Samuel Kettell, ed. Specimens of American Poetry. 1829.
Critical and Biographical Notice
Joseph Green (17061780)
JOSEPH GREEN was born in Boston, A. D. 1706. He was educated at Harvard College, and received a degree in 1726. On leaving college, he entered into mercantile pursuits in Boston, to which he continued to devote himself for the greater part of his life. He possessed a lively temperament with a copious vein of humor and satire, and became the master spirit of a club of wits who entertained themselves with turning to ridicule the political freaks of the government, and the follies in vogue among the society of Boston. Green wrote satires, epigrams, and parodies upon every matter which offered scope for his powers of sarcasm and drollery. His wit was without malignity or peevishness, and never degenerated into abuse. He made no attempt at any work of magnitude, but contented himself with short and occasional sallies. Governor Belcher and the most noted public characters offered a theme for his pleasantry, which he vented in many a political diatribe, for Green, though not in the early part of his life placed in any public station, was a sagacious and interested observer of political events. Retiring and unambitious in his personal character, he was a firm opposer of arbitrary power.
Greens lampooning contest with Mather Byles afforded much entertainment to the people of Boston. Governor Belcher being about to sail to the eastern part of the province, upon a visit to the Indian tribes, invited Byles to accompany him, which he declined. But the Governor, who valued the pleasure of his company upon such an expedition too highly to forego it upon a slight consideration, made use of a stratagem to obtain his object. He embarked on board the Scarborough man of war, on Saturday. The ship dropped down the harbor and anchored near the castle. On Sunday Belcher prevailed with the chaplain of the castle to exchange pulpits with Byles, and in the afternoon invited the doctor on board to drink tea. While they were at table the ship weighed anchor and put to sea, and Byles upon making the discovery, found himself too far from land to think of returning. The governor had provided everything necessary for him, and he was easily reconciled to the voyage. The next Sunday, on making arrangements for divine service, it was found there was no hymn-book on board, and to supply the defect, Byles wrote the hymn which we have given among his pieces.
This incident was too broad a mark for Greens ridicule to escape notice. He made it the subject of a jeu desprit, in which he burlesqued the matter in a truly farcical strain. Byles did not think it beneath him to parody Greens burlesque, and turned the ridicule against his rival wit with great spirit and vehemence. In this keen encounter Green excelled his opponent in the weapons of light agreeable raillery. Byless retort is too splenetic and coarse to be fully relished as a piece of humorous sarcasm.
Green passed the most of a long life in Boston, and acquired a good fortune by his business. In 1774, the British parliament took away the charter of Massachusetts, and one of the new political regulations thereby introduced was the appointment of the Counsellors of the Province by the royal authority instead of popular election. General Gage, the governor, nominated Green a counsellor under the new administration, but he refused the office. What were his political principles at this time we are not informed. His age and infirmities caused him to view the approaching convulsion in public affairs with dread, and he sought an asylum in England. He left this country in 1775, and died in 1780, at the age of seventy-four.
He wrote the Entertainment for a Winters Evening, a ridicule upon the free-masons: The Land Bank, a personal satire: A True and Exact Account of the celebration of St. John the Baptist, and the pieces which follow in this work. As no collection of his poems has ever been printed, there are many, probably, which have not come to our knowledge. Two of those named above, exist only in manuscript, and abound too much in personal allusions to interest the reader at the present day.