July 3

Andrew Marvell essayist, wit, controversialist, Member of Parliament, received upon this day in 1796 a letter which read, ‘If thou darest to print any lie or libel against Doctor Parker, by the eternal God, I will cut thy throat.”

The correspondent, who merely signed himself J.G., was a partisan favoring Parker, the Bishop of Oxford, with whom Marvell had been engaged in a long controversy. As an assistant to the poet Milton and Latin secretary to Oliver Cromwell, Marvell was at the center of events during the entire Restoration. He wrote numerous satires concerning the immorality and corruption of the period, much of which he published anonymously. His satire on the fear of the press as expressed by the monarch, Charles I, is an interesting bit of ironic prose:

“The Press (that villanous Engine) invented much about the same time with the Reformation, that hath done more mischief to the Dicipline of our Church, than all the Doctrine can make amends for. ‘Twas an happy time when all Learning was in Manuscript, and some little Officer, like our Author, did keep the Keys of the Library. When the clergy needed no more knowledge than to read the Liturgy, and the Laity no more Clerkship than to save them from hanging.

“But now since Printing came into the World, such is the mischief that a Man cannot write a Book but presently he is answered. Could the Press but one be conjured to obey only an Imprimatur, our Author might not disdain perhaps to be one of the most zealous Patrons. There have been wayes found out to banish Ministers, to fine not only the People, but even the Grounds and Fields where they assembled in Conventicles, But no Art yet could prevent these seditious meetings of Letters. Two or three brawny Fellows in a Corner, with meer Ink and Elbow-Grease, do more harm than an hundred Systematical Divines with their sweaty Preaching. And, which is a strange thing, the very Spunges, which one would think should rather deface and block out the whole Book, and were anciently used to that purpose, are become now the Instruments to make things legible. Their ugly Printing-Letters, that look like so many rotten Teeth. How oft have they been pull’d out by B. and L. the Publick-Tooth-drawers! and yet these rascally Operators of the Press have got a trick to fasten them in a few minutes that they have grown as firm a Set, and as biting and as talkative as ever. O Printing! how has thou disturb’d the Peace of Mankind! that Lead, when moulded into Bullets, is not so mortal as when founded into Letters.”

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