The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

November 18, 2016

November 18, 1714

William Shenstone (November 18, 1714 to 11 February 11, 1763) was an 18th century writer and garden designer. His acuity shines through in these quotes:

The world may be divided into people that read, people that write, people that think, and fox-hunters.

A man has generally the good or ill qualities, which he attributes to mankind.

Laws are generally found to be nets of such a texture, as the little creep through, the great break through, and the middle-sized are alone entangled in it.

Shenstone's Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article sketches a brief life:

In May 1732 Shenstone was admitted commoner at Pembroke College, Oxford...
[where he] formed lasting attachments with ... the future novelist Richard Graves... Shenstone made a point of wearing his own hair rather than a wig, thus incurring 'ill-natured remarks' in the various clubs which he and Graves frequented. He studied 'mathematics, logic, natural and moral philosophy, and the other sciences usually taught in the university'... and after four years wore the gown of a student of civil law, but spent most of his energy on poetry... [He] never claimed to have a degree. A large mulberry tree in the fellows' garden at Pembroke was known as 'Shenstone's tree'. ... [H]is first published volume was Poems upon Various Occasions (1737), ...[which]included an early version of  "The  School-Mistress", the affectionate Spenserian parody for which Shenstone is chiefly remembered. ...

[His book did not receive the attention he had hoped and] gradually his work took on a more reclusive, melancholic, and occasionally Gothic tone: by 1748 he had written twenty-six elegies, many of them in praise of introspective retreat from society. His 'A Pastoral Ballad, in Four Parts', later set to music by Thomas Arne, laments parting from an early love (the sister of his friend Richard Graves), though it was later rewritten for another romance, curtailed by lack of funds...

In 1744 Shenstone withdrew to The Leasowes,
...[and] set about turning the estate into a landscape garden, or ferme ornee, 'which he did with such judgement 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'..... He continued to agonize about his decision to abandon literary society, and to revise The School-Mistress, but his main energies went into diverting streams to create waterfalls, and clearing undergrowth to display 'natural' beauties from advantageous viewpoints. .... The garden was filled with seats, urns, temples, and obelisks, many with inscriptions, in the structured form of picturesque contemplation made popular by the designer Batty Langley.

Shenstone's mature years were saddened by ill health and the deaths of ...[friends, family members] and Lady Luxborough, the troubled sister of Viscount Bolingbroke with whom he had corresponded for many years (1756)....Shenstone managed to establish new friendships with the printer John Baskerville, the critic Joseph Spence, and the industrialist Matthew Boulton. Otherwise he spent his time gardening, painting, playing music, and collecting objets d'art. He confined his literary efforts to letters and to the assistance of friends like his bookseller Robert Dodsley, and Thomas Percy, whose Reliques of Ancient Poetry owes much to Shenstone's literary taste. He also prepared an anthology of poems by his friends, which remained unpublished until 1952.....Some of his contemporaries, such as Walpole and Gray, thought the pose of retirement was affected in order to elicit curiosity or sympathy.

[His will left specific instructions, and after his death his housekeeper, possibly also mistress] Mary Cutler received an annuity of £30. She later challenged the will on the grounds that back wages were unpaid, promises of recompense made by Shenstone had not been carried out, and the executors had failed to pay her specified legacies.
[The poetry of William Shenstone which was] admired by Johnson, Burns, Hazlitt, and Ruskin, and reprinted many times into the nineteenth century, still lack[s] a thorough modern edition.

We do have some lines Shenstone wrote about college life

Let sophs, by rats infested,
Then trust in cats to catch them,
Lest they grow as learn'd as we
In our studies, where, d'ye see,
No mortal sits to watch them.

"They" I think refers to rats, not cats. The echoes of "Pangur Ban" are illusory: that verse about books and cats and rats will not be discovered til 100 years after Shenstone's death.

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