The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VII. Young, Collins and Lesser Poets of the Age of Johnson
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.
§ 1. Reasons of the relative familiarity of readers with this group of English Verse-writers
THE POSTHUMOUS experience, if it may be so described, of most of the poets to be treated in the present chapter, like that of their predecessors, noticed in an earlier section of this History, illustrates certain doctrines, both of the less, and of the more, vulgar philosophy of life. For more than a century and a half, through the successive collections of Dodsley, Pearch, Johnson, Anderson and Chalmers, they have had opportunities of being generally known which can hardly be said to have been shared by the verse writers of any other period of English literary history. But, for the last century at any rate, this familiarity with their productions has, also, brought about its proverbial consequence. Collins, indeed, if not nemine contradicente, yet, by a strong body of the best critical judgment, has (putting range of kind and bulk of production out of the question) been allowed poetical quality of almost the rarest and purest sort. Young, despite the great volume of now imperfectly interesting matter comprehended in his poetical works, and the extreme inequality of his treatment of it, despite, too, the defects of his temper and other drawbacks, enjoyed, for a long time, great and almost European popularity; he possesses, for the literary historian, the attraction of having actually anticipated Pope in one of the most characteristic directions of Pope’s satiric energy; and he can never be explored by any patient and unbiassed investigator without the recognition of flame under the ashes, flowers in the wilderness and fragments of no contemptible moulding among the ruins. Shen stone, Dyer, Green (“Spleen”-Green), Blair, Armstrong, Akenside, Beattie, Smart—there are associations with each of these names which ought not to be forgotten; and, even from the numerus which may be grouped with them, there remains something to be gathered as to the general state and fortunes of literature and of poetry which ought not to be missing in such a work as the present.