1805 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Shenstone

Thomas Park, "William Shenstone" Censura Literaria 1 (1805) 238-44.



Dr. Johnson, in his life of this poet, says, that at Oxford he employed himself upon English poetry; and in 1737 published a small miscellany without his name. Dr. Anderson repeats this information, but, from his usual ardour of research and more successful inquiry, has produced a title to that miscellany. The fact however is, that there were two titles, which as the book is extremely scarce, shall here be given though the author's name and the mottos form the only difference.

"Poems upon various Occasions. Written for the entertainment of the author, and printed for the entertainment of a few friends, prejudic'd in his favour. By William Shenstone, gent. 'Spes et Foriuna, valete!' Oxford: printed by Leon. Lichfield, near East-gate, 1737."

"Poems upon various Occasions. Written for the entertainment of the author, and printed for the amusement of a few friends, prejudic'd in his favour. 'Contentus paucis lectoribus.' HOR. Oxford; printed by Leon. Lichfield near East-gate, 1737."

The two copies to which the above are prefixed do not appear to contain any other material diversity, except that the dedication to the former is dated "Pembroke College, Oxford, April 29th, 1737;" and that to the latter has only the month and year subjoined. The poet addresses his "prefatory Dedication to Mrs. —:" a lady, he says, of a penetrating judgment and refined taste; to whom he devotes five pages of pedantic quaintness and tumid panegyric. His poetry he begs leave to declare, is "the product of a young genius, little exercised in versification;' and he seems feelingly to predict his future character, when he arms "that indolence has proved with him, and always will do, more than a balance to any other ambition."

The poetical contents of this juvenile opusculum it may not be incurious to record, nor can a brief report of their respective merits be deemed out of its place in CENSURA LITERARIA.

"The Speeches of Sloth and Virtue: upon the plan of Xenophon's Judgment of Hercules." These speeches, with considerable enlargement and revisal, were incorporated into the Judgment of Hercules, which is placed foremost in the division of Shenstone's moral pieces, in Dodsley's edition of 1765.

"Love and Musick." A feeble lyric ode, which neither possesses the animation excited by love, nor the harmony inspired by music.

"Colemira: a culinary Eclogue." Verbatim, as printed by Dodsley, p. 197.

"Comparison." Trite, common-place compliment to Silvia, in which her eyes are compared to the sun, her voice to the nightingale, her complexion to alabaster, and her cheek to the rose.

"The School-Mistress." A coarse and imperfect sketch of what was afterwards wrought up into a delicate cabinet picture. It consists of twelve stanzas only; one of which was judiciously rejected for its grossness. The remaining eleven greatly improved, and seventeen new ones added, the poem was reprinted in 1742, 8vo. with an Index describing the contents of each stanza, and various passages cited in the margin from Virgil, Horace, &c. which had served to furnish hints or illustrations. In the posthumous edition of Shenstone's works, it appeared with seven additional stanzas, and forms (as Dr. Johnson observes) "one of the author's most pleasing performances."

"The Quill." Twelve short stanzas, tracing in detail the various services of a goose-quill, from the pens of Pope, Young, and Cibber, to the tuning of a spinnet and employ of a tooth-pick.

"Alboque simillima Cygno." This may serve as a civil censure on the frivolous excuses made by many females, when solicited in company to favour their friends with a song: and being brief, it shall be extracted, as it affords specimen of the writer's Juvenilia.

As Delia, lovely syren! sate
The myrtle shades among;
Regardless of a farther fate
Than what her killing eyes create,
Philander begg'd a song.

Too well, alas l the artful knew
He'd not his suit give o'er;
And cry'd — "By walking in the dew
I'm grown so hoarse — I vow 'tis true—
Dear swain insist no more!"

At length, to his renew'd address
She yields, yet vows again—
"She scarce can draw her breath, much less
In modulated thrills express,
Or raise one pleasing strain."—

Such-like evasions store the heart
Of ev'ry tuneful she;
That one, unvers'd in female art,
Must think them going to impart,
Like swans, their elegy.

"The Gossipping: a ballad. To the tune of King John and the Abbot of Canterbury." A mythological ditty of fourteen verses, each ending with a derry down, &c. Written much in the plan of Geo. Alex. Steevens's toping rants, but conducted with less humour and more vulgarity.

"Stanzas to the memory of W. G. parish-clerk, who departed this life &c. to the inexpressible grief of his admirers. In imitation of Maister Sternhold." This imitation extends to thirteen staves, somewhat puerile and bordering on the profane.

"Anacreontick. Io! Bacche! Hor." No uncharacteristic specimen of the Bacchanalian extravaganza style; in which ludicrous bombast or sottish sensuality commonly supply the want of exhilarating ideas,

"To Mr. Pope, on his Dunciad." An epigrammatic squib thrown at the opponents of Pope, which could not be gathered up in the collection published under the name of Savage, In 1732.

"Eve's Speech in Milton, upon her Expulsion out of Paradise." This exquisitely pathetic lamentation is here be-rhymed out of its original grace, and paraphrased out of its dignified simplicity. Such a feeble attempt to improve on Milton was an evidence of very erroneous taste.

"Judith's Song." Versified with considerable ingenuity and force of expression.

"The Tea-Table." In nine stanzas. Trifling as the subject they commemorate.

"Inscription to the memory of A. L. Esq." Printed by Dodsley in Shenstone's Levities; whereas suppression would have been more honourable to the author and to his editor.

"To Selinda Sailing." In the manner of his songs, and like some of them very jejune.

"To Selinda. An Apology for having celebrated others." More witty than amatory; and written by the poet when 'twas "his with mock-passion to glow."

"Cupid and Plutus." A successful imitation of Mat Prior's more airy productions.

"Written under a Lady's Name on a Window." What any poet-corner wit might have composed.

"The Snuff-Box." No unfaithful adumbration of Parnell's melodious ease and neatness.

"The Enchantress. Anacreontick." A mimicry of namby-pamby Phillips; but executed with less characteristic prettiness, and more strained conceit.

"Je-ne-scai quoi. In imitation of Lord Rochester's poem upon Nothing." A languid parody on a well-known and spirited effusion; to which it only bears resemblance, from being written in similar metre.

"Verses to a Lady. Together with some coloured patterns of Flowers." A grave epistolary address, dated from Harborough, Oct. 7, 1736; and written apparently when Pope was the prevailing model, a the following extract may serve to indicate.

The sweets of tranquil life, and rural ease,
Amuse securely, nor less justly please.
Where gentle Pleasure shews her milder pow'r,
Or blooms in fruit, or sparkles in the fiow'r;
Smiles in the groves, the raptur'd poet's theme,
Flows in the brook, his Naiad of the stream;
Dawns with each happier stroke the pencil gives,
And, in each livelier image, smiling lives;
Is heard, when Silvia strikes the warbling strings,
Selinda speaks, or Philomela sings:
Breathes with the morn; attends, propitious maid,
The ev'ning ramble and the noon-day glade:
Some visionary Fair, she cheats our view,
Then only vig'rous, when she's seen like you.
———*———*———*———*———
Such are your honours — mentioned to your cost,
Those least can hear them, who deserve them most.

On a general survey of the above publication, it appears to contain little more than what many a college-student, with a poetical propensity, has had it in his power to usher forth at the age of twenty-three; nor does it glisten with any luminous presage, that the author would hereafter obtain an appropriate niche in the temple of British Fame. That he should in riper life have endeavoured to recal and cancel these puerile effusions, as the late Mr. Steevens reported, is creditable to his maturer judgment; but that he did not altogether effect his purpose, some ardent collectors of literary rarities may exult to declare: and indeed to the ingenuous student it must always afford a pleasurable exercise, when he can compare the first draughts of any masterly hand with its more finished productions.

T. P.