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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

VI. Lesser Verse Writers

§ 21. Minor Versifiers of the Age

The minor versifiers of the eighteenth century, among whom may be included some of the younger of Dryden’s contemporaries, cannot be said to enjoy, or to have enjoyed for some generations, anything that approaches, even in the furthest degree, to what may be called popularity. From circumstances which, to avoid repetition, will be more fully noticed in dealing with the second group of them, they obtained a certain hold not merely on the standard “collections,” but on books of anthology with an educational purpose. This lasted far into the nineteenth, and has not been entirely relaxed in the twentieth, century. They, and their somewhat more interesting successors, furnished mottoes and quotations to at least three generations of prose writers greater than themselves, and even to the vague, floating treasury from which common speech borrows things that, when the actual authors are read for the first time, strike the reader if not with “a wild surprise” at any rate with an amused one. Very few are those who, except for a special purpose, read many or any of these poets now; and fewer still those who derive much enjoyment from the reading. Yet they cannot be wholly neglected in such a work as this, though it would be an exceedingly rash critic who entered upon the task of dealing with them unconscious of its difficulties and dangers. Even in the separation of the two groups, there must be something that may well seem arbitrary; and there is the further difficulty that, while the treatment accorded to a few—rather in the later group than in this, but here, perhaps, also, in some cases—may seem inadequate, objection may be taken in others to what may appear too like a mere catalogue with ticket-comments. But no possible arrangement could satisfy everybody: and, in the present case, the adventure has been undertaken not lightly, and assisted at least by an old familiarity with the subjects.