1737 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Shenstone

William Shenstone, "Prefatory Dedication to Mrs. —" Shenstone, Poems upon Various Occasions (1737) iii-vii.



Dedications, Madam, ought in Policy to be addrest to the most powerful, and in Justice to the most deserving. These I think I have united by applying to You in this Manner, who have gain'd the former of these Advantages by means of the latter. Accomplishments like Your's give the most absolute Authority of any: I mean that over the Judgments, as well as the Hearts of Mankind.

I intended here, Madam, after the Manner of other well-meaning Dedicators, to have given some Sketches of Your Character. No so much from the Ostentation of my Art in describing, as of the peculiar Diligence I have used in observing it. An indifferent Painter may trace some Features of his Sov'reign's Face, whose Loyalty has render'd him accurate in studying the Original — Besides, 'Twere hard a Lady of Your Perfections shou'd be the only one exempted from the Pleasure of being acquainted with 'em. 'Tis true, You have a quick Eye, and penetrating Judgment in distinguishing both natural, and moral Beauties: But You must inevitably remain a Stranger to the greatest, were it not for the Assistance of those important Utensils, a Poet and a Looking-Glass.

'Twere dangerous indeed You might suffer by any Representation I am capable of. But 'twas not Incapacity alone discourag'd me. There is something in Your Character vastly disadvantageous to any that attempts it. To proclaim You possess'd of every imaginable good Quality, wou'd be saying it was Day, when the Sun shines in its Meridian. As for Your Faults, (if You have any,) they indeed are far enough from being liable to the former Exception: but the extreme Difficulty I shou'd have found in selecting a few minute ones, (And some I must have selected, if possible, as the Shades of my Piece;) together with the small Share of Credit I shou'd have gain'd in the World, dis-hearten'd me. Such indeed were my only Objections. Unless I may adjoin this, that to Strangers your real and genuine Character must have pass'd for Flattery. I say to Strangers, for, where you are known, You must be acknowledg'd incapable of it: As the Sun's Brightness can be set off by no Allusion. Hence, in short, I laid aside all thoughts of a Portraiture. Those, that wou'd love You as You deserve, must know You; as necessarily, as those, who know You, must consequently love You.

As to the Poetry, I beg Leave to declare, that 'tis the Product of a young Genius, little exercis'd in Versification. And the Muses, you know, Madam, are not like a great many of their Sex, that have the most Esteem for those, who neglect them; tho' they have had sometimes, in Appearance. Horace, and Swift (whom to you I wou'd chuse to mention) have attended them whole Mornings at their Toilette, that they might conduct them into the World, in a more agreeable Undress. But my Negligences, Madam, are of such a Nature, that I must beg you'd impute them to Disuse and Inexperience. However, by this Confession, I may probably put you in Mind of a Lady, who, having thrum'd over a Spinnet for a considerable Space, without the least shew of Harmony, took much pains to prove she had never play'd before. 'Tis with an Author much the same as with a Sportsman; Hippolitus may excuse his Ill-success to himself, and, perhaps, justly allege several alleviating Circumstances; But in vain may he attempt his vindication to the World. That has been so frequently deluded by these Apologies, that it has made it a Rule to fix the Fault upon the Marksman.

I indeed ever despair'd of affording much entertainment this way to a Lady of your refin'd Taste: And I'm positive, that Indolence, has with me prov'd, and always will do, more than a Ballance to any other Ambition. This is my only Encouragement, that, as one very much admires, I can't but think these Trifles won't prove absolutely disagreeable to Your's.

You'll perhaps find other Names in these Pages, than that, which includes all that's agreeable, and is indeed the most comprehensive word that is; I mean your own. But as there is some thing mean in an aversion to the Praises of another, or a continual Apprehension of being rival'd, which I take to be it's original; I'm secure of giving You no uneasiness. Especially, since a Lady of Your Merit may give all others infinitely more than their due, without the least Shadow of Danger.

I ask Pardon for the Pedantry of Latin Mottoes and Quotations: But You may easily dispense with the loss of them, whether You consider them, merely as a Compliance with custom, or as certain scraps of Antiquity, to indemnify the Poet with those Critic's, who approve only what's ancient. As there are some, who fix a tutelary Piece of Iron on their Thresholds, to elude the Fury of Ill-designing Spirits.

Next to the happiness of being posses'd of Merit, is to shew one's Approbation of those who are; And this is really no small addition to a Man's Character. So that, shou'd these Papers appear ever so ridiculous, I shall value them one one Account; And shou'd their Fame prove equal to Mr. Pope's, I shou'd value them on none so much as that; which is, that they enable me to declare openly how much I am,

MADAM,

Your most Obedient

Humble Servant.

April 29th, 1737.