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Mr. Lyttelton, whose interest he supported with great warmth at an election: this was next year followed by the "School-mistress."
Mr. Dolman, to whose care he was indebted for his ease and leisure, died in 1745, and the care of his own fortune now fell upon him. He tried to escape it a while, and lived at his house with his tenants, who were distantly related; but finding that imperfect possession inconvenient, he took the whole estate into his own hands, more to the improvement of its beauty, than the increase of its produce.
Now was excited his delight in rural pleasures, and his ambition of rural elegance: he began from this time to point his prospects, to diversify his surface, to entangle his walks, and to wind his waters; which he did with such judgment and such fancy, as made his little domain the envy of the great, and the admiration of the skilful; a place to be visited by travellers, and copied by designers. Whether to plant a walk in undulating curves, and to place a bench at every turn 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; demands any great powers of mind, I will not enquire perhaps a sullen and surly spectator may think such performances rather the sport than the business of human reason. But it must be at least confessed, that to embellish the form of nature is an innocent amusement; and some praise must be allowed, 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.
*This charge against the Lyttelton family has been denied with some degree of warmth by Mr. Potter, and since by Mr. Graves. The latter says, "The truth of the case, I believe, was, that the "Lyttelton family went so frequently with their family to the "Leasowes, that they were unwilling to break in upon Mr. "Shenstone's retirement on every occasion, and therefore often "went to the principal points of view without waiting for any one "to conduct them regularly through the whole walks. Of this "Mr. Shenstone would sometimes peevishly complain; though, I "am persuaded, he never really suspected any ill-natured inten❝tion in his worthy and much-valued neighbours." R.
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 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 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 churchyard of Hales-Owen.
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 in"sults 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 ge"nerosity." R.
He was never married, though he might have obtained the lady, whoever she was, to whom his "Pas"toral 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 œconomy, and careless of his expences; 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 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 66 money, for fame, and other distinctions; and "his whole philosophy consisted in living against his
"These," says Mr. Graves, "were not precisely his senti"ments, though he thought right enough, that every one should, "in some degree, consult his particular shape and complexion "in adjusting his dress; and that no fashion ought to sanctify "what was ungraceful, absurd, or really deformed."
"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 neighbour"ing 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 descirption. 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. 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