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The chief mystery of the seminall business: Andrew Marvell, William Harvey, Abraham Cowley and the politics of fertility in the Seventeenth Century

Sawday, J. (2007) The chief mystery of the seminall business: Andrew Marvell, William Harvey, Abraham Cowley and the politics of fertility in the Seventeenth Century. English Journal, 56 (215). pp. 107-126. ISSN 0013-8274

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Abstract

This essay explores the tropes and metaphors of generation and fertility in the poetry of Andrew Marvell and Abraham Cowley in the period c. 1650 - c. 1665. Poetic utterance is linked to the investigation of human and animal origins, associated with the work of William Harvey after 1649. The political implications both of Harvey's work, and of the image of Harvey amongst his contemporaries is explored, and these are linked to other examples of 'Harveian' metaphors in Marvell's writing (in particular: 'An Horatian Ode', 'Upon Appleton House', 'To His Coy Mistess', and 'The First Anniversary'). The essay concludes that the metaphor of 'emasculation', which has been used to understand the execution of Charles I in 1649 for Royalist apologists, does have a substantial historical basis in the thinking of Marvell and his contemporaries. The article is illustrated.