Page images
PDF
EPUB

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.

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 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, humo. rous 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 topicks of praise are the domestick virtues, and his thoughts are pure and simple ; but, wanting combination, 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.

1 Dodsley's preface to Shenstone's Works. 2 Gray to Mr. Nicholls, June 24, 1769.

[ocr errors]

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 “Lyrick 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 thougts 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 ;
But now they are past, and I sigh,

And I grieve that I priz’d them no more.

“ When forc'd the fair nymphs to forego,
What anguish I felt in

my

heart !
Yet I thought-but it might not be so,

'Twas with pain that she saw me depart.
“She gaz'd, as I slowly withdrew;

My path I could hardly discern;
So sweetly she bade me adieu,

I thought that she bade me return."

fair;

In the second this passage has its prettiness, though it be not equal to the former :

"I have found out a gift for my

I have found where the wood-pigeons breed :
But let me that plunder forbear,

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;
And I lov'd her the more, when I heard

Such tenderness fall from her tongue.” In the third he mentions the common-places of amorous poetry with some address :

“ 'Tis his with mock passion to glow;

'Tis his in smooth 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 his charmer to vie ;
How they vary their accents in vain,

Repine at her triumphs, and die.” In the fourth I find nothing better than this natural strain of Hope :

“ Alas ! from the day that we met,

What hope of an end to my woes ?
When I cannot endure to forget

The glance that undid my repose.

“ Yet Time may diminish the pain :

The flower, and the shrub, and the tree,
Which I rear'd for her pleasure in vain,

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 spritely.

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 perhaps 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 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 have been agreeable.

| Mr. Cunningham states that this was a blunder of Dodsley's, Shenstone having added a ludicrous index “ to show (fools) that I am in jest." Mr. D’Israeli printed this index in his Curiosities of Literature.

YOUNG

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »