1792 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Shenstone

John Bennet, in "Letters to a Young Lady" American Museum [Philadelphia] 11 (January 1792) 9.



To increase the number of imaginary, when life abounds with such real sorrows, by nursing a sickly, extravagant sensibility, is, in a rational creature, the very height of imprudence. The ancients endeavoured to cherish fortitude, and resolution, by giving strength to the body and vigour to the mind. From some of their states, poetry, among other things, was absolutely excluded, as tending to enervate the minds of a people, and unfit them for the struggles and activities of life; and it is certain, that the owners of an exquisite sensibility, for a few moments of pleasure, have days of vexation. In this human wilderness, thorns are perennials. Roses are but the perishable ornaments of summer.

That late Mr. Shenstone among many others, is an unhappy instance of the misfortune, I have mentioned. His works, though not of the first magnitude, are exceedingly agreeable; but his poetical enthusiasm was a source of perpetual irritation and misfortune. Having cultivated his taste, more than his prudence, his feelings, more than his fortitude, and his imagination, more than his judgment, his life was one unvaried train of inquietudes. His mind was ruffled with imaginary injuries; his peace disturbed with fanciful affronts; and his disordered finances left every thing but comfort, dignity, and independence.

With a fortune, that only justified a neat and homely dwelling, his genius was not content with less than the superb appendages of a palace. In forming the Leasowes, he sacrificed to enthusiasm, what he owed to contentment. He panted for a paradise; and a paradise he had; but it soon became a wilderness of thorns. Merciless creditors had no candour for the poet, and made no allowance for the exquisiteness of his taste.

They saw no charms in shrubs, in blossoms, or in prospects; and they awoke him with an iron grasp, from his delicious entrancement. While a noble neighbour, emulating and outvying, on a larger scale, the beauties of his elysium, or exhibiting it to a stranger, from an unfavourable point of view, inflicted on his sickly feelings, an heartfelt affliction, which he had neither the possibility of avoiding, nor the philosophy to support.