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there is emulation there will be vanity, and where there is vanity there will be folly.
The pleasure of Shenstone was all in his eye; he valued what he valued merely for its looks: nothing raised his indignation more than to ask if there were any fishes in his water 1.
His house was mean, and he did not improve it 2: his care was of his grounds. When he came home from his walks he might find his floors flooded by a shower through the broken roof; but could spare no money for its reparation 3.
In time his expences brought clamours about him, that overpowered the lamb's bleat and the linnet's song; and his groves were haunted by beings very different from fauns and fairies*. He spent his estate in adorning it, and his death was probably hastened by his anxieties 5. He was a lamp that spent its oil in blazing. It is said that if he had lived a little longer he would
''Johnson used to laugh at Shenstone for not caring whether there was anything good to eat in the streams he was so fond of, as if (says he) one could fill one's belly with hearing soft murmurs or looking at rough cascades." MRS. PIOZZI, John. Misc. i. 323.
'By his own good taste and his mechanical skill he acquired two tolerably elegant rooms from a mere farm-house.' Graves's Recollections, p. 72.
[Bishop Percy in 1805 writes :'Johnson grossly misrepresented both Shenstone's circumstances and his house, which was small but elegant and displayed a great deal of taste in the alteration and accommodation of the apartments, &c. On his sideboard he had a neat marble cistern which by turning a cock was fed with living water.' Nichols's Lit. Illustr. vii. 151.]
'He builds such huts as, in foul
That his groves were haunted by duns I believe to be a groundless surmise.' Graves's Recollections, p.72.
5 Ante, SOMERVILE, 3. On Aug. 21, 1748, he wrote:-' -'My affairs are miserably embroiled by my own negligence and the non-payment of tenants.' Works, iii. 142. In his Progress of Taste (Eng. Poets, lix. 231), after describing his embellishments, he adds:
'Ah me! ('twas Damon's own confession)
Came poverty and took possession.' In Oeconomy (ib. p. 254) he tells of 'the sad survey of present want And past profusion.'
His estate, says Dodsley, was not more than £300 a year. 'He left more than sufficient to pay all his debts.' Works, i. 9.
'I am afraid that he died of misery,' Johnson recorded, after visiting the Leasowes. Boswell's Johnson, v. 457.
For the various owners of the estate and the prices paid for it see N.&Q.3 S. xii. 289. [Bishop Percy says the Leasowes was so improved by Shenstone's taste that when it was sold by auction in 1795, £17,000 was obtained. Nichols's Lit. Illustr. vii.
Of himself, as Damon, he says:- 152.]
have been assisted by a pension: such bounty could not have been ever more properly bestowed; but that it was ever asked is not certain it is too certain that it never was enjoyed'.
He died at the Leasowes of a putrid fever about five on Friday 15 morning, February 11, 17632, and was buried by the side of his brother in the church-yard of Hales-Owen 3.
He was never married, though he might have obtained the 16 lady, whoever she was, to whom his Pastoral Ballad was addressed. He is represented by his friend Dodsley as a man of great tenderness and generosity, kind to all that were within his influence, but, if once offended, not easily appeased; inattentive to œconomy, and careless of his expences; in his person larger than the middle size, with something clumsy in his form;
• Boswell's Johnson, v. 457. Shenstone believed that, owing to Wedderburne's application to Lord Bute, 'the patent for a pension was ordered to be made out.' Graves, p. 165. For Wedderburne and Johnson's pension see Boswell's Johnson, i. 373.
Shenstone's latest letters refer to a scheme for publishing his Works by subscription. Works, iii. 326, 339, 342, 348, 351.
The Gent. Mag. 1763, p. 98, just notices his death:-'Feb. 10. Wm. Shenstone, Esq., at Birmingham.' The Ann. Reg. has no notice of it.
'Shenstone,' writes Malone, 'had a housekeeper, who lived with him in the double capacity of maid and mistress; being offended with her on some occasion he went out of his house and sat all night in his postchaise in much agitation, in consequence of which he caught a cold that eventually caused his death.' Prior's Malone, p. 340.
Graves mentions a different version of this story, but denies its truth. Recollections, p. 167.
Akenside at the same age died of a putrid fever. Post, AKENSIDE, 13. Johnson, in his Dictionary, quotes Quincy's definition of it as 'that kind of fever, in which the humours, or part of them, have so little circulatory motion that they fall into an intestine one and putrefy.'
3 For a Frenchman's epitaph on
LIVES OF POETS. III
Eng. Poets, lix. 154; post, SHENSTONE, 25. Graves, who speaks of her as Miss C, doubts whether she would have married ‘a man of so small a fortune. As he was sensible his income was not sufficient to support a lady of her description he never aspired to that happiness.' Recollections, p.105. In an earlier passage (p. 47) Graves says a Miss G. took entire possession of his heart for some years.'
5 In his brief Memoir prefixed to Shenstone's Works, p. 8.
'He had a dull heavy look,' writes Graves, unless when his features were animated by any sprightly sentiment, which rendered them extremely pleasing. His favourite dress was a plain blue coat and a scarlet waistcoat with a broad gold lace. . . . Every schoolboy, as soon as he was entered at the University, cut off his hair and put on a wig. Mr. Shenstone wore his own hair. It often exposed him to ill-natured remarks. After I was elected at All Souls [to a Fellowship] where there was often a party of loungers in the gateway, on my expostulating with him for not visiting me so often as usual, he said "he was ashamed to face his enemies in the gate" [see Psalm cxxvii].' Recollections, pp. 25, 178. Malthus was Graves's pupil for some years. Malthus, by James Bonar, p. 403.
Dr. A. Carlyle (Auto. p. 370) de
very negligent of his cloaths, and remarkable for wearing his grey hair in a particular manner, for he held that the fashion was no rule of dress, and that every man was to suit his appearance to his natural form.
His mind was not very comprehensive, nor his curiosity active; he had no value for those parts of knowledge which he had not himself cultivated 1.
18 His life was unstained by any crime; the Elegy on Jessy2, which has been supposed to relate an unfortunate and criminal amour of his own, was known by his friends to have been suggested by the story of Miss Godfrey in Richardson's Pamela. 19 What Gray thought of his character, from the perusal of his Letters, was this:
'I have read too an octavo volume of Shenstone's Letters. Poor man! he was always wishing for money, for fame, and other distinctions; and his whole philosophy consisted in living against his will in retirement 3, and in a place which his taste had adorned, but which he only enjoyed when people of note came to see and commend it: his correspondence is about nothing else but this place and his own writings, with two or three neighbouring clergymen, who wrote verses too.'
'any consideration would have bribed
Horace Walpole wrote of these Letters on June 14, 1769:-'I felt great pity for the narrow circumstances of the author, and the passion for fame that he was tormented with; and yet he had much more fame than his talents entitled him to. Poor man! he wanted to have all the world talk of him for the pretty place he had made.' Walpole's Letters, v. 169. On Jan. 24, 1778, Walpole wrote:'I have got two more volumes of Shenstone's Correspondence, and they are like all the rest, insipidity itself.' Ib. vii. 24.
'Johnson agreed with Shenstone that it was wrong in the brother of one of his correspondents to burn his letters; "for (said he) Shenstone was a man whose correspondence was an honour." Boswell's Johnson, v. 268. His letters to Whistler were burnt. Works, iii. 234.
His poems consist of elegies, odes, and ballads, humorous 20 sallies, and moral pieces.
His conception of an elegy he has in his Preface very judiciously 21 and discriminately explained. It is, according to his account, the effusion of a contemplative mind, sometimes plaintive, and always serious, and therefore superior to the glitter of slight ornaments '. His compositions suit not ill to this description. His topicks of praise are the domestick virtues, and his thoughts are pure and simple, but wanting combination they want variety. The peace of solitude, the innocence of inactivity, and the unenvied security of an humble station can fill but a few pages. That of which the essence is uniformity will be soon described. His Elegies have therefore too much resemblance of each other 2.
The lines are sometimes, such as elegy requires, smooth and 22 easy; but to this praise his claim is not constant: his diction is often harsh3, improper, and affected; his words ill-coined or ill-chosen 5, and his phrase unskilfully inverted .
The Lyrick Poems are almost all of the light and airy kind, 23 such as trip lightly and nimbly along, without the load of any
This is an abstract of Shenstone's words. Eng. Poets, lix. 5-13.
Burns, in the Preface to the first edition of his Poems, writes :-'It is an observation of Shenstone, whose divine Elegies do honour to our language, our nation and our species, that "Humility has depressed many a genius to [into] a hermit, but never raised one to fame [but never yet raised one into a poet of eminence. Shenstone's Works, ii. 13]."'
2 E. FitzGerald wrote to Frederic Tennyson on Dec. 10, 1843:-'In the garden I see the heads of the snowdrops and crocuses just out of the earth. Another year with its same flowers and topics to open upon us. Shenstone somewhere sings:"Tedious again to mark the drizzling day,
Again to trace the same s2d tracts
Or, lull'd by vernal airs, again
The selfsame hawthorn bud, and
weighty meaning'. From these, however, Rural Elegance has some right to be excepted. I once heard it praised by a very learned lady3; and though the lines are irregular, and the thoughts diffused with too much verbosity, yet it cannot be denied to contain both philosophical argument and poetical spirit *.
24 Of the rest I cannot think any excellent; The Skylark pleases me best, which has, however, more of the epigram than of the ode3. But the four parts of his Pastoral Ballad demand particular notice. I cannot but regret that it is pastoral'; an intelligent reader acquainted with the scenes of real life sickens at the mention of the crook, the pipe, the sheep, and the kids, which it is not necessary to bring forward to notice, for the poet's art is selection, and he ought to shew the beauties without the grossness of the country life. His stanza seems to have been chosen in imitation of Rowe's Despairing Shepherds.
In the first part are two passages, to which if any mind denies its sympathy it has no acquaintance with love or nature:
'I priz'd every hour that went by,
Beyond all that had pleas'd me before;
And I grieve that I priz'd them no more9.
'When forc'd the fair nymph to forego,