1910 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Shenstone

Ralph Straus, in Robert Dodsley, Poet, Publisher, and Playwright (1910) 42-43.



The Judgment of Hercules, however, does not seem to have had much more than a "succes d'estime," and in the following year, when Shenstone proposed to print another poem, The Schoolmistress, Dodsley merely acted as agent. It was this inimitable poem, as D'Israeli calls it, which established Shenstone's reputation, and it is rather curious to note that Dodsley, usually a good judge, seems to have blundered when, years later, he was editing his friend's works, by including it among the moral poems. In reality it is nothing of the sort. To place it where he did, moreover, Dodsley was obliged to omit the very amusing index which Shenstone had written, and which only appears in the first edition. In a letter to his (and Dodsley's) friend Richard Graves — a great character of the day and author of The Spiritual Quixote — the poet expressly speaks of his piece as "ludicrous poetry" to which has been added "a ludicrous index purely to shew (fools) that I am in jest." The poem, indeed, was a burlesque of Spenser, and had a deserved popularity. "I think it quite sufficient," wrote Byron in his copy, "to intitle him to a conspicuous niche in the pantheon of the British Muses." Two lines from it are often quoted, though it may be doubted whether they are generally known to be Shenstone's:

A little band of heedless bishops here,
And there a chancellour in embryo.

Shenstone quite undeservedly has dropped out of notice, but in his day he occupied a higher position than Collins, and approached Gray in point of popularity.

His letters make no further mention of Dodsley until 1743, when one finds him writing to Mr. Graves: "My printer was preparing the bill for the Schoolmistress, when I stopped him short, with a hint to go to Dodsley, who has not reckoned with me for Hercules. Let the dead bury their dead." Shenstone was ever a poor man, and his assiduous attention to the gardens of the Leasowes ultimately brought him into pecuniary difficulties, but it is doubtful whether Dodsley was able to pay him any great sum.