1748
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

[William Shenstone to Lady Luxborough.]

The Letters of William Shenstone. Edited with an Introduction by Duncan Mallam.

William Shenstone


William Shenstone writes to the mischievous Lady Luxborough on imitating the Faerie Queene: his School-Mistress is more serious than Pope's The Alley, and less serious than Thomson's Castle of Indolence. Spenser's stanza is not more suitable for serious subjects than the heroic couplet. At the time this letter was written, the author was engaged in an unsuccessful bid for patronage from Frances Thynne Seymour, the countess of Hertford and an old friend of Henrietta Knight, Lady Luxborough.

Isaac Reed: "Henrietta Lady Luxborough, only daughter of Henry St. John, created Baron St. John of Battersea, and Viscount St. John, July 2, 1716. She was half-sister to the celebrated Viscount Bolingbroke, and was married June 20, 1727, to Robert Knight of Barrels, in the county of Warwick, created Lord Luxborough of Shannon in the Kingdom of Ireland, August 8, 1746. During the latter part of her life she resided at Barrels separate from her husband, and died there in March 1756. A volume of her letters to Mr. Shenstone was published in 8vo. 1775" in Dodsley, Collection of Poems (1782) 4:328n.

Leigh Hunt: "I find something even touching in the endeavors of an innocent set of ladies and gentlemen, my fathers and mothers, to identify themselves with shepherds and shepherdesses, even in the most impossible of hats and crooks. I think of the many heartfelt smiles that must have welcomed love-letters and verses containing that sophisticate imagery, and of the not less genuine tears that were shed over the documents when faded; and criticism is swallowed up in those human drops. This is one of the reasons why I can read even the most faded part of the works of Shenstone, and why I can dip again and again into such correspondence as that of the Countesses of Hertford and Pomfret, and of my Lady Luxborough, who raises monuments in her garden to the united merits of Mr. Somerville and the god Pan. The feeling was true, though the expression was sophisticate and a fashion; and they who can not see the feeling for the mode do the very thing which they think they scorn; that is, sacrifice the greater consideration for the less" Autobiography (1850) 1:56.




The Leasows, June the 1st 1748.

Almost-Night.

Madam,

I return my Lady Hartford's Letter by the very first opportunity I meet with; and herein I but discharge my conscience; as I am in Duty bound to obey your Ladyship's Commands; and also, to be no way instrumental in delaying your Answer to a Letter which has afforded me the highest satisfaction.

As to the Choice or Preference of any Trifle of mine which may be thought most proper to send her Ladyship, it wou'd be most prudent in me to be guided by your own Opinion; as the Person best acquainted with Lady Hertford's Taste, and who, I am apt enough to flatter myself, wishes well to my Reputation. The Esteem I share at Percy-Lodge is entirely of your own creation; and as you have almost literally produc'd it out of nothing, I daresay you understand and will use the most proper means to keep it alive. Otherwise, it were much better for me it had never existed, as a Fall from the greatest Happiness compleats our Idea of the most consummate Misery. Sure I am that for my Part, I am utterly unable to preserve my Lady Hartford's good Opinion, unless your Ladyship pleases to collogue with me so as to keep her in constant Hopes of something better than I have yet produc'd. I have written a pretty large collection of Elegies on almost every melancholy subject that I cou'd recollect; and I had some Thoughts of sending them to the Press next winter, but I have now dropt that Design, as my Friends advise me to publish something else that may be of more general acceptation. I own they are in some Degree fav'rites with me, and if your Ladyship will please to read them in a Copy, which I have now no Leisure to transcribe, I will send them very soon. They are written rather with the Spirit of Melancholy than that of Poetry; if Melancholy may be said to be fraught with any Spirit at all, as I believe it may; for I believe a pretty Spirit may be distill'd from Tears. This last conceit is almost worthy Dr. Yong; which brings it into my Head to say a word concerning Hervey's Meditations. I must own I do think it doubtfull whether your Ladyship will approve them; (tho' I read but one volume) and yet my Lady Hartford's opinion is most literally just. They are undoubtedly poetical and pious, and so is Dr. Yong's Collection of Night-thoughts; but surely as remote from true simplicity as the arctic is to the antarctic Pole.

Lady H. is a Patroness to two Mr. Thomsons. Has your Ladyship seen A Poem upon Sickness? in the latter End of which the Author introduces my Lord Beauchamp's Death, which is the most poetical Part of the Poem, as far as I have read; for I have only the First Number. If you would chuse to see it I will take care to send it. As to the Castle of Indolence I find one Fault with it already which is that it is printed in an odious Quarto and I never cou'd approve such un-bindable Editions. At least if if may be bound, it makes but an ordinary Person of a Book. I am always in Hope that whenever an Author is either a tall or even a middle-siz'd Man, he will never print a Book but in Folio, octavo, or duodecimo; and on the other Hand, when he is short and squab, I collect that his partiality to a Figure of that kind, will induce him, to my great discomfort, to publish in Quarto. But Mr. Thomson, who is certainly of the middle Size, must be self-convicted. However I long to see his Book. My Schoolmistress, I suppose, is much more in Spenser's way than any one wou'd chuse to write in that writes quite gravely; in which Case the Dialect and stanza of Spenser is hardly preferable to modern Heroic. I look upon my Poem as somewhat more grave than Pope's Alley, and a good deal less than Mr. Thomson's Castle, etc: At least I meant it so, or rather I meant to skreen the ridicule which might fall on so low a subject (tho' perhaps a picturesque one) by pretending to simper all the time I was writing. And now I am come to give an excuse, which will, with your Ladyship's Candour, apologize for this blotted Letter. I have the Schoolmistress to write over for Dodsley before I go to bed to-night; consisting now of 350 Lines, in which I expect to make 350 blunders. His miscellanies are gone he says a 2d time to the Press, and I have reason to doubt whether my Improvements will even now come time enough. However, I ought not to take a final leave of you, 'till I have express'd the Pleasure I find the last Paragraph of Lady H's Letter; for I am by no means so selfish as to suffer the satisfaction I take in what she says of my trivial Productions, to smother that I fell upon hearing of any News that must prove agreeable to your Ladyship. I am most faithfully,

Your Ladyship's most oblig'd and most obedient Servant,

Will: Shenstone.

I will undoubtedly wait upon your Ladyship this Summer — I fancy I shall admire your French Play — The Pantin made the Peace, no doubt—


[pp. 106-08]