1742
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

To Mr. Graves, on Benevolence and Friendship.

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


In the last paragraph William Shenstone comments that the "true burlesque" of Spenser lies in the representation of ridiculous things rather than in a contrast between thoughts and words. The thought recalls Addison's notion that "true" wit is translatable between languages; though the sentiment itself concerns the mid-century conviction that sincerity is a literary value. While Spenser would be burlesqued in the older manner well into the nineteenth century, Shenstone's School-mistress marks the beginnings of a new, sentimental mode of imitating Spenser that would be developed by James Beattie in the Minstrel (1771) and Robert Burns in his Cotter's Saturday Night (1785). Shenstone's letter was posthumously published in 1769.

Isaac D'Israeli: "The whole history of this poem, and this [1742] edition, may be traced in the printed correspondence of SHENSTONE. Our poet had pleased himself by ornamenting 'A sixpenny pamphlet' with certain 'seemly' designs of his, and for which he came to town to direct the engraver; he appears also to have intended accompanying it with 'The deformed portrait of my old school-dame, Sarah Lloyd.' The frontispiece to this first edition represents the 'thatched house of his old schoolmistress, and before it is the birch tree,' with 'the sun setting and gilding the scene.' He writes on this, 'I have the first sheet to correct upon the table. I have laid aside the thoughts of fame a good deal in this unpromising scheme; and fix them upon the landskip which is engraving, the red letter which I propose, and the fruitpiece which you see, being the most seemly ornaments of the first sixpenny pamphlet that was ever so highly honoured. I shall incur the same reflection with Ogilby, of having nothing good but my decorations. I expect that in your neighbourhood and in Warwickshire there should be twenty of my poems sold. I print it myself. I am pleased with Mynde's engravings'" "Shenstone's Schoolmistress" in Curiosities of Literature (1791-24; 1866) 361.

In a letter to Richard Jago that Williams tentatively dates May 1742, Shenstone considers the choice of an epigraph for the School-mistress: "I expect that in your neighborhood, and in Warwickshire, there should be about twenty of my poems sold. I print it myself. I am not yet satisfied about mottoes. That printed is this, 'O qua sol habitabiles illustrat oras, maxime principum!' [Horace, Odes 4, 14, 5: "O thou, where Sol with kindly Rays | The habitable Globe surveys, | Greatest of Princes" — Francis]. It must be short, on account of the plate. I do not know but I may adhere to a very insignificant one: 'En erit ergo | Ille dies, mihi cum liceat tua dicere facta!' [Virgil, Eclogues VIII, 7, 8]. I am pleased with Mynde's engravings; and I can speak without affectation, that ... is not equally in my thoughts—" Letters, ed. Williams (1939) 46.

Isaac Reed: "Richard Graves, second son of Richard Graves, Esq; was born at Mickleton, in the County of Gloucester, May 4, 1715. He was educated at Abington School, Berks; elected from thence Nov. 1, 1732, a Scholar of Pembroke College, Oxford; and chosen Fellow of All Souls College, 1736. In 1739 he became M.A. He is now Rector of Claverton, and Vicar of Kilmersden, in the County of Somerset" in Dodsley, Collection of Poems (1782) 4:347n.




The Leasows,

Jan. 19, 1741-42.

Dear Mr. Graves,

I cannot forbear immediately writing to you: the pleasure your last letter gave me puts it out of my power to restrain the overflowings of my benevolence. I can easily conceive that, upon some extraordinary instances of friendship, my heart might be si fort attendri, that I could bear any restraint upon my ability to shew my gratitude. It is an observation I made upon reading to-day's paper, which contains an account of C. Khevenhuller's success in favour of the Queen of Hungary. To think what sublime affection must influence that poor unfortunate Queen, should a faithful and zealous General revenge her upon her enemies, and restore her ruined affairs!

Had a person shewn an esteem and affection for me, joined with any elegance, or without any elegance in the expression of it, I should have been in acute pain till I had given some sign of my willingness to serve him. — From all this, I conclude that I have more humanity than some others.

Probably enough I shall never meet with a larger share of happiness than I feel at present. If not, I am thoroughly convinced, my pain is greatly superior to my pleasure. That pleasure is not absolutely dependent upon the mind, I know from this, that I have enjoyed happier scenes in the company of some friends, than I can possibly at present; — but alas! all the time you and I shall enjoy together, abstracted from the rest of our lives, and lumped, will not perhaps amount to a solid year and a half. How small a proportion!

People will say to one that talks thus, "Would you die?" To set the case upon a right footing, they must take away the hopes of greater happiness in this life, the fears of greater misery hereafter, together with the bodily pain of dying, and address me in a disposition betwixt mirth and melancholy; and I could easily resolve them.

I do not know how I am launched out so far into this complaint: it is, perhaps, a strain of constitutional whining; the effect of the wind — did it come from the winds? to the winds I will deliver it:

Tradam protervis in mare Creticum,
Portare ventis—
[Horace, Carminum, I, 26, 2, 3]

I will be as happy as my fortune will permit, and make others so:

Pone me pigris ubi nulla campis
Arbor aestiva recreatur aura.
[Horace, Carminum, I, 22, 17, 18]

I will be so. The joke is, that the description which you gave of that country was, that you had few trees about you; so that I should trick Fortune if she should grant my petition implicitly. But in earnest, I intend to come and stay a day or two with you next summer.

Mr. Whistler is at Mr. Gosling's, bookseller, at the Mitre and Crown, in Fleet-street, and enquired much after you in his last letter to me. He writes to me; but I believe his affection for one weighs less with him, while the town is in the other scale. Though he is very obliging. I do not know whether I do right, when I say I believe we three, that is, in solitary circumstances, have an equal idea of, and affection for, each other. I say, supposing each to be alone, or in the country, which is nearly the same; for scenes alter minds as much as the air influences bodies. For instance, when Mr. Whistler is in town, I suppose we love him better than he does us; and when we are in town, I suppose the same may be said in regard to him.

The true burlesque of Spenser (whose characteristic is simplicity) seems to consist in a simple representation of such things as one laughs to see or to observe one's self, rather than in any monstrous contrast betwixt the thoughts and words. I cannot help thinking that my added stanzas have more of his manner than what you saw before, which you are not a judge of, till you have read him.

W.S.


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