Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Green, Matthew

GREEN, MATTHEW (1696–1737), poet, is said to have belonged to a dissenting family, whose puritanical strictness disgusted him, so that he took up 'some free notions on religious subjects.' He held a place in the custom-house, where he discharged his duty very well; and died, aged forty-one, in 1737, at a lodging in Nag's Head Court, Gracechurch Street. A few anecdotes are recorded to show that he was a witty and pleasant companion. When an allowance for supplying the custom-house cats with milk was threatened by the authorities, he wrote a successful petition in their name. When a waterman insulted him as he was bathing by calling out 'Quaker,' and a friend asked how his sect could be detected when he had no clothes, he immediately replied, 'By my swimming against the stream.' His poem on 'Barclay's Apology' implies that he admired the quakers, though without belonging to them. His wit is shown more decisively by the 'Spleen.' The poem appeared posthumously in 1737, with a preface by his friend, Richard Glover [q. v.] Pope praised its originality, and Gray expressed a warm admiration for it. A poem called 'The Grotto' (on Queen Caroline's grotto at Richmond) was privately printed in 1732. These and three or four previously unpublished trifles were published in the first volume of Dodsley's collection (1748). They were afterwards in Johnson's poems and have since appeared in Chalmers's and other collections. An edition by Aikin in 1796 has a preface of twaddle without facts. The 'Spleen,' written in Swift's favourite octo-syllabic metre, is one of the best poems of its class. The line 'Throw but a stone, the giant dies,' is one of the stock quotations. The poem was a favourite with Gray and many good judges.

[European Mag. 1785, ii. 27, and notice in Dodsley's Collection are the only authorities.]

L. S.