1836 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Shenstone

L. L., in "English Poets" Southern Literary Messenger [Richmond] 2 (January 1836) 103.



Shenstone passed many years of his life in embellishing his grounds at the Leasowes. Improving on the admirable lessons of Lord Bacon, he formed an Utopia at the foot of the Wrekin, and "became famous even on the continent for his taste in gardening." But with Shenstone the gardener I have nothing to do. Of his poems, the Schoolmistress is the most amiable and natural. We find the simplicity of this combined with a querulous tenderness in his elegies. I scarcely know of any thing in the elegiac order so pretty and touching as the little poem in which he refers to the murder of Kenelm the Saxon boy, by a sister who had been his nurse, and who had doted on him — until an ambitious yearning after the crown of Mercia, and the words of a paramour, made her, while hunting among the Clent hills, "do murder on him" — on him whom an old chronicler has quaintly yet touchingly styled "the sunnye hayred brotherr of her hearte."

Shenstone was a poet of refined tastes. His fancy was polished, and he had trained himself well in the art of expression — if expression can be called an art. Like his brother poets, he worshipped at the shrine of love — often mingling the myrtle with the cypress. His Delia was no creature of the imagination. And like the Althea of Lovelace — like the nameless bringer of "wilde unrest" to Shakspeare — like her who was as a long-toothed viper at the heart of poor Lope de Vega; in fine, without multiplying "likes," Delia, if we are to judge from the poet's tone and life, did not love where she was best loved. Alas! when was woman as the rose which the nightingale serenades? When opened she her heart to song? Dante sung to Beatrice — Tasso made the name of Leonora D'Este famous on earth — Petrarch spun his heart into melody, and immortalized his Laura — Wyatt rhymed to Anne Boleyn. And how ended their wooings? Some worse — none better than that of Shenstone.

The letters of our author were thought by himself his best writings. Those to his friend Mr. Whistler, which he wrote with most care, were (to the poet's bitter regret) destroyed by Whistler's brother, "a Goth of a fellow."