1882 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Shenstone

Epes Sargent, in Harper's Cyclopaedia of British and American Poetry (1882) 180-81.



Shenstone (1714-1763) was born at Leasowes, in Shropshire. He received his higher education at Pembroke College, Oxford, but did not take a degree. In 1745 the paternal estate fell to his care, and as Johnson characteristically describes it, he began "to point his prospects, to diversify his surface, to entangle his walks, and to wind his waters." Descriptions of the Leasowes have been written by Dodsley and Goldsmith. The property was altogether not worth more than 200 per annum, and Shenstone had devoted so much of his means to external embellishment, that he had to live in a dilapidated house hardly rain-proof. He had wasted his subsistence in temples, inscriptions, and artificial walks. At every turn there was a bust or a seat with an inscription.

Among the inscriptions, that to Miss Dolman is memorable because of a felicitous sentiment in Latin, often quoted: "Peramabili suae consobrinae M. D. Ah! Maria! puellarum elegantissima! ab flore venustatis abrepta, vale! Heu quanto minus est cum reliquis versari, quam tui meminisse!" In English: "Sacred to the memory of a most amiable kinswoman, M. D. Ah! Maria! most elegant of nymphs! snatched from us in the bloom of beauty! ah! farewell! Alas! how much less precious is it to converse with others than to remember thee!"

Shenstone's highest effort is The School-mistress, said to have been written at college in 1736. It is still read with pleasure. It is in imitation of Spenser, and "so delightfully quaint and ludicrous, yet true to nature, that it has all the force and vividness of a painting by Teniers or Wilkie." Of his other poems, comprising odes, elegies, and pastorals, few of them are likely to endure in the survival of the fittest.