1742
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The School-Mistress, a Poem.

The School-Mistress, a Poem. In imitation of Spenser.

William Shenstone


28 Spenserians, expanded and altered from the twelve-stanza version of 1737. This second of the three published versions of the School-Mistress was the most elaborate, adding a mock-scholarly apparatus dropped in the third and final version printed in Dodsley's Collection of Poetry (1748). The volume was published anonymously.

Preface: "What particulars in Spenser were imagin'd most proper for the Author's imitation on this Occasion, are, his Language, his Simplicity, his manner of Description, and a peculiar Tenderness of Sentiment, visible throughout his works" Sig. A2.

Thomas Gray to Horace Walpole: "excellent in its kind, and masterly" 1748; in Works, ed. Gosse (1895) 2:219-20.

Oliver Goldsmith: "This poem is one of those happinesses in which a poet excels himself, as there is nothing in all Shenstone which any way approaches it in merit; and, though I dislike the imitations of our old English poets in general, yet on this minute subject, the antiquity of the style produces a very ludicrous solemnity" Beauties of English Poesy (1776) 1:69.

Samuel Johnson: "The School-mistress, of which I know not what claim it has to stand among the 'Moral Works,' is surely the most pleasing of Shenstone's performances. The adoption of a particular style in light and short compositions contributes much to the increase of pleasure: we are entertained at once with two imitations, of nature in the sentiments, of the original author in the style, and between them the mind is kept in perpetual enjoyment" Lives of the English Poets (1779-81); ed. Hill (1905) 3:358-59.

Richard Graves: "Pope's 'Alley' probably suggested the hint of this imitation of Spenser; though it is no injury to Mr. Pope to say, that Mr. Shenstone's finished piece equals at least, if not surpasses, his slight sketch or jeu d'esprit" Recollections of some Particulars in the Life of the late William Shenstone (1788) 98.

Anna Seward to Richard Polwhele: "Something of excellence must surely be wanting in the head or heart of those who perceive not the delicious influence of these unobtrusive, these genuine beauties of sentiment and description, who forget that we owe the happiest imitation of Spenser's best manner to Shenstone. The schoolmistress is alone sufficient to entitle its author to an high seat in the poetic fame of Britain" 25 May 1792; Letters, ed. Scott (1811) 3:138-39.

George Crabbe: "By thee the Mistress of a Village School | Became a Queen, enthron'd upon her Stool" The Borough (1810) 149.

Isaac D'Israeli: "This first [1742] edition is now lying before me, with its splendid 'red-letter,' its 'seemly designs,' and, what is more precious, its 'Index.' SHENSTONE, who had greatly pleased himself with his graphical inventions, at length found that his engraver, Mynde, had sadly bungled with the poet's ideal. Vexed and disappointed, he writes, 'I have been plagued to death about the ill-execution of my designs. Nothing is certain in London but expense, which I can ill bear.' The truth is, that what is placed in the landskip over the thatched house, and the birch-tree, is like a falling monster rather than a setting sun; but the fruit-piece at the end, the grapes, the plums, the melon, and the Catharine pears, Mr. Mynde has made sufficiently tempting. This edition contains only twenty-eight stanzas, which were afterwards enlarged to thirty-five. Several stanzas have been omitted, and they have also passed through many corrections, and some improvements, which show that SHENSTONE had more judgment and felicity in severe correction, than perhaps is suspected. Some of these I will point out" "Shenstone's Schoolmistress" in Curiosities of Literature (1791-24; 1866) 361.

George Gilfillan: "Shenstone's Schoolmistress has not indeed the point and condensation of Goldsmith's Schoolmaster, but its spirit is the same; and there is besides about it a certain soft, warm, slumberous charm, as if reflected from the good dame's kitchen fire. The very stanza seems murmuring in its sleep" Memoir in Shenstone, Poetical Works (1854) xxiii.

Virginia F. Prettyman: "The revised 'Schoolmistress' is a more carefully planned mock-heroic poem than the original. Its burlesque nature is emphasized by the addition of an index and of learned footnotes — quotations from Horace and Virgil, which furnish classical parallels to the episodes There is an invocation of the Muse. The descriptions and episodes are expanded, and there are epic similes and apostrophes" "Shenstone's Reading of Spenser" (1949) 230.



Ah me! full sorely is my Heart forlorn,
To think that Merit thus neglected lies!
While partial Fame doth with her Blasts adorn
Such Deeds alone, as Pride and Pomp disguise;
Deeds of ill Sort, and mischievous Emprise!
Lend me the Trumpet, Goddess! let me try
To sound the Praise of Merit e'er it dies;
Such as I oft have chanced to espy,
Lost in the dreary Shades of dull Obscurity.

In ev'ry Mart that stands on Britain's Isle,
In ev'ry Village less reveal'd to Fame,
Dwells there, in Cottage known about a Mile,
A Matron old, whom we School-Mistress name;
Who boasts 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 Hair unkempt, or Task unconn'd are sorely shent.

And all in sight does rise a Birchen Tree,
Which Learning near her little Dome did stow
Whilom a Twig of small Regard to see,
Tho' now so wide its waving Branches flow;
And work the simple Vassals mickle Woe:
For not a Wind might curl the Leaves, that blew,
But their Limbs shudder'd, and their Pulse beat low;
And as they look'd, they found their Horror grew,
And shap'd it into Rods, and tingled at the View.

So have I seen (who has not, may conceive,)
A lifeless Phantom near a Garden plac'd:
So does it little Birds of Peace bereave,
Of Sport, of Song, of Pleasure, and Repast:
They start, they stare, they wheel, they look aghast:
Sad Servitude! such comfortless Annoy
Ah! ne'er may Britain's Sons, maturer, taste!
Ne Superstition clog their Dance of Joy,
Ne Phantom, empty, vain, their native Bliss destroy.

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 should 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.

Her Cap, far whiter than the driven Snow,
Emblem right meet of Decency does yield;
Her Apron dy'd in Grain, as blue, I trow,
As is the Hair-bell that adorns the Field:
And in her Hand, for Scepter, she wou'd wield
Tway Birchen Sprays; with pallid Fear entwin'd,
With dark Distrust, and sad Repentance fill'd;
And keen Regret, and sharp Affliction join'd,
And Vengeance uncontroul'd, and Discipline unkind.

Few but have ken'd, in Semblaunce meet pourtray'd,
The childish Faces of old Eol's Train,
Libs, Notus, Auster; these in Frowns array'd,
How then would fare or Earth, or Sky, or Main.
Were the stern Pow'r to give his Slaves the Reins?
And were not She rebellious Minds to quell,
And were not She her Statutes to maintain,
The Cot no more, I ween, were judg'd the Cell
Where lovely Peace of Mind, and decent Order dwell.

The Gown, which o'er her Shoulders thrown she had,
Was Russet-stuff, (who knows not Russet-stuff?)
Great Comfort to her Mind that she was clad
In Texture of her own, all strong and tough,
Ne did she e'er complain, ne deem it rough;
And, well I trow, her Pupils all around,
Thro' pious Awe, did term it fine enough:
For they with gaping Wonderment abound,
And think, no doubt, she been the greatest Wight on Ground.

Albeit ne Flatt'ry did corrupt het Truth,
Ne pompous Title did debauch her Ear:
Goody, Good-woman, Gossip, Dame, Forsooth,
Or N'aunt, the sole Additions she did hear:
Yet these she challeng'd, these she held right dear:
Ne wou'd esteem him act as did behove,
Who did not honour'd Eld with these revere;
For Title is there none so mean doth prove,
But there is eke a Mind which doth that Title love.

One antient Hen she took delight to feed,
The plodding Pattern of this busy Dame!
Which, ever and anon, as she had need,
Into her School, begirt with Chickens, came;
Such Favour did her past Deportment claim:
And if Neglect had lavish'd on the Ground
Fragment of Bread, she still did hoard the same:
For well she knew, and quaintly cou'd expound
The Chicken-feeding Pow'r of ev'ry Crumb she found.

In Elbow-chair, like that of Scotish Stem
By the sharp Tooth of cank'ring Eld defac'd,
In which, when he receives his Diadem,
Our sovereign Lord and liefest Liege is plac'd,
The Matron sate; and some with Rank she grac'd,
The Source of Children's, and of Courtier's Pride:
Redress'd Affronts, for vile Affronts there pass'd,
And warn'd 'em not the Fretful to deride,
But love each other dear, whatever them betide.

Right well she knew 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.
Ev'n absent She the Reins of Pow'r doth hold,
While with quaint Arts the giddy Crowd she sways,
Forewarn'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 Back 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.

O rueful Scene! when from a Nook obscure
His little Sister does his Perils see:
All playful as she sate, she grows demure,
She finds, with his, her wonted Spirits flee;
She meditates a Prayer to set him free:
Nor gentle Pardon cou'd the Dame deny
(If gentle Pardon cou'd with Dames agree)
To her sad Grief, which swells in either Eye,
And wrings her so, that all for Pity she cou'd die.

Nor longer cou'd she now her Shrieks command,
Which soon disclos'd the Place of her Retire:
And forth she rush'd, and with presumptuous Hand
Arrests the Rod; so Friendship does inspire!
On me, she cries, on me convert your Ire:
Him spare, for He no greater Crime did know,
Than fond Compliance with my vain Desire—
Whimp'ring she sighs, the Tears begin to flow,
And give a Loose at last to unavailing Woe.

But ah! what Pen his woeful 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 Cheek 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, ev'rich Twig survey,
And from their Fellow's uncouth Wounds 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 them greet,
And Gingerbread y-rare, now, certes, doubly sweet.

See! to their Seats all 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 Fourm, and Chair.
(This Hand in Mouth y-fixed, that rends his Hair:)
And eke with Snubs profound, and heaving Breast,
Convulsions intermitting! does declare
His grievous Wrong, his Dame's unjust Behest,
And scorns her proffer'd Love, and shuns to be caress'd.

His Face besprent with liquid Crystal shines,
His blooming Face, that seems a purple Flow'r,
Which low to Earth its drooping Head declines,
There smear'd, and sully'd by a Summer's Show'r;
The piteous Slave of Eolus's Pow'r!
All, all but He, the Author of it's Shame,
All, all but He, regret it's ruthful Stour:
Yet hence the Youth, and hence the Flow'r shall claim,
If so I deem aright, transcending Worth and Fame.

Behind some Door in melancholy Thought,
Mindless of Food, he, dreary Caitiff, pines;
Ne for his Fellow's Joyaunce careth ought,
But to the Winds all Merriment resigns;
And deems it Shame if he to Peace inclines:
And many a sullen Look askaunce is sent,
Which for his Dame's Annoyance he designs:
And still the more to pleasure him she's bent,
The more doth he, perverse, her Haviour past resent.

Ah me! how much I fear lest Pride it be!
But if that Pride it be, which thus inspires,
Beware, ye Dames, with nice Discernment see
Ye quench not too the Sparks of noble Fires!
Ah! better far than all the Muse's Lyres,
Than Coward Art, is Valour's gen'rous Heat;
The firm, fix'd Breast, which fit and right requires,
Like Vernon's Patriot Soul, more nobly great
Than Craft, that pimps for Ill, or flow'ry false Deceit.

Soft Sleep Her Dust of her deserving Shade,
Whose early Care, A—le, attemper'd thee!
And knew what Mind must give his Britons Aid,
And knew what Breast, preserve a Nation free,
Thankless, to her no Statues to decree!
So long as Parties in thy Praise unite,
So long as Muses in thy Fame agree,
Soft sleep her Dust, her Soul has took its Flight
Whither the Souls do fly of those that act aright.

Yet sprung from Birch, what dazling Fruits appear!
Ev'n now sagacious Foresight points to shew
A little Bench of heedless Bishops here,
And there a Chancellor in Embryo;
Or Bard, sublime, if Bard may e'er be so,
As Milton, Shakespear; Names that ne'er shall die!
Tho' now he crawl all on the Ground so low,
Nor weeting how the Muse shou'd soar on high,
Wishes, poor starv'ling Elf! his Paper-kite may fly.

And some there be, (ah, Pity some there be!)
Brimful of Jest, and Merriment, and Play,
Each one as brisk, as promising to see,
As he shall note that seeks a Summer's Day,
Yet must in Wisdom's Mazes lose their Way!
Despising Books (ah, who wou'd Books despise!)
'Till Folly lead them countless Leagues astray:
And many a one, mature, all heedless tries
To leap a six-barr'd Gate, and tumbles down, and dies.

But see, the Hour of Pleasaunce draweth near,
And forth they usher debonnair 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 Cottage tend,
In Pastry Kings and Queens th' allotted Mite to spend.

Here, as each Season yields a diff'rent 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 and 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 smit with ardent Love he pine with hopeless Care!

See Cherries here, e'er Cherries yet abound,
With Thread so white in luscious Bundles ty'd,
Scatt'ring, like blooming Maid, their Glances round,
With pamper'd Looks draw little Eyes aside!
These must be bought, tho' Penury betide:
The Plumb all azure, and the Nut all brown,
The purple Grape, and here those Cakes are spy'd
Whose honour'd Name, th' inventive City own,
Rend'ring thro' Britain's Isle Salopia's Praises known.

Admir'd Salopia! that with venial Pride
Views her fair Form in Severn's lucid Wave;
Fam'd for a Race of Sons in Battle try'd,
Their Minds as loyal, as their Breasts were brave:
Ah, midst the rest, may Flowrets grace his Grave,
Whose Art did first these dulcet Cates display;
A Motive fair to Learning's Imps he gave,
Who cheerless o'er her darkling Region stray,
Till Reason's Morn arise, and light them on their Way.

[sigs A3-B2]