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Born at the Leasowes, in Shropshire-Educated at Hales-Owen and Oxford-Publishes a small Miscellany of Poems without his name-Publishes The Judgment of Hercules,' 'The Schoolmistress,' and other Poems-His Ferme ornée-His pecuniary difficulties-Death and Burial in Hales-Owen Churchyard, Shropshire-Works and Character.
WILLIAM SHENSTONE, the son of Thomas Shenstone and Anne Penn, was born in 1714, at the Leasowes in Hales-Owen, one of those insulated districts which, in the division of the kingdom, was appended, for some reason not now discoverable, to a distant county; and which, though surrounded by Warwickshire and Worcestershire, belongs to Shropshire, though perhaps thirty miles distant from any other part of it.'
He learned to read of an old dame, whom his poem of 'The Schoolmistress' has delivered to posterity; and soon received such delight from books, that he was always calling for fresh entertain ment, and expected that, when any of the family went to market, a new book should be brought him, which, when it came, was in fondness carried to bed and laid by him. It is said, that when his request had been neglected, his mother wrapped up a piece of wood of the same form, and pacified him for the night.
As he grew older, he went for a while to the Grammar-school in Hales-Owen, and was placed afterwards with Mr. Crumpton, an eminent schoolmaster at Solihull, where he distinguished himself by the quickness of his progress.
When he was young (June, 1724) he was deprived of his father, and soon after (August, 1726) of his grandfather; and was, with his brother, who died afterwards unmarried, left to the care of his grandmother, who managed the estate.'
1 He was the elder of the two sons of Thomas Shenstone by Anne Penn, the eldest of the three daughters of William Penn, of Harborough, Gent. His brother Joseph was bred an attorney at Bridgnorth, but never practised, and died, 1757, at the Leasowes.
3 His mother died in 1782.
From school he was sent in 1732 to Pembroke College in Oxford, a society which for half a century has been eminent for English poetry and elegant literature. Here it appears that he found delight and advantage; for he continued his name in the book ten years, though he took no degree. After the first four years he put on the civilian's gown, but without showing any intention to engage in the profession.
About the time when he went to Oxford, the death of his grandmother devolved his affairs to the care of the Rev. Mr. Dolman, of Brome in Staffordshire, whose attention he always mentioned with gratitude.
At Oxford he employed himself upon English poetry; and in 1737, published a small Miscellany, without his name.*
He then for a time wandered about, to acquaint himself with life, and was sometimes at London, sometimes at Bath, or any other place of public resort; but he did not forget his poetry. He pub lished in 1741, his 'Judgment of Hercules,' addressed to Mr. Lyt telton, whose interest he supported with great warmth at an elec tion this was next year [May, 1742] followed by 'The Schoolmistress.'
Mr. Dolman, to whose care he was indebted for his ease and leisure, died in 1745,' and the care of his own fortune now fell upon himself. He tried to escape it awhile, and lived at his house with
This was Johnson's own college.
Poems upon Various Occasions. Written for the entertainment of the Author, and printed for the Amusement of a few Friends prejudiced in his favour. Contentus paucis Lectoribus.-HOR. Oxford, 1787.' The volume contains a complimentary poem 'To Mr. Pope on his Dunciad,' and what Mr. D'Israeli has omitted to notice (* Curios. of Lit."), the first sketch of The Schoolmistress.' There are twelve stanzas-but twelve of no ordinary merit. He sought in after-life to suppress the volume, and so successfully that it is now very rare. April, 1741, anonymously. The Judgment of Hercules, a Poem, inscribed to George Lyttelton, Esq. Dodsley, 1741, 8vo. "I never inquire," he writes, "how my poem takes, and am afraid to do so. However, I find some do allow it to be Mallet's "
The School-Mistress, a Poem. In imitation of Spenser. Dodsley, 1742. 8vo. Before the first stanza. and under the half title, occurs, "Written at College, 1736." The poem, as here printed, contains twenty-eight stanzas; as it at present stands, it consists of thirty-five. In the first edition are two poor stanzas, afterwards omitted. The alterations from the first edition are highly judicious.
7 I was at Birmingham on Tuesday morning, from whence I saw the remains of Ligonier's Horse march with vast spirits and alacrity. They wish to have, what they call, the refusel of the Highlanders.—SHENSTONE to Miss Winny Fletcher. Leasowes, Nov. 28, 1745 (unpublished letter).
his tenants, who were distantly related; but, finding that imperfect possession inconvenient, he took the whole estate into his own hands, more to the improvement of its beauty than the increase of its produce.
Now was excited his delight in rural pleasures, and his ambition of rural elegance: he began from this time to point his prospects, to diversify his surface, to entangle his walks, and to wind his waters; which he did with such judgment and such fancy, as made his little domain the envy of the great and the admiration of the skilful; & place to be visited by travellers and copied by designers. Whether to plant a walk in undulating curves, and to place a bench at every turn where there is an object to catch the view; to make water run where it will be heard, and to stagnate where it will be seen; to leave intervals where the eye will be pleased, and to thicken the plantation where there is something to be hidden; demands any great powers of mind, I will not inquire; perhaps a sullen and surly speculator may think such performances rather the sport than the business of human reason. But it must be at least confessed that to embellish the form of nature is an innocent amusement; and some praise must be allowed by the most supercilious observer, to him who does best what such multitudes are contending to do well.
This praise was the praise of Shenstone; but like all other modes. of felicity, it was not enjoyed without its abatements. Lyttelton was his neighbour and his rival, whose empire, spacious and oppulent, looked with disdain on the petty State that appeared behind it. For a while the inhabitants of Hagley affected to tell their acquaintance of the little fellow that was trying to make himself admired; but when by degrees the Leasowes forced themselves into notice, they took care to defeat the curiosity which they could not suppress, by conducting their visitants perversely to. inconvenient points of view, and introducing them at the wrong end of a walk to detect a deception; injuries of which Shenstone would heavily complain. Where there is emulation there will be vanity; and where there is vanity there will be folly."
If your expostulations with Mr. Lyttelton were brusques, his visit was as much so; and upon such occasions I never love to be behind-hand with great people.-LADY LUXBOROUGH te Shenstone, Oct. 16, 1748.
The pleasure of Shenstone was all in his eye; he valued what he valued merely for its looks; nothing raised his indignation more than to ask if there were any fishes in his water.
His house was mean, and he did not improve it; his care was of his grounds. When he came home from his walks, he might find his floors flooded by a shower through the broken roof; but could spare no money for its reparation."
In time his expenses brought clamours about him, that over powered the lamb's bleat and the linnet's song; and his groves were haunted by beings very different from fauns and fairies."
"The truth of the case, I believe, was, that the Lyttelton family went so frequently with their company to the Leasowes, that they were unwilling to break in upon Mr Shenstone's retirement on every occasion, and therefore often went to the principal points of view without waiting for any one to conduct them regularly through the whole walks Of this Mr. Shenstone would sometimes peevishly complain; though I am persuaded he never really sus pected any ill-natured intention in his worthy and much-valued neighbours."-Graves: Recollections of some particulars in the Life of William Shenstone, Esq.
• Johnson had committed great mistakes with respect to Shenstone, which you have very properly rectified on the authority of Graves. He grossly misrepresented both his circumstances and his house, which was small, but elegant, and displayed a great deal of taste in the alteration and accommodation of the apartments, &c. On his side-board he had a neat marble cistern, which, by turning a cock, was fed with living water; and he had many other little elegant contrivances which displayed his genius, and made me regret that this little temple of the Muses was pulled down for the larger building of the house. This you may, if you please, mention in your new edition. That Johnson should have no conception of the value or merit of what is now called picturesque gardening we cannot wonder, as he was so extremely short-sighted that he never saw a rural landscape in his life; and in his 'Travels through Scotland' pronounces that one mountain must be like another. But you have sufficiently corrected his mistake on this subject. Among Shenstone's 'Levities and Songs' are many which he himself regretted to me had ever been committed to the press. But when Dodsley was printing that volume of his 'Miscellanies' in which they first appeared, Mr. S. was ill of a fever, and being unable to make any selection, ordered his whole portfolio to be sent to him, relying on his care to make a proper choice of what were fit to be published. But he obtruded the whole into his volume, and afterwards said that as a plea for inserting them in his works. In the value of purchase, how much Mr. Shenstone's estate was improved by his taste, will be judged from the price it fetched when sold by auction in 1795, being 17,000/. sterling; though, when it descended to him, it was only valued at 800l. a year. This, I think, will deserve mention, &c-BISHOP PERCY to Dr. Anderson.
For views of the Leasowes, as left by Shenstone, see Gent 's Mag for Aug, 1823, and the cuts in Dodsley's editions of Shenstone's works.
I have heard Mr. Rogers (the poet) speak most highly of the beauty of the Leasowes, as he In his youth remembered the 'ferme ornée.'
10 "Mr. Shenstone was too much respected in the neighbourhood to be treated with rude. ness: and though his works (frugally as they were managed`, added to his manner of living, must necessarily have made him exceed his income, and, of course, he might sometimes be distressed for money, yet he had too much spirit to expose himself to insults from trifling sums, and guarded against any great distress by anticipating a few hundreds; which his estate could very well bear, as appeared by what remained to his executors after the payment of his debts, and his legacies to his friends, and annuities of thirty pounds a year to one ser