1855 ca. ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Shenstone

John Mitford to Edward Jesse, 1855 ca.; in Charlotte Matilda Houstoun, in Letters and Reminiscences of the Rev. John Mitford (1892) 224-32.



MY DEAR JESSE, — Many thanks for the enclosed. I quite agree in the praise bestowed. I know no place more interesting than H. Court, notwithstanding old Baily and Lady Sarah.

How the d—l came your book to be reviewed before it was printed? The reviewer is Walter's curate.

I have sent the notice to Fraser. I am building a stove to force plants, and. have such a darling of a plant in the room — the Daphne odora. Oh, its scent must be like that of the Houris in Mahomet's Paradise! And I have had a present of six fine hyacinth roots. Won't I be gay in the spring! I hope you are carrying your head high. Don't speak to B—h. Nod to the foolish virgins, and take your hat off to Sir W. Whymper. The people will know by your change of manners that something great has occurred.

I shall send you, as the time of the accouchement takes place, fresh instructions for your conduct. Be guarded; much depends on it. Dyce is ashamed of his man-mountain, and has written to knock under. He has all the spite of a school-girl who means to tell her governess that Miss Tottileplan in going upstairs, took two steps at once, for which there is a heavy punishment at Kensington Gore and the Hammersmith seminaries.

Rogers is plunging into the erie regions of senile apathy. He cares naught for Greville's death, or his own, but gets drunk as usual at breakfast. I shall send the Archbishop of Canterbury to him.

Send the capon whenever it suits you and Mrs. Jesse, but send love with it. Eliza is living on mince-pies and broiled turkey; I on humbler diet. I have had the offer of all the Gray MSS. at Stoke. There's for you! Never was such a pen! Pendragon, Penmanmawr were nothing to him. Such a pen is not to be mended, but take care he don't get a slit, and show something of the goose, his parent.

The book to which you allude was written by the Rev. R. Graves of Haventon [Claverton; Houstoun is having transcription difficulties], near Bath, who died at the age of ninety, I think. He also wrote a novel, which is entertaining enough, called the "Spiritual Quixote." It is directed against the fanaticism of the Methodists, in the same manner as the "Bath Guide." This book I possess, but there is another of the same kind by him and Shenstone called "Ishenella" [Columella] and in two volumes. Both are scarce. Mr. Graves' character and talent seem much to resemble Shenstone's.

Mr. Saunders, also, a clergyman of Lalesowen [Halesowen] is the author of a history of Shenstone, printed in "Bibliotheca Topographia." Shenstone was connected with Dr. Percy in the publication of that most valuable work called "Religion of Instinct Poetry," which was of great use in bringing a pure taste into the school of English verse, which had been well nigh driven out in the days of Pope.

Then arose Collins, the two Whartons, Akenside, Thomson, Dyer, and Mather, who got right again, and who put forth good work. There were two other poets at that time, intimate friends of Shenstone, I mean Jago, the author of "Edge Hill," and Somerville, the author of an excellent poem called "The Chase." Both had taste, feeling, and poetical talent. You know Jago's little elegy on "The Blackbird," while Somerville's "Chase" is of course familiar to you. I had a letter with yours this morning from Dr. Beattie, giving very favourable accounts of Rogers after his severe illness, for which I am very grateful, as I have a real regard for him.

I am just writing for the Ipswich journal a short paper on the cholera arising from insects. I shall send it this evening. I am very sorry for the death of a friend actress of mine, Mrs. Fitzwilliam. In her the public has lost much harmless amusement. A good actress is difficult to replace.

I have been thinking to-day of what you write of Mr. Broderick's opinion as regards Shenstone. He may be right; but I must impress one thing on your mind, that if you are to bring Shenstone back to the public intellect, it must be done by a critical view of his poetry, the age in which he lived, and the change of public taste; also by an entirely new memoir of the man. This is a large and rather arduous business to undertake, and I am convinced it is quite necessary. Merely adding a few MSS. poems won't do, and won't advance a step.

Now I don't say this to discourage you, but to prepare you for the work you are going to undertake; and this reminds me to refer you to another quarter for information, that is, to Campbell's "Specimens of the British Poets" — an excellent model for you to study. Old Wordsworth, had he been alive, would have given you good instruction on the subject. Ask your friend Murray what he thinks, or consult Dyce, who has a greater knowledge of English poetry than any man alive (9 Gray's Inn Square), and hear what he says.

I forgot to say you had better read Phillimore's "Life of Lord Lyttelton," in which you will be sure to find something useful. And now I think I have helped you to enough sources of information. The rest must be done by your own labours and taste. Parnassus is not as steep as Alma. — Yours truly.

My DEAR JESSE, — Thank you for the enclosure regarding cholera. We seem so far removed from it in Suffolk, that no one seems to think of it. I go on eating damson-pies, and devouring peaches, and taking calomel as though nothing were the matter with the rest of the world.

The fly that injured the bean is well known, not a conjecture. The cause of cholera being insect poison is very probable, but you can't go beyond that.

As you are at present so interested in Shenstone, I will tell you all I know that is worth telling about him.

Shenstone died about 1762 or 3. The Leasowes were purchased by a Mr. J. Home, who improved and added to them very much, and made them what they were (not are). He erected a monument in them to Shenstone, with a pretty inscription thereupon; and this reminds me that you should find out who purchased Thomson's place in Kew Lane, and planted those beautiful trees, and how long he had it. I daresay Lady Shaftesbury can tell you.

Shenstone wrote and printed a poem called "The Snuff-Box," which, for some reason or other, Dodsley did not insert in his edition of Shenstone's works.

I possess a copy of Aesop's Fables in Greek given by Shenstone to Dodsley when he left the Leasowes after a visit, with a friendly Latin inscription to him in the fly-leaves.

A selection from Shenstone's poems, with a few of some of those of his contemporaries, such as Lyttelton, Somerville, Dyer and Jago, might be acceptable and useful.

It is not generally known that Christopher Wren, son of the great architect, was a poetical friend of Shenstone's, and a great humourist. Lord Bathurst informed Daines Barrington that he was the first who deviated from a straight line in pieces of artificial water, by following the natural lines of a valley, or widening a brook, as at Ryskins near Colnbrook. Then, upon Lord Strafford thinking that it was done from poverty or economy, asked him to own fairly how much more it would have cost him to make it straight.

Mon cher, the above is a very curious anecdote. It is wonderful to think that the little water at Ryskins put the first idea of the Serpentine into folks' heads. Quote it in your next immortal volume. — Yours ever,

J. MITFORD.

P.S. — Here I sit forlorn, and poke
About my now deserted bower,
Very like Gray's owl at Stoke
In his ivy-mantled tower.

I wish myself at Upton Park,
Listening to your pleasant speeches,
How the Romans on the bark
Carved their names on Burnham beeches.

I wish — but what's the use of wishing?
All things here will end at last
Life a kind of made-up dish is,
Whereso'er our lot is cast.

Pray let "la fille" in to hear the service in St. George's. Addio, mio caro. Sono molto infelice.

BENHALL, Saturday.