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fauns and fairies ?. He spent his estate in adorning it, and his death was probably hastened by his anxieties. He was a lamp that spent its oil in blazing. It is said, that, if he had lived a little longer, he would have been assisted by a pension : such bounty could not have been ever more properly bestowed; but that it was ever asked is not certain ; it is too certain that it never was enjoyed.
He died at the Leasowes, of a putrid fever, about five on Friday morning, February 11, 1763; and was buried by the side of his brother in the church-yard of Hales-Owen.
He was never married, though he might have obtained the lady, whoever she was, to whom his Pastoral Ballad was addressed. He is represented by his friend Dodsley as a man of great tenderness and generosity, kind to all that were withinhis influence; but, if once offended, not easily appeased ; inattentive to economy, and careless of his expenses. In his person he was larger than the middle size, with something clumsy in his form ; very negligent of his clothes, and remarkable for wearing his grey hair in a particular manner; for he held, that the fashion was no rule of dress, and that every man was to suit his appearance to his natural forms.
His mind was not very comprehensive, nor his curiosity active; he had no value for those parts of knowledge which he had not himself cultivated.
His life was unstained by any crime; the Elegy on Jesse, which has been supposed to relate an unfortunate and criminal amour of his own, was known by his friends to have been suggested by the story of Miss Godfrey in Richardson's Pamela.
What Gray thought of his character, from the perusal of his Letters, was this :
“ I have read too an octavo volume of Shenstone's Letters. Poor man! he was always wishing for money, for fame, and other distinctions : and his whole philo. sophy consisted in living against his will in retirement, and in a place which his taste had adorned, but which he only enjoyed when people of note came to see and commend it: his correspondence is about nothing else but this place and his own writings, with two or three neighbouring clergymen, who wrote verses too.”
His poems consist of elegies, odes, and ballads, humorous sallies, and moral pieces.
His conception of an Elegy he has in his Preface very judiciously and discriminately explained. It is, according to his account, the effusion of a contemplative mind, sometimes plaintive, and always serious, and therefore superior to the glitter of slight ornaments. His compositions suit not ill to this description. His topics of praise are the domestic virtues, and his thoughts are pure and simple; but, wanting com.
• Mr. Graves, however, expresses his belief that this is a groundless surmise. “ Mr. Shenstone,” he adds, “ was too much respected in the neighbourhood to be treated with rudeness; 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 servant, and six pounds to another ; for his will was dictated with equal justice and generosity." R.
3 “These,” says Mr. Graves, “ were not precisely his sentiments, though he thought right enough t bat every one should, in some degree, consult his particular shape and complection in adjusting his dress ; and that no fashion ought to sanctify what was ungraceful, absurd, or really deformed.” R.
bination, they want variety. The peace of solitude, the innocence of inactivity, and the unenvied security of an humble station, can fill but a few pages. That of which the essence is uniformity will be soon described. His Elegies have therefore too much resemblance of each other.
The lines are sometimes, such as elegy requires, smooth and easy; but to this praise his claim is not constant; his diction is often harsh, improper, and affected; his words ill-coined, or ill-chosen; and his phrase unskilfully inverted.
The Lyric Poems are almost all of the light and airy kind, such as trip lightly and nimbly along, without the load of any weighty meaning. From these, however, Rural Elegance has some right to be excepted. I once heard it praised by a very learned lady; and though the lines are irregular, and the thoughts diffused with too much verbosity, yet it cannot be denied to contain both philosophical argument and poetical spirit.
Of the rest I cannot think any excellent: The Skylark pleases me best, which has however more of the epigram than of the ode.
But the four parts of his Pastoral Ballad demand particular notice. I cannot but regret that it is pastoral: an intelligent reader, acquainted with the scenes of real life, sickens at the mention of the crook, the pipe, the sheep, and the kids, which it is not necessary to bring forward to notice, for the poet's art is selection, and he ought to show the beauties without the grossness of the country life. His stanza• seems to have been chosen in imitation of Rowe's Despairing Shepherd.
In the first part are two passages, to which if any mind denies its sympathy, it has no acquaintance with love or nature :
I priz'd every hour that went by,
Beyond all that had pleas'd me before ;
And I grieve that I priz'd them no more.
When forc'd the fair nymph to forego,
What anguish I felt in my heart !
'T was with pain that she saw me depart.
She gaz'd, as I slowly withdrew,
My path I could hardly discern;
I thought that she bade me return.
In the second this passage has its prettiness, though it be not equal to the former :
I have found out a gift for my fair ;
I have found where the wood-pigeons breed:
She will say 't was a barbarous deed :
For he ne'er could be true, she averrid,
Who could rob a poor bird of its youngs
Such tenderness fall from her tongue
In the third he mentions the common-places of amorous poetry with some address :
"T is his with mock-passion to glow !
"T is his in smooth tales to unfold,
And her bosom, be sure, is as cold;
With the notes of this charmer to vie ;
Repine at her triumphs, and die.
In the fourth I find nothing better than this natural strain of Hope a
Alas! from the day that we met,
What hope of an end to my woes,
The glance that undid my repose !
The flower, and the shrub, and the tree,
In time may have comfort for me. His Levities are by their title exempted from the severities of criticism; yet it may be remarked in a few words, that his humour is sometimes gross, and seldom sprightly.
Of the Moral Poems, the first is The Choice of Hercules, from Xenophon. The numbers are smooth, the diction elegant, and the thoughts just; but something of vigour is still to be wished, which it might have had by brevity and compression. His Fate of Delicacy has an air of gaiety, but not a very pointed and general moral., His blank verses, those that can read them may probably find to be like the blank verses of his neighbours. Love and Honour is derived from the old ballad, Did you not hear of a Spanish Lady ?-I wish it well enough to wish it were in rhyme.
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 employment.
The general recommendation of Shenstone is easiness and simplicity; his general defect is want of comprehension and variety. Had his mind been better stored with knowledge, whether he could have been great, I know not; he could certainly hare been agreeable.
MANY DIFFERENT OCCASIONS,
Tantùm inter densas, umbrosa cacumina, fagos
A PREFATORY ESSAY ON ELEGY.
It is observable, that discourses prefixed to poetry are contrived very frequently to inculcate such tenets as may exhibit the performance to the greatest advantage. The fabric is very commonly raised in the first place, and the measures, by which we are to judge of its merit, are afterwards adjusted.
There have been few rules given us by the critics concerning the structure of elegiac poetry'; and far be it from the author of the following trifles to dignify his own opinions with that denomination. He would only intimate the great variety of subjects, and the different styles in which the writers of elegy have hitherto judulged themselves, and endeavour to shield the following ones by the latitude of their example.
If we consider the etymology of the word, the epithet which Horace? gives it, or the confession which Ovid3 makes concerning it, I think we may conclude thus much however; that elegy, in its true and genuine acceptation, includes a tender and querulous idea : that it looks upon this as its peculiar characteristic, and so long as this is thoroughly sustained, admits of a variety of subjects; which, by its manner of treating them, it renders its own. It throws its melancholy stole over pretty different objects; which, like the dresses at a funeral procession, gives them all a kind of solemn and uniform appearance.
It is probable that elegies were written at first upon the death of intimate friends and near relations ; celebrated beauties, or favourite mistresses; beneficent governors, and illustrious men: one may add perhaps, of all those who are placed by Virgil in the laurel-grove of his Elysium. (See Hurd's Dissertation on Horace's Epistle.)
Quique sui memores alios fecere merendo. After these subjects were sufficiently exhausted, and the severity of fate displayed in the most affecting instances, the poets sought occasion to vary their complaints; and the next tender species of sorrow that presented itself, was the grief of absent or neglected lovers. And this indulgence might be indeed allowed them; but with this they were not contented. They had obtained a small corner in the province of love, and they took advantage, from thence, to overrun the whole territory. They sung its spoils, triumphs, ovations, and rejoicings 4, as well as the captivity and exequies that attended it. They gave the name of elegy to their pleasantries as well as lamentations; till at last, through their abundant fondness for the myrtle, they forgot that the cypress was their peculiar garland.