1741
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

To the same, with some Observations on Spenser.

The Works in Verse and Prose, of William Shenstone, Esq; Volume III. Containing Letters to particular Friends, from the Year 1739 to 1763.

William Shenstone


William Shenstone sends a revised copy of The School-Mistress to Richard Jago (?) with the comment that Spenser's "subject is certainly bad, and his action inexpressibly confused; but there are some particulars in him that charm one" — Spenser's "simplicity and obsolete phrase" supply "the greatest scope for a ludicrous imitation" p. 63. Shenstone amplifies his remark on simplicity in his letter to Richard Graves, 19 January 1741-42.

Francis Godolphin Waldron: "To do Shenstone justice, it must be acknowledged, that he seems to have taken great pains to acquire a taste for Spenser (See his Letters), but never to have thoroughly accomplished it; he wrote, himself, so much to the ear, that 'Where more is meant than meets the ear,' was 'caviare' to him: and his is chiefly pleased with the ludicrous of the sublime author of the Four Hymns in honour of Love, Beauty, Heavenly Love, and Heavenly Beauty; Daphnaida; The Ruines of Time; The Tears of the Muses; &c. &c. and the unrivalled, tho' but half-finished, Faerie Queene" The Biographical Mirrour (1795) 1:121.

William Lyon Phelps: "We see by this that when The School-Mistress was first written, Shenstone knew nothing apparently of Spenser; and that when he did actually read him, he was charmed in spite of himself. As he did not dare to consider Spenser seriously, he tries to point out certain characteristics to explain the charm he felt in the Fairy Queen, without seeing that the real source of the fascination lay in the beauty of the poetry. In his early years Shenstone was very much of an Augustan" Beginnings of the English Romantic Movement (1893) 67.

George Saintsbury: "He may serve, as well as another, as a peg whereon to hang a very short discourse on the minor Spenserian imitations of the century, which are so curiously abundant. No one of them comes anywhere near the Castle of Indolence in merit; and though there are one or two pretty and well-known things in Shenstone's own Schoolmistress, he is not even the most successful of the other imitators before Beattie. Most of them, though to a rather less extent than those of Chaucer at this time, show very little sense of the qualities of their original. Under the singular delusion that it is only the quaintness, not the music, of the Spenserian diction that unites it so close to the verse, they pepper the words of Spenser (or travesties of them) as hard as the caster will let them. They have conceived a still more singular notion of his 'simplicity' (an application of the word which 'simply' deprives it of all meaning), and though they are not wrong about the tenderness in him, they seem to be quite unaware of the splendour and the stateliness, the long-drawn sweetness and elaborate art, which he displays. Nobody except Thomson ever gets anywhere near to the resonance and colour of the stanza. But the constant practice of it is still noteworthy, as a sign of the haunting desire for something different from the couplet" History of English Prosody (1906-10) 2:510-11.

Compare Shenstone's series of letters on the School-Mistress with the two surviving letters of Glocester Ridley on his Psyche, or the Great Metamorphosis (1747; 1781) Those letters, which date from 1746 and 1747, were published by Samuel Weller Singer in Spence, Anecdotes (1820).




Leasowes

The Day before Christmas.

Dear Sir,

Though your last letter seemed to put my correspondence upon an ostentatious footing, namely, an inclination to be witty, yet I assure you it was not any punctilious consideration of that kind that has kept me so long silent. Indeed with some people one would stand upon the nicest punctilios; for though ceremony be altogether lighter than vanity itself, yet it surely weighs as much as the acquaintance of the underserving. But this is trifling, because it can have no reference to a person for whom I have the greatest affection.

In regard to my Oxford affairs, you did all I could expect. I have wrote since to Mr. M[arriett], who, either for your sake or mine, will, I dare say, settle them to my satisfaction.

I wish your journey and head-ach would have permitted you to have been a little more particular concerning the seat of the Muses; but I suppose nothing material distinguished your fortnight.

Mr. Whistler has relapsed at Whitchurch; but purposed, when I last heard from him, to go to London before this time. I do not entirely understand his schemes, but should have been sincerely glad of his company with me this winter; and, he says, he is not fond of London. — For my part, I designed to go thither the next month, but the fever (which is chiefly violent in towns) discourages me.

Some time ago, I read Spenser's Fairy Queen; and, when I had finished, thought it a proper time to make some additions and corrections to my trifling imitation of him, the School-mistress. — His subject is certainly bad, and his action inexpressibly confused; but there are some particulars in him that charm one. Those which afford the greatest scope for a ludicrous imitation are, his simplicity and obsolete phrase; and yet these are what give one a very singular pleasure in the perusal. The burlesque which they occasion is of quite a different kind to that of Philips's Shilling, Cotton's Travestie, Hudibras, or Swift's works; but I need not tell you this. I inclose a copy, for your amusement and opinion; which, if franks are plentiful, you may return, and save me the tedious trouble of writing it all over again. The other paper was, bona fide, written to divert my thoughts from pain, for the same reason that I smoaked; actions equally reputable.

Mr Somervile's poem upon hawking, called "Field Sports," I suppose, is out by this time. It was sent to Mr. Lyttelton, to be read to the Prince, to whom it was inscribed. It seems, he is fond of hawking.

I have often thought those to be the most enviable people whom one least envies — I believe, married men are the happiest that are; but I cannot say I envy them, because they lose all their merit in the eyes of the ladies.

I beg sincerely that you would write in a week's time at furthest, that I may receive your letter here, if I should go from home this winter. I will never use anything by way of conclusion, but your old Roman

Farewel!

W. Shenstone.


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