Both personally and professionally, privacy has been a daunting and fascinating topic over the past two weeks.
I presented a paper entitled ‘Denying Authorship: Marvell, Maniban and the Quest for Privacy’ in Geneva, which was followed by another, ‘Marvell in Manuscript and Print: Public and Private Experiences, 1649-1660’, at the Andrew Marvell Centre in Hull. The latter was, coincidentally, almost a private affair.
Finally, I ended up in Oxford for a ‘Marvell and London’ conference this weekend.
A universal advantage with privacy is that people remember the subject. Unlike topographies and typography, episcopacy and liturgies, privacy is something that everyone can, and in a way, wants to, identify with.
We are instantly drawn to adapt our own sense of privacy to the picture we have of the early modern world in which our protagonists lived.
And our protagonists are real people. Tapping into somebody else’s psyche and trying to understand the creation of the puzzles rather than the answers is part of creating and defining a more colourful literary history.
We want to know what there was to hide. We probably won’t find out – but we can be as inquisitive as we like under the guise of ‘history’.
Privacy & Evidence: ‘Marvell and London’
One really useful thing that emerged from the ‘Marvell and London’ event was a discussion about the way evidence is used.
Privacy is a nightmare when it comes to evidence. We are dealing with what we don’t know as much, if not more, as what we do.
All the same, it amazes me is how assertive people can get over what we cannot be certain about. Evidence (and the lack of it) gets overlooked and misused to say what the commentator wants to believe, with little thought given to the spectrum of possibilities available when there is an absence of evidence.
‘Marvell never married’ is the worst example. That itself cannot be proved, and would have to disprove other evidence to the contrary.
Useful contributions included an analysis of the 1665 London edition of ‘The Character of Holland’ by David Norbrook, which assessed how the language of the abridged version brought the English and Dutch closer together in Marvell’s poetry of criticism. This is unlike the original version (c. 1653) which distinctly kept them apart.
I’m fortunate, perhaps, that this did not intercept my own work on ‘The Character of Holland’ presented in Hull, but the detail is so valuable in the discussions about Marvell’s authorship of the later version, which have hitherto been inconclusive.
A stunning new assessment of Marvell’s late correspondence with Sir Edward Harley revealed some excellent possibilities for Harley’s relationship with Marvell and Herbert Croft, author of The Naked Truth later defended by Marvell.
This also adds further questions as to the identity of the ‘fool’ in Marvell’s 1676 letter to William Popple, which has sat uneasily between the abbé and graphologist, Maniban, and the Anglican, Croft. Would Marvell have so blatantly criticised Croft for his authorship if he knew Sir Edward Harley was heavily involved? Questions, questions…
Back to Manuscripts
A leading figure in the field, Steven Zwicker, spoke of the appearance of printed texts being misused (perhaps overused) as evidence with too little consideration of manuscript circulation.
Zwicker, presenting work co-authored with Derek Hirst, challenged the now readily accepted argument made by Allan Pritchard in 1983 that much of Marvell’s lyric poetry was actually written after the Restoration.
Pritchard’s claims, that select Marvellian works include echoes from the publications of Cowley and Katherine Phillips in 1666-7, were accused by Hirst/Zwicker of taking printed texts as the assumption of absence of manuscript circulation (as Harold Love would term it, weaker publication) in the prior 15 years.
Although Marvell did like to make use of printed texts upon their release, the issue taken to task was the absence of evidence too easily being capitalised upon as evidence of absence – something I am all too aware of in a study of Marvell and privacy.
While it all requires me to reign in my own stance in terms of absence of evidence and how assertively I can make claims for privacy, to hear these issues addressing Marvell’s lyric canon is a terrific repayment of a debt owed to me by a great scholar.
(Professor Zwicker found the syllabus to my ‘Andrew Marvell’ module taught at the University of Geneva and chose to use it himself. Lucky me!)