1742
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

To the same [Rev. Richard Graves], on the Publication of the School-mistress.

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 frets about the publication of the School-Mistress, which was advertised in May 1742 (giving an approximate date for the letter). Defending burlesque, he expresses concern lest, in his simplicity, he be accused of trifling like Ambrose Philips: "But if a person seriously calls this, or rather, burlesque, a childish or low species of poetry, he says wrong."

"Namby-Pamby" Philips acquired his reputation for childishness not for his Spenserian pastorals but for "To Miss Georgiana, youngest daughter to Lord Carteret, August 10, 1725." The Latin motto of the School-Mistress, from Horace, Odes 4, 14, 5 is translated by Philip Francis: "O thou, where Sol with kindly Rays | The habitable Globe surveys, | Greatest of Princes."

Monthly Review: "Some of these letters are very trivial, but many others in the collection are no way unworthy of the attention of the public: and they will be particularly acceptable to the admirers of Mr. Shenstone's writings, which, for the most part, have undoubtedly very considerable merit. Mr. Shenstone, considered merely as an author, had the uncommon felicity of attracting the love of his readers: and those who from readers had the happiness of becoming acquainted with him as a man, never felt any diminution of that pre-conceived esteem for him, inspired by his works. — In these letters, his personal character appears in the same amiable light as in his poetical compositions: — they contain the 'history of his mind for the last twenty-four years of his life'" Monthly Review 41 (August 1769) 156.




Dear Mr. Graves!

I depended a good deal on an immediate answer from you, and am greatly fearful you never received a packet of little things, which I sent you from Oxford, inclosed in a frank; though, if it arrived at all, it must have arrived several days before you left it. I beseech you to send me a line upon the receipt of these, which will free me from much perplexity; though it is doubtful whether I can defer my schemes so as to make your criticisms of service. I would have you send them notwithstanding.

I cannot help considering myself as a sportsman (though God knows how poor a one in every sense!) and the company as my game. They fly up for a little time; and then settle again. My cue is, to discharge my piece when I observe a number together. This week, they are straggling round about their pasture, the town: the next, they well flock into it with violent appetites; and then I discharge my little piece amongst them. — I assure you, I shall be very easy about the acquisition of any fame by this thing; all I much wish is, to lose none: and indeed I have so little to lose, that this consideration scarcely affects me.

I dare say it must be very incorrect; for I have added eight or ten stanzas within this fortnight. But inaccuracy is more excusable in ludicrous poetry than in any other. If it strikes any, it must be merely people of taste; for people of wit without taste (which comprehends the larger part of the critical tribe) will unavoidedly despise it. I have been at some pains to secure myself from A. Philips's misfortune, of mere childishness, "little charm of placid mien, &c." I have added a ludicrous index, purely to shew (fools) that I am in jest: and my motto, "O qua sol habitabiles illustrat oras, maxime principum," is calculated for the same purpose. You cannot conceive how large the number is of those mistake burlesque for the very foolishness it exposes (which observation I made at once at the Rehearsal, at Tom Thumb, at Chrononhotonthologos; all which are pieces of elegant humour). I have some mind to pursue this caution further; and advertize it, "The School-mistress, &c." A very childish performance everybody knows (novorum more). But if a person seriously calls this, or rather, burlesque, a childish or low species of poetry, he says wrong. For the most regular and formal poetry may be called trifling, folly, and weakness, in comparison of what is written with a more manly spirit in ridicule of it. — I have been plagued to death about the ill execution of my designs. — Nothing is certain in London but expence, which I can ill bear. Believe me, till death,

Yours, sincerely and particularly,

W. Shenstone.


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