William Shenstone

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William Shenstone
William Shenstone by Edward Alcock.jpg
William Shenstone (1760), oil on canvas painted by Edward Alcock
Born(1714-11-18)18 November 1714
Leasowes, Halesowen
DiedFebruary 11, 1763(1763-02-11) (aged 48)
Resting placeSt John the Baptist Church, Halesowen
OccupationPoet, landscape gardener
Residence The Leasowes
Alma mater Pembroke College, Oxford
Notable worksThe Schoolmistress

William Shenstone (18 November 1714 – 11 February 1763) was an English poet and one of the earliest practitioners of landscape gardening through the development of his estate, The Leasowes .

The Leasowes estate in Halesowen, England

The Leasowes is a 57-hectare estate in Halesowen, historically in the county of Shropshire, England, comprising house and gardens. The parkland is now listed Grade I on English Heritage's Register of Parks and Gardens and the home of the Halesowen Golf Club. The name means "rough pasture land".



Son of Thomas Shenstone and Anne Penn, daughter of William Penn of Harborough Hall, then in Hagley (now Blakedown), Shenstone was born at the Leasowes, Halesowen on 18 November 1714. [1] [2] At that time this was an enclave of Shropshire within the county of Worcestershire and now in the West Midlands. Shenstone received part of his formal education at Halesowen Grammar School (now The Earls High School). [3] In 1741, Shenstone became bailiff to the feoffees of Halesowen Grammar School.

Hagley village in Worcestershire, England

Hagley is a village and civil parish in Worcestershire, England. It is on the boundary of the West Midlands and Worcestershire counties between the Metropolitan Borough of Dudley and Kidderminster. As of December 2016 it had an estimated population of 6,097.

Blakedown village in United Kingdom

Blakedown is a village in the Wyre Forest District in the north of the county of Worcestershire, England. Due to its road and rail links it serves mainly as a dormitory village for Kidderminster, and the cities of Birmingham and Worcester. Originally part of Hagley Parish, it was transferred in 1888 to the small adjacent parish of Churchill, which became Churchill and Blakedown.

Halesowen town in the Metropolitan Borough of Dudley, in the West Midlands, England

Halesowen is a large market town in the Metropolitan Borough of Dudley, in the county of West Midlands, England. It is considered as one of the largest towns in the United Kingdom without a railway station.

While attending Solihull School, he began a lifelong friendship with Richard Jago. He went up to Pembroke College, Oxford in 1732 and made another firm friend there in Richard Graves, the author of The Spiritual Quixote. [1]

Solihull School grade II listed school in Solihull, United Kingdom

Solihull School is a coeducational independent school situated near the centre of Solihull, West Midlands, England. Founded in 1560, it is the oldest school in the town and is a member of the HMC.

Richard Jago English poet

Richard Jago was an English clergyman poet and minor landscape gardener from Warwickshire. Although his writing was not highly regarded by contemporaries, some of it was sufficiently novel to have several imitators.

Pembroke College, Oxford constituent college of the University of Oxford

Pembroke College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England, located in Pembroke Square. The college was founded in 1624 by King James I of England / VI of Scotland, using in part the endowment of merchant Thomas Tesdale, and was named after William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, Lord Chamberlain and then-Chancellor of the University.

Shenstone took no degree, but, while still at Oxford, he published Poems on various occasions, written for the entertainment of the author (1737). This edition was intended for private circulation only but, containing the first draft of The Schoolmistress, it attracted some wider attention. Shenstone tried hard to suppress it but in 1742 he published anonymously a revised draft of The Schoolmistress, a Poem in imitation of Spenser. The inspiration of the poem was Sarah Lloyd, teacher of the village school where Shenstone received his first education. Isaac D'Israeli contended that Robert Dodsley had been misled in publishing it as one of a sequence of Moral Poems, its intention having been satirical, as evidenced by the ludicrous index appended to its original publication. [1]

Isaac DIsraeli British writer

Isaac D'Israeli was a British writer, scholar and man of letters. He is best known for his essays, his associations with other men of letters, and as the father of British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.

Robert Dodsley British writer and bookseller

Robert Dodsley was an English bookseller, poet, playwright, and miscellaneous writer.

Satire Genre of arts and literature in the form of humor or ridicule

Satire is a genre of literature, and sometimes graphic and performing arts, in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, corporations, government, or society itself into improvement. Although satire is usually meant to be humorous, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using wit to draw attention to both particular and wider issues in society.

The view from the ruined Halesowen Priory towards The Leasowes (on the crest of the hill on the right). View from the ruined Halesowen Priory towards The Leasowes (c. 1750).jpg
The view from the ruined Halesowen Priory towards The Leasowes (on the crest of the hill on the right).

In 1741 he published The Judgment of Hercules. He inherited the Leasowes estate, and retired there in 1745 to undertake what proved the chief work of his life, the beautifying of his property. He embarked on elaborate schemes of landscape gardening which gave The Leasowes a wide celebrity (see ferme ornée ), but sadly impoverished the owner. Shenstone was not a contented recluse. He desired constant admiration of his gardens, and he never ceased to lament his lack of fame as a poet. [1]

Ferme ornée

The term ferme ornée as used in English garden history derives from Stephen Switzer's term for 'ornamented farm'. It describes a country estate laid out partly according to aesthetic principles and partly for farming. During the eighteenth century the original ferme ornée was Woburn Farm, made by Philip Southcote, who bought the property in 1734. William Shenstone's garden at The Leasowes was also a ferme ornée. Marie Antoinette made a later example at Versailles in the form of le Petit hameau, created between 1783 and 1787, but it was much more for pleasure than for food production. The Dessau-Wörlitz Garden Realm was said to be the largest 'ferme ornée' in 18th-century Europe. The most complete surviving example is said to be Larchill near Kilcock, Ireland.

In 1759, Shenstone made the acquaintance of James Woodhouse, a shoe-maker from nearby Rowley Regis who had started writing poetry. Shenstone encouraged Woodhouse's literary efforts, allowing him access to the library at the Leasowes and including one of Woodhouse's works in a collection of poems published in 1762. [4]

James Woodhouse (poet) English poet

James Woodhouse (1735–1820) was an English poet from the Black Country village of Rowley Regis. He was known as the "shoe-maker poet" from his trade that supported him during his early years. He made the acquaintance of the poet William Shenstone, who lived nearby, and was encouraged by him to write poetry. In 1764 a collection of his poems was published with the financial assistance of his friends and he acquired some fame as a writer of "humble" beginnings. He acquired literary patrons, the most of important being the "bluestocking" Elizabeth Montagu, who also became his employer. After a dispute with Montagu, he left her service and his final years were spent in London, where he set up a bookselling business. He died in 1820 and was buried at the cemetery of St George's Chapel, near Marble Arch in London.

Shenstone died unmarried on 11 February 1763. [5]

Critical appraisal

Shenstone's poems of nature were written in praise of his most artificial aspects, but the emotions they express were obviously genuine. His Schoolmistress was admired by Oliver Goldsmith, with whom Shenstone had much in common, and his Elegies written at various times and to some extent biographical in character won the praise of Robert Burns who, in the preface to Poems, chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (1786), called him ... that celebrated poet whose divine elegies do honour to our language, our nation and our species. The best example of purely technical skill in his works is perhaps his success in the management of the anapaestic trimeter in his Pastoral Ballad in Four Parts (written in 1743), but first printed in Dodsley's Collection of Poems (vol. iv., 1755). [1]

Arthur Schopenhauer mentioned Shenstone in his discussion of equivocation. "[C]oncepts", Schopenhauer asserted, "which in and by themselves contain nothing improper, yet the actual case brought under them leads to an improper conception" are called equivocations. [6] He continued:

But a perfect specimen of a sustained and magnificent equivocation is Shenstone's incomparable epitaph on a justice of the peace, which in its high-sounding lapidary style appears to speak of noble and sublime things, whereas under each of their concepts something quite different is to be subsumed, which appears only in the last word of all as the unexpected key to the whole, and the reader discovers with loud laughter that he has read merely a very obscene equivocation. [6] [lower-alpha 1]


Shenstone's works were first published by his friend Robert Dodsley (3 vols., 1764–1769). The second volume contains Dodsley's description of the Leasowes. The last, consisting of correspondence with Graves, Jago and others, appeared after Dodsley's death. Other letters of Shenstone's are included in Select Letters (ed. Thomas Hill 1778). The letters of Lady Luxborough (née Henrietta St John) to Shenstone were printed by T. Dodsley in 1775; much additional correspondence is preserved in the British Museum letters to Lady Luxborough (Add. MS. 28958), Dodsley's letters to Shenstone (Add. MS. 28959), and correspondence between Shenstone and Bishop Percy from 1757 to 1763 the last being of especial interest; To Shenstone was due the original suggestion of Percy's Reliques, a service which would alone entitle him to a place among the precursors of the romantic movement in English literature. [1]

In a letter written in 1741 Shenstone became the first person to record the use of "floccinaucinihilipilification". In the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary this was recognised as the longest word in the English language.[ citation needed ]



  1. This poem about the passing of wind, entitled Inscription, can be read at Inscription.
  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Chisholm 1911, p. 389.
  2. Humphreys, A.R. (1937). William Shenstone an eighteenth century portrait. London: Cambridge University Press. p. 6. Retrieved 4 February 2019.
  3. Aitken 1897, p. 48.
  4. Christmas, William J. (3 October 2013). "Woodhouse, James". www.oxforddnb.com. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/29924 . Retrieved 2019-02-12.
  5. Humphreys, A.R. (1937). William Shenstone an eighteenth century portrait. London: Cambridge University Press. p. 120. Retrieved 4 February 2019.
  6. 1 2 Schopenhauer 1969, p. 94.

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See also