1774 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Shenstone

Anonymous, "An Original Anecdote of Shenstone" London Chronicle (25 June 1774) 607.



Shenstone was one day walking through his romantic retreats, in company with his Delia (her real name was Wilmot); they were going towards the bower which he made sacred to the ashes of Thomson, our harmonious countryman. "Would to heaven (said Shenstone, pointing to the trees) that Delia could be happy in the midst of these rustic avenues!" — He would have gone on, but was interrupted. A person rushed out of a thicket, and presenting a pistol to his breast, demanded his money. "Money, says he, is not worth struggling for. — You cannot be poorer than I am. — Unhappy man, (says he, throwing him his purse) take it, and fly as quick as possible." The man did so. He threw his pistol into the water, and in a moment disappeared. Shenstone ordered the footboy, who followed behind them, to pursue the robber at a distance, and observe whither he went. In two hours time the boy returned, and informed his master, that he followed him to Hales-Owen, where he lived: that he went to the very door of his house, and peeped thro' the key-hole; that as soon as the man entered, he threw the purse on the ground, and addressing himself to his wife, "Take (says he) the dear-bought price of my honesty;" — then, taking two of his children, one on each knee, he said to them, "I have ruined my soul, to keep you from starving;" and immediately burst into a flood of tears. You know how this tale of distress would affect Shenstone. He enquired after the man's character, and found that he was a Labourer, honest and industrious, but oppressed by want and a numerous family. He went to his house, where the man kneeled down at his feet, and implored mercy. Shenstone carried him home, to assist at the buildings and other improvements which made himself so poor; and I am told, when Shenstone died, that this Labourer wet his grave with the true tears of gratitude.

You have this story as I heard it related; and my heart assures me it is true. — You see by this, how easily an evil action may come from a good principle. I am persuaded, there are many honest men who suffer death without deserving it; and so, probably, would this man too, had he robbed any other man than the benevolent Shenstone.

—Immortal benevolence! the richest gem that adorns the human soul! Without thee, Kings are poor; and in thy possession, they Beggar is immensely rich!

In vain we own the Conqueror with laurels, and the Slayer of Thousands with immortality. The real hero is seldom found in the Field; he lives peaceful and retired, in the calm walks of private life.