1883 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Woodhouse

William Edward Winks, "James Woodhouse, the Friend of Shenstone" Lives of Illustrious Shoemakers (1883) 228-29.



James Woodhouse stands first on our list in point of time, but not in regard to ability. He evidently owed his little brief popularity to the friendship of William Shenstone, author of "The Schoolmistress." Shenstone lived at Leasowes, seven miles from Birmingham, in a charming country-house surrounded by gardens, artistically laid out and cultivated with the utmost care by the eccentric, fantastic poet. Woodhouse, who was born about 1733, was a village shoemaker and eke a schoolmaster at Rowley, two miles off. Shenstone had been obliged to exclude the public from his gardens and grounds at Leasowes on account of the wanton damage done to flowers and shrubs. Whereupon the village shoemaker addressed the poet in poetical terms asking to be "excluded from the prohibition." In reply Shenstone admitted him not only to wander through his grounds, but to make a free use of his library. "Shenstone found," says Southey, "that the poor applicant used to work with a pen and ink at his side while the last was in his lap — the head at one employ, the hands at another; and when he had composed a couplet or a stanza, he wrote it on his knee." Woodhouse was then about twenty-six years of age. His lot must have been rather hard at that time, for, speaking of his wife's work and his own, he says in one of his poems—

Nor mourn I much my task austere,
Which endless wants impose
But oh! it wounds my soul to hear
My Daphne's melting woes!

For oft she sighs and oft she weeps
And hangs her pensive head,
While blood her furrowed finger steeps
And stains the passing thread.

When orient hills the sun behold,
Our labors are begun;
And when he streaks the west with gold,
The task is still undone.

Five years after his introduction to Shenstone, a collection of his poems was published, entitled "Poems on Several Occasions." About forty years afterward he issued another edition with additional pieces, such as "Woodstock, an Elegy," "St. Crispin," etc. In the later years of his life he was living near Norbury Park, and had found a generous patron in Mr. Lock, who superintended the publication of his poetry, and in Lord Lyttleton of Hagley.