1742
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

To the same [Rev. Richard Graves], with a Continuation of the same Subject [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, in the process of revising The School-mistress, changes his attitude towards Spenser: "I am now ... from trifling and laughing at him, really in love with him" p. 67.

Robert Aris Willmott: "Although Shenstone's reputation as a poet almost entirely depends upon his imitations of Spenser, he does not speak of him with much regard. 'The plan of the Fairy Queen,' he says, 'appears to me very imperfect. His imagination very extensive, though somewhat less so, perhaps, than is generally allowed; if one considers the facility of realizing and equipping forth the virtues and and vices. His conjunction of the Pagan and Christian scheme (as he introduces both acting simultaneously) wholly inexcusable. Much art and judgment are discovered in parts, but very little in the whole. One may entertain some doubt whether the perusal of his monstrous descriptions be not as prejudicial to true taste, as it is advantageous to the extent of his imagination. Spenser to be sure expands the last; but then he expands it beyond its due limits. After all there are many favourite passages in his Fairy Queen, which will be instances of a great and cultivated genius misapplied.' Some of these remarks are accurate, but the tone is cold and disagreeable. He, of whose pictures we may say, as Reynolds, I think, remarked of Rubens, that one is sufficient to illuminate a room, demands a different style of criticism" "Gray and Mason" in Conversations at Cambridge (1836) 210-11n. I have not traced this quotation, which appears to be a paraphrase, or perhaps a general recollection of eighteenth-century Spenser criticism.

William Lyon Phelps: "It is fortunate that we have a letter like this, so clearly exhibiting the attitude of one of the best-known men of his time toward one of the greatest names in English literature. The patronizing tone toward Spenser is extremely suggestive; and the fact that Shenstone's gate to this Romantic field was the coarse burlesque of Pope, is certainly noteworthy. When Pope exercised his ingenuity in this style of versification, he little dreamed that he was opening up a new world even to the men of his age. Shenstone's remark that he thought 'even the metre pretty' needs no comment. His letter, in all its stupidity, betrays a much deeper appreciation of Spenser than the writer dared to show" Beginnings of the English Romantic Movement (1893) 67-68.

Greg Kucich: "This sympathy with Spenser's inherent naivete inspired Shenstone's more ambitious idea of a modern pastoral correcting and extending Spenser's own example. It also validated the whole concept of simplifying Spenser, which after all seemed only an extension of his own natural tendencies, a claim that certainly would not be made for Milton" Keats, Shelley, and Romantic Spenserianism (1991) 54-55.




June, 1742.

Dear Mr. Graves!

I am glad the stay you make in Herefordshire amuses you, even though it puts you upon preferring the place you reside at to my own place of residence. I do not know whether it be from the prejudice of being born at the Leasows, or from any real beauty in the situation; but I would wish no other, would some one, by an addition of two hundred pounds a year, put it in my power to exhibit my own designs. It is what I can now do in no other method than on paper. I lived in such an un-oeconomical manner, that I must not indulge myself in the plantation of a tree for the future. I have glutted myself with the extremity of solitude, and must adapt my expences more to sociable life. It is on this account that it seems more prudent for me to buy a chair while I am in town, than to carry down twelve guineas for the model of the tomb of Virgil, an urn, and a scheme or two more of like nature. — I long to have my picture, distantly approaching to a profile (the best manner I can think to express myself), drawn by [Jeremiah] Davison. I have seen your sister's, and think the face well done in every respect; — but am greatly indignant with other things of a less fixed nature. The cap, though a good cap enough, has a vile effect; the formality of stays, etc. not agreeable. — I do not know if you saw the picture of a Scotch girl there at full length! Miss Graves has the advantage of her's, or any picture there, in her person; but certainly this girl's hair is inexpressibly charming! There is the genteelest negligence in it I ever saw in any picture: — what follows, but that I wish your sister would give orders to pull off her cap, and have hair after the manner of this picture—? To speak abruptly; as it is, I disapprove it: were it altered, I should like it beyond any I ever saw. — I am glad you are reading Spenser: though his plan is detestable, and his invention less wonderful than most people imagine, who do not much consider the obviousness of allegory; yet, I think, a person of your disposition must take great delight in his simplicity, his good-nature, &c. Did you observe a stanza that begins a canto somewhere,

Nought is there under heav'n's wide hollowness
That breeds, &c
(1.3.1.1-2)

When I bought him first, I read a page or two of the Fairy Queene, and cared not to proceed. After that, Pope's Alley made me consider him ludicrously; and in that light, I think, one may read him with pleasure. I am now (as Ch-mley with —), from trifling and laughing at him, really in love with him. I think even the metre pretty (though I shall never use it in earnest); and that last Alexandrine has an extreme majesty. — Does not this line strike you (I do not justly remember what canto it is in);

Brave thoughts and noble deeds did evermore inspire (4.10.26.9).

Perhaps it is my fancy only that is enchanted with the running of it. Adieu! W. S.


[3:65-67]