1765
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Verses on the Death of the late Mr. Shenstone.

London Evening Post (7 May 1765).

John Oakman


An elegy for William Shenstone in six double-quatrain stanzas written by the house poet at the London Evening Post. Perhaps taking a hint from Gray's Elegy, the poem contrasts the loveless funeral of a person of fashion with the love accorded the bard of the Leasowes: "The Shepherds who dwell on the plain, | Shall his fame to their children prolong, | And sigh, when rehearsing the strain, | 'This once was poor Corydon's song!'" Shenstone's death was in fact greeted with an outporing of verse the likes of which had not been seen since the death of Pope twenty years before, and not seen again until the death of Robert Burns.

John Oakman is possibly the engraver and novelist (1748?-1793) who has an article in the DNB. If so, he would have been very young when these somewhat tardy obituary verses were printed two years after Shenstone's death.



When Majesty yielding to fate,
Receives as a mortal his doom,
What pomp must his burial await,
What splendor must nod o'er his tomb.
Fond fashion in sable disguise
Must seem to lament o'er his bier,
And the nation put on when he dies,
Political black — for a year.

His virtues in life-time unknown,
Must stand to the reader confest;
And the chissel, indenting the stone,
Proclaim — what he never possest.
How silly, how vain this parade,
Such vanity all must deplore;
The marble by time is decay'd,
And the monarch is heard of no more.

Departed in Life's humble vale,
How different is Corydon's lot,
His virtues o'er time shall prevail,
And live when e'en Kings are forgot;
The Shepherds who dwell on the plain,
Shall his fame to their children prolong,
And sigh, when rehearsing the strain,
"This once was poor Corydon's song!"

Then, how solemn the sage shall repeat,
How silent the youths all attend,
"Yon house was his pleasant retreat,
With Truth! his companion, and friend:
What goodness still glow'd in his breast,
His loss to the plain, what a grief!
There the stranger was welcome to rest,
And the poor found a constant relief.

"Yon groves were his planting and care,
Where nature and art both unite,
The muse oft attended him there,
The muse that oft gave us delight;
How charming his pastoral reed,
What taste and simplicity join'd!
His songs were the sweetest agreed,
And forever they'll dwell in my mind."

Ye Shepherds who honour his days,
Forgive me this trifling verse,
Believe me, I seek not for praise,
But sorrowing follow his hearse:
Yet why should such grief be exprest?
How idle, how vain is our woe!
Immortal! he lives with the blest,
Eternal! his fame is below.

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