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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.

VII. Young, Collins and Lesser Poets of the Age of Johnson

§ 9. Matthew Green

In Dyer—or, at least, in Grongar Hill—we see some of the first, and almost best, fruits of the romantic spirit and style. In Matthew Green, both style and spirit are of the other kind, but hardly less agreeable in their own way. He, also, so far as good verse goes, is a “single-speech” poet; but he derives some advantage from the fact that he hardly tried to speak on any other occasion, though a few minor pieces usually accompany The Spleen, and a few more might, it seems, be added to them. Green was a quaker-freethinker (a curious evolution) and a clerk in the custom-house, where he amiably prevented a reform which would have disestablished, or, at least, dismilked, the cats. He seems, on the whole, to have been more like a French man of letters of the time than like an Englishman possessing a temperament which may, at once, have qualified and disqualified him for treating “the English disease.” It must be admitted that his treatment is somewhat superficial, and more than a little desultory; but it certainly exhibits a condition completely opposite to that of the ailment, and even, for the time of reading, provides an antidote. The octosyllables, “accurate,” as Johnson would say, without stiffness or limpness, and slipping lightly along without any Hudibrastic acrobatism, frame a succession of thoughts that, if never very profound, are always expressed with a liveliness of which the well-known

  • Fling but a stone, the giant dies
  • is by no means too favourable a specimen. Sometimes, we have satiric glances at individuals, as that, near the beginning, at Gildon; sometimes, lively “thumbnails” of contemporary manners; once or twice, more elaborate drawings, as of the often quoted
  • Farm some twenty miles from town.
  • The epicurean attitude of the lighter, but not the coarser, kind has seldom been better illustrated in verse.