Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Green's Spleen

Excerpts from Matthew Green (1696-1737), The Spleen. An Epistle to Mr Cuthbert Jackson.

To cure the mind's wrong bias, Spleen,
Some recommend the bowling green;
Some, hilly walks; all, exercise;
Fling but a stone, the giant dies.
Laugh and be well. Monkeys have been
Extreme good doctors for the Spleen;
And kitten, if the humour hit,
Has harlequin'd away the fit.
In rainy days keep double guard,
Or Spleen will surely be too hard;
Which, like those fish by sailors met,
Fly highest, while their wings are wet.
In such dull weather, so unfit
To enterprise a work of wit,
When clouds one yard of azure sky,
That's fit for simile, deny,
I dress my face with studious looks,
And shorten tedious hours with books.
But if dull fogs invade the head,
That memory minds not what is read,
I sit in window dry as ark,
And on the drowning world remark:
Or to some coffee-house I stray
For news, the manna of a day,
And from the hipp'd discourses gather,
That politics go by the weather:
Then seek good-humour'd tavern chums,
And play at cards, but for small sums;
Or with the merry fellows quaff,
And laugh aloud with them that laugh;
Or drink a joco-serious cup
With souls who've took their freedom up,
And let my mind, beguiled by talk,
In Epicurus' garden walk,
Who thought it heaven to be serene;
Pain, hell; and purgatory, spleen.
Passion, as frequently is seen,
Subsiding settles into Spleen.
Hence, as the plague of happy life,
I turn away from party-strife.
A prince's cause, a church's claim,
I've known to raise a mighty flame,
And priest, as stoker, very free
To throw in peace and charity.

That tribe, whose practicals decree
Small beer the deadliest heresy;
Who, fond of pedigree, derive
From the most noted whore alive;
Who own wine's old prophetic aid,
And love the mitre Bacchus made,
Forbid the faithful to depend
On half-pint drinkers for a friend,
And in whose gay red-lettered face
We read good living more than grace:
Nor they so pure, and so precise,
Immac'late as their white of eyes,
Who for the spirit hug the Spleen,
Phylacter'd throughout all their mien;
Who their ill-tasted home-brewed prayer
To the State's mellow forms prefer;
Who doctrines, as infectious, fear,
Which are not steeped in vinegar,
And samples of heart-chested grace
Expose in show-glass of the face,
Did never me as yet provoke
Either to honour band and cloak,
Or deck my hat with leaves of oak.
Reforming schemes are none of mine;
To mend the world's a vast design:
Like theirs, who tug in little boat,
To pull to them the ship afloat,
While to defeat their laboured end,
At once both wind and stream contend:
Success herein is seldom seen,
And zeal, when baffled, turns to Spleen.

Happy the man, who, innocent,
Grieves not at ills he can't prevent;
His skiff does with the current glide,
Not puff1ng pulled against the tide.
He, paddling by the scuffling crowd,
Sees unconcerned life's wager rowed,
And when he can't prevent foul play,
Enjoys the folly of the fray.
Since disappointment galls within,
And subjugates the soul to Spleen,
Most schemes, as money-snares, I hate,
And bite not at projector's bait.
Sufficient wrecks appear each day,
And yet fresh fools are cast away.
Ere well the bubbled can turn round,
Their painted vessel runs aground;
Or in deep seas it oversets
By a fierce hurricane of debts;
Or helm-directors in one trip,
Freight first embezzled, sink the ship.
Such was of late a corporation,
The brazen serpent of the nation,
Which when hard accidents distress'd,
The poor must look at to be bless'd,
And thence expect, with paper sealed
By fraud and usury, to be healed.
458-465, 472-475:
When I lean politicians mark
Grazing on ether in the Park;
Whoe'er on wing with open throats
Fly at debates, expresses, votes,
Just in the manner swallows use,
Catching their airy food of news;
Whose latrant stomachs oft molest
The deep-laid plans their dreams suggest...
I bless my stars, I never knew
Whimsies which, close pursued, undo,
And have from old experience been
Both parent and the child of Spleen.
Contentment, parent of delight,
So much a stranger to our sight,
Say, goddess, in what happy place
Mortals behold thy blooming face;
Thy gracious auspices impart,
And for thy temple choose my heart.
They, whom thou deignest to inspire,
Thy science learn, to bound desire;
By happy alchymy of mind
They turn to pleasure all they find;
They both disdain in outward mien
The grave and solemn garb of Spleen,
And meretricious arts of dress,
To feign a joy, and hide distress;
Unmoved when the rude tempest blows,
Without an opiate they repose;
And covered by your shield, defy
The whizzing shafts that round them fly:
Nor, meddling with the gods' affairs,
Concern themselves with distant cares;
But place their bliss in mental rest,
And feast upon the good possess'd.

Forced by soft violence of prayer,
The blithesome goddess soothes my care,
I feel the deity inspire,
And thus she models my desire.
Two hundred pounds half-yearly paid,
Annuity securely made,
A farm some twenty miles from town,
Small, tight, salubrious, and my own;
Two maids, that never saw the town,
A serving-man not quite a clown,
A boy to help to tread the mow,
And drive, while t' other holds the plough;
A chief, of temper formed to please,
Fit to converse, and keep the keys;
And better to preserve the peace,
Commission'd by the name of niece;
With understandings of a size
To think their master very wise.
May heaven (it's all I wish for) send
One genial room to treat a friend,
Where decent cupboard, little plate,
Display benevolence, not state.
And may my humble dwelling stand
Upon some chosen spot of land:
A pond before full to the brim,
Where cows may cool, and geese may swim;
Behind, a green like velvet neat,
Soft to the eye, and to the feet;
Where odorous plants in evening fair
Breathe all around ambrosial air;
From Eurus, foe to kitchen ground,
Fenced by a slope with bushes crowned,
Fit dwelling for the feathered throng,
Who pay their quit-rents with a song;
With opening views of hill and dale,
Which sense and fancy too regale,
Where the half-cirque, which vision bounds,
Like amphitheatre surrounds:
And woods impervious to the breeze,
Thick phalanx of embodied trees,
From hills through plains in dusk array
Extended far, repel the day.
Here stillness, height, and solemn shade
Invite, and contemplation aid:
Here nymphs from hollow oaks relate
The dark decrees and will of fate,
And dreams beneath the spreading beech
Inspire, and docile fancy teach;
While soft as breezy breath of wind,
Impulses rustle through the mind:
Here Dryads, scorning Phoebus' ray,
While Pan melodious pipes away,
In measured motions frisk about,
'Till old Silenus puts them out.
There see the clover, pea, and bean,
Vie in variety of green;
Fresh pastures speckled o'er with sheep,
Brown fields their fallow sabbaths keep,
Plump Ceres golden tresses wear,
And poppy top-knots deck her hair,
And silver streams through meadows stray,
And Naiads on the margin play,
And lesser nymphs on side of hills
From plaything urns pour down the rills.
May I, with look ungloom'd by guile,
And wearing Virtue's livery-smile,
Prone the distressed to relieve,
And little trespasses forgive,
With income not in Fortune's power,
And skill to make a busy hour,
With trips to town life to amuse,
To purchase books, and hear the news,
To see old friends, brush off the clown,
And quicken taste at coming down,
Unhurt by sickness' blasting rage,
And slowly mellowing in age,
When Fate extends its gathering gripe,
Fall off like fruit grown fully ripe,
Quit a worn being without pain,
Perhaps to blossom soon again.
Alexander Chalmers, The Life of Matthew Green, in The Works of the English Poets, from Chaucer to Cowper, Vol. XV (London: Printed for J. Johnson et al., 1810), pp. 157-162 (at 158, among "anecdotes...given from indisputable authority"):
In a reform which took place in the Custom-house, amongst other articles, a few pence, paid weekly for providing the cats with milk, were ordered to be struck off. On this occasion, Mr. Green wrote a humorous petition as from the cats, which prevented the regulation in that particular from taking place.
Cheese-paring politicians, take note.

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