« السابقةمتابعة »
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 opulent, 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.
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; bis care was of his grounds. When he came home from his walks, he might find bis doors flooded by a shower through the broken roof; but could spare no money for its reparation.
In time his expences brought clamours about him, that overpowered the lamb’s bleat and the linnet's song; and his groves were haunted by beings very different from fawns 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 ctrtain; 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 churchyard 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 within his influence; but, if once offended, not casily appeased; inattentive to economy, and careless of his expences; in his person he was larger than the middle size, with something clum 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 form.
His mind was not very comprehensive, nor his curiosity active; he had no value for those parts of knowledge which be 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 philosophy consisted in living against his will in retirement, and in a place which his taste had adorned, but which he only enjoyed when eople 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 saperior 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; out, wanting combination, they want variety. The peace
of solitude, the innocence of inactivity, and the unenvied security of a 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 ninibly 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 mc best, which has however more of the epigram than of the ode.
But the four parts of bis Pastoral Ballad demand particular notice. I cannot but regret that it is pastoral; an intelligent reader, acquainted with the scenes of real life, siokens 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 shew 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 ev'ry hour that went by
Beyond all that had pleas'd me before :
And I grieve that I priz'd them no more."
What angnish I felt in my heart!
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 'twas a barbarous deed :
For he ne'er could be true, she averr'd,
Who could rob a poor bird of its young;
Sueh tenderness fall from her tongue.
In the third, he mentions the common-places of amoroas poetry with some address :
"Tis his with mock passion to glow!
"Tis his, in smootlı tales, to unfold How her face is as bright as the snow,
And her bosom, be sure, is as cold;
How the nightingales labour the strain,
With the notes of this charmer to vie;
Repine at her triumphs, and die.
In the fourth, I find nothing better than this natara) strain of hope:
Alas! from the day that we met,
What hope of an end to my woes,
The glance that undid my repose ?
Yet time may diminish the pain :
The flower, and the shrub, and the trees
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, contri. butes 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 witb knowledge, whether he could have been great, I know not; he could certainly have been agrcoable,