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though his ferme ornée engaged his thoughts, he occasionally wrote them, “partly,” said SHENSTONE, “ to divert my present impatience, and partly, as it will be a picture of most that passes in my own mind; a portrait which friends may value.” This, then, is the secret charm which acts so forcibly on the first emotions of our youth, at a moment when not too difficult to be pleased, the reflected delineations of the habits and the affections, the hopes and the delights, with all the domestic associations of this poet, always true to Nature, reflect back that picture of ourselves we instantly recognise. It is only as we advance in life that we lose the relish of our early simplicity, and that we discover that SHENSTONE was not endowed with high imagination.
These Elegies, with some other poems, may be read with a new interest, when we discover them to form the true Memoirs of SHENSTONE. Records of querulous, but delightful feelings ! whose subjects spontaneously offered themselves from passing incidents; they still perpetuate emotions, which will interest the young poet, and the young lover of taste.
Elegy IV., the first which SHENSTONE composed, is entitled “ Ophelia's Urn,” and it was no unreal one! It was erected by Graves in Mickleton Church, to the memory of an extraordinary young woman, Utrecia Smith; the literary daughter of a learned, but poor, clergyman. Utrecia had formed so fine a taste for literature, and composed with such elegance in verse and prose, that an excellent judge declared, that “ he did not like to form his opinion of any author till he previously knew hers.” Graves had been long attached to her, but from motives of prudence broke off an intercourse with this interesting woman, who sunk under this severe disappointment. When her prudent lover, Graves, inscribed the urn, her friend SHENSTONE, perhaps more feelingly, commemorated her virtues and her tastes. Such, indeed, was the friendly intercourse between SHENSTONE and Utrecia, that in Elegy XVIII., written long after her death, she still lingered in his reminiscences. Coniposing this Elegy on the calamitous close of Somerville's life, a brother bard, and victim to narrow circumstances, and which he probably contemplated as an image of his own, SHENSTONE tenderly recollects that he used to read Somerville's poems to Utrecia:
Oh, lost Ophelia! smoothly flow'd the day
To taste, and fancy it was dear to Thee !
How true is the feeling! how mean the poetical expression!
The Seventh Elegy describes a vision, where the shadow of Wolsey breaks upon the author :
“A graceful form appear'd,
Even this fanciful subject was not chosen capriciously, but sprung from an incident. Once, on his way to Cheltenham, SHENSTONE missed his road, and wandered till late at night among the Cotswold Hills ; on this occasion he appears to have made a moral reflection, which we find in his “Essays." “How melancholy is it to travel late upon any ambitious project on a winter's night, and observe the light of cottages, where all the unambitious people are warm and happy, or at rest in their beds.” While the benighted poet, lost among the lonely hills, was meditating on“ ambitious projects,” the character of Wolsey arose before him; the visionary cardinal crossed his path, and busied his imagination.
“ Thou,' exclaims the poet,
6 Like a meteor's fire, Shot'st blazing forth, disdaining dull degrees.”
And the bard, after discovering all the miseries of unhappy grandeur, and murmuring at this delay to the house of his friend, exclaims,
“Oh if these ills the price of power advance,
Check not my speed where social joys invite !"
The silent departure of the poetical spectre is fine:
- The troubled vision cast a mournful glance,
And sighing, vanish'd in the shades of night.” And to prove that the subject of this Elegy thus arose to the poet's fancy, he has himself commemorated the incident that gave occasion to it, in the opening :
“ On distant heaths, beneath autumnal skies,
Pensive I saw the circling shades descend;
The Fifteenth Elegy, composed “in memory of a private family in Worcestershire,” is on the extinction of the ancient family of the Penns in the male line*. SHENSTONE's mother was a Penn; and the poet was now the inhabitant of their ancient mansion, an old timber-built house of the age
of Elizabeth. The local description was a Teal scene—“the shaded pool,”—“ the group of ancient elms,”—“ the flocking rooks,” and the picture of the simple manners of his own ancestors, were realities, the emotions they excited were therefore genuine, and not one of those “mockeries” of amplification from the crowd of verse-writers.
The Tenth Elegy, “ To Fortune, suggesting his Motive for repining at her Dispensations,” with his celebrated “ Pastoral Ballad, in four parts,” were alike produced by what one of the great minstrels of our own times has so finely indicated when he sung
“ The secret woes the world has never known;
While on the weary night dawn'd wearier day,
* This we learn from Dr. Nasli's History of Worcestershire.