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Paradise, which he raised around him; and that he sighed for distinctions which his gardens could not give, and for society which his small fortune could not command. The charge is verified by many passages of his writings; perhaps by the whole colour of them. But if this were a weakness, as I must think it to have been, what human being is possessed of uniform wisdom and elevation of mind? Had he been made of more stubborn materials, he would not have produced the gentle and tender poems, which affect and delight a refined taste.
Born in a station but little lifted above that of yeomanry, his ductile and fanciful brain appears to have been too much dazzled by the empty glitter of rank and titles! Gray, with more of a sarcastic contempt than became the candour of his amiable and mighty mind, has spoken of this foible in a passage of his Letters, which I wish had never appeared. It is rendered less venial by the occurrence of at least one Letter of Gray himself, liable to the same censure.
We may scrutinize the weaknesses of Shenstone as we will with the eye of curious malignity, we may find out his days of discontent, and gloom, and vexation; but are we to forget the large proportion of his time which must have been spent in the purest enjoyments, in the fragrance of hills, and vallies, and meadows, watching the vivid verdure of the grass, as the suns of Spring led it forward; the blossoms of his shrubs; and the growth of his trees? He who could mix such occupations with books and poetry
and musing, must have passed at least a part of his time in a state of virtue and happiness as superior to that of ordinary men, as ordinary men do to that of brutes!
Shenstone was the son of Thomas Shenstone of The Leasowes, in Hales-Owen, and Anne Penn of Harborow, in the parish of Hagley, in Worcestershire. Hagley contains as well the noble seat of the Lytteltons, as these lands called Harborough, where, for above four hundred years was seated this family of the Penns.
"Those fields, profuse of raiment, food, and fire,
Dr. Nash says, that "of late, on the failure of heirs male, Harborough is passed to the heirs general."b
William Penn of Harborough, gentleman, died Jan. 26, 1731, set. 74. His wife, Mary, daughter of William Tristram of the ancient family of Swiniford, died July 21, 1729, set. 54.c Their only son, William, died Dec. 31, 1731, set. 29. Sarah, their daughter, died single, Jan. 9> 1733. Anne was Shenstone'v mother. Mary married the Rev. Thomas Dolman, rector of Brome, in Staffordshire.
William Shenstone, grandfather of the poet, lived at Ylley, in the same parish of Hales-Owen, where he occupied a considerable farm of his own,
Oar Author's XVth Elegy, which is in memory of this family.
and afterwards purchased that of the Leasowes. He had two sons, Joseph and Thomas. To the elder of these he assigned over the farm and lands of Ylley; although he still continued to reside there, together with his youngest son, Thomas. But Joseph, being now independent and master, treated his father with great disregard, and by his ungrateful behaviour forced him at length to leave the house. The old gentleman returned to the Leasowes, with his son Thomas, which they jointly managed, chiefly as a grazing farm. Here Mr. Thomas Shenstone married, and had two sons; William, the poet, and Joseph; which latter was bred an attorney, at Bridgenorth, but never practised, and died, unmarried, at his brother's house, in 1751. Dr. Nash adds, that it was under their mother''s care, who superintended the farm till her death, 1732, that the brothers were left. For some time afterwards the farm was occupied by Mr. John Shenstone of Perry-Hill, in this parish, a distant relation, who with his sons, John and Thomas Shenstone, rented it as tenants.
In 1737, set. 23, our author first published his poems, with this title, "Poems upon various Occasions. Written for the Entertainment of a few Friends, prejudiced in his Favour. By William Shenstone, Gent. 1 Spes et Fortuna valeteP Oxford: printed for Leon. Lichfield, near East Gate, 1737."d
The late Mr. Graves of Claverton published, in 1788, "A Recollection of some particulars in Shenstone's Life" from which it appears that our poet, on the Sunday preceding his death, (Feb. 176*3,) returned from a visit to his friend Lord Stamford, at Envile Hall; and the weather being severe, complained much that day of the cold.
'See an account of it in "Cent. Lit." i. 238.
Graves says, "he wore a blue coat with a red waistcoat, with broad gold lace, winter and summer."
Lady Luxborough's "Letters to Shenstone" were published by Dodsley, 1775j 8vo.e
These Letters of Shenstone are not of the first order. They not only want vigour; but too much approach to insipidity. The mind from which they flow appears neither full, nor active. To interest the cultivated reader, it should be vivid with fancy and feeling, or energetic in the operations of the understanding.
Did the whispers of his trees, and the murmurs of his waters lull him into indolence? There are heads, perhaps, which want the impulse and collision of society, to rouse them up to the due degree of activity.
Johnson remarks, that Shenstone's talents were not sufficiently enlarged by knowledge; and it is not improbable that the movement within a narrow sphere
* A MS. note of Isaac Reed says, "I cannot account for the abrupt manner in which this correspondence so ardently begun seems to hare ended. It appears to have ceased near twelve months before Lady Luxborough's death; and her last card is cold and formal."—" Lady Luxborough," says Shenstone, in an unpublished MS. " was in all respects (as far as my opportunities gave me room to conjecture) a female Lord Bolinbroke. Mr. Somervile, it seems, before I was acquainted in that neighbourhood, bad made an observation somewhat to the same effect."
of life might shut from him those excitements to
diversified thought which keep all the faculties in
health, and strengthen them by perpetual exercise.
Ease is bought by labour; enjoyment by contrasted
difficulties; and power by repeated effort.
"And yet the langour of inglorious ease,
There are some to whom solitude and silence and leisure are but the nurses of the noblest creations of intellectual genius. But Shenstone had more of cultivated elegance than native and unborrowed strength. He was not a plant that could do without watering, and propping, and pruning; without "the fostering dew of praise" to his roots, and the genial breezes of worldly fame to expand his leaves.
Still he was a man of virtue; of an amiable heart; of a refined and accomplished understanding; and, above all, of a genuine poetical genius, pure and elegant, if not nervous and comprehensive and lofty.
A real and unaffected taste for Sh En Stone's Poems indicates a refinement highly honourable to the possessor. If tenuity is among their characteristics, it is a tenuity so chaste and graceful, as to touch the nicer perception of excellence with that peculiar pleasure which arises from the success of felicitous and polished art. A plaintive, and perhaps even somewhat querulous tone will not detract from their interest over the bosom of sensibility.