Of the several roles played by Andrew Marvell – poet, pamphleteer, civil servant, politician, businessman, tolerationist – one of the most familiar but least glamorous is that of tutor. It is a role immortalized in one of his greatest poems, ‘Upon Appleton House’, with its elaborate, witty, and self-deprecating celebration of the beauty and virtue of Mary Fairfax, the young girl he was employed, for two years, on the family estate just outside of York, to teach. The fame and importance of that poem makes the Nun Appleton period the most iconic of Marvell’s tutoring engagements. And yet because of this its importance is in danger of over-emphasis. And such danger is intensified by an historically questionable tendency to romanticize the relationship between tutor and charge. The fact is that Marvell’s tutoring of Mary was an interlude in what was a longer, less romantic, and less clearly visible career as a tutor to young gentlemen.

Marvell undertook two such stints of tutoring: the first, in the mid-to-late-1640s, during which time, according to the intelligencer Samuel Hartlib, he traveled ‘abroad with Noblemens Sones’; we have it on the authority of Milton that during this period he visited Holland, France, Italy, and Spain.1 On that trip we glimpse him as he encounters Flecknoe in Rome and the Villiers brothers somewhere along the way.2 But exactly whom he was tutoring on this tour remains a mystery. The second stint of tutoring took place a decade later, in 1656, when Marvell traveled with William Dutton, ward of the Protector, to spend time at the Protestant academy of Saumur.3 Such stints of European travel with young men from powerful families presented the tutor with valuable opportunities, both personal and professional.

There were significant differences between tutoring boys and teaching girls: differences curricular and pastoral. Although some early modern educational theorists recommended educating young women – and some parents provided for their daughters a serious academic education – it remains generally true that in the middle of the seventeenth century the education of elite women focused almost entirely on the development of a range of social accomplishments.4 These included modern languages (French and Italian, perhaps Spanish), dancing, singing, and the learning of an instrument. For gentlewomen such instruction was generally provided within the household, or within the household of a relative. And several tutors were usually required. When Marvell took over the education of Mary Fairfax, she was around twelve years old, and if (as seems likely) she is the ‘Celia’ of his commendatory poem to the Hull physician, Robert Witty, Marvell taught her French and Italian.5 There is no evidence (and it is inherently unlikely) that he took her into the advanced academic disciplines.

The avenues for self-advertisement and advancement afforded by teaching modern European languages to a barely teenaged girl within her own household were limited. As such, it is reasonable for J. P. Kenyon to opine, in reflecting on Marvell’s tutoring assignments in the 1650s, that the role of tutor was ‘a lowly one’, equivalent to that of a Victorian governess.6 But the role of tutor to a young noble or gentleman might involve some significant variations. In serving as traveling companion to noblemen’s sons during the 1640s, and in taking young William Dutton to Saumur in the late 1650s, Marvell was playing a somewhat more substantial role than Kenyon’s characterization allows, that of traveling tutor.

The traveling tutor was typically engaged after a boy had completed his formal schooling – after, that is, a spell at one of the universities, and perhaps even an Inn of Court. His role was not to cover the standard grammar school or university disciplines; it was to bring book-learning to life: to orchestrate what we might, in modern curricular parlance, term ‘a capstone experience’, by way of a European tour. By exposing a young man to a range of cultures and languages, the tour cemented by lived experience and practice the merely theoretical knowledge he had previously garnered of languages, history, moral and political philosophy.7 During the tour some new, and practical, disciplines were typically introduced: fortification, for instance, studied by way of applied geometry as a branch of mathematics. Such studies were supplemented by the actual observation of the fortified towns through which the travelers passed. The student was expected to study and take notes on the lands he visited, noting geographical and architectural features, differing forms of government, military and naval dispositions, commerce, industries, and natural resources.8 In his essay ‘Of Travaile’ (1625) Francis Bacon offers a pithy, comprehensive list of desiderata to be noticed, and noted by the traveler in his diary:

The Courts of Princes, specially when they give Audience to Ambassadours: The Courts of Justice, while they sit and heare Causes; And so of Consistories Ecclesiasticke: The Churches, and Monasteries, with the Monuments which are therein extant: The Wals and Fortifications of Cities and Townes; And so the Havens and Harbours: Antiquities, and Ruines: Libraries; Colledges, Disputations, and Lectures, where any are: Shipping and Navies: Houses, and Gardens of State, and Pleasure, neare great Cities: Armories: Arsenals: Magazens: Exchanges: Burses; Ware-houses: Exercises of Horseman-ship; Fencing; Trayning of Souldiers; and the like: Comedies; Such whereunto the better Sort of persons doe resort; Treasuries of Jewels, and Robes; Cabinets, and Rarities: And to conclude, whatsoever is memorable in the Places; where they goe.9

If Bacon’s tourist had any time left, he might also master the masculine equivalents of the young girl’s social accomplishments: for boys as for girls, dancing; but also martial exercises: fencing and the manège of great horses, perhaps in one of the academies which sprang up in and around Paris in the early seventeenth century.10 As a preparation for a life in public service and training for a life at court, the tour was, as James Cleland put it in his Institution of a Young Noble Man (1607), ‘the true Science of Pollicie, and the School of al gouernme[n]te’, ‘the principal & best meanes, whereby a young Noble man, or anie other maie profit his Prince, his Countrie, and himselfe’.11

The tour thus conceived was a significant undertaking, and the traveling tutor a position of trust and responsibility. The tutor was in charge of the young man’s intellectual development. He provided linguistic tutelage as he and his charge encountered different tongues; he drew attention to features of geographical or architectural interest and offered insight into local social and political institutions; and he furnished counsel in intercourse with ambassadors or other great men and their employees.12 The tutor was responsible also for domestic arrangements: for renting lodgings, hiring horses, retaining guides; he managed the young man’s finances, and ensured that his charge received instruction in exercises and disciplines along the way, according to local expertise. Finally, and most importantly, the tutor was responsible for the pastoral care of his charge, who was often on the cusp of adulthood. This was an absolutely crucial responsibility, given both the perennial tendency of the young to cut loose on leaving home and the manifold temptations that cities like Paris or Venice had to offer, along with the ideological dangers presented to English Protestant travelers by Rome or Madrid. In addition to the dangers of moral or religious corruption, an additional fear troubled Englishmen as their sons headed off to the continent: fear of identity loss. Youth was of course regarded as naturally fickle; but added to this concern was the belief that the English character was peculiarly shallow, unstable, and easily overwritten by the stronger impressions of strange lands and more vibrant cultures, such as those of southern Europe.13 It is this fear that gives us those stock figures of the age: the affected traveler, the Italianate or Frenchified Englishman.

The role of traveling tutor was therefore one of great responsibility and it demanded a distinctive set of skills: a set of skills more practical than narrowly academic. It required someone who could demonstrate more than a mere scholar’s understanding of the world: someone with a sense of how to get things done; a man who could mingle comfortably with ambassadors and princes, or at least with their secretaries. Bacon, in his letter of educational advice to the Earl of Rutland, suggested that the tutor need not be an expert in a particular region, but ‘some good generall scholler’.14 To find a tutor who was, as he put it, ‘conversant with the world, not locked vp in a studie’, better stocked with ‘Mother wit’ than with ‘Schole-learning’, Cleland recommended looking outside the universities to find someone comfortable in society, with an easy civility and modest discourse.15 For such a role a younger man – more companion than schoolmaster – was usually preferred.

And here we need to depart from Kenyon’s characterization of the tutor as a closeted, pathetic, Jane Eyre-like figure. While Marvell in the mid-1650s may reasonably be characterized as ‘a man in his thirties … with no future’, the role of traveling tutor was one that might be hoped to lead to a future for a young man of ambition, learning, and worldly know-how.16 The skills demanded of the traveling tutor were such as might allow someone of low or middling station both to demonstrate his suitability for a position of consequence in the world, and to make the contacts – with noblemen, ambassadors, and secretaries – that might open the doors to advancement. For such a man, the tour could serve as both training ground and audition for greater things. It was, for instance, common practice for traveling tutors to send back regular intelligence reports to their patrons, and government officials. Some were clearly acting as spies.

While some tutors made their way down familiar academic pathways into college fellowships and then the church, the path was open for those who succeeded in impressing their patrons by their worldly know-how to become courtiers or secretaries, in private households, or within the corridors of government.17 Of those who secured private secretarial positions one of the best known examples is Thomas Hobbes, who, after taking the future second Earl of Devonshire on tour in the 1610s became his secretary, and played very much the same role for the next generation: taking the future third earl on tour in the mid-1630s, and serving him as secretary in the 1650s and after. In this latter role he served the family until his death, running the family library and preparing position papers on matters of domestic and national import.18

Tutors who found positions at court include Robert Dallington, who began his career as a Norfolk schoolmaster, but after traveling in Italy with members of the Manners family secured the patronage first of Prince Henry and then Prince Charles, and ended up with a knighthood and the mastership of the Charterhouse.19 John Finet came from obscure Kentish origins to serve in the secretariat of the Earl of Salisbury, traveled with his son, Lord Cranborne, and became Master of Ceremonies to Charles I.20 Aurelian Townshend traveled with Edward, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, and thrived at the court of Charles I, emerging after the falling out of Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones as one of the principal librettists of the later Caroline court masques.21

A suggestive illustration of the kind of public career Marvell might have hoped to enjoy is provided by the life of a near contemporary, Sir Joseph Williamson. Like Marvell, Williamson was a northerner and the son of a clergyman. He proceeded BA from The Queen’s College, Oxford in 1654, and within a year was leading the son of a Cumbrian gentleman, Sir Richard Lowther, on the tour. On this occasion, at the Protestant academy of Saumur, in the spring of 1656, Williamson would have encountered Marvell in the company of William Dutton. Williamson spent a few years as a fellow of Queen’s before being picked out for his ‘knowledge of worldly affairs’ and appointed under-secretary to the secretary of state for the south. His abilities ensured a rapid rise: through the clerkship of the Privy Council, a knighthood, the presidency of the Royal Society, and eventually the Secretaryship of State itself. Although his public career was ended by his involvement in the fiasco of the Popish Plot, he remained a valued advisor to successive governments and died a wealthy man, worth almost £19,000.22

Such were two possible career paths for the ambitious and talented traveling tutor. And it was to such paths that John Milton and Samuel Hartlib gestured when, in the mid-1650s they reflected on Marvell’s career options. In February 1653 Milton proposed Marvell for an assistant secretaryship in the Office of Foreign Tongues as ‘a man whom both by report, and the converse I have had with him, of singular desert for the state to make use of’.23 In so doing he drew attention to his ‘four yeares abroad in Holland, France, Italy, and Spaine, to very good purpose’; to his linguistic expertise – his knowledge of French, Dutch, Italian, and Spanish; and to his conversance with the classics. He noticed also his potential value to the state, comparing him to the recently murdered diplomat and political theorist, Anthony Ascham. Some two years later, in 1655, Hartlib noted that, having ‘spent all his time in travelling abroad with Noblemens Sones’, Marvell had once again contracted to travel with the son of an unidentified nobleman. He worried that Marvell was too old for such a position, but concluded that he would be prudent to take it, despite being ‘fitter to bee a Secretary of State etc.’24 Both Milton and Hartlib see Marvell’s tutoring as an apprenticeship for service to the state.

But not all saw it in such positive terms. When James Scudamore encountered Marvell at Saumur in the summer of 1656 he wrote to Sir Richard Browne at Paris describing the tutor as ‘a notable English Italo-Machavillian’.25 It is hard to know exactly how to take this. It is certainly possible that it implies approval of the tutor as an urbane and sophisticated man of the world – one who understands the hidden operations of power. But it seems more likely (given the generally negative associations of Machiavelli at this time) that it implies a judgement of Marvell as a pretentious booby: a figure straight from the comic stage. While it may then be that Scudamore sees Marvell as Milton or Hartlib saw him – as a diplomat in waiting, another Anthony Ascham; it seems more likely that he sees him as Ben Jonson might have seen him – or, for that matter, as Marvell in one of his Jonsonian moments might have seen himself: a Sir Politick Would-Be.

If Marvell’s traveling tutoring represents a potential step on the road to advancement, what light might it shed on our understanding of his career, and on his literary and intellectual development? The first area in which to assess its impact is to trace the cultural influences of the places he visited in his writings. This has been very effectively undertaken by Nigel Smith in his recent biography, which points up the European, baroque contexts of Marvell’s verse.26 The second, I think, is to look at the impact of the curricular responsibilities of the traveling tutor on Marvell’s writings.

One area worth investigation is Marvell’s evident familiarity with the arts of individual combat. Several of his works display knowledge of the art of fencing, claiming or implying his knowledge of the European aristocratic academies in and tutors by which it was taught. One such reference – an aside in a late letter (1671) to the East India Company merchant, Thomas Rolt – shows that he himself studied with a master of the art while in Spain:

My Fencing-master in Spain, after he had instructed me all he could, told me, I remember, there was yet one Secret, against which there was no Defence, and that was, to give the first Blow.27

This is a revealing and justly famous comment from a man given – or judged to be given – to sudden bursts of violence. Marvell clearly knew something about physical combat. In ‘The Unfortunate Lover’ he makes unobtrusive use of the technical terminology of wrestling (‘lock’, ‘grapple’), describing the lover ‘Cuffing the thunder with one hand; / While with the other he does lock, / And grapple, with the stubborn rock’ (ll. 50–2).28 Nor was the violence imaginary only. We recall Marvell’s altercation with Thomas Clifford in the Commons in 1662, and another in the same place some fifteen years later when, stumbling on his way to his seat, Marvell cuffed, or appeared to cuff, Sir Philip Harcourt and was immediately accused of giving him ‘a box on the ear’ – despite Marvell’s (and Harcourt’s) protests to the contrary.29 The ‘box’ may have been in jest – that, at least, is the interpretation of events that Marvell was keen to press. But the blow appeared to have been a strong one. Had Marvell been playing the wag, and been misunderstood by stodgier Members, or willfully misconstrued by opponents? Or had he tried his hand at a bit of physical comedy and failed? It is hard to know. What we can say is that Marvell’s tendencies toward violence have been brought sharply into focus in recent years, and his recounting of his fencing master’s Machiavellian advice has been aptly read in that light.30 What has not, I think, been noted is the way in which the comment registers Marvell’s social unease and desire for status.31 For by silently eliding the tutees – the ‘Noblemens Sones’ with whom, according to Hartlib, he had spent ‘all his time’ traveling – and who were undoubtedly the focus of such instruction, Marvell quietly casts himself in the leading role of gentleman tourist, rather than in the supporting role of tutor. Even in addressing one with whom he was on terms of unusual intimacy, Marvell cannot resist self-dramatization and unobtrusive social climbing.32

Another trace of Marvell’s exposure to training in fencing during the years of the tour appears in his elegy on Lord Francis Villiers, son of the first Duke of Buckingham, who was killed in a skirmish at Kingston-upon-Thames in the summer of 1648.33 This functions in a similar manner to the allusion in his letter to Rolt, establishing his social credentials. It seems likely (though it remains uncertain) that Marvell encountered the Villiers brothers as they toured under the guardianship of Sir William Aylesbury in 1645–7, either in Rome or in Paris.34 Marvell registers first-hand knowledge of the young man’s prowess with the sword, as demonstrated in staged combats – that presumably took place at one of the Parisian academies, where fencing was a major activity of visiting noblemen:

I know how well he did, with what delight
Those serious imitations of fight.
Still in the trials of strong exercise
His was the first, and his the second prize.
(ll. 55–8)

The verb ‘know’ (rather than ‘saw’) keeps the poet one step away from the claim to have eye-witnessed Villiers’s exercises, and this may imply a modest deference about Marvell’s proximity to the young man; but it nonetheless places the poet within the frame, once again quietly implying Marvell’s place in the rarified world of aristocratic tourism.35

A second area of curricular responsibility for the traveling tutor of which we find traces in Marvell’s writings is the science of fortification, which was taught by way both of applied geometry and site visits. A sense of what this involved can be gleaned from the manuscript and printed sheet prepared at Paris in 1645 by Hobbes’s friend Gilles Personne de Roberval for teaching fortification to the Duke of Buckingham.36 The manuscript includes elementary treatises on geometry, trigonometry, the use of the geographic and proportional compasses, and accounts of regular and irregular fortifications. It seems likely that Hobbes taught – or, as he later recalled to John Aubrey, attempted to teach – the Duke geometry, while Roberval – an expert in military engineering – focused on the more advanced aspects of fortification.37 In referring to geometry, Marvell tends to recur to a few favored topoi: the squaring of the circle (a fashionable problem in the mid-century) in both ‘Upon Appleton House’ and The Rehearsal Transpros’d; parallel lines stretching out to infinity, and perhaps becoming circular in both ‘The Definition of Love’ and The Rehearsal Transpros’d.38 References to fortifications are prominent also in both ‘Upon Appleton House’ and The Rehearsal Transpros’d. The presence of such references in ‘Upon Appleton House’ can be accounted for by reference to the military expertise and interests of the house’s owner, and to the likely presence there of garden fortifications. Julianne Werlin has carefully investigated this aspect of the poem, pointing to Marvell’s precise and up-to-the minute understanding of the principles and vocabulary of continental (especially French) techniques of fortification.39 But while she is right to suggest that conversations with Lord Fairfax underlie these aspects of the poem, I cannot agree with her that Marvell owed his knowledge of such techniques to such conversations.40 Ensuring engagement with the study of fortifications – if not actually teaching it – was one of the key tasks of the traveling tutor. And Marvell is no doubt demonstrating for his patron his competency of understanding, to show what his teaching of French grammar to Fairfax’s daughter would not allow him so easily to illustrate: his suitability for more serious, public employments.

We may admire the way in which Marvell uses ‘Upon Appleton House’ to demonstrate his secretarial talents to his patron. But it would be wrong to see his interest in fortification as the exclusive product of a desire to please a retired general, reduced to playing war-games in his Yorkshire garden. Displays of such expertise appear elsewhere in the corpus, appearing in a particularly insistent manner in the first part of The Rehearsal Transpros’d. Such references there form part of a comprehensive rhetorical strategy, aimed at discomposing his adversary, the cleric Samuel Parker, and establishing his own ethical credentials. It does not take a Marvellian partisan to find Parker’s self-presentation in the Discourse of Ecclesiastical Politie and the Preface to Bishop Bramhall’s Vindication self-regarding in stance and stylistically absurd. Parker attempts to ingratiate himself with fashionable society in order to demonstrate that, contrary to the mockery of the wits, who misrepresent it ‘in false and uncouth Disguises’, ‘there is nothing more noble and generous, more chearful and sprightly, more courteous and affable, more free and ingenuous, more sober and rational, than the Spirit and Genius of true Religion.’41 To demonstrate that courteousness, that ingenuousness, Parker adopts a gentlemanly, even rakish stance, salting his discourse with allusions implying his casual intimacy with the ways of court and town. European travel is one such marker. Early in the Preface to the Discourse, he quotes an Italian proverb, which he introduces by lightly implying the familiarity of experience, rather than mere book-learning: ‘And I remember the Italian Proverb ….’42 Another such marker is Parker’s reference to the conventions of dueling. In his Preface to Bramhall’s Vindication he suggests that the combatants in this duel may forgo the elaborate social niceties and ceremonies observed by ‘young Gentlemen’, which he briefly elaborates, and may fall straight to violence.43 The language of violence, in fact, permeates Parker’s prose, as for instance in his treatment of nonconformity as a dangerous fifth column, threatening to ‘blow up the very Foundations of Government’.44 Such allusions are not prominent, but Marvell seizes on and highlights them as part of devastating ethical and stylistic attack.

Marvell exposes Parker’s stance as socially and stylistically indecorous – absurdly, comically so.45 As early as the second page of The Rehearsal Transpros’d he seizes on Parker’s Italian proverb, exposing and literalizing the social pretension involved in his introduction of it: ‘I perceive the Gentleman hath travelled by his remembering Chi lava la testa al asino perde il sapone’.46 Having exposed Parker’s implicit claim to the status of gentleman traveler, Marvell will not let go of it – wondering, for instance, about the oddity of Parker’s locating Geneva on the south shore of Lac Leman: ‘Now it is strange that he having travell’d so well, should not have observ’d that the Lake lies East and West, and that Geneva is built at the West end of it’.47 Not only does he call into question Parker’s implicit claim to have traveled, Marvell mocks also his implied conversance with the conventions of aristocratic dueling – and does so once again by appearing to take it literally: ‘You, that are a Duellist, know how great a bravery ’tis to gain an enemies Sword, and that there is no more home-thrust in disputation than the Argumentum ad hominem’.48 Such touches are part of a brilliant put-down of Parker, which works by playing along with his self-presentation as a witty man about town, ratcheting it up just a notch too high, while bundling with it references to Parker’s actual métier: the square-cap and the logic-chopping of the schools.49

In addition to discomfiting Parker, Marvell’s strategy also establishes his own authority over the very areas in which Parker had attempted to claim it. A series of running comments, for instance, demonstrate Marvell’s conversance with travel, dueling, and military matters. Particularly prominent are references to the art of fortification, in which Marvell casually registers his own direct experience: ‘I have heard a good Engineer say, That he never fortified any place so, but that he reserv’d a feeble point, whereby he knew how to take it, if there were occasion’.50 And he throws back in Parker’s face the hysterical presentation of nonconformists as sappers, undermining the foundations of government: ‘he singles out, and on his pretence runs down all Nonconformists; this being, as he imagined, the safest way by which he might proceed first to undermine, and then blow up his Majesties gracious Declaration’.51 Marvell’s experience of travel, and his direct engagement with practitioners of the art of fortification help establish his ethos and authority in the more substantive matters of matters of policy and religion. Of the effectiveness of this strategy Parker was acutely sensible. He opens his Reproof of the Rehearsal Transpros’d by dismissing Marvell’s gentlemanly credentials as irrelevant to the matter at hand:

it is not reading Histories, or Plays, or Gazets, nor going a Pilgrimage to Geneva, nor learning French and Italian, nor passing the Alps, nor being a cunning Gamester that can qualifie a man to discourse of Conscience and Ecclesiastical Policy.52

His own play for gentlemanly credibility having been exposed and bested, Parker dismisses such qualities as trivial irrelevances and shifts his defense to the safer ground of clerical authority – before launching upon an ill-advised attempt to beat Marvell at his own game.

We can, in sum, detect the impact of Marvell’s experience as a traveling tutor in several aspects of his writing. But it is not in such textual traces that I believe its greatest impact should be identified. An understanding of the role of traveling tutor and the opportunities it presented allows us to envisage an alternate path for Marvell: a path that he might, looking around and watching others make their way in the world, have envisaged for himself. It allows us to imagine him as the successful public figure he never quite became: a high-powered diplomat, a leading minister of state; an Ascham or a Williamson. As the approval of Milton and Hartlib suggests, this was no idle fantasy. And to see Marvell’s career against this background may help account for the acute frustration and resentment that so marks his later state satires – a sense of rancor and bitterness that seems to exceed the reprimand and correction of malfeasance in court and state, and which may have animated Marvell’s late preoccupation with stoic retirement.53 Such understanding perhaps also encourages us to discern in the career of the parliamentary Marvell the prototype of that familiar modern figure: the disgruntled back-bencher, hopes dashed on some private indiscretion or political misstep, whiling away his days in the house, seething with grievance, an inexhaustible fount of malicious gossip and damaging leaks.