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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, demand any great powers of mind, I will not inquire; perhaps a sullen and surly spectator may think such performances rather the sport than the business of human reason.'
This seems to me the precise merit of Shenstone. He introduced a better taste in landscape gardening, though his taste was often questionable, and may be ranked with Browne and Kent. He was a man of taste rather than of genius, and may claim a full alliance with the lovers of nature, but is as far from the association with great poets-with such men as Milton or Shakspeare, Burns or Elliott, as the glow-worm is with the comet. Poetry is not only the highest art, but, next to religion itself, the most divine principle on earth. It is a religion itself, or rather, forms part and parcel of that of Christ; for its object is to stimulate virtue, abash vice, raise the humble, abase the proud, call forth the most splendid qualities of the soul, and pour love like a river over the earth till it fills every house, and leaves behind it a fertility like that which follows the inundations of the Nile. We do injustice to Shenstone when we place him beside the giants, and thus provokingly display his true proportions.
"The pleasure of Shenstone," continues Johnson, "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 overpowered the lamb's bleat and the linnet's song; and his groves were haunted by beings very different to 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. **He died at the Leasowes, of a putrid fever, in 1763, and was buried by the side of his brother in Halesowen churchyard.
"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 easily appeased; inattentive to economy, and careless of his expenses. În 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 form. 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." Gray visited the Leasowes, and his opinion of Shenstone was
very similar to that of Johnson. The Leasowes is about six or seven miles distant from Birmingham on the road to Kidderminster, and about four miles from Hagley, in the parish of Halesowen. Arriving at Halesowen, you have to descend a long and steep hill, from the top of which you have a view of the Bromsgrove, Clent, and Dudley hills, which are in the immediate neighbourhood,-Hagley-park being situated on one of the Clent hills,-and of the Clee hills in the distance; these form a boundary between the counties of Hereford and Salop. About halfway down this descent, which is a mile long, you turn to the left down a shady lane; this leads to the Leasowes, and in some degree partakes of the character of the place; winding continually, yet still presenting a beautiful archway of trees, of nearly all descriptions. From this lane you enter the Leasowes; and crossing a bridge, pass on to the lawn. On your left lies a beautiful piece of still water, overshadowed with evergreens, and conveying the idea of infinite depth. This is nearly the lowest part of the grounds, which here begin to ascend towards the house, commanding, not an extensive, but a beautifully condensed prospect. Going round the house to the right, and still ascending, you gain another prospect equally agreeable, yet different, and in both cases are surprised by the skill which presents to the eye the artificial depth of forest which there strikes it. A canal which has been cut through the valley between the house and Halesowen, so far from injuring the prospect, as many of these things are apt to do, rather improves it, giving a rest to the eye, and shutting out, by its embankment, sundry forges which would otherwise be visible. In order to discover, however, the true spirit of the place, you must cross the lawn at the back of the house, where you are reminded of passages in Shenstone's pastorals.
Let us now suppose the grounds lying in the shape of a Y; the house not standing at the top, but near the centre of the fork, and the lowest part of the scene, the stem. The lines forming the fork of the Y are beautifully wooded ravines, or dells, down which flow small streamlets, meeting at the bottom of the hill, and in their progress forming numerous small pools, which may well represent "the fountains all bordered with moss." The walks along the sides of these streams are now neglected, but they still conduct you to the natural beauties of the scene. There is one spot which commands the view of the whole grounds, and all the poetry of them. Following the course of one of the streams, you arrive at that part of the scene which was Shenstone's favourite spot; still marked by the remnants of several fallen statues. Still advancing along the brook side, you come to a pool. This may be called the tail or stem of the Y; and at dusk, on a November day, it gives you no bad idea of the Lake of the Dismal Swamp in miniature. Indeed, the feeling on quitting the place is, that you have been well deceived as to extent; so small a space really containing great variety of scenery.
The Leasowes now belongs to the Attwood family; and a Miss Attwood resides there occasionally. But the whole place bears the impress of desertion and neglect.
ST. MARY REDCLIFFE, Bristol, is a beautiful church; some of the biographers of Chatterton have declared that it is the finest parish church in England. Mr. Britton was almost as enamoured of it as was Chatterton himself. He wrote a complete history of it, and for years zealously exerted himself to rouse the inhabitants of Bristol to have this ornament of their city put into thorough repair by sub scription, an object in which I am glad to find that he finally succeeded, and that the restoration, especially of the time-worn exterior, which commenced under the superintendence of himself and Mr. Brayley, is still progressing under Mr. Godwin.
"Beautiful exceedingly" is St. Mary of Redcliffe; and it is the triumph of this beauty that it awoke the poet in the soul of one of its lovers, and a poet so extraordinary in the circumstances of his life, in the mere boyhood of his age, in the tragic nature of his death, and, above all, in the proud splendour of his genius; that his passion for this lovely structure, and the facts which have sprung out of it, have flung round St. Mary an everlasting interest, and made it one of the most brilliant monuments of national glory which stand on the bosom of our mother-land.
If it had turned out that the Rowley Poems produced to the public by Chatterton had been genuine, and that the fame of so great a poet as Thomas Rowley the priest had been buried for near four hundred years in the iron chest of William Canynge, it would have been a most extraordinary circumstance that it should have been a boy of fourteen who had discovered them; who had had the taste and discernment to pick them out from amidst the ordinary documents of such a chest, of little interest except to parishioners; to transcribe them, to press them upon the attention of his townsmen, and the literary public, and to have suffered insult, obloquy, and persecution on their account. Had he only raised that great public astonishment, inquiry, quarrel and controversy, amongst the learned and antiquarian of his time, and had been satisfactorily proved to be only the discoverer, introducer, and champion of the merit of these productions, it would have been one of the most remarkable occurrences in the whole history of literature, and the boy Chatterton would have still merited the happy epithet of "the marvellous boy." Had he been allowed, on justly admitted grounds, to have taken only the position which he claimed, that of the discoverer of the Rowley MSS., and the writer of his own acknowledged poems, the occurrence would have stood alone in the annals of letters, and Chatterton must have still remained one of the most extraordinary of precocious geniuses. The wit which sparkles through the whole series of his verses, from Sly Dick to his Journal and his Will; the bold satire, the daring independence of his thoughts, setting defiance to public opinion, even on the most solemn of all subjects-religion; the indomitable pride, and bold adventure of the lad; these are facts, in connexion with his great "discovery," supposing it to have been a real discovery, which must have raised the wonder of every one, and have given him a distinguished niche in the Walhalla of his country. The boy of sixteen, who could pen such a description as that of Whitfield in his Journal, beginning—
"In his wooden palace jumping,
Tearing, sweating, bawling, thumping,
The mighty Whitfield cries,
Oblique lightning in his eyes;"
the daring description of religion in his Defence; or who could make such a Will as that which he drew up, when he for the first time proposed to himself suicide, must be pronounced a startling but most uncommon lad. The youth, who, without friends or patrons in the great metropolis, could set out with a small fund borrowed at the rate of a guinea apiece from his acquaintances, to make his fortune and fame; and there, in the midst of the utter wreck of all his august visions and soaring hopes; in the depth of neglect, conteinpt, and the most grinding indigence, could issue satire after satire, and launch Junius-like letters from the newspapers at the highest personages of the land, not sparing even the crowned head, can, however we might estimate such productions in an experienced adult, only be regarded with the most profound and unmixed wonder. We may lament over the waywardness of his genius, but we must
admit its unequivocal reality; and when its career is closed by selfviolence, after appealing to Heaven from the abyss of its agony in stanzas such as the following, we know not whether most to marvel at the greatness of the phenomenon, or the dense stolidity of the age which did not perceive it, but suffered it to expire in horror, to the eternal disgrace of human nature and our country.
O God, whose thunder shakes the sky,
Whose eye this atom globe surveys,
To thee, my only rock, I fly;
Thy mercy in thy justice praise.
The mystic mazes of thy will,
The shadows of celestial light,
O teach me in the trying hour,
When anguish swells the dewy tear, To still my sorrows, own thy power,
Thy goodness love, thy justice fear.
If in this bosom aught but Thee
Then why, my soul, dost thou complain!
For God created all to bless.
But ah! my breast is human still;
The sickness of my soul declare.
Which on my sinking spirit steals,
Which God, my East, my Sun, reveals."
But pride and despair triumphed over this deep feeling of trust in Divine goodness. These words were the rending cry of the dying giant; they were the mighty poetry of forlornest misery; and independently of the poems of Thomas Rowley, they stamp beyond dispute the high poetical renown of Thomas Chatterton. They show, that notwithstanding the unworthy subjects on which necessity had forced him to attempt the waste of his sublime endowments, and had forced him in vain, for the soul of poesy within him had refused to come forth at the call of booksellers and political squabblers, there lay still in his bosom the great heart, and the great mind, of the first-rate poet.
But what were all these flashes and indications of the mens divinior to the broad and dazzling display of it in the Rowley Poems themselves; those poems which would have crowned any grown man a king in the realms of intellectual reputation, which yet the towering pride of the boy-" that damned, native, unconquerable pride" which he said "plunged him into distraction," that "nineteen-twentieths of his composition," as he himself asserted it to be-flung determinedly from him? These poems, now admitted on all hands to be his own boyish compositions, and which indeed were thrust upon him as crimes by those of his cotemporaries who ought to have seen in them the proofs of a genius which should have been carefully and kindly cherished for the good of humanity, and the honour of England, these are indeed as stately and beautiful as the fair pile of St. Mary, which had first awoke in his spirit the deathless love of poetry and antique romance. Ah! what a sad, beautiful, but heartwringing romance is itself the story of Chatterton !
His real history is this.