morison," Jonson, 8:243.

4 Marvell, 1673, 379.

5 My understanding of Marvell and destiny has been shaped by Wallace.

6 Cowley, A3v.

7 3.475-76, Jonson, 4:408. See Patterson, 1984, 60-61; Worden, 1993, 78-79.

8 There is an unresolvable conflict within Stoic and Neostoic political discourse between the honor gained by the sovereign through clemency, which Seneca commends at length to Nero in De clementia, and the honor gained by the dissident through retirement. Justus Lipsius argues in Politicorum sive civilis doctrinae libri sex (1589) that clemency expresses the pinnacle of honor and power: princes "purchase unto them selves immortall glorie by this meanes; For there is nothing that causeth men to approach so neare unto God, as to give life, and safetie to men" (Lipsius, 31). Others saw tyrannical impulses in such claims and, appealing to Stoic constancy, proclaimed the virtuous person's desire not to be forgiven. This, indeed, is Milton's tactic in Eikonoklastes (1649) when he scorns Charles I's "Trophies of Charity" (Milton, 1953-82, 3:601) - "Trophies," however, that were carried back in triumph to England by Charles II in 1660.

9 Marvell's knowledge of Lucan and Lucan's Pharsalia has been discussed by numerous critics in connection with his "An Horatian Ode upon Cromwel's Return from Ireland"; see Pierre Legouis's commentary in Marvell, 1971, 1:294-303. His knowledge of "To My Chosen Friend" has been asserted by Reedy, Patterson, 1982, and Wiltenburg in articles concerned in part with echoes of Jonson that they find in "Tom May's Death." There were editions of Lucan's Pharsalia in 1626 (the first three books only), 1627, 1631, 1635, 1650, and 1659. There were editions of May's seven-book Continuation of Lucan's Historicall Poem till the Death of Julius Caesar in 1630, 1633, 1650, 1657, and 1659; his Latin version was published at Amsterdam in 1640, in London in 1646, and was included in several scholarly editions of Lucan in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The fullest study of May is by Chester, who provides, 189-96, an extensive bibliography. On Lucan's Pharsalia, see ibid., 133-39; Norbrook, 57-60; Smith, 204-07.

10 Aubrey, 2:56. See Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed., s.v. "tang," [sb..sup.1], for numerous senses involving serpent tongues, fangs, barbs, and spikes. But the marginal alternative "odorem" (Aubrey, 2:56n) and Aubrey's stress on May's debauchery suggest more familiar metaphors.

11 This argument may confound those who feel that "Tom May's Death," in which Jonson's ghost attacks both May and Lucan (Marvell, 1971, 1:94-97), is "in many ways a quintessential Marvellian poem," that it "ought to be Marvell's," and that May was merely "a time-serving follower of fate and fortune, betrayer of his friends and of the king who had extensively patronized him" (Wiltenburg, 117, 124). But the attribution of "Tom May's Death" to Marvell is quite doubtful; see Legouis's headnote in Marvell, 1971, 1:303-04. For a refreshingly objective study of May and of Lucan's contested place in early seventeenth-century English political culture, see Norbrook, who cautions against the commonly held "revisionist view" that "assumes that monarchism was natural to Renaissance poets, that the republicanism of the mid-century was a fleeting aberration to be explained largely in terms of personal grievances" (45-46).

12 Marvell, 1971, 1:137-39. I shall refer to the poem by the title used in the 1674 edition of Paradise Lost.

13 Some have taken this rigor as evidence that Marvell meant to praise himself as much as Milton. Wittreich writes: "What has seemed to so many readers a self-effacing poem is, at least covertly, a self-justifying one" (301).

14 Colie, 7. Wittreich extends the comparison: "Marvell simulates the syntax and sweep of the Miltonic period and, simultaneously, makes his own poem an analogue to a Miltonic structure" (287).

15 Jonson, 8:395. The poem appears in May, 1627, A7.

16 Peterson, 3. See also Greene, 264-93.

17 I take the phrase from Bolgar, 385.

18 Seneca's comment on his frequent quotation of Epicurus - "for indeed I am used to going over to the enemy's camp, not as a deserter, but as a spy" ("soleo enim et in aliena castra transire, non tamquam transfuga, sed tamquam explorator," Epistulae morales 2.5) - inspired Jonson's motto, Tanquam Explorator. See Jonson, 1:261.

19 See Trimpi, 124-26.

20 3.175-77, Jonson, 5:474.

21 Braden, 30.

22 See Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed., s.v. "peise," v., 1-3, and 5, "To drive, bear down, etc. by impact of a heavy body, or (generally) by force; to force." Cf. "To . . . Mr. William Shakespeare": "he, / Who casts to write a living line, must sweat, / (Such as thine are) and strike the second heat / Upon the Muses anvile: turne the same, / (And himselfe with it) that he thinkes to frame" (Jonson, 8:392).

23 Jonson, 8:71-72.

24 Jonson's regard for Lucan as a poet may be thought to set him at odds with Quintilian, who felt that "Lucan is fiery, fast-paced, and especially famous for his ideas, and, frankly, is to be imitated more by orators than by poets" ("Lucanus ardens et concitatus et sententiis clarissimus et, ut dicam quod sentio, magis oratoribus quam poetis imitandis," Institutio oratoria 10.1.90); but the proviso amounts to praise from Quintilian's perspective. That perspective is skewed by Thomas Hobbes in a preface to his translations of Homer "Concerning the Venues of an Heroique Poem" (1677). Hobbes argues that the virtue of impartiality is lacking in Lucan, who "shews himself openly in the Pompeyan Faction, inveighing against Caesar throughout his Poem, like Cicero against Cataline or Marc Antony; and is therefore justly reckon'd by Quintilian as a Rhetorician rather than a Poet. And a great part of the delight of his Readers proceedeth from the pleasure which too many men take to hear Great persons censured" (B3). I am indebted to David Norbrook for this reference to Hobbes. Another line of authoritarian attack is taken by Sir William Davenant in A Discourse upon Gondibert (1650): Lucan's "enterprize rather beseemed an Historian then a Poet: for wise Poets think it more worthy to seek out truth in the passions, then to record the truth of actions" (6). The question whether Lucan wrote history or oratory was less important to seventeenth-century readers than whether he also wrote poetry, and answering that question was usually a political exercise. On these debates, see MacLean, 26-44, who notes that Jonson, unlike some other critics of Lucan, "celebrates the Roman's text precisely because of its likely effect upon readers" (32).

25 3.33-36, Milton, 1957, 258.

26 Jonson, 8:61-62, 158-61.

27 On Jonson's historicism and the political risks that he incurred thereby, see Worden, 1993.

28 May, 1627, A3-A3v. On this and the other dedications, see Norbrook, 58-60.

29 For an excellent "Introduction to the Poet and His Age," see Ahl, 17-61.

30 Ibid., 34.

31 The extreme example is Jonson's "Brave Infant of Saguntum," who, born during Hannibal's sack of the town, "didst hastily returne, / And mad'st thy Mothers wombe thine urne" ("To . . . Sir Lucius Cary, and Sir H. Morison," Jonson, 8:242).

32 May, 1627, facing title page.

33 Ibid., A6-A6v.

34 See Worden, 1982, 190-91.

35 See Chester, 175-87; Smith, 342-44. Milton's debt to May is documented by Whiting, 324-53.

36 Nedham, 1205.

37 Ibid., 1205-06.

38 Ibid., 1335-36. On Nedham and Mercurius Politicus, see Smith, 182-87.

39 On the sublime in republican literary culture, see Patterson, 1993, 256-72; Kahn, 220-24; Smith, 214-15. Patterson and Kahn are especially concerned with Paradise Lost.

40 May, 1627, A6v.

41 May, 1650, A4; italics reversed.

42 Such, at least, is the poet's judgment. Just as May's Continuation supplements the Pharsalia, so the "Mind" supplements Statius's Silvae 2.7, an ode addressed to Lucan's widow.

43 A typical attack is made by Sir Roger L'Estrange in No Blinde Guides (1660): he questions whether Milton really expects "to see Christ, Reigning upon Earth, even with those very eyes you Lost (as 'tis reported) with staring too long, and too sawcily upon the Portraiture of his Vicegerent, to breake the Image, as your Impudence Phrases it?" (8) - referring, of course, to Eikonoklastes. On the politics of Milton's blindness, see Wilding, 237-44.

44 The exhumation of May's body from Westminster Abbey was ordered in 1661 - "part," as Norbrook says, "of a ritual expulsion of republicanism from the nation's political culture: twenty other men and women opposed to the royal cause were also reburied" (45).

45 Hill, 1978, 24.

46 2.466-72, Milton, 1957, 504.

47 Ibid., 210. See Patterson, 1993, 257-58.

48 A Lucanic reading of Paradise Lost is beyond the scope of this essay. See Quint, 268-324, who writes: "By insisting upon the open-endedness of history, Lucan's losers' epic not only nostalgically suggests that the events that led up to defeat could have turned out differently, but also asserts that the setback may only be temporary, that continuing resistance may turn the tables on the victorious enemy. Paradise Lost most fully belongs to the tradition of Lucan in the resistance to closure that makes its ending into a new beginning for Adam and Eve, in their carrying on the memory of Eden as a 'Paradise within thee happier far'" (307). See also Martindale, 197-227. On Paradise Lost and the politics of republican and nonconformist resistance, see Hill, 1977, 354-412; Davies; Wilding, 205-58; Radzinowics; Bennett, 33-58; Patterson, 1993, 244-75; Kahn, 209-35.

49 Patterson, 1993, 210-25.

50 Marvell, 1971, 1:95; see above, n. 11. One of the ironies of this poem is that the ghost's praise of the rare poet who "single fights forsaken Vertues cause" even "when the wheel of Empire, whirleth back, / And though the World's disjointed Axel crack" (ibid., 1:96) appears to fuse allusions to the first several lines of "To My Chosen Friend" and to Cato's praise in Pharsalia 2.286-323 of active virtue practiced in the republican cause (May, 1627, C3v-C4). This suggests to me some mitigation of the attack; but Patterson, 1982, 390-91, argues that the allusion to Jonson is intended to bring Jonson himself into the satire, linking him dyslogistically to the same habits of mind for which his ghost condemns May.

51 4.280, Milton, 1957, 522. See Shifflett, 164-214.


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