1737
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The School-Mistress. A Poem. In imitation of Spencer's Stile.

Poems upon Various Occasions. Written for the Entertainment of the Author, and printed for the Amusement of a few Friends, prejudic'd in his Favour.

William Shenstone


Twelve Spenserians: this first version of William Shenstone's groundbreaking Spenser imitation is cast in the burlesque mold of Pope's The Alley (1727) and Philips's Splendid Shilling (1701). A much-expanded version of the School-Mistress was separately published in 1742, and a still later version, stripped of the burlesque scholarly apparatus, was published in Robert Dodsley's Collection of Poems (1748). One can follow the progress of the revisions in Shenstone's published correspondence, which indicates how and why mid-century views of Spenser were changing. The amusing ninth stanza was suppressed in later editions.

Shenstone's poem appears to have been composed as a contribution to the busy series imitating The Splendid Shilling, which in the 1730s was much more prominent than the series of Spenser burlesques. While Pope had anticipated Shenstone in drawing upon Philips in his 1727 imitation of Spenser, the connection between the two series is much more obvious in Shenstone's poem, which may have been inspired by another Philips burlesque, "An Epistle from Oxon" recently published in John Husbands' important Oxford anthology, A Miscellany of Poems by Several Hands (1731).

Richard Graves: "In the year 1737, in his twenty-third year, Mr. Shenstone printed at Oxford a small collection of poems, for his friends, prejudiced in his favour. As he got no money, he got but little fame, by this publication, it being only circulated amongst his friends and acquaintance" Recollections of some Particulars in the Life of the late William Shenstone (1788) 91.

Thomas Park: "A coarse and imperfect sketch of what was afterwards wrought up into a delicate cabinet picture. It consists of twelve stanzas only; one of which was judiciously rejected for its grossness. The remaining eleven greatly improved, and seventeen new ones added, the poem was reprinted in 1742, 8vo. with an Index describing the contents of each stanza, and various passages cited in the margin from Virgil, Horace, &c. which had served to furnish hints or illustrations. In the posthumous edition of Shenstone's works, it appeared with seven additional stanzas, and forms (as Dr. Johnson observes) 'one of the author's most pleasing productions'" Censura Literaria 1 (1805) 240.

Henry Augustus Beers: "Goldsmith evidently had it in memory when he drew the picture of the school in his Deserted Village. The application to so humble a theme of Spenser's stately verse and grave, ancient words gives a very quaint effect. The humor of 'The Schoolmistress' is genuine, not dependent on the mere burlesque, as in Pope's and Cambridge's experiments" Romanticism in the Eighteenth Century (1899) 91-92.

Herbert E. Cory: "In 1737 Shenstone published his School-mistress, the most brilliant imitation of Spenser which the Eighteenth Century had yet seen. He is exceptional rather than typical in not seeming to have had any deep sympathy with Spenser, at first, but in being disposed to be merely amused at the quaintness of the Faerie Queene. He was artist enough, however, to see great possibilities in the style for the sort of thing he wished to do. Later he became an ardent and appreciative admirer of Spenser" "Spenser, Thomson, and Romanticism" PMLA 26 (1911) 62.

Harko Gerrit De Maar: "The eighteenth century admired it greatly, the nineteenth century neglected it shamefully. It was indeed a brilliant performance. Such a combination of humorous tenderness and pathetic burlesque in not easy to match. The tenderness is due to Spenser, according to Shenstone's advertisement; for the burlesque he was indebted to Pope [The Alley]" History of Modern English Romanticism (1924) 95.

David Fairer: "Another group of friends raised the literary reputation of Pembroke in the 1730s: Richard Graves, Anthony Whistler and William Shenstone, known to themselves as 'the triumvirate'. As undergraduates they held regular literary debates 'almost every evening, at each other's chambers the whole summer; where we read plays and poetry, Spectators or Tatlers, and other works of easy digestion' [Graves]" "Oxford and the Literary World" in History of the University of Oxford vol. 5 (1986) 786.

Archaisms also appear in a comic ballad "To the Memory of W. G. Parish-clerke at Broome" later reprinted in the Gentleman's Magazine 98 (June 1798) 467. See also his "Ballad written at Broome" in Public Advertiser (7 October 1793).



In evrich Mart that stands on British Ground,
In evrich Village less y-known to Fame,
Dwells there, in Cot uncouth, a far renown'd,
A Matron old, whom we School-Mistress name;
Who wont unruly Brats with Birch to tame:
They grieven sore in Durance vile y-pent,
Aw'd by the Pow'r of uncontrouled Dame;
And oft-times on Vagaries idly bent
For Task unconn'd, or unkempt Hair are sore y-shent.

Nar to this Dome is found a Patch so green,
On which the Tribe their Gambols do display:
Als at the Door impris'ning Board is seen;
Lest weakly Wights of smaller size shou'd stray:
Eager, perdie, to bask in sun-shine Day:
The Noises intermix'd, which thence resound,
Do Learning's little Tenement betray:
Where sits the Dame, disguis'd in Look profound,
And eyes her fairy Throng, and turns her Wheel around.

Right well knew She each Temper to descry,
To thwart the proud, and the submiss to raise:
Some with vile copper Prize exalt on high,
And some entice with Pittance small of Praise:
And other Sorts with baleful Spriggs affrays:
Eke in her Absence She command doth hold,
While with quaint Arts the thoughtless Croud she sways;
Fore-warn'd if little Bird their Tricks behold,
'Twill whisper in her Ear, and all the Scene unfold.

Lo! now, with State, she utters the command.
Eftsoons the Urchins to their Tasks repair;
Their Books of stature small take they in Hand,
Which with pellucid Horn secured are,
To save from Finger wet, the Letters fair:
The Work so quaint, that on their Backs is seen,
St. George's high Atchievements does declare;
On which thilk Wight that has y-gazing been
Kens the forth-coming Rod, unpleasing Sight, I ween!

But ah! what Pen his woful Plight can trace,
Or what Device his loud Laments explain,
The Form uncouth of his disguised Face,
The pallid Hue that dyes his Looks amain,
The plenteous Show'r that does his Check distain,
When he in abject wise implores the Dame;
Ne hopeth ought of sweet Reprieve to gain:
Or when from high she levels well her Aim,
And thro' the Thatch his Cries each falling Stroke proclaim.

The other Tribe aghast, with sore dismay
Attend, and conn their Tasks with mickle Care:
By turns astony'd evrich Twigg survey,
And from their Fellows furrow'd Bum beware;
Knowing, I wist, how each the same may share:
Till Fear has taught 'em a performance meet,
And to the well-known Chest the Dame repair;
Whence oft with sugar'd Cates she doth 'em greet,
And Ginger-bread y-rare, now, certes, doubly sweet.

Now to their Seats they hie with merry glee,
And in beseemly order sitten there;
All but the Wight of Bum y-galled, he
Abhors both Bench, and Stool, and Form, and Chair;
(This Hand in Mouth y-fix'd, that rends his Hair)
And eke with Snubs profound, and heaving Breast,
Convulsions intermitting! does declare
His grievous Wrongs, his Dame's unjust Behest,
And scorns her proffer'd Love, and shuns to be caress't.

Behind some Door, in melancholy Thought,
Mindless of Food, he, dreary Caitiff! pines,
Ne for his Fellows joyance careth ought,
But to the Winds all Merriment resigns.
His Face besprent with liquid Chrystal shines;
And many a sullen Look askaunce is sent,
Which for his Dame's Annoyance he designs;
Nathless the more to pleasure him she's bent,
The more doth he perverse her 'Haviour past resent.

Algates the rest from silk Misfortune free,
Stir'n but as Nature doth abroad them call;
Then squatten down with Hand beneath each Knee,
Ne seeken out or secret Nook or Wall,
But cack in open Street — no Shame doth them appall.
And may no Carl their Innocence deride,
While they p — ss boldly, in the face of all;
Turning unaw'd their Vestments small aside,
Ne covet Hedge, ne Barn their privy Parts to hide.

But when the Hour of Pleasaunce draweth near,
They usher forth all debonair and gay;
And standing on the Green, with jocund Leer,
Salute the Stranger passing on his Way.
Some builden fragile tenements of Clay;
Some to the standing Lake their Courses bend,
With Pebbles smooth at Duck and Drake to play:
Thilk to the Huxter's sav'ry Cot y-tend,
In pastry Kings and Queens th' allotted Mite to spend.

Here, as each Season yields a diffrent store,
Each Season's Stores in order ranged been;
Apples with Cabbage-net y-cover'd o'er,
Galling full sore th' unmoney'd Wight are seen,
And Goose-b'rie clad in Liv'ry red, or green:
And here of lovely Dye the Cath'rine Pear,
Fine Pear! as lovely for thy Juice, I ween.
O! may no Wight e'er pennyless come there,
Lest led by thee astray, he shameful Theft prepare.

See! Cherries here, e'er Cherries yet abound,
With Thread so white in lusheous Bundles ty'd,
Scatter, like blooming Maid, their Glances round;
And draw with pamper'd Look our Eyes aside:
These must be bought tho' Penury betide;
The Plum of purple Hue, the Nut so brown,
Tempting the passing Swain: thilk Cakes beside,
Whose much-lov'd Names th' Inventress City own,
Rend'ring thro' Britain's Isle Salopia's Praises known.

[pp. 17-22]