1792 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Shenstone

Anna Seward to Richard Polwhele, 25 May 1792; in Letters, ed. Scott (1811) 3:138-39.



Shenstone appears to me the only professed pastoral poet, who has struck the true pastoral chords; who has that graceful simplicity, which the pastorals of Virgil and Pope want, without any of that coarseness into which, attempting to be more natural, by painting vulgar nature, Spenser, Gay, and Phillips fell. Shenstone, actually living in the daily pursuit of rural cares, and in the habitual cultivation of scenic beauty, wrote as he felt. He places before us the landscapes by which he was surrounded; and all the coy graces of a refined imagination, and of a feeling heart, flow naturally in his verse. Ample, surely, is their power to elevate, and render interesting the benevolent employments of the country gentleman, blended with the pursuits of the scholar, and a taste for the fine arts; the dignity of friendship, and the animated, yet delicate solicitudes of growing passion. Something of excellence must surely be wanting in the head or heart of those who perceive not the delicious influence of these unobtrusive, these genuine beauties of sentiment and description, who forget that we owe the happiest imitation of Spenser's best manner to Shenstone. The schoolmistress is alone sufficient to entitle its author to an high seat in the poetic fame of Britain.